The Abortion Debate: Is There a Middle Ground in the Numbers?

Last Thursday people across the nation commemorated the forty-second anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. While 18,000 people marched on Washington D.C. at the annual March for Life, pro-choice groups across the nations gathered to celebrate. Bozeman hosted both a National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) hosted film, “I Had an Abortion,” and a pro-life protest in front of the court house. With abortion on the table on a state and federal level, the debates remain heated.

Roe vs. Wade was a 1973 case which involved plaintiff Norma L. McCorvey, who used the legal alias Jane Roe. McCorvey found she was legally unable to get an abortion in Texas, where she was living. So she took the case to the courts. Her lawyers argued that it was a violation of her Ninth Amendment right to privacy, which the Supreme Court agreed with in a 7-2 vote. (It should be noted that McCorvey is starkly pro-life today, a story too long to include here, but important for one to investigate).

Forty-two years later the U.S. House passed a bill that would ban federal funding of abortions. With a divided Congress and President Obama’s threat to veto, it is unlikely to pass. Montana stands on similar ground with State Rep. Matthew Monforton proposing an Amendment to the Montana Constitution that would remove a woman’s right to abortion from protection under state law. It is unlikely this bill will pass, due to Governor Steve Bullock’s unwillingness to support it. Despite the probable ill fate of this current legislation, their presence shows the continued unrest with the Roe v. Wade decision and the standing of abortion in the U.S.

The abortion debate is difficult to navigate because both the sides are deeply rooted in larger ideologies. Is there a soul? When does life begin? What roles can women fill in society? Your personal answers to these questions will likely land you on one side of the debate or the other. The stark contrast of worldviews on both sides make it difficult to find a middle ground.

What most people can agree on, however, is that children and mothers need more support, and the reduction of unwanted pregnancies is a goal worth reaching for. As a pro-choice individual I find the current debates unproductive. Instead of fighting about our personal opinions (which have no place being pushed on others through state or legal institutions), I find looking at the statistics may be the best way to find a common goal.

According to the Guttmatcher Institute, between 1994 and 2008 “unintended pregnancy increased 55 percent among poor women, while decreasing 24 percent among higher-income women.” While the abortion rate has fallen among wealthier women, the abortion rate among poor women has increased 18 percent. Clearly, financial stability and institutional inequality play a role in unintended pregnancy rates.

The report goes on to show that three-fourths of women who get abortions reported that they do so because they can’t afford to raise a child. Additionally, three-fourths of women who opt to abort do so because they don’t want to be a single parent or are having problems with their partner. This reveals the complexity of the issue. Women, the numbers show, aren’t getting abortions as a substitute for other forms of birth control. They aren’t doing it because they are irresponsible or godless, in fact 73 percent of women who have abortions report religious affiliation. Instead, women opt for abortions because they they can’t afford to raise a child, want to pursue their careers without the commitment of motherhood, or do not trust their partner and want to avoid being a single parent. A decrease in unwanted pregnancies, then, is not a matter that can be solved with more restrictive abortion laws. In the past, when abortions were still illegal in the U.S. they still occurred and were dangerous.

Instead, we need to look toward solutions so that everyone can afford to raise a child. We need to close the wage gap so women are paid the same as men. We need to promote healthy romantic partnerships and provide resources for people in abusive relationships, so women can feel safe with their partners. We need access to contraceptives and sex education that spans beyond celibacy, to ensure everyone makes educated decisions if they choose to have sex. If we want to protect human life, let’s work on making life for women in the U.S. one of safety, equality and self-determination. Only in taking a holistic approach towards better lives for children and mothers can we sustainably move ahead on this issue.