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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 [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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