Monday, November 07, 2016

Abortion Issue is a The Red Herring

There are very few (on either side of the aisle) that see abortion as a celebration. It is a difficult, deeply personal, and delicate issue with real weight for individuals, families, and communities. For that reason I believe the laws governing abortion and those at impact abortion at the federal and state levels are very important, but the actual impact federal elections have on abortion laws are way overstated. I say that as someone who has personally been guilty of voting for candidates based on their public stances on the issue. Let's take a step back and get some historical context on the issue.

Before the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, about half of the states banned abortion. However, in that decision, 7 of 9 justices agreed that state bans violated the privacy rights of the mother. Since then, the Republicans have gradually increased their use of the issue to gain favor with the evangelical community. However, what they fail to admit is their own role in the Roe v. Wade decision. Here's the breakdown of justices' decision (and which party's president appointed them):
Harry A. Blackmun (Republican)
William J. Brennan (Republican)
Warren Earl Burger (Republican)
William Orville Douglas (Democrat)
Thurgood Marshall (Democrat)
Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Republican)
Potter Stewart (Republican)
William H. Rehnquist (Republican)
Byron R. White (Democrat)
The decision was made by an overwhelmingly conservative court with only two dissenters (one from each party appointment). You can actually read the conservative language in the decision that was framed as an issue of personal privacy and liberty:
This “substantive due process” right to privacy permits a woman to terminate her pregnancy for any reason during the first trimester. Subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the state may reasonably regulate abortions in ways related to maternal health. After viability, the state may regulate or proscribe abortions, but it must permit them if found necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother
And the court has kept a conservative majority for 45 years. Meanwhile, restrictions on abortion have come from the states, as the Roe v. Wade decision intended. As abortion made its way into the third presidential debate, like almost every issue in this election, it was more about personality than actually policy.

Forty-one states have some form of restriction on abortion, 36 of those ban it after viability (24ish weeks or before). That's 80% of the country that bans abortion at least at viability (with another 11% banning it at 29 weeks or the third trimester) and even for those states that allow abortion in the third trimester, it almost never happens. Though it's worth noting, third trimester (and even partial birth abortion is something Trump supported openly into his mid 60's and it's not like he has a good record of agreeing with Republican leadership these days. Here's a stat on third term abortions from the not liberal Fox News:
only about 100 are performed in the third trimester (more than 24 weeks' gestation), approximately .01 percent of all abortions performed. 
This is part of the reason why abortion rates have fallen to nearly half of what they were in 1980's under Republican presidents. Before you suggest that this decrease in abortions is the result of decades of non-compromising hard fought conservative actions, remember, all of those state laws were purposefully allowed for in the original conservative Roe v. Wade decision. In fact, most of these decreases aren't due to regulation, but through "liberal" policies aimed at decreasing extreme poverty and unintended pregnancy (most women who have an abortion already have kids).

My goal is not to decrease the importance we place on life or the privacy of our female citizens. Instead I just want us to have a more realistic view of what abortion actually looks like (early and rarer and rarer) and what impact politicians actually have (very little). You can think the issue important (I do), but if the candidate either will not or can not actually impact the laws, then it's disingenuous for it to be a primary factor in your decision.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on about the President not being that important to the issue of abortions. Here's a good look at why abortion rates are declining:
    Perhaps restrictive laws help prevent abortions, but this article has some good arguments that prevention of unwanted pregnancies is a better strategy to minimize them.


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