Written by: Amanda Shetler
“Choose Life: It’s a gift from God.”
These were the words scrawled across one of the few billboards that caught my eye on a road trip home from Kirksville to Des Moines. Unlike many pro-life advertisements, it was plain: simply a white background with black writing. Scribbled beneath its short message was the reference to a biblical verse, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch it.
As I sat there in silence, reflecting upon the relentless attempts by religious groups to sway society’s actions on this particular issue, I couldn’t help but find the advertisement a bit ironic. For in an effort to persuade against the use of abortion, the billboard also serves as an advocate of the Democratic Party’s stance on this specific issue. The very first words encountered by the passerby are “Choose Life,” and it is precisely this choice which is the foundation for the Democratic Party’s platform. Now, this got me thinking––was the group who created this sign aware that their attempt to influence a questioning mother also cognizant of their blatant promotion of our party’s platform––a platform most religious groups hold in contempt?
Before I jump completely into my discussion on this issue, I would like to briefly relay my intent. In no way am I convinced that these words will alter a person’s perspective, nor do I contend that I possess the answers to this hotly contested debate. Instead, I desire to lessen any discrepancies between what society believes the Democratic Party advocates, and what it truly advocates. Ignorance is all too common involving issues such as these, and I have confidence that a clear discussion can assist in the alleviation of these misperceptions. In the hope of increasing awareness and decreasing misunderstanding, I write the following words.
I am not a murderer; I do not advocate killing. Unfortunately, however, my pro-choice stance often leads many people to believe I am, and that I do. First, it must be understood that the opposite of “pro-life” is certainly not “pro-death,” as it is often misconstrued. Instead, the pro-choice stance is explained by the Democratic Party in a speech given on July 24, 2009, in Fargo, ND: “We support the reproductive rights of women as defended by Roe v. Wade. We advocate for comprehensive sex education, family planning, and reimbursement of the costs of contraceptives. We encourage providing support for pregnant women such as pre-natal and post-natal care, counseling, and WIC programs.” This statement is reinforced by a similar discussion on the issue in 2000. At this time, the Democratic Party claimed that its goal was “to make abortion more rare, not more dangerous.”
In order to better understand the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that serves as the basis of our pro-choice platform, it is imperative to analyze the history of abortion laws. In the mid-to-latter part of the nineteenth century, states began limiting when and if a woman could receive an abortion. The final Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision explains that these laws were implemented for three reasons:
a. In response to Victorian social concern.
b. Abortions at this time were hazardous to women and mortality rates were high.
c. To protect not only the pregnant woman, but also her child (at this time, society theorized only that life begins at conception).
As abortion laws became more and more strict, many women left their home states to receive an abortion in states with more relaxed laws. But statutes in many states were often so vague that doctors were unsure as to whether or not they were acting within the law. Thus, statutes became tighter, and it is these that serve as the humble beginnings of the abortion laws that were present in the mid-twentieth century.
That is, until 1973. Most everyone who has an opinion on this topic is well aware of the Roe v. Wade decision in which the Supreme Court ruled an 1854 Texas abortion law unconstitutional because it directly contradicted the right to privacy implicitly present in the U.S. Constitution. Although there is no explicit reference to a citizen’s “right to privacy” in this document, various court cases before and after this particular decision claim that it is implied in the following amendments:
a. First Amendment: Freedom of expression, religion, press
b. Fourth Amendment: No unreasonable searches and seizures
c. Fifth Amendment: No one may be deprived of “life, liberty, or property” without the due process of law
d. Ninth Amendment: Addresses the rights of citizens that are not specifically listed in the Constitution (this is the primary amendment used in the Roe v. Wade decision)
e. Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: protects certain fundamental rights against government actions
According to Justice Harry Blackmun who wrote the majority opinion on the case, the “right to privacy…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
So what exactly does this decision mean for pregnant women seeking abortions? In layman’s terms:
a. During the first trimester (about 12 weeks) states are not allowed to limit a woman’s access to abortion procedures.
b. From the end of the first trimester until viability (the point at which a fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb with or without artificial support, as stated by the Supreme Court; somewhere around 24 weeks), the state can “regulate abortion in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
c. After viability (again, around 24 weeks) the state can regulate, and even prohibit, abortion except where necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.
This is the current law as it relates to abortion. It’s imperative to understand that different laws are in place in each state regarding abortion after the first trimester. I encourage those interested to visit the Guttmacher Institute’s website http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_PLTA.pdf to find out more about the differing state statutes.
We now better understand the Democratic Platform as it relates to this issue, as well as the history and current status of abortion laws. I would like to wrap up by discussing my own view on this difficult issue. As a Democrat, but more importantly as a citizen of the United States, I am pro-choice. I say this in the belief that this choice must be made within the first trimester; I do not advocate or support those abortions occurring after the first three months, and most definitely after viability.
This said, I do not contend the government under which I live has the right to infringe on my, or any woman’s, ability to make a moral decision such as this. I am completely aware, however, of the argument from pro-life supporters resulting from this statement. Oftentimes, the opposing side claims that abortion is murder, that our government has created laws punishing those who commit murder against an innocent victim, and allowing abortion is completely contradictory to these laws. However, abortion and murder cannot be viewed under the same light. There is such a discrepancy between whether life begins at conception or birth, and until an answer to this disagreement can be scientifically proven, the debate will continue. One can argue that a baby has a heart beat at how many days, or fingerprints at a certain number of weeks, but I will personally continue to believe that life does not begin until a child can reach viability; there is nothing that can convince me otherwise.
In addition, many pro-life advocates make the argument that abortion is immoral, and from this, claim that it ought to be illegal. I agree that this is a great moral issue. However, it is a moral issue for the individual who is put in the situation to decide, NOT the government under which she lives, and most certainly not those who are in no way connected to her. The separation of church and state in our country has prevented us from legislating on religious issues such as these many times before. Therefore, this is not a question of law, but rather a question of morality, ethicality, and religion––all things that our country allows us to freely choose. I know that I, personally, could never make a decision that harmed another being. But the beauty of this, is that I at least have the choice. My morals, ethics, and religion are not decided for me; I am exercising my right as a free person to make decisions and choose what is most applicable to myself and to my life.
Furthermore, my pro-choice stance stems from my realization that there is no way to completely prevent unwanted pregnancies. As stated before, Democrats are tireless advocates of comprehensive sex education and encourage the use of contraceptives. It is these actions that assist us in our goal of decreasing sexual activity in those who are not prepared for, or do not desire, the consequences. We believe that this, subsequently, decreases the amount of abortions. However, it is naive to presume that people will not engage in sexual activity, regardless of how much they have been educated or know not to. Just as it is blasphemous to believe that a government can legislate sex, it is equally ignorant to assume that a law preventing abortions would indeed halt them. Some women will never have an abortion, regardless if it is an option or not. At the other end of the spectrum, however, there will always be women who become pregnant and tirelessly search for a way in which to end that pregnancy. Creating a law that claims it illegal to do so will not stop them from seeking assistance, but will instead force them to pursue a far less safe and potentially fatal method.
Lastly, I would like to point out a sad discrepancy between the pro-life movement and the Republican’s opposition to the recent attempts at healthcare change. It may just be me, but I find it quite ironic that the Republican party fervently fights for the rights of unborn children, yet easily opposes healthcare legislation that would protect them from health hazards once they are living, breathing Americans.
When it comes to a decision such as this (whether abortion is legal or illegal) what makes the pro-life side believe that their morals trump the morals of people like myself, who believe in free choice and the right to privacy? What makes them presume that they have the right to choose a route for me––decide the way in which my own life will go. Yes, a woman may have put herself in a situation that our society views with contempt, but does that mean that she must be forced to take on the morals and ideals of someone she has never met––morals and ideals with which she may not agree? No, by taking the risk and engaging in sex, she must deal with the consequences in a way she feels best applies to her.
If one is to think critically about this current debate, he or she would realize that as of 1973, both sides––both pro-life and pro-choice views––are implemented in our current abortion law. Right now, a woman has a choice to make: continue with the pregnancy, or not. The pro-life stance is represented by her ability to choose to continue with the pregnancy; the pro-choice stance is represented by both. Most importantly, however, there is nothing forcing her to do either––she is the ultimate decision maker.
I cannot reiterate enough that pro-choice does not mean pro-death. Democrats are not murderers––I do not advocate murder. As stated earlier, I know that this blog will not change minds, and the controversy associated with it might cause a stir. But I am a tireless advocate for the lessening of ignorance, and it is for this reason that I hope the above words at least leave readers with a better understanding of the Democratic stance, the history and current status of abortion laws, and most importantly the reasoning behind my pro-choice stance.
Remember, “Choose Life: It’s a gift from God.”