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Undermining Abortion: How the Christian Right Undermines the Right to Abortion


The Christian Right's War on Abortion and Women's Choice:

The most important issue for the Christian Right is criminalizing abortion. There is disagreement on the penalties for abortion (few want to treat it as murder, despite the rhetoric) and whether there should be exemptions (like for rape, incest, or the health of the mother), but there is agreement that abortion must end. There is no prospect of a total ban any time soon, so in the mean time they work on undermining it and hindering women's ability to actually obtain an abortion.

Parental & Spousal Notification, Consent:

One means for undermining a woman's right to obtain an abortion is to deny her the ability to make the decision on her own. Minors are required to obtain permission from their parents or, in their absence, a judge. Adult women are required to at least notify their spouses — which, in some cases, is effectively the same as having to obtain permission. Women are thus informed that they can't be trusted to make these decisions without adults or men providing input and advice.

Forced Counseling & Unscientific Advice:

Another example of not trusting women to make decisions about abortion is the requirement that they go through counseling before undergoing the procedure. Required counseling assumes that women haven't given serious thought to all their options already. Sometimes, they are even plied with unscientific and false information, for example about when the fetus might start experiencing pain. The entire purpose of these laws is to prevent women from choosing an abortion, not to educate and inform.

Waiting Periods for Abortions:

Distrust of women's ability to make decisions about having an abortion is also the basis for requiring waiting periods: women who come to an abortion clinic are forced to return days later to actually get an abortion. The ostensible reason is to give women time to reconsider their decision, as if they hadn't already thought deeply about it. The practical effect, surely recognized by those in charge, is that many women are unable to return and never get an abortion at all. That's the point.

Abortion Clinic Restrictions & Intimidation:

If there are no clinics providing abortions, then women won't end up having abortions. Anti-choice activists know this very well and have invested tremendous resources into protesting at clinics. Women are too intimidated to go. Healthcare professionals are too intimidated to go to work. Doctors are too intimidated to go into providing abortions — fewer and fewer even learn to do them. Some states only have one clinic left. Some clinics have no permanent doctors.

Restrictions on Abortion Funding:

Many forms of basic healthcare are funded, at least in part, by the government. Funding for abortion is banned, however. Even if someone works for the government, they won't get help paying to abort a fetus with fatal birth defects. The lack of funding for abortions can easily put them out of the reach of poor women who are likely seeking abortions because they cannot afford to care for more children. Ultimately, the state pays more to help these families.

Fetal Abuse Laws:

The Christian Right has demonstrated growing interest in "protecting" fetuses from various sorts of abuse. They want laws that treat attacks on women that lead to the death of the fetus as murder cases. They want to punish women who drink, smoke, or do drugs while pregnant. The point of all this is to establish in the law that a fetus is a person with rights — especially a right to live. If it's murder to attack a woman and kill her fetus, why not when a doctor kills the fetus in an abortion?

Limiting Valid Reasons & Times for Abortions:

Short of criminalizing abortion completely, an important goal for the Christian Right is to have severe restrictions on when abortions can be performed and the reasons for which legal abortions are allowed. Initial steps would be to limit abortions to just the first trimester and to exclude women who want an abortion for "frivolous" reasons. Slow, small steps would lead us up to these changes and, over time, perhaps to eliminate abortion entirely.

Restrictions on Contraception:

The right to abortion and the right to contraception are more tightly connected than most people realize. Both are based on a right to privacy and control over one's body, so attacks on one implicate the other. The Christian Right focuses on abortion, but they have been paying more attention to contraception. This is not a truly separate issue for them — it's all part of a larger assault on sexual liberty in modern society.

A Right Which Can't be Exercised is Not a Right:

The consistent theme of all Christian Right polices on abortion is to undermine or eliminate the ability of women to exercise their right to obtain an abortion. Anti-choice activists certainly won't deny this, since their long-term goal is to end legalized abortion completely. We should, however, contemplate what this means for the right to have an abortion itself.

Imagine if voting booths were only open for one hour a day and located far away from population centers. This wouldn't violate anything in the Constitution, so technically people would still have the right to vote, but what good is a right that you cannot exercise? For a significant number of women around the country, abortion services are as inaccessible as those hypothetical voting booths. Over 80% of all counties in America have no abortion services, so women have to travel some distance just to consult with a doctor — a significant hardship for poor women in rural areas. Then, they may be told that they have to return after a “waiting period” which government officials decided was necessary.

If women are denied the opportunities and resources to have an abortion, to what extent are we justified in saying that they have a right to an abortion in the first place? To make the right to abortion a genuine right, the government would have to assume the duty of protecting it — and that would arguably include ensuring that women have the resources and opportunities to get an abortion if that is what they wish. Even many supporters of abortion rights may balk at the prospect of the government helping to finance abortions, but that calls into question whether they really support abortion rights in the first place.

If someone only supports the “right” to abortion for women who can afford it, can afford the travel, and can afford the waiting times, isn’t that a bit like supporting the “right” of people to vote if they can afford to the costs of time and money to travel to distantly-located voting booths?

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