This week marks the forty-fourth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court decision that gave all American women the right to legal abortions. Even though four and a half decades have passed, however, the abortion debate is more heated than ever. Republicans remain relentless in their mission to make the medical termination of an unwanted pregnancy illegal again, as they continue to create state laws that have the effect of gradually placing more restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.
On Monday, President Trump issued an executive order reinstating the Global Gag Rule, which prohibits US foreign aid from going to any NGO that provides abortion services or so much as discusses abortion with regard to family planning options. This is a blatant attack on women’s reproductive rights and health that will result in millions of women losing access to safe abortions and birth control around the world. Inevitably, the Global Gag Rule will generate a sharp increase in unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and deaths from unsafe abortions. Here at home the Republicans’ ultimate goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and given that Trump has vowed to appoint justices who are anti-abortion to the Supreme Court, its demise is a very real possibility over the next four to eight years.
Pro-choice advocates have for some time been urging us to use the term “anti-abortion” instead of the standard “pro-life.” I recently decided that I will never again refer to anti-abortion people as “pro-life” because the fact of the matter is that when one scrutinizes their positions on multiple issues, almost all of them seem to be rather anti-life. “Anti-abortion” or “anti-choice” are much more honest and specific descriptions of the people seeking to end legalized abortion, and it behooves our progressive cause to keep abortion safe and legal for the sake of keeping women healthy. If anyone is pro-life, it’s the Left, and here’s precisely why.
The Guttmacher Institute released a report this month, finding that the abortion rate in the United States has fallen to its lowest level since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The number of abortions fell below one million in 2013, and the number went down even more in 2014 (the most recent year for which was data available), with 926,200 total abortions. An anti-abortion activist might assume that the decreasing number is due to the increase in laws restricting reproductive rights across the country, but the reality is that the decrease in abortions has transpired in almost every state, including blue states where women have the easiest access to reproductive health care. According to research scientist Rachel K. Jones, increased access to contraception is a significant driver of the decreasing abortion rate, and the declining birthrate indicates that more women are successfully avoiding unwanted pregnancies because of this better access to contraception.
A major contributor to the improved use of contraception throughout the United States is Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centers, but because these places offer abortion services, Republicans strive to close the doors of every single one of them. We all know that anti-choice Republicans have a strong hatred for Planned Parenthood and would like to see the entire organization wiped off the face of the earth, but this enmity is totally irrational, as it is a result of their ignorance of the fact that Planned Parenthood’s central goal is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancy altogether. Planned Parenthood supplies women with birth control, particularly low-income women who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford contraception, and helps to educate women on sexual responsibility. Simply put, if Republicans really wanted to reduce abortions, they’d support Planned Parenthood.
It’s also important to note that legalized abortion does not increase the amount of abortions that occur. This is a verifiable truth that Republicans choose to ignore. In 1967, before Roe v. Wade, 829,000 illegal abortions were performed in the US. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and ’60s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.” Compare these numbers to today’s annual number of legal abortions mentioned above, and keep in mind that the population of women in the United States has increased by the millions since the mid-1900s. Given the massive population increase over the past sixty years, you would think the number of abortions would have increased significantly from around a million, but that’s just not the case. Not only does the number of abortions continue to go down, but the number of deaths from abortions has plummeted. It’s extremely rare for a woman to die from an abortion now because legal abortions are safe abortions, unlike illegal terminations of unwanted pregnancies. Before Roe, women had to resort to self-induced, back-alley procedures that oftentimes ended in death. Hundreds of women died per year in the 1960s due to illegal abortions, but this came to a screeching halt with legalization.
Western and Northern Europe have the lowest abortion rates in the world because of widespread access to contraception and family planning services. Abortion is legal and widely available with a paucity of restrictions in most of the countries across these regions. Millions of unsafe abortions still occur throughout the world, and almost all of them take place in the developing world. Third World countries tend to have extremely restrictive abortion laws as well as severely limited access to contraception. The lack of birth control results in more pregnancies, and the rigid abortion laws do not keep women from terminating unwanted pregnancies. In fact, approximately half of the world’s total annual abortions are performed illegally in developing countries with restrictive abortion laws, and death from abortion is common in these contexts.
Given the facts described above, shouldn’t the anti-abortion folks who proclaim that they’re “pro-life” be against outlawing abortion and for family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood? The bottom line is that less women die and less abortions occur when abortion is safe and legal and contraception is easily accessible, but for some reason anti-abortion Republicans intentionally disregard this reality. Apparently, anti-abortion Americans want the US to join the ranks of the Third World, all because of a delusion that an embryo constitutes a child. The vast majority of abortions are performed in the embryonic stage of pregnancy, and despite what anti-choice crusaders think, embryos are, in fact, not infants! Embryos are frozen and then thawed out, remaining perfectly intact for embryonic stem cell research. What human do you know can survive being frozen?
Ask a person who identifies as “pro-life” what their stance is on the Affordable Care Act or the death penalty. They will almost always tell you that they want Obamacare repealed and that they support the death penalty, which completely contradicts what being legitimately pro-life would entail. Someone who is genuinely pro-life would want to make sure that every human being is able to practice their basic human right to healthcare. Someone who is pro-life would be against killing criminals altogether. A true pro-lifer would oppose outlawing abortion or defunding Planned Parenthood because the evidence shows that less people die when abortion is legal and safe and contraception and family planning services are available to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
If the self-proclaimed pro-lifers of the United States had their way, public healthcare wouldn’t exist, resulting in the deaths of thousands of low-income people who would not be able to afford private health insurance if they became fatally ill. The execution of criminals would persist. Abortions would be illegal across the board, and Planned Parenthood would be shut down, which would drastically increase the amount of unplanned pregnancies, see the number of illegal abortions skyrocket, and cause a national crisis of abounding deaths caused by illegal abortions. Women would be thrown in jail for miscarriages that are mistaken for self-induced abortions. Women would serve prison sentences for terminating their pregnancies, bearing resemblance to what currently occurs in Third-World countries like El Salvador, where women serve prison sentences exceeding thirty years for illegally ending their pregnancies. If a pregnant woman’s fetus is nonviable or severely impaired, and/or if the mother’s health or life are at risk, she would be forced to carry the nonviable fetus to term and hope that she survives.
The scenario described above sounds like a dystopian nightmare that has nothing to do with being pro-life, but this is the kind of country most Republicans who identify as pro-life want to live in. It’s irrational and contradictory, but isn’t that what anti-abortion Republicans are best at? After all, the Right claims to want small government, but also fiercely advocates for the government to be so big that it invades our bedrooms and regulates women’s uteri. More than anything, this is about reinforcing patriarchy and controlling women. By imposing policies that reject women’s right to control their own bodies and forcing women to give birth whether they want to or not, the patriarchal notions of gender roles that define women by their biological functions would reign supreme and reduce women to being not much more than walking incubators.
It’s time to hold Republicans who identify as “pro-life” to account for their hypocritical, paradoxical, and unreasonable claim to be on the side of life. The evidence shows the contrary. You cannot be against universal healthcare and safe, legal abortion and honestly identify as pro-life. You are anti-abortion, anti-human rights, anti-science, anti-women’s health, and pro-death. Progressive, pro-choice Democrats are conclusively more pro-life than conservative, anti-abortion Republicans will ever be.