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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 — Houston, TX

Letter to the Editor: Pro-autonomy after Roe: what the life debate ignores

By Imogen Brown and Georgia Jensen     11/28/23 10:39pm

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors. 

When “Pro-Life After Roe” was published in the Thresher, we were in the midst of finalizing a semester-long report on the state of reproductive rights in Texas. We had spent the day compiling firsthand accounts of the panic, pain and trauma produced by abortion bans. It felt necessary to address the guest opinion and confront the harms of abortion restrictions. 

We first want to establish that the debate over when “life” begins acts as a detached, moralistic distraction from the real consequences of abortion restrictions. How to weigh the “life” of a fetus against that of the pregnant person and what makes “life” worth protecting are long-disputed philosophical questions. We should be discussing the realities of abortion bans and the harm inflicted on communities when healthcare is policed and politicized. We believe that the inflammatory rhetoric of the “life” debate inhibits open conversation around abortion. When one side denounces the other as supporting murder, it becomes impossible to engage in constructive dialogue. 

At its core, abortion is about autonomy. Since the Dobbs decision, over a dozen states have implemented near-total abortion bans. In Texas, abortion provision is a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison. The majority of Americans and the majority of Texans support abortion rights, yet their intimate reproductive decisions are constrained and scrutinized by an anti-abortion minority. 

“Pro-Life After Roe” claims to champion “the forgotten in society,” but people of color, low-income individuals, immigrants, minors and other marginalized populations face disproportionate health and financial consequences when abortion is limited. One study found that over 72% of people who were denied abortions ended up living in poverty. In Texas, Black women suffer the highest risk for poor birth outcomes. 

Texas law includes vague exceptions for “life-saving” abortions that thrust physicians into murky legal territory and threaten pregnant people’s lives. The opinion sidesteps the issue of medically necessary abortions by claiming that certain life-saving procedures are not abortions because they do not intend to terminate the fetus. This ignores myriad circumstances in which intentional abortion procedures are absolutely medically necessary. Over 20 accounts from the ongoing Zurawski v. the State of Texas case attest to the horrors of denying necessary abortion care. Many of the plaintiffs sought abortions because their fetuses displayed fatal abnormalities like anencephaly that would — and often did — endanger the plaintiffs’ lives if carried to term. Why should someone be brought to the brink of death before being allowed a medically necessary procedure? 

Abortion restrictions exacerbate the extraordinary dangers of being pregnant in Texas. Texas already has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation. Over 46% of Texas counties are designated “maternity care deserts,” with some residents traveling up to 70 miles to reach the nearest birthing hospital. The criminalization of abortion providers has further resulted in an outflux of medical professionals who provide essential pregnancy and gynecological care. Texas laws both demand that people carry their pregnancies to term and make it remarkably unsafe to do so.

“Pro-Life After Roe” argues that religious organizations supplement prenatal support, but the link provided by the author directs readers to a chain of self-admitted crisis pregnancy centers. Often faith-based, CPCs are anti-abortion organizations that masquerade as licensed healthcare facilities. They target uninsured, low-income populations by offering free ultrasounds, then do everything in their power to deter people from seeking abortions. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at least 71% of CPCs spread damaging misinformation, including claims that abortion carries cancer and infertility risks, and lie to people about how far along they are in their pregnancies. Worst of all, they are often state-funded. Crisis pregnancy centers intentionally deceive people in order to propagate religious, anti-abortion agendas. Where is the “truth, mercy and love” in that?

The Rice bubble does not protect us from the fallout of abortion restrictions. One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, the majority of whom are young adults. These are our peers, friends and loved ones, and we must center their realities. On both sides of the abortion debate, circular theorizing about “life” has produced an ideological stalemate. But we can no longer afford to ignore the real harms of abortion restrictions by discussing this issue in a moralistic vacuum. We owe each other honest, pragmatic conversations that challenge preconceived notions, misinformation and stigma. As “Pro-Life After Roe” stated, every person has immutable dignity. Under any circumstance, forcing a person to remain pregnant plainly violates that dignity. 

We are responsible for shifting the language on our campus — for recognizing abortion, not as a philosophical question but as an essential right. Abortion is a personal decision. Abortion is healthcare.

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