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  • Sarah Reynolds

Creating a Healthy Conversation Surrounding the Abortion Debate

Finding a middle ground can be very difficult in today's political debates, given that these conversations can have a major impact on people’s lives. Religion and morality often intertwine with politics, making it difficult to separate one’s political beliefs from their morals. A good example of this is the ongoing conflict between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. People on both sides of the debate often demonize one another. To push forward the reproductive rights conversation, we need to get to the root of the anti-pro-life ideology and clear up misconceptions about it, ultimately creating a healthier and more accepting political conversation.

Many pro-life advocates describe abortion as murder. Early feminists like Susan B. Anthony held this same belief and felt that all life is worth protecting. Alice Paul viewed abortion as the “ultimate exploitation of women.” Similarly, the conservative ideology surrounding abortion today revolves around wanting to protect the growing life inside a woman’s body. However, ideas of what constitutes a human life diffe depending on who you are speaking to. Different doctors have different opinions on when life starts. For example, a neurologist may tell you that life starts when brain waves are measurable while an embryologist may say it starts when gastrulation begins. Scientists really have not found definitive proof of when life begins. According to Edward Bell, a neonatologist at Iowa Children’s Hospital, the threshold for what is considered human life has greatly changed since the 1970s because the definition of human life has changed. Before 1840, a child’s life was determined through “the quickening,” or when the baby started kicking. In Roe vs. Wade, life was determined by bodily capabilities, but even that varies depending on factors such as, “ . . . gestational age, fetal sex, birth weight, and technological interventions available.” Misunderstanding over when life begins in the womb is often the cause of the debate surrounding whether abortion is okay.

With that being said, the taking of a human life is not the only negative aspect of abortions that pro-life advocates acknowledge. Many recognize that, despite the reasoning for having an abortion, abortions can pose a negative risk to the mother. In fact, abortions after the “quickening” used to be illegal in order to protect the mother’s health. Still, at the time most abortions were performed before the second trimester with herbs rather than abortion instruments, making most abortions legal. If women did have an abortion after the “quickening” they would typically receive a misdemeanor charge or no punishment at all. The longer a woman waits for an abortion, the more likely she is to have complications such as damage to the womb or heavy bleeding; however, these complications are not likely. In a medical abortion, 0.07% of women will need a second procedure, and 0.001% of women will experience serious complications if the abortion is performed before the fourteen weeks point. In a surgical abortion, 0.035% of women need another procedure while .001% experience serious complications if the procedure is performed before fourteen weeks. Most women get abortions simply because they cannot afford to have a child and as a a result do not wait a long time to have an abortion. Around 66% of abortions happen within the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and 88% occur within the first trimester.

Religion is also often used as an argument, primarily by Christians, to prevent women from receiving abortions. While it is understandable that someone would disagree with abortions for religious reasons, religious shaming of women often creates a negative stigma around abortions and makes it harder for women to receive safe abortions. In fact, religion wasn’t a major argument in the abortion conversation until the 1900s. But, by the late 1970s, evangelicals joined the modern pro-life movement and radicalized it to more strongly oppose abortion. Many women seeking abortion experience harassment from religious groups. Whether through family, friends, or protesters, religious shaming can hurt a woman’s relationship with her body. Furthermore, the notions that women use abortions as a form of birth control or that the pregnancy was a result of irresponsibility can make women feel shame for their decision. In fact, around 50% of women who received abortions reported using contraceptives, and around 52% didn’t have one previously. 

Abortions are often not an easy decision to make. Most women do not receive more than one abortion, as they always carry the first one with them. The stigma surrounding the pro-life movement exists due to differing opinions and lack of acknowledgement of what women go through when having an abortion. To have a healthy conversation about abortions, we need to begin by both understanding the other side and those who are being directly affected by this issue.

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