Considering Abortion Politics

Several members of my family voted for Trump due to their opposition to abortion. As someone who supports abortion rights, I want to address their concerns seriously. Pro-life voters are a major component of the Republican coalition, and ignoring that reality does not advance the cause of abortion rights. Former President Trump is in favor of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and wants abortion banned except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is threatened. In pursuit of this goal, as president he appointed more than 200 federal judges, restricted the ability of healthcare providers to give referrals for abortions under Title X, and rolled back parts of the Affordable Care Act.

While my family members have a variety of ideas on whether or not abortion should be legal in the initial two trimesters of pregnancy, they are in agreement that abortion becomes more morally fraught the longer the pregnancy goes on. I think that particular position is reasonable. The balance between the mother’s interests and those of a growing fetus shifts as the fetus develops into a baby; while I don’t think the fetus’s interests ever outweigh the mother’s, it is worth considering the interests of all those involved in accordance with their stake in the issue when making policy. This means taking into consideration both the pregnant person’s autonomy and the fetus’s interests. Taking into account all the interested parties and their stakes in issues is crucial to being thoughtful about policy. 

That said, one problem with voting for Trump is that so-called pro-life Republican policies increase the likelihood of “late-term” abortions at or after 21 weeks, which comprised 1.3% of all abortions in the US in 2014. How? First, these policies broadly oppose access to contraception and comprehensive sexual education, which increases the number of unintended pregnancies. Most pregnant people seeking abortion say that they wanted to have the abortion earlier, but they either could not afford it or lacked the knowledge they were pregnant. If one’s goal is actually to reduce the number of abortions at or after 21 weeks, one way to do that is to get rid of the Hyde Amendment, which denies federal funding for abortion. This funding would remove a major cause of pregnant people having an abortion later in pregnancy. 

The other outcome of pro-life Republican policies is forcing pregnant people to give birth. The pro-life movement defends this on the basis that these people chose to have sex, and thus are deserving of the consequences. First, without teaching comprehensive sexual education and promoting access to contraception, they cannot assume that everyone possesses the knowledge and tools to prevent unintended pregnancy. Second, given that abortion is possible, why must we force pregnant people to give birth? Advocates of the pro-life position argue that life is sacred from the moment of conception, which is why they cannot allow pregnant people to exercise their autonomy and have an abortion. However, pro-life advocates tend to defend a status quo that treats life as non-sacred. The pro-life movement aligns itself with Republicans who oppose a federal guarantee that people will have their basic needs (food, water, shelter) met, which is a necessary step to treating life as sacred. This guarantee could take many forms. One way would be to raise the federal minimum wage to a living wage and institute a federal jobs guarantee. Republicans oppose both of those policies. By aligning with Republicans, the pro-life movement  reveals that their primary concern is not sanctifying life, but something else entirely. The pro-life movement’s focus on abortion could be attributed to a cultural opposition to the autonomy of people who are gender marginalized. In that case, supporters of feminist social movements still have work to do. Convincing people like members of my family to broadly support abortion rights will take time and a combination of individual and collective action, but breaking down the negative implications of the pro-life policies they support is one place to start. 

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