While my position on the issue of abortion has never fit neatly on a bumper sticker, I have always used the term “pro-life’’ to describe myself, no doubt a position partly informed by my faith. And it’s partly because of that faith — not despite it — that I am compelled to denounce and reject the recent efforts in several states to isolate, abandon, and condemn women who wish to avoid pregnancy or are faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
In Alabama, Missouri, Ohio, and Georgia, legislatures have recently adopted draconian measures on abortion. Alabama has banned abortion at any stage of pregnancy, even in the case of rape or incest, while several other states have banned abortions as early as six weeks, which is often before many women may even know they are pregnant. In Georgia, a woman terminating a pregnancy after six weeks could be charged with homicide. These laws are far more punitive than those in place before the Roe v. Wade decision — so intrusive and so restrictive that the basic constitutional right to privacy from government intrusion into health care decisions would be effectively eliminated. Meanwhile, other states are actively considering similar restrictive measures.
And this all occurs against a backdrop in which Republicans in Congress have repeatedly attempted to eliminate women’s access to contraceptive services offered by groups such as Planned Parenthood, even though such services actually prevent unwanted pregnancies and thereby reduce abortions. Ironically, in seeking to shutter these clinics, they would also be cutting off expectant mothers, especially those in low-income areas who rely on their services for the prenatal and postnatal care they need to ensure that they have safe and healthy pregnancies. Being pro-life includes supporting the health of pregnant women. It includes feeding and educating and housing children. Simply opposing abortion does not make you pro-life.
The Supreme Court’s decisions on reproductive rights — as controversial as they may be in our country — have sought to acknowledge and balance the constitutional interests that are at stake on this issue. While critics abound, even without this onslaught of restrictive state legislation, the numbers of abortions that are performed in the United States each year has dropped dramatically, largely due to the impact of effective and widely available contraception, family planning services, and education. Women are in charge of their reproductive health, and their efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies are working. All of which leads many to believe that the timing and the similarities of this multi-state campaign reveal a purely political strategy to energize and motivate the religious right. That too is shameful.
While I am personally informed by my faith, my actions as a legislator must be in support of and in defense of the Constitution. That is my oath. So if these recent developments define the “pro-life’’ movement, you can count me out.
Stephen F. Lynch is a US representative from Massachusetts.