Abortion Laws: To Be or Not to Be?

In the spring of 1973, twenty-eight-year-old Carol found out she was pregnant with her third child. She’d wanted a girl for so long, but there were issues: her marital problems were posing a financial risk to her family and if that weren’t enough her youngest boy was incredibly sickly. She knew her family wouldn’t be able to care for another child, so she decided to have an abortion. She has never regretted her decision.

An analysis posted in the American Journal of Public Health states that, in her lifetime, about one in four women in the United States will have an abortion. With a little over 155 million women in the United States, this accounts for nearly forty million women, according to the 2010 Census. It could be your mother, your sister, your friends, your wife, or even you.

Unsurprisingly, around half of these women are women of color (despite them being the minority race in the US) and below the poverty line. Women of color and low-income have a history of receiving poor sex education, so the need for measures taken after sex would rise in their case as a result of this lack of knowledge. Women have many reasons for wanting an abortion, including, but not limited to, an inability to afford or provide for their children, simply not wanting children, and a lack of faith in their country’s foster care system. The unfortunate truth is that not every child will be adopted. Each year, approximately 20,000 youths in the US foster care age out of the system.

“No human being can ever be incompatible with life”

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Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash

Jorge Bergoglio, or Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church, is one of the main advocators against abortion. One of the main arguments of people who identify as pro-life is that every child deserves a chance to live. Pope Francis has translated this by saying that “no human being can ever be incompatible with life.” This is simply unrealistic.

Anencephaly, as defined by the Cleveland Clinic, is a tragic fatal birth defect in which a baby is born without a brain or is missing a large majority of their brain and skull. Three in four fetuses with anencephaly are stillbirths and the ones who are born die soon after. The brain is important because you need at least a functioning brain to be considered by the law as alive. For these reasons, in my opinion, an infant being born without a brain or with only a primitive brain stem (which is often the cause of involuntary movements in these circumstances) is quick to die and can absolutely be seen as incompatible with life.

A common belief held by people who identify as pro-life is that medicine has advanced so much even in the years since Roe v. Wade and has reduced the need for abortion. Pope Francis has even said,

“Advances in pharmacology and surgery have reduced “the gap between diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities”, which for years was one of the causes of voluntary abortion and abandonment of care at the birth of many children with serious diseases”.

The rates of survival for some birth defects have increased. Spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spine and spinal cord fail to form properly, was once thought of as ultimately fatal, with the babies who did survive only living until twenty years old at the most. Now, with advancements in medical technology, the survival rate is much greater. The necessity to abort such a child is thus at an all-time low because they have a better chance at a longer life that’s not all full of pain. In the aspect of wanting an abortion for babies diagnosed with spina bifida, HIV, and the such because they might not survive or have a happy and relatively normal life, abortion is not necessarily required, but these babies still pose a financial issue on families.

The truth is that not a lot of families in America can afford the costs that come with raising a child with disabilities or special needs. Especially when the costs for a child without special needs from birth to eighteen years old can level out to $240,000 (not counting prenatal care and tuition, should they decide to go to college), according to the US Department of Agriculture. Additionally, according to a study done by Guttmacher Institute, seventy-three percent of the women surveyed had an abortion because they could not afford a child. This leads me to believe that financial costs are at least one of the concerns involved for half the women who get an abortion because, as stated earlier, around half the women who get an abortion are low-income.

“Having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body”

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Photo by Rishi Kumar on Unsplash

Judith Jarvis Thomson was a pro-choice advocator before the decision of Roe v. Wade. She brings up many interesting points in her paper, A Defense of Abortion. Thomson claims,

“In our case there are only two people involved, one whose life is threatened, and one who threatens it. Both are innocent: the one who is threatened is not threatened because of any fault, the one who threatens does not threaten because of any fault. For this reason we may feel that we bystanders cannot interfere. But the person threatened can. In sum, a woman surely can defend her life against the threat to it posed by the unborn child, even if doing so involves its death.”

What she states here is that, in the case that the fetus threatens the life of the mother, the mother should have the right to save her life as she sees fit. This is important to consider because it helps to see the mother as more than just a mother. It acknowledges that yes, the fetus may be deserving of life, but the mother is just as deserving as well. Just as innocent as the baby is, so too is she.

Many pro-life supporters claim that the unborn child has a “right to life”. Thomson challenges the meaning of “a right to life”. She suggests,

“But I would stress that I am not arguing that people do not have a right to life — quite to the contrary, it seems to me that the primary control we must place on the acceptability of an account of rights is that it should turn out in that account to be a truth that all persons have a right to life. I am arguing only that having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body — even if one needs it for life itself. So the right to life will not serve the opponents of abortion in the very simple and clear way in which they seem to have thought it would.”

What Thomson is saying is that everyone has a right to life, but that right should not entitle that person to use another person’s body to obtain or sustain it. As such, the claim that an innocent child is entitled to their life simply through conception is invalid because the mother’s right to life, which could be interpreted in more than just health, is just as strong if not stronger because she doesn’t require another life to sustain her own. This makes abortion, in such instances, morally correct because it further seeks an equal and common ground with mother and fetus.

“You’ve made your bed, now you must lie in it!”

This saying is one take that pro-life people have on abortion. They believe that you are to live with every consequence of the choices you make, such as pregnancy. In her disposition, Thomson refused this with an example that states,

“Again, suppose it were like this: people-seeds drift about in the air like pollen, and if you open your windows, one may drift in and take root in your carpets or upholstery. You don’t want children, so you fix up your windows with fine mesh screens, the very best you can buy. As can happen, however, and on very, very rare occasions does happen, one of the screens is defective, and a seed drifts in and takes root. Does the person-plant who now develops have a right to the use of your house? Surely not — despite the fact that you voluntarily opened your windows, you knowingly kept carpets and upholstered furniture, and you knew that screens were sometimes defective. Someone may argue that you are responsible for its rooting, that it does have a right to your house because, after all, you could have lived out your life with bare floors and furniture, or with sealed windows and doors. But this won’t do — for by the same token anyone can avoid a pregnancy due to rape by having a hysterectomy, or anyway by never leaving home without a (reliable!) army.”

What she suggests is that sometimes consequences come about for involuntary choices or accidents in spite of attempts at prevention, and no woman should have to live with these consequences. This makes sense because even if a woman uses birth control and has sex, she can still get pregnant, but just because the pregnancy beat the odds, doesn’t mean she should go through with it after clearly having no interest in it.

What can be done?

With the rising of anti-abortion laws, a review of why abortion is legal is certainly imperative. Rather than an outlaw of abortion altogether, I first propose better preventive measures. To decrease the need for abortion, comprehensive sex education (not just teaching abstinence) should be given to more youths who identify as people of color and/or low-income (as nearly fifty percent of abortions stem there). This can be done through groups like D.A.R.E, who educate against drug abuse, in high schools and middle schools. Even if they aren’t doing things to lead to pregnancy and abortion, they must have access to adequate sex education like their other peers. Another option is mandated sex education for college students. Just like some colleges mandate alcohol or drug courses for their students, they could mandate safe sex education to prevent unwanted pregnancy along with diseases.

Women should be allowed an abortion up until 5 months for non-health reasons. After 24 weeks, the chances for survival of the fetus increases significantly, a fetus becomes viable, which refers to the capability of surviving or living successfully. If preventive methods, financial help, and all other options are publicized adequately enough, a need for abortion, of any reason other than that of health after five months, should be substantially reduced. This period of time gives women over half the duration of their pregnancy to discover they’re pregnant (some women have irregular periods), review their options with a trained medical professional, and decide whether or not they want the child. As medicine continues to advance, the allowance of abortion up to this period can be reexamined and common ground can be found.

Amanda Duncan

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