Guest Commentary

Decisions about abortion don’t belong in the hands of lawmakers

Stacey Newman, director of ProgressWomen
Stacey Newman, director of ProgressWomen

Recently The Kansas City Star’s editorial board wrote about “abortion extremists,” indicating there are extreme views on both ends. They mentioned “powerful lobbies and religious fervor on both sides” but neglected to include one key factor: real women.

As a term-limited former Missouri state representative, I know well the arguments the majority party in the Capitol advances in using abortion health care as a political weapon. But I also know that not one woman has ever said, “Hey legislator, would you accompany me to my OB-GYN appointment?”

In all of my doctor’s appointments for reproductive care, I never once thought to ask a legislator’s opinion. I guarantee no other woman has either, unless it involved her spouse or partner.

Abortion care is a safe, legal, constitutionally-protected procedure used by women at various stages of pregnancy for a million reasons that are none of anyone’s business. The Star’s editorial failed to mention that national medical organizations oppose proposals designed to interfere with the patient-doctor relationship, or that physicians, medical students and patients routinely testify against bills limiting abortion care. Yet conservative-controlled legislatures routinely ignore that testimony by medical experts.

Real women suffer the consequences. One in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime, including Republican, religious women who protest at abortion clinics and routinely oppose abortion in polls or at the ballot box. Real women choose abortion for very-wanted pregnancies gone horribly wrong, yet many states mandate that they are out of luck if they learn of a fatal fetal anomaly or a life-threatening condition after 20 weeks.

The Catch-22 reality? Around 20 weeks of pregnancy is when many of these diagnoses are made.

The fact is that less than 1 percent of abortions take place beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are horrific, heartbreaking decisions. But to those who use these tragedies for political gain — including the president — they are opportunities to rile up an evangelical base with non-scientific data.

The fervor in 30 GOP-controlled state legislatures (including Missouri and Kansas) to challenge Roe v. Wade explains why lawmakers in blue states are advancing measures to protect women and physicians.

It’s easy to rely on polling or religious arguments in making a case for government to interfere with women’s private reproductive decisions, but first gather all the facts. Some religions, including Judaism and Hinduism, believe a women’s life comes first. And we have never ever legislated civil rights in accordance with popular opinion.

Ask any physician who believes in science. Reproductive care is health care and includes abortion procedures, which are sometimes part of normal care after a miscarriage. Each one of us trusts our physicians to provide medically accurate information so we can make educated decisions for ourselves and our bodies. Women deserve that same respect and trust without government or religious interference.

Before conservatives decided to legislate women’s bodies, abortion was legal and commonplace in the United States. It was first used as a political tool in the 1850s to drive midwives out of business, and then to court right-wing zealots in order to win elections.

Today anti-abortion restrictions are used primarily to sway an evangelical base voter who believes in denying women bodily autonomy. Yet recent polling shows 73 percent of voters do not want Roe overturned, and two-thirds of Americans also agree that abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases.

Government-mandated pregnancy is plain wrong. It is not the role of politicians, journalists or strangers to insert themselves in women’s private legal medical decisions, or to pretend that women need to be held hostage as political pawns in the battle for power.

Most of us love a family member or friend who has had an abortion. Next time, ask a woman in your life and trust her.

Stacey Newman is director of ProgressWomen, a political action committee focused on justice and equality issues.