John Sheirer: The new challenge of abortion rights
NORTHAMPTON — Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have been proposing restrictions on abortion at an astonishing rate since the 2010 elections, even accelerating their anti-choice efforts during the recent summer months.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called two special legislative sessions specifically to ram through anti-choice legislation. Ohio Republicans attached 11th-hour anti-choice laws to the state budget in order to avoid debate. And North Carolina Republicans held a master class in craven foolishness when they attached abortion laws onto motorcycle-safety bills and even a ridiculous measure against Sharia law.
Fortunately, several Republican anti-choice laws have already been ruled unconstitutional, and more will follow as new laws continue to be challenged.
Lost in the frantic Republican stampede to one-up each other’s quest to restrict women’s reproductive rights is the actual difference of opinion on the overall abortion issue. That primary difference has to do with who gets to decide the exact point at which the mass of living cells inside a pregnant woman becomes a human being. Most, perhaps all, pro-choice people don’t have a rigid, all-encompassing answer to that question. Our viewpoint is that each pregnant woman has the right to make her own decision. No one is “pro-abortion.” No one wants to force anyone to have an abortion if she chooses not to. Pro-choice people are not against women choosing not to have an abortion. We are against others taking the right to make that choice away.
Many Republican abortion restrictions seem to be prefaced on the idea that women who have abortions do so impulsively, as if a pregnant woman simply hasn’t considered her choice seriously enough. I’ve known many women who experienced an unwanted pregnancy at some point in their lives. Some were young, some old, some alone, some with a dedicated family and man in their life. Some look back with relief that they made the right choice, some with regret. None faced their choice with a cavalier attitude. All brought their full hearts and minds to their agonizing choice.
At the core of our argument, pro-choice people believe that no government has the right to take away such an important personal decision. Our disagreement is not with people who believe they know exactly when a pregnancy can be defined as a human being. We acknowledge that every individual has the right to make that choice.
What pro-choice people object to is the insistence that government force the decisions of some onto everyone else. We object to the legislation of views that others may not share but would be forced to obey. We object to government trying to make decisions for other American citizens by enacting laws that take away choice.
Anti-choice laws aren’t about morality. Morality involves making choices, not eliminating choice.
Even if abortion becomes illegal, many women will still choose to get an abortion, so pro-choice people support legal and safe access to abortion. Before Roe v. Wade, wealthy women could afford relatively safe, illegal abortions. Poor and middle-class women were far too often endangered by unsafe “back-alley” abortions. We can’t go back to the dark days of putting these women at risk simply because their economic circumstances conflict with someone’s else’s desire to impose their views on other people. Putting women’s lives at risk is not a “pro-life” position.
Most important, pro-choice people support efforts that can make a difference in preventing unplanned pregnancy, such as comprehensive sex education about the physical and emotional components and consequences of sexual activity. Republican “abstinence only” programs are ridiculously unrealistic and simply not effective at preventing unplanned pregnancy. Promoting reproductive ignorance rather than knowledge is not “pro-life.”
We also support public policy that improves the quality of life for parents and children. Republicans, by contrast, have been attacking food stamp funding, nearly three-fourths of which goes to families with young children. There is nothing “pro-life” about cutting food for children. Republicans also attacked the Affordable Care Act in part because they saw Obamacare as somehow promoting abortion. The truth is that the law’s provisions promoting birth control, prenatal care and women’s health have been shown to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
Fewer abortions and better life for parents and children —aren’t these “pro-life” values?
John Sheirer of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at email@example.com.