Talk straight about abortion

Travis Knoll

Editor's Note: This piece is one in a series of op-eds written by UT students that The Daily Texan will be publishing in response to the ongoing debate in the Texas Legislature over enacting stricter abortion regulations.

Even if it fails this session, Texas Senate Bill 5, which seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks, seems to be gaining moral and popular support in the state. As a practicing Catholic, I am appalled by the grotesque reality of abortion epitomized by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a physician who practiced abortions in Philadelphia and was convicted of homicide for performing partial birth abortions on three babies. I support the Senate bill  on principle, although I have a suspicion that these tighter restrictions alone do not make the state “pro-life.”  

Potential laws are effective when their social costs, not just their moral benefit, are considered and are dangerous when they are blindly imposed from above as mandates. Because of this position, I often find myself at odds with many of my Catholic friends who believe that if abortion is made illegal immediately, our consciences will be clean and society will fall in line.

Even as a practicing Catholic, I  strongly disagree with the rhetoric that the state of Texas uses in framing the abortion debate. More honesty is needed: The push for the bill is not about a paternalistic drive to protect women from those scheming abortion doctors that would try to trick them; it’s about restricting abortion, period.

These extra restrictions are not primarily for the purpose of protecting the health of the mother, although one of the restrictions, which requires that a doctor have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, which is to say he or she is tied to, and accountable to, a hospital, may seem perfectly logical. These new restrictions are designed to make abortions less accessible in the hopes that the hassle will dissuade wavering women from making an irreversible decision.

Gov. Rick Perry said as much at the 2013 Rally for Life.  There, he paid lip service to the concerns of women, saying that Texas’ restrictions are to show that “protecting the rights of abortion providers and protecting women’s health are not the same thing” and that proposals that would later come before the Legislature are “common sense” measures implemented in surgery rooms across the nation.        However, the essential message came later: “The ideal world is one without abortion, but until then we will continue to pass laws to ensure that abortions are as rare as possible under existing law.”

Indeed, if this law were signed, according to the Washington Post, it would shut down 37 of 42 clinics as they try to comply with the new regulations.

The problem is that we have seen this “ideal” world before, where abortion was illegal, but class divisions created a “two-tiered system of haves and have nots with regard to access to “safe” abortions.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization dedicated to studying abortion and women’s health, about one-fifth of pregnancy-related deaths in 1930 were related to botched abortions. By 1965, although better conditions and antibiotics had caused an overall reduction in deaths, illegal abortions still made up 17% of pregnancy-related deaths.

On the flip side, improvements in technology and legal regulation of abortion procedures have helped reduce the number of deaths associated with abortion. According to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control report, out of 825,564 abortions, performed that year, only 12 deaths were reported from legal abortion, and no deaths were reported from “unsafe” abortions.

So at the end of the day, let’s be honest: SB 5 is not about “ protecting women’s health.” The Texas Legislature is not pushing merely for more term restrictions and safer abortion conditions with legislation that follows Roe v. Wade’s trimester standard, legislation that is supported by 62% of Texans according to a UT/TT poll.  They are pushing to eliminate abortion out of moral conviction.  

If that’s the case, the Legislature has a few questions to answer: In an era of growing austerity, can the state provide for the children that are born? Can the Legislature convince, not cajole, women through effective social policy that having a child is a gift, not a burden? Or, in the ”ideal world” where we ”turn the clock back” on Roe v. Wade, will we turn a blind eye to the inevitable question of how to deal with “unsafe” underground abortions, or worse, use the anti-gay 1980s AIDS crisis rhetoric: “They took the ‘risk’; they paid the ‘price’”?

Unless the state of Texas answers these difficult questions, it will be as complicit in this social problem as the abortion doctors themselves.

Knoll is a first-year masters student in Latin American Studies from Dallas.