They argue that an unborn baby’s life is precious. And they are right. They argue that a mother’s choice is paramount. And they are right. They say that up to 24 weeks, abortion is permissible. Others argue that 20 weeks is where the limit should be. Some say never; some say always.
In recent months, the intense debate around controversial abortion laws has led to the vote to overturn the contentious Roe v. Wade ruling. The question of what defines life and on what merits to assess this stands at the core of this painful—and partisan—discussion, dividing the American nation into two artificially polarized groups.
In the current political system, Democrats are the party of pro-choice and Republicans are the party of pro-life. That’s a bit simplistic, isn’t it?
When it comes to abortion, a sizable number of Republicans are single-issue voters, siding with the Republican ticket. But it doesn’t need to be this way, and it does a disservice across the board to both the legitimacy of other political issues and the complexity of the abortion issue itself.
Allow me to share a personal story. My grandfather’s mother had four sons. I can imagine four sons was a handful and the prospect of another baby daunting.
Whatever the exact specifics of her situation, my great-grandmother made the undoubtedly desperate decision to end her pregnancy with a dangerous coat hanger abortion which resulted in her untimely death at only 44 years, with the young son left to be raised by my grandfather, her eldest son.
Over 100 years later, I, too, had to make that difficult decision. I was in an emotionally unstable relationship and knew very well that it was a matter of time until our relationship would dissolve.
Would I have done that if abortions weren’t legal if it meant that I could have possibly died as a result of having one? It’s doubtful.
I don’t think I’d have been as brave or perhaps I was not as desperate as my great grandmother. But I surely would have consigned myself and my newborn to an unhappy, unstable life.
In most cases, it is a religion that pushes many pro-life supporters to fight abortion. I see in this a bitter irony. One of the fundamental values on which America was built was the separation of church and state. Our forefathers longed for freedom and sought the protection of their beliefs and livelihoods. The equal rights amendment grants us all equal protection, confirming that each and every one of us holds physical autonomy.
The majority of Americans believe that there should be some kind of legal abortion in place; every state has at least one abortion clinic.
Republicans, who have always believed in the right to liberty and privacy, have long defended individual rights and choices. Yet, it is this one issue that religious Republicans deny is a personal decision, even though there are religions that put the mother’s life above that of the fetus.
Is there another way to enshrine this right which is fundamental to a woman’s self-determination, in a non-polarizing manner? I think it’s time we come to a truth and find reasonable guidelines without the political divide. This country was built on democratic values and dialogue, weighing all options while sitting together at the same table.
Reaching a consensus will not always be comfortable for everyone, but we must make an effort to meet in the middle. This process should be about listening and respecting both sides. There are two legitimate government interests: protecting a mother’s health, well-being, and personal autonomy as well as protecting the potentiality of human life. Let us attempt to rationally balance them out.
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Having an abortion or having a baby is a decision with far-reaching, life-long consequences for both the mother and her child. Without institutions like Planned Parenthood, women’s health and perhaps even their lives will be in peril.
Abortions will not cease to take place just because they are illegal. Women will travel to another state at great personal expense. Underequipped and underprepared physicians might perform procedures in unsafe environments.
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There will be babies whose mothers have no financial means, nor emotional bandwidth to raise them. There will be abandoned children, children put up for adoption, which, while many people might want them, comes with lifelong emotional consequences for those people.
Every woman’s story is different, and a blanket abortion ban would be devastating and even life-threatening to so many mothers and children.
Examining my own and my great-grandmother’s immensely personal stories and choices, I want to emphasize how individual this choice is and should be. It should start at home, and not be the purview of either state or federal government.
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Martha Ehmann Conte is an advisor, investor, civic leader, and philanthropist with deep expertise in advertising, brand strategy, and fundraising.