Imagine this: You’re a thirty-year-old pregnant woman, and you just took a trip to the doctor for your check-up. While there, the doctor delivered you some heartbreaking news. Your baby, the one you had been carrying for six months, developed a non-reversible fatal birth defect and wouldn’t survive the birth. What do you do? Well, in order to save your child the pain, you decide to get an abortion. And you get harassed for your choice, called a murderer, and shunned by a large portion of society.
On January 22nd, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing abortion after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy. The new law, which allows the abortion only if the mother’s health is threatened or if the fetus is not viable (or in other words, would not be able to survive outside the womb), has sparked outrage in Pro-Lifers across the country. Many advocates have claimed the law is a necessary protection for women who otherwise have limited options in the face of health risks or serious fetal problems, but anti-abortion advocates have criticized it as an “extreme” expansion of abortion access that gives doctors too much discretion, and many have falsely claimed that this legislation is tantamount to infanticide. The bill has gained so much attention that President Trump called for a federal ban on “the late-term abortion of these living, beautiful babies who can feel pain in the mother’s womb” during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, doubling down on his criticism of a new law expanding abortion rights in New York. The country continues to further divide under the controversial topic of abortion, protests on both sides of the controversy raging throughout major cities. But, a major question seems to be gripping the nation as well– Why exactly is this an argument?
The idea of abortion, defined as the termination of a human pregnancy, seems to be as old as pregnancy itself. Abortion procedures were performed even earlier than ancient Greece and Rome, where a method of herbs and physical exertion was used. At the time the Constitution was adopted in America, abortions before “quickening,” or when the woman starts to perceive fetal movement, were openly advertised and commonly performed. It wasn’t until around the 1800s when social attitudes towards abortion shifted in the context of a backlash against the women’s rights movement (to control women and restrict them to their traditional childbearing role) and as an expression of medical doctors’ desire to increase their power. These abortion criminalization laws led to a dramatic increase in the number of unsafe abortions, the abortion death rate spiking up to almost thirty percent. A number of organizations were formed in the 1960s to mobilize opinion both against and for the legalization of abortion, all leading up to the infamous Roe v. Wade case. The Court held that a right to privacy existed and included the right to have an abortion and that the mother had a right to an abortion until viability. After viability, a woman can obtain an abortion for health reasons or complications. Although this law led to better, safer abortions and more acceptance of the procedure, hardships still remained within anti-abortionist groups. In the 1990s, anti-abortionists increasingly turned to harassment of individual doctors and their families, picketing their homes, following them, and circulating “Wanted” posters. Over 200 clinics have been bombed. After 1992, the violence became directly deadly. The murder of two doctors and an escort at a clinic in Florida was followed by the murder of two women receptionists at clinics in Massachusetts. Anti-abortion sentiments have done nothing but increase in our modern time, the movement aggressively putting out the false idea that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer among many other backlashes. With the election of Trump in 2016, who is known as the “most Pro-Life president in history,” the movement has done nothing but expand and lead to more and more controversy that may, in the near future, take us on a ride back through time in a regression of legal abortion.
Proponents of the 2019 New York Reproductive Health Act have framed the law as a safeguard against a newly conservative Supreme Court that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that effectively legalized abortion nationwide. But, the threat of the abolishment of this law looms over our society, especially after Trump’s little propaganda scheme on the State of the Union. Conservative politicians’ use of theoretical extreme examples and scenarios to try to scare people shows just how much public opinion is vital here. By further dividing the country, action will be taken to please the public. And what better way to get stuff done than to get the people on your side?
Here’s what I believe Pro-Lifers do not understand. Late-term abortion is not something that women seek–they are more attached to their baby as any pro-lifer claims to be. It is not something that doctors wish to provide to people either. No mother wakes up twenty-four weeks into a pregnancy and suddenly thinks they made a mistake. These late-term abortions that the law legalizes are wanted pregnancies that have to be terminated for health complications or serious birth defects. The mother then must make a choice: watch her newborn baby die a painful death in her arms minutes after being separated from her womb, or get the abortion procedure early on? Risk her own health to the point where she might not survive, or prevent the pregnancy from ending her life (if Pro-Lifers really want to claim that they are Pro-Life, then shouldn’t the life of the mother matter as well?)? Many like to claim that abortion in the late second trimester is murder by saying that “the baby can feel itself getting killed,” but in reality, scientific research has found that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week. So what’s the real issue? Is it that they don’t believe that these women should have the choice to make their own decisions? Is it that they don’t want to relinquish control over their bodies? Why can’t people seem to ignore abortion just like they ignore the millions of children in foster-care situations?
An active solution for decreasing the frequency of abortion would be advocating for more access to birth control and other contraceptives, which are provided at Planned Parenthood. That said, these same politicians who advocate so hard against abortion are hypocritically pushing back against birth control as well. The reality is, access to these basic choices has been and will continue to be limited. As women’s role in society moves further and further away from their traditional childbearing, family-caring, domestic role, the more people are trying to shove them back into it. By taking away what I view as basic human rights, society is attempting to take control of their bodies and assert that they know what’s right for them. As the common saying in the Pro-Choice movement goes, “No Uterus, No Opinion.” Let’s hope that people can start respecting that in the future.