With the six Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court now authorizing states to cancel freedom of abortion for mothers, Connecticut and other Democratic-led states will maintain protections once established by Roe v. Wade. Many Republican-led states, however, have moved in the opposite direction, banning freedom of abortion well before fetal viability and as early as conception.
These states have made no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape — and other states are preparing to target exceptions that would save the life of the mother. As extreme as it is to have no exceptions, other states are considering going further, seeking to curb abortion-related freedoms, including contraception, as raised by Justice Clarence Thomas.
To preserve the freedom of abortion in all states, activists need to reframe the messaging in the debate. New and effective messaging will persuade voters to elect candidates who will win back this essential freedom in the Republican-led states that want government in charge of making our decisions.
Opponents of the freedom of abortion in the U.S., predominantly in the Republican Party, have advanced four essential arguments in favor of restricting it. First, they believe life begins at conception and, thus, the fetus is life. Aborting the fetus means aborting life.
Second, a mother’s life is equal to that of the fetus she is carrying. So, if push came to shove, some opponents of abortion freedom would have a hard time picking who is more important — not just if the mother were in danger of death during delivery but also for any matters prior to delivery.
Third, a living but miserable kid is better than an aborted one.
Fourth, why get an abortion when you can just put the thing up for adoption — how hard can that be?
These four arguments are often borne out of religion. Through strict Christianity, many opponents of the freedom of abortion have been instructed that life begins at conception. It has motivated them to take their religion to the extreme, wanting to impose their beliefs on everyone else, including on those who have a different religious view.
Hypocritically, many of these same people revere the freedom of religion protected by the U.S. Constitution. In fact, it’s freedom of religion that they’ve pointed to to decline to bake a wedding cake for same-sex couples, or to cover contraception in employee health insurance plans, or to vaccinate their child.
Further, they condemn extremism in other religions, often chastising Sharia law in Islam. In the 1990s, for instance, the Taliban enforced a version of Sharia in Afghanistan to restrict the freedom of women to go to school or leave the home. As a result, high-profile supporters of the freedom of abortion in the U.S. recently have compared extreme Christianity to Sharia.
Though the comparison has drawn criticism from Muslim Americans who believe the comparison is unflattering to Sharia, what are we left to conclude from Christian Sharia extremists who are in positions of power to enforce our freedoms? That freedom of religion only applies to you if you comply with their religious views.
Nonetheless, defenders of the freedom of abortion must directly respond to these arguments with messaging of our own.
- FREEDOM OF RELIGION (from Christian Sharia extremism): While all religions don’t agree that life begins at conception, all religions do agree that life exists at birth. To those who don’t practice Christian Sharia, therefore, abortion is not murder, child abuse, or negligence. This disagreement is exemplified by the Jewish faith. Most adherents of Judaism are taught that life begins at birth, not at conception, and that they must be able to obtain an abortion when needed. In Florida, the leaders of a synagogue are now suing the state over a recently enacted law that would restrict the freedom of abortion to 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exception for rape. The state law, they say, interferes with Jewish law and thus their ability to exercise their religion.
- PRO-LIFE OF THE MOTHER: The mother’s life is more important than the fetus. Full stop. Abortion not only is neither murder nor abuse, but to the contrary, it prevents abuse and harm to the mother. However, while many Republicans and Christian Sharia extremists call themselves “pro-life,” some have indicated they’d easily sacrifice the mother for the fetus. How pro-life. In Wisconsin, for example, legislation is expected to soon be introduced to ban the freedom of abortion with no exceptions whatsoever, not even to save the mother’s life. Creating a new generation of motherless children may be cool to Christian Sharia extremists but not to anyone else.
- PARENTAL RIGHTS: a fetus living blissfully in heaven is better than living in misery on Earth — a (religious) decision that parents should be able to make free of government interference. If Republicans want us to believe that freedom of parental decision-making is essential during Covid and that parents should be the ones to make decisions on their child’s vaccinations and class curriculum, why can’t parents decide for themselves whether to become parents in the first place?
- FEWER TAX INCREASES: life costs money. Indeed, you can put a price on life — $235,000 to be more specific, which is one current estimated cost to raise a child from birth to age 18. After doing the math, parents plan for how many kids they can afford. For those parents unable to afford one or more children, Republicans and opponents of abortion freedom want all taxpayers to foot the bill for all forced births, a bill that comes to $20 billion each year. In effect, Republicans have found a tax increase they’re okay with: they won’t raise taxes to increase benefits for veterans or police, but they’ll take more in taxes from a nurse or mechanic to pay for someone else’s forced birth. How much of the $20 billion could be better invested or returned to struggling middle-class families? As a result of forced births, too many grow up in misery and poverty. Republicans, thus, aren’t putting enough revenue to support forced births as they grow up. In other words, these Republicans are pro-birth but not pro-life.
The final two messaging arguments here having to do with parental rights and fewer tax increases are why Republicans’ “just put the thing up for adoption” argument fails. This casual approach toward adoption is not only costly for taxpayers, but it, too, has led to forced births struggling in foster care, a temporary placement until they’re permanently adopted.
Currently, 420,000 children are waiting in foster care, costing taxpayers at least $9 billion before healthcare expenses are factored in. While parents should maintain the right to give up their child for adoption, it’s a decision that should be left to parents, not to the government. In forcing births into adoption, the government is imposing a one-size-fits-all for all parents, infringing on parental freedom. In short, the government has narrowed parental choices for their children to two: poverty in adoption or poverty at home.
Of course, we can expect the Republican hypocrisy on abortion to continue after abortion is outlawed in their states. In recent years, we’ve heard several accounts of the most ardent Republican opponents of abortion having impregnated women with whom they were having an affair. Surprising no one, these Republicans encouraged their mistresses to obtain an abortion.
Among the examples: a current Tennessee Congressman, a former Pennsylvania Congressman, and a former senior campaign advisor to President Trump. Despite their public and political opposition to abortion, Republicans have maintained one narrow exception in favor of it: abortion should be legal only in the case of a pregnant mistress. This narrow preference for abortion contrasts with progressives’ broader support for it because of the contrast in each party’s ideologies: Democrats are largely driven by empathy while Republicans are driven by individualism. While Democrats tend to care about issues that affect people they don’t even know, Republicans will limit their interests to only issues that personally affect them. It follows then that Republicans will oppose abortion for your wife or daughter, but not for their own — and certainly not for their mistress. In effect, it’s ok for me, but not for thee.
Where opponents of the freedom of abortion will lose on this issue is on their extremism. They won’t be able to help themselves in abusing their power and privilege. Now that states can criminalize freedom of abortion within their borders and to jail mothers who need it, states have already moved in the extreme. Several states have enacted blanket bans that include no exceptions for rape while at least one state is targeting its exception to save the life of the mother. Other states will ban out-of-state travel and medication by mail.
In Texas, after six weeks of pregnancy, a rapist can sue his victim’s doctor for helping the victim seek freedom from raising the rapist’s child. In Missouri, Republican legislators are looking to prevent mothers from traveling to another state for an abortion. In Tennessee, anyone helping mothers to obtain abortion medication in the mail face lengthy jail time.
The people, however, won’t stand for it. As we’ve seen during Covid, many Americans value their liberty, even if it means risking their life. Through persuasive messaging on the freedom of abortion, we can entice more people to join us in electing candidates who will restore freedom.
Riju Das is a Connecticut attorney.