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What will happen to abortion?

July 29, 2018

Ralph Maughan

We are near the end of an era in America. For three generations, abortion has been recognized by the Supreme Court as a woman’s right. The Supreme Court case that made it so, Roe v. Wade (1973), will in all probability be overturned.

It is not certain. Democrats do have a small chance of defeating the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. However, even if they do, Trump will nominate another who also opposes legal abortion.

There is also the possibility Republicans could decide to keep the Roe decision itself, but carve out its substance, leaving it as a largely meaningless symbol.

The Republican reason for maybe keeping Roe is this.

The decision has always had a bit more than 50 percent approval, but right now it is getting a surge of popularity in the polls. As of late June, 67 percent said that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned compared to 29 percent saying to overturn it. (Kaiser Foundation poll).

The pro-life, anti-abortion strategy under a weak Roe would be to pass state abortion laws such as the requirement of long waiting periods, making women undergo unnecessary and expensive tests and counseling, informing women they will be placed on a government list, requiring doctors to tell lies such as abortion will cause cancer, and passing local zoning laws making it almost impossible for abortion clinics to locate. There are more possibilities.

If Roe is overturned, each state would then determine what is and is not allowed to end a pregnancy. That means a number of states will continue to allow abortions, some with few to no restrictions and even the state government paying the cost. Other states will prohibit abortions completely, although quite a few will allow them in cases of rape, incest or a grave threat to the woman’s health.

Those who think the contentious issue will go away, or that one side has won, will be disappointed. Those who can afford it will go to an abortion legal state like California. Abortions will continue illegally in other states. The number might be fewer, or perhaps not. Statistics won’t be kept in illegal states.

There will be states in the middle where the state might change the law from election to election. The anti-abortion side might even seek a national law to shut down all the states that chose to keep abortion legal, but there is a big difference today from 50 years ago. Now there are a growing number of non-surgical abortions due to the abortion pill.

This “pill” is usually two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, an anti-stomach ulcer drug with the brand name, Cytotec. Most effective is one mifepristone taken first and a day later 4 misoprostol. The combination is 95 per cent effective. Alternatives are an injection of the arthritis drug methotrexate followed by misoprostol, or even misoprostol alone. This works in a pinch but can be dangerous if the pregnancy is no longer early stage.

The pill will probably be banned too in some states, but getting hold of 10-15 misoprostols will be easy. It is common by prescription. I currently have a bottle of 90 to protect my stomach from analgesics drug such as NSAIDS like ibuprofen. An anti-abortion FDA might then take these off the market nationally, but pro-choice groups are already organizing to get them to women.

Some states on the prohibition side will go even further than prohibition, especially in face of a law unpopular with large segment of the population — strict enforcement and severe punishment. We have already seen a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Idaho say a woman who has an abortion should be executed.

Miscarriage will be highly suspect. Police investigation of miscarriage will happen, but abortion will be hard to confirm when a woman has to go to the hospital because of complications and says the “right thing” such as, “I so much wanted to have this baby, doctor; but then I began to bleed.”

Zealotry could conceivably carry things very far such as long sentences for abortion. A real example was Romania from 1967-1989 under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. After this strong man issued a pro-natal decree to increase the birth rate, birth control devices disappeared from the shelves. All women under 45 had to appear monthly before a gynecologist to account for the details of their menstruation. Secret police patrolled the hospitals and neighborhoods listening for talk or signs of pregnancy or abortion.

The birth rate in Romania doubled. There were so many children that large numbers were put into new orphanages. For years, at least 100,000 were in them because parents could not cope. The system lasted from 1967 to 1989 when it was ended by a violent revolution. The Communist government of Ceausescu was overthrown. He and his wife were taken to a filthy street and executed by a firing squad.

The justification for the right-to-life position is usually that unborn, innocent babies are being slaughtered. They are real people with a soul right from the start. Choice says it is up to the woman to determine if that is believable and/or important enough to override her right to self-determination.

If this is all about saving innocent unborn babies like right-to-life says, we should expect they would opt for a policy seeking the fewest possible abortions. However, there are few things that affect the number of abortions more than using some method of birth control in the first place.

We might expect that the right-to-life position would enthusiastically endorse sex education and birth control, including subsidizing the latter so that money is never a factor. Because babies are so precious we might expect strong support for programs of health and nutrition for the pregnant and new mothers. We might even expect support for infants and young children so they get off to a good start.

In the United States at least, we rarely see any of these. Instead right-to-life insists pregnant women must give birth no matter what, even if the fetus is known to be so deformed it will soon die or is already dead in the uterus. Once birth has taken place the fate of the women and infant seems of little concern to them. This position has been sarcastically called “born at conception; died at birth.”

This strongly implies is that the issue is not truly conception. The issue is that sex has taken place and the woman, as the vessel of sin, must accept the consequences. This also explains why right-to-life is not on the front lines of preventing sexually transmitted diseases. These diseases are a consequence of the sex act, the original sin.

Reproductive or fertility clinics usually create several embryo(s). The “best” one is selected for implantation. The rest almost always end up destroyed. There is no right-to-life pushback to save these not-so-good embryos. After all no sex has taken place — no sex between an actual man and woman.

I believe the best explanation for all this is that the real right-to-life motivation is not upholding a right to life, but rather an intensely negative view of sex. It is for procreation only, and even then, it’s very close to being sinful.

Women are responsible for sex. They lure men, and, therefore, the burdens of pregnancy are to be borne by the temptresses. This also would explain why these groups are not concerned about rape and sexual harassment — women ask for it by the display of their bodies, or by the very fact that they are young and fertile.

Women and men both are involved in the right-to-life movement. In fact the polls have always showed that support/opposition to legal abortion doesn’t differ much by sex. Some of the strongest right-to-life activists are men.

I think most of the contradictions in the right-to-life-movement can be explained by viewing it instead as a traditional values movement that works on sex and pregnancy. As such (called the patriarchy), we can see why patriarch’s opponents favor a woman’s choice in reproduction. Many, probably most, women today don’t, or would not choose to live in a patriarchy in which it is men who make all the decisions and control all the resources of money and power.

Of course, patriarchy is much less popular now among both men and women than 100 or more years ago, especially when it comes to sex.

Not all opposition to legal abortion can be explained by a patriarchal objection to a woman’s choice. In the case of Romania the impetus was a top down pro-natalist attempt to build up the country’s population to a size seen as necessary to achieve economic development. In fact, some abortion was allowed in this reproductive police state. Ceausescu, the leader did not want any feeble, birth defective Romanians with which to build his state. While he did drive up the population, his plan was a wretched failure and an insult to freedom.

Pronatalism has been a force in America too. At the turn of the 20th Century there was great fear that the lower classes, especially those who were dark, yellow, or originated in countries far from northern Europe, were diluting the hold of Caucasians on America. Therefore, it was asserted, a white woman’s duty was to have more children. That view seems now long abandoned, but surprise! We see the reemergence of the white nationalist view with the Trump presidency.

Supporters of a woman’s choice are geared up to fight a changed Supreme Court in the near future. What is often not understood is that a loss in the high court -- a victory for opponents of abortion -- will not end abortion because it is now easier to get around this prohibition than in the past. The fight will move to the states, and political troops rallied in most elections. The immediate casualties will be poor women, but in the long run, all women and the men who love them will be victorious.

Dr. Ralph Maughan of Pocatello is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He retired after teaching there for 36 years, specializing in voting, public opinion and natural resource politics. He has written three outdoor guides, including “Hiking Idaho” with his wife Jackie Johnson Maughan. He is currently president of the Western Watersheds Project.

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