WASHINGTON -- The abortion issue is more divisive than ever, thanks to extreme anti-abortion legislation recently passed in some states and, lately, to Democratic presidential candidates seemingly vying to be the most pro-choicest.
The newest controversy swirls around the 1976 Hyde Amendment, named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., which forbids the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is at risk. The provision has long enjoyed a degree of bipartisan support in a nod to the millions of conscientious objectors to abortion.
Then came the buoyant presidential candidacy of Joe Biden. After his campaign initially confirmed last week that he still supported the Hyde Amendment, his legion of Democratic opponents got busy. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts led the charge during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night, arguing that the Hyde Amendment has to be scrapped because it discriminates against poor women.
From this view, a subtext quickly emerged that the amendment is essentially classist -- and perhaps racist -- because lower-income women and women of color are more likely than wealthier and white women to get pregnant unintentionally and to seek what the Guttmacher Institute calls a "critical reproductive health service." Warren suggested that under Hyde, "women of means" still have access to abortion. Less well-off women dependent upon a government safety net such as Medicaid, however, may not.
One might further infer from Warren's argument that those who support the Hyde Amendment essentially support withholding help from poor women and women of color in one of life's most vulnerable times.
Although abortion rates are down across the board over the past decade, among women aged 15-44 (more or less the reproductive years) in 2014, blacks had the highest abortion rate, at 27 abortions per 1,000 women. Hispanic and white women clocked in at 18 and 10 abortions per 1,000 women, respectively. And abortion is most common among impoverished and low-income women, who accounted for 75% of abortion patients in 2014.
Shouldn't we dedicate more effort to tackling unplanned pregnancy across all races and wealth levels before we mandate that Americans pay for others' abortions?
In the barely meanwhile, Biden flipped. One day he was running as a moderate candidate of consistent principle. The next, he was running to the left of himself. Explaining his sudden opposition to Hyde, he told an audience in Atlanta: "If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code."
But a ZIP code isn't really the point, is it? It's about whether taxpayers with a strong commitment to life at conception should be on the hook for others' abortions. Sacrificing our nation's long history of protecting religious freedom and freedom of conscience is a high price to pay so that strangers can abort their babies. If it's no one's business what women do with their bodies, then why is it anyone's business to interfere with another's profound religious conviction?
The real problem with abortion, aside from its obvious complexities, is the way we talk about it. Given the more than 50 million abortions performed in the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, it should be clear that we suffer a lack of imagination. Rather than arguing endlessly about choice vs. personhood, we should be talking about ways to end this primitive, barbaric procedure that is risky, nasty and, unequivocally, life-ending.
In 21st-century America -- with pills, patches, spermicides, morning-after medications, IUDs, condoms or some combination thereof -- we should be well beyond all but the rare abortion. If Big Pharma can give men hours of sexual stamina, surely it can come up with a foolproof, failsafe method of pregnancy prevention.
If poorer women lack sufficient access to birth control, then let's use federal funding to get more of it to them. If boys and girls need better sex education, let's make sure they get it. If you don't like abstinence lessons, teach them the joys of mindfulness. You want to have sex? Make it extra-special by not creating a fertilized egg. Here's how. There are a hundred ideas out there waiting to be implemented, if we could only stop our political posturing long enough to imagine.
Warren has a plan for everything. I'd love to hear a plan for making abortion irrelevant.