Given the heated rhetoric that is bandied about today on the issue of abortion rights, it is difficult to remember that at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision (1973) it was viewed as a necessary step in resolving an intolerable situation—and had broad support. This is one of the many insights provided by Katha Pollitt in her book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
“Today, the real-life harms Roe was intended to rectify have receded from memory. Few doctors remember the hospital wards filled with injured and infected women. The coat-hanger symbol seems as exotic as the rack and thumbscrew, a relic waved by gray-haired ‘radical feminists’.”
Prior to Roe v. Wade, the contention by the factions that today we refer to as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” had been resolved in vastly different ways around the nation. Abortion was legal in some locations and illegal in others, a situation that could be easily resolved by the wealthy, but left others helpless, depending on where they lived. The disparity in laws produced economic and racial discrimination.
“The more exceptions there were to the criminalization of abortion, the more glaringly unfair and hypocritical the whole system was seen to be. By the time Roe came to court, well-off savvy women could flock to New York or several other states where laws had been relaxed and get a safe, legal termination; poor women, trapped in states that banned abortion, bore the brunt of harm from illegal procedures. There was a racial angle too: Not only did women of color, then as now, have far more abortions than whites in proportion to their numbers, they were much more likely to be injured or die in botched illegal procedures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women. The injustice of a patchwork system, in which a simple medical procedure could leave a woman dead or injured based purely on where it took place, was obvious.”
The Supreme Court, the majority of the population, and most religious groups were in favor of relaxing the laws against abortion and decriminalizing it in many situations.
“If you assume the churches were united against abortion, think again: Beginning in 1967, the Clergy Consultation Service founded by the Reverend Howard R. Moody, a Baptist….helped thousands of women across the country find their way to safe illegal abortions. In the years leading up to Roe, legalization of abortion under at least some circumstances was endorsed by the Union for Reform Judaism, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and other mainstream denominations.”
The need to avoid producing unwanted or nonviable children is normal, natural, and inevitable. It was thus before Roe V. Wade, and remains so today.
“More than a million abortions are performed every year—some 55 million since 1973, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. A few facts: By menopause, 3 in 10 American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy; about half of all US women who have an abortion have already had a prior abortion; excluding miscarriages, 21 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Contrary to the popular stereotype of abortion-seeking women as promiscuous teenagers or child-hating professionals, around 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. And 7 in 10 are poor or low-income. Abortion, in other words, is part of the fabric of American life, and yet it is arguably more stigmatized than it was when Roe was decided.”
Today the conversation about abortion has become controlled by a minor, but vocal, component of the population that is determined to place the rights of every pregnant woman below the rights of any zygote, embryo, or fetus they might be carrying. They are supported by pandering politicians who wish to not lose a single vote by being controversial. Scoundrels who claim to be libertarians or in favor of small nonintrusive government back legislation demanding the government take control of a woman’s body against her will.
“You would never know that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater were pro-choice, and that in 1967, the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, signed what was then the most liberal abortion law in the nation.”
Pollitt provides us with this little tidbit about the family of one of the greatest panderers of all time: Mitt Romney.
“….Mitt Romney’s son Tagg signed a contract with a surrogate mother that gave her the right to abort for health reasons and for him and his wife the right to decide on abortion should the fetus prove ‘physiologically, genetically, or chromosomally abnormal’.”
The pro-life movement has managed to remove the issue of women’s rights from the conversation. Women who would choose an abortion must be selfish, morally corrupt, or simply ignorant. What angers Pollitt most is the manner in which politicians who claim to be pro-choice and who claim to be in favor of women’s rights cede the high ground to the pro-lifers by accepting the myth that having an abortion is necessarily a morally troubling issue.
“Nowadays, we take it for granted that having an abortion is a sorrowful, troubling, and even traumatic experience, involving much ambivalence and emotional struggle, even though studies and surveys consistently tell us it usually is not. Even pro-choicers use negative language: Hillary Clinton called abortion ‘a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women’.”
A recent study by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco supports Pollitt’s claim that having an abortion is not necessarily a troubling experience: Decision Rightness and Emotional Responses to Abortion in the United States: A Longitudinal Study. This effort tracked women who had abortions and monitored their feelings about their decision and their emotional response post-abortion for a period of three years.
“We recruited a cohort of women seeking abortions between 2008-2010 at 30 facilities across the United States, selected based on having the latest gestational age limit within 150 miles. Two groups of women (n=667) were followed prospectively for three years: women having first-trimester procedures and women terminating pregnancies within two weeks under facilities’ gestational age limits at the same facilities.”
The conclusions of the study must have been rather startling even for pro-choice advocates.
“The predicted probability of reporting that abortion was the right decision was over 99% at all time points over three years.”
“Women also experienced reduced emotional intensity over time: the feelings of relief and happiness experienced shortly after the abortion tended to subside, as did negative emotions. Notably, we found no differences in emotional trajectories or decision rightness between women having earlier versus later procedures. Important to women’s reports were social factors surrounding the pregnancy and termination-seeking….Community stigma and lower social support were associated with negative emotions.”
So, having an abortion seems a quite survivable experience, particularly if a woman is not hounded by pro-lifers.
The pro-life movement is a fraud. They are against extinguishing life as long as the life form exists within the body of a pregnant woman. Once it emerges from the woman they don’t give a damn about what happens to it. Pollitt makes a good case for the ultimate motive being the determination to control women’s sexual behavior as well as women’s social behavior.
“Legal abortion presents the issue of women’s emancipation in particularly stark form. It takes a woman’s body out of the public realm and puts her, not men and not children, at the center of her own life.”
If men are allowed to walk away from their role as an initiator of life when it is convenient or necessary, then women must have the same right.
If Hillary Clinton wishes to champion women as the first woman president, she must jump in with both feet and speak clearly and loudly. These are issues for which triangulation is inappropriate.