Abortion Opponents: Is Saving Lives Worth the Disruption?

Abortion Opponents: Is Saving Lives Worth the Disruption? March 24, 2020

In the past few days, a growing number number of voices on the right have started calling for Trump to restart our economy. They know that means people will die, but they put forward that that’s better than risking a depression. These arguments are bothering me, because they stand in such contrast to these same individuals’ positions on abortion. Why is it okay to upend a woman’s life and financial stability to save the life of her fetus, but not okay to upend the entire country’s lives and financial stability to save millions of lives?

I have spent nearly a decade blogging, and in that time I have often grappled with conservatives’ views surrounding abortion. I have rarely seen arguments that so directly refute all of conservatives’ pro-life claims. Take this piece from the Federalist, for example. It’s written by Jonathan Ashbach, a Ph.D. student at Hillsdale College and graduate of Biola. He’s also a contributor to Christianity Today. 

In his piece, Asbach argues as follows:

Why Not Social Distancing?

The extreme reactionary measures to the pandemic focus only on the benefits of those actions, entirely ignoring the costs. And the costs will likely be massive.

Of course, it sounds very callous to talk about considering the costs. It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die. Probably for that reason, few have been willing to do so publicly thus far. Yet honestly facing reality is not callous, and refusing even to consider whether the present response constitutes an even greater evil than the one it intends to mitigate would be cowardly.

Here’s the thing, though: abortion opponents typically act as though any attempt to ban abortion is automatically worth doing because abortion is such an unmitigated evil that no consideration of the costs or tradeoffs of banning abortion should even be considered. So what exactly is going on here? All of a sudden it’s okay to weigh a few hundred thousand or millions lives against other factors? Since when? 

What other factors are we talking about, exactly?

Let’s have a look:

First, consider the massive sacrifice of life Americans are making in their social distancing campaign. True, nearly all are not literally dying, but they are giving up a good deal of what makes life worth living — work, classes, travel, hugs, time with friends, conferences, quiet nights out, and so forth. Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions. The abandonment of normalcy, therefore, is in many ways equivalent to shortening the lives of the entire nation.

Say what? Does Ashbach know that women who are forced to remain pregnant against their will also have to give up a good deal of these things? In some cases they have to give up work—yes, some women are fired for being pregnant—and they definitely have to give up things like drinking with friends and any sense of normalcy. Does Ashbach have any idea how completely pregnancy upends women’s lives? Women who want to be pregnant give up all of this voluntarily; that is not the case for women who are forced to remain pregnant against their will.

By Ashbach’s reasoning, even if we accept the premise that an abortion ends a life, it might well make sense to let women have abortions anyway. True, a life will be lost, but at least that woman won’t have to give up late night drinking with friends! At least she can keep her job! At least her life won’t be completely disrupted for months on end! And if you think that sounds callous or flippant, that’s exactly what Ashbach just said about COVID-19. 

I am beyond baffled that anyone would think that the social distancing we are currently putting in place is more disruptive than being pregnant. It isn’t. It really, really isn’t. Being pregnant is far more disruptive. Why is it okay to disrupt women’s lives to save a life, but suddenly questionable to disrupt other lives to save millions of lives?

Ah, but Ashbach isn’t done!

Of course, there is more to it than losing some quality of life. The current response is quickly driving the United States into a recession, which will result in a great deal of misery for tens of millions of people. Again, balancing lives against money sounds harsh, but everyone does so — and must do so — whether he is conscious of the fact or not. Not to mention, a recession also means higher poverty rates, which lead to higher mortality rates.

Did you know that women who want abortions but are denied them are four times as likely as women who want abortions and get them to end up living under the federal poverty level five years later? That’s right! Women who want to have abortions and are denied them face severe financial costs! Balancing lives against money may sound harsh, but Ashbach states right here that he’s okay with doing just that. By Ashbach’s reasoning, even if we accept the premise that an abortion ends a life, we need to discuss whether it’s worth saving that life if doing so throws someone into poverty, costs them their job, and leaves them financially worse off.

Even in the best of scenarios, when a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy and lack of access to abortion decides to make the best of it, she still has medical costs and daycare costs and housing costs and so much more to think about. The economic cost an unwanted pregnancy imposes on a woman is huge.

Why are conservatives like Ashbach unwilling to even discuss the bad outcomes lack of access to abortion creates for women—because a fetus is a life and lives are the most important thing—but suddenly completely willing to discuss this tradeoff with regards to the COVID-19 lockdowns? Why are conservatives like Ashbach unwilling to even address the huge economic cost an unwanted pregnancy imposes on women, but suddenly more than willing to weigh that cost against lives in the face of a pandemic? Is it because it suddenly affects them?

Oh, but wait! It gets worse!

More is at stake than lives and money: namely freedom. Even for those of us who are by no means libertarian, the increasingly draconian measures put in place across the nation, especially in California, to isolate people and prevent them from moving at will are raising serious questions about whether Americans are in a dress rehearsal for tyranny.

If I could smash my head into my keyboard without damaging it I would, because my god the utter lack of ability to think this through completely is astounding. Holy crap.

Women who are forced to remain pregnant against their will have their freedom limited in a very, very real way. Is Ashbach aware of that? Why is it suddenly not okay for the government to require people to stay in their homes to save millions of lives, but at the same time completely okay for the government to force women to go through a full pregnancy, which involves changing and rearranging their bodies in very real, invasive, painful ways?

If Ashbach thinks it’s okay to force women to remain pregnant against their wills to save the life of the fetus, he damn well better be willing to stay inside his home for a few months to save lives in a pandemic.

I’ve spent the past decade watching abortion opponents argue that it is okay to force every inconvenience imaginable on women who are enduring unwanted pregnancies because saving a life is always the most important thing. To see these same people suddenly insist that we should seriously consider letting hundreds of thousands or millions of people die because staying inside for a few weeks or months is too inconvenient for them is utterly enraging.

The physical costs of pregnancy can be severe:

Each year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die related to pregnancy and childbirth. But for each of those women who die, up to 70 suffer hemorrhages, organ failure or other significant complications. That amounts to more than 1 percent of all births.

If you can’t put up with spending a few months within doors, losing your job, and having your life plans completely upended in an effort to save millions of lives, you have no right to ever, ever again say that women should not be allowed to have abortions, because abortions end a life. Nope. Not ever. And if you don’t think pregnancy inconveniences women and upends their lives on this level, you need to think again, because it does. 

While sitting inside watching Netflix, fuming at the economic costs of what is an increasingly nationwide shutdown, Ashbach should at least be grateful that no one is forcibly rearranging his body, leaching his teeth of calcium, and leaving him with stitches in his crotch, weeks of bleeding, and a 1% chance of nearly dying due to organ failure. Those are all things abortion opponents are uwilling to force on women, in order to save the life of the fetus. 

Conservatives like Ashbach are getting the smallest taste of what it’s like to face an unwanted pregnancy, and they don’t like it. Perhaps it’s true what Gloria Steinem said: if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

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