Abortion is a unique issue in American politics. For many years, a majority of people have opposed overturning Roe v. Wade. However, many have ambivalences and take contradictory positions. This is partly the result of issue framing and questions asked. Isn’t everyone “pro-life”? Sociologist Tricia Bruce says many people she surveyed on the topic were uncomfortable discussing it for fear of being judged.
Abortion is more widespread than it seems. According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in four women will have an abortion by age 45. The Centers for Disease Control says six in 10 women who have an abortion are already mothers.
Pregnancy is a complex biological process. There are countless ways it can go awry. Writing in Scientific American, Maternal-fetal medicine physician Cara C. Heuser says:
Most people don’t realize that carrying a pregnancy to term is 14 times more dangerous than an early legal abortion. While we should work to reduce the maternal mortality rate, especially among women of color, the fact is that being pregnant (or being forced to seek an unsafe or illegal abortion) is always going to be riskier than a safely performed abortion.
She cites multiple studies, which found that “being denied an abortion results in worse financial, health and family outcomes.” She notes:
Dogmatic laws presume a certainty that rarely exists in the realities of clinical medicine. They fail to account for the range of prognoses that characterize many conditions, as well as how the complexities of psychosocial circumstances, mental health and disparities in access to care affect a person’s health outcomes. Lawmakers cannot possibly legislate every circumstance or exception that must exist to prevent sometimes significant harm and/or suffering. Biology constantly surprises us.”
However, the dogmatic anti-abortion laws are an answer for many who feel cultural anxiety about rapid social change involving gender roles and sexuality. Authoritarian movements wipe away ambiguity and nuance. Republicans are saying if they win in national elections this fall, they will pass a bill outlawing abortion everywhere in this country. What does this mean? New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg says, “If your aim is a near-total abortion ban in a rapidly secularizing country with a younger generation that largely despises the right, democracy isn’t your friend.”
Meanwhile, the U.K. media outlet openDemocracy reported last year that “the ‘dark money’ global empire of the U.S. Christian right” spent at least $28 million in recent years on efforts to roll back the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people worldwide. They are exporting their legal strategy, army of lawyers, and resources overseas to undermine international progress on abortion access.
New York Times reporter Max Fisher writes: “Recent shifts on access to abortion suggest democracy and women’s rights go hand in hand—and that the inverse might be true as well.” Since 2000, 31 countries have expanded access to abortion. Only three have gone backwards: Poland, Nicaragua and the U.S.
Ximena Casas, the women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, writes about a “Green Wave” in Latin America of mass popular protests, legal action and legislative demands “that center broadly on women’s autonomy and rights, especially protecting women against violence.”
But there has been pushback. In Honduras, Congress has made it almost impossible to legalize abortion. In El Salvador, the president blocked any change in abortion laws. Women in that nation have been sentenced for up to 40 years in prison for violating the law, many after miscarriages or stillbirths.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s draft ruling on abortion has alarmed many around the world. Araceli Lopez Nava is the Latin America regional managing director for MSI Reproductive Choices, an organization which provides contraception and safe abortion services in 37 countries. She told Ms. Magazine:
It has been a long fight for our right to choose, but just as my home country of Mexico celebrates a turning point in abortion rights, it is devastating to see our neighbors in the U.S. poised to take a huge step backwards. When the U.S. Supreme Court first legalized abortion in 1973, the country was one of the leaders on reproductive rights. Today, it is moving against the ‘Green Wave’ sweeping Latin America, and the once-unthinkable prospect of U.S. women crossing the border to access safe, legal reproductive healthcare in Mexico, could soon become a reality.”
The elections this year and in 2024 are more crucial than ever.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.