In a recent Letter to the Editor on Feb. 8, The Princeton Pro-Life group outlined why they participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. The theme of the march was “love saves lives,” which they emphasized while protesting Roe v. Wade. The letter made some compelling points, but the overarching goal of denying women the right to choose regardless of circumstance belied a misunderstanding about the meaning of “love saves lives.”
The best way to reduce the number of abortions would be to resolve many of the factors driving women to choose that path in the first place. The Pro-Life letter argued that they wanted to make conditions right so that women would choose to have children rather than seek abortions. Completing this goal would reduce the number of abortions performed every year, assuming that the pay gap and class inequality were effectively reduced (which is unlikely in the near-future given the pro-life’s party just passed a tax bill that will increase inequality). However, reversing Roe before making inequality non-existent would invert the necessary order of events; women would still not be able to afford children and childbirth and would not have the recourse to save themselves and their children from painful lives. Furthermore, some women don’t want children, in the moment or ever. Birth control can fail, and sometimes accidents happen. Women should have the right to control how they build their families. The inclusion of a reversal of Roe on the Pro-Life policy platform is fundamentally misguided. A better plan would be to improve the atmosphere so the number of abortions decreases naturally as it becomes safer and more affordable for women to choose that path. Taking away the choice won’t reduce abortions and will actually take lives, not save them.
Roe v. Wade was a Supreme Court decision handed down in 1973 that acknowledged that the constitutional right to privacy extended to a woman’s right to privacy regarding her medical decisions, including the choice to obtain an abortion. The Hyde Amendment, passed four years after Roe v. Wade was decided, mandated that the federal government cannot pay for abortions except in cases of rape and incest or to save the mother’s life (which is interpreted strictly). The amendment also restricts the use of funds by the Department of Health and Human Services; Medicaid recipients are especially affected by the amendment. Because women on Medicaid don’t receive coverage for abortions, up to 60 percent are forced to use money they would have spent on rent, utilities, food, and clothing to pay for the procedure. Anywhere from 18 to 35 percent of Medicaid-eligible women seeking abortions end up being forced to carry the baby to term. Low-income women are generally the most likely to seek abortions; 73 percent of surveyed women who had had an abortion listed an inability to afford a child as their primary concern. However, career goals, a desire to wait, and even disinterest in having children are also completely legitimate reasons to seek an abortion regardless of the state of one’s bank account.
Women have always found ways to terminate pregnancies when they wanted or needed to, even before the passage of Roe v. Wade. In 1965, illegal abortions made up one-sixth of pregnancy and childbirth related deaths. 80 percent of the low-income women in New York City who sought abortions between 1965 and 1967 attempted “a dangerous self-induced procedure,” including use of coat hangers, knitting needles, bleach, lye, hypothermia, and potassium permanganate tablets (which caused chemical burns so bad that Dr. Louis Gerstley, in the 1994 documentary Motherless: A Legacy of Loss from Illegal Abortion, said that attempting to suture the wounds was like “trying to suture butter”). Women went to back-alley “doctors” who often caused more harm than good. The horrifying nature of these illegal abortions demonstrates how determined these decision are. Making the procedure illegal will not save lives, but end them.
Taking a broader view of “life,” forcing women to undergo the traumatizing experience of an unwanted birth even if they do give the baby up for adoption can’t be conceived of as “saving lives.” Mandating that nearly all women carry their infant to term can harm their spiritual, academic, and work lives. Protesting Planned Parenthood and other similar clinics, as many pro-life groups do, may engender psychological damage for the women at the receiving end of the hurled abuse. Defunding Planned Parenthood also goes against the goal of saving lives, as the organization saves lives through breast cancer and STD screenings, mammograms, and general health care. Many pro-life groups also oppose “abortion-causing birth control,” which does not exist. Contraceptives save women’s lives when they allow them to overcome debilitating period symptoms that kept them out of work and school for up to a week every month. Contraceptives also save women’s mental health, allowing them to take ownership over their bodies and whatever sexual decisions they make. They get their lives back when they go on some form of birth control, so why are their lives not also protected?
Love saves lives, and loving the women who have to make the incredibly difficult decision to seek an abortion means allowing them to make their own decision in the best environment possible. Radical reforms must be enacted to reduce inequality and expand child care options, comprehensive maternity leave for women of all classes (especially in part-time jobs), and free childcare. When those changes are made, many women will use these opportunities to have a child they could not have supported otherwise. The ones who still do not want a child will not, and their lives will only be hurt if Roe v. Wade is reversed.
The arguments made in the letter about protecting other aspects of life, including protection against police brutality and infanticide, were strong. I support those movements and think their inclusion represents a step in a positive direction. But the emphasis on an opposition to Roe v. Wade and the association with other pro-life groups at the March for Life contradicted the Princeton Pro-Life group’s declaration that their love saves lives.
Madeleine Marr is a first-year from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.