Monday, October 31, 2011

Abortion and Politics

When I was living in Cleveland many years ago, I was modestly active in the women’s rights movement.  I joined the National Association for Women because I have never understood why some people believe women should not be treated on par with men.  There’s little difference between genders, especially in areas that count, such as the ability to think, take responsibility, work and make decisions.  Besides, disenfranchising half of all humans is downright idiotic, depriving the world of 50 percent of human brainpower and intelligence.

My efforts in Ohio, which included being the token male on a radio show about women’s rights, naturally, got me into the abortion issue, which may be even more controversial than religion, my usual bailiwick. I was introduced to the acrimonious discussion when a friend in college had to be smuggled to New York for an illegal abortion and was physically harmed by the procedure.

That was before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws prohibiting abortions.  Now, 38 years later, the arguments continue.

Most recently, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain has issued inconsistent comments on abortion: he’s seemingly pro-life and pro-choice at the same time.  In addition, he thinks abortion should be illegal, but if a woman and her family think an abortion is necessary, then nothing should stop them.  Moreover, only a few women are affected annually, so what’s the big deal?

Naturally, his opponents have fired back with lots of charges.  Former example, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, who also opposes contraceptives, immediately attacked Cain’s uneasy stance: “Herman Cain’s pro-choice position is similar to those held by John Kerry, Barack Obama and many others on the liberal left. You cannot be both personally against abortion while condoning it – you can’t have it both ways. We must defend the defenseless, period.”

His comments were muted by two factors: they were included in a fundraising letter, and he trails badly in the Republican preference polls while Cain and Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are battling for the lead.

The effort to hoist abortion as an issue in the presidential campaign is doomed to failure.  Although it remains part of the litmus test of a “true” conservative, candidates who have run solely on an anti-abortion stance have consistently lost elections around the country.

More importantly, it ignores the basic issue, one that I realized back in Cleveland. 

This is not a religious issue.  After all, according to published figures, “13 percent of abortion patients describe themselves as born-again or Evangelical Christians while 22 percent of U.S. women are Catholic.”  That’s an awful lot of people from usually pro-life groups that Santorum and his ilk are trying get votes from with an anti-abortion stance. 

It’s not a class or racial issue.  Women who get abortions come from all social levels and ethnic backgrounds.  About 57 percent have college degrees.

No, this issue is not even about babies; it’s about women.

They do not choose to have an abortion casually.  It is a difficult decision to undergo any kind of medical procedure, however safe the operation has become.  Studies of abortion patients show that the decision to have an abortion is based on various significant reasons.  Many lack the money or the ability to start a family or increase the size of an existing family.  About 66 percent actually plan “to have children when they are older, financially able to provide necessities for them, and/or in a supportive relationship with a partner so their children will have two parents.”

Another large group has decided to end their pregnancies because they face severe health issues if they continue or their fetus has severe abnormalities. 

In addition, “about 13,000 women each year have abortions because they have become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.”

Over all, about 1.3 million women a year make this difficult decision.  That’s almost identical the number of abortion performed annually before 1973.  The reality is that about 1.3 million women in this country a year will get abortions legally or illegally.  Should they undergo the procedure in the best possible conditions rather than be forced, like my friend, to trust her health to an unlicensed doctor whose interest was focused on income and avoiding legal problems and not on his patient?

Those opposing abortions focus on the babies.  They ignore the women.  That’s what was done before the women’s rights movement, too.  It’s not a good idea.  Women are intelligent enough, capable enough and responsible enough to make medical decisions affecting their own lives and bodies.

If that was not clear decades ago, it certainly should be by now.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at

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