The efforts to restrict access to legal abortion highlights the importance of language when framing an argument. What is not to like about the phrase “pro-life” because aren’t we all, presumably, in favor of life?
In contrast, “pro-choice” sounds like a flippant idea that reflects none of the emotional turmoil and genuine burdens that face a woman who cannot bear a child. Similarly, “right-to-privacy,” which is popularly considered the underlying foundation of Roe v Wade, comes across as especially old-fashioned in this era of increasing electronic surveillance (note, “privacy” is barely mentioned in Roe).
Anti-abortion foes drive the debate about what “exceptions” should be allowed, and what defines “personhood.” The exceptions debate is so far down the rabbit hole that the light of honesty will never find it.
Take for instance the exception for the life or bodily function of the woman. Given that every pregnancy inherently increases the risk to both life and bodily integrity of the woman, if this was truly an exception there would be no anti-abortion legislation. The question of personhood is purely a personal and religious interpretation and can never amount to more than a zero-sum-game when considered under the 14th Amendment.
Abortion rights are fundamentally about the right of 51 percent of Americans (i.e., women) to self-determination. This is about the right to bodily integrity, and the right to plan one’s own family without state intervention. It is about the right of women to defend themselves against imposition of religious views by their own government. This is about 51 percent of Americans having the choice to bear the risk of a pregnancy, or not.
When we consider the risk factors for needing an abortion, someone might ask a woman why she needs this?
The full answer to such a query is most appropriately, “none of your business” (see 14th Amendment). From a population perspective, poverty is the most pervasive underlying factor. Poor women have more abortions than their better-off counterparts. Poor women are less likely to have access to contraception.
Lacking access to abortion can drive life-long poverty, with a higher likelihood of significant reduction in quality of life, increased frequency of illness and early death (for the woman and her children). Poor women, and women of color in particular, are disproportionately harmed by the foes of abortion rights. Nevertheless, not only will these foes do little to help poor women gain access to contraception, but once a child is born you can pretty much expect little further state interest in the matter.
At a broad level, evidence for this comes with the U.S. ranking 34 out of 35 countries for child poverty (slightly better than Romania). The picture becomes even clearer when we focus on 10 states that have abortion statutes in practice or under consideration that would limit abortion rights to less than guaranteed under Roe: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Utah.
If we take the average rank of these states, for every metric cited below this group performs dismally compared to a median rank of 25.
On average, this collection of states ranks well below the median for all metrics of childhood poverty, including extreme poverty for children under the age of 6 (mean rank: 38.6).
Similarly, they perform miserably for infant mortality (mean rank: 38.9), maternal mortality (31.1), and teen pregnancy (37.8). Six of these states refuse to implement expanded Medicare coverage under the Affordable Car Act. Most of this group rank well above the median for men killing women (i.e., extreme domestic violence; 14.9), and for having higher firearm-related deaths in general (21.1).
It is clear that the most “pro-life” states have the worst statistics for poverty and misery. So why so much attention to abortion per se while not dealing with root issues underlying these statistics?
Part of it is pure and simple misogyny, whether overtly or implicitly through earnest belief in maintaining male position and power under select Biblical interpretations. Part of it may be the simple-minded self-righteousness that allows people to ignore the complexities of life, to paint their opponents as inhuman, and that allows opportunistic politicians to rally the base for elections.
Unfortunately, these despicable politicians are all too likely to wave this flag of self-righteousness to get conservative votes while pursuing policies that are guaranteed to promote further poverty, make access to contraception as difficult as possible, and ensure that the demand for abortions stays as high as possible.
Douglas Call is a microbiologist. He and his family have lived on the Palouse for more than 20 years.