OpinionArguing in defense of pro-choice rights

Guest column: Pro-life arguments hurt women
Frannie Kennedy-LongMarch 28, 201996363 min
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Photo by Henry Pratt

Unless you have managed to isolate yourself from any sort of political news, you have probably heard a lot about abortion lately. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was recently voted down in the Senate, Iowa Republicans introduced an amendment to the state Constitution declaring that there is no right to an abortion and 21 states have challenged President Trump’s abortion “gag rule.” Even the fledgling news site The Tower has covered the issue, admonishing the Democratic party for its supposed support of “abortion extremists.” Both sides of the debate are represented on Trinity’s campus; Tigers for Life, formed by senior Luke Ayers, has recently been joined by Tigers for Choice.

Since you decided to read this article, you probably have your own opinion regarding the morality of abortions. You are familiar with arguments about the beginning of life and women’s bodily autonomy. You might even be thinking: “Hasn’t this debate been exhausted? How can there be anything new to say?” And that’s the point of this column; there should not be a debate, because there is no legitimate argument for criminalizing abortion. Much of the discussion surrounding abortion has focused on morality. However, political and legal decisions do more than represent our moral beliefs; they impact human lives.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am firmly pro-choice. I do not agree with the claim that life begins at conception, nor with the assertion that the existence of a fetus supersedes the bodily autonomy of the person carrying it. However, I recognize that many people have stances that are diametrically opposed to mine. I also acknowledge that others have thought carefully about their opinions, and are passionately committed to their political activism. Still, my arguments stand. Regardless of when you believe life begins or how much weight should be given to bodily autonomy, there is simply no valid argument for criminalizing abortion.

We have known for years that criminalizing abortion does not decrease rates of abortion. At best, countries have the same rates of abortion regardless of whether it is legal or illegal. At worst, some studies have found that countries with restrictive abortion laws have the highest rates of abortion, not the lowest. Given this, making abortion illegal would only cause more deaths. Millions of women have unsafe abortions every year, and tens of thousands of them die from it; unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal death. Making abortion illegal does not save lives. Instead, it takes the lives of women in addition to their unborn fetuses.

If pro-life advocates really want to decrease abortions and save lives, they need to advocate for something that works. Real solutions address the cause of a problem, not the side effects of it. The cause of abortions is not the accessibility of legal, safe abortions. The cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies. To lower the rate of abortions, this issue must be tackled directly. The most effective way to decrease the amount of unwanted pregnancies is to make birth control available and affordable to everyone as well as to provide comprehensive, effective (read: not abstinence-based) sexual education. Perhaps more than coincidentally, these are the same policies that most of the pro-choice movement supports.

I believe pro-lifers when they say that they want to save lives. But I also believe that they are part of a movement that misleads its members. The policies that the bulk of the pro-life movement advocates for are simply not effective and ultimately end up hurting women. I am not opposed to the core goal of decreasing abortions; I assume most members of the pro-choice movement would feel the same way. The only issue here is how to achieve that goal. Dismantling women’s bodily autonomy or restricting their access to safe medical procedures is simply not the way to achieve that goal. I understand that abortion is a deeply emotional and controversial issue, but I hope that everyone who reads this article will take the time to consider that criminalizing abortion is not, and never will be, a humane option.

Frannie Kennedy-Long

9 comments

  • Angelique Lopez

    March 28, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    To deny that the fetus/embryo/baby — whatever you want to call it — is a human life is to deny basic biology. From the moment of conception, that cell is undeniably human with its own unique set of DNA distinct from its parents. It is alive, and it is human, and therefore it is a human life. Regardless of whether or not your religious, many people believe that abortion is a human rights issue because of this, hence the advocacy of criminalizing abortion. And while criminalizing abortion may not reduce the numbers of abortions, it is a big step in changing how we think about abortion. I believe these are valid reasons for criminalizing abortion.
    I do agree with you that research shows that one of the most effective ways of reducing the number of abortions is through the availability and affordability of birth control. Fortunately, we do not have this problem in the US as the numbers of abortions in the US have already been dropping. That is why the pro-life movement in the US moves toward legislative means.
    As for other means of decreasing the numbers of abortions, I agree with you that criminalizing abortion should not be the only way or main way to advocate pro-life values, and that we should target the core of the problem — the unwanted pregnancies themselves. Other means of the pro-life movement include nonprofit pregnancy crisis centers, sidewalk counseling, and talking to people on an individual level.
    https://www.care-net.org/find-a-pregnancy-center
    Another example would be A Woman’s Haven Pregnancy Crisis Center right here in San Antonio. They address the crisis directly and help these women up to 3 years after their pregnancy to help them find jobs, homes, etc. if needed.

    One last thing that confused me in your article: “Making abortion illegal… takes the lives of women in addition to their unborn fetuses.” Doesn’t that mean you believe the fetus is alive?

    Reply

    • Frannie Kennedy-Long

      March 28, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Angelique, thank you for responding to my article!
      As for your first point, I don’t believe “life” is purely a matter of biology; it is also a philosophical issue. Where we draw the line between “alive” and “not alive” varies throughout history and cultures. Again though, my point stands regardless of when any individual (or even the greater scientific establishment) believes life begins.
      Regarding your second point, that criminalizing abortion may not reduce abortions but will change “how we think about abortion,” I would love some clarification here! Who exactly do you think will change their minds, and in what way? As the data clearly shows, pregnant women won’t change their minds about abortions, as abortion rates are consistent (or even higher) whether it is criminalized or not. The only change in thinking I can imagine is that our society might collectively think that women should be penalized for exercising bodily autonomy, which is exactly what I’m against.
      I agree with you that large gains have been made in terms of the accessibility and affordability of birth control, but we cannot take this for granted. The current administration is considering overturning Obamacare, which would make it far harder for a lot of women to get birth control. Birth control needs to be constantly fought for, secured, and expanded.
      I do realize that the pro-life movement offers some beneficial services to women, and I have no issue with those services. But again, my overall point is that criminalizing abortion will always be harmful and ineffective. If the pro-life movement stopped trying to push criminalization of abortion, and instead provided aid to pregnant women and new mothers, I wouldn’t take issue with the movement as a whole.
      Finally, regarding the quote from the article: I don’t believe that fetuses are alive, but there are plenty of people (both pro-life and pro-choice) who do. I was trying to appeal to that perspective; the idea was to convey to people who believe criminalizing abortion saves lives that, according to their beliefs, it would actually take more. I understand your confusion, though, and wish I had better clarified that in the article!
      If you’d like to discuss this issue further, I would be happy to. 🙂

      Reply

    • Gabriel Odom

      March 28, 2019 at 9:58 pm

      Hi,
      As a pro-choice person I kind of agree/disagree. I do agree that I think there’s no point in arguing whether or not a fetus is alive or not. It clearly is. For me, it’s more the matter of whether or not the state can tell women what to do with their bodies. Generally, pro-life people argue from a religious position, which would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. A more legitimate argument could be made from the position that abortion is murder.
      We have to weigh the pros and cons here. We would have thousands of unwanted, destitute children. I don’t think that either government welfare or private charity could close that disparity. Secondly, oftentimes these crisis pregnancy centers purposefully verbally abuse women, trying to “guilt” them into changing their minds. Some even present women with purposefully misleading information. Does this seem like an appropriate thing to do to vulnerable mothers? I don’t think so.
      Lastly, I think that there is a tendency especially among more religious people to simultaneously block access to contraceptives and decry abortion. Does this seem fair? I don’t think we can stop people from having sex. I don’t think the author did a great job with this article. I found it rather cliched and contradictory. Your argument logically made more sense. But I think there are some issues here that are certainly not being addressed.

      Reply

  • Dana Simmang

    March 29, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    No matter which side of this debate you are ok, I would encourage all of you to go see the movie ‘UNPLANNED’ which officially opens today. As a pediatrician who works in the labor / delivery /nursery setting, I have a very hard time understanding how it is okay to intentionally end the life of an embryo / fetus / newborn / toddler / teenager / adult / elderly person.
    I do agree the best way to stop abortion is to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies. I also help organizations that help women in crisis pregnancies. Most do it NOT by guilting them into it or verbally abusing them – definitely the wrong way to do it. We help by housing, educating and supporting until they can make it on their own.

    Reply

    • Dana Simmang

      March 29, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      you are ‘on’…that is. 🙂

      Reply

  • Why this article is harmfully misleading

    March 29, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    It’s crazy to me that you would acknowledge that the unborn is an alive human being –
    “it takes the lives of women in addition to their unborn fetuses” (a quote from you acknowledging the fetus as a human life)
    – and yet still advocate for their death. This is the reason why pro-lifers aren’t going anywhere. We will not stand for the pro-death culture that says human beings should be killed at convenience. So sad.

    Also, your opinion on abortion being a “safe medical procedure” is very incorrect. Please do some research. Dr. Levatino (a man who has performed countless abortions) is a great resource for the realistic information regarding the abortion procedure.

    Reply

    • Frannie Kennedy-Long

      March 29, 2019 at 5:34 pm

      I think my point is being misconstrued by many of the commenters. I’m not advocating for more abortions; like with any medical issue, preventative care will always be preferable (in this case birth control). I don’t think you’re engaging with the core of my argument: no matter how strongly pro-lifers feel about “death culture” or fetuses or killing “at convenience,” the fact remains that criminalizing abortion won’t help your cause. Women will still have abortions, they will just no longer be able to do so safely.
      And as for your point about abortions not being safe, they are still far safer than giving birth (0.6 deaths per 100,000 vs. 8.8 deaths per 100,000). If you’re genuinely concerned about the safety of abortion, I would think you’d also have a vested interest in keeping it legal and accessible, so women don’t have to turn to back-alley methods (which, as I mentioned in my article, is a leading cause of mortality for women). Thanks for your input 🙂

      Reply

  • Peter Simmang

    March 30, 2019 at 8:38 am

    I believe your statistics on the death rate for abortion vs. birth is off. You’ve only included numbers for the mother. I don’t have figured for infant deaths during the birth process, but it’s far below the (virtually) 100% death rate for infants during an abortion. This is the whole crux of the pro-life argument, and to overlook it is to miss an opportunity for conversation.

    Reply

  • Monique

    April 2, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    I don’t particularly see the point in debating it a fetus is alive (for the fellow Catholics, check out Catholics for Choice). It can’t survive without leeching from my body (lets be honest pregnancy is allowing another life to leech from you hence compromised immunity and more) so I should be able to choose whether I want to be pregnant or not. Most talking points I hear from pro-birthers imply that they they’re less concerned about reducing abortions so much as punishing women for having sex.

    Reply

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