Today is the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
These years have not been easy years, and certainly for many of them, we have had to spend our energy trying to fight those who would overturn it. But it is a struggle we must continue with. To go back to the days before Roe v. Wade would be a disaster: in the dark days in which abortions were outlawed in most states, women died, regularly, of botched abortions. I don't suppose it's news to anyone that that's the case, but just in case, let's review a current case: Nicaragua.
Since Nicaragua outlawed abortions once again in 2006, we know of - for certain- over 100 women who have died. Keep in mind those are the ones who were reported, who made news; we will probably never know how many women really.
Over at Human Rights Watch, check out their report, from which I quote:
A medical doctor at a large public hospital in Managua, however, testified to one case:
Here [at this hospital] we have had women who have died.… For example, [name withheld] came here and had an ultrasound. It was clear that she needed a therapeutic abortion. No one wanted to carry out the abortion because the fetus was still alive. The woman was here two days without treatment until she expulsed the fetus on her own. And by then she was already in septic shock and died five days later. That was in March 2007.
or how about this:
Mariana S. has a permanent health condition and needs daily medication. When she found herself pregnant, she suspended the use of the medication, as recommended by her pharmacist. She told Human Rights Watch of the rapid deterioration in her health: “Right after I got pregnant I started having these horrible health problems.… I got really sick, it really affected me.… I didn’t feel good just walking on the street, I almost passed out.… I spent like five days without sleeping… feeling horrible and in pain.”
A single mother of two, Mariana S. decided that she had to terminate the pregnancy in order to be able to care for her children. She was aware of the blanket ban on abortion: “I was very afraid.… It was very traumatic not to be able to talk about it, because it is a crime.” After attempting to induce an abortion with injections and pills, Mariana S. found a clinic she could afford and fortunately had no complications from the intervention.
She said of the newly imposed ban, “I think they would have given me [an abortion before the ban] because of the [permanent health] problem I have … They should decriminalize therapeutic abortion [again] because they would save more lives like that. In my case, for example, the abortion saved both me and the two children I already have.”
Sofía M., a 20-year-old mental health patient, had suffered through the same ordeal. Sofía M.’s doctor told Human Rights Watch she had been diagnosed years earlier with a mental imbalance that causes her to be violent whenever she is not medicated. In March 2007, when she discovered she was pregnant, Sofía M. knew she could not carry the pregnancy to term. She said, “I don’t want to kill. But in my case, I couldn’t have the child.… It would not be born healthy because I can’t stop taking the medicine.… If I can’t even take care of me, how would I take care of a child?”
Sofía M. and her mother went from one clinic to another, but no one wanted to carry out the abortion because of the law: “They said they couldn’t do it because it is illegal.” She finally found a clandestine provider through a friend and told Human Rights Watch of the added anxiety in having to procure illegal services: “I was afraid; I did not know what it was going to be like.”
But, wait, you say, those are just cases in which the woman's health, or life are threatened. That won't happen here!
Well, actually, it's important to keep up with the news, check out the Colorado for Equal Rights for Human Life group getting approval for a ballot initiative that would let Colorado voters decide that a fertilized egg is equivalent in all respects to a human being.
"It doesn't outlaw abortion, it doesn't regulate birth control," said Kristi Burton, 20, of Colorado for Equal Rights and the initiative's sponsor. "It's just a constitutional principle. We're laying a foundation that every life deserves protection."
This is however complete BS, as it clearly is designed to target a loophole mentioned by Supreme Court Justice Justice Harry S. Blackmun when he wrote the opinion: It would grant personhood to the unborn from the moment of fertilization, meaning state and local laws protecting any individual life would be applied to the unborn....
He concluded: "(If the) suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment."
And what's the goal of the organization? To ban all abortions. The group's founder, Mark Meuser, is up-front about that: "We're defining when personhood begins... in this state, there would be no abortions."
"Our goal is to take this all the way to the Supreme Court, and argue the personhood of the preborn baby. When we were writing this, we wanted to have a singular focus so that nobody is confused," Meuser said. "We want to force the argument that has been avoided for 34 years by the U.S. Supreme Court."
SO let's review: NO abortions at all. Let's just skip back up to the section on Nicaragua. Please review again. Of course, you have to wonder how people really think about this matter when they consider no abortions: Here's a sample, if you were wondering.
This is brought to you from men who claim the abortion was theirs - of course, it doesn't say how they went through the -very unpleasant- medical procedure, nor how they would have carried to term the child with all the possible medical problems that can stem from that, the time missed from work, or the effects on career (lots of good studies that women with children get paid less and are less likely to be hired, that more or less doubles if you're a single mom), the costs,physical and emotional, nor does it guarantee that they would have paid their child support on time, or offered to do the raising of the child, nor dealt with the emotional trauma of having to have the child despite not really wanting it, and then perhaps giving it up despite the connection against her will created by growing it all those months. Nope, but it does share with us this gem:
Chris Aubert, a Houston lawyer, felt only indifference in 1985 when a girlfriend told him she was pregnant and planned on an abortion. When she asked if he wanted to come to the clinic, he said he couldn't; he played softball on Saturdays. He stuck a check for $200 in her door and never talked to her again.
Aubert, 50, was equally untroubled when another girlfriend had an abortion in 1991. "It was a complete irrelevancy," he said. But years later, Aubert felt a rising sense of unease. He and his wife were cooing at an ultrasound of their first baby when it struck him -- "from the depths of my belly," he said -- that abortion was wrong.
Aubert has since converted to Catholicism. He and his wife have five children, and they sometimes protest in front of abortion clinics. Every now and then, though, Aubert wonders: What if his first girlfriend had not aborted? How would his life look different?
He might have endured a loveless marriage and, perhaps, a sad divorce. He might have been saddled with child support as he tried to build his legal practice. He might never have met his wife. Their children -- Christine, Kyle, Roch, Paul, Vance -- might not exist.
"I wouldn't have the blessings I have now," Aubert said. So in a way, he said, the two abortions may have cleared his path to future happiness.
"That's an intellectual debate I have with myself," he said. "I struggle with it."
In the end, Aubert says his moral objection to abortion always wins. If he could go back in time, he would try to save the babies.
But would his long-ago girlfriends agree? Or might they also consider the abortions a choice that set them on a better path?
Aubert looks startled. "I never really thought about it for the woman," he says slowly.
Oh, I never really thought about it for her...oh, well, that's alright then. Just so your life is better off now, so you're free to go around trying to arrange that no one else's could be.
And just in case you're thinking, why is this a Jewish problem?
The abortion index by religion during 1994-1995 was found to be:
bullet Protestants: 0.69
bullet Followers of a non-Judeo-Christian religion: 0.78
bullet Catholics: 1.01%
bullet Jews: 1.08
bullet Persons who do not follow an organized religion: 4.02
An index value of 1.0 represents the national average. e.g. Catholics were 1% more likely to obtain an abortion than average. Data was prepared by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Storrs, CT, in 1995 from five Gallup polls.
Jews have abortions at above the national average. This is a Jewish problem. Jewish law is not, actually, as liberal on abortion as some people would make it out to be. But the reasons why it's not are completely different than those proposed by Christians. It is not because the fetus is considered a complete person at conception. In fact, quite the contrary. Jewish law places the life of the woman at a premium: if the fetus threatens her life, it is to be cut up within her and removed, right up until crowning.
But even more astonishingly than that, the mishna regards the dignity of the woman as paramount as well.
In Erukhin (7a) -a pregnant woman who is sentenced to execution must still be executed, as long as she is not in labor - the gemara on this passage comments "Of course!" Rabbi Joseph Trani of 17th century Constantinople (Resp. teshuvot mahariat 99) argues that this amazement would be out of place if destruction of a fetus in any way was like taking a human life: indeed, the gemara instructs that the woman should be struck on the abdomen to cause the prior death of the fetus to that of the condemned woman in order to avoid the indignity which would be inflicted on her body if the fetus emerged after her
The important thing to remember is that while abortion was certainly not to be taken lightly, the reason why is because abortion was dangerous, it was surgery. You could die from it (Just in comparison, today, it's actually more dangerous, physically speaking, to complete the pregnancy - you're more likely to die from pregnancy complications or in labor than from an abortion). Secondarily, it was considered a form of selfmutilation. Thus an elective abortion would be something like volunteering to cut your arm off. It's not permitted because it's destructive of the holiness of the body.
On the second side of the argument though, because the fetus is considered a part of the woman's body up until very late, a Jewish woman may also not choose to not get an abortion if her life is endangered by the pregnancy. Thus a law which outlawed therapeutic abortions would be a violation of religious freedoms.
So, while it's certainly not the case that abortion ought to be used lightly according to Jewish law, civilly, we must, as Jews, require it to be available in order that we can make our religious decisions freely, and have it available when it is necessary. Colorado, take that in your church-state separation and stick it.
Of course, overall, abortion rates are falling. Salon reports that "the Guttmacher Institute has released a national study of abortion. Its findings are something to be celebrated by pro-abortion-rights and antiabortion folks alike: The U.S. abortion rate is the lowest it has been in more than three decades. In 2005, the most recent year included in the study, 1.2 million abortions were performed; that's an 8 percent drop from 2000. Abortion rates are also falling at a faster speed, say researchers." also, "The report also found that abortions are being performed earlier and earlier in pregnancy. Three in 10 abortions were performed within the first six weeks of pregnancy and six in 10 were performed within the first eight weeks."
Moreover, the number of chemical abortions, induced through the use of RU486 has increased, which may in part be behind the drop in the number of surgical abortions (still good, because RU-486 has to be used quite early to be effective). We can have some hope that the ease of use of RU-486, and the safety of its use will ultimately make this debate somewhat beside the point. Well, we can hope, right?
Overall, good news. But that doesn't mean that protecting abortion is no big deal. The same forces that have been attempting to get rid of abortion, also are targeting birth control; birth control, the very thing that allows the abortion rate to drop? Completely, mind-bogglingly insane? Yes. But true.
First they target emergency contraception, then just, you know, want to get rid of it all: The Chicago Tribune and the New York Times have both reported on this charming movement.
A friend of mine writes the following:
These people remind me of nothing so much as the ones in Joyce Arthur’s report from September 2000, “The Only Moral Abortion Is My Abortion: When the Anti-Choice Choose,” which is available online here: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/anti-tales.html.
In it, she details several stories of women, sometimes teenagers and often accompanied by their parents, who would come to Planned Parenthood or to other doctors for abortions, then be back outside the very next day on the picket line, protesting against the very procedure they’d just had done.
Here’s one sample from the report:
"In 1990, in the Boston area, Operation Rescue and other groups were regularly blockading the clinics, and many of us went every Saturday morning for months to help women and staff get in. As a result, we knew many of the 'antis' by face. One morning, a woman who had been a regular 'sidewalk counselor' went into the clinic with a young woman who looked like she was 16-17, and obviously her daughter. When the mother came out about an hour later, I had to go up and ask her if her daughter's situation had caused her to change her mind. 'I don't expect you to understand my daughter's situation!' she angrily replied. The following Saturday, she was back, pleading with women entering the clinic not to 'murder their babies.'" (Clinic escort, Massachusetts)
In other words, “Our condom broke, the rest of you are godless sluts.” Right. Thanks. Another thing people don't seem to get is that if all abortions are outlawed, if the government is allowed to mandate that you MUST have children; the other side of that coin is that they can then mandate that you MUST NOT have children. E.g., "Mrs. So-and-so, you have two children already, we're afraid you'll have to terminate this pregnancy." Or even, "We're tying your tubes now."
It’s happened before. People don’t like to remember it, but the US has had a long flirtation with eugenics that only ended in my state, North Carolina, in the early 1970s. Thousands of people were sterilized against their will, some against their knowledge even. See http://againsttheirwill.journalnow.com/ for the Winston-Salem Journal’s five-part series on NC’s eugenics program.
Salon presents two articles the first is feminists talking about Roe v. Wade and why it matters now more than ever; the second is an interview with Dr. Susan Wicklund, who performs abortions, and has received death threats and worn a bulletproof vest to work, and her book This Common Secret,
If they're going to have any discussion in politics, then they need to go right to [saying], "If Roe v. Wade is overturned, how long will a woman spend in jail?" Then people back up and say, "Wait a minute, we're not talking about putting women in jail." Well, yes you are. If it's illegal, and a woman has an abortion, she goes to jail. When you start looking at it in those terms, people get more uncomfortable. It's ridiculous to just say it should be illegal and then not talk about what the consequences are.
There are lots of things to read today about Roe v.Wade, about the women who have abortions, about why it's so important to protect our right to do it, and how difficult a decision it is, and how incredibly stigmatizing it is to have had one, and why that has to end. And I hope that you will go out and read about it, and think about it, because for many women it's a matter of life and death: sometimes literally, sometimes less than literally, but it's never, in any way easy, and I hope that people will think hard about how important it is that women are able to make hard decisions about our own lives, and how essential it is for us to be able to do that.
If Clinton had ever had an abortion she couldn't run for president; I wonder how many of us have had rabbis who had abortions - but couldn't say so publicly, because they wouldn't be able to get a job (lord knows it's difficult enough without that) even if they would have died if they hadn't been able to get one. If I had had one, I couldn't say so. I wonder how many women's lives out there are better, longer, stronger, healthier, because they were able to get a legal abortion.
Please vote, and make sure that your mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends will continue to be safe.
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