Second of three parts
Marking the 40th anniversary this week of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, The Washington Times asked leading advocates on both sides of the issue to discuss the ruling, the present state of the abortion debate and where American attitudes on abortion are heading in the coming years.
Jeanne Monahan is president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which has organized the annual event in Washington to protest the Roe decision. In recent years, some 200,000 participants have joined the march to the Supreme Court.
Jon O'Brien is the president of Catholics for Choice, which was founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health. Mr. O'Brien is also executive editor of Conscience, a quarterly news journal for Catholic opinion on reproductive rights, sexuality and gender, feminism, church and state issues and U.S. politics.
Q: How would you describe the state of abortion politics in America 40 years after Roe v. Wade?
Ms. Monahan: As we commemorate this landmark case that legalized abortion in the country, we are certainly somber as we grieve the 55 million unique human lives that have been lost to abortion in the past four decades. Similarly, we strive to help women who regret their abortion find hope and healing.
We also have tremendous hope! We are winning in the court of public opinion, perhaps the most challenging court for one to ‘win’ in the United States. More specifically, we are winning with young people who are predominantly pro-life. We are also winning one state at a time, given the almost 200 pro-life bills passed in the states since 2010. So while it remains that abortion is the human rights issue of our time, I have much hope that the tide is changing, one young person and one state at a time.
Mr. O’Brien: It’s a shame that abortion, a personal choice, has become a political football for both Democrats and Republicans, but it’s clear which party dropped the ball in the last election. In the campaign, the Republican Party allowed itself to be associated with statements about ‘legitimate rape,’ mandatory invasive ultrasounds and attacks on contraception. These anti-choice stances came from individuals, yes, but they were also embedded in the party’s anti-choice platform. Some Americans came away with the impression that the Republican Party was waging a war on women, and this contributed to the Republicans’ failure to regain the White House and the Senate.
Immediately after the election, Republicans began a bit of soul-searching about whether or not the party should continue to align with extremists on choice issues. It’s about time, since the Republican Party has historically supported individual liberty and rejected government intrusion, and the attacks on choice are fundamentally inconsistent with those principles and values.
We hope that both Republicans and Democrats have learned that attacks on women’s autonomy don’t win votes — for the simple reason that women from both parties do have abortions, and want to know that the choice is there if they need it.
Q: In your view, what are the top two developments regarding abortion since Roe?
Ms. Monahan: First, the reality that abortion hurts women has developed significantly in the past four decades. Mother Teresa had a wonderful quote — to paraphrase: “Abortion is profoundly anti-woman. All of the mothers and half of the babies are its victims.” We’ve seen enormous amounts of research linking abortion to emotional suffering, in addition to the countless personal stories of women who profoundly regret an abortion decision. We have also been privy to research and real-life stories showing the physiological consequences of abortion for women — the worst obviously being death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 450 women have died as a direct result of legal abortion in the last number of years in the United States. Chemical abortion, in particular, is very tough on women’s health. I’ll never forget speaking to a dad who lost his daughter to chemical abortion. It is fair to say on the whole that women are no longer buying into the myth that a so-called ‘right’ to abortion is good for them.
Second, the humanity of the baby has received much attention. Advances in science and technology (in particular, ultrasound) have only supported the reality that a ‘person is a person no matter how small’ (Dr. Seuss). Long gone is the erroneous claim that a developing baby is only a lifeless blob of tissue. We know that a baby’s heart beats around 22 days after conception, the baby is moving by 10 weeks, and that the baby can feel pain somewhere from 16 to 20 weeks.
Mr. O'Brien: There have been so many marvelous developments since Roe v. Wade that it’s difficult to select which advances for women are most important.
From a public health standpoint, legalizing abortion benefited thousands of families, because so many women’s lives were being lost every year to illegal and unsafe abortions. Even more women and their families would have been affected by the loss of fertility caused by unregulated and unsafe procedures. After Roe v. Wade, abortion came out of the back alleys and into professional settings. Today, a woman is 14 times more likely to die while giving birth than from complications due to an abortion.