The Legislature in Iowa has passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Senate File 359, or the “heartbeat bill,” will bar physicians from performing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks, when it is common for women not to know they are pregnant yet.
If you looked at my life on paper, you might very well wonder why this news is a big deal to me. I have a life in New York City, a 3-year-old son, a current, wanted, planned pregnancy, a rewarding relationship and my mental health. But I have these things because of the abortion I was legally, safely and affordably able to procure at age 23. To advocate for restricted access, to ban abortion services before women even know they are pregnant or to destroy access entirely is to endorse the unnecessary deaths of women across a country that claims to value all life. And I cannot enjoy my life while women are losing the right to live theirs.
In 2010, I walked into a Planned Parenthood in Washington state and had a safe, affordable and relatively easy abortion. I wasn’t subjected to mandatory waiting periods, forced counseling or an abortion provider required to regurgitate state-mandated, inaccurate information. I didn’t have to travel long distances, worry I was getting there too late in the pregnancy, find money to pay for child care or walk past angry or intrusive protesters. Instead, I went in pregnant and, a few hours later, came out with my future back in my control.
I was unaware at the time, but that future would eventually include life as a writer of a column dedicated entirely to abortion, lobbying elected officials on Capitol Hill and sharing my abortion story in front of thousands of people.
I had no idea that it would include another pregnancy, a difficult labor and delivery, and a healthy, beautiful baby boy. But it also brought me death threats, promises of eternal damnation, severed relationships with conservative or evangelical childhood friends and daily online attacks from anti-abortion zealots; all “consequences” of my choice to procure and advocate for abortion care. And since that day in 2010 I have watched in anger as the constitutionally protected right to an abortion has been attacked and trampled across the country. I have heard our vice president promise I would see the demolition of Roe v. Wade in my lifetime and interviewed women who’ve been lied to by so-called crisis pregnancy centers, to the point they were tricked into carrying their unplanned pregnancies to term.
State Sen. Rick Bertrand, an Iowa Republican, said during a debate on Senate File 359 that it would be a “vehicle that will ultimately provide change and the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade,” because the measure is likely to be challenged in court and potentially appealed by either side to the US Supreme Court. Proponents of the bill are proudly proclaiming that there is no hidden agenda: The bill is not meant to protect life but to engineer public policy that could lead to a national ban on abortion.
For those who believe in abortion rights, it’s a scary time. When Kevin Williamson, conservative writer for The Atlantic for all of two weeks, was let go after a firestorm over comments he made calling for women who’ve had abortions to be hanged, I wasn’t surprised. I was, however, surprised that so many people considered Williamson’s remarks to be “fringe.” Williamson later wrote in The Washington Post to clarify, “That isn’t my view at all.”
Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned anti-abortion activist, told LifeSiteNews, a so-called “news” website, in response to Williamson’s comments, “As pro-lifers, we must preach mercy, not condemnation. We believe that abortion is the ultimate violence against women and their unborn children. We must not, in turn, respond with violence against those who are misled and living in spiritual blindness.” A fine sentiment, to be sure, but one dripping with hypocrisy.
It is inherently violent to call for the demolition of Roe v. Wade, and wish to return to a time when abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women in the United States. By 1965, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortions, and those were the deaths officials reported; the actual number of lives lost is undeniably much higher.
It’s violent to continue to introduce anti-abortion restrictions when a 2017 study conducted by Ibis Reproductive Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights found that states with the highest abortion restrictions also have the highest maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. According to UN experts, repealing anti-abortion laws would save the lives of nearly 50,000 women a year.
It’s violent for states to pass Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws that close clinics and limit access to a legal medical procedure. Before the US Supreme Court struck down House Bill 2 in Texas, in 2016 – arguably responsible for the state’s most rigorous abortion restrictions – 21 clinics reportedly were shut down and only 19 remained to serve the second-most populous state. There are 5.4 million women of reproductive age living in Texas, and a 2016 report from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, based at the University of Texas at Austin, revealed that more than 100,000 of them attempted self-induced abortions. Meanwhile, Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.
In 2014, poor women accounted for 49% of abortion patients, according to the American Journal of Public Health, and numerous studies have shown that when women are denied access to abortion they’re more likely to live in poverty, inhibiting their ability to seek out and pay for additional health care. According to Axios, the Trump administration is currently debating whether to cut off Title X family-planning funding to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, a move that would potentially force the organization to choose between losing the funding or ending abortion referrals. In 2015, according to the Guttmacher Institute, clinics funded by Title X provided contraceptive services to a reported 3.8 million women, helping to prevent 1.9 million pregnancies.
In the United States, between 700 and 1,200 women die from pregnancy or childbirth complications, the World Health Organization reports, and black women are three to four times more likely to die from such complications than white women. In other words, women of color and poor women are disproportionately affected by abortion restrictions. The lovers of rich white men, however, are still able to access the reproductive care they need.
Worldwide, an estimated 68,000 women die of unsafe abortions each year, according to an obstetrics and gynecology study, and 5 million will suffer long-term health complications if they survive. Yet if successfully implemented, the beliefs of people such as Williamson and Johnson and many other anti-abortion advocates would result in a nation of back alleys and contorted clothes hangers.
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In El Salvador, a total ban on abortion has resulted in the automatic suspicion of any woman who doesn’t carry a pregnancy to term. Some women who endure miscarriages or stillbirths are sent to prison, such as Carmen Vásquez, who was sentenced to 30 years for aggravated murder after giving birth to a stillborn baby. Thankfully, her sentence was commuted in February, but there are many others like her still in jail.
Instead of being a beacon of freedom that celebrates complete bodily autonomy, anti-abortion advocates would see the United States go the way of El Salvador: a total ban on abortion, and the demonization – even imprisonment – of any woman whose pregnancy doesn’t result in the birth of a healthy newborn.
Rick Bertrand isn’t pro-life. Kevin Williamson isn’t pro-life. Abby Johnson isn’t pro-life. Our vice president isn’t pro-life. The anti-abortion movement isn’t pro-life.