We Trust Women’s Reproductive Decision-Making

“The moral responsibility of decision making [on abortion], at whatever the gestation, should rest with women, their doctors, and their families because only they can know their circumstances and the results of their actions. There is no reason to assume that any higher burden of justification is required than for earlier procedures.”
Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) stands behind Catholics for Choice’s statement on moral clarity in abortion. While abortion rights are constantly under attack by conservative religious groups and extremist abortion rights opponents, the vicious attacks on women’s reproductive rights advocates, such as Virginia Del. Kathy Tran (D) are particularly chilling. There is little doubt that these groups will escalate their attacks on women’s reproductive health rights – and anyone who speaks out for them — as we head into a highly contested presidential election year.

Reportedly, President Trump will use his State of the Union message to shame and demean women who seek abortion care. His use of this platform for his own political gain is reprehensible and his presidency clearly endangers women’s constitutionally-protected right to abortion.

Last week, in standing up for her female constituents, Delegate Tran (D) demonstrated more moral responsibility and character in decision making than any anti-abortion rights activist ever will. Currently, women in Virginia can get a third-trimester abortion with the certification of three physicians who attest that the abortion is needed to save the woman’s life or needed to prevent “substantial and irremediable” harm to the woman’s physical or mental health. Tran’s bill would have done nothing to change when women can get an abortion. As Tran said herself, the bill would only remove the “medically unnecessary and unduly burdensome barriers” by reducing the number of doctors needed to one, allowing women to make decisions on their own health in a timely manner.

Anti-abortion activists paint this picture of late-term abortions as being common and unnecessary (and they do this to demean women), but the opposite is clear. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015 only 1.3% of abortions were considered “late-term” (20+ weeks). Women request late-term abortions for many reasons but most are for medical necessity, such as life-threatening risk to the mother, or lack of fetal viability. These women are not impulsive in their decision making – it is a choice they make consciously for their own health and safety. Denying them the right of choice is saying that women should not be trusted to make their own medical decisions. As Catholics for Choice puts it “if you believe a woman should be able to follow her conscience in decisions around pregnancy and you respect her bodily autonomy, then you support her right to choose not just in circumstances in which you feel comfortable, but those in which she decides is best.”

Most Americans (60%) understand the importance of placing trust in women and the need for a woman’s right to abortion according to Pew Research Center. Additionally, a majority of Catholics say that abortion should be legal in most cases, as do majorities of evangelical and mainline Protestants. Seventy-four percent of religiously-unaffiliated survey respondents say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

These extremists attack Tran with no consideration for the situations behind why women would seek out a third-term abortion, to begin with – which involve a compelling and often urgent health complication. They purposely misconstrue the facts of the bill to use it for their own political gain; the same tactics they have employed for decades to inflame the right-wing, anti-choice base and to spur anti-abortion rights extremists to take action. Del. Tran has now received numerous death threats.

These kinds of tactics have led to thousands of incidents of clinic harassment, death threats, vandalism, firebombing, and murders of doctors and clinic personnel. Donald Trump’s inflammatory statement during the 2016 campaign that women who have abortions should be punished and his appointment of dozens of abortion rights opponents to key positions, including the Supreme Court, has only made the situation worse. The level of the most severe types of anti-abortion violence and threats of severe violence escalated in 2018 and remains dangerously high, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2018 National Clinic Violence Survey.

We urge political leaders to empathize and act with strong moral leadership in advocating for women who have been denied respect and trust in making their own healthcare decisions. And we urge them to push back on colleagues who demean and attack women’s decision making in matters of reproductive health.

Contact: NOW Press, press@now.org, 202-628-8669