Last year there was an important referendum in Ireland. This year there are anti-abortion laws being passed in US States in order to overturn Roe vs. Wade. It seems that this issue has became highly charged in the public forum (again).

To kick things off, I’m including a link to an article by Sally Rooney about the Irish referendum (if that link doesn’t work properly, try this).

Here’s a section that popped out at me:

Pregnancy, entered into willingly, is an act of generosity, a commitment to share the resources of life with another incipient being. Such generosity is in no other circumstances required by law. No matter how much you need a kidney donation, the law will not force another person to give you one. Consent, in the form of a donor card, is required even to remove organs from a dead body. If the foetus is a person, it is a person with a vastly expanded set of legal rights, rights available to no other class of citizen: the foetus may make free, non-consensual use of another living person’s uterus and blood supply, and cause permanent, unwanted changes to another person’s body. In the relationship between foetus and woman, the woman is granted fewer rights than a corpse. But it’s possible that the ban on abortion has less to do with the rights of the unborn child than with the threat to social order represented by women in control of their reproductive lives.

This is the phrase that caught my attention - “threat to social order”.

I am arrested by this phrase because I believe it holds the key to explaining a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of pro-life campaigners in that they are more concerned with the unborn (un)person than to the persons in their own midst, or more precisely to those on the periphery of their community. This issue is predominantly a political one, not a moral or biological one.

The Guttmacher Institute has some interesting facts about abortion in the US based on polls that they conduct.

Here are some of the findings between 2008-2014:

  • the majority of women seeking abortion is in their 20s, unmarried and nonwhite, and had graduated high school, had at least one previous birth and had a religious affiliation.
  • adolescent abortions have decreased by a third (teenage birthrate decreased by 41%) but females in their 20’s has substantially increased.
  • no racial group dominates but african american women are overrepresented by nearly 2 to 1.
  • most people report a religious affiliation with the largest group (24%) identifying as Roman Catholic.
  • poverty is closely associated with unwanted pregnancies resulting from economic anxiety (75% of abortion patients are low income, having family incomes of less than 200% of the federal poverty level) as well as goals for educational attainment prior to motherhood.
  • 59% of females seeking abortion had a single prior birth and one third of those had two or more; 41% had no prior births.

A major takeaway of this study is that restrictive abortion is an assault on the poor:

The increased representation of poor women among abortion patients is, perhaps, more surprising when placed in the context of increased abortion restrictions. Between 2009 and 2014, some 288 abortion restrictions were enacted in 31 states.8 Many of these regulations, such as hospital admitting privileges and ambulatory surgery center requirements, have had the effect of closing clinics,10,34–36 while others, such as gestational age limits and medication abortion restrictions, limited the services that patients could access.10,37 Poor and low income individuals are disproportionately affected when these types of restrictions are passed; such restrictions can increase delays to and costs of abortion care, including by necessitating additional travel for patients to access services. This study was unable to assess how many individuals were prevented from obtaining abortions because of economic or other barriers, but if these restrictions had not been enacted, the proportion of poor patients able to access these services might have increased even more.

The Sally Rooney article was mentioned in a more recent article in the New Yorker about the new anti-abortion laws in which a woman who miscarries can now be investigated for second degree murder.

This struck a chord:

A bill that failed in Texas last month would have allowed doctors who perform abortions and women who receive them to be charged with criminal homicide, which, in Texas, is punishable by death. This, the bill’s author Tony Tinderholt said, would bring “equal treatment to unborn human beings under the law,” and also force women to be “more personally responsible. (The fact that all unwanted pregnancies are precipitated by men seems to perpetually escape them)."

And, finally:

The view that every fetus is sacrosanct can be shrouded, as “Unplanned” was, in the glow of love and holiness. But, as our country’s mostly male legislators are no longer trying to conceal, it is inseparable from the idea that women are born sinners—born murderers, even. What other conclusion could you draw from a body that was designed, in twenty per cent of pregnancies, to end the life it might otherwise sustain?

For a counterpoint to the above, here is a pro-life approach to threading the needle. It takes a different tack in saying that abortion is racist. It seems to me that a lot of the rationale in this article is lifted from this WSJ article, or perhaps this is a trope in current pro-life debates?

I am showing my own biases here, I know, but I don’t mind well-reasoned debate so long as it is well-intentioned but I can’t help but feel a cynicism coming from the pro-life camp that is disguising their intent with concerns over the welfare of mothers - now focusing on racial arguments. The recent spate of laws (288 and counting) which criminalise mothers or doctors or anyone at all involved in providing abortion services belie the objective for a total and complete ban on abortion because they do not want mothers to be entitled to make such a choice. Formulating the argument as a concern for the mothers themselves or for communities of color, etc, seems very insidious to me when, in fact, the intent is to deny mothers any agency over themselves when it comes to pregnancy and procreation.

The Atlantic tries to answer the question posed above a little differently. They make a couple of interesting observations:

  • abortion rates since Roe vs Wade have significantly declined (but pro-life outrage has gone in the opposite direction)
  • the rate of African American abortion is higher than whites even when controlled for income but this has more to do with unique disadvantages; income is not equal to socioeconomic status—history, culture, education, wealth, family education - so there isn’t going to be a strong correlation between two groups in terms of income and their socioeconomic status.
  • on average, black and Hispanic adolescents receive less thorough educations on reproductive health and birth control than their white counterparts within the same income bracket
  • some women of color report experiencing pressure from their doctors to use contraceptives and limit their family size. Such discrimination, possibly discouraging them from seeking birth control and reproductive counsel altogether.