Updated: Jul 28
July 27, 2020 by Amalia Mairet
While many who are pro-choice believe that empathy and advocacy for the health and safety of women are strong arguments in support of abortion, this reasoning can cause a roadblock in abortion discussions. You can say “life doesn’t begin at conception” until you’re blue in the face, but this won’t change the minds of firm pro-life believers. Thus begins the search for a concrete reason why abortion must be legal. In order to find a concrete argument, we can look to the economic and legal complaints of pro-lifers, and explain the ways that access to legal abortion better addresses these problems.
In order to understand the abortion debate, it is necessary to understand the legislations that underpin the conversation. American law is determined by both the Constitution and legal precedent, which is the ever-growing collection of legal decisions made by the judicial system. These decisions reveal the legal system’s interpretation of the law, and are important in finding legal solutions to modern problems such as abortion. Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Course decision in 1973, is the most important landmark abortion case. After becoming pregnant with her third child and finding herself unable to legally have an abortion in her home state of Texas, ‘Jane Roe’ filed a lawsuit against her local district attorney Henry Wade, alleging that “Texas' abortion laws were unconstitutional.” The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which issued a ruling that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a "right to privacy" that protects a pregnant woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.” They also ruled that “this right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the government's interests in protecting women's health and protecting prenatal life.” A poll taken in July of 2018, amid national turmoil following the proposed overturn of the Roe v. Wade ruling indicated that “only 28% of Americans wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, while 64% did not want the ruling to be overturned.” While many states have made it clear that they wish to ban abortions, Roe v. Wade protects women’s rights at a national level.
If you’ve ever researched abortion laws, you will have run into one specific legal principle very frequently: the Right to Life. This principle is frequently used to justify the responsibility of the state to protect the lives of innocent fetuses from abortion. However, enshrined in American legal precedent along with the Right to Life is the Right to Bodily Autonomy. The Right to Bodily Autonomy refers to the right of any person to self-determination over their own body. This principle deems all nonconsensual actions against the body of another person illegal, and actually supersedes the Right to Life in many instances. For instance, competent adults are allowed to refuse medical treatment because of this law. If you’ve ever wondered why you have to sign up to be an organ donor, it’s because of bodily autonomy. The government cannot force you to donate blood or bone marrow, even if these donations would save someone’s life. In case you didn’t catch that, here it is again: the government cannot force you to save someone’s life. And, this argument applies even if you believe that life begins at conception: the government cannot force you to save the life of a baby. And, the same way that you can’t be forced to give or receive a kidney, you cannot be forced to grow a baby inside your own body against your will.
When you go beyond legality, there are numerous other ways that abortion makes sense despite pro-life rhetoric. For example, many pro-lifers don’t want their tax dollars to go towards funding healthcare from which they do not benefit, such as Planned Parenthood. However, access to legal abortions make fiscal sense. One myth is that tax dollars go towards institutions like Planned Parenthood, when in fact, most reproductive care is funded by Medicaid insurance reimbursements. Making abortions illegal doesn’t mean that they will cease to happen. Instead, women become desperate, and have unsafe abortions in non-medical environments. Many of these abortions lead to extreme health complications, landing women in the hospital. This means that excess medical resources are used, which wouldn’t be necessary if the woman was allowed a safe abortion in the first place. If the woman chooses not to have an unsafe abortion, she may either choose to raise the unplanned child herself or give them up for adoption. Neither of these options is financially viable. First, let’s go through what happens if a prospective mother keeps her unplanned child. Many individuals who have abortions are those who are unable to support a child. Thus, a lack of access to abortions affect minorities and the poor disproportionately. People who are financially disadvantaged are more likely to take advantage of social programs like welfare, which is federally funded with (you guessed it) tax dollars. If you allow impoverished women access to safe abortions, they are able to control the size of their families and improve their economic standing, reducing their need for government assistance. The second option is putting an unwanted child up for adoption. While this might seem like a good solution, ABC News reported in 2006 that “taxpayers are spending $22 billion a year – or $40,000 a child – on foster care programs.” Comparatively, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the cost for an abortion in the US is anywhere between $75 and $3,000 depending on the term of the pregnancy. So, if the concern is taxpayer money, legal abortions are the way to go.
The American government and Constitution have unknowingly made some of the best arguments for a woman’s right to choose. When you think about it, this makes sense; American society and government is obsessed with the idea of personal freedom, manifested in their gun laws and rejection of free healthcare for fear that someone might make them go to a preselected doctor. However, when it comes to the marginalized in society, the American government suddenly wants a say in their personal freedoms.
Regardless of political opinion, America’s stance on abortion is written in their constitution. They believe unequivocally in the freedom to choose what happens to their bodies, as they should. Where they get it wrong is not accepting that this right extends to all members of society, no matter how badly you wish to control them.
Amalia Mairet is an incoming senior at SMUS.