Abortion is a hot topic in every election. Even when there aren’t politicians using the issue as a platform for their campaign, there’s usually one state or another that’s trying to pass legislation for or against legal abortions. The controversy covers both moral and fiscal issues. Some say that making abortions illegal will minimize them, that abortions suck tax dollars from a morally divided constituency. Conservatives in both parties argue that putting children up for adoption is a cheaper and morally better alternative. We must strike down the legalization of abortion since abortion is murder of the unborn; a criminal, sinful act that women need to be dissuaded from by the threat of federal prosecution since those who seek them obviously lack the moral fortitude to pay for their promiscuity with pregnancy and birth.
However, statistics prove women are just as likely to get abortions in countries where it is illegal as in countries where it is legal. There are more abortions per 100 women in South America (where it illegal) than in North America. Half of all abortions worldwide are illegal and 70,000 women die every year from them. 5 million women are maimed or injured every year. In fact, illegal abortions account for 13% of maternal mortality worldwide. Women in countries where abortion is illegal still have the procedure, they just die in the process. In Eastern Europe, where abortion is largely illegal, there are more abortions per pregnancy than live births (105 per 100 women.) Western Europe, where it is almost universally legal, has the lowest abortion rate in the world, probably due to superior sex education and the availability of birth control.
But suppose for a moment, that abortions were not only illegal in the United States, but that women just stopped having them of their own free will. Children are born to women who have been kicked out of their homes by unsympathetic families, women without the money to support them, or who don’t want them. Children are born into families who lack the ability to properly love or care for these children. If “Put them up for adoption,” the rallying cry of conservatives, is observed, out of the several thousand children that would have been aborted, many will indeed be taken in by loving families. But what happens to those who aren’t adopted? As children grow older, their chances of being adopted grow smaller and smaller. Many will find themselves in foster care, where there is a long history of abuse and neglect. There are about half a million children and youth in foster care right now. A recent study found that 12-18 months after leaving foster care 27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated, 33% were receiving public assistance, 37% had not finished high school, and 50% were unemployed. How will the nation respond when taxes are raised so that foster homes, orphanages, hospitals and the like can care for these unwanted children? Then there are the children who are born with physical and mental defects to consider. Some of their families will be able to afford the care necessary to raise these children, while those who cannot will be forced to turn to the government for financial aid. Lacking that choice, parents, siblings, and friends will be confronted with providing their children a lower quality of life than they would have had otherwise. I do not believe in a God who would want millions of children to live lives in pain, poverty, and shame. That’s my belief; can I lobby for federal legislation now?
Time does not allow a discussion of children of rape or fetuses whose births endanger the mothers. Regardless, I ask in both the cases stated, why force a child – that didn’t choose to be here in the first place – to live in a family that may not love it, be able to care for it, or put it in harms way; to be condemned at conception to a life that sets them at the bottom of the social and/or financial hierarchy?
The religious right often cites “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:4-6) as irrefutable proof that abortion is wrong and a sin. But this quote could just as easily mean that before a child is born, there is already a place for them in heaven. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John. 14:2) could easily be used to support this idea and could just as easily be refuted by someone who disagrees with it. Another less well-known biblical saying is “it is better to sow your seed in the belly of a whore than to cast them upon the ground” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-9). This and the scripture from which it’s taken are generally accepted to mean that masturbation is a sin; some go so far as to claim it’s a mortal sin. To me, this begs the question, if a woman’s reproductive organs are to be monitored by government on the basis of religion, shouldn’t men be watched as well? Old Testament writings such as these are derived from an oral history that has been subjected to centuries of change before it was set in writing. In addition, the doctrine of Christianity was debated for centuries by philosophers such as Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, and others. And the texts we know and use are only a small grouping of hundreds of documents written at the same point in history as those we claim and accept to be God’s teachings.
America has often defined itself by the freedom of faiths allowed within its’ borders. This includes agnostic as well as Christian belief systems. So if a particular religion chooses to define life as beginning at conception, that religious view should not be imposed upon people who do not necessarily follow that teaching. Once an ideology is legally imposed, we take another step towards becoming a theocracy instead on a democracy. A typical conservative religious stance is to say that abortion is tantamount to murder which is a sin and punishable crime in the eyes of God. But the murder of someone who’s already alive has visible consequences. The murdered man or woman whose life was already in process had friends, family, loved ones, a job, dreams and goals. With their murder there is harm and loss not only to them but to the community since nothing remains where that person once was. The consequences of “murdering” a fetus are not so clear since we know so little of when sentience begins. We don’t know if the fetus had dreams or aspirations in the womb. We know little to nothing about it and the void it leaves is not so large.
We do, however, know that the mother suffers. We can’t assess how little or how much this differs from woman to woman, but few people are so devoid of emotion or compassion to be completely apathetic about an abortion. It is a difficult choice to make and not one made lightly or rashly by most women. It is a choice which I sincerely hope I will never have to make. I don’t know how I’d choose, but I know I want the choice to be mine – not dictated by people who will never face the consequences and who hold me to a belief system I neither adhere to or agree with.