Abortion is a highly charged emotional issue, as Eileen Becker’s Jan. 17 Point of View commentary makes perfectly clear. But it’s also an issue that goes straight to the heart of our democracy.
The Supreme Court decision 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade balances the rights of a pregnant woman, her fetus and the state. Far from being a “notorious” decision leading us to a “culture of death,” as Becker writes, it is a reasonable position that allows individuals of widely different personal views to live peacefully together.
There are countries with coercive governments that have forced women to accept abortions in order to slow down the birth rate. There are totalitarian governments that have banned all forms of contraception in order to increase the birth rate. I think few of us would want to live under either of these conditions. In America, Roe v. Wade protects my right, your right, and the rights of the women you know and love, to decide whether or not to bear a child.
Most of us would agree that it’s better to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place than to terminate them by abortion. Good sex education and effective and inexpensive birth control can help reduce the rate of abortions.
Men, too, must accept responsibility, cooperating with their partners to prevent pregnancy until both are ready and able to be good parents. In Alaska, a big state with widely separated communities, it’s especially important to publicly fund local clinics that provide for women’s general and reproductive health.
Many state legislatures are chipping away at a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion by eliminating clinics and requiring unnecessary and expensive tests. This will only bring back dangerous illegal abortions.
Becker says that it’s a “lie” that thousands have died from backstreet abortions. Exact statistics are hard to come by, but it stands to reason that a sterile clinic with a doctor assisting is safer than a clandestine procedure in someone’s apartment. The Guttmacher Institute (www.guttmacher.org) estimates at least 47,000 deaths annually worldwide from unsafe abortions, and those are just the ones reported.
Let’s work to make sure we don’t go back to the bad old days in America when not only were abortions illegal but so was birth control.
Even with birth control, pregnancy is still a possibility. Some will argue that a woman should “accept the consequences of her sexual activity,” but often it is the unwanted children who suffer the most. Our society has seen far too much neglect and abuse of children to force a woman to become a mother against her will.
Abortion is never a decision a woman takes lightly. Some will choose to give up a baby for adoption. Others will be too young, too old, too sick or too overwhelmed by life to carry a pregnancy safely to term. Roe v. Wade gives every woman the right to consult her conscience, her health care provider and, if appropriate, her partner and make that decision.
A fertilized egg is only a potential human being. The important word here is “potential.” Some early pregnancies will pass from a woman’s body in a natural miscarriage. For this reason, doctors may tell an intentionally pregnant couple not to spread the news to family and friends until the third month.
We could debate endlessly the question of when life begins. Eileen Becker suggests that a heartbeat detected at 21 days is proof of a life that deserves protection. There are those who want to define life as the moment of conception. Some people believe that to prevent a sperm from meeting the egg by using birth control is taking a life. All of these are valid personal beliefs, but under U.S. law abortion is legal until a fetus is able to sustain independent life outside the mother.
Rather than trying to undo Roe v. Wade, I would like to see Alaskans stand up for scientifically based sex education, affordable birth control, support for mothers who want to give up a baby for adoption and safe abortions for those who choose to terminate a pregnancy.
Diana Conway is a retired college Spanish teacher who now writes for children’s magazines. She lives full-time in Halibut Cove with some 30 hardy neighbors, “not all of whom would agree with the views expressed here,” she says.