Away from Deception

In the Feb. 8 copy of the Marist Circle, an opinion piece regarding reproductive rights, titled “Down from Radicalism,” was published. The piece promulgated to the Marist community was rife with misleading and with manipulative comments. It condemned reproductive rights legislation in four states, misrepresented facts about the legislation and health science, purposely manipulated facets of the abortion debate to stir opposition, and stooped to name-calling to posit an incredibly shallow view accusing thousands of murder. This Feb. 8 opinion article, and pundits who espouse similar propaganda, contribute to the current era of hyper-partisan politics. Healthy discourse is facilitated with facts, civil debate, and respect for the principles of democracy. It is undermined with manipulation, “alternative facts,” and wildly objectionable religious platitudes.

In this piece, we aim to set the record straight by providing accurate evidence about reproductive rights legislation and offering a nondiscriminatory perspective about a debate that is ever-present in America’s cultural wars.  

To start, advocates for reproductive health are not encouraging women to seek abortions. Reproductive health supporters are advocating for the safe and legal availability of options, which includes birth control, morning-after medication, in-clinic abortions, and medication-based abortions. This is an issue of healthcare, and of personal choice, not an issue for circus politics. Weighing in on a person’s difficult and sensitive reproductive rights, which are enshrined in law, is going beyond a decent sense of discretion.

Women seeking an abortion are choosing that option for a myriad of complex and deeply personal reasons. There is no reason for partisan pro-life advocates to intervene in a conversation between a healthcare provider and their patient. The decision to terminate a pregnancy, within the bounds of established law, is the mother’s. We are not advocating for women to seek abortions, we are advocating for the availability of healthcare-based choices.

The Feb. 8 opinion article addresses The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) that was recently passed by the New York State Legislature. The RHA was framed in the article as a radical departure from current law, when in reality it was a modernization of New York’s abortion laws, bringing New York state law to the benchmark of Roe v. Wade. New York’s former abortion laws, which were last amended in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade, banned abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless there was an immediate threat to the life of the mother. These provisions did not match the federal ruling, which allowed for abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is non-viable or if there is a threat to the life of the patient. Instead, the old New York State law criminalized women who sought abortions after 24 weeks. This resulted in women being denied care, having to travel out of state to receive care, and suffering as a result of their inability to pay for care. To clarify, the RHA brought New York state law to federal standards by removing antiquated restrictions to abortions later in pregnancy. Additionally, it decriminalized abortion and ensured that licensed health professionals, not just doctors, can provide abortion care.

With the possibility of Roe v. Wade being threatened at the federal level, the RHA ensures that citizens of New York state have access to safe and legal abortions. The increase in access to abortion is imperative. It allows women to choose when, whether, and how they start a family. The RHA is critical for women’s dignity, sense of self, and livelihood.

The Feb. 8 opinion article also mentions the efforts of three other states, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Virginia House Bill 2491 would ease some restrictions on abortion. It would not change the time limit or window to seek an abortion, rather it extends women’s options under certain health circumstances. To clarify, infanticide, or the murder of newborns, is illegal in Virginia. No reproductive rights groups support a policy of infanticide. Nonetheless, pro-life advocates and the president of the United States, continue to push a narrative that distorts the truth. The goal of the Virginia bill is to, in extremely rare circumstances, offer more options to women with complicated and heart wrenching choices to make. This is about access, not encouragement.

In Rhode Island, there were two bills discussed in Jan., the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) and the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA). Both the RPA and RHCA only allow abortion up to the point of fetal viability. These bills leave the decisions to the patient’s healthcare provider. Much like the New York RHA, Rhode Island’s RHCA moves to establish a right to a safe and legal abortion within state law.

In Vermont, a bill that is indeed supported by 91 Vermont State Representatives, was voted on by the House Human Services Committee and passed 8-3 after a sentence quoted in the Feb. 8 opinion article was removed. The sentence in the bill read as follows, “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.” The committee chair, Representative Ann Pugh, prior to holding the vote stressed she, “[knows] that people disagree with the fundamental aspects of this bill, but as we have crafted this bill, it does not change what is currently the policy, the legal context, in Vermont, it does not craft any new law.”

Scope and context—both of which were missing from the Feb. 8 opinion article—are important to consider when discussing abortion. While we will not dwell on the fetal development stages because it distracts from the point at hand, it is necessary to discuss the viability of the fetus at certain stages. The rationale behind the 24-week mark is that the fetus becomes viable. Viable means that if at any point a woman is to give birth to her fetus after 24 weeks, it is able to live. Therefore, abortions become quite limited after that. In terms of scope, per the CDC, only 1.3 percent of abortions are performed after 21 weeks. The vast majority of abortions take place when the fetus is not viable. This makes describing the features of the fetus nothing more than a rhetorical tool for pro-life advocates to elicit a misguided emotional response.

Having a late-term abortion is neither an effortless nor easy process, it is deeply emotional and logistically complicated. Many women have to travel to a different state, find funds, and consult to find proper healthcare providers. All of these logistical steps are in addition to the emotional toll taken on the mother. Across the United States, 43 states have restrictions on late-term abortions, as is their right established in Roe v. Wade. However, this does not give credence to pro-life politicians that continue to impose restrictions on abortion and implement “trigger laws.” These laws would go into effect if Roe v. Wade were overturned and immediately limit access to safe and legal abortions. These restrictions do not now, and will not if passed, achieve their purpose. Let us not forget our history where women died every day from unsafe and illegal abortions or complications from childbirth.

According to a Guttmacher report (2013), around 25 percent of women under 45 have had an abortion and 59 percent of women who choose an abortion are mothers. The context of the abortion debate is far more complex than the killing of “all of the innocent children who have been killed by abortion since the decision in Roe v. Wade,” as some pundits would have you believe.

In reference to yet another misleading part of the Feb. 8 opinion article, the author uses a quote from 1967 to reinforce that the health of the mother is rarely threatened to a degree that would warrant an abortion. The second quote used is from Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a pro-life advocate. Furthermore, both of these quotes are found on the pro-life website American Life League (ALL). In fact, they are the only two quotes found in defense of ALL’s health of the mother position on their website. To use information from the 21st century, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) takes the official position that "abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event." ACOG is a premier professional organization with 58,000 healthcare providers as members.

An assumption within the Feb. 8 opinion article is that supporting reproductive rights is somehow radical. We offer a reminder that the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1972, that much of the same principles codified in the RHA were constitutionally sound. Radicalism does not mean ensuring a constitutionally afforded right continues despite the efforts of pro-life advocates in New York state and across the country. As reported by PEW Research, for the past 20 plus years, a majority of Americans agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. No matter how you look at the data, by age, race, gender, etc., the majority of Americans believe that women should be afforded the right to choose.

We are not advocating that one side is right and one is wrong. It is your right to dissent with all your heart against current law. But, it is wholly unacceptable to use manipulative strategies and grossly unacceptable religious-centered shame to change public opinion and shift public discourse further into the hyper-partisan and ill-informed strain that plagues America today. We have to elevate discourse beyond the finger pointing, shaming, misogynistic, and misinformed style that pro-life supporters embrace.

We believe there are dozens of issues that the Marist community, and by extension New York State citizens, could agree upon. Issues like a better child services system, more access to contraceptives, or better health and reproductive education. Instead, we have outdated and Machiavellian tactics printed in our student newspaper to divide discourse and opinion. We laid out the truth behind the veneer as best we could and we urge you to research and support causes worthy of an informed citizenry. Let’s talk about abortion, but let’s talk about the facts and truths of abortion, not the misguided rhetoric that inflames politics today.