Abortion is now entering its fifth decade as a legally recognized medical practice, but the people of the United States are no closer to reaching an agreement on the matter than they were in 1973. As a metaphor for the divide, this past week marked the 40th anniversaries of both the monumental Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and the annual March for Life demonstration.
The amount of support for Roe v. Wade has remained steady, with a recent Pew survey showing that 63% of the public would not want to see it overturned. Statistically speaking, this number is nearly the same as it was in 1992, when support for the decision was at 60%. Over half the respondents in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll supported abortion rights, but with limits. Still other research show that an increasing number of younger people are labeling themselves "pro-life".
So what does America really feel about abortion? It appears that the national sentiment is constantly being pulled in one direction or the other, and the matter never truly feels settled.
Most politicians on both sides are entirely unhelpful in settling the debate, using emotionally charged rhetoric to draw their constituents to the polls rather than trying to inform the people. There is distinct political polarization in this debate, with the Republican party planted firmly on the pro-life side, and the Democratic party acting as proponents of a woman’s right to choose. Though there are individual members of each party that may disagree, they are in the minority and often fall silent amidst the noise of their ultra-partisan counterparts in Congress.
In 2011 and 2012, state legislatures across the country enacted more anti-abortion legislation than ever before. During the same time period, President Obama's campaign was widely lauded (or criticized, depending on who you were voting for) for focusing largely on "women's issues", including abortion. However, the Obamacare “abortion mandate”, has drawn the ire of some employers, who feel their religious freedoms are being violated.
With the country already so sharply divided, how could the GOP possibly be making it worse? Here is how:
Recently, New Mexico state Representative Cathrynn Brown (R) introduced a bill that would bar a rape victim from getting an abortion on the grounds that she would be “tampering with evidence” necessary to convict her rapist. If the woman underwent the procedure, she be considered a felon and could face up to three years in prison, as per New Mexico state law.
First and foremost, making a rape victim into a criminal, trying to undermine her pain, or invoking God’s will is never going to help your cause (just ask Senators Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock). Secondly, this will only make rape victims less likely to seek an abortion or even report her rape. Why would any woman want to face the additional risk of being a convicted felon after going through such a traumatizing ordeal?
Equally as frightening are the consequences for doctors performing abortions. Many of them may decline to perform abortions for these women out of fear of being charged with a crime themselves. Rape victims may even begin seeking abortions from someone other than a licensed professional, endangering their health even further.
Whether you oppose abortion or not, state Representative Brown’s bill is outrageous. It seems more a sneaky method of forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term than an actual piece of legislation. Republicans proposing laws like this will only serve to damage their cause, making it appear that ALL pro-lifers are extremists with an agenda to control women's bodies.
From an ethical standpoint, the simple argument that "all life matters" is a strong one that few, if any, could argue against successfully. So why these outrageous proposals that would only cause more damage to a woman's well-being at this time in her life? For pro-lifers wanting to make a difference, this is not the way. There is no “anti-life” group fighting for more abortions. Life happens, and sometimes women are faced with a challenging decision. Steps should be taken to provide women with the ability to make informed choices about their bodies to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies in the first place.
Instead, pro-life GOP legislators have offered only underhanded attempts to make abortion an even more difficult process in the past few years. Pro-lifers would do well to remember that should a woman choose life, she should come to that decision autonomously, without being coerced or misinformed. Most importantly, if the pro-life movement continues on this path, its proponents should expect their cause to be an abject failure.