In his recent op-ed about abortion, Kenneth Burchfiel ’13 claims to “support life.” He equates abortion with the Nazi genocide of Jews and other non-Aryan groups and he implies, with an infantile reference to Disney movies, that those who are involved in providing abortions and those who choose to have abortions only do so because they are somehow blissfully unaware that abortion is actually evil.
It is easy to invoke Nazism to generate an instinctive emotional revulsion and it is easy to apply the blanket label of “evil” to the practice of abortion. At best, the article suffers from a lack of intellectual rigor, and at worst it displays that particular brand of paternalistic misogyny so familiar to those who follow the abortion debate.
Nowhere is this more evident than when Burchfiel claims that the use of the words “women,” “choice” and “rights” are somehow linguistic manipulations designed to promote the practice of abortion. Let me be clear: no woman wants to find herself in a position where she must choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. It is an emotional agony.
Abortion is not good, but it is a necessity. Access to abortion gives women autonomy not just over their own bodies, but also over their own lives. The abortion debate is not black and white; it is not an either-or. Those who are pro-life often decry the “evils” of abortion as baby-killing. Let’s not be blunt — abortion is the termination of life. But what Kenneth Burchfiel and those who agree with him are saying is that the life of the child is worth more than the life of the mother. What they are really saying is that women who get pregnant are to blame, which is misogynistic. This worldview reduces women to the role of incubators and little else.
Additionally, this oversimplified argument ignores the sociocultural context of why women have abortions. Instead of categorizing abortion as evil, and thereby stigmatizing women who have abortions, we should be asking ourselves who gets abortions and why? According to statistics published by the Guttmacher Institute, of the women who had abortions in 2008, 42 percent were living on incomes below the federal poverty line and 50 percent were below the age of 25. Women who identified as non-white accounted for 61 percent of abortions. Instead of stigmatizing these women and claiming that they have abortions because of some inherent moral fallacy, we should be probing deeper about the factors that account for these statistics. Why is it that these demographics in particular are likely to find themselves in a situation where they choose abortion? What do these statistics say about our priorities as a society?
In fact, why do women choose abortion since they know, though Burchfiel assumes they don’t, that it is morally ambiguous territory? The most common reasons cited (again, by the Guttmacher Institute) are lack of financial and personal security. In short, many women weigh the personal and financial cost to themselves and their unborn child against the emotional toll of choosing an abortion and they settle for the latter. If abortion is made illegal, what support will be available for women who don’t feel financially or personally ready or able to raise a child? To those who claim to “support life,” in what ways are you working towards providing women with the support they would need to raise children they do not feel prepared to have?
It is perhaps because Burchfiel grew up in the 1990s watching Disney movies that he does not understand the extremes to which desperate women will go to ensure that neither they nor their potential children are subjected to the reduced quality of life that comes along with having children before one feels able to raise them properly. He does not understand that the Roe v. Wade decision was made at a time when illegal abortions caused countless unavoidable and violent deaths, and he does not understand that, if abortion becomes illegal, we will go back to that gruesome dark ages of women’s rights.
DANA WESTMORELAND ’13 is from Middletown, Conn.