Whose Right, and to What Kind of Life?

I don’t know where you stand on abortion:  we all know it’s an issue fraught with challenging ethical and theological questions, complicated by individuals’ personal experiences.  There doesn’t feel like there is one good, “right” answer–at least to me–and any time I’ve had a conversation about abortion with anyone, I end up walking away feeling confused, sad, and frustrated–usually all at the same time!  I fully believe that women should have the ability to end a pregnancy safely, without putting their own lives as risk–and I also think that it’s a tragic decision to have to make, which I know has lasting ramifications for the women and the families involved.

However, the other thing that I firmly believe is that all women should have the same access to both birth control and abortion facilities, regardless of their economic situation; and this is why this post in The New Yorker is so unsettling:


As the author notes, issues of race and class are involved in who gets abortions–not least because of who has access to reliable birth control–and where/how they get them.  I was particularly disturbed to read that women in Texas who can’t make a 500 mile trip to the nearest clinic choose must travel into Mexico to buy a drug that has dangerous side-effects as the only alternative.

We were just talking in one of my classes about Hinduism, and my students were uniformly [and rightly] critical of the caste system, which oppresses so many people–particularly women–in India still today.  However, they also recognized that even though we don’t have an “official” caste system here [and, to be fair, India doesn’t either, having legally abolished it in the Indian constitution in 1949], we still have a deeply unjust social system that discriminates against both people of color and people who are poor.  So, in the case of abortion, which is legal in this country and thus should be available to anyone, but in actuality is vulnerable to a wide range of restrictive legislation, we find ourselves with a two-tier system in which the white privileged group has access to safe health care, and the minority underserved group lacks that access.

This also is a theological issue:  regardless of whether or not you think abortion should or should not be legal, it certainly is unjust to have it available only for those who have money and status.  If women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, then all women have that right, not just wealthy women.  And if women have the right to choose whether or not they want children, then all women have that right, not just white women. Forcing women in poverty to have children when they have neither the desire nor the means to care for them isn’t justice, it’s surrogacy; and if we want ourselves and our own daughters/wives/sisters/mothers to have access to a safe abortion if [unfortunately] we/they ever need it, then we need to make sure that same access is available for everyone’s daughters/wives/sisters/mothers, regardless of their skin color, where they live, or how much money they have.

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