As anti-choice laws and rhetoric become more extreme, so too does the contrast between what anti-choicers claim to believe and what they actually do. They’ve long defended their positions with appeals to the value of human life. Yet a growing number of anti-choicers are explicit in their desire not to do anything to protect the life of the mother.
Republican Joe Walsh, says that abortion laws should contain no exemption to protect the life of the mother. A law that would prohibit Georgia abortion clinics from performing almost all abortions initially contained no exception for rape or incest survivors. Georgia Right to Life still said it wasn’t extreme enough, and urged legislators to remove exemptions to protect the life of the mother. For abortion opponents, the right to life has never extended to living, breathing human women—especially not those who have sex. They’re also uninterested in protecting living human babies. The states with the most restrictive abortion policies also have higher infant mortality rates. Republican lawmakers consistently and steadfastly oppose legislation that could lower abortion rates or improve the health of living babies.
Abortion is about more than choice. Abortion rights protect the lives of women, and improve the lives of the people who love and depend on them. Research consistently shows that banning abortion causes maternal mortality to skyrocket. It also doesn’t lower the abortion rate, and may even cause abortion rates to climb. But preventing life-threatening complications is just the beginning of the abortion story. Abortion is a life-saving procedure, with deep reverberations that echo into an entire family, offering benefits that may extend across generations.
Virtually every country has managed to lower its maternal mortality rate, but the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. has risen. The U.S. is now the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth. Georgia, a state which recently enacted a restrictive abortion law, is the most dangerous state in which to give birth, with a higher maternal mortality rate than more than 100 other countries.
Maternal mortality rates are higher in nations with restrictive abortion laws. A 2019 study even found that loosening abortion restrictions could lower a nation’s maternal mortality rate by 45 women per 100,000, saving hundreds or thousands of lives each year. When abortion is legal, women and their doctors get to decide how much risk the woman is willing to undertake. They don’t have to depend on the judgment of legislators who write “life of the mother” exceptions. Doctors can freely exercise their medical judgment, without fear of being prosecuted or facing the death penalty for doing so. This inevitably saves lives.
An unwanted pregnancy upends a woman’s life. It can expose her to violence and derision. She may suffer complications during childbirth, and will be more likely to live in poverty and less likely to finish school. Some women contemplate suicide, either because of these catastrophic consequences or because of postpartum or prenatal depression. When El Salvador banned abortion, suicide became the leading cause of death among pregnant people.
Domestic violence rates are much higher among pregnant women. Domestic violence rates are also higher in the postpartum period. Domestic violence is traumatic and potentially lethal for both mother and child. Murder, usually by an abusive partner, is the leading cause of death among pregnant women. Abortion gives women the chance to leave abusive relationships, potentially saving their lives. The Turnaway Study has shown that women who do not have abortions following an unwanted pregnancy are more likely to stay in abusive relationships.
Abortion protects both men and women from living in poverty. A 2019 study showed that, compared to adolescent men whose partners gave birth, men whose partners had an abortion had higher educational attainment and higher incomes. Women who are denied abortions are more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to need government assistance. Poverty is a potentially lethal condition. Infant mortality rates are higher in impoverished areas. People living in poverty may die because they can’t afford health insurance, live less healthy lives because of inadequate access to quality food, or be exposed to environmental toxins and pollutants. A child born into poverty is 76% more likely to die before reaching adulthood.
Women do not sacrifice their desire to control their bodies solely because abortion becomes illegal. When abortion is banned, women still seek abortions. The abortions just become less safe. Worldwide, unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal death, and 7 million women are admitted to hospitals every year because of botched abortions. A dead mother means a dead fetus.
If legislators were really concerned with protecting life, they would tackle maternal mortality and child poverty. They would make healthcare accessible and affordable, and sprinkle contraceptives throughout the land. Restriction abortion is about punishing women, even when doing so means killing them and their babies.