Pro-choice sup­port FALL­ING IN U.S.

Ar­gu­ing that abor­tion is sim­ply a med­i­cal mat­ter has be­come less per­sua­sive

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE -

IN the nearly four decades since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women have a fun­da­men­tal right to de­cide to have an abor­tion, the op­po­si­tion to legal abor­tion has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally.

Op­po­nents use in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated ar­gu­ments — fo­cus­ing on ad­vances in fe­tal medicine, stress­ing the rights of par­ents to have a say in their mi­nor chil­dren’s health care, link­ing op­po­si­tion to abor­tion with op­po­si­tion to war and cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, seek­ing to make abor­tion not il­le­gal but in­creas­ingly un­avail­able — and have suc­ceeded in swing­ing pub­lic opin­ion to­ward their side.

Mean­while, those of us in the abor­tion-rights move­ment cling to the ar­gu­ments that led to vic­tory in Roe v. Wade: Abor­tion is a pri­vate de­ci­sion, and the state has no power over a woman’s body. Those ar­gu­ments may have worked in the 1970s, but to­day they are fail­ing, and fo­cus­ing on them only risks all the gains we’ve made.

The pro-choice brand has eroded con­sid­er­ably. In 1995 it was the pre­ferred la­bel of 56 per cent of Amer­i­cans; that dropped to 42 per cent in 2009 and 45 per cent in 2010, ac­cord­ing to Gallup polls.

On Feb. 18, the House passed a bill that would strip fed­eral fund­ing from Planned Par­ent­hood, one of the most im­por­tant providers of re­pro­duc­tive health ser­vices for poor women. An­other mea­sure pend­ing in the House would make it im­pos­si­ble to buy pri­vate in­surance cov­er­ing abor­tion. Rep. Joe Pitts of Penn­syl­va­nia, a leader of anti-choice Repub­li­cans, has in­tro­duced an act to al­low hos­pi­tals to deny an abor­tion even if the preg­nant woman’s life is at risk. Gov­er­nors in 29 states are solidly anti-abor­tion. And last year alone, 15 states passed 39 laws, most of them re­stric­tive, re­lat­ing to abor­tion.

Pro-choice ad­vo­cates have good rea­son to op­pose leg­is­la­tion that re­stricts abor­tion in any way, but we must stop hold­ing on to a strat­egy that is mak­ing the legal right to abor­tion more vul­ner­a­ble than ever.

We can no longer pre­tend the fe­tus is in­vis­i­ble, or that an abor­tion at 26 weeks is no dif­fer­ent from one at six weeks. We can no longer seek to ban­ish the state from our lives, but rather need to en­gage its power to im­prove women’s lives.

These are not com­pro­mises or mere strate­gic con­ces­sions; they are a nec­es­sary evo­lu­tion. Our po­si­tions are in­ad­e­quate for the ques­tions of the 21st cen­tury. We know more than we knew in 1973, and our po­si­tions should re­flect that.

The fe­tus is more vis­i­ble than ever, and the abor­tion-rights move­ment must ac­cept its ex­is­tence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the preg­nant woman, but end­ing its life is not morally in­signif­i­cant. Very few peo­ple would ar­gue there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween the de­ci­sion to abort at six weeks and the de­ci­sion to do so when the fe­tus would be vi­able out­side of the womb, which to­day is 24 to 26 weeks. Still, it is rare for main­stream move­ment lead­ers to say that pub­licly. Abor­tion is not merely a med­i­cal mat­ter, and there is an un­in­tended coarse­ness to claim­ing that it is.

We must firmly and clearly re­ject post-vi­a­bil­ity abor­tions ex­cept in ex­treme cases. Ex­cep­tions in­clude when the woman’s life is at im­me­di­ate risk, when the fe­tus suffers from con­di­tions that are in­com­pat­i­ble with a good qual­ity of life, or when the woman’s health is se­ri­ously threat­ened by a med­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion that con­tin­ued preg­nancy will ex­ac­er­bate. We should reg­u­late post-vi­a­bil­ity abor­tion to in­clude the con­fir­ma­tion of those con­di­tions by med­i­cal or psy­chi­atric spe­cial­ists.

Those kinds of reg­u­la­tions are not anti-woman nor un­duly in­va­sive. They rightly pro­tect all of our in­ter­ests in women’s health and fe­tal life.

Even abor­tions in the sec­ond trimester, es­pe­cially af­ter 20 weeks, must be con­sid­ered dif­fer­ently from those that hap­pen early in preg­nancy. Women who seek abor­tions in the sec­ond trimester gen­er­ally have spe­cial needs and would be helped by more ex­ten­sive coun­selling than that avail­able at most abor­tion clin­ics. Women who dis­cover their fe­tuses have anom­alies, teens who did not rec­og­nize they were preg­nant, women who could not make up their minds — these are not rou­tine cir­cum­stances. Man­dat­ing and fund­ing nondi­rec­tive coun­selling on all op­tions is a good thing.

Fi­nally, we must change the way we think about the state. The gov­ern­ment is mainly treated as the en­emy — and it does ne­glect women’s needs. Congress’s new ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive mem­bers are fight­ing to elim­i­nate the legal right to abor­tion. The pub­lic is am­biva­lent: It wants it to be legal but sup­ports al­most any re­stric­tion that in­di­cates so­ci­ety takes the act of abor­tion se­ri­ously. The choice move­ment has to work with the state. So­ci­ety and the state do have a stake in abor­tion pol­icy. Re­pro­duc­tion is a pri­vate mat­ter with pub­lic con­se­quences. Women get to de­cide, but we all get to weigh in on what the pol­icy should look like.

We need to fight to get gov­ern­ment to pro­vide re­sources that women need, from sub­si­dized birth con­trol to bet­ter pre­na­tal care. We also need a real ef­fort to re­duce ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity and preg­nancy com­pli­ca­tion rates, which Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has called “shock­ing.”

If the state wants to weigh in with in­for­ma­tion on abor­tion, it can at least em­u­late the Euro­pean sys­tem, which has some reg­u­la­tions but pays for women’s abor­tions and of­fers good al­ter­na­tives such as child care, parental leave and health care. We have been de­mand­ing the state mind its own busi­ness. That lets gov­ern­ment ab­di­cate all re­spon­si­bil­ity for fund­ing re­pro­duc­tive health care.

We need more re­spon­si­ble and com­pas­sion­ate state poli­cies. But re­spect for fe­tal life also re­quires that men and women take ev­ery step pos­si­ble not to cre­ate fe­tuses they will have to abort. Too of­ten, the move­ment sounds as if we think women have only rights and the state has only re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The moral high ground on abor­tion is not in as­sert­ing an ab­so­lute right to choose, but in the move­ment’s his­toric un­der­stand­ing that when abor­tion is il­le­gal, poor women suf­fer. We must seek to re­store fed­eral and state funds for abor­tion for women in the mil­i­tary and on Med­i­caid, a ben­e­fit that Congress cut off as early as 1976. We should also work to sen­si­bly reg­u­late abor­tion fa­cil­i­ties — to not pro­hibit ac­cess but en­sure safety.

Some of my col­leagues in the abor­tion-rights move­ment fear that any com­pro­mise re­flects weak­ness, but I be­lieve most in the move­ment hold more mod­er­ate po­si­tions on abor­tion than their rhetoric or si­lence im­plies. These shifts I’m sug­gest­ing are not about com­pro­mis­ing or find­ing com­mon ground with op­po­nents. Com­pro­mise as­sumes that two par­ties are pre­pared to give up some­thing in re­turn for set­tling an is­sue, and nei­ther op­po­nents nor ad­vo­cates of legal abor­tion are will­ing to do that. But, for pro-choice ad­vo­cates, stand­ing our ground will mean los­ing ground en­tirely.

For too long, abor­tion has been treated in black and white. Any dis­cus­sion that de­vi­ates from legal or il­le­gal, women or fe­tus, faces crit­i­cism from the twin ab­so­lutes of choice or life. If the choice move­ment does not change, con­trol of pol­icy on abor­tion will re­main in the hands of those who want it crim­i­nal­ized. If we don’t sug­gest sen­si­ble, bal­anced leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tion of abor­tion, we will be left with far more dra­co­nian poli­cies — and, even­tu­ally, no choices at all.

—The Wash­ing­ton Post

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