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Abortion eradication, not criminalization

| Thursday, January 23, 2014

With nearly 600 students representing Notre Dame at this year’s March for Life in Washington DC, I was prompted to re-visit my own views on such matters. While I admire the dedication of this group that includes some of my closest friends here at school, I offer an accompanying representation of the seemingly reticent minority on campus.
As a life-long, practicing Catholic who attends mass on a weekly basis, my pro-choice stance may seem strange to some. Yet, being pro-choice and having absolute respect for human life and dignity are not in any way mutually exclusive. The reality is quite the opposite: pro-choice policies (which go far beyond the single issue of abortion rights) focus on the important root causes and solutions that lead to fewer abortions, as well as protect women from heavy-handed government intrusion into personal medical decisions regarding their own bodies. Though my view may be the minority at Notre Dame, it happens to coincide with larger trends. According to a March 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey, 54 percent of American Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. However, polling data only says so much of such a sober issue, which warrants much contemplation and respect, regardless of stance. Indeed, it is after much contemplation and with great respect that I offer a pro-choice perspective.
First, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortions would not cease to exist, since the ruling’s overturning would only allow individual states to criminalize all abortions. Of course, not all states would do so, and women would end up travelling and crossing borders in order to access services. Furthermore, women who lack the resources to travel such distances would resort to dangerous illegal procedures that result in far higher levels of injury and death to women and their unborn children. This consequence is especially notable since poor women account for 42 percent of all abortions, according to recent data from the Guttmacher Institute. The naive belief that laws prohibiting abortion would stop the practice altogether is in error, for it is certain that far worse consequences would ensue: unsanitary, off-the-books clinics and self-induced abortions would rise significantly, resulting in far greater threats to life. Simply criminalizing something will not lead to its elimination — Prohibition and the “War on Drugs” have proven this. Instead, as history has also shown, criminalization leads to unregulated, unsafe behaviors in the absence of laws.
The above realities lead to the second conclusion: there are better ways to achieve the ultimate goal of respecting life than investing enormous amounts of time, money, and energy into efforts that, contrary to first impressions, do not truly address the root of the problem. The answer to lowering the number of abortions — which is the universal goal, regardless of pro-life or pro-choice affiliation — is not found in the criminalization of a currently safe procedure that will lead to life-threatening replacements, but lies in the holistic approach of comprehensive sex education and access to contraception, for it has been empirically proven that both dramatically lower rates of unwanted pregnancies. Research from the University of Washington has shown that teenagers who have had access to comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant; a study conducted by the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis found that free contraception would would prevent as many as 41 percent to 71 percent of abortions performed annually in the United States.
Additionally, it is important to note that many “pro-life” elected officials and advocates lose interest immediately after birth and consistently undermine vital programs that promote life in myriad ways: assistance to poor single mothers, early childhood education, and other social programs not only provide direct benefits, but aid in breaking the cycle of poverty in which abortion is so prevalent.
To some, these statistics and facts are not enough; to some, the current legal status of abortion in the United States is one of our nation’s gravest injustices and must be fought. Although such convictions are earnest and well-intentioned, they are also narrow and short-sighted. Limiting a woman’s jurisdiction over her own body is not justice. Opening the door to dangerous, and certain, alternatives to legal abortions is not justice. Opposing funding to sex education, birth control, anti-poverty programs, and early childhood education is not justice.
Rather than beating a dead horse in spite of its obvious shortcomings, we must instead take a step back from the emotional, ideological whirlwind and approach these issues with the broader goal of the Church in mind. Victory against abortion is not its criminalization, but its eradication. Realizing the two are not one in the same is the first crucial step. Once that battle is won, we can begin to combat the real fight together.

Sarah Morris is a sophomore living in Ryan Hall and majoring in american studies and political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She can be contacted at smorris8@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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  • More

    This letter is largely uninformed and inaccurate.

    First of all if you are pro-choice then by definition you have a complete lack of respect for the dignity of the life of the unborn child. Additionally, the pro-choice movement has dropped its claim that it wants to make abortions rare or less frequent. They changed this language in the last election cycle.

    Your claim, that abortions would still occur, legal or not is a terrible reason to argue against limiting abortion law. People break laws all the time. That’s not a reason for laws not to exist, and furthermore, the scare tactics you use by referencing dangerous “back alley” abortions are frankly inaccurate. Before the legalization of abortion most illegal procedures were done in sterile conditions within clinics.

    Perhaps your most absurd claim of all is your accusation that pro-life individuals are narrow minded. You’re the one clinging blindly to a partisan ideology. You do realize that you can be both a democrat and pro-life? You can support measures to reduce poverty AND reduce access to procedures that kill a life for reasons of convenience.

    Try being open-minded and actually considering that you don’t have to tie yourself inexorably to your preferred political party. If you really want to live your faith you should reflect on whether it is more important to you than an inconsistent political ideology. All human life has value.

    • J

      Just because her views coincide with a party on one issue doesn’t mean she’s blindly partisan. Furthermore, you’re attacking her faith even though she’s speaking from a point of view every politician should- her religion doesn’t matter in a secular nation, what’s best for its people does and not everyone believes life begins at conception.

      • More

        I never attacked her faith. I stated the teachings of the faith she professes to follow.

        Your claim that beliefs based on a religious philosophy do not belong in the public square but those that are based on an atheist secular worldview do is utterly ignorant. According to your Martin Luther King should have been reduced to the margins of any public discourse.

        And if you don’t believe life begins at conception you’re as absurdly anti-science as a creationist.

  • Spinoza Reincarnate

    Dear person that criticized the article,
    Your blind alleigance to Catholic dogmatism has led you to a peculiar viewpoint, steeped in arrogance and self-rightousness. You probably commit many “sins” too, and your first principle, that “all human life has value” is a baseless claim. When one takes even the most cursory glance around at the affairs of the world, one can recognize that wars are waged, murder is disguised by international conflict, sex traffic crimes are on the rise, India still has a caste system, psychiatric hospitals still sometimes castrate their patients, murder crimes in big cities are often ignored or attended by low budget poorly educated/trained detectives, and all the while the average person spends more time browsing the internet per day that doing a single thing to help solve problems such as world hunger, global poverty, the existence of curable diseases such as malaria, or perhaps the fact that Putin’s Russia has spent more money on the Sochi games than the entirety of the previous winter Olympics combined as his people go hungry. Your small minded view of abortion is indicative of your incomprehensibly mundane worldview, that happens to be an absolute denial of reality. If human life were precious, it would be evidenced in the actions of mankind worldwide. Do the world the best favor you can and seriously shut up and do not criticize and opine about an article that is written by a girl in her developmental years, a student, who is clearly exploring different ideas and demonstrating the courage to voice less than popular opinions. If you were a real “Catholic” you might feel mercy for a sophomore girl and instead of wasting your time by commenting that her article is uninformed, instead say something uplifting so that maybe one day she will change the world for the better, unlike you, fool.

    • More

      I never claimed that “all human life has value.” In any case you fail to even understand what that statement means. Furthermore you know nothing about me, and you may want to take a bit of your own advice when it comes to decorum and respect.

      As a general rule, letters that are submitted for publication typically generate discussion and reaction. Welcome to public discourse.

    • Pat

      Are you really arguing that not all human life has value…?

  • More

    Good points. I favor anti-poverty and early childhood education programs.

  • Ingrid Heimark

    Illegal abortions will lead to increased injury and death for women AND their unborn children? No, it will be less, as criminalization will not eradicate abortion, it will sure reduce it, thus saving millions of lives

  • João Pedro Santos

    Despite I agree with most of what is written in the article, I’d just like to make a remark: abortion can’t be eradicated. Even though most birth control methods have a very low failure rate, they are never 100% accurate and, when they fail, having an abortion is a possible decision in case the woman doesn’t want to be pregnant. Moreover, there are cases where abortion is necessary to save the life of mother. If so called “pro-lifers” in fact supported life, they would support an abortion on that situation, instead of calling a woman a sinner for ending a desired pregnancy (and that’s usually a tough decision) to avoid a possible death.

  • João Pedro Santos

    Can you please quote unbiased sources?

  • NDaniels

    Catholics do not condone the engaging in or affirmation of the destruction of a son or daughter residing in their mother’s womb. Condoning abortion is an attack on our Catholic Faith, not an affirmation of our Catholic Faith.