It’s Mother’s Day today, and I cannot think of a better way to honor that than to talk about abortion. That may seem ironic or odd to some, but I believe motherhood is a choice, and children should have mothers that make that choice consciously. I actually drafted this entry yesterday on a plane headed back from San Francisco. I’ve spent more days in hotel rooms than homes over the last two weeks, and as predicted, life has been too busy to write. That said, I’ve also had more press than usual to read, as ever since Politico leaked the Supreme Court draft opinion that would strike down Roe, I am glued to digesting the reactions of others such as Bari Weiss, the WSJ, the NYT, Atlantic Magazine, and The Economist. On Friday, my dad texted me that he was done with Andrew Sullivan, a well-respected Substack columnist we both read often. I finished reading his column on the plane just before takeoff, and it left me feeling compelled to express my thoughts. I spent the majority of the flight back to New York writing.
I like Andrew Sullivan’s point-of-view most of the time. He’s politically centered and a strong believer in individual rights and libertarian principles. In his column this week, he argued that Roe should be struck down, not because he’s pro-life (I have no idea if he is or not), but because the legality of abortion in the U.S. should be determined by legislatures. I understand why my dad reacted: Sullivan condemned others’ emotional assertions about the repercussions of the likely decision, and he did so in a way which seemed to ignore how emotional and weighty an issue this is for so many. He was pretty unsympathetic which is ironic given how often he talks and writes about how important gay rights are to him.
That said, I actually agree with Sullivan that abortion rights should be governed by explicit law versus court case decisions. Where I find fault is in Sullivan’s conclusion: he suggests that given the majority of the U.S. voting population believes that some level of abortion should be legal, striking down Roe won’t create issues because it will lead to state laws that provide for access to the procedure. The problem with this conclusion is multi-fold. First, Sullivan doesn’t give enough credence to the way gerrymandering skews state elections to more extreme candidates such that popular opinion often doesn’t govern what legislation can accomplish. Second, Sullivan doesn’t weigh the fact that abortion access is not a single-issue determinant for so many voters, and so it may not be able to sway enough elections towards candidates who are pro-choice. Beyond his assertion that pro-choice laws will prevail, Sullivan’s assumption ignores how variable access based on trigger state laws will impact women’s health immediately – whether that be through the expected increase in maternal death rates related to abortion or the mental burden of carrying to term and raising (or giving away for adoption) an unwanted child (whether for economic or other reasons). Further, he doesn’t even acknowledge the very real belief of so many women that their bodies are just theirs to govern.
I am not one to say I cannot see the other side of the abortion issue. I realize that many believe that what I consider to be a grouping of cells is a human soul. And if that is one’s view, I understand why he or she would oppose abortion. Yet I can never quite grasp why that same believer doesn’t seem to value equally the health and wellness of the woman carrying the fetus. She too is a human being, and at least for the first trimester, the only viable one in this scenario.
I recently read an article detailing the legal process that resulted in striking down the U.S. mask mandate on public transportation. The legal challenge was brought forward by a group that argued individual liberties were violated by the mask mandate – essentially asserting that an individual’s rights in this case were superior to the public health interest. Those advocating for individual rights in this case were suggesting they should be able to choose their actions, even though they would be endangering the lives of others around them. I’d wager many of those same people are against abortion rights – happy to argue for individual liberties that endanger others’ lives when it’s a liberty they want, while condemning a woman who believes she should be able to choose whether to abort an unviable fetus because of her individual rights when that is what she wants.
I have been thinking about what to do given the likelihood that Roe will be struck down in June. Protests feel a bit futile; giving money to provide for greater access feels helpful but not enough; escorting women into clinics interests me but I spend the majority of my time in states where access is easy and few protest at clinics. I will investigate escorting when I go back to Florida in the fall. I’m considering training and volunteering to support women who choose pill-based abortions, though I am worried about states that may enact laws making that support a crime. After reading Sullivan, though, I realize that one of the most important things I can do is give and work to support pro-choice candidates both at the state and federal level. I vote in Florida where what ensues post-Roe is unclear. And while I think Sullivan misses so much, he is right that, despite gerrymandering and time delays, electing pro-choice officials is our best route to making abortion legal though a process that doesn’t rely on the court.
Today, I am celebrated for motherhood. I am fortunate that I was able to choose this path – I know I am a better mother because of that right. And in the face of the threat to Roe, whether that come this June or later, I hope all mothers (and fathers) who agree will turn our efforts toward ensuring our daughters don’t lose their right to choose when and if to become mothers too.