ATLANTA – On September 1, a new Texas abortion law came into effect. Texas was by no means the first state to amend its abortion laws since the composition of the United States Supreme Court became staunchly conservative. But as they say: “Everything is bigger in Texas!”
First, the law prohibits abortions about six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. Second, Texas law allows private citizens to enforce abortion law through private prosecution. Under the law, anyone, from the doctors and nurses who assisted with the abortion, to the family member or loved one or anyone who brought the woman to the abortion clinic, can be prosecuted.
Opponents of the law have reason to be angry. The law, while allowing abortions for up to six weeks, has the effect of virtually banning abortions in Texas. According to a 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of more than 17,000 pregnancies over a 23-year period, the average woman becomes aware of her pregnancy at around 5.5 weeks. That means, for the average woman, she would only have half a week (or 3.5 days) to consider having an abortion in Texas before she had a choice.
Further, by granting private citizens a private right to sue, these individuals are essentially prosecutors with the power to enforce the laws of the State of Texas. Ray Charles could see how this could become a problem. Even if someone didn’t feel particularly averse to abortion, the chance of getting $ 10,000 might inspire them to get into the anti-abortion game.
Conversely, supporters of the law have reasons to feel good about themselves. About six weeks after the onset of pregnancy, the fetal heartbeat can be seen on an ultrasound. For many, the presence of this heartbeat is irrefutable proof of life. Just as an abortion would cause this heartbeat to stop, an abortion ends life. In other words, an abortion is murder. Therefore, this law protects life by prohibiting murder. It’s a good thing, isn’t it?
In the conversation about abortion, you have two choices: pro-choice or pro-life. The choices function as proxies for your political affiliation. If you are pro-choice, you are a Democrat. If you are pro-life, you are a Republican.
We all know the reality is more complicated than that. There are more than a few self-proclaimed Democrats who support the abortion ban and more than a few self-proclaimed Republicans who support a woman’s right to choose. Your political affiliation does not explain all of your thoughts and feelings on every topic. Your position on a subject as controversial as abortion does not do the trick either.
I used the word “division” intentionally. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term “division” as “tendency to cause disagreement or hostility between people”. The subject of abortion fits this definition perfectly. Start a conversation about abortion at a party and you probably won’t be invited to the next one.
But why is the subject of abortion so divisive? I believe this is because people’s opinions about abortion usually stem from their personal beliefs. Pro-life advocates are pretty transparent that their faith (largely Christianity) is what drives their beliefs about when life begins and how that life should be protected. Advocates of choice, although they do not usually cite their faith as the main driver, base their fervor on a firm belief (as strong as any sincere religious belief) that women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies. .
The question we need to ask and answer is, as a society, what impact should these strongly held (predominantly religious) beliefs have on the laws we enact that apply to everyone?
Until June 2018, women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive. This ban was derived from a strict mark of Islamic law that the country follows called Wahhabism. In Afghanistan, the Taliban – relying on their own version of Islamic law – had banned girls over 8 from going to school. Since returning to power after US troops withdrew from the country, they have claimed they will allow Afghan women to continue studying at universities, but classrooms will be separated by gender and Islamic dress is required.
I admit these are extreme examples. And to be clear, I am not proposing them to help demonize Islam or its followers. I only present them as examples of laws that other countries and organizations, especially those we routinely rebuke and condemn, have instituted based on their faith. Yet at the same time, we in America see no hypocrisy in engaging in a similar pattern of conduct – enacting laws that restrict the rights of women on the basis of our faith.
I am not writing this to tell people who oppose abortion that they are wrong. If I haven’t been clear by now, I mean they’re right. Also, it is a waste of time trying to dissuade someone from having a religious belief. There is no connection between them and their creator.
On the other hand, I am not writing this to tell pro-choicers that they are absolutely right. A woman’s right to choose should have limits. I think we can all agree that at some point in pregnancy, an abortion is less like a medical procedure than a death.
I am writing this only to ask those who support anti-abortion laws like those passed in Texas to consider the consequences of passing legislation based on their personal interpretation of their faith. I say personal because even within Christianity there is no clear consensus on abortion, either for or against. Different denominations have come to different conclusions.
I want those who support anti-abortion laws to ask who bears the burden of these consequences. A woman who may or may not agree with your personal interpretation of your faith must follow a law based on that interpretation. She has to endure nine months as a receiving body and endure all of the physical and emotional pain and discomfort that comes with pregnancy just because the government forces her to. Is it right? Is it correct?
I don’t think someone who opposes “big government” or “government overbreadth” would support what arguably constitutes a government take of a woman’s womb. I don’t think anyone who opposes a mandate to wear a mask or get vaccinated would support a mandate to have a baby. It does not seem logically consistent to me.
I appreciate the counter-argument that anti-abortion laws aim to protect the lives and rights of unborn children. Life is sacred. But I think any moral analysis surrounding abortion is incomplete without equal consideration and concern for the lives and rights of those born, those who are here with us now. And when I mean “the born”, I mean specifically the women who are to bear the child. Their lives matter. Their rights matter too.
There are very valid reasons to oppose abortion. But I believe that a woman should have the right to choose. In my mind, it just doesn’t seem right to force a woman to go through the life-changing pregnancy process when she doesn’t want to. I don’t even like having to go to work when I don’t want to. I couldn’t imagine having to bear a child.
You may disagree with me. And it is fair. But I’ll leave you with this question: If you were a woman and just found out you were pregnant, would you want the choice to continue the pregnancy to be yours or the government?
Honest answers only.
Eric Foster, community member of the Editorial Board, is a columnist for The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Foster is a lawyer in private practice. The opinions expressed are his own.
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