This op-ed was written in April ’22 before Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Last week, the Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill that makes performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. Oklahoma joins states like Texas, Florida, Idaho, and Wyoming in a recent movement aimed to criminalize abortion in the United States — a movement markedly different from one aimed to protect life.
Texas started it. In May 2021, the state pioneered recent anti-abortion legislation with the infamous Heartbeat Bill. This bill restricts any abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Since then, Florida, Idaho, and Wyoming pushed legislation limiting or prohibiting abortion access.
Despite what politicians espouse about the immoralities of aborting a child and the need to protect life in the womb, these laws criminalizing abortions are the antithesis of pro-life. To truly foster protection of life, they should focus on maternal health and childcare initiatives.
Oklahoma’s bill represents a critical point in the conversation about abortion. In addition to more states restricting and criminalizing abortions, the United States Supreme Court discussed reversing the Roe vs Wade decision that protects a woman’s freedom to choose to have an abortion. Moreover, Trump’s three recent appointees to the Court have expressed support for ending the Court’s abortion decision.
The evidence behind abortion bans is crystal clear. By themselves, abortion bans lead to unsafe health care practices that put the lives of mothers and their children at risk. Rather than forgoing abortion, many women will obtain abortions by simply traveling to other states with less restrictive laws.
If lawmakers in Oklahoma care about reducing abortions, they should first understand why women get abortions. Current research shows that socioeconomic concerns are some of the main drivers for women seeking abortions. Women are mainly wary of timing, financial strain, partner problems, and spending time on other children when considering whether to have an abortion.
Women get abortions for a host of personal, situational reasons. Because their other child is sick, and the medical expenses seem too daunting. Because their partner is unsupportive or threatens to leave them. Because they don’t know about quality adoption options. Because they are “too young.” Because they have underlying health problems themselves. Because someone raped them.
Abortions are vastly complicated and emotional, so the answer to preserving the most life cannot be as easy as a black and white abortion bill.
My proposal is as follows: states should not be allowed to pass laws banning abortion without proving that they have structures to fully support a woman and her child. Without these systems, state abortion bans are merely political gestures that lead to unsafe abortions, women crossing state lines for abortions, and women unsupported in pregnancy.
I suggest a federal bill that mandates states have implemented and shown proven success in day care services, maternal healthcare, natural family planning, and adoption agencies.
Government-supported day care services are crucial for those mothers who also have a responsibility to work. Bolstered maternal healthcare services allow women to be more fully supported during pregnancy. These services would fight against the sad truth that women of color receive worse maternal healthcare and have more pregnancy complications. The color of your skin should never be a prerequisite for pregnancy outcomes or abortion pressures.
Family planning initiatives and adoption agencies let families think about how to have kids (or not) without even discussing aborting a child.
Finally, the specifications of what it means to have an expansive and inclusive support structure for a child can be debated, but these laws must consider how to address institutional racism which affects how mothers of color are able to access and take advantage of these services.
Personally, I am pro-life. Being a pro-life Black woman in a country with a history of abusing women of color in healthcare, pregnancy, and motherhood proves difficult. At the same time, I truly believe that the gift of life should be preserved and protected throughout the entirety of a person’s lifetime. I draw the line at the creation of laws and rhetoric around the pro-life movement that tries to stigmatize and punish those involved in abortions instead of creating structures that support the lives of everyone.
Being pro-life should be about child and parent support systems much more than about the actual operation of abortion. The focus is misplaced. I really believe that more people would be pro-life, and more children would get to see life if we committed to addressing the broadness and complexity of the problem.
Naima Turbes (PPS ’24) is a Public Policy & Neuroscience Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’22 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.