In an article published last week in the Atlantic, Deborah Copaken rallies support for continuing the defence of legalized abortion in America, calling upon her personal experiences to testify why.
Her piece is prompted by the vacancy in the Supreme Court, which could potentially be filled by Trump's conservative nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. This would make a conservative majority on the court, opening the possibility of reversing Roe v Wade, returning the regulation of abortion to the states, and allowing a new debate on the issue.
Copaken speaks some very real and pressing truths when she talks about the need for universal health care, paid maternity and paternity leaves, and subsidized day-care in America. And she points to the fact the U.S. has “the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world by a landslide: 26.4 per 100,000 live births, compared with the next on the list, the U.K., with 9.2.” (Note that Ireland, where abortion has been illegal until now, has one of the lowest rates, at 4.7 per 100,000.)
So she is right when she asserts, “our country should be pouring its considerable energy and resources into creating the kind of infrastructure that supports the lives of actual babies, once they’re born.”
Except that Copaken is a woman who fits into that dangerous category of thinkers who think just beyond their self-interest, which is not far enough. Her reference to “actual babies” dismisses unborn babies as somehow not real ones. The reality of their babyhood appears to depend, she suggests, on the mothers’ choice to have them.
But even if we do leave the rights of the child (and the father) aside and focus on the woman – whom pro-lifers are forever accused of neglecting — there are still strong reasons why Roe v. Wade has not benefitted women, but hindered their overall struggle for equality and dignity.
Of her first abortion at 17, Copaken declares: “Not one of those tears can be traced back to shame or to regret over the decision…In fact, it was not a ‘difficult decision’.”
Perhaps the lady doth protest too much. In any case, by trivialising her own experience, Copaken also belittles the heartache of women who do grieve their abortions.
Giving Sorrow Words, a collection of testimonies of post-abortive women by author Melinda Tankard Reist proves this. It takes tremendous courage for post-abortive women to admit and share their grief, because to admit it is a tragedy is to admit that what was aborted was not just a “minuscule embryo of cells,” as Copaken claims.
Each of the women featured between the covers of Reist’s book admit this. For example:
“Before the abortion, I allowed myself to think in terms of ‘products of conception’ or ‘blobs of jelly’. Yet afterwards, I knew with absolute clarity that I had killed a child. My child.” (p. 95)
This is in stark contrast to Copaken’s account of her first, and then second abortion. So which account is more representative of what women experience?
Copaken spells out the inherent contradiction of her position when she declares, “abortion should be as inalienable a right as life.” By referring to the developing child as a mere “blastula,” “embryo,” or “fetus” she resolves the dilemma of having to recognise “its” human rights.
Girls and women have been fed this insidious and destructive lie ever since abortion was first legalized in the United States in 1973. “This is not a baby we are dealing with, and we’ll come up with a whole plethora of other terms to prove it.”
Women have also been fed the lie that this law is a win for their freedom. In reality, the freedom to abort naturally fosters the attitude in society that an unintended pregnancy is “her” problem.
Reading between the lines, even Copaken isn’t really talking about choice at all. She relates what she considers insurmountable problems of particular pregnancies which make it unreasonable to continue — reasons like insufficient finances, relationship instability and lack of health care provisions.
Suddenly, we’re not talking about “choice” any more, but a kind of coercion by circumstance.
Even America’s feminist foremothers stated– and this is a fact too often neglected–that when a woman is compelled to terminate her pregnancy society has failed her. By embracing a pro-choice position, feminists have capitulated to a society that doesn’t provide what it ought for its women.
If Roe v. Wade were repealed and if abortion laws became more restrictive (both big “ifs”), the urgency to meet the needs of pregnant women would be drastically increased. Of course, that prospect must be daunting for American women. And yet, because of this, a reversal of Roe v. Wade could just be the thing to accelerate governments to seriously address those demands.
Planned Parenthood received $1.5 billion in federal funding between 2013-2015. Undoing Roe v. Wade would mean this type of federal funding could be channelled towards policies that protect both women and their babies’ interests.
Copaken argues that to be pro-life is to be “anti-woman.” And she would be right if pro-lifers extended their concern only so far as undoing the legalisation of abortion. The responsibility to fight for policies that help and protect women and their children do weigh more heavily on those who oppose abortion.
Perhaps the voices we need to pay more attention to right now are those of women who have the courage to openly acknowledge that their abortions brought them indescribable grief, and that they regret them. That group of women is a large one. Roe v. Wade made it a large one.
Veronika Winkels is the mother of two young children. She writes from Melbourne.