From the Daily: Prioritize women's health

Monday, October 9, 2017 - 11:19am

With the endorsement of President Donald Trump, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that criminalizes abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill introduces fines and prison sentences of up to five years for those who perform the procedures, allowing exceptions only in cases of rape or incest, or when the health of the pregnant woman is threatened. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board believes our representatives should not play politics with women’s health. The bill’s introduction itself demonstrates that our representatives are placing political goals over the importance of women’s health and using unsubstantiated scientific claims to drive those goals.

The debate about abortion often ignores that the procedure is primarily an issue of women’s health. Women compose less than 25 percent of the overall makeup of the House of Representatives. As such, the clear majority of people voting on the issue of abortion are not directly affected by their votes. This is particularly troubling given much of this vote fell along party lines — politicians were likely more motivated by party pandering than the wants and needs of their constituencies.

Though this bill would not affect the majority of women getting abortions — only about 2 percent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy — the passing of such a ban is an insidious attempt to add to the stigma regarding women who get abortions. It acts as a politically sanctioned mechanism to shame women who are making decisions based on their individual needs, whether they be medical, financial or personal. Additionally, passing introductory restrictions on abortion sets a precedent, only making it easier for stricter laws to be passed against it in the future.

And as many have pointed out, this bill would disproportionately hurt women who are already in the most vulnerable positions. It would overwhelmingly affect low-income women, who might have no choice but to wait longer than 20 weeks as they save up money to pay for the expensive procedure. Furthermore, many late-term abortions are performed for medical reasons, such as saving the life of the pregnant woman or terminating pregnancies that would result in stillbirth. Therefore, rendering abortion illegal after 20 weeks would not eliminate these abortions altogether. It would eliminate safe ways for women to have this procedure.

The bill also rests on the tenet that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, thus claiming it is unethical to abort them. However, no sound scientific evidence currently exists to prove fetuses feel pain at this point in development. Basing a policy decision on the potential pain of a fetus is also entirely hypocritical. By solely considering the potential pain of the fetus, the argument neglects the emotional, psychological and physical pain the pregnant woman faces in making this decision and after the birth of the child. Furthermore, the same party tried many times this year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would perpetuate the pain of thousands of Americans by ridding them of their health care.

Thus, this bill not only serves to push aside women’s health rights, but also showcases the blatant disregard of definitive science to further political goals. Whereas conservative politicians are quick to dismiss climate change research as a partisan sham, they accept carefully selected, unsubstantiated medical “studies” that support more conservative anti-abortion ideals. Endorsing unclear scientific ideas solely because they align with their political end goals leads to hypocritical policy making, as well as policymaking that endangers public health.

Political maneuvers are being used to further the anti-abortion agenda with little regard to the women who are most affected by these decisions. Those who want a society focused more around anti-abortion values should instead be working to create and enforce programs that make it easier for women and families to be financially and medically stable, instead of taking away the choices of women.