Politics with Pavlinec: Abortion in the United States

Not many political issues wrench the heart in the US. We argue on issues ranging from taxation to environmental policy. However, abortion is one of those few strenuous issues that deeply affects us all. Having said that, it seems that only two diametrically opposed sides exist, morally and policy-wise. People are painted as baby killers or as people suppressing women through reproduction. Many moderate Americans avoid discussing the issue. Why bother? The tensions immediately manifest into painful arguments that leave people frustrated, with seemingly no progress achieved.

Pro-choice activists believe full life does not start until actual birth. Potential life may start at the fertilization of the egg, but determining when pregnancy begins is a better question. Further, a woman is fundamentally oppressed if she is denied the basic right to make decisions for herself and her family”. This is further compounded by the fact men do not face the same physical consequences of pregnancy, women face the full corporal responsibility. Therefore, abortions and women’s reproductive rights are inseparably tied. Women should be able to decide what happens to their bodies, no one else. The government should not be allowed to control women’s bodies.

On the other hand, pro-life activists argue that life begins at conception, or very early on, and see most abortions after the early weeks as immoral. They argue that the life of the unborn child supersedes, or at least equals, women’s right to choose. They say a mother’s choice happens before conception in almost all cases, assuming consensual sex. Arguments about protecting the life of the mother fall short of the majority of abortions. In Florida, the great majority are ‘elective’ rather than for protecting the life of the mother. Further, a Guttmacher study found similar data.

It is clear America needs a standard of life, but when does it begin? Immediately at conception? Somewhere in the middle at 6 weeks, when heartbeats begin? At 28 weeks when babies have massive brain activity? Or when the umbilical cord is cut after birth? These questions need answers, and they will not be easy. Personally, if given the binary: life or choice, I choose pro-life. Do not misunderstand me, there are cases such as direct threat to the mother’s life that do necessitate early stage abortions.

Practically, government policy requires compromise, which then can lead to more permanent changes to reduce abortions. For example, the morning after pill is effective for natural faults in sex protection. Most pro-lifers would acquiesce to Plan B if concessions were made to lower the week limit. Policy-wise, we must get to a consensus to lessen the reasons for abortions, not increase the scope of their use to live infants as they did in Virginia. There, democratic lawmakers have gone too far.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam
Photo Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

On the political stage, we see bills such as Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act opposed to New York’s Reproductive Health Act and Virginia’s Repeal Act. The Born-Alive act seeks to protect babies born alive in failed abortions and was voted down by most democrats in the senate. The New York Law changed language to include a mother’s health and life determined by the doctor. ‘Health’ is far too broad a term and it is not defined in the law. Further, NY’s law removed abortion from the legal code, meaning attacks on pregnant women that end in miscarriage cannot be punished, evidenced by this recent Queens case. In future situations, we would need to establish whether it was a crime to harm a fetus in an assault simply on whether the pregnant woman intended to keep it or not, this is not smart policy. Currently, according to Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam, Virginia’s law would have babies kept alive while they discussed whether to terminate it after it was born. Since when does the ‘right to abortion’ continue after a baby is born alive?  Ultimately, Virginia’s abhorrent law does not represent the opinions of Americans on abortion and life.

An advantage of the pro-life movement is forgoing any guess about when life begins. By deeming life at conception, you don’t take the risk of harming human life. Properly used birth control methods are 99% effective. The fact that they fail does not justify termination, especially in the late stages of pregnancy where the interventions are not for threatening situations. There is an argument for subsidized birth control methods and education. Economically, if you subsidize something, more people will use it. This should lead to less unintended pregnancy. However, the downside is subsidization would involve rationing, and the quality would reduce over time. These are serious concerns that are difficult to weigh, nevertheless, subsidization should be on the table. The second option is cheaper and arguably more effective. Family planning, which focuses on sexual responsibility, biological education and destigmatization of sex is very successful in the Netherlands for reducing abortion.

A tenet of the pro-life movement is pregnant women do not get the right of deciding whether a baby constitutes human life depending on their choice. It is fully understandable to seek personal autonomy, but our political climate has pushed pro-choice laws too far. We emphasize individuality in America and our decisions have consequences. If you have sex, you are accepting the possibility of pregnancy. Men and women must acknowledge this. Parents need to express the seriousness of sex to their children, because no matter what ideological side you find yourself on, few would ever argue abortions are a good in themselves.

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Chris Pavlinec is a junior studying Political Science with a Concentration in Politics, Philosophy and Law. He hails from New Jersey and spends his time reading economics, playing guitar and prepping for law school.

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