The ongoing absolutism in Congress in trying to prevent women—or at least poor women—from obtaining abortions is one of the more shameful spectacles in America.
The sanctimonious Blue Dog Democrats and the Republicans, who almost unanimously opposed any right to abortion, present two basic arguments. One is that abortion is murder, and therefore must be illegal, or, in more nuanced form, they say that they or their constituents oppose abortion and therefore it is wrong to have their tax money paying for the procedure.
Of course, for most of those who argue that abortion is murder, there is a towering hypocrisy in the fact that with rare exceptions, those who argue this view also support capital punishment, which is also murder. Furthermore, given the über-conservative political stance of most such people, they also tend to unquestioningly support America’s wars on Third World peoples—wars which inevitably lead to the mass slaughter of innocent men, women and children—support the use of lethal American weapons, from nuclear bombs to anti-personnel fragmentation shells and bombs to depleted uranium shells and mines, which kill adults and children, soldiers and civilians indiscriminately, and support cuts in social services that leave American kids hungry, malnourished and without needed medical care, which leads to many untimely deaths. But even for those people—some liberal Catholics, for example–who may be consistent in their opposition to state-sponsored murder and killing, there is an unwillingness to address the central problem with opposing abortion: namely that women will get abortions whether they are legal or not, the only difference being that one way, they are likely to die or be seriously injured in the process, while the other way, the process can be done safely.
This reality was documented by a study conducted in 1972 by the Planned Parenthood organization—a study that my wife participated in as a summer intern after graduating from college. What the researchers did was look at 1969, the last year before abortion was legalized in New York State, and 1971, the first full year after abortion was legalized. They compared the number of live births in the state in the two years, and discovered that the numbers were identical. The unavoidable conclusion: the same number of abortions were being performed in 1969 and 1971 in New York State, except that in 1969, they were being done by back-alley hacks, women themselves, and the few doctors who were willing to provide the service illegally, while in 1971, they were being performed by doctors in hospitals or clinics. The second statistic the researchers looked at was the number of emergency room admissions of women for such medical problems as perforated uterus, septic uterus, or hemorrhaging caused by an attempted abortion. Here they found that the number of such admissions, huge in 1969, had fallen to almost zero. Other subsequent studies done later, after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationwide, such as one done at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, reached similar conclusions.
This is a reality that sanctimonious anti-abortion purists and the politicians who pander to them simply will not confront. When you say you oppose abortion because it is murder, you are simply closing your eyes to the fact that the abortions will still occur—history shows that a woman or young girl who does not want to have a baby will do what it takes to make sure that she doesn’t have it, even at the risk of death. Instead of protecting the life of a fetus, by opposing abortion, or by making safe, legal abortions available to the poor, you have put the blood of many young women on your hands, while you have saved not one fetal life.
As for those who simply claim that they are not making abortion illegal, but are only making sure that they and others who oppose abortion don’t have to pay for it with their taxes, this is an even worse hypocrisy. If we were allowed to say that we shouldn’t have to pay for abortion because we don’t believe in it, shouldn’t those of us who oppose capital punishment be to insist that no state or federal funds be used to pay for the super-max prisons that hold the nation’s 4000 death row inmates? Shouldn’t we be able to insist that no state or federal funds be used to pay for execution chambers and the staffing and operation of those killing fields? Shouldn’t we who oppose the nation’s bloody wars overseas be able to insist that no public money be used to kill civilians?
Besides, once again it is also true that when the law bars poor women from using Medicaid to pay for abortions, or bars public hospitals from doing abortions, the poor women who cannot themselves pay for a safe medical abortion will resort to trying to do it themselves, or will go to an unlicensed hack to have it done.
There really is no moral middle ground here. Whatever your personal belief about when life begins, the objective reality is that women who do not want to have a child will do what it takes to terminate their pregnancy, and because of that, we need to make it safe and affordable for them to do that. If anti-abortionists want to offer counseling to try to convince women not to abort, if they want to establish care facilities, like they do in the more civilized countries of Europe, to allow poor women to go to term with an unwanted pregnancy, obtaining food, lodging and medical services before having the baby and putting it up for adoption, that’s fine. But barring abortion, or denying funding for abortion is simply an unconscionable and hypocritical act of potential murder.
And the members of Congress who have allowed a ban on abortion coverage to be part of the proposed health care legislation relating to insurance sold through proposed insurance exchanges, and in the so-called “public option” insurance plan, many of whom claim to support a woman’s right to abortion, are as execrable a lot as those who co-sponsored the Bart Stupak amendment.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org