The Dilemma of Roe v. Wade
by George Wolfe
The question seems so easy to answer. Does human life begin at conception or not? If the answer is “yes” then abortion should be illegal. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Back in the 1960’s before Roe v. Wade, I was a high school student in a small Pennsylvania town. There was a teenage girl a year older than me who came from a prominent wealthy family in the community. She was absent from school for a few weeks during which time I was told by a reliable source that she had become pregnant. But she never gave birth. Her family could afford to send her away to a physician out of state who secretly provided an abortion.
That’s the way it was done back then, if you were rich. If you were poor, you would have no such privilege. Your secret abortion provider would be an unqualified back alley “abortionist” and the procedure would place the young woman at great risk.
During the presidential primary campaign Donald Trump, who in the past was pro-choice but suddenly became pro-life, said there should be some punishment for a woman who gets an abortion. When pressed by the interviewer to explain what that punishment should be, he said he didn’t know. If human life begins at conception, then intentionally deciding to abort a fetus would be tantamount to premeditated murder, a crime punishable in many states with life in prison or the death penalty. Are states going to issue this kind of punishment to a young woman who chooses to have an “illegal“ abortion?
What about drug-induced abortions. Drugs like Cytotec, Methotrexate, and Mifeprex would have to be outlawed if the Supreme Court ruled that human life is legally determined to begin at conception. Outlawing such drugs would drive them underground, creating a black market that, like other unregulated drugs, would be impossible to control and determine if they are safe.
Then there are pregnancies resulting from abuse, rape or incest, where the woman was forced to have sex against her will. Should not a woman possess the right to have control over her own body?
The common ground in the Roe v. Wade debate is that both sides want to end unwanted pregnancies and see the number of abortions performed in the United States brought down to zero. There is no one I know of who works for any women’s health care agency who is “pro-abortion.”
When people ask me if I’m pro-life or pro-choice, my answer is: “I’m both.” Attempting to end abortion through legislation will not succeed any more than the 18th Amendment, which was later repealed, brought an end to the sale and consumption of alcohol. The wise and realistic approach is to provide education, counseling, accurate information and birth control so a woman can make informed decisions about her reproductive health.
We must also remove the social stigma of teenage pregnancy and provide financial assistance so a young woman who chooses to carry a child to term can continue her education and not get caught up in the cycle of poverty.
It’s time that we admit to the complexities of the abortion debate, refrain from resorting to simplistic arguments, and stop mixing women’s healthcare, with politics and religion.
George Wolfe was the Green Party candidate for the office of Secretary of State in Indiana, and the former Director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He is also a trained mediator and the author of Meditations on Mystery: Science, Paradox and Contemplative Spirituality.