Rethink your thinking- The Abortion Debate and Roe v. Wade

This essay was originally posted as various posts on Facebook. Here I have compiled all of my posts in one place.

I feel quite privileged to have such a large number of friends who have such differing and varied opinions. I really enjoy hearing others point of view, and I take all of your thoughts and feeling seriously and ponder points of view that are different than mine quite often. Over the last few days, I have seen quite an interesting array of posts and memes about the recent Supreme Court decision. While many of them make some good points, I think this issue is so multi-faceted and complex it is impossible to cover in a meme or brief post. Often these posts seem to only further divide us as people cling to what they know of the issue and believe to be true.

Thoughts and feelings about abortion laws are such a complex issue and are so deeply rooted in people’s basic moral understanding that it is easy to see why it is so hard for people to find areas of agreement. However, I would like to ask that my friends seriously consider looking at things a bit differently than you may have before. Over the last few days, I have read and pondered what people have been saying, and done my homework with some basic research on some details about the issue. I would like to share some things that I think and feel about the issue over several posts over the next few days. If you are interested read on. If not, just keep scrolling.

Feel free to share if you desire. I would love your comments, but if you chose to comment, please be polite. All personal attacks will be deleted and if a mud slinging war begins, I will close off comments.

Thanks for reading, and keep reading if you want to hear what I have to say. Just know that what I have to offer may get a bit uncomfortable no matter what side of the aisle you are on. So if you just want to read what you agree with and makes you comfortable you may want to skip it.

Rethink your thinking #1- About me and Abortion Definition

First, a bit about me. I am not an expert on abortion or the constitution. I don’t pretend to know what experiences people have had that shape their thoughts and views, and I often mis-guess what makes people do the things they do.

I am, however, a bit of an expert on being pregnant and childbirth, at least from the woman’s side of things. I know the joy of expecting a child that you desire to add to your family, and I know the panic of being pregnant when you didn’t expect to be. I also know the desperation of not knowing how you will support the kids you already have, let alone adding another.

I have not always been good at listing to others’ point of view, but I am getting better at it. I am learning to listen way more than I talk, and to start conversations with questions, rather than my point of view. I also am pretty good at internet research and fleshing out the more and less biased sources.

Now, on to the term abortion. One thing that has become clear to me over the last few days is that we don’t have a common definition of the word abortion. For some, it is an evil practice that murders a child, and for others it is a medical procedure that may be necessary.

The first I remember knowing anything about abortion was when I was a teenager. This was back in the day when Roe v. Wade was new, pre-marital sex and having a child before marriage was still taboo and most people in this country professed some sort of Judeo-Christian ethics. There were no early pregnancy tests, showing a pregnant woman on TV was still a new concept, and the word pregnant was a bit taboo as well. There were no fancy 3D images of unborn children, actually, no images at all, no fancy apps that told you that your baby was the size of a cumquat and expectant parents had very little sense or understanding of what was going on in there until the fetus became large enough to feel.

The definition that I understood for abortion at that time is the top answer if you Google the definition today, “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.” In my mind, that is what most people think of when they hear the term abortion today. And may I just add that the majority of controversary revolves around this definition, most especially the elective termination of a pregnancy for personal or social convenience.

I was well into adulthood before I fully understood that an abortion was actually the ending of any pregnancy, and was even a term for miscarriage. As a society, we don’t use that term in that way in casual conversation, however that is the correct, technical term.

Even though the term has its roots as a medical term, it is still fraught with controversy. Over the last few decades, we have coined some other terms to soften the blow of the controversial word. Those who support elective abortion as a choice say they are pro-choice, and those who say they would rather that legal restrictions be in place call themselves pro-life. But through all of the spin and word smithing it still comes down to a basic philosophical difference. Some of us support the legal right to elective termination of pregnancy for personal or social convenience, and some of us do not.

So, the first thing I ask of you is this, do you know where you stand on that controversy? Do you think it is fully a woman’s right to decide, or do you think it is a personal issue between her and her doctor? Or, do you think that the rights of the unborn child takes a high enough precedence to overturn the parent’s right to decide? Don’t think about the exceptions, the outliers, the reasons that someone may make that choice, just is it okay to elect to terminate a pregnancy for personal or social convenience?

If your answer is yes there is a part two. Is there a limit to how long this right is allowed? Take a bit of time on this, and really know how you feel, and why you make the choice you do. If you don’t know think about what factors may influence you to make a decision like this.

If your answer is no there is a part two for you as well. Are there any circumstances under which an elective abortion, besides the health of the mother being at risk, could be a valid choice? Be careful with this, and take some time to consider what may or may not constitute a valid reason to end a viable and physically healthy pregnancy.

I look forward to hearing your respectful, well thought out and honest answers. Or, just keep your thoughts to yourself, but really know what they are. Make sure they are your own, and not what someone else is telling you is the right thing to think or believe. Know it is true for you because you have seriously considered it and thought through the pros and cons. And, if you don’t know yet, read what others think, and keep an open mind. Better yet, keep an open mind even if you think you know. It is never too late you learn something new.

Rethink your thinking #2- Let’s face the first elephant in the room- Roe v. Wade

First, some history. Roe v. Wade was a Supreme Court decision that came down in 1973. It said that the constitution protected abortion until the fetus could live outside of the womb as a right to privacy. Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision that has been touted as a decision that guaranteed reproductive rights for woman.

At the time of the decision elective abortion was illegal in nearly every state in the country. Supporters of abortion have credited the constitutional right to an abortion with improved health for women as well as their families. Prior to safe and legal abortions mortality for women from unsafe abortions was quite high. Also, in studies of women who chose abortion vs. carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term the women who chose abortion were found to have higher economic outcomes as well as educational levels.

Interestingly, popular support for the decision has been mixed over these nearly 50 years. When the Roe v. Wade decision first came down there was roughly a 50/50 split in the country for abortion rights. As time as gone on, support has increased and decreased a bit throughout the decades, but multiple studies continue to show about half of the population is in favor of abortion being available in some circumstance.

Before we go on to discuss the recent overturn, as well as other issues related to Roe v. Wade, let’s take a minute to consider something here. Over the last couple of weeks my newsfeed has been chocked with posts lamenting the loss of reproductive rights, as well as those saying no rights have been lost at all, just shifted. Can I just say a word for those of you who feel the loss? I am of the firm belief that friends should stand with those who mourn, and support those in pain. For those who mourn the loss of reproductive rights, I wish to take a moment to mourn with you. Please know that my attempt to point out some things about Roe v. Wade in no way is meant to belittle the pain of your loss. More than 30 subsequent court rulings have been based on Roe v. Wade, so it is not beyond the scope of imagination that the ruling may not only have a sweeping effect on abortion law, but may topple or affect quite a few other laws as well. I feel your pain ladies and gentleman who mourn the loss, but I do see things differently. So do read on if you would like to know my thoughts.

First, while the numbers for general support for abortion in public opinion polls has remained roughly the same in the last 50 years, we have a society have not. Our views of birth control have changed, our views of pregnancy and childbirth have changed, our views of having children out of wedlock have changed, our views of an unborn child have changed and our views of abortion in general as much less of a black and white issue have changed. While abortion was illegal in virtually every state before Roe v. Wade, states have been gearing up for and preparing for this for a long time. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade the decision is now in the states ‘hands. Today, abortion is only illegal in 5 states. All have some provisions for exceptions for the life of the mother, and some have exceptions for rape and incest. Eight other states have trigger laws in place that do not go into effect right away and may take as many as 30 days to go into effect, and three others have laws that were overturned due to the Roe v. Wade precedent that they may try again to enforce. So, that leaves 35 states where abortion will remain legal, at least as far as present laws go. While many will say that is a far cry from allowing it in all 50 states, it is also a very far cry from where we were in 1973.

Can I also point out that this may not be as bleak as many abortion supporters may see these numbers. If you look at the typical women who has an abortion today you will find she is already a mother, is in her late 20s, attended some college, has a low income, is unmarried, is in her first 6 weeks of pregnancy, is having her first abortion and lives in a blue state. While I find many things on this list interesting and worthy of discussion, the one I want to bring up is the last one. If the typical woman who is seeking an abortion lives in a blue state, and blue states are likely to continue to offer elective abortion as a choice, there may not be quite as many women who will be unable to access an elective abortion as it may seem. Only time will tell, but perhaps values and belief systems in individual states are so diverse, that the state is a better place to make this decision.

My second thought is it seems that placing so much hope and confidence in Roe v. Wade may have been an unwise choice. Legal pundits for years have warned that Roe v. Wade’s position as a constitutionally based decision was tenuous at best. Even some supporters of abortion as a right were not in favor of the ruling. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a staunch supporter of abortion as a right for women, but she was not in favor of the way it came about. Rather than allowing the practice as a matter for privacy, she felt it would have had more strength as a matter of equal protection. She felt more strength would have come from gradually developing laws that provided this equal protection, rather than one court ruling with a rocky foundation.

My last thought in regards to this ruling is the tendency by some to pit men against women. I have had more than one person make a comment about men taking away the reproductive rights of women. Can I just say quickly that I find terming abortion as a reproductive right strange. It seems that once the pregnancy has started, reproduction has already taken place, but I won’t argue that position right now. What I want to address is the pitting of men against women. It is true that due to their superior size, strength and power in society many men have taken advantage of, dismissed and belittled women historically. But do we really think the majority of the men in our society in this day and age feel that they can control and marginalize women? No doubt, men with that mentality still do exist, but I know so many kind, thoughtful, fair-minded and respectful men as a whole in this society that is hard to imagine that the majority of men are making laws with the express purpose to control women. This is not to say that I think a man can fully appreciate the plight of a women who is pregnant and does not expect to be. But to say that someone cannot make a moral value judgement on something without experiencing it seems disingenuous to me. For instance, I have never robbed a grocery store. But if I were called to sit on a jury for a robbery, I would be asked to make a judgement, despite the fact I have never been in that position before. Interestingly, in the original Roe v. Wade decision it was 5 of the 7 members of the all-male Supreme Court who gave the country’s women sweeping abortion rights, and the fathers of those conceived fetuses no rights at all. The current Supreme Court that overturned the ruling consists of 5 men and 4 women. While the majority of the woman opposed the decision, one woman supported the ruling. It seems that political party was a much better predictor of who would vote which way, then gender.

So, the bottom line for me here is I have two requests. First, to my friends who support the current Supreme Court decision: have some compassion. Realize that there is fear and uncertainty for our friends who feel the loss of Roe v. Wade. Try to understand and be compassionate. Be mindful of what you post and say, and how it may comes across to those you disagree with.

Then, to my Roe v. Wade supporter friends: try to look have a bit of faith in our society. We are not the same people or in the same place we were 50 years ago. While every woman everywhere will not have the same rights to abortion as they did before, look for positive ways to support what you feel would be a good cause. I have already had some friends do that, which seems so much more productive than trying to pit groups of people against each other.

Rethink your thinking #3- The second elephant in the room- Abortion as Murder

We’ve all heard about the multiple violent acts that anti-abortionists have launched on abortion clinics in recent history. Between 1977 and 2015 more than 7,200 acts of violence were reported at abortion providers. This included 42 bombings, 185 arson attacks, and thousands of death threats, bioterrorism threats and assaults.

I remember hearing about these attacks through the years and wondering, how could someone think that they can end abortion with violence and killing people? Aren’t they sending the wrong message? But the more I listened, and the more I started to understand the abortion debate, it started to make sense.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating bombing of abortion clinics, and I am pretty sure most people I know do not. However, I find the best way to understand your own beliefs is to often really get inside of someone else’s and try to see things from their point of view. So, I would like to ask my friends on both side of this issue to consider those abortion clinic bombers for a moment. Why would they do such a thing?

The answer is murder. Let’s say for argument’s sake that abortion is murder. If we knew that our neighbor down the street couldn’t afford one of her children so she planned to murder him or her, would we not take every step to try and stop her? If we knew a friend’s teen had given birth to a baby she couldn’t raise and planned to murder the child, would we not do all we could to save the child? Possibly even perform an act of violence ourselves to save the baby? Many of us would. If we would be willing to do anything to save a child from being murdered, why wouldn’t someone who holds abortion as murder be equally willing to go to extremes to save children from death?

I understand the temptation to call abortion murder, if you feel very strongly against the practice for personal or social convenience. After all, it isn’t hard to look at a tiny, perfect infant and imagine this precious child before birth. It isn’t hard to think that anyone who could take that life must be a murderer. But, is it really murder?

If you aren’t sure how to answer this question let me ask you this, do you support abortion in the case of rape or incest? I submit that if you believe that rape or incest would be a legitimate reason to abort a fetus, you cannot call abortion murder. Would you support killing a born child that was a result of rape or incest? Clearly most of us would object to that. If there is not differentiation in ending the life of a fetus than ending the life of a born child you cannot support abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Many of my friends, especially those who come from the Catholic tradition where life is believed to start at conception, may not be able to support abortion in the case of rape or incest. If that is the case for you, do you feel strongly that you should be going out and stopping abortions? If not, then I submit that you don’t really see abortion as murder.

My dear friends, if you have used the term of abortion being murder, or even entertained the thought in your head, I would ask that you reconsider. If you disagree with abortion for personal or social convenience, imagine what you think the moral consequence should be for women who choose such a course? Should it be the same as a murderer?

As I have stated before terms are important. Often in today’s society we use the most inflammatory term possible to get people’s attention and to make our point. But using the most inflammatory term is not a good way to educate others, find common ground or to dialogue reasonably. I think that is we want to better communicate with those who disagree with us on every issue, but most especially about very divisive issues like abortion, that we throw out the inflammatory terms and instead use terms that better spell out what we are really trying to say. You can hold that abortion for personal and social convenience is a morally inappropriate act, and yet not call it murder.

Rethink your thinking #4- An Observation, A Paradox and The Bottom Line

It was been a wonderful and enlightening experience for me to not only spend time researching Roe v. Wade and the facts about abortion, but also to hear the heartfelt stories from women who have had to make difficult child-bearing choices. In this final post I would like to ask that each side take a final look at a few of the ways we oversimplify this complex issue. I will also talk about a seeming paradox and then I will give you a bit of my own thoughts and opinions.

Today’s society is all about the sound bites. Tweets, memes and posts are at times our primary means of communication. When we find one that resonates with us, we smile or laugh. When we see one that we disagree with, we get annoyed or downright mad. I am as big of a fan of clever posts as anyone else. I find sound bites and memes to be funny, witty and even thought provoking. But quite often, they take a very complex issue and oversimplify it to a point that it loses it meaningfulness. In my opinion, nowhere is this more apparent than on the issue of abortion. This issue so strikes at the very core of people’s closely held beliefs that using statements that are oversimplified comes across as non-sensical to those with an opposing point of view.

Take for example the abortion is murder point of view. I’ve already discussed the problem with this point of view, but it seems that some people post memes or statements that use words they don’t necessarily fully agree with because they want to make a firm point. Using firm, precise words is a powerful strategy to make a point. Using imprecise words weakens your point and divides people. It is also hurtful to women who have struggled with difficult pregnancy decisions.

Couching anti-abortion messages in absolute and strong words brings with it such strong poor connotations that I have seen it make it difficult for some women to make informed choices. For others, I have seen women carry guilt unnecessarily. I have seen women struggle with the decision of abortion, even when the child they carried had no possibility of viability. And, I have seen women struggle with guilt or thoughts of being judged by others for even considering terminating a pregnancy long after the incident took place.

On the other hand, I think our friends on the other side of the aisle often treat abortion too lightly, and use statements that minimize the gravity of the decision. Take for example the statement, “Her body, her choice.” No sensible person disagrees that a woman should be able to make medical decisions about her body, but this statement totally ignores the fact that another body is growing inside of hers. I don’t desire to debate when a growing fetus becomes a human in this forum, and I recognize that an early term pregnancy consists of an organism that cannot live outside of the woman’s body. However, it is completely disingenuous to fully ignore the fact that a body is indeed growing inside of the woman. In my opinion a statement like, “Her body, her choice,” makes it sound like this decision should be taken as seriously as what color she should dye her hair or what clothes to wear that day. Even if you agree with the right to an abortion for personal or social convenience, please don’t promote thinking about this is a decision to be made quickly and easily. Please give the choice the respect it deserves.

And then there is the paradox. It includes some stereotypes, that I admit will not be true across the board, but go with me on this path for a minute, and tell me if you don’t see the paradox.

Typically, those with strong religious beliefs tend to be against elective abortions. Typically, those with less strong or no religious affiliation tend to be more in favor of abortion rights. And yet, those religious, anti-abortionists typically believe in a happy, positive after-life. While many who don’t follow religious beliefs either don’t believe in an after-live, or have no understanding of what may happen after death.

To me it seems very strange indeed that many who believe in an after-life are so militantly opposed to abortion, while many who don’t hold such beliefs seem to treat abortion with little regard to the unborn.

So, here is my bottom line. I think we need to throw away the absolutes. I think we need to throw away the simple taglines and labels, even pro-choice and pro-life. I don’t think either label adequately describes either position, and it certainly does nothing to help us navigate the middle ground that many people find themselves in where they understand the necessity of some abortions, but uphold the sanctity of life.

I think we need to forget about Roe v. Wade and that precarious legal decision that did nothing to unite us, but much to divide us as a country. Personally, I am glad it was overturned. My feelings on that have really nothing to do with abortion or abortion rights. I am glad it was overturned because I think it opens the issue wide up and makes us take a real look at what we think. Personally, I don’t think it is a bad thing for states to make their own laws about abortion rights. Afterall, the large majority of abortions already do take place in states that will continue to allow abortion liberally. My hope is that with Roe v. Wade out of the debate, states will feel free to make sensible laws that fit their population best, rather than reactionary laws designed to make a statement.

Of course time will tell, but in the meantime I hope that we can have a bit of compassion and understanding for those who feel differently than we do. Only with compassion for one another can we open up real dialog and hope to understand each other better.