It is the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973 which defined a woman’s right of personal privacy in making decisions about her own body, and now four decades later, it remains the hottest social issue in the USA.
Center for American Progress’s Think Progress has lined up powerful numbers:
- 70% of Americans now oppose overturning Roe, the highest number since 1989. Most religious groups also want to leave Roe in place.
- 135 new state-level abortion restrictions enacted over the past two years, the worst years for reproductive freedom since the 1973 Supreme Court decision.
- 87% of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion clinic. At least four states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi — only have a single abortion clinic.
- 45 is the age by which nearly half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy. About one in three will have had an abortion.
- 20 states allow insurers or employers to deny women affordable contraception by refusing to comply with Obamacare’s birth control guarantee. Studies have shown that Obamacare’s contraception provision will help reduce the national abortion rate.
- $470 is the average cost of a first-trimester abortion. Although most women having abortions carry health insurance, the majority pay out of pocket for an abortion because of the cultural stigma surrounding abortion.
- 42% of women who have abortions whose income levels fall below the federal poverty line. Seven out of ten women who have had an abortion would have preferred to have the procedure sooner, but many were forced to delay because they needed more time to raise money.
- 0.3 is roughly the percentage of abortion patients who experience complications from their procedure that require hospitalization. Studies have repeatedly shown that having a legal abortion is actually safer than giving birth.
The range of issues surrounding Roe v. Wade is readily perceived; ethical and religious positions, political partisanship, health care access, human sexuality, poverty, civil rights, employment benefits, health insurance, social taboos, and willful disinformation. It is truly complicated. Yet in simplest terms today, it amounts to personal choice vs. criminal action.
The so-called pro-choice camp insists that the one best suited to make a decision about a pregnancy is the woman who is confronted by it and experiencing it. It is not a condition that men will encounter, and it is not a decision for which they will likely be held responsible or for which they will likely be penalized, certainly not in the same way as a woman.
To criminalize the early termination of a pregnancy oversteps governmental authority which infringes on a woman’s ability to control what happens to her body. Again, for men, there is no control issue applicable to their body. On the simplest level, if a man was required by law to grow something in his body which he did not want, it would be intensely opposed as a violation of basic human rights. Therefore, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose are often seen as insensitive, oppressive, and even hostile to women. Take, for example, the idiotic comments of conservative political candidates in 2012.
The so-called pro-life camp doesn’t believe there should be any choice. Their focus is exclusively oriented to conception and to the fetus, invoking the will of God to fulfill the promise of a pregnancy, and often over-dramatizing the nascent stages of human life. In their dramatization efforts, they play fast and loose with the acknowledged 26 week standard for routinely permitted abortions, after which time medical necessity must be defined.
What is never mentioned is that the aim to end any choice for pregnant women also means that any act of abortion becomes a criminal matter. The outlawing of abortion is also its criminalization. While prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no basis or history for criminalization, the rhetoric employed over the last 40 years by the various anti-abortion groups makes it clear that abortion is the taking of a human life and recourse to prevent abortions – outlawing them – means criminal penalties.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to expect that women who seek an abortion face criminal prosecution. Suspicion would also be cast upon women who miscarry; they stand to be indicted for attempted murder or manslaughter. Negligence in caring for a pregnancy would easily become criminal, as if the woman was trying to induce an abortion. Of course, there could be no corresponding criminal sanction on any man who brought about the pregnancy.
If nothing else, the agenda for criminalization and the gray areas of culpability which any woman would face leads to the conclusion that government needs to stay clear of women and their pregnancies. Legally remove a woman’s right to decide for herself about a pregnancy and the consequence is turning any attempt at opting out of a pregnancy into a criminal act.
Frankly, no one likes the idea of an abortion. Whether to have one or not must be an awful decision for a woman to have to make. One would hope that if a woman wanted to proceed with a pregnancy that she would be given the complete support and encouragement of our society. However, such full support is non-existent today. In fact, condemnation is more likely to ensue, for ‘having more children than you can support,’ or ‘having children so that our tax dollars can pay for it,’ and similar sentiments which we’ve all heard casually.
Our society can do much to encourage women to proceed with pregnancies, and many worthy organizations with limited resources have that as their mission. However the decision must remain the woman’s about whether to proceed or not. Taking a difficult individual decision and making it criminal is to lose sight of the goal amid ideological confusion and entanglements.
Fulfilled women, happy children, and loving families are not achieved by filling prisons with mommies or forcing women to accept responsibilities and penalties no man has to shoulder. But sadly those positive ideals have been lost in the bitter conflict of the last 40 years. Clearly, Roe v. Wade needs to remain the law of the land.