Like many anti-abortion activists, Bryce Taylor trots out the popular canard that the “central question” of the abortion debate is “whether the fetus is actually a life” (“Abortion debate turns on definition of terms,” 10/17). The nature of fetal existence may be an interesting scientific question; nevertheless, it is irrelevant to the political debate over legalized abortion. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the agenda of the “pro-life” movement itself. The policies championed by the “pro-life” movement do little to prevent the destruction of fetuses, but they do plenty to perpetuate the subjugation of women.
The anti-abortion movement gets one thing right: there is a strong correlation between the legality of abortion and the number of abortions performed. Contrary to their expectations, however, that correlation is negative. A new study by the World Health Organization (“Induced Abortion: Rates and Trends Worldwide,” The Lancet, 10/13) is just the latest to confirm the fact that countries with more liberal abortion laws perform fewer abortions. Latin America, with some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, has some of the world’s highest abortion rates. Abortion rates in Canada and Western Europe, where abortion is far more freely available, are much lower.
The reason for this is simple: those who oppose legalized abortion oppose policies that prevent unwanted pregnancies, too. Latin America owes its strict anti-abortion abortion laws to the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes contraception and pushes abstinence-only sex education. The anti-abortion movement in the United States embraces those same positions. No major anti-abortion organization in this country promotes access to contraception or comprehensive sex education; most actively campaign against it.
While some anti-abortion groups seek to rationalize their opposition to contraception by asserting that simply preventing implantation is tantamount to murder, even they do not seem to take this ludicrous position seriously. More than half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant for natural reasons. If the anti-abortion movement sincerely cares about unborn human life, why is it not desperately seeking to cure a medical condition that, by its own arguments, kills more than half the human race?
While no one seriously believes that birth control is murder, there is no question that preventing unwanted pregnancies decreases the abortion rate. In Eastern Europe, abortion rates have been cut in half since the fall of communism broadened access to contraception. Nevertheless, given the choice between reducing abortion rates and restricting female sexuality, the “pro-life” movement prefers to restrict female sexuality.
Of course, even abortion bans themselves do little to prevent women from performing abortions. They do plenty, however, to prevent women from performing abortions safely. In this light, the anti-abortion movement’s agenda becomes perfectly coherent. Taken together, the “pro-life” positions on abortion, contraception and sex education achieve a single goal: they oppress women by denying them control over their own sexuality. Women will return to their subservient role as mankind’s baby factories, or they will be punished by bleeding to death in back alleys. Small wonder that this forced-pregnancy lobby also laments the loss of our forefathers’ “traditional values” — values by which our forefathers subjugated women for thousands of years.
Taylor suggests, bizarrely, that it is possible to have a meaningful discussion of abortion without discussing “contemporary politics” or “women’s equality.” This may be fine for him. After all, he need never face abortion as a concrete reality and can afford to relegate it to some abstract realm of pure ideas.
In order to evaluate policies, however, it is necessary to discuss those policies’ effects as they actually exist. The “pro-life” movement’s policies have two effects: they increase abortion and oppress women. The pro-choice movement’s policies have two opposite effects: they liberate women and reduce abortion. The central question of the legalized-abortion debate does not, then, revolve around the issue of when life begins. Rather, the central question of the abortion debate is whether we acknowledge that women deserve to exist as independent sexual beings.
Forced-pregnancy activists are so committed to women’s reproductive subjugation that they do not, evidently, care about actually discouraging the destruction of organisms that they claim to regard as sacred human beings. This should not be a particular surprise, given the same activists’ cruel indifference toward the human beings they condemn to die in maternity wards and back alleys. Shamefully, the anti-abortion movement makes clear that it cares far more about perpetuating the oppression of women than about respecting the sanctity of life.
Matthew Lee is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.