The effect of Roe v. Wade was to make abortion legal in most regards in the U.S. And the effect of that was to create a national divide between those who agree with legalized abortion and those who oppose it.
I was raised Catholic and grew up when world events swirled around me with a decidedly feminist air. The conflict in beliefs and perspectives between these influences has made me think about this issue in various ways at various times in my life.
I can't help myself, but I now accept the Catholic notion that life begins at conception and abortion is a mortal sin. Like murder, and other such repugnant actions, abortion moves us in a direction that is less holy, less noble.
I fully recognize the right of the Church to make drastic rulings in support of its teachings, like its automatic excommunication of Catholics who procure or obtain abortions.
But I also am schooled in law and the American ideals that value separation of church and state. What I believe as a matter of faith does not have to be the law that my government embraces, as long as that government allows me to practice my faith. Not every mortal sin must be a crime. We have decriminalized adultery. We allow divorce. There is no law against couples living together without benefit of marriage.
And I can't help but recognize that women may have moral reasons for wanting abortions, have their own religious or ethical reasons that differ from mine--that pregnancy and birth may threaten a woman's life and choosing her own life is a moral decision; that having an unwanted child may be as immoral as having an abortion; that the decision to have a child you can't afford has an ethical dimension to it.
I think the government should not be in the business of compelling one moral choice over another moral choice, unless that is necessary for a just society, for health and safety, for order and peace. I think the last three dozen years has shown that we can live with abortion rights.
And recognizing abortion rights does not necessarily lead to more deaths than making abortion illegal.
The latest information shows that fewer women are getting abortions now than at any time since 1974. There is a good blog post with facts about reproduction and family planning services at this slow-loading site. (Don't be put off by the blog header, either, please.)
Although the numbers and rate of abortion are at their lowest, the rate of decline has slowed. And a trend in reduction of family planning services has had a particularly negative effect on the poor.
And this gets me to the point I always come back to when thinking about the abortion debate. All those who support making abortion illegal are really supporting making abortion illegal for poor women. Rich women, even if abortion were illegal, will have access to abortions. They'll fly to where they are legal. They'll pay the high price of expensive doctors. And poor women will be the ones effected by the restriction; they will suffer birthing babies conceived from rape, or conceived by teenagers without access to contraceptives, or conceived unwanted and unplanned.
I remember before 1973 when abortion was illegal. I knew fellow college students who flew to New York or had the inside information on where to go if you needed an abortion. And I also knew poorer women who had "connections" to the seamier side of the community where back-street butchers offered to get rid of unwanted pregnancies.
As long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there will be abortions. Because women will rather get rid of their unwanted pregnancies than face the prospect of birth and adoption. We can hope for change, we can work on adjusting attitudes about this, but we must also acknowledge the situation as it presently is.
Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions. It will only return us to a time when there were MORE abortions, and when the effect on poor women was even greater, when illegal backstreet abortionists maimed and killed the women getting the abortions as well as the unborn babies.
In the summer of 2006, Senator Hilary Clinton said that Americans should
"unite around a common goal of reducing the amount of abortions, not by making them illegal as many are attempting to do or overturning Roe v. Wade and undermining the constitutional protections that decision provided, but by preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place through education, contraception, accessible health care and services, empowering women to make decisions…."
I agree with this.
In my opinion, the government does not need to decide the moral issue for women on whether abortion is right or not. We're perfectly capable of making that decision ourselves. We each have our own faith to guide us.
The government needs only to ensure that information about reproduction is available, that contraception and family planning options exist, that health care and services are affordable and safe. And then women can make moral decisions and take responsibility for their reproductive choices.