In a climate which encourages state legislatures to pass anti-abortion laws, I must rethink my personal position on this matter. I have spent many decades silent on this issue. I can be silent no longer.
My home state of Missouri is poised to adopt an “eight-week” abortion statute which, I read in the news, will outlaw abortion after eight weeks of gestation. Alabama just passed a near-total abortion ban, with the only exception being to save the life of the woman in an extreme medical situation. These acts intend to set the stage for an eventual reversal of Roe v. Wade.
I have refrained from joining this debate because I understand the impassable divide. If one believes that human life begins at the moment of conception, one will consider any volitional act of terminating the pregnancy to be the killing of a human being. If one believes that human life begins at some later point, one will move the classification of terminating the pregnancy as “killing” to that later point. Moreover, if one believes that the question of terminating the pregnancy should be personal, one will laud any judicial or legislative pronouncement which allows individual choice to some extent. The first-articulated position cannot be reconciled with the later-articulated positions, each of which can co-exist with the other.
If you think the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception, then the termination of the pregnancy is killing a human.
If you think that killing is never justifiable, then you must be anti-abortion.
If you think that the fetus is not a human until some later point; or that ending the pregnancy up to a certain point is justifiable regardless; you are likely “pro-choice”.
If you think that you are unable to really know, and therefore cannot make the choice for anyone other than yourself, you are . . . me, until this week.
Consider two small, key snippets of the Supreme Court’s pronouncements in Roe v. Wade:
“We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified, and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.
“With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”
The new legislation surging forth from conservative states does not balance these competing interests. Certainly, Alabama cannot say that “viability” vests at the point of conception. My searches show viability still estimated in the 24-week range, with 20 – 27 weeks gestation considered “periviability”. Hence, this new legislation falls squarely in the “anti-abortion” camp, driven by the absolute determination. “Human life begins at conception; terminating pregnancy therefore is always killing of human life; and killing of human life is never justifiable.”
I do not subscribe to those beliefs. I have read too much science to believe that a fertilized egg inside a female human body instantly becomes a human being. If science demonstrates otherwise, perhaps I will change my mind. It has not.
Moreover, I’ve been unexpectedly and suddenly pregnant. The first time occurred in late 1977. I miscarried that child in early 1978, at about ten weeks’ gestation. I had stressed for several weeks wondering how I would raise a child in the emotional, physical, financial, and personal state in which I then existed. I do not know if I would have terminated that pregnancy had the option presented itself. I did not have to make that choice because I lost the pregnancy. But the thought of going through a pregnancy at that time, in my unhealed post-abuse existence, frightened me. Neither my mind nor my body could have handled the strain.
At earlier points in my life, I had been raped and sexually assaulted. If I had become pregnant as a result of being raped, the psychological trauma would have been exponentially worse. I suffered enough; I do not know if I could have survived carrying a pregnancy to term after those brutal attacks.
Not at eighteen. Not at seventeen. Nor younger.
And at eleven? Unthinkable. Utterly, overwhelmingly unthinkable.
Alabama stands forty-ninth in state rankings overall; fiftieth in education, forth-seventh in public health. These statistics belie the public proclamations that the Alabama governor has made about the motivation of its anti-abortion legislation. Value life? What about the lives of the children of yourgrossly under-served citizens?This stark contradiction cannot resolve itself. A state cannot claim to value human life and yet let its children flounder without food, education, or health care. If the tiny speck of cellular development inside a woman’s uterus comes under the state’s protection but the five-year-old standing in line with her mother applying for WIC does not, something has gone drastically wrong.
Moreover, the cells which Alabama, Missouri, and other states claim to be protecting exist Inside a walking, talking, functioning woman. That woman has rights. What about protecting her? By requiring her to continue to harbor the growing group of cells inside of her, you subjugate the woman’s rights to the rights of a fetus not yet viable. I have not heard anyone successfully defend that choice.
Anyone who believes that life begins at the point of conception probably stopped reading long ago. Anyone still reading probably agrees with my pro-choice viewpoint. But hear this: If you believe that life begins at the point of conception and that terminating a pregnancy means ending human life; and, further, if you believe that ending all human life should be outlawed, then you also must be against capital punishment and war. You cannot pick and choose. If you do, you reveal your rank hypocrisy.
Society progresses. Roe v. Wade represented progress, an acknowledgment the we all have a right to privacy protected by our Constitution, and that a woman’s right to privacy allows her to govern her own body. The right carries qualifications founded in the scientific assessment of when a fetus can exist outside of a woman’s body. In America, we allow the government to exercise reasonable restraints on our rights to serve the public good. The determination of reasonable restraint must not be arbitrary. These anti-abortion laws constitute unreasonable restraints on our rights, in their over-breadth, in their arbitrariness, and in their blind eye to socety’s failure to protect living, breathing children already clinging to their parents’ hungry hands.
The most devastating and inevitable impact of these laws must be exposed. Abortions will continue, but they will retreat to the dark alleys and the unscrupulous, unlicensed practitioners preying on desperate, helpless impoverished girls and women. Any decent practitioners will go underground, and those who need their services will search for them, often in vain. Only the wealthy will receive safe and effective abortion services.
Pregnancy can bring joy. But it can also bring heartache, pain, poverty, and peril. To escape its burdens, helpless girls and women will seek aid wherever they might find it. Those who enact anti-abortion laws announce that they do not care about the victims of rape and incest; the mentally ill; the frightened teenagers; and the scores of women who just cannot endure what pregnancy demands.
Therefore the rest of us will raise the banner and protect a woman’s right to choose, a right secured by the U.S. Constitution. Our arms might grow weary; our feet might begin to ache. But we will not be silenced.