The silent majority must stand against America’s new abortion bans
I was originally pretty hesitant to write this at first because — if it isn’t obvious — I am a man. I never had, nor have any intention to have, a uterus and to bear children. Unlike other things I have written about, as a man I lack the personal experience to specifically put myself in the shoes of the women involved in a crisis where they must consider an abortion. Indeed, many women are hurt and frustrated at the arrogance of men in power to legislate on a topic that will never directly affect them. But silence is no longer a luxury we can afford, it is now time to speak up. It should be clear now, more than ever, that the politicians who pass these laws do not speak for the majority of women nor the majority of men. The majority of Americans are against these recent draconian restrictions and politicians need to know it.
This majority bears out in polling: according to a 2018 survey from Gallup 79% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances while according to another 2018 survey from Pew Research Center estimates that nearly 60% believe it should be legal in all or most cases. Yet despite this, Gallup also says that Americans are split 48–48% on identifying as pro-choice or pro-life. How can such large majorities get whittled down by political identity-making?
Taking a look across the pond from the US in Northern Ireland (unlike my native Great Britain) abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances yet Amnesty International estimates that two thirds of people there want to see abortion decriminalised and much larger majorities of 80% want to see it legal for cases of risk to the mother’s health as well as in cases of rape and incest. The reality is that all major political parties in Northern Ireland have found themselves at the whims of a vocal minority of extreme anti-abortion activists resulting in Northern Ireland having some of the toughest abortion laws in the EU. Northern Ireland has divisive politics to say the least, but an unfortunate side effect of this is the dismissal of most of the citizenry and catastrophic consequences for women.
Some might dispute my use of the term “extreme” — to many of those engaged in the abortion debate it is a clear cut case of right and wrong — but in reality there is a spectrum of opinion: pregnancy (being a long process with various development stages) offers many disputable points where individuals can use their own judgement to determine where termination can no longer be acceptable. The landmark Roe v. Wade ruling decided that point would be viability outside the womb- a standard of 24–28 weeks after the last period before pregnancy. Some however might point at recent medical advances to show that 21 weeks may be closer to a 0% chance of viability, some might point to the 12th and 13th weeks as the point where embryos undergo foetal development. Pro-life extremists, who wish to draw that point at conception, are fully aware that opinions are divided and use divide and conquer tactics to shift the law in their direction.
As of May 2019, we have seen laws on time limits far beyond those discussed above. Missouri has passed a law to restrict abortion from 26 to 8 weeks. Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia have passed laws restricting it to 6 weeks whereas Alabama has recently passed a bill to ban it almost entirely. It is important to note, as U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out in a viral tweet, 6 weeks pregnant is merely 2 weeks late on your period — a far from uncommon occurrence for many women. In her words “this is a backdoor ban”.
Abortion is, and will remain, a contentious topic and a difficult choice for any woman to make. The passions that inflame those vocal enough to engage in abortion discourse do not rest with most people who tend to weigh the issue much more hesitantly. These people, and I will freely admit that included me, have remained in uncomfortable silence and moral disengagement — allowing laws, which we do not agree with, to come to pass. Can you still be pro-choice and uncomfortable with late term abortions? Of course you can, but hardline anti-abortion activists know this and stress (or often lie about) the developed-like features of foetuses and embryos to appeal to our compassion and humanity. Many are then left undecided and disengaged- abstaining from helping people that need our support.
But our compassion and humanity must extend beyond shrugging and chin-scratching at where we pinpoint time limits. The consequence of silence means shorter and shorter limits with ever more dangerous consequences for women. At best that will mean being forced to carry to term — with fear of jail time if you have a miscarriage — or at worst leading to unsafe, unregulated abortions at home or by black market providers. And to the wealthy, abortion is always legal so long as you have a plane ticket, but for the young and the poor restricting abortion affects them first and foremost. Abortion bans do not completely ban abortion, they simply ban safe abortions for society’s most vulnerable. Finding the right balance is more than simply defining personhood, it is about ensuring that safety and security is provided for all women.
Across both Northern Ireland and the United States we are finding silent majorities — people who are not engaging in the discourse but who fundamentally still support a woman’s right to abort her pregnancy. It is a diverse group of people: various religious backgrounds, young and the old, rich and poor and men as well as women. Many women are speaking out about the current spate of laws but is crucial for a cross-section of society to speak out; especially those who normally try to sit out of the debate. By producing a broad show of support, those in power will be forced to listen beyond those who wish to ban abortion.