The Hypocrisy of Anti-Abortionists

Photograph Source: Tony Webster – CC BY-SA 2.0

There are lots of kids who live in poverty in the US. The poverty rate for children cited below from US Census figures is lower than prior to the pandemic because of pandemic policies, such as rent subsidies, child tax credits, and food assistance. But, in the wealthiest country in the world, 16.9% of children live in poverty. That is 16.9% of the 37.9 million people living in poverty in 2021, even with the pandemic assistance programs.

In 2003, the Guttmacher Institute noted, in answer to continued threats to Roe v. Wade (that have now become a reality) that women in the US faced the prospect of unintended pregnancies:

But regardless of the legal status of abortion, its fundamental underlying cause—unintended pregnancy—has been a continuing reality for American women. In the 1960s, researchers from Princeton University estimated that almost one in three Americans (32%) who wanted no more children were likely to have at least one unintended pregnancy before the end of their childbearing years; more than six in 10 Americans (62%) wanting children at some point in the future were likely to have experienced at least one unintended pregnancy.

Some might balk at this Boston Globe article as an apples to oranges comparison, but guns are the leading cause of death of kids in the US. There have already been 165 kids killed by guns this year and we’re only part way through the year. The anti-choice movement wants all pregnancies brought to full term, but where’s the outrage at guns killing kids?

Here are statistics about the issue of abortion as evaluated by the Guttmatcher Institute that need to make anyone celebrating the overturning of Roe v. Wade have their hair stand on end:

Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. One analysis… concluded that an estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions occurred in 1967.

One stark indication of the prevalence of illegal abortion was the death toll. In 1930, abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women— nearly one-fifth (18%) of maternal deaths recorded in that year. The death toll had declined to just under 1,700 by 1940, and to just over 300 by 1950 (most likely because of the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, which permitted more effective treatment of the infections that frequently developed after illegal abortion). By 1965, the number of deaths due to illegal abortion had fallen to just under 200, but illegal abortion still accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth that year. And these are just the number [sic] that were officially reported; the actual number [sic] was [sic] likely much higher.

Here are the personal testimonies of women who faced the crisis of an unwanted pregnancy in the pre Roe v. Wade era (PBS, June 21, 2022).

When I opened a copy of Providence College Magazine (Spring 2023), my heart sank in response to the column, “The Last Word.” Before reading the article, I perused it and thought about the ongoing battle over the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly called the “abortion pill” or medicated abortion. The article was not about the abortion pill, but rather, the reversal of Roe v. Wade and penned by an assistant professor of theology at Providence College, Holly Taylor Coolman. Providence College is operated by the Dominican order.

The Supreme Court Dobbs decision in 2022, overturning Roe v. Wade, and the draconian limitations on abortion in many states, are not enough for the anti-choice movement. In 1976, through the Hyde Amendment, federal Medicaid support ended for abortion,  except in limited cases, and this was the first legal blow against the right to abortion codified by Roe v. Wade.

Patriarchy has long dictated what women can and cannot do and reproductive issues have been adversely impacted by the dominance of men.

In “A Model for Civil Dialogue,” the professor said that overturning Roe v. Wade “marked a crucial moment for the protection of unborn life.” Here is the story of the Texas woman forced to carry her dead fetus for weeksbecause of the Texas stand on abortion. And here’s the story of a 10-year-old child forced to carry a fetus conceived through a rape  who had to travel from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion.

I think of the screaming and the threats and the ever-present specter of violence at the two women’s health clinics I volunteered at as an escort for 12 years. I used a technique called a perimeter search, which I learned in basic training in the army, to assess the environment around the clinics for potential violence. The anti-abortionists don’t just talk: they kill! I recall the day when one anti-abortionist yelled, “You aren’t Jewish, are you?” I continue to communicate with a former doctor at one clinic who wore a bulletproof vest to work. I don’t think that fear for one’s life or bulletproof vests are covered in medical school.

The professor continues: “None of us can simply coerce those who disagree with us. We have to make our case.” Maybe the professor hasn’t heard of the anti-abortionist who made his rounds throughout the US during the early 1990s and inflamed the already tense environment outside of clinics. The same day he came to town we were attacked by an entire line of anti-abortionists. A man dressed in religious garb repeatedly threw himself against me at the door to the clinic. Our line held.

In fairness to the Catholic Church, while it has spearheaded anti-abortion actions and organizations, other religious denominations and fundamentalists have played an equally horrific role.

Many members of the Catholic Church in Rhode Island, where I volunteered at clinics, support a woman’s right to abortion and it remains legal there.

“We must make the pro-life case to our own young people,” the professor continues. A debate between so-called pro-life and pro-choice staff took place at a “public event” on the campus of Providence College involving about 500 people. Following the meeting, a person on the Campus Ministry staff “reported that several students said the event moved their vague and unexamined pro-choice convictions toward a new openness to a pro-life position.”

The president of Providence College “noted that ‘disputation of this type has been a hallmark of Dominican higher education.’”

While I served as an adjunct instructor at Providence College in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one year, around 1994, I was told I would not be rehired. A professor friend said that it was obvious that my writing about abortion had ended my tenure there. I don’t know if his observation was accurate, but I know that around the same time, Providence College required all new hires to sign a statement stating that the prospective employee agreed with the principles of the college.

The anti-choice horrors go on while they debate the issues around the end of Roe v. Wade at Providence College and elsewhere. The best that can be expected from many of the anti-abortionists is some very limited assistance to new mothers and their children. There is a so-called crisis pregnancy center near one of the women’s health clinics where I volunteered. Long-term child support, employment opportunities, housing, and a decent education are societal and family responsibilities and will never be covered by any agency offering pregnancy counseling usually intended to convince a mother to follow through with a pregnancy. How about equitable policies for women and children as part of this society… including full reproductive rights and health services for women?

The current Supreme Court had its majority carefully tailored by Donald Trump, who won election by a minority of the popular vote. He pandered to his base in the court’s elimination of Roe v. Wade.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).