Roe vs. Wade vs. the Iowa Reality Show

As we turn our collective attention to the reality show in Iowa, it’s hard to miss that a woman’s right to choose is under attack. Many members of the rabid right like to live in a fact-free zone and are so unhinged from reality that they wouldn’t recognize it if it sat down across from them at the dinner table. Nevertheless, we must do our best to focus on reality while we face the onslaught coming from the right-wing presidential wannabes.

I have a confession to make. Back when I was young and naive, I was a pro-life evangelical. I felt that the unborn were precious (still believe that) and worthy of protection (still believe that too). Christian evangelicals often dislike complexity and tend to see things in simplistic black-and-white terms. Certainly the same could have been said of me. (Someday I’ll tell you about my metamorphosis from evangelical to Episcopalian. But not today.)

During that time I happened on an issue of Sojourners magazine that examined the question of abortion in depth from several carefully thought-out and well-expressed perspectives. I read the whole issue, front to back. Some of it I read more than once. As a result, all the black and white morphed into many shades of gray. I’ve been mulling over what I read there ever since.

What hit home for me was that legislation is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions. Legislation banning abortion serves only to put the back-alley hacks back in business, thereby causing more needless deaths, not preventing them. This can hardly be considered a desirable outcome, but it’s one that many who want to make abortion illegal refuse to acknowledge. If your goal is really to protect the unborn, rather than just beating your chest and trying to make yourself appealing to anti-abortion die-hards, then it’s well to consider how best to do that.

Reducing the annual number of abortions is certainly an admirable goal. However, there are different ways to reach that goal—some of which will help women and some of which will not.

Simply put, there are two key ways to reduce abortion—by making it less necessary or by making it less available. In our view, only the former approach is humane, effective, and just. [Center for American Progress]

Abortion is not new. It has been part of the human story from the beginning. It’s not going away, regardless of how much its foes stomp their feet. Throughout human history women have found ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

None of the options available when a woman is faced with an unwanted pregnancy are especially easy or pleasant. Regardless of the reason for the pregnancy—lapse of judgment, rape, or failed birth control—the decisions that must be made are difficult and rightly belong to the pregnant woman and the people she chooses to trust.

How is it that those most adamantly opposed to abortion seem never to spare a thought for women faced with unwanted pregnancies? In their efforts to outdo each other in their pro-life fervor, abortion opponents even cast shame and suspicion on women who miscarry, and women who are raped cannot expect an ounce of compassion from those who value the unborn more than they value rape victims.

The question is, who decides? Who decides what should be done when a woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, for whatever reason?

Surprisingly enough, a bunch of judgmental middle-aged legislators, most of them men, are not the best ones to make extremely personal decisions for women at such crucial junctures. The decision of what to do about a woman’s pregnancy shouldn’t be made by strangers. It should be made by the woman herself. And no one else.

The goal of reducing the number of abortions is a much better one than making abortion illegal. Make good reproductive health care and sex education available to everyone, and then trust women to make the very personal choices they’re confronted with responsibly and with much-needed support and assistance.

I know that’s not what we’ll hear from the reality show in Iowa. All the more reason to counter the reality show with reality. Nothing less than the very lives of our mothers, sisters, and daughters is at stake.

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