I don’t normally share about topics not directly related to environmental matters on the blog. But at times, we face matters of such gravity, that we all need to use our voices to have important conversations. So here I am, sharing an open letter to my family and friends about a topic close to my heart.
Please note that the opinions I share here are mine and may not represent the opinions of other contributors who share their work on Honestly Modern.
Earlier this week, as many people wished me Happy Mother’s Day, they asked me if my family did anything special for me for the day. I’ve never been one to want big celebrations or lots of pomp and circumstance for my benefit. But this year, I just wanted to tell people that the only thing I wanted for Mother’s Day was for women to be guaranteed the right to make a choice about becoming a mother.
As a mom of two kids, parenting is hard work. My husband and I tell friends all the time how no one should have kids if they aren’t absolutely sure they want them. It’s too hard, too expensive, too exhausting, and just too much if you’re not entirely committed to the cause.
And yet, the United States government appears to be on its way to turning back the clock on progress and limiting the family planning resources to which women and their families have access.
Update: Since writing this post, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. The clock has been turned back. Hopefully, we can create more progressive policies going forward for the reasons I describe below.
Proponents of abortion restrictions argue that abortion is murder and violates the rights of a non-sentient, non-viable body of cells housed inside a person’s uterus. They argue that abortion kills babies, and they are in favor of life.
But no one wants to kill babies. I certainly don’t. And here’s what’s more important to know. Strict anti-abortion laws don’t protect unborn babies. Data shows that abortion bans actually increase abortions and make abortions much more unsafe. They protect neither the life of the unborn baby nor the life of the mother.
Abortion rights and access to a suite of safe, reproductive health care resources protect far more lives than regulation that limits access to safe abortions, and there’s data to back this up.
What’s Happening With Abortion In The United States?
Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned through research and my own understanding of various articles and documents, most of which I’ve linked to throughout the post below. This is a high-level overview and is not intended to be a technical review or expert breakdown of the matter.
In 1969, the United States Supreme Court judged that a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy was protected by the US constitution in a court case called Roe vs. Wade. The case created a “trimester” system that generally allows abortion in the first trimester and places more restrictive limitations on abortion in each successive trimester.
Since then, certain court judgments have modified the Roe vs. Wade ruling to make it somewhat more restrictive and more difficult for people to obtain abortions depending on where they live. But for the most part, women’s right to abortion, particularly in the early stages of gestation, was protected by this legal precedent and subject to varying further regulations or freedoms in different states.
During the course of Donald Trump’s presidency, he nominated (and Congress confirmed) three conservative Supreme Court Justices which changed the makeup of the nine-justice bench to include six justices appointed by Republicans and three justices appointed by Democrats. As promised during his campaign for President, Trump specifically nominated justices he expected would seek to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
With six conservative justices on the Supreme Court, several conservative states implemented anti-abortion laws that they knew would be deemed unconstitutional under the current legal precedent from Roe vs. Wade. They instituted the laws with the effective intent of being sued, appealing, and taking the cases to the Supreme Court to use as a means to overturn the long-standing precedent set by Roe vs. Wade and subsequent related cases.
In December of 2021, the Supreme Court heard the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case from the state of Mississippi that seeks to ban abortions after 15 weeks, except in certain cases related to the health of the mother or fetus. On June 24, 2022, the court ruled in favor of Mississippi (i.e. Dobbs) and effectively ended the constitutional right to an abortion, leaving abortion rights to be left up to individual states or federal legislators.
What Does It Mean That Roe vs. Wade Got Overturned?
Roe vs. Wade set a federal precedent to protect abortion rights under certain circumstances, meaning that states could not create their own rules outside of this precedent. When Roe vs. Wade got overturned, it returned the authority of abortion laws back to the states. The federal Congress could also pass legislation to regulate abortion at the federal level, but that has not happened yet. In other words, the decision itself doesn’t necessarily make abortion legal or illegal anywhere.
However, according to NPR, “Eighteen states have “trigger laws” to ban abortion if Roe is overturned or have pre-Roe abortion bans still on the books. Additionally, some states have laws — not currently in effect — banning abortion after six to eight weeks.” (See the map)
Based on actions state governments are already taking, many conservative states have or did enact strict laws banning abortion (with different caveats in each state) upon the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Some more liberal states have started specifically protecting abortion in their states and setting up frameworks to provide abortion to out-of-state people who live in states where abortion is prohibited.
More importantly, it opens the door for the United States Congress to either specifically protect or ban abortion rights through legislation, depending on which party is in power. Any federal laws related to abortion rights would supersede state laws.
Why Do I Care About These Changes?
Access to safe abortion is important. As I discuss further below, abortion bans don’t work. They simply force women to choose more dangerous methods of terminating their pregnancies.
Safety – Legal Abortions, Drugs, Patient Care, & Maternal Mortality Rates
By and large, women don’t take abortion lightly. If they want or need to terminate their pregnancy, they will find a means to do it (global data supports this). Whether through chemical drugs monitored by the Federal Drug Administration and safe medical procedures or black market drugs and back-alley procedures, abortion happens. I’d much rather see people access abortion safely.
Illegal Abortion Drugs
Using drugs to terminate a pregnancy (especially earlier in the gestation period) is a growing tool for abortion in the United States. If we’ve learned anything from existing drug laws and drug abuse (opioids, cocaine, stimulants, and more), we know that people obtain them and use them broadly whether they are legal or not.
Currently, these drugs are monitored by the FDA and are known to be quite safe. Based on the global data I mention below that people get abortions whether they are legal or not, people will access these drugs for abortion. They will just start doing it on black markets and without medical supervision.
I’m not suggesting that all drugs be legal just because people will use them. But in the case of early-stage abortions, I believe we will protect more lives by helping people use them safely than by leaving women to use them without medical assistance, and I think it’s acceptable to use them in the early stages of pregnancy.
Additionally, even when abortions are allowed under acute circumstances, such as the endangerment of the mother, the probability of a certain medical outcome is nearly never 0% or 100%. Doctors must make judgment calls about risks in moments of uncertainty. Instead of focusing solely on the health of the patient, providers working in places with strict laws against abortion must weigh caring for the patient and risking their livelihood.
Molly Duane, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, says these fears are already coming to fruition in Texas where strict abortion restrictions were passed in 2021 (see more below). “A physician who made that determination [that the mother’s life was in danger] in the moment would be doing so knowing that if someone second-guessed their judgment, [anyone] could file a lawsuit saying that you violated SB 8,” she says.
Further, because the Texas law encourages private citizens to sue providers in exchange for a $10,000 reward, even non-medical professionals with no professional basis for challenging a doctor’s decision can sue a doctor in the hopes of winning the bounty and tarnishing or destroying the doctor’s livelihood in the process. (See more about this below in the section focused on Texas’ law.)
If my life were at risk, with even a 10% or 15% risk of danger or death, I want my doctor to make the decision that best protects my health without fear that their practice and livelihood will be at stake despite making the best choice for the patient. I suspect we all want that.
Maternal Mortality Rates
The United States already has the highest maternal mortality rate of industrialized counties (by a lot – more than double). Maternal mortality rates, primarily from women dying after giving birth, are much higher than death rates from safe abortions.
In other words, forcing women to give birth will increase maternal mortality rates assuming the United States continues to fail, relative to our peers, at protecting women’s health during and after pregnancy. Coupled with the fears doctors face of being punished for prioritizing the safety of the mother over the protection of the potential fetus, maternal mortality rates will almost certainly increase.
If my life were at stake, even somewhat, I hope my family and medical professionals would prioritize my life (and the value of my life to my existing two children) over a potential life in an unborn fetus. Strict laws against abortion make this a more complex decision, wrought with more fear than it ought to be.
Overly Strict & Excessive Regulations on Abortion
In conservative states, Republican politicians have shown an interest in and willingness to make what I believe are unduly strict regulations on abortion. Here are a few examples (again, based on my high-level understanding and not with the intention of mirroring a detailed explanation from a legal expert).
A new 2021 law in Texas, SB 8, bans abortion after about six weeks, a date at which most women don’t even know they are pregnant. While the law doesn’t specifically become effective at six weeks gestation (or about two weeks after a first missed period), it applies at the time of “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” This definition includes electrical activity in developing cells despite no actual heart at that stage of development. It’s effectively a total ban on abortion and includes no exceptions for rape or incest.
No exceptions for rape? Do these politicians have any compassion? That essentially means any man in Texas can unilaterally decide to impregnate any woman he chooses and that woman has no recourse. How is this real?
Furthermore, the provision allows and strongly encourages private citizens to sue anyone who helps or intends to help another person get an abortion. The law awards $10,000 or more to any person who successfully sues an abortion provider or anyone who “abets” or “intends to abet” another person getting an abortion.
Additionally, and unlike many civil cases, the burden of proof is on the defendant who must prove they complied with the law. They are effectively guilty until proven innocent. If the defendant loses, the defendant must pay the $10,000 or more bounty and legal costs for the plaintiff.
If the defendant wins, however, they must pay their own legal costs. The law specifically prohibits a defendant from recouping legal expenses from the plaintiff, even if the plaintiff was wrong and/or the lawsuit was baseless. In other words, plaintiffs have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and defendants bear the cost of legal defense and the burden of proof regardless of whether or not they actually did anything wrong.
Here are a few examples of how this can happen. One’s neighbor could sue a husband for driving his wife to the clinic for an abortion. A family member could sue a mother for helping a daughter who was raped seek an abortion. A stranger could sue someone they’ve never met for donating to an abortion clinic, as that donation abets someone in obtaining an abortion.
One could even sue a friend who planned to drive someone to an abortion clinic but never actually did it because they “intended to abet” the abortion. You can get sued in Texas for thinking about doing something you never actually did.
And any private citizen could sue an emergency room doctor for performing an abortion even when done so with the intent of saving the mother’s life. The doctor would be required to pay their own legal fees, show up in a courtroom to defend themselves, prove the mother’s life was in danger, and endure the emotional and financial pain of a lawsuit even if the lawsuit is baseless and the doctor acted in the best medical interest of their patient.
The state has effectively placed a bounty on anyone who helps someone get an abortion in exchange for a $10,000 reward for such pursuit and provided a reimbursement structure that protects serial plaintiffs and harms defendants regardless of their compliance with the law. This is disgusting.
Similar to the Texas law, Missouri is currently working to pass a bill that allows and encourages (through a bounty, similar to Texas) private citizens to sue someone who helps another person get an abortion. The Missouri bill, however, goes beyond the Texas law such that it allows one to be sued even if the abortion happens outside of Missouri.
Imagine the precedent this sets for states having jurisdiction over what happens in another state. As a resident of one state, I have to follow the laws of my home state even when I’m not there? My state government can follow me around to other states and monitor my behavior to ensure I’m following its rules. This is absurd.
Update: Since writing this article, I have not seen evidence that this bill has passed or not. Currently, Missouri bans abortions except in cases to protect the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
And the Missouri health department will not release more details on what constitutes approved reasons for abortion. Lisa Cox from the health department says, “The department is unable to formulate advisory responses to various situations with distinct fact patterns. The complexity of each situation is why Missouri law gives that analysis to physicians to utilize ‘reasonable medical judgment.’”
In other words, politicians can legislate abortion but the circumstances are too complex for health professionals in the government health department to provide any further details because each situation is unique and should be left up to medical professionals. Sounds like quite the mixed-up conundrum… precisely because abortion care is medical care and shouldn’t be legislated.
Louisiana already has a “trigger law,” in place since 2006, that makes abortion illegal from the time of fertilization and implantation, except in cases of endangerment to the mother. A “trigger law” as it relates to abortion is simply a law that was unconstitutional under Roe vs. Wade and related legal precedents but that would immediately (or nearly immediately) go into effect if and when such precedents were overturned.
Louisiana chose to pass further legislation that makes the law even more restrictive. The amendment to the law specifically changed the definition of an unborn child from “the moment of fertilization and implantation” to “the moment of fertilization.” Here is the law. This means that IVF could be illegal.
IVF fertilizes the egg before it’s implanted and creates an embryo. It’s not unusual to have extra embryos a family doesn’t need. If a family decides to dispose of the extra embryos, this falls under the definition of abortion as outlined in the new Louisiana law, and the family could theoretically be convicted of homicide for not using all of the embryos.
While the legislator who drafted the bill said this was not the intent of the change, intent doesn’t matter if the language doesn’t change. And why in the world would they move to change this language in the first place? What is the point of removing the words “and implantation” if they’re not seeking to slowly continue to further assault women’s reproductive rights?
A Republican candidate running for US Senate wants to overturn Griswold, a Supreme Court case that prevents states from banning birth control (condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, etc…). This isn’t even about abortion. Why in the world would you overturn such a case? Under what circumstances should we ever BAN birth control?!
While the candidate argues he’s not in favor of banning birth control, why else would you possibly feel the inclination to campaign on such a platform if that wasn’t your intent? Our politicians are anything but honest and sincere, so we can assume he’s not telling the truth about his intent. But this isn’t the first indication that conservative politicians are interested in banning birth control following successful abortion bans.
New Policy Changes Indicate Future Intent
These changes are further examples of politicians becoming dangerously (and quite frankly, obnoxiously) bold about abortion bans. I understand a desire for some level of regulation around abortion. But conservative politicians have taken this battle to unbelievable and unnecessary extents.
I care about what’s happening in other states because it’s an indicator of where our conservative federal politicians are moving and because it has the potential to overturn and set new precedents similar to the case from Mississippi currently before the Supreme Court. If Republicans take control of Congress, which will likely happen at some point, there’s no telling what crazy regulations over women’s reproductive rights they’ll seek to employ.
According to a survey done by Pew Research Center in March 2022, “A majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but many are open to restrictions; many opponents of legal abortion say it should be legal in some circumstances.”
When you dig further into the data, most Americans don’t necessarily support abortion under all circumstances at any stage. But a vast majority agree with providing access to early-stage abortions with stricter limits (and potential bans, except for certain health risks) later in the gestation period. Particularly in light of the fact that outright abortion bans are ineffective and unsafe (discussed more below), I believe that we could find a reasonable middle ground with legislation that protects access to abortion through a certain stage of pregnancy with stricter limits in place, particularly in the third trimester.
Unfortunately, while most good, cooperative, and compromising Americans go about our daily lives, our politicians pander to the more extremist loud voices and the few extreme organizations providing them large campaign contributions, despite what a majority of their constituents could compromise on somewhere in the middle.
I’d like to see our government align with the vast majority of industrialized countries and provide reasonable access to safe abortions. I am potentially willing to accept stricter limitations on abortion in the later stages of pregnancy.
However, the more I learn about late-stage abortions, the more it seems they are often due to health concerns of the mother or lack of vitality outside the womb for the fetus (thus they would and should be allowed under many abortion law exceptions anyway). I’m not expert enough to further define what those guidelines should be; that determination should be left to medical professionals and social advocacy specialists.
Furthermore, many states currently have requirements that require those seeking an abortion to receive counseling, have multiple appointments, or follow similar protocols around waiting periods to ensure they understand the implications of their choice and aren’t making the decision flippantly. Even in many more liberal states, abortion is not a quick procedure through which one stops in, removes the fetus, and heads home.
I’m not an expert on the nuances of such waiting periods or intermediate steps. However, I suspect a reasonable waiting period of some kind during which women receive adequate education about each alternative could be included in a pro-choice policy that ensures those seeking an abortion are doing so under well-informed consent. This may be more amenable to Americans willing to meet in the middle on abortion policy.
Reasons To Support Abortion Rights
Strict Anti-Abortion Regulations Don’t Work (And Actually Create More Harm)
First and foremost, anti-abortion laws DO NOT WORK. They don’t reduce abortions. The data is clear. Regardless of your moral stance on terminating a pregnancy, anti-abortion laws are not effective or safe solutions to reduce abortion.
According to research performed by a variety of well-respected global organizations including the World Health Organization, abortion globally occurs at similar rates per 1,000 women regardless of the legality of the medical procedure and irrespective of country income level or region. In high-income countries specifically, like the United States, there are three times more abortions in places with more legal restrictions to abortion access than in places where abortion is broadly legal.
Further, trends suggest that severe restrictions on abortion actually increase abortions over time. According to the Center on Foreign Relations, “Between 1990–94 and 2015–19, the average abortion rate in countries with generally legal abortion (excluding China and India) declined by 43 percent. By contrast, in countries with severe restrictions on abortion, the average abortion rate increased by around 12 percent.”
In other words, strict anti-abortion regulations decrease safe abortions, increase unsafe abortions, and increase abortions overall. Such regulation fails in its intent and creates more harm.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean abortion should or needs to be a free-for-all. According to 2019 data from the Center for Disease Control, “The majority of abortions in 2019 took place early in gestation: 92.7% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (6.2%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (<1.0%) were performed at ≥21 weeks’ gestation.”
We can offer safe abortion in early gestation periods to meet the needs of nearly all people needing and wanting it while still limiting abortions later in pregnancy.
The fact that strict abortion laws actually increase unsafe abortions and abortions overall seems like reason enough to seek other alternatives for safe and effective reproductive health care, but unfortunately, it’s not.
If you want to protect life, anti-abortion regulations do not do that.
Reduce Abortion By Limiting Unwanted Pregnancy
If we want to reduce abortions, the best and most scientifically-proven way to do this is by reducing unwanted pregnancies, which some might argue is primarily the responsibility of men. We can reduce unwanted pregnancies by providing more access to a variety of contraceptives. We can offer more thorough sexual education so people are making informed choices about how and when to participate in intimate activities. And we should increase cultural responsibility for men to be accountable for the impacts of their ejaculations (i.e. start by always wearing condoms, even if it’s a tiny bit less pleasurable).
Regardless of the legality of abortion, unwanted pregnancies are terminated at a rate of 36% – 41%. That’s a pretty slim range for such a broad swath of regulatory circumstances. Abortion happens whether it’s legal or not. Reducing unwanted pregnancies is a far more effective way to reduce abortions than limiting access to abortion procedures.
If you want to protect life, focus on reducing unwanted pregnancies.
Adoption Is Not An Equivalent Alternative To Abortion
Many suggest that if a pregnant person has an unwanted pregnancy, they should just give the child up for adoption or leave it at a “safe haven” location as if these are equivalent alternatives. If adoption were an equivalent alternative to abortion, surrogacy would be an equivalent alternative to not being pregnant (and that is obviously ludicrous).
Carrying a baby to term is no small feat, burdened by numerous health risks and complications. After having my second child, I asked my doctor if I could walk home (it was just a few blocks). He would not allow me to leave unless I had a ride home in a car because the physical trauma of labor and delivery my body had just endured was too great.
Furthermore, nearly every woman I know has had some type of complication during or after pregnancy. From incisions not healing properly, infections, and muscle issues to post-partum depression, nine months of pregnancy along with labor and delivery is taxing on one’s health at best. Writing off the physical, social, mental, emotional, professional, and other implications of birthing a child as a simple means of putting a child up for adoption is insulting.
In his leaked draft opinion, Justice Alito mentions the increased adoption of “safe haven” laws as one reason for supporting stricter abortion regulations. Being pregnant for nine months, delivering a baby, and leaving it in a box outside a fire station is not an alternative to abortion.
The opinion goes on to state that women have “little reason to fear that the baby will not find a suitable home” through an adoption process The opinion cites a CDC report stating that the United States has a low “domestic supply of infants” available for adoption. Even if the United States has a low “domestic supply of infants,” preventing abortion to meet the demands of prospective adoptive parents is forced, unpaid surrogacy.
Beyond the personal ramifications, forced pregnancy to fill adoption queues is unethical. Currently, there are 407,000 children in foster care and 117,000 children waiting to be adopted. There is no shortage of children seeking loving homes.
Regardless of one’s intimacy choices, it is not one person’s responsibility to carry a baby to term so another family can adopt an infant. While the choice to put a child up for adoption is noble and kind, it is far from the government’s responsibility to force this upon anyone (aside from situations when the child’s welfare is at risk, of course).
Moreover, adoption is complex and can be traumatic for both the parents and the child. Birthing a child, and then giving that child up for adoption or leaving a baby at a “safe haven” is not something one endures for a finite period of time and forgets upon completion. The process of adoption can be complicated and full of obstacles.
While adoption is a very valid choice for parents who choose that route, it’s not a replacement for abortion.
Abortion For Exceptions Is Pro-Choice
Increasingly, abortion restrictions are being proposed without any restrictions, meaning that even a woman who is raped must carry a baby to term and endure more than just the trauma of the rape. If this isn’t cruel and evil, I’m not sure what is.
If that rape victim wants to put the baby up for adoption, she may need to seek out the rapist and ask for permission to give up her child for adoption (the father must sign the adoption papers) or hand over the baby to the person who sexually assaulted her if the father does not want to consent to adoption. How is that tenable to anyone? Certainly, the supporters of that law don’t care one bit about the life of the mother.
Even when there are exceptions such as those for rape or endangerment of the mother, who decides that the exceptions have been met?
Exceptions for Rape
What if a woman is raped and the police officer believes her but the doctor does not? Or the doctor believes her and the police offer does not? Does the rapist need to be convicted before the pregnancy can be terminated since they are innocent until proven guilty? Due to the speed at which our courts move, the window for abortion will have long passed and the woman would be denied her legal right to abortion simply due to the passage of time.
To my family and friends, what if this woman is me? Who decides that I am telling the truth? Who confirms that rape actually happened and that I am worthy of the legal abortion?
A few months ago, my husband sat on a jury for a rape trial. He agonized over the facts of the multi-day trial and lost sleep contemplating the details and circumstances to reach a decision with his fellow jurors. The conclusion of rape was anything but clear, so much so that the jury was hung.
By the time the trial happened, the woman would have either had the baby or terminated the pregnancy. If we make an exception for rape and she had terminated the pregnancy, would my husband and his fellow jurors not only be deciding if she was raped but also if she was a convicted baby murderer? Do jurors get to decide if a woman is allowed to have an abortion?
Exceptions for Endangerment of the Mother
Regarding exceptions for endangerment to the mother, how much risk must the mother face in order to terminate the pregnancy? Every situation will be different and subject to opinions from medical professionals.
To my family and friends, what if this woman is me? What risk of death constitutes sacrificing a fetus for my life? 10%? 50%? 80%?
What if healthcare providers don’t agree? What if a nurse gives me a 20% chance of survival while the doctor thinks it’s closer to 80%? What if I ask for a second opinion and the new doctor thinks I have only a 30% chance of survival? At what point do my life and the value I provide to my existing children outweigh the potential of saving a non-sentient, non-viable fetus?
At what point is my current life worth more than the potential life of an unborn fetus?
I want my doctor to weigh that decision with my health and safety as the priority and without fear of retribution from restrictive laws that prohibit the doctor from making a decision solely based on medical circumstances.
Every Pregnancy Comes With Risk
Every pregnancy is different and comes with its own set of risks. Different doctors draw different conclusions. Different health circumstances for each woman change potential outcomes.
If you believe there should be exceptions to anti-abortion laws, you’re pro-choice.
Organ & Blood Donation Save More Lives Than Anti-Abortion Laws
As the argument goes, abortion is the protection of the life of a potential baby – not a healthy, breathing baby, but a fetus that may become a baby. While anti-abortion laws force women to use their bodies to save the potential life of an unborn fetus, people are not required to either donate their blood or their organs to save other living, breathing humans.
Organ donation (specifically after death) and blood donation have negligible effects on the donors, yet no one is required to use their body or body parts in the service of saving someone else’s life through organ or blood donation.
According to organdonation.gov in the United States, there are currently more than 105,000 humans on the national transplant waiting list hoping to receive organ donations, and 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.
Each healthy person, upon dying, could save up to eight existing (not potential) lives and enhance over 75 more lives through organ donation. Yet only 60% of adults are signed up as organ donors, and no one (or next to no one) is talking about making it mandatory.
Blood donation saves millions of lives every year, including the lives of many babies. Right now, there is an acute blood shortage. Most people can donate blood by giving just an hour of their time with almost no side effects. Yet only 6.8 million people in the United States donate blood each year. Even if every person who donated blood was pro-life regarding abortion (which they obviously are not), where are all the rest of the life-protecting advocates? Why aren’t they donating their blood?
If we are going to require someone to endure pregnancy, labor, delivery, and all the related risks and complications to save one potential life, why would we not require healthy, qualifying people to donate blood to save millions of lives each year?
Over the course of a person’s life, someone might “save” one or two potential babies’ lives by having one or two forced pregnancies. As an organ and blood donor, each person (including men) could save countless lives over the course of their life. This would have a far greater impact on protecting life than anti-abortion laws (which we already discussed don’t reduce abortion rates anyway).
If anti-abortion advocacy was truly in service of protecting lives, those organizations would be lobbying more aggressively for mandatory organ and blood donation than for anti-abortion laws.
United Nations: Reproductive Rights and Human Rights
The United Nations and other international human rights organizations maintain that family planning services are an essential part of adequate human and reproductive rights for people around the world.
Family planning services include access to birth control, reproductive healthcare, and adequate sexual education (among other things). More specifically, Craig Lissner, the UN health agency’s acting direction for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research said “being able to obtain a safe abortion is a crucial part of healthcare.”
As a global leader in designing frameworks for human well-being and prosperity, the recommendations and policies the UN encourage carry much more weight than the partisan positions of untrustworthy US politicians acting as the cronies for the largest contributors to their reelection campaigns.
Intimacy Does Not Have To Be Reserved For Those Wanting To Have Children
Intimacy is an important part of any relationship, marriage or not. It should not be limited just to those who are willing and interested in having children.
Abstinence need not be the only tool in our family planning toolbox. With roughly 121 million unintended pregnancies every year around the world, it’s obviously not working. And it shouldn’t be the only solution.
I suspect every (or nearly every) married or unmarried couple has had sex without the intent to have children. It probably felt good. Why should that experience be limited only to those willing to have children or to those who are married? If someone knows they do not want to have children, for whatever reason that is, they should not be then prohibited from ever having sex.
No form of birth control is foolproof. Nothing is 100% effective. So even someone practicing the most responsible contraception use could still get pregnant. And they shouldn’t be forced to have a child if it’s not right for their life or circumstances. That’s not good for the parents or the child.
After having my second child, I had a tubal ligation. I knew with complete certainty that I was done having children (and I haven’t had a single doubt since my second son was born).
A few years ago, I thought for a few days that I might be pregnant. According to Johns Hopkins, about 1 out of 200 women may still become pregnant after a tubal ligation. I didn’t ultimately need to make a decision about terminating the pregnancy. But if I was the 1 in 200, I certainly would want that decision to be one between me, my husband, and my doctor and not dictated by the state or federal government.
Dismal Family Support Policies in the United States
The United States, while seemingly on its way to reverting to antiquated family planning policies, simultaneously has some of the worst family support policies among comparable industrialized countries. We are one of few countries that have no family leave.
We have outrageously expensive daycare, forcing many people (and mostly women) out of the workforce because they don’t make enough money to cover the cost of daycare. Even in a well-paying corporate job, my salary barely covered the cost of daycare for two children before they went to school.
Yet we insist on forcing women to have children they do not want and then provide next to zero support for the life of the child or the parents after the first breath.
If you care about life, support more robust family support policies after the baby is born.
Republicans Have Been Clear About Their Intent To Change Policies
Republicans across the board have made it clear where they stand on abortion. Despite knowing it doesn’t work (and they know, because they’re very bright people and the facts are readily available), they insist on limiting access to safe abortions. And if they have their way, they will likely codify bans on abortion into law if they take control of Congress, which will come in due time as political winds swing from time to time.
On USA Today recently, Mitch McConnell, Senior Republican Senator and Senate Minority Leader, confirmed that there is real potential that Republicans would seek to pass regressive federal bans on abortion. Regarding the overturn of Roe vs. Wade and a national abortion ban, he said (before the decision was announced) “And if this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process. So yeah, it’s possible.”
Vote For Policies That Reduce Unwanted Pregnancies and Abortions
While this is incredibly disappointing, this also means you have the power to do something. Now that Roe vs. Wade got overturned, Republican Congress members will likely try to pass legislation to codify laws regarding abortion rights. Who we vote for in the upcoming election could have a significant impact on women’s reproductive rights for generations.
Pro-choice policy reduces unwanted pregnancies AND abortions.
Now is the time to do the research, know the facts, and take action to elect pro-choice candidates who support policies and laws that support safe and robust reproductive care and actually reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
Research & Know The Facts
Before making a quick conclusion on a matter of such gravity, do your research. Understand how your choice would impact the lives of others. Know the facts, and remember that research shows anti-abortion laws don’t work.
Donate to organizations that are defending women’s reproductive rights. Even if you don’t have time or aren’t sure how to take action, support the entities that are taking action every day. These are the organizations that execute the services that reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions and keep them safe for those who need and want them.
Have conversations with friends and family when the topics come up and be honest about where you stand. It doesn’t have to be a fight every time you see them, but genuine conversations filled with lots of listening and sharing of facts or emotional impacts might help you and others see things in new ways or consider viewpoints you hadn’t thought about before.
Also, consider shifting the conversation to focus on reducing unwanted pregnancies instead of legislating women’s bodies. This book, Ejaculate Responsibly, by Gabrielle Blair (also mentioned above) is a great starting point for changing the narrative around abortion conversations and holding men accountable for their role in unwanted pregnancies.
Advocate in a way that makes sense to you. Join a protest. Write a legislator. Volunteer for an organization you support. Support more robust sexual education in schools. Promote broader access to birth control (especially condoms, which are relatively cheap and effective).
Most importantly, VOTE! Vote for politicians who acknowledge that anti-abortion laws are ineffective and unsafe. Vote for the pro-choice politicians who support policies that actually reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. None of us want babies to die, but there are much better ways of reducing abortions and saving babies than limiting access to a service people seek out regardless of the legality.
To all my friends and family who consider themselves pro-choice
To all my friends and family who consider themselves pro-choice, be sure to speak up, advocate, donate, and most importantly, vote for candidates who support your pro-choice position.
If you traditionally vote for anti-choice candidates, please reconsider how you vote. What are you willing to sacrifice and at what cost to protect the health and wellness of women and their families?
One in four women has an abortion, so there’s a reasonable chance it could be you or someone you love. Furthermore, conservative politicians are increasingly implementing laws that ban abortion even in the case of rape.
Abortion bans without exceptions for rape mean that men get to unilaterally decide which women they impregnate. A woman has no agency over whether or not she is impregnated and no recourse when a man forcefully chooses her to be the mother of his child.
Let’s rephrase that. Any man walking down the street can rape and impregnate me and there’s nothing I can do about it. (Criminal punishment does not solve this problem. It only puts the father of my child in prison.) This is already the case in some states, and politicians are pushing for this in more states. Are you willing to support that? What if it was you or me? Are you still willing to support that?
Unfortunately, we live in an environment of irrational and irresponsible partisan politicians who can’t compromise. If you vote for anti-choice candidates, you’ll likely be supporting candidates who will vote to ban abortion even in the case of rape. I wish this was not true.
To all my friends and family who consider themselves pro-life
To all my friends and family who consider themselves pro-life, I ask you (beg you) to take a chance to reconsider your position. You don’t have to agree with all of my reasons for supporting reasonable access to abortion. I suspect you don’t, and that’s totally ok.
But do your research. Remember that strict abortion regulations don’t work. They are unsafe, ineffective, and cause more harm. The data confirms that strict abortion bans increase abortions in countries like the United States while pro-choice policy protects more lives and reduces abortions.
While it seems counter-intuitive, it’s fact. If we want to decrease abortions and prioritize life, we need to provide adequate education and access to reproductive tools and resources, including abortion. That doesn’t mean we need to make abortion available on demand at all stages of pregnancy, but it does need to be broadly available, at least in the early stages of gestation, and available in all instances where the woman was raped or the mother’s health is in danger.
We also need to change the conversation. We need to focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies, not banning abortions. Read this book for the language and support to make this cultural shift.
Because abortion happens whether it’s legal or not, strict anti-abortion laws effectively prioritize threats of punishment (and actual punishment) over the lives of unborn babies and their mothers. Choosing the moral high ground leads to more abortions, not fewer. Is this really what you want? I suspect it’s not, because I believe your heart is in the right place.
As I mentioned above, conservative politicians are increasingly implementing laws that ban abortion even in the case of rape. Are you willing to support that? What if it was you or me? Are you still willing to support that?
Understand the full scope of the implications of your choices. No one wants to kill babies. I know you don’t. And I certainly hope you know I don’t. Women’s reproductive rights are about so much more than a baby’s first breath. It’s about equality, independence, prosperity, and protecting the lives of babies and women.
This Mother’s Day, I was nauseous. I was angry. I was sad. I was disappointed. I was scared. (To be clear, I’m still all those things). I want all women to have access to tools and resources to choose if and when they become a mother. I hope you feel the same way too.
About The Author
Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.
You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.