Fight poverty and promote sex education to reduce abortions

(February 3, 2014)

The debate about reproductive rights taking place on Capitol Hill and in many state legislatures has elicited a great deal of emotional and inflammatory rhetoric. It is time to take a look at some facts.

The most important fact is that no one is “pro-abortion.” Ideally, pregnancies are planned, wanted and healthy; there are no threats to the life or to the physical or emotional well-being of the mother and no serious abnormality of the fetus. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We know that there are tragic fetal abnormalities, conceptions that result from rape and incest, and dangerous pregnancies that threaten a woman’s health. Most people would agree on the sad need to terminate such pregnancies.

No matter what side of the debate we are on, we all want to reduce the number of abortions. The conversation should focus on how to do that.

What if we actually decided to think clearly about what might work? The most significant steps would be: decreasing poverty, increasing the availability of high-quality sex education and ensuring affordable access to contraception. Yet those who propose laws to restrict reproductive rights seem uninterested in legislation that might actually reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, thus reducing the number of abortions.

The opponents of reproductive rights have found a new argument to promote their cause: fiscal conservatism. They want to assure that the federal government pays neither for abortions nor contraception, regardless of the fact that these are constitutionally protected rights. Focusing on financial concerns certainly plays better in the media than discussions of “legitimate rape.”

The U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice recently held a hearing on the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” Unbelievably, the committee is all male! In an attempt to prevent any federal money from covering abortion (already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment), the subcommittee also seeks to eliminate the medical-expense deductions for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to a mother’s life. Who, in the end, would decide the definition of rape, incest and life-threatening conditions? The Internal Revenue Service! Not surprisingly, no one suggests eliminating federal funding to cover Viagra. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, once suggested that women should be forced to give birth to a fetus without brain function if that fetal abnormality is found after 20 weeks. We have to wonder what a difference having women on the committee would make.

There is a difference between personal opposition to abortion and allowing government to be the agency that makes the decision. It is incomprehensible that those individuals who want less government involvement in business and social programs want more government intrusion into our doctors’ offices. Perhaps if they paid less attention to what is happening in our bedrooms and more to what is taking place in our boardrooms, we might solve many of the problems that plague our cities and our nation.

Perhaps the answer is an ultrasound to find out what is going on with women’s paychecks, job opportunities and promotions before we decide to require a medically invasive ultrasound to see what is going on in their wombs. Such an ultrasound would tell us that the answer to reducing abortion is access to sex education in schools, access to contraception, affordable child care, pay equity and reasonable maternity and sick leave. It is time to fill that prescription.

Sasso is rabbi emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.