40 Years Ago, Abortion-Rights Advocates Won an Epic Victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve Been Losing Ever Since.
The story – “What Choice?” – is written by Kate Pickert. The main point of the article is that Roe v. Wade hurt the pro-choice cause by delivering the movement’s main goal and by energizing a generation of pro-life activism.
Not surprisingly, the story is biased against the pro-life cause. Though the issue of “personhood” and “life” is alluded to (see below), Pickert never explores the reasons for a surge in pro-life activity. Had she sought to explain the pro-life perspective, she would have shown how this debate is really a showdown between reproductive rights and human rights, and which rights are foundational to freedom.
Still, I commend Pickert for using the terminology of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” throughout the article. (She doesn’t use these terms consistently, but it’s nice to see the terms both sides prefer utilized in a journalistic piece.)
Summary of the Article
The story gives us an inside-glimpse of an abortion clinic and its director, Tammi Kromenaker. Pickert shows how it is increasingly difficult to obtain an abortion in certain areas of the country, due primarily to statewide legislation regulating abortion:
In 2011, 92 abortion-regulating provisions–a record number–passed in 24 states after Republicans gained new and larger majorities in 2010 in many legislatures across the country. These laws make it harder every year to exercise a right heralded as a crowning achievement of the 20th century women’s movement.
Surveying the landscape of pro-life legislation, Pickert paints a stark picture for pro-choice advocates:
While the right to have an abortion is federal law, exactly who can access the service and under what circumstances is the purview of states. And at the state level, abortion-rights activists are unequivocally losing.
Why is this the case? Pickert pulls no punches. Pro-choice advocates are losing the debate:
Part of the reason is that the public is siding more and more with their opponents. Even though three-quarters of Americans believe abortion should be legal under some or all circumstances, just 41% identified themselves as pro-choice in a Gallup survey conducted in May 2012…
If abortion-rights activists don’t come together to adapt to shifting public opinion on the issue of reproductive rights, abortion access in America will almost certainly continue to erode.
Even after the reelection of President Obama and the defeat of a pro-life candidate like Richard Mourdock (who got into hot water with their controversial comments on rape and pregnancy), Pickert points out that the winning Democrat is also pro-life.
Throughout the article, Pickert laments the shrinking of abortion rights and explains the reduction by pointing to the relegation of abortion to specialized clinics, new government regulations on the practice, and generational differences in the pro-choice camp. Though Pickert describes an abortive procedure in clinical, unemotional terms, she deserves credit for taking us behind the closed doors of a clinic to see what happens:
On this Wednesday it’s Dr. Kathryn Eggleston, who informs the woman that she’s reviewed her chart and asks, “Are you confident in your decision to have an abortion today?” If the woman says yes, the abortion begins; the whirring of the vacuum aspirator used to extract the fetus can be heard in the hallway. Within 15 minutes, Eggleston emerges from the room and enters another where the removed contents are examined and photographed for the medical record.
To be more specific, the fetus (baby) is extracted (by dismemberment), and the removed contents (body parts, actually) are examined (usually pieced back together) and photographed for the record. But hey, this is TIME, after all. We can’t expect them to show us a picture of what’s really happening, can we?
Nevertheless, it should be noted that Pickert is helpful in explaining the scientific advances that have helped the pro-life cause:
The antiabortion cause has been aided by scientific advances that have complicated American attitudes about abortion. Prenatal ultrasound, which has allowed the general public to see fetuses inside the womb and understand that they have a human shape beginning around eight weeks into pregnancy, became widespread in the 1980s, and some babies born as early as 24 weeks can now survive.
The scientific advances are demonstrating what pro-life advocates have been saying all along. There’s a human being in there, and an abortion stops the heart and takes a life. Unfortunately, the humanity of the unborn is never really discussed, although Pickert quotes Frances Kissling (longtime abortion activist), who clearly affirms that abortion terminates human life:
Kissling opposes the specific state laws pushed by pro-life activists but says the pro-choice movement’s effort to “normalize abortion” is counterproductive. “When people hear us say abortion is just another medical procedure, they react with shock,” she says. “Abortion is not like having your tooth pulled or having your appendix out. It involves the termination of an early form of human life. That deserves some gravitas.”
After a quote like that, you wonder if this article might actually delve into the central issue surrounding this debate: What is the unborn? At what point does an unborn child get human rights? But no, we return to the abortion clinic and the beleaguered, shrinking number of OB/GYN doctors willing to perform abortions. The article ends this way:
In theory, a lower rate of abortion might be something for both sides of the abortion debate to share credit for and even celebrate. But it also illustrates the ultimate challenge for pro-choice advocates. Their most pressing goal, 40 years after Roe, is to widen access to a procedure most Americans believe should be restricted–and no one wants to ever need.
Despite the many setbacks the pro-life cause has faced and will continue to confront, TIME recognizes which movement is gaining strength and which movement is fading. And that’s worth celebrating!