Roe V. Wade Isn’t Actually About Choice

Sometimes I see a meme that genuinely helps me think differently about a topic. We’ve allowed the discussion about abortion to become a discussion around the word choice. I understand the decision to focus on that word. But the fact of the matter is, the discussion about abortion should be about medical safety and health (even though there’s a problem with that right now*).

The Roe V. Wade decision occurred when I was about 15 years old. I didn’t even know it had happened, really. But, as the years passed, I learned and grew in my understanding of the issues. I’m sure there were times when I was modestly conservative on the issue (meaning it should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, woman’s life in danger, etc.) because I was politically moderately conservative in my early college years.

But, I was raised by a single mom, so my ‘women should be independent’ vibe is very strong. So, I’ve long favored a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. I have known for about 25 years that the main issue for me isn’t if women will have abortions. Women always have and will have abortions when they so choose, no matter the law. The issue is if those abortions will be safe for the woman.

I became clued-in on that perspective when a very proper woman of South Carolina heritage said at a party in a voice loud enough to carry through three rooms of the party from the table where the topic was under discussion, “We will not go back.” And the table fell silent, all heads turned, and she said, “I mean it.” That made me curious so that I was open to learning what will not go back meant. As the ensuing years passed I would be open to learning what women would go through to get abortions in the years prior to Roe V. Wade. Scenes in movies or books would include something either obliquely or directly about the bad old days: The expensive travel to far away states where it was legal for those who could afford it, the back alley ‘doctors’, the coat hangers, and the horror drugs.

That clinched it for me, all women must have access to safe and legal abortion. The choice is for the individual woman to make based on her own life circumstances, heart and mind. If you believe abortion is wrong, don’t have one. The clinic is not for you, but for the women who choose it. The mere availability of abortion does not force any woman to have one.

Over recent years the debate increasingly has been framed as Right to Life versus Choice. I was never much troubled by that because it’s not that I’m pro-abortion. I simply believe that each individual should have the choice and implicit in that choice is availability of safe and legally available abortion provisioning. Never have I (nor anyone anywhere, I’ll wager) thought: Hey abortions are available right around the corner and you are pregnant, maybe you should have an abortion instead, because Choice! That’s ludicrous, but sometimes seems to be the way the Forced Pregnancy framers (see below) want to make it look. And, the Choice frame does lend itself to such hyperbole, because its meaning has a note of trivialization of the process. “What movie should we rent? I don’t know, what are our choices?”

Right to Life vs Choice is a false framing of the debate and has lost its value, I worry. It is actually Forced Pregnancy versus Safe and Legal Access (for the dim-witted: Forced Pregnancy is the Right to Life side and Safe and Legal Access is the Choice side).

This is the meme that reminded me of what is actually at stake. I’m sure it has been around for a long time. I just happened to see it for the first time today. I’m glad I saw it, that my thinking was renewed and it led to me writing this.


So, let’s get to work making sure people understand this is about Safe and Legal Access.

*The problem is that medical safety and health concepts are being coopted by right wing politicians as justification for creative methods of restricting abortion. So, they make it so clinics must have physicians with admitting privileges at a local hospital (Texas, for example). Or, they claim in Utah that the fetus must be anesthetized to ensure it feels no pain, against evidence to the contrary and lack of evidence of effective anesthesia for a fetus. So, medical safety and health concepts are being stolen from the choice-oriented forces. They had better figure out how to prevent this from getting worse before they lose all their political ground.