With John McCain's choice for a VP in the front page of our news, I can't help but focus on Sarah Palin's anti-choice stance.
Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to privacy in reproductive decisions, sparked spirited and heated debate and controversy that the ensuing years have done little to quell. Indeed, the recent rise of the religious right and the presence in the White House of a man whose professed love of freedom involves stripping people of their rights, have raised hopes and fears that this decision could be overturned. For me and most of the women I know, it is the fear that predominates.
Deciding whether or not to have a child is the most momentous decision most of us face in our lifetimes. Raising a child is a big, important and often difficult job that is best done in a supportive environment. I find it highly ironic, therefore, that many of the same people who wish to uphold, sometimes violently, the right of a fetus to be born do not think twice about removing safety nets for families or individuals facing reproductive decisions. In the words of satirical songwriters Ekstrom and Quinn “You’re on your own, you’re on your own. We’ll stand with you ‘til you’re born; after that you’ll stand alone. ‘Till you join this world of strife, kid, you got a right to life, but after that, well, we’re afraid you’re on your own.”
In an ideal world, where women were never raped or abused, where poverty was eliminated, where everyone had access to excellent education, health care and child care, where every woman could face reproductive decisions knowing that she would have the support she needed to raise the child(ren) she bore, the need to resort to abortion would be drastically reduced. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world, and, more specifically, in a country, where a large segment of the population has limited or no access to a good education, health care or child care, where incest, rape, domestic violence, substance addiction and prostitution trap many women in such desperate situations that abortion may seem to be the only viable option. People on every side of this issue, of course, have a right to air their opinions in a peaceful manner. None of us has a corner on the truth and public debate on important issues is a healthy sign of a free society. But if a fraction of the energy used to support or oppose legal abortions were used to fight some of these social ills, imagine the lives that would be saved and the progress that could be made.
What, exactly, would be accomplished by making abortion illegal? Were Roe v Wade overturned tomorrow, make no mistake, abortions would still be done; safe ones would just become harder to obtain. And who would bear the brunt of this increased difficulty? As always, the poorest, most disadvantaged and vulnerable among us would be hardest hit. Just as in the years prior to Roe v Wade, the wealthy and the middle class could afford to raise unplanned children or travel to a place where abortion was safe and legal. The poor would fall deeper into poverty, attempting to raise additional children with non-existent resources, or would resort to the back-alley butcher shops that existed before Roe v Wade and surely would spring up again if women lost safer options.
I’m old enough to remember the days before the Roe v Wade decision and I don’t want those days to return. I believe that life is hard enough for some women and some families without the added burden that criminalizing abortion would impose. If we, the people, our government, our non-profit organizations and our churches would join together to make life more livable and bearable for our neighbors on this planet, we would be doing the best job possible of eliminating the need for abortions. The great community organizer Saul Alinsky once said, “The real question facing the church of today is not whether there is life after death, but whether there is life after birth.” My idea of heaven on earth would be all of us working together to make a healthier, happier “life after birth” a reality for all of our children.