Opinion: Roe was always about more than abortions

Published: 5/19/2022 6:01:59 AM
Modified: 5/19/2022 6:00:13 AM

James Fieseher MD, FAAFP, of Dover is a recently retired primary care physician.

In a narrow and technical sense, the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade allowed doctors to perform a medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy. In a broader sense, it was always much more than abortion, for it addressed inadequacies in our society and in the way our health care system treats women.

In 1973 and continuing to today, basic health care and self-care options were and still are not available to everyone in America. That is a problem for both men and women, but the risks are higher and more numerous for women.

Specifically, pregnancy has always posed a significant health risk for women. It still ranks among the sixth most common cause of death in women. And not all women are prepared to bear children either physically or mentally. But because so many women don’t have adequate access to the resources to prevent an unintended pregnancy, abortion represents the last resort to maintain a sense of control over their own bodies and in some cases, to hold on to life itself.

This means that for many women, abortion has become a Hobson’s choice: the only option. Since a medical procedure is the worst option women have to control their bodies, we need to do more to keep women of childbearing age from getting to that point. Think of it this way, when it comes to unintended pregnancies, if abortion is Plan B, we need to provide all women of childbearing age more options for Plan A.

There are so many missed opportunities in American health and American society that would make abortions so rare that the Supreme Court would be irrelevant when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.

We should start by acknowledging that social media has been the prime source of indoctrinating our sons and daughters about sexuality, often in some of its more bizarre and harmful aspects. Yet, instead of trusting teachers to help our children understand human values and responsibilities when it comes to sexual issues, some groups want to criminalize the educators instead. This has the unfortunate effect of leaving many of our youth to model sexual behavior from other sources such as social media and internet pornography sites. Without support or guidance, teen experimentation often results in unintended pregnancies.

Even if we could somehow control social media and advertisements’ use of sexual imagery to sell products, we could still avoid many unintended pregnancies simply by making birth control more readily available. Again, education is also a key factor here as some adult groups incorrectly assume that making contraceptives and condoms readily available is somehow “giving permission” for increased sexual behavior. They fail to see that the behavior is already happening, making contraceptives available minimizes the risk of diseases and unintended pregnancies. Other countries that make contraceptives and behavior counseling readily available experience very few unintended pregnancies and a far lower rate of pregnancy terminations.

It is long past time that we change our mode of thinking about abortions. Instead of punishing women who are often the victims of rape and other forms of sexual coercion or punishing the doctors who use the few reliable tools they have available to help those women, we need to address the inequities in our health care system and in the way we teach (or fail to teach) our children. The very fact that we are engaged in a heated debate over the legalization of a medical procedure to protect the lives of women is itself a sad commentary on our values as a society.

If we truly value human life and human relationships, then “pro-life” has to be more than just “pro-birth.” We must all be “pro-choice,” but only if those choices include giving women ready access to several options for preventing unplanned parenthood. Pro-choice should also include empowering teenage girls to say “no” to sexual advances and helping boys (not just teenaged) to understand and respect that choice.

But pro-life should not stop at birth. We need to fund the very programs designed to treat women and children with the resources they need to maintain good nutrition and adequate health. This includes childcare programs for working single mothers, affordable housing for young parents, and nutritional programs available in public schools. We also need to provide our children with an education that enables them to make healthy choices about their own sexuality. Such counseling should also facilitate discussions with parents and religious considerations.

Pro-life and pro-choice also means we need to fund programs that can reduce drug and alcohol addiction. Let’s give men and women an alternative to sex for drugs. Doing so will not only reduce the demand for abortions but reduce the number of addicted and impaired children coming into the world.

Reversing the Roe v. Wade decision will not stop or decrease the number of abortions done in the US. It will only make abortions illegal, non-medical and less safe. Only by educating men and women in their formative years and giving women real choices in their medical options will we see fewer unintended pregnancies. Reducing the need for abortions is much more effective than making it illegal. That never worked under prohibition and it won’t work for restricting the rights of women.

It remains to be seen how we approach the upcoming Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade and allow the criminalization of pregnant women and the doctors (and other people) who help them. Making this medical procedure illegal without offering better options for women to prevent unintended pregnancies is cruel and heartless. Instead of punishing the last and most desperate solution for disadvantaged women, let us work together to solve the problem.

Roe v. Wade has always been about more than abortion. It’s time we see that and give women more autonomy over their bodies with healthier options for preventing unintended pregnancies.

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