Tuesday marked the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the constitutionally protected right to terminate their pregnancies. Here at Stanford, the anniversary did not go unnoticed. Many of my peers posted on Facebook how thankful they were for the decision; some posted links to “pro-choice” literature. While the pieces I stumbled upon were respectful, often they were inadequately argued. In a prior column, I criticized a few common arguments that emanate from the “pro-choice” camp, most notably the utilitarian and realist justifications for pervasive abortion rights.
And for their part, Stanford Students for Life held a memorial in White Plaza, ostensibly for the millions of fetuses aborted since the Supreme Court decision. As I argued in a second column, these fetuses – some fifty million in America alone – represent lost human lives at the very least. In that column, I left open for debate whether we should grant the same rights to an unborn fetus as we do to a baby.
In this, my third column on the topic of abortion, I will write about the faulty notion that to be against abortion is to oppose women. This crude thinking is quite prevalent: one need only remember the “war on women,” in which activists cried foul on politicians who, among other things, challenged liberal abortion laws. These activists have stigmatized the “pro-life” position to the point where it is now perceived to be antithetical to any progressive cause.
This simplistic stance is fundamentally flawed. For some historical perspective, consider this: almost all of America’s early feminists were opposed to the practice of abortion. Susan B. Anthony wrote, “no matter what the motive – the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. But thrice guilty is he who – drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton had this to say on abortion: “it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
And Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was morally opposed to the procedure now associated with her organization. Though she ultimately believed in a woman’s right to choose, she also opined, “the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.” These three are feminist foremothers, yet all three expressed sentiments that today would be regarded as “pro-life” and thus disparaged by the modern feminist movement.
While the contexts of those times were surely different, the general messages are still relevant. Indeed, a small but committed group of feminists was troubled enough with the abortion discourse in the early 1970s to establish Feminists for Life. This is not a religious organization; rather, its mission is “systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion – primarily lack of practical resources and support – through holistic, woman-centered solutions.”
Surely that is a cause we can all get behind.
Despite what I have written here and in the past, I ultimately believe that the ideal state would not compel a woman to bring a fetus to term. And yet, I am highly troubled by the abortion institution at present in the United States. Not only do I regard a fetus as a human life, but I also view most of the more than a million abortions per year as failures of society to adequately support women before, during, and after pregnancies. We fail to provide, among other things, satisfactory sexual education, readily available contraception, and adequate emotional and financial support at all stages.
A 2004 study offers a bleak outlook on abortions in the United States. It showed that more than half of American women who obtained an abortion perceived it as morally wrong, 64.0 percent felt “pressured by others” to have the procedure, and almost 80 percent were not counseled on alternatives. Surprisingly, one fifth of the women who obtained an abortion desired to carry the child to term.
Any true feminist should be bothered by these findings. The study paints a picture of abortion not as a voluntary and desirable choice but as an outcome often driven by others and sometimes even in direct conflict with a woman’s sense of right and wrong.
Is abortion – the loss of a human life through invasive surgery – a desirable solution to unwanted pregnancies that result from underlying societal problems? It is not, and it is time we stop pretending that it is. Yet the abortion institution at present provides society with an excuse to ignore the root causes of unwanted pregnancies and opens the door for others to influence this highly personal process.
It is time we stand up to this injustice. Just as we should protect a women’s right to have an abortion, society should protect her right not to have one. To steal a phrase from Feminists for Life, women deserve better.
How did you recognize the anniversary of Roe v. Wade? Email Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.