Abortion is failing women: An interview with Angela Wu Howard

Roe and Casey were premised on certain ideas about women in society, and about the…

Roe and Casey were premised on certain ideas about women in society, and about the necessity of abortion for women’s advancement. This brief attacks the faulty premise that women have what the Court in previous cases called a “reliance interest” on the availability of abortion, that abortion supposedly ensured women’s capacity to participate equally in the economic and social life of a nation.

The brief points out that the political scientist whose work is at the heart of this premise — she did not herself claim any causal link between abortion and women’s improved economic and social status. In fact, contrary to the way the Court used her work, she specifically said that abortion was actually a result of the changing economic and social status of women, and not the cause. The brief spends quite a lot of time deconstructing that argument and looking at the [48] years since Roe and what has actually happened to women in society and in the workplace.

Although women in the workforce rose [as abortion increased] in the few years after Roe, in subsequent years, women’s status in society and access to economic and social opportunity also continued to rise when abortion levels dipped precipitously. So, there wasn’t even a correlation, much less causation.

The brief also outlines how wide access to abortion, and the assumption that abortion is not only available, but seen as necessary, has actually done damage to women. It severed sex from any idea of a joint future between the man and the woman who have sex, an act that often naturally leads to parenthood, and to children. It also enabled this idea that single parenthood is a woman’s choice, and solely the woman’s choice, and that it’s solely the woman’s burden, because she could get an abortion, but she elected not to. It really ties into the feminization of poverty.

[The brief] very succinctly outlines how abortion has enabled corporate actors, and public, private, and social actors to basically avoid accommodation for women with children, and avoid accommodation needed for the flourishing of the family. The brief points out that the U.S. lags behind almost every other developed country in providing basic workplace accommodations for family, for parenthood, and for paid parental leave.

What do you think is missing from the mainstream conversation around this topic with regards to what you just shared?

I was not always pro-life, even as a Christian. There was a moment in time when I realized that my position was untenable. I volunteered as a rape crisis counselor and at an overnight homeless shelter, I worked in domestic violence, and I helped to pass the Violence Against Women Act as an intern. My views on abortion have been deeply colored by that work, and, even when I thought that abortion should be legal and was uncertain about what kind of limits should be placed on it, I knew that our society was failing women.

Now, I have the view that abortion is one of the signs of how badly we are failing women. The vast majority of women who choose abortion choose it for reasons that are entirely within our grasp to address and to ameliorate, and we, as a society, choose not to. The vast majority of women choosing abortion — sometimes multiple times — are doing it for social and economic reasons. Those reasons do not justify the taking of a life, and it’s on us to fix them.

When you look at the vast majority of women choosing abortion, what they want is not to have to sacrifice their children. What they want is to have their children and have the emotional, social, and economic means to support and love their children. We’re failing, we are telling them that the only option for advancement is to take the life of their own child. Then, we’re taking a further step to diminish what is actually happening by characterizing the child as a clump of cells, and it’s a scientific lie.

We hear a lot about the pro-life position being “anti-science.” How do you respond to that argument and what would you want women to know?

This is a major problem that we’re coming up against as a society, that when we talk about anything remotely complex, we immediately go to these tropes and these ad hominem attacks. We’re not looking at the facts as they really are. We’re not looking at what women really want.

Women deserve to know what abortion actually does, the mechanics — many women have no idea how abortion is actually performed. Women deserve to understand the stages of fetal development, that a child can have a heartbeat within weeks, and arms and hands that touch the face within 10 weeks. And they deserve to know that there are alternatives to taking that life, that there are many stable, loving couples that would love to welcome their children in adoption, and that they, themselves, have access to material, psychological, emotional, and social support if they decide to keep the baby.

That’s not what’s happening. When they go to Planned Parenthood, they’re not told any of this. They’re only given one option.

And there’s an enormous misunderstanding of what abortion actually is, what constitutes abortion. Doctors have always had a duty to save both lives, to save the lives of both mother and child, and when a child is lost in that process, that’s what moral theologians call double effect — a grievous harm that results from pursuing a good end. It’s not abortion; it’s not the intentional taking of an innocent human life.

So, I think that this idea that pro-lifers are unscientific and don’t understand the science is frankly, really ironic, because it is often people who are for unfettered abortion that seem not to understand the stages of fetal development or what abortion actually is.

You mentioned that you were not always pro-life. How did your perspective change?

I had always thought that abortion would be, for any woman, an incredibly difficult choice, and I still believe that. In an age where women are “shouting their abortion,” I still hope that it is a difficult decision. But, underlying that idea was something that I didn’t want to think about, which is why.

Abortion is failing women: An interview with Angela Wu Howard