Written by Abigail Ceban Keane with Kimmberly Taylor
The topic of abortion, however worn out it may be, still incites fervent debate – a debate that’s drifted further from the truth. For Americans, the nomination, then confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court relit the long-standing desire of conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.
US Abortion debates often rope in the well-known provider of a wide variety of reproductive services. Planned Parenthood. They were targeted in 2015 by an anti-abortion group that secretly filmed executives while posing as a company looking to conduct research with fetal tissue. That footage was then edited to make it appear like Planned Parenthood was profiting from selling aborted fetuses.
“Evidence” that Planned Parenthood should be shut down now, is based purely on the allegation that another company is using aborted fetuses in their creams. The company in question, Neocutis, actually harvested protein cells from a privately donated aborted fetus to create an experimental cream to heal severe dermatological issues. For instance, they researched the healing potential of fetal cells to accelerate “the repair process and reduce scarring in severe burns and wounds.”
To be clear, as described here, the procedure is a gross oversimplification. Where “fetus cells” actually means “proteins derived from cultured skin cells”, and the fetus should be replaced with “a terminated pregnancy that could not survive to term and was deemed medically necessary by the attending physicians.” It’s a bit lengthy, but you get it. What should further be considered is the number of people such research could help in the future.
Now what is demonstrated through these extensive qualifications is that the issue of “donating fetuses” is more complicated than just that, not only is it ethically and morally confusing, but also scientifically.
Yet somehow, the “real” experts don’t know how to back down.
The Morality Angle
Once you get past the initial thread of misinformation, you get to the ideological opinions. First, on abortion: is it murder? And if so, can it be justified? Whether or not abortion is considered murder is more a matter of perspective, and that matter won’t be touched upon in this piece. However, the question of justification is a difficult and pertinent one.
To the claim that women should know better than to have sex without taking birth-control, that with common sense they can foresee the outcome and should be prepared, the sarcastic voice of reason replies, “Force her to have a kid she can’t feed, clothe, educate, house or protect while cutting every program that exists to help her, while absolving men of any responsibility for their role in the situation, including rape…I’d call them pro-birthers, not pro-lifers.”
Note that the argument still speaks of two lives, or at least of a life and the potential for another life. If this potential life is calculated to be extremely unfavourable (presumably with the same common sense that urges one to use contraception), then is it not reasonable for a mother to want to prevent the future misery, deprivation, or possible death that could come after carrying out a pregnancy? To be clear, this is not a suggestion that women should get abortions whenever faced with uncertainty. However, personal health and the future wellbeing of a newborn, or the lack thereof, are considerations some women have to face, especially when it comes to unplanned pregnancy, be it an accident in spite of precautions or the result of rape.
The Tax Angle
Thus, setting aside a lengthy philosophical debate on the notion of life, it’s preservation, and the prevention of harm (assuming there is no truly correct answer), the question then becomes: who decides on when abortion is justified, or whether it is justified at all? This is where the second contention lies: taxes.
Sure, this isn’t the most intuitive way to think about stakeholders, but just as pacifists condemn the use of taxpayers’ money for supporting military interventions, so are others opposed to inadvertently funding a cause that contradicts their beliefs.
In the context of the US, discussing the issue of taxes funding abortions is mostly irrelevant because abortions are not part of the public health services provided by the state, and out of the only 2 programs that do cover the sexual health of women (Title X and Medicaid), only one provides coverage for abortions. Furthermore, of the 32 states where Medicaid provides coverage for abortions, it is generally restricted to cases of rape, incest, and the endangerment of the woman’s health. Essentially, this entire discussion is just the result of more misinformation and oversimplification.
However, if we were to continue this discussion under the false assumption that Planned Parenthood is funded by taxpayers’ money, the vast majority of the services provided by the organization aren’t abortions. Instead, most of their services cover the testing and treatment of STIs and contraception. So guess what, if Planned Parenthood ceased to exist, not only would millions of people suffer from an undetected STI, but significantly more lower-class women would get pregnant due to an inability to afford contraceptives, or due to a lack of knowledge regarding sexual health and contraception to begin with.
Some may then rise in protest: “Well hang on, that’s still our money being spent on abortions!” The reply to that is 1) that is statistically likely to be factually incorrect, and 2) if it were true, please suggest a better alternative.
Weighing Your Values
Now given that this debate is mainly centered around the United States, the discussion of values will mainly apply to the US situation in particular. Notably, the US is built on principles of liberty, according to which people should be free to choose how to spend their lives and what decisions to make without judgement or legal prohibition as long as it does not harm others – abortion is no exception. Thus, we come to the final point of dispute: liberalism.
Though most interpret liberty in the way described above, a few people feel that the classical interpretation is a bit broad and that freedom can be exercised, as long as it’s not funded by others. Essentially, this comes back to the argument of “why should my taxes go to abortion if I don’t agree with it?”
Setting liberalism aside for a minute, another important factor that enters the discussion is the idea of helping others. Specifically, when it comes to Planned Parenthood, one of the central reasons the organization is often defended is the fact that it helps the less fortunate by providing the sexual health services they need for free or at an affordable price – something the US social security services don’t cover. Interestingly enough, according to a 2018 poll by Reuters, many Americans feel that Medicare should be expanded to operate similarly to the universal healthcare programs found in Europe. This demonstrates that many US citizens value a system that provides for the less fortunate (at least when it comes to medical care).
So, the resulting three key values that at the core of the abortion argument are personal beliefs, helping others, and freedom. Realistically, all three of these can’t be compatible in the case of abortion if one holds on to traditional values. Now the following segment is a thought experiment that will outline the three main options that can result from a weighing of those values.
What are the options?
There’s an old rule that projects want to be good, fast, and cheap, but can only have two of the three qualities. Let’s assume the same goes for the three key values.
The first option is to forget freedom, but have an effective social security system that complies with your personal beliefs. It isn’t a stretch to say that this system is impossible if it were to be based on everyone’s ideologies.
The second possibility is to screw the less fortunate, but maintain the principles of freedom and personal beliefs. If a majority were to choose an extreme version of this option, just imagine the hell we’d live in: there’d be no taxes, and therefore no public education, no public services, no social security – in sum, no public goods that we take for granted every day.
Finally, there is the case of endorsing freedom and care for others, while putting your personal beliefs aside. This may be the most optimistic option, but it is also the highest chance of coming true since 59% of US Adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 70% of Americans support universal health care.
Given the arguments outlined above, it is easy to understand why the discussion on abortion rights hasn’t been settled. In the end, it is often an issue of conflicting beliefs and general misinformation. What is important for us, as an audience, is to look at information critically, and to form our opinions based on careful considerations of real facts, as well as on our weighing of what beliefs and values we want to hold dearest in our society.