As the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic raises new questions and challenges for the future of the United States, a unique new dispute has arisen in the abortion debate.
State governors began issuing orders telling medical centers and outpatient surgery clinics to either shut down for the duration of the crisis, or to postpone or cancel elective surgical procedures. This created a curious dilemma for abortion clinics: Would they shut down and honor the order, or find a way to weasel around the emergency protocols? Claiming that abortion was “essential healthcare”, many clinics nationwide were able to remain open.
The slogan adopted is not new. For the past couple of years, abortion supporters used a new slogan to frame the debate: Abortion is healthcare. Miley Cyrus provided the best example of the new trend in her ridiculous stunt in 2019, licking a cake with the words “Abortion is Healthcare” written in frosting. This isn’t a new concept. As far back as 1990, abortionist Warren Hern asserted in his procedural textbook Abortion Practice that pregnancy should be seen as a sort of illness, and treated as such.1
Of course, cake is not an argument. Neither are pithy slogans, assertions, and publicity stunts.2 And they shouldn’t be accorded the same respect as developed arguments. Those who stamp their feet and angrily insist that “abortion is healthcare” need to do better than make a mere assertion. After all, why should anyone believe that abortion is “healthcare” in the first place?
There are two major problems with the assertion.
First, it simply presumes the unborn are not human beings. This is relatively easy to see. When a pregnant woman goes to see her obstetrician for a checkup, is he working with only one patient, or two? Are prenatal checkups an essential part of healthcare? It would seem that, without question, they undoubtedly are.
This highlights the contradictory nature of claiming that abortion is healthcare. A doctor who specializes in prenatal medicine is interested in keeping an unborn child alive and healthy through the duration of pregnancy, just like doctors in other specializations are interested in ensuring their patients remain alive and healthy, even while impacted by a medical condition such as disease, disability, or injury. If healthcare is interested in the health and well-being of a patient, then it’s ridiculous to claim that a procedure with the specific intent to end the life of the patient in question is also a form of healthcare.
Some will object and claim that since pregnancy can lead to poor health in women, due in part to various complications that may arise in her mental health and even her physical health, as a result of the stress of being pregnant. This was part of the justification for later abortions given in the Supreme Court case of Doe v. Bolton, when the Court asserted that all aspects of a woman’s health need to be taken into account, not merely the physical.
It’s true, if we define health in a broad sense, abortion may lead to an increase in a mother’s overall health to a degree. However, this still doesn’t justify abortion as an essential form of healthcare. Parents might be significantly stressed out by their toddler who is going through their “Terrible Twos” stage. This in no way justifies killing their toddler to help restore their mental and physical health. Babies are well-known for keeping their parents up late at night and waking their parents up at odd hours for feeding. Would we really allow someone to use this as a justification for killing their son or daughter outright though? If not, then why do we allow the unborn to be killed for the same reason? Unjustly taking the life of another human being can’t be properly called healthcare, even if it indirectly leads to a significant improvement in one’s health.
There is a second underlying assumption as well that can be challenged, namely, that abortion itself is an intrinsic good for women.
Why should anyone believe that abortion is an inherent good in the first place? What disorder, injury, or illness is it supposed to repair or prevent?
Pregnancy is not in itself a disordered state. Provided, complications can and often do arise (and everyone should be sensitive to those who experience complications), but this in no way means that pregnancy is in itself a malfunction in the body’s ordered functioning; it means there is a malfunction somewhere else in the system.
The purpose of healthcare is to correct defects within a system that should be functioning normally. In the case of reproduction, true reproductive healthcare, in order to honestly be called healthcare, is concerned with ensuring that the human reproductive process can take place without hindrance.
To use an example, the purpose of eyesight is to see clearly what is in front of a person. If they are unable to see clearly (such as being nearsighted, like I am) we prescribe glasses or contact lenses to help correct the defect.
Pregnancy isn’t a defect; quite the opposite, in fact. It is what results when all the human reproductive organs are functioning as they are supposed to during intercourse. While this can be inconvenient, it doesn’t make it a health defect.
An additional point can be made on this matter. If pregnancy is to be treated as a disorder, a defect in the human body, then what does that say about the nature of women? Are we really to conclude that women have a defect in their very nature, and can only be corrected by making them more like men, in not carrying a child?
As I have written elsewhere3, it is the abortion-choice mentality that has led to an attack on the dignity of women, not the pro-life position. By framing abortion as healthcare, it is the pro-choice movement that has ironically said that there is something inherently wrong with women, and it can only be fixed by a special sort of surgery that ends up making women more like men. Instead of viewing a woman’s special and beautiful ability to help bring a child into the world, treating abortion as healthcare ends up treating the special abilities of women as something to be feared and hated. Fearing and hating the abilities of one’s body can hardly be called a healthy mindset.
Pro-lifers have a major opportunity over the coming months to bring a greater focus on what it means to be human, and what that means for both men and women to hold a greater respect for our unborn neighbors. While snarky pro-choice talking points are repeated with regularity and without much thoughtfulness, pro-life advocates can use these opportunities to bring a much-needed focus back to the unborn.
2 Watts, Jay, “Answering Vulgarity with Grace“, Merely Human Ministries Blog, June 2019
3 Apodaca, Nathan “Potential Persons or Potential Problems?” Merely Human Ministries Blog, Nov 2019