Arguing in defense of pro-choice rights


Photo credit: Henry Pratt

Photo by Henry Pratt

Unless you have managed to isolate yourself from any sort of political news, you have probably heard a lot about abortion lately. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was recently voted down in the Senate, Iowa Republicans introduced an amendment to the state Constitution declaring that there is no right to an abortion and 21 states have challenged President Trump’s abortion “gag rule.” Even the fledgling news site The Tower has covered the issue, admonishing the Democratic party for its supposed support of “abortion extremists.” Both sides of the debate are represented on Trinity’s campus; Tigers for Life, formed by senior Luke Ayers, has recently been joined by Tigers for Choice.

Since you decided to read this article, you probably have your own opinion regarding the morality of abortions. You are familiar with arguments about the beginning of life and women’s bodily autonomy. You might even be thinking: “Hasn’t this debate been exhausted? How can there be anything new to say?” And that’s the point of this column; there should not be a debate, because there is no legitimate argument for criminalizing abortion. Much of the discussion surrounding abortion has focused on morality. However, political and legal decisions do more than represent our moral beliefs; they impact human lives.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am firmly pro-choice. I do not agree with the claim that life begins at conception, nor with the assertion that the existence of a fetus supersedes the bodily autonomy of the person carrying it. However, I recognize that many people have stances that are diametrically opposed to mine. I also acknowledge that others have thought carefully about their opinions, and are passionately committed to their political activism. Still, my arguments stand. Regardless of when you believe life begins or how much weight should be given to bodily autonomy, there is simply no valid argument for criminalizing abortion.

We have known for years that criminalizing abortion does not decrease rates of abortion. At best, countries have the same rates of abortion regardless of whether it is legal or illegal. At worst, some studies have found that countries with restrictive abortion laws have the highest rates of abortion, not the lowest. Given this, making abortion illegal would only cause more deaths. Millions of women have unsafe abortions every year, and tens of thousands of them die from it; unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal death. Making abortion illegal does not save lives. Instead, it takes the lives of women in addition to their unborn fetuses.

If pro-life advocates really want to decrease abortions and save lives, they need to advocate for something that works. Real solutions address the cause of a problem, not the side effects of it. The cause of abortions is not the accessibility of legal, safe abortions. The cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies. To lower the rate of abortions, this issue must be tackled directly. The most effective way to decrease the amount of unwanted pregnancies is to make birth control available and affordable to everyone as well as to provide comprehensive, effective (read: not abstinence-based) sexual education. Perhaps more than coincidentally, these are the same policies that most of the pro-choice movement supports.

I believe pro-lifers when they say that they want to save lives. But I also believe that they are part of a movement that misleads its members. The policies that the bulk of the pro-life movement advocates for are simply not effective and ultimately end up hurting women. I am not opposed to the core goal of decreasing abortions; I assume most members of the pro-choice movement would feel the same way. The only issue here is how to achieve that goal. Dismantling women’s bodily autonomy or restricting their access to safe medical procedures is simply not the way to achieve that goal. I understand that abortion is a deeply emotional and controversial issue, but I hope that everyone who reads this article will take the time to consider that criminalizing abortion is not, and never will be, a humane option.