As most of us have seen by now, there is widespread debate following the leak of a Supreme Court document that reveals a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade. Whether or not the nearly 50-year-old ruling is overturned, the opinions and insults are flying across social media. There are discussions about policy, faith, and the law – but what about the real people who would be affected by overturning Roe? It is the belief of our Catholic Faith and of my own conscience that life begins at conception – and focusing on the dignity of the human person is of the utmost importance as we once again wade into bitterly charged waters.
The Realities that Lead to Abortion
I know women who have had abortions. They are real, living people that I love, and most of them kept an oath-like silence about their decision to have an abortion out of fear for how they would be treated if people knew they were pregnant – or out of fear of actual violence. Decades ago, a relative of mine was taken to have an abortion in secret by someone (now deceased) who was one of the most serious pro-life people I’ve known. They were both certain that if the man of the house found out that this then-16-year-old girl was pregnant, he would beat her until she miscarried. For those women in my family, having an abortion seemed to them a matter of harm reduction in a situation that was already precarious and abusive. Contrary to what some may have us believe, most people seek abortion neither because they hate babies, nor love abortion.
The grizzly reality of abortion is that it is often an act of desperation. Sometimes, this desperation is born of shame, guilt, or fear. In many cases, the prospect of bringing a child into the world is simply too much. Another still grizzlier reality is that even if overturning Roe leads to states enacting strict anti-abortion laws, abortions in America will not stop completely. Rather, in some cases, the lengths to which women will go to get an abortion will become more extreme.
Possible Challenges Created by Overturning Roe
Abortion has existed across human communities for centuries, whether or not we agree with the practice. The existence of abortion does not hinge on the legality of the action itself. Even with an overturning of Roe, women could travel to another state in search of legal abortion. Regardless of Roe’s fate, women will still seek abortions, and we will still need to support women whose circumstances have driven them to consider abortion.
Given this reality, we need to take a serious look at the reasons why women have abortions, as well as the challenging situations that could be created by overturning Roe. For example, if abortion becomes illegal in many states, as is predicted should Roe v. Wade be overturned, the question necessarily follows: Who will bear the brunt of the criminalization of abortion?
It should be of concern to all of us, but in particular those of us who are engaged in social justice work that nearly 50% of all women who seek abortion live below the federal poverty line. Additionally, Black women, who make up only 13% of all women in the U.S. receive over a third of abortions. Considering the staggering rate of incarceration in the U.S. (we make up just about 5% of the world’s population but over 25% of the world’s incarcerated) and the fact that women are the fastest growing prison population, it gives me pause when a proposed alternative to legal abortion is tossing the women who seek them in jail – especially in a broken system that disproportionately impacts people along racial and class lines. While few proposed laws against abortion would criminalize or punish the women who seek them, we need to watch out for those laws that would.
Respecting the Dignity of All, Regardless of Roe’s Fate
If our goal really is to preserve and uphold dignity for all, we must be honest about the realities of moving towards outlawing a practice firmly embedded in American society. If we want to confront the culture of death and disposability, we must do so in ways that are not only compassionate and full of Christlike love for women who have had abortions, but also in ways that critique the very conditions that led women to the clinic in the first place.
FemCatholic and other organizations, both religiously-affiliated and secular, are providing a fresh take on what it means to be pro-life: a holistic, “womb to tomb” approach that looks under every rock to figure out how we got to the legalization of abortion in the first place. It’s not too late to join in initiatives for widespread paid maternity leave, comprehensive healthcare, and other policies meant to support mothers. We have far more options than standing on the street corners, holding signs. Now is the time for wide-eyed witness, full of compassion for all who are tangled up in this messy experiment of democracy and freedom we call America.