Since the Supreme Court’s historic decision Roe v. Wade, the issue of a woman’s right to an abortion has fostered one of the most contentious moral and political debates in United States history. With the passing of New York’s Reproductive Health Act, people are up in arms, passionately defending their opinions. Social media feeds have become a revolving door of overly simplified arguments, emotional personal anecdotes, and people defending their closely held beliefs. Conservative Americans, including many students at BYU, often misunderstand the pro-choice stance.
No One Is Pro-Abortion
Pro-choice advocates are not pro-abortion, but pro-choice, and that is an important distinction. We believe that every woman should have access to quality reproductive care, including abortions when necessary, and that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. And by rare, we really mean rare. While it is impossible to consider all the potential circumstances that might elicit consideration of an abortion, this phrase generally refers to instances of rape, incest, when the life of the mother is jeopardized, when a fetus is no longer viable, or when the circumstances or environment of the child would be severely damaging or abusive. The idea that women seek out abortions because they love being sexually promiscuous and they just can’t be bothered with a baby is a lie, a misperception unrepresentative of why women seek abortions. Most women don’t make the decision to have an abortion casually. They often wrestle with the decision in profound ways in consultation with their spouse, family, close friends, religious leaders, or medical professionals.
Pro-choice advocates also strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child. This can be done by ensuring women have safe and healthy pregnancies, by providing services during pregnancy and after childbirth, including adoption and social support services, as well as providing protections for women against pregnancy discrimination .
A Symptom of the Problem
We can all agree that abortion should be a rare necessity, and the only way to accomplish this goal is to prevent unplanned pregnancy in the first place. This can be done by providing comprehensive sex education in schools and religious communities, ensuring access to accurate information about contraception, and making contraception more affordable and widely available  . The current administration has cut funding to such teen pregnancy prevention programs and has instead proposed allocating millions of dollars towards failed abstinence-only programs that often rely on scare tactics and inaccurate information  .
Since Roe v. Wade, the definition of the right to choose has evolved and expanded, but the principle of women’s autonomy has remained the same. In a subsequent Supreme Court case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated that “the ability of a women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives” . An ability to control reproductive life includes access to comprehensive sex education, family planning and contraception, adequate medical care, a safe environment, the ability to continue or end a pregnancy, and the resources that make that choice possible.
Are we giving women the resources that allow them to make the choice to keep a child? Have we given them the support services that they need? Often pro-life advocates fervently support the child in the womb, but they abort the child in other ways as soon as it is born. They abort the child through lack of healthcare, education, affordable housing, welfare programs, and other life-sustaining necessities.
Limiting Access Is Not a Solution
The most prominent proposed solution among pro-life organizations and supporters is to limit access to abortions. However, even if the United States outlawed all abortions, women who desperately needed an abortion would still have alternatives, but those options would be extremely unsafe and unsanitary. Before abortion was legalized, women frequently tried to induce miscarriages by using coat hangers, knitting needles, radiator flush, or by going to unsafe “back-alley” abortionists . The World Health Organization estimated that unsafe abortions cause 68,000 maternal deaths worldwide each year, many of those in countries where safe and legal abortion services are difficult or impossible to access .
Echoes of Oppression
The abortion debate highlights an idea that has long been upheld and promoted around the world: that women never take priority. Throughout history, the U.S. government has told women what they can and cannot do. Women were told that they couldn’t own property, open a bank account, vote, get divorced, attend college, or work outside the home, among many, many other things. For so many women, the pro-life argument echoes the underlying principle that perpetuated the subordination of women for hundreds of years: that their rights are secondary. Women’s rights have never been prioritized. With abortion, the rights of the woman are being considered secondarily, if at all. To focus solely on the rights of the fetus negates its mother’s value, personhood, and human rights. We should, therefore, give great consideration to mothers’ rights as well as to those of the unborn.
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