20 April 2011

Abortion: A Woman's Human Right

Much recent legislature, both at the state and federal level, has aimed at curtailing abortion procedures in a variety of ways. The 2011 budget passed two weeks ago at the eleventh hour, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown, contained a rider that prevented any funds from going to abortion services in Washington, DC. Although this rider passed almost unnoticed, women's rights groups are adding this to the lists of affronts to women's reproductive freedoms.

Many states have passed bills criminalizing abortions past 20-22 weeks, citing some research that 20 weeks is the point at which fetuses can feel pain. Oklahoma's Mary Fallin is likely to sign a bill, along with governors in Alabama, Iowa, and Indiana;  Kansas has already passed one, and Nebraska's has already been on the books for a year. Although these have gone largely unchallenged, much medical research actually suggests that although fetuses respond to stimuli, to say they actually experience the sensation of pain is questionable at best. Abortion rights groups' responses have been sluggish at best, mainly because these late-term abortions are such a small fraction of the number of abortions actually performed. For example, in Kansas, had the late-term abortion ban passed prior to 2007, it would have only stopped 343 of the 10803 total abortions performed. Although this trend may not seem to have a profound impact, the reality is that sensitizing a complex issue like neurological response in a fetus, making it seem as though a fetus can feel and respond to pain in the same way that a fully-born infant can, muddles the issue and makes it more problematic for any woman to obtain an abortion.

Other legislation is directly challenging abortion as a criminal procedure. House Republicans briefly pressed a measure that would require a woman to prove that a miscarriage occurred naturally, with no human interference, if her medical care was paid for by federal money. Additionally, they were seeking to redefine rape, under which condition an abortion can be obtained, by inserting language that limited abortions to cases of "forcible" rape, ignoring issues of date rape, incest, or abuse due to mental incapacitation. Although these were shut down in the budget compromise, the fact that such language could even enter a Congressional debate shows the power that conservative Republicans have gained in the House and the extent to which they can block progressive legislation.

The debate about funding for Planned Parenthood is an ideological debate disguised with fiscally conservative talking points. Senator Jon Kyl famously misstated that "abortion is over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does," which was quickly challenged with other statistics showing that only 3% of Planned Parenthood's provided services are abortions. Factual accuracy notwithstanding, Kyl's lying and evasion points to a disturbing trend of demonizing other women's health services like Planned Parenthood, creating a false picture of what women really are trying to achieve when they seek health services.

Although many conservatives paint abortion as an irresponsible and selfish choice, and in occasional cases it may be done with a certain self-serving motivation, the morality of a legitimate, safe medical procedure is not for the legislature to decide. The Court decision Roe v. Wade still stands, with the Hyde Amendment attached to keep federal tax dollars from funding abortion since 1976. However, conservatives still scream about tax dollars paying for procedures against which they are morally opposed.

My argument is this: in an American democracy, you don't get to choose. I didn't support war in Iraq or Afghanistan; I don't support the inhuman treatment of Private Manning; I don't support the House's decision to uphold the DOMA despite overwhelming support for repeal. I voted for a candidate that I felt represented my wishes; when my candidate's efforts fail, I don't get to stop participating in a democracy that requires some input from every citizen. Moral or ethical objections to abortion aside, taxpayers don't get to dictate where every cent of our money goes. Much of it disappears in nontransparent governmental transactions that benefit the least deserving, but that doesn't mean we get to stop paying taxes and funding vital public services like schools, road maintenance, and security. If they want to frame it in terms of fiscal responsibility, legislators should be pointing out the fact that only a small fraction of medical procedures are abortions and that funding for them amounts to a fraction of a cent per dollar. If they want to argue the ethical responsibilities, they need to have these conversations with individual women who seek their counsel, providing both objective medical facts and truths as well as their moral or religious objections. But to mix the ideology surrounding human life in legislation that affects thousands of women across the country is a dangerous thing, and we should not allow the morality of the few to curtail the choices of a vital and powerful half of the human race.

Edit: an excellent opinion post by Gail Collins regarding the lack of rational argument in the abortion debate.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say that I agree with you, but I think a conservative opinion can be more coherent than you're making it sound. I by no means think that a fetus is a 'human' in any meaningful sense of the word. But, if you do define it as a human being, with all the rights that entails, then abortion shouldn't be the mother's choice anymore than it's a mother's choice to murder an adult. With the terms defined this way, there isn't any difference in killing these two entities. Of course, you could reply that your tax dollars are financing a war that is costing people their lives and which you don't agree with.