When Abortion Is the Merciful Option

Last week, voters in Albuquerque decisively defeated a ballot measure that would have banned abortion in the city after 20 weeks, by a ten-point margin. The failed ban, which made no exceptions for rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality, was the culmination of a months-long campaign by anti-choice groups in the city, including a grossly offensive protest outside the New Mexico Holocaust Museum and a truck bearing the usual gory fetus pictures.

Since the bill was defeated by a solid margin and a similar ban has failed to advance in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, it seems likely that the anti-choice forces are stopped in their tracks for now. But their choice of Albuquerque wasn’t random: The city is the site of the Southwestern Women’s Options Clinic, one of just three clinics in the entire country (!) that offers abortion services up to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Although a 20-week ban isn’t even arguably constitutional under current precedent, it would have been terrible for the clinic and the women who need its services if the ballot measure had passed. At the very least, the clinic would have faced a lengthy and expensive legal battle just to stay open, and the case could well have ended up before a hostile Supreme Court willing to reverse Roe.

Along with the Supreme Court letting stand two lower court rulings striking down Oklahoma anti-choice laws (one requiring unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds and state-mandated shaming scripts, the other outlawing medication abortions), Albuquerque is a rare bright spot for choice in a national landscape that’s depressingly seemed to run mostly the other way in recent years. A case in point are the new Texas TRAP laws that have shut down many abortion clinics in the state with completely unjustified and medically nonsensical requirements about hospital admitting privileges.

Despite all their cloying rhetoric about love, the religious right has no concern for the women who are hurt by bans like this. For a concrete example, take this tragic story of a Chilean couple who found out, at 23 weeks of pregnancy, that their fetus had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a serious malformation that’s swiftly fatal on its own. But the only treatment for HLHS is a series of difficult, dangerous open-heart surgeries beginning just after birth, with complications like brain damage the likely result. In the end, they decided that this amounted to futile treatment, and – since Chile has a no-exceptions abortion ban – had to travel to the U.S., to Southwest or a clinic like it, for an abortion. (Obviously, this particular couple had the means for that, though many others wouldn’t.)

Remember stories like this when you hear right-wing Christians prattling about how we have to ban abortion because of fetal pain. A ban like the one they wanted in Albuquerque would here have inflicted, not prevented, unbearable suffering, for both the infant doomed to a probable short and painful life and the parents who’d be forced to witness it. When women seek abortion, especially late-term abortion, it’s almost always because it’s the merciful option. The people who truly have the most compassion are the women and the doctors who make these difficult, realistic choices – not the religious fundamentalists who want to reduce everything to a morality play where human suffering doesn’t matter as long as everyone is reciting the proper lines.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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