One of the wisest moves our Founding Fathers made when framing the American system of government was instituting a separation between church and state. As a religious person, I appreciate that no one faith can preempt another when it comes to our country’s policies and laws — and that includes laws concerning abortion.
I personally believe that life begins at conception. I believe that an embryo and a fetus are unique human beings. I believe that choosing to terminate a life because of inconvenient timing is wrong. Those beliefs are all rooted in my religious faith, and are why the idea of abortion generally doesn’t sit well with me.
But I can’t laud the separation of church and state and also want my religious beliefs to be the basis for public policy. That’s hypocrisy. I believe that policy should be based on the best data and facts we have available, not an individual or group’s ideology.
And the data shows that the only things consistently proven to reduce abortion rates are good health care for women, comprehensive reproductive education, and easy access to affordable contraception. Outright bans on abortion have not been proven to reduce abortion rates. In fact, countries where abortion is illegal tend to have higher rates of abortion than countries where it is legal.
Here in the United States, the abortion rate has fallen to levels not seen since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Abortion laws vary by state, but abortion rates have fallen in both states with abortion restrictions and those without. The key to those falling rates is not the legality or availability of abortion.
The key to lowering abortion rates appears to be reliable birth control. It is the only thing I have found in my research that is definitively proven to make a significant dent in abortion rates.
So that begs the question: Why aren’t more pro-life advocates out marching for better access to birth control? Why aren’t more pro-life advocates out campaigning for contraception to be free and easily obtained for all women? I mean, if that’s the goal — to actually lower the number of abortions taking place — isn’t that where we should be putting most of our energy?
One fatal flaw with the pro-life movement is that the same people who want to ban abortion also support legislation that restricts access to birth control and defunds programs that provide the education and contraceptive access that lead to lower rates of abortion. Pro-choice proponents generally advocate for greater access and funding for those things. Since education and birth control have a greater effect on abortion rates than banning abortion, it makes more sense to me to vote in favor of women’s reproductive rights, which at this point is the domain of the pro-choice movement.
That’s not the only reason I support legislation that keeps abortion legal, however. No matter how black-and-white people try to make abortion, it is not a cut-and-dry topic. Who am I (or our legislators) to preemptively judge the health ramifications of another person’s situation? We simply cannot paint with a broad brush here. I’ve seen too many families who desperately wanted a baby have to go through incredibly painful experiences because their hands were tied by restrictive abortion laws. I’ve read too many real-life stories to believe that laws against abortion tend to do more good than harm.
I’ve seen too much to believe that abortion is always wrong. And as a person of faith, I believe that God — not the government — should be the only judge of that. I believe that God will take care of those babies, whatever the circumstances, and that our job is to take care of the women who are facing extremely difficult choices.
Aside from the fact that abortion restrictions can hurt families, and that I don’t think my religious beliefs should rule other people’s lives, I am a realist. And the reality is that abortion laws don’t do anything to actually stop abortion. Women will still seek out abortion if it’s illegal. Many will either go to places where it’s legal, go to underground providers who may have no idea what they’re doing, or try to perform the procedure themselves. If a woman dies from a botched “back alley” or self-induced abortion, the baby dies too. No one is really saved by banning abortion.
So if you feel called to advocate against abortion, go ahead and do that. If you want to convince women who are considering abortion to make another choice, go for it. You have the right to counsel and advocate all you want. But leave the law out of it.
And if you really want to lower abortion rates, put your weight behind legislation that is most likely to reduce unwanted pregnancy. Start advocating for affordable, accessible birth control, comprehensive sex education, and good health care for everyone. If the goal is to reduce abortion rates — which I assume is the goal of anyone who calls themselves pro-life — that’s the only proven way to do so.