BY ADINA LEVINE
Attorney and author Erika Bachiochi spoke about her recent book “The Cost of Choice: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion,” on February 17th at an HLS Society for Law, Life and Religion event. The book, which has received praise from Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, and Patricia Heaton, a two-time Emmy winner, proposed a different “pro-life” argument: that abortions harm women.
“More than three decades of debate about abortion has been largely a battle over rights – the reproductive rights of the woman, on the one hand, versus the rights of the unborn, on the other,” began Bachiochi. “To be against abortion is to risk being called anti-woman, according to the extraordinary powerful dogma of our time brought about by the tireless efforts of abortion advocates…Meanwhile, three-quarters of those polled understood abortion to be the taking of a human life, with a large majority believing abortion to be murder. This is no small victory for abortion opponents. They are simply confounded by the fact that this has not won them the war.”
Instead of arguing along traditional “pro-life” arguments that reference the fetus as a human being, an argument that Bachiochi claims “intellectually honest” pro-choice advocates have already conceded, Bachiochi disputed traditional “pro-choice” arguments, namely that abortion does not advance the rights of women.
“[I want to] challenge the sacred dogma of mainstream feminism that abortion is an untrammeled good for women, that it is necessary to women’s equality and women’s well-being,” asserted Bachiochi. “Many good-willed people have bought this idea – hook, line and sinker – but medical evidence, sociological data and the lived experience of many women has revealed a very different reality: abortion has harmed women, physically, psychologically, relationally and culturally.”
Bachiochi first discussed health concerns related to women who have had abortions.
“Look at the data on health and well-being,” Bachiochi commented. “Women who have had abortions suffer an increased risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.”
Citing numerous studies, including a July 2002 article in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry that found that the rate of mental health claims for women who had had abortions was 17% higher compared to those who had carried their children to term, Bachiochi also linked abortions to placenta previa, preterm births in later pregnancies and breast cancer.
“It is important to understand that there are two different mechanisms by which abortion could potentially increase the risk of breast cancer – one is beyond dispute, the other hotly contested,” Bachiochi said. “It is beyond dispute that when a woman delays her first full term pregnancy through abortion, she increases her risk of developing breast cancer.”The “undisputed” link between abortion and breast cancer is because a first full term pregnancy, especially before the age of 32, acts a protective mechanism against breast cancer. Therefore teenagers with a family history of breast cancer who have an abortion before their eighteenth birthday have an “incalculably high risk of developing breast cancer” – although the same result would apply if that same teenager simply did not have a child until after her 32nd birthday.
The more debated link connects abortion to breast cancer independent of this delaying childbirth connection.
“Through abortion, a woman artificially terminates her pregnancy at a time when her breast cells have been exposed to high levels of potentially cancer initiating estrogen but before her breast cells have matured into cancer-resistant cells as they do in a full term pregnancy,” Bachiochi stated. “More research must be conducted to better understand the nature and prevalence of this independent abortion breast cancer link.”
Bachiochi assessed the medical research available as to the health hazards of abortions, despite the fact that reporting of such data is entirely voluntary in most states. For example, a 1994 study showed that black women and other minorities, who have a disproportionate number of abortions when compared to white women, also have 2.5 times the chance of dying as white women.
“All too often, the data is simply denied or ignored,” asserted Bachiochi. “Today’s abortion clinics, regulation of which is fought tooth and nail by abortion advocates, are less regulated than veterinary clinics, resulting in conditions that can rival the mythical back-alley of the pre-Roe era.”
Bachiochi also argued that abortions have harmed women socially, mainly in their relationships with men.
“With the advent of the abortion license, women have relinquished much of the sexual power they once had over the pursuing male, the power to say no and wait until he actually committed,” asserted Bachiochi. “For many women, the pro-abortion euphemism ‘reproductive freedom’ has meant that women continue to negotiate all that comes with reproduction, while men enjoy the freedom of sex without consequences.”
Furthermore, Bachiochi discussed the deeper problem that leads to abortion: the inequality of men and women at the workplace. Using abortion as an “equalizer of the sexes” to enable women to enjoy the same career choices as men denies the deeper problem of a male-dominated society, she believes.
“It is deeply ironic that so many of our modern day feminists believe that the central means by which women are to enjoy equality with men is for women to have the legal ability to negate, through abortion, the preeminent quality that makes women different from men,” Bachiochi commented. “Why endure the painstaking fight to change male-dominated institutions when you can much more easily work to convince women that, if they are to be equal to men, they must simply become like men, who are, by their very nature, less attached to children.”
Indeed, the Supreme Court’s upholding of Roe in its 1992 Casey decision stated that “the capacity of women to act in society” was based to some degree on the availability of abortion, according to Bachiochi.
“We can’t afford to do the much more difficult work of creating environments that welcome women who have children which, of course, is the great majority of women,” said Bachiochi in reference to the Court’s opinion. “Instead, we’ll just continue to tell women what Roe told them a generation before. You choose: either your baby or yourself, your baby or your future, your baby or your success; this is a man’s world, and you better become like a man – that is, not pregnant – if you want to succeed.”
Bachiochi also decried another classical justification for abortion, that “abortion provides a means to manage the burden the poor place on the rest of society,” which does not address the underlying root of the problem, of poverty.
“It was precisely this elitist element of the abortion movement that first jolted me to rethink the active pro-choice feminist position I held during my early years in college,” commented Bachiochi. “As I became more and more immersed in the problems of the poor, especially poor women, I grew more and more disgusted with the argument put forth by abortion advocates that the availability of abortion would assist poor women on the road out of poverty. The thought that we, as a nation, and a very rich nation at that, would attempt to solve the problems of the poor by helping them rid themselves of their own children haunted me.”
Finally, Bachiochi remarked on the slippery slope that abortion could take when combined with genetic testing: a pressure by insurers, doctors and family members to abort a prenatally abnormal child “for whom medical care would be costly to assume.”
“A country as rich as ours in both financial resources and ingenuity – were we truly committed to women’s well being and equality – would seek real solutions to the underlying causes of abortion, including the serious challenge women face of balancing work or school and family, the disrespect for motherhood, the feminization of
poverty, and society’s eugenic distaste for the imperfection and vulnerability of the disabled,” she said.
Bachiochi is herself an at-home mother of two children, and pregnant with her third.
“It’s no wonder, that 81% of women surveyed in a 1992 study reported in the Journal of Social Issues said that they felt victimized by the abortion process, that they were either coerced into the abortion or that information about alternatives or the actual procedure had been withheld,” Bachiochi reflected.
“Much of the work that is before us in this battle to safeguard the lives of the unborn and the well-being of their mothers has much more to do with changing hearts and minds than changing laws. Or at least changing hearts and minds before we can change laws,” said Bachiochi. “Other work involves the courage of young women who have been sold the line ‘you can do it all’ all of their lives only to realize, once pregnancy and childrearing is upon them, that sacrificing some autonomy and worldly success for the lives of those we love is not the conduct of one oppressed but an act of one freed to be the all for another.”