The Morality of Abortion Rights
Why I Am Pro-Choice

 

Many people on the anti-abortion side clearly have deep convictions. It may not be as clear to some that the convictions of pro-choice people are just as strong and as deeply rooted in moral principles. We, too, are motivated by anguish. A basic difference lies in where we find the anguish.

Anti-abortion people generally start with the belief that inviolable human life begins at conception. They are anguished when other people do not abide by this principle.

Pro-choice people acknowledge that beliefs about the question of life's beginning come from spiritual beliefs, and different spiritual beliefs lead to different conclusions about this question.

We are anguished when women die and children suffer.

We see unassailable evidence that making abortion illegal or unavailable results in women dying -- by the thousands. And when women do not have control over their own reproduction, their children are less likely to survive and less likely to be healthy.

My purpose here is not to try to change your feelings about abortion but to help you to understand what I and many other pro-choice people think and feel.

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Contents

1. Labels: pro-choice, pro-life, etc.

2. When does personhood begin?

3. Rights and responsibilities

4. When abortion was illegal

Conclusion

Some links: Religious views

Appendix 1: "Pro-life" legislation

Appendix 2: The "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban of 2003

1. Labels

One side has claimed for itself the label "pro-life." Do you think the other side is anti-life?

Do you understand why pro-choice people can rightly say that they are not "pro-abortion"? Actually, many people point out that reducing the need for abortion is a common ground where the two sides can agree.

The pro-choice position is deeply pro-life in a broader sense that values the lives and respects the integrity of women and their families. It is pro-life in at least two important respects: it is pro-woman's life and it is pro-child's life. (More on this later.)

In contrast, the so-called "pro-life" position on abortion is narrowly fixated on the embryo and the fetus and characteristically ignores the lives of women and existing children. It is better described as "pro-embryo" or "pro-fetus."

"Pro-choice" means pro-choice. And "anti-choice" or "no-choice" is an appropriate term for those who attempt to outlaw abortion, block patients' access to clinics, subpoena private medical records, intimidate doctors and nurses, and generally coerce women to carry every pregnancy to term.

For those few who murder doctors, bomb clinics, and post websites celebrating lists of targeted doctors who have been slain, "pro-life" is as inappropriate a label as it would be for any murderers and their accomplices. The larger numbers who condone -- or decline to condemn -- such violence undermine their own standing.

Emotions run high on both sides, but good public policy is based on rational deliberation, not emotionalism.

Some call the embryo a "child." Beware the misuse of language to distort reality and inflame emotions.

It may be tempting for anti-choicers to exaggerate the development of an embryo or fetus. Portraying an embryo or fetus as a child wraps it in the emotional significance of a child.

Abortion stops a beating heart, anti-choicers say. True, the embryo develops a heartbeat at one month. At one month, it is about 3/16 of an inch long, smaller than an aspirin tablet.

Enormous changes in development occur in the nine months of pregnancy. By comparison, the developmental changes from birth to old age are slight. It may go against intuition that development over decades of life are slight compared to the nine months of pregnancy.

Developmentally, a newborn baby is much closer to an octogenarian than it is to an embryo. So, calling an embryo a "child" makes practically the same sense as calling an embryo a "teenager."

Why not call an embryo an embryo and a fetus a fetus? Maybe because "It's a fetus, not a choice" doesn't have the same punch on a bumper sticker. Or because "embryo killers" doesn't have the same shock value.

2. When does personhood begin?

Believing that personhood begins at conception has simplicity. And simplicity appeals to many people, as do concrete, black-and-white distinctions. Saying that abortion is always wrong in all cases instantly dispels all of the difficult questions that arise in considering each case -- no need to agonize over this rape, that fetal malady, this pregnant 13-year-old with the abusive father, that impoverished, third-world woman with 14 previous births whose birth control failed. Unfortunately, a simple take on the world doesn't make the world simple.

The claim made by some that "science has proven that human life begins at conception" amounts to nothing more than saying that (1) a human embryo is human and not, for example, rabbit, (2) when fertilization occurs, the sperm transfers its share of DNA to the ovum, and (3) a viable embryo consists of living cells rather than dead cells. No Nobel Prize winner there, just a poker bluff to make you think you missed some front-page news. It's like saying "science has proven" that I (a grown adult) was not stillborn. And that I am not a rabbit.

The real question is when does a human embryo or fetus or child become a person, a complete human being, a being with moral status equal to that of any person, or, in religious terms, a being with a soul. (These are not all one and the same question, because people don't even agree on how to frame the question. But I won't get into that.)

Science has nothing to say about when personhood begins.

Defining the time at which the developing embryo becomes a person must remain a matter of moral or religious value.
National Academy of Sciences statement cited in Amicus Brief of 167 Distinguished Scientists and Physicians, including 11 Nobel Laureates, to U.S. Supreme Court, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 1989

Whether a human life begins at conception is not a medical or scientific question, but a philosophical and religious question that can be debated endlessly and has to do with how one defines a person and self.
Robert H. Ebert, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Harvard University, cited in same Amicus Brief

And then some people claim that the embryo is a complete person -- it is merely in an early stage of development. To make you or me, they claim, nothing has been added to the single-celled zygote except nutrition and oxygen.

Really? I think that, compared to a single-celled zygote, a newborn baby has a whole lot more than just additional "nutrition and oxygen."

First, the newborn has been delivered into the weave of a social fabric; it is part of a community; it can interact socially with its family; and, historically, it becomes a recognized member of a society.

Second, the newborn has something enormously important that the zygote lacks: a specific biological organization. It is not merely a much bigger bag of "nutrients and oxygen." It has lost its embryonic tail and amphibian gill arches. It has the biological organization sufficient for beginning life in the world. It has lungs that can breathe air. But in particular, it has a brain that is sufficiently developing in complexity around the time of birth to enable it to begin learning rapidly about its physical and social environment.

Saying that the embryo is a person is not really an argument; it is simply a statement of belief. But, just as an acorn is not an oak tree, a human embryo is clearly not the same as a newborn baby.

An early embryo is capable of merging with another separate embryo and developing into one normal individual. So, how could each of the original embryos have been a person?

Is that a "divine mystery"? How can we be expected to accept at face value the notion that the embryo is a person, while any contradictory evidence, like two embryos merging into one, is conveniently dismissed as "divine mystery"?

Is the fetus that has not yet developed the brain structure necessary for thought, emotion, or consciousness a person? Is the embryo that has not yet developed any brain structure morally equal to a born person?

When does personhood begin? The answer to that question will always remain a matter of conjecture, an article of faith. People can reasonably disagree on it (and philosophical arguments, with widely varying conclusions, abound).

Obviously, there are different beliefs about when life begins, based on different faiths and doctrines. The Bible defines life as beginning at "breath." (Strangely, Christian fundamentalists who want to outlaw abortion are ignoring the Bible on this point.) The Roman Catholic Church officially says it is at conception. Some Protestants believe it is at viability. Judaic teachings place it at birth.

But there can only be one legal definition of the beginning of life (pertaining to a given set of circumstances). So some people's faith is always bound to differ from the legal definition. It is important, therefore, that the legal definition respect and accommodate a range of beliefs.

That doesn't mean everyone is going to agree about other people's actions. But it allows each individual to act according to her own conscience, within the scope where we reasonably differ. After all, which is of overriding moral importance: agreeing with another's actions or living one's own life according to one's conscience?

The Supreme Court defined the beginning of life as first breath. This definition respects and accommodates individual convictions and faith. It allows a strict Catholic, for example, to choose not to elect abortion. It accommodates both those who regard the embryo as inviolable and those who reserve the option of abortion.

Rebecca Greene cites an example from Michael Sandel, which I borrow from here:

Suppose there were a fire in a fertility clinic and you could save either 100 embryos scheduled for implantation in 100 women -- or a two-year-old child. Which would you save and which would you let burn?

If you believe that an embryo has the same right to life as any person, you should, rationally, choose the 100 embryos, because this would be saving 99 more lives than the two-year-old child's life. But you would be in meager company.

3. Rights and responsibilities

Anti-choicers say a fertilized egg should have full civil rights.

Pro-choicers see that as a pro-embryo position, not a pro-life position; it values the embryo above the life of the woman -- who is undeniably a person.

Anti-choicers say the embryo needs the protection of the law because it is helpless. But "pro-life" legislation routinely and characteristically gives no consideration whatsoever to the woman, making no exception for her health, her circumstances, or her life. The conspicuous absence of the woman's life in the equation makes the "pro-life" label ring hollow.

Roman Catholic Morality on Fallopian Tubes

An ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg accidentally gets "stuck" in a fallopian tube, can result in a ruptured tube and kill the pregnant woman.

There are a couple of different ways to protect the woman's life by surgery. The tube containing the pregnancy can be surgically removed. Or the tube can be left in but opened up, the pregnancy removed, and the tube sewn up.

Which method is better? Either way, the fertilized egg comes out -- and dies. But if the woman keeps the tube, she may be able to keep her full fertility.

But what did Catholic ethicists say? They said only the first method, removing the fallopian tube, should be used. Why? Because saving the tube and removing only the pregnancy is a "direct assault" on the fertilized egg. The fact that the woman will unnecessarily lose a tube doesn't matter, according to their thinking.

"During [Dr. Backer's] first months of practice he was asked to attend temporarily to another doctor's patient, a woman with six children and rheumatic heart disease so severe that it looked to Backer as though she could never survive another pregnancy. This was a lady who needed a tubal ligation desperately, as far as Backer could see, but tubal ligation was sterilization and thus prohibited by the laws of the Church. … She was devoutly Catholic. She did not have a tubal ligation, and she got pregnant again, and she lived until the baby was six weeks old. Then her heart gave out and she died.

"Where was the justice in this? Where was the moral rectitude? Where was God's hand, leaving seven children without their mother because her fallopian tubes were not supposed to be tied off?"
Cynthia Gorney, Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars, 1998.

How would you expect women to react to laws that would force them to bear any and every pregnancy to term?

Answering merely "with abstinence and responsible sex" is inadequate. The human condition and social environments are far more complex. "Responsible sex" doesn't save the married-with-kids woman who is faced with a life-threatening pregnancy. "Abstinence" doesn't answer the rape victim. Nor does "adoption," necessarily.

Admonitions like "don't have sex if you don't want to have a baby" are as reality-blind as abstinence-only sex education is. In spite of responsible behavior, women sometimes will have unplanned or unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies. Conversely, in spite of any irresponsible behavior, men will never get pregnant.

Half of all high school students have had sex by the time they graduate. The US has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed Western country. At the same time, we have among the most conservative sex education, contraception, and STD prevention policies of developed Western countries. That should tell you something.

There is nothing wrong with teaching abstinence, but failing to teach about safe sex is sure to doom thousands of young people to getting pregnant or contracting HIV/AIDS -- or both. There is nothing pro-life about that.

We've reached a turning point. Children born today may be the first ever who will have lives less healthy than their parents. Diabetes, asthma, and obesity are on the rise. Autism is epidemic: the rate has gone from one in 400 births in 1998 to one in 166 today. The National Children's Study, begun in 2000, was on its way to determining the impact of factors like genetics, upbringing, and chemical exposure in these and other childhood diseases. But President Bush removed funding for the study from his budget, killing our best chance to ensure that today's children grow up healthy.
Working Assets, March 2006

As most Christians know, Jesus emphasized compassion, tolerance, and equality, and had little or nothing to say about bedroom behavior or abortion. Yet certain Christians act as if policing sex, withholding contraception, and outlawing abortion were the key to heaven.

I'm talking about those who loudly call themselves "pro-life" but fall silent about the destruction of children by war, poverty, and disease. Jerry Falwell, in a sermon entitled "God is Pro-War," praises George W. Bush for launching his war in Iraq. Yet Falwell, Bush, and other so-called "pro-lifers" are silent about the thousands of children killed by their war in Iraq, where "forty-six percent of all Iraqis killed by coalition forces were under 15." [Online Journal, 8 April 2005]

And they are complicit in the Bush Administration's Gag Rule that denies aid for clinics that are working to prevent the spread of diseases in Africa and elsewhere, while, by 2001, Africa had 12 million children orphaned by AIDS, with the number expected to rise to 43 million orphans by 2010. [BBC News, 14 May 2001] The silence and complicity of these "pro-lifers" speaks loudly of their hypocrisy.

Social problems in our diverse and complicated world are better addressed by intelligent investigation than by the parochial assumption that they result from one group of people not following the marginal morality of another group.

God did not speak to any one of us and say, "You are right and those who disagree with you are wrong." If any one of us thinks that God had ordained us to speak for him, we are wrong. Worse, if we are in a position of power and we believe we speak for God, we become dangerous.
Senator Bob Packwood

Many anti-choicers concede that abortion is justified in the case of rape, incest, and life-threatening pregnancies. But multitudes of other cases involve profound life decisions that no one but the woman in question ought to judge, because only she can best understand the moral dimensions threading through the complexities of her life.

I say dimensions -- plural -- because moral questions can involve more than one moral concern. The woman's life is a moral concern. That is certain. Yet she seems to be invisible to many anti-choicers.

Why do anti-choicers and pro-choicers get so frustrated by each other's moral assessments? An anti-choicer who believes an embryo is a person may see no reason to consider any other moral concerns involved in the decision -- even though there will always be other moral concerns.

But someone who believes an embryo is not yet a person will naturally look to other moral concerns to make a decision.

As for rights, women (and their families) have a life-altering stake in not just pregnancy and childbearing but child rearing, a responsibility stretching outward for decades of years and inward to the depths of the heart.

A woman's right to control her own reproduction is not a matter of "convenience" -- it is a fundamental human right. It is the right to control her own life. It is the right to control her own body. It enables her to achieve physical, economic, and familial security before having (or having more) children so that she can best ensure the physical and emotional well-being of her children.

With full reproductive rights, if and when a woman does have children, they are less likely to suffer from ill health, malnourishment, poor education, abuse, crime, mental illness, and child mortality.

This is one area where pro-choice is pro-life: pro-child's life. And where reproductive choice is a moral choice.

Not every woman will always make the best choice. But no one else is in a better position to make such often-difficult decisions about her life and her family.

What about responsibilities? Above all, a parent has a responsibility to a child. It is in part because of this responsibility that a woman needs the right to control her reproduction. Reproductive rights are a prerequisite to best fulfilling her responsibility to her present and future children. She must be able to say, yes, I'm ready to bring a child into the world now. If the answer is "no," it is an injustice to both mother and child to force the mother to bring a child into the world.

(Men, of course, have responsibilities to their children, too. But because men don't get pregnant, have abortions, or bear children, among other reasons, the prerequisite rights are not the same issue as for women.)

Two things have happened to human reproduction in the modern world -- by which I mean the last 200 years. First, the costs of raising a child have steadily risen -- in terms of the time, energy and resources it takes to prepare a child for adulthood. In a peasant economy, it doesn't matter whether you leave a child on a swaddling board all day, because a lack of attention won't jeopardize its future as a subsistence farmer. And even privileged children can be relatively neglected because they are going to inherit their class status anyway, no matter how they turn out.

But in a more dynamic capitalist economy, children have to be well-trained and fast on their feet. They have to go to school and learn how to read and write. They have to learn how to tell time and to be on time; how to work all day without slacking; how to be frugal and defer gratification, how to obey increasingly complex rules of the workplace. Above all, they have to have the desire to get ahead. All this means a much bigger job for parents. Children like this don't just pop up like mushrooms, without any cultivation. With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, child-rearing started to become what is today: arguably the hardest and most time-consuming job in the world. In a complex world, parents have to stop having babies and start raising children. …

Increasingly, as the 19th century progressed, men were leaving the household to work in factories, businesses and offices, leaving mothers in charge of educating the children, previously the father's responsibility. … In other words, as child-rearing has become more and more demanding, it has become, more and more, the work of women. And women have responded very intelligently: by having fewer children and putting a greater investment of time and energy and resources into the precious few they have. …

As a former financial reporter, I like to look at it this way:

Just as free enterprise is a requirement for economic growth and development, freedom of choice is a prerequisite of economic development. Just as there is no debate over who is in the best position to decide whether a man or woman should start a new business, by the same token, there should be no debate over who is in the best position to decide whether to start the most important business of life -- a family.

Should the woman make this awesome decision, which will call upon everything she has -- her heart, her intelligence, her time, her energy, her very being, not just for three or five years, or for 20 years, but for a lifetime? Or should the government decide?

Should the parents decide? Or some self-appointed morals police?

The world saw the consequences of denying reproductive freedom at the end of the Cold War, when they opened the appalling orphanages of Romania. The Communist dictatorship had denied Romanian women the right to decide for themselves whether they were equipped to be good mothers. Thousands of women were forced to have children they didn't want or couldn't care for. Many of those children were abandoned to state orphanages and to permanently damaged lives. And now we find ourselves in a struggle against those who want the government and courts here in the United States to do to American women and children what a Communist dictatorship did to the women and children of Romania. …

Women's free agency is a moral issue. Children's well-being is a moral issue. Who is the moral actor -- the person who takes on the responsibility for another's growth and development, or the person who would force that responsibility on others without accepting the consequences? Motherhood is so challenging a commitment, and so important to our future, that to coerce anyone into it is utterly immoral.
Ann Crittenden, "The Price Of Denying Choice," TomPaine.com, 13 June 2005

4. When abortion was illegal

Ignore history and you are doomed to repeat it, as they say.

One doesn't have to go back very far to a time when abortion was illegal in most of the United States. Many middle-aged and older people remember that time. Did women stop getting abortions when they were illegal? Absolutely not. They sought illegal abortions. They obtained illegal abortions.

… at Los Angeles County [General Hospital], on any given afternoon during the late 1950s and early 1960s, fifty to one hundred patients at a time were separated off into what the doctors referred to as Infected OB.

Every one of these wards, over the years leading into the mid-1960s, produced physicians whose personal encounters with criminal abortion complications were to haunt them for many years afterward. "Infected OB was what they called it, but it was mostly infected abortions," recalls Gail Anderson, the Los Angeles medical professor who was hired in 1958 as head physician for the obstetrical and gynecological service at Los Angeles County General Hospital. "It looked like a set of intensive-care units, all full of abortion patients. If you can imagine walking into a room where there's anywhere from five to ten patients all attached to tubes or whatever - many times they were jaundiced from infections. You've got foul-smelling stuff coming from their uteruses. You've got shock. And in some cases you'd have patients in congestive heart failure. They'd die, in congestive heart failure, foaming at the mouth."
Cynthia Gorney, Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars, 1998

Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, an estimated 1.2 million women obtained illegal abortions annually.

And women died from unsafe, illegal abortions. Women bled to death. Women died from unsterile conditions, died of massive infections. Women died and women were maimed. Each year, thousands of wives and daughters, mothers and aunts, perished from botched illegal abortions.

This is another area where pro-choice is truly pro-life: pro-woman's life. Pro-choicers ardently care about this tragic and needless loss of women's lives.

That was when this call came, in the middle of the night, and when Duemler walked into the emergency room what he saw, in more places than he would have thought possible, was blood. There was blood on the walls. There was blood on the floor. There was blood on the gurney and on the towels and on the hands and arms of the emergency crew, who were silent now, and no longer moving rapidly. Beneath them lay a woman whose skin had gone pallid and slack, and when Duemler lifted her legs into the stirrups and cleaned some of the blood away, he saw that someone had pushed inside her vagina with a sharp instrument and aimed it toward the cervix and thrust straight up. The blood vessels to either side of the cervix had emptied all over the Air Force emergency room and the car in which this woman's husband had driven her twenty miles, which was the distance between the hospital and the abortionist.

The husband told Duemler they had five children already.

Five children already: Duemler remembered that for a long time afterward, when he was no longer able to summon up the husband's height or the color of his hair or anything except the flat bewildered look on his face as his wife was pronounced dead on the examining table.
Cynthia Gorney, Articles of Faith, 1998

The legality and availability of abortion is a moral issue for me. When it is illegal or unavailable, women's lives -- and the quality of their lives and their children's lives -- are in jeopardy. For me, that is morally reprehensible.

History has proved that laws do not stop abortion.

Restrictive abortion legislation does not lead to a low abortion rate. The data ... show that the abortion rate is high in countries in which abortion is illegal.

It is the number of maternal injuries and deaths, not abortions, that is most affected by restrictive legal codes.
[Jodi L. Jacobson, "The Global Politics of Abortion", Worldwatch Paper 97, July 1990]

Abortions performed outside the law have a higher rate of complications and deaths, the majority of which are entirely preventable. … 70,000 to 200,000 women a year around the world die from illegal and unsafe abortions.
[Santi Conly et al, "Expanding Access to Safe Abortion", Population Action International, 1993]

When women can avoid births which are unwanted, mis-timed, or too numerous, their children are more likely to survive and be healthy.
[Jodi L. Jacobson]

Abortion in Law, History & Religion
Childbirth By Choice Trust

Conclusion

So, people disagree with anti-choicers on moral grounds. And women will seek and get abortions regardless of the legal status of it.

I wonder sometimes if it may be difficult for many anti-choicers to understanding the diversity -- and validity -- of others' moral codes, or the profundity -- and diversity -- of women's life experiences with regard to pregnancy and reproduction.

Anti-choicers argue, why can't we bring our religious values into the public debate? But values are not the question. Pro-choicers value life every last bit as much as anyone else does. The real question is, when does personhood begin? And that is a matter of religious doctrine and belief, not a question of values.

Yes, bring your values into the public debate -- but leave your religious doctrine out. And be wise enough to know the difference.

People of a broad range of faiths recognize a moral prerogative of each woman to choose abortion. Pro-choice is pro-religious freedom because, in fact, the morality of abortion varies by religious doctrine and faith.

Most Protestant denominations in the United States have long-standing pro-choice positions.

The United Church of Christ has maintained a consistently strong pro-choice stance since 1970.

In 1994, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution expressing "unequivocal opposition to any [legislation] that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision."

In 1992, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) reaffirmed support for a woman's right to choose.

At the 1992 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the principles of Roe v. Wade were reaffirmed.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing Conservative congregations, in 1993 reaffirmed its resolution opposing any legislative attempts to weaken Roe v. Wade through constitutional amendments.

Recent resolutions of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing Reform congregations, uphold an "unwavering commitment to the protection and preservation of the reproductive rights of women."
Believe It: Religious Americans Are Pro-Choice
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

In 1970 and again in 1989, the American Friends Service Committee [Quakers] stated their support for "a woman's right to follow her own conscience concerning childbearing, abortion and sterilization."

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1974 and again in 1980 affirmed "the right of the woman to make her own decision regarding the continuation or termination of problem pregnancies."

In 1975 and again in 1989, the Disciples of Christ General Assembly resolved to "respect differences in religious beliefs concerning abortion and oppose, in accord with the principle of religious liberty, any attempt to legislate a specific religious opinion or belief concerning abortion upon all Americans."
Daniel C. Maguire, Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, 2001
www.religiousconsultation.org

The majority of Americans consistently favor access to legal abortion:

  • 87% in a 1995 Time/CNN poll
  • 84% in a 1992 Gallup poll
  • 90% in a 1990 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll
  • 83% in a 1989 CBS News/New York Times poll

Catholic women in the United States are as likely as women in the general population to have an abortion, and 29% more likely than Protestant women.
Survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute of 9,985 abortion patients: Stanley Henshaw and Kathryn Kost, "Abortion Patients in 1994-95: Characteristics and Contraceptive Use," Family Planning Perspectives, July/August 1996
Catholics For a Free Choice

When politics encroaches on the womb, women, and the men who stand with them, will fight back. Anti-choicers ought not fool themselves into thinking that they will "convert" people to their view. Why? Because when women fight to retain control over their own reproduction, they are not only fighting for their own lives, they are fighting for their children. They are fighting to promote the quality of life of their present and future children. The quality of a child's life depends to the greatest extent on her mother's health and well-being. And the mother, with unhindered access to health care, best knows the circumstances of her own health and well-being. Legislators enacting a priori laws certainly don't.

Abortion has been practiced by human societies for thousands of years. In the age of modern contraceptives, we have the ability not to completely eliminate, but to greatly reduce, the demand for induced abortion. Yet many people who are opposed to legal abortion are also opposed, in whole or in part, to contraceptive programs and opposed to complete and realistic sex education in schools. They are opposed to the very programs that can reduce abortions.

Twenty-three states have "child exclusion" or "family cap" policies that deny benefits for children born to women on welfare, effectively discouraging low-income women from choosing motherhood.

The two sides arguing this issue are each deeply committed to its belief by conscience, not by any deficit of conscience. Our laws should encompass freedom of conscience for both sides -- not just the no-choice position. One can be anti-abortion without being anti-choice.

At the center of each reproductive decision is a woman. Women are as qualified as anyone, and frequently more qualified, to exercise sound moral judgments about their own lives and their own families. Freedom of choice embraces all women; it defends equally the right to have an abortion and the right to have a child. There is no choice without both.

M. Sabacinski

 

Some links: Religious views

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
“100-plus religious groups ... came to Washington for the historic March for Women's Lives ...

“ ‘Americans of all faiths are pro-choice because of our religious beliefs,’ said Reverend Carlton W. Veazey. ‘Christians, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many other faiths are speaking up in the face of the Religious Right's assault on reproductive choice. We're marching in unprecedented numbers for justice and equality -- and to debunk the notion that the Radical Right speaks for religion.’

“More than 200 churches and synagogues and religiously affiliated groups marched. The co-sponsors of the march included the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, General Synod of the United Church of Christ, two agencies of the United Methodist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and official bodies of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jewish movements.”

Catholics For a Free Choice
A Social Justice Organization
“Catholics For a Free Choice, an independent not-for-profit organization, is engaged in research, policy analysis, education, and advocacy on issues of gender equality and reproductive health. Working in the Catholic social justice tradition, CFFC is affiliated with Catholic Organizations for Renewal and the Women-Church Convergence, both based in the United States, and with the European Network/Church on the Move.” (Click on "Questions and Answers about Abortion.")

Christian Alliance for Progress
“Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus is scathing in his dealings with hypocrites. We believe that Jesus would recognize the inherent hypocrisy in decreasing support for family planning or reducing access to contraception while simultaneously seeking to criminalize abortion. ... Abstinence-only education programs pushed by the right are actually associated with an increase in the rate of abortions. Such approaches like these increase the rate of abortions. They are not about protecting life; they are about controlling and punishing desperate women, especially poor women. ...

“Recognizing that Jesus teaches us by his example, we hold that he would treat women as full and complete partners today, just as he did in his own time. Therefore, we assert that creating secular laws to give control of a woman's body to the state is unchristian. We assert that compulsory childbearing (if Roe v. Wade were overturned), compulsory abortion (as in China), and compulsory childbearing or abortion based on the state's decision (as in Nazi Germany) all deny a woman's essential humanity and are immoral. ...

“Americans know, from the time before Roe v. Wade, that prohibiting safe abortion procedures led directly to deaths of multitudes of desperate and frightened women. Extremists who want to return us to that time are unlike the Jesus we know from the Gospels; they implicitly hold that the life of a woman does not matter. Our government has a moral obligation not to enact laws that have been shown by history to cause women injury or death.”

Pro-Truth Net
How to overturn the political steamroller of the conservative Christians and end the anti-abortion war.
“When you examine the forced motherhood controversy in its religious and historical context, you'll see that it's just one more battle in the age-old war between power and the truth.

“On one hand, there's the behind the scenes power of the Roman Catholic Church and the more public positions by the leaders from the ultra-conservative end of fundamentalist Christianity. … They demand the passage of government laws based upon an unprovable, fairytale about God's instantaneous, supernatural, transcendental, conception magic act.

“Their proposed laws are also based upon the unprovable belief that a human being is his/her physical body. Unless the forced motherhood peddlers are derailed very soon, they will succeed at using these two unprovable religious stories to outlaw abortion. They can succeed for two reasons. First, because they have the money, the positions, the followers, and the political power to force their ways onto the rest of us. And second, almost nobody is publicly speaking the truth about these two religious fairytales.”

“A Faithful Choice”
Bill Moyers reports on the March for Women's Lives
Deeply held pro-choice religious beliefs motivated countless numbers of people to take part in the historic March for Women's Lives, as journalist Bill Moyers reported on his award-winning PBS-TV program. To view the 10-minute video, click here and then scroll down to the video of “A Faithful Choice.”

Mario Cuomo: "Religious Belief and Public Morality -- A Catholic Governor's Perspective"
Speech delivered 13 September 1984, The University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
“I speak here as a politician. And also as a Catholic, a layperson baptized and raised in the pre-Vatican II church, educated in Catholic schools, attached to the church first by birth, then by choice, now by love. ...

“As a governor, however, I am involved in defining policies that determine other people’s rights in these same areas of life and death. Abortion is one of these issues, and while it is one issue among many, it is one of the most controversial and affects me in a special way as a Catholic public official.”

 

Appendix 1: "Pro-life" legislation

"Pro-Life" Wisconsin State Legislative Initiatives, 2005 - 2006 Session

Right to Lie
Gives legal immunity to physicians who lie about prenatal test results when the physician thinks the patient may have an abortion as a result of the information - regardless of the threat to the patient's health or life. Pro-life?

Patient Abandonment Bill
Allows medical practitioners to refuse to provide services, including prenatal and maternal care, based on the practitioner's personal beliefs. The practitioner can refuse to refer the patient to another provider, even in a life or death situation. Pro-life?

Prescription Denial Bill
Lets pharmacists decide not to fill a prescription, based on the pharmacist's personal moral objection - regardless of the threat to the patient's health or life. The pharmacist does not have to refer the patient to another provider. Pro-life?

Teen Endangerment Act
Requires that young women seeking to terminate a pregnancy obtain notarized consent from a birth parent (not foster parent or grandparent) - regardless of whether the young woman is suicidal, or her parents are abusive or caused the pregnancy (i.e., by incest) or are deceased. Can be expected to increase self-induced abortions, suicide, family violence, and forced childbirth.

"Pro-life" legislation has been deceitful and has harmed women physically and mentally.

While its purported purpose is to provide informed consent, it is transparent that its real purpose is to throttle abortion services and to instill guilt in women who seek abortions. Legislation has required mandatory waiting periods, parental or husband consent, and mandatory scripted "counseling and information."

After mandatory delay legislation was passed in Mississippi in 1992, the proportion of second trimester procedures increased by 17% [F.A. Althaus and S.K. Henshaw, Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 26, no. 5, p. 231, 1994]. Because the risk of major complications from abortion increases in the second trimester, such delays endanger women's lives.

The mandatory information is thinly veiled propaganda against having an abortion. Mandatory scripted "counseling" has included showing to the patient pictures of fetal anatomy at 2-week increments and suggesting that the patient listen to the fetal heartbeat. Clinicians attest that patients, who have made their decision with the deepest integrity, typically find this politically-mandated information degrading.

Other mandatory information presents the risks of abortion and the advantages of carrying to term.

In fact, "in developed countries where induced abortion is legal, the procedure is now safer than pregnancy and childbirth" [S.K. Henshaw, Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 22, no. 2, 1990].

One legislative act requires that physicians tell patients that abortion poses danger to subsequent pregnancies and a risk of infertility.

In fact, scientific studies show no support for these statements. "Vacuum aspiration does not pose a measurable risk to a woman's future childbearing ability," according to the Centers for Disease Control [Hogue, et al, Epidemiologic Reviews, 4, 66-94, 1982]; poses no greater risk of subsequent infertility or ectopic pregnancy [Benson Gold, Abortion and women's health, Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1990]; and results in no increase in the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, infant mortality, or congenital malformations [Hogue, et al, 1982].

In the face of conclusive evidence that legal abortion is medically safe, anti-abortion activists have turned to supposed psychological effects, conceiving an "abortion trauma syndrome," which some legislation requires patients be warned about.

In fact, "there is now a substantial body of data, reported from many countries after careful and objective follow-up, suggesting frequent psychological benefit and low incidence of adverse psychological sequelae" resulting after abortion [World Health Organization, "Induced abortion," technical report no. 623, Geneva, 1978, p. 22].

The false information about a recognizable risk of "psychological trauma" mandated by legislation may actually lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy in some vulnerable patients. The legislation in effect creates the trauma that it scares women with.

In the doctor's office, a political potion makes bad medicine. These restrictive laws harass providers of safe abortion and punish women who have made a difficult decision.

In health care more than any other field, the manipulation of science for political gain -- a trend that has accelerated dramatically over the last four years -- has grave consequences.

In the practice of medicine, the difference between science and opinion, the difference between evidence and emotion, is the difference between life and death -- between surgery and snake oil -- between antibiotics and elixirs.

The National Cancer Institute was pressured into posting information on its web site falsely perpetuating the myth that abortion causes breast cancer.

This was politics, not science.

The FDA rejected its own panel's recommendation that emergency contraception be approved for over-the-counter sale -- a measure that could alleviate the need for thousands of abortions -- not because the drug was unsafe, not because it was ineffective, but because of political pressure from the Administration.

This was politics, not science.

Dr. David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, 2005 Roe v. Wade Anniversary Remarks to NARAL Pro-Choice America

Appendix 2: The "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban of 2003

[T]he bill imposes the most far-reaching limits on abortion since the Supreme Court in 1973 confirmed a woman's right to end a pregnancy. …

Though difficult to foresee and outline, any number of complications can arise during a pregnancy. By outlawing even one option, no matter how rarely used, ethicists believe Congress is treading on dangerous ground.

CBSnews.com, "Senate OKs Late-Term Abortion Ban," 21 Oct. 2003

Late term abortions are rare. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 88 percent of legal abortions are performed within the first 12 weeks of gestation. Just over 10 percent are performed between 13 and 20 weeks. Less than one-half of one-percent occur after 24 weeks.

Clearly, if a woman decides she is unprepared to carry a pregnancy to term, she will tend to have an abortion sooner rather than later. So whom does a late-term abortion ban affect most of all? It affects women who discover late in term that the fetus is suffering from severe or fatal anomalies or that their own health is threatened.

In other words, it affects women who wanted to have a baby but developed serious medical problems. Those are the women who were used as fodder in a calculated anti-choice strategy, the so-called "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (federal ban). The danger to women's health from banning medical procedures was of no concern to those who devised the ban.

Proponents of the federal ban sold it as a ban on a single late-term medical procedure. It was nothing of the sort.

In fact, the act would ban abortions as early as 12 to 15 weeks in pregnancy. The act is so broad that it would prohibit a wide range of medically appropriate abortions performed in the second trimester. It would outlaw second-trimester procedures that doctors say are safe and among the best options for protecting women's health.

The federal ban has been ruled unconstitutional by federal judges in three separate cases. In Nebraska, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf struck down the ban, concluding that, "the overwhelming weight of the trial evidence proves that the banned procedure is safe and medically necessary in order to preserve the health of women under certain circumstances. In the absence of an exception for the health of a woman, banning the procedure constitutes a significant health hazard to women."

Judge Kopf also criticized the medical conclusions drawn by Congress when it drafted the ban.

"Three courts in three different parts of the country have now struck down the federal abortion ban. These trial courts have been unanimous because the Supreme Court has been clear: a patient's health and safety must be a doctor's paramount concern," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Congress ignored Supreme Court and medical opinion in enacting this ban. Congress claimed to be protecting women's health. In fact, they wrote a law that does exactly the opposite."
(FederalAbortionBan.org)

Forty states and the District of Columbia already ban third-trimester abortions except when the life or health of the woman is at stake. So why did legislators enact the federal ban?

Why didn't they learn anything from those 40 states and D.C.? They had 41 examples of similar bills, but they drafted another unconstitutional bill anyway.

What reason would the drafters of the ban have for leaving out a provision that would have made it survive the constitutional test that struck it down? Why leave out a provision to protect the life and health of the patient when the Supreme Court already had clearly spelled out this requirement?

The anti-choice rank and file was misled into thinking the federal ban was a genuine effort to legislate a late-term procedure. But it was a Trojan horse, wooden and hollow. Once the anti-choice rank and file was roused by misleading rhetoric and inflammatory publicity, they would do their appointed job at the polls and vote against the incumbents who had voted against the unconstitutional federal ban.

T he American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated, "The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous."

The federal ban was a callous strategy, callous in its complete disregard for the health and safety of women. The effect was to endanger the lives of women who have hazardous pregnancies and medical emergencies.

Martha Mendoza was 19 weeks pregnant and looking forward to having her fourth child. Then she found out the fetus was dead. She wrote:

On November 6, 2003, President Bush signed what he called a "partial birth abortion ban," … One of the unintended consequences of this new law is that it put people in my position, with a fetus that is already dead, in a technical limbo.

Legally, a doctor can still surgically take a dead body out of a pregnant woman. But in reality, the years of angry debate that led to the law's passage, restrictive state laws and the violence targeting physicians have reduced the number of hospitals and doctors willing to do dilations and evacuations (D&Es) and dilations and extractions (intact D&Es), …

Study after study shows D&Es are safer than labor and delivery. Women who had D&Es were far less likely to have bleeding requiring transfusion, infection requiring intravenous antibiotics, organ injuries requiring additional surgery or cervical laceration requiring repair and hospital readmission.

A review of 300 second- trimester abortions published in 2002 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that 29 percent of women who went through labor and delivery had complications, compared with just 4 percent of those who had D&Es.

We told our doctor we had chosen a dilation and evacuation.

"I can't do these myself," said my doctor. "I trained at a Catholic hospital." …

And within a day, I started to bleed. My body, with or without a doctor's help, was starting to expel the fetus. Technically, I was threatening a spontaneous abortion, the least safe of the available options. …

On my fourth morning, with the bleeding and cramping increasing, I couldn't wait any more. I called my doctor and was told that since I wasn't hemorrhaging, I should not come in. …

I began calling labor and delivery units at the top five medical centers in my area. I told them I had been 19 weeks along. The baby is dead. I'm bleeding, I said. …

Don't come in, they told me again and again. …

More than 66,000 women each year in the U.S. undergo an abortion at some point between 13 and 20 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC doesn't specify the physical circumstances of the women or their fetuses. Other CDC data shows that 4,000 women miscarry in their second trimester. Again, the data doesn't clarify whether those 4,000 women have to go through surgery.

Here's what is clear: Most of those women face increasingly limited access to care. …

Between a Woman and Her Doctor
by Martha Mendoza

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