Questions related to reproductive health, and most specifically abortion, are not easy to answer. Choice is the kind of issue that should humble us all and make us want to take all necessary steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
In many ways, this issue reflects the ongoing dilemma we have in America between protecting the rights of the individual vs. protecting the common good of our society as a whole. In most cases, I come down on the side of the common good, for example the responsibility of our society to provide affordable health care for all its citizens.
In the case of abortion, we can ask the question, “Who has a more compelling need to have her rights protected in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, the woman carrying the fetus or the state? I take the pro-choice position for this reason: an unwanted pregnancy will present the mother with far more anguish about the decision than it will to the state. The repercussions of the choice that the woman makes has far more of an impact on her life than it does on the state as a whole.
Some may argue that the choice is not between the state and the mother but rather between the fetus and the mother. This is a reasonable argument. My views on this conflict emanate in part from Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
I believe that at the time that a decision must be made about the termination or continuation of a pregnancy the mother is endowed with reason and conscience. I do not believe that about the fetus. No one likes making a choice between two living entities, but just as we often side with a parent rather than a child, I believe we should trust the woman to make the best choice for herself and her family.
In recent years, our political dialogue has been dominated by conservative activists who have taken numerous steps to undermine a woman’s right to choice. Besides restricting a woman’s rights, they have also endangered her health and security For example, there is only one abortion clinic in the state of Missouri, which is operated by Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. 20% of the PPSLR’s patients drive over 100 miles to receive those services. On top of that burden, Missouri is considering imposing a 72 hour wait period, which would be yet another huge burden for those women coming from more outlying areas.
Instead of limiting accessibility to choice, we should expand the availability of clinics that can counsel women through difficult decisions and provide for her all necessary medical services should she choose to have an abortion. At the very least, no woman should be more than one county away from a licensed choice clinic. Ultimately, abortion care should not just happen in choice clinics, but in standard medical offices and hospitals. Any primary care doctor (internal medicine, family medicine pediatrics/adolescent medicine, or OB/GYN) who is likely to order a pregnancy test should also be able to provide options counseling. Along with decreasing stigma and creating a critical mass of doctors to speak out about the ever-increasing legislation specific to abortion services, this would decrease the distance that women had to drive to access services.
Empathetic and non-judgmental counseling is key to providing an expectant mother with the support that she needs. As a society, we need to work to provide additional counselors who are both trained to deal with choice issues and who temperamentally can be supportive, analytical and empathetic. We also need to train more physicians to perform safe abortions. We must secure choice clinics so that all staff and clients are free of unconstitutional harassment.
Ultimately, the answer we seek is to have fewer unwanted pregnancies. That means making birth control more readily available and affordable. We also need to have sex education classes throughout school for all students, regardless of gender. These courses should include information about the dynamics that exist in dating, relationships, and marriage. Additionally, they should include complete information to students about the availability of resources to help prevent unplanned pregnancies and to help them through ones that do occur.
Our views on choice can be a real litmus test of how much empathy we have for our fellow citizens. Since Roe v Wade is the law of the land, we should do all that we can to protect a woman’s right to choice.
with help from Miquia Henderson of Medical Students for Choice and Allison Reed