I feel an obligation to preface this article with this: I have never had an abortion, I have never needed one, but during the shock of my first pregnancy I made an appointment to Planned Parenthood, because even in my privileged life, capable both physically and financially able to care for a baby, I felt as though I was stripped of ownership of my body.
I never went to that appointment; after the phone call to make it I instantly felt at ease. Planned Parenthood gave me my ability to choose, and I chose to have my daughter (she turns seven this month). But I often wonder how it would have felt if I only had the one option, what if I didn’t have the absoluteness of choice, what if my choice had been taken from me?
Just as I may have taken a risk with a choice, we all weigh risk every single day. We get into our cars even though there is a high risk involved, but no one says they shouldn’t have gotten into the car in the first place, no one says they deserve their health or life to be jeopardized consequently based off their choice to take risk. I use this comparison because death is a very real consequence of pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 830 women die every day from preventable causes relating to pregnancy and childbirth.
Those who attack the “pro-choice” movement do so in a way to discredit them by limiting their approach to only abortion. However “pro-choice” isn’t bound to any single belief or cause, organizations like Planned Parenthood offer affordable and life-saving reproductive health care to all genders; in fact, abortion only makes up about 3.4 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides, according to an annual report by Planned Parent.
We’re all on a spectrum of what we personally believe is morally acceptable, but there’s no moral superiority of those who think their judgement should outweigh a women’s right to her own body, i.e. her bodily autonomy.
“Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long. It’s why you can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue or organs,” said Hanna Groff. “Even if you are dead. Even if you’d save or improve 20 lives. It’s why someone can’t touch you, have sex with you or use your body in any way without your continuous consent. If they deny and withdraw their consent, the pregnant person has the right to remove them from that moment. A fetus is equal in this regard because if I need someone else’s body parts to live, they can also legally deny me their use. By saying a fetus has a right to someone’s body parts until it’s born, despite the pregnant person’s wishes, you are doing two things: firstly, granting a fetus more rights to other people’s bodies than any born person, and secondly, awarding a pregnant person less rights to their body than a corpse.” – Hanna Goff
Every pregnancy comes with some degree of risk to a woman’s life and well-being, either from previous health conditions, or developing conditions from pregnancy. In a 2015 report by the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) between 2003 and 2013, “more than doubled from an estimated 12 to 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.”
The report also stated that by 2015 the United States had a higher MMR than the Islamic Republic of Iran, Libya and Turkey. In 2017, National Public Radio and ProPublica did a series called, “Lost Mothers: Maternal Mortality in the U.S.” The series was supported by a six-month collaborative investigation. Those reporting concluded that the United States not only has the highest rate of maternal mortality than any other developed country, but only in America has the MMR continued to rise.
Knowing this, on what ground does the anti-abortion rights movement think its standing on when its most noteworthy ambition is to criminalize abortion by overturning Roe vs. Wade? How can you really be “pro-life” if you intend on giving those who seek abortions the death penalty? What morality can one really possess if their only objective is for a child to be born?
The “pro-life” movement hypocrisy is clear and defined by political motives, i.e. by what they aren’t advocating for; many rejecting a political platform that involves comprehensive and affordable healthcare. Women aren’t comfortable bringing babies into a world where they cannot feel secure enough to even carry a pregnancy to term. In federal and state funding, only 6 percent of block grants for “maternal and child health” actually go to the health of mothers, according to a report by NPR and ProPublica. A report published by BMJ Open and funded by the National Institute of Health, looking at more than 100,000 births, found that the cost of a low-risk vaginal delivery is anywhere from $3,296 to $37,227. For an uncomplicated c-section the cost ranged from $8,312 to $70,908. The report also found on average insurance only pays up to 37 percent of the charges, leaving a significant portion in the hands of women who more than likely cannot afford it.
The “pro-life” movement is focused so much on religious prudery that it takes preference over evidential solutions. Affordable and accessible contraception and basic sex education in schools is monumental in decreasing the demand for abortion.
Decreased access to birth control, and lack of sex education increases unintended pregnancies. An example of this can be seen in Texas, Texas was ranked the worst in sex ed by the health research site HealthGrove. In a 2017 study by the Texas Freedom Network, 60 percent of Texas public school districts used abstinence-only sex education programs, and a fourth was void of any sex education at all. This leads me to my point, Texas is ranked fifth-highest in the nation in teen pregnancy. Comparatively, Colorado reduced its teen pregnancy by 54 percent from 2009 to 2016 using one of the things the “pro-choice” movement advocates the most for, free and low-cost contraception. According to a study by the University of Colorado, this saved the state an estimated $70 million in social services.
On the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, New York passed the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) that decriminalizes abortion and classifies it for what it is, a medical procedure. However, the “pro-life” side has taken this as an opportunity to bend facts and spread ignorance. No, a woman can’t murder her baby up until the moment the baby is born. Once a baby is born there are federal laws protecting them, such as the Born Alive Act of 2002, which states that any person born under any circumstance has full rights just as anyone else.
These imaginary stories drown out the real experiences of women, most of the third trimester abortions that the RHA will allow are those with tragic and heartbreaking circumstances and wouldn’t criminalize women who are already dealing with unimaginable suffering. The “pro-life” side is bending facts to fit its agenda, and it is senselessly compounding the pain of grieving mothers by perpetuating debunked fiction to spread purposeful ignorance.
Whether it’s the same willful ignorance or selective morality, there still has been no public outcry from the “pro-life” side to hold the federal government responsible for fetal deaths or miscarriages from Flint, Michigan’s, drinking water that’s been contaminated since 2014. A research study in 2017 by health economists and assistance professors David Slusky from the University of Kansas and Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University found that since the contamination of the water, fetal deaths actually spiked 58 percent. So, the government is single-handedly responsible for taking the “lives” of thousands, but the signs with bolded red letters containing the words “the government is murderers” are nowhere to be found.
Beyond the hypocrisy, we can look back on the historical context and know the consequences of criminalizing abortion does not decrease women’s necessity to get one, even at the expense of her life. There’s a reason that a photograph of Geraldine Santaro, the 28-year-old Connecticut women that bled to death on the floors of a hotel room after a botched abortion, was published in Ms. Magazine along with a story of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs. Wade with the words, “Never Again,” in big bold letters. It was meant to be a promise that women wouldn’t needlessly die on hotel room floors, that metal coat hangers would do what they do best: hang coats, and that abortion would be a basic human right.
Maybe the pro-life movement is right on one thing, our country is morally bankrupt. But the lack of morality in our country can be centralized on the fact that we don’t value a woman’s existence beyond being a vessel to carry life. So, until the “pro-life” movements can produce actual solutions, until they can stand behind the very meaning of their title, something meant to be rooted in protecting children and valuing life and not stripping the bodily autonomy of pregnant women, they have no right to moral authority. And the hypocrisy they stand behind most is the pedestal they will fall from when people stop practicing ignorance.
“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”
Sister Joan Chittister