When "Pro-Choice" Isn't

Thirty years after Roe v. Wade and companion case Doe v. Bolton, Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano—“Jane Roe” and “Jane Doe” respectively—have returned to court: they are challenging their own eponymous decisions. After working in an abortion clinic for several years after Roe, McCorvey came to the realization that what she was doing was wrong and now speaks publicly against the case for which she is well known. Cano never wanted an abortion and says that Doe was motivated by the ambitions of the lawyer whom she had consulted for a divorce and the custody of her children.

Along with their own testimony, McCorvey and Cano have each submitted affidavits from hundreds of American women who chose abortion (many of them more than once) and experienced painful physical and emotional consequences. These affidavits open one’s eyes to the truth about abortion: it is not pro-woman. “I considered myself a murderer. I became disconnected, unable to really extend love or have meaningful [and] successful relationships,” one woman writes. Another says, “My life has been filled with guilt and regret over what I did to my unborn child.”

From these women’s words, one can see that abortion is an experience that, rather than conveniently and cleanly resolving the issues posed by an unplanned pregnancy, creates larger problems that cannot be swept away in an office of a Planned Parenthood clinic and instead cause post-abortive women to suffer for years.

Rather than helping these women heal after an experience that has caused them such grief, abortion rights advocates strive to make the procedure easier to access. In proclaiming that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is a matter for her and her doctor to decide, they ignore that if the woman visits a clinic where abortions are performed, the doctor clearly has a financial interest in her choice: if she chooses to carry, he makes no money, but if she aborts, the clinic earns hundreds or thousands of dollars. Joy Davis, a former abortion provider in Alabama, said of her experience, “A very short time after working there, I realized one thing: we were not there to help women. We were a business—a money-making organization.” Carol Everett, who worked at abortion clinics in Texas, described the situation in the early 1980s: “I was compensated at the rate of $25 per case plus one-third of the clinics, so you can imagine what my motivation was. I sold abortions.”

It is for this reason that supporters of abortion rights oppose legislation, such as the Woman’s Right to Know Act currently under consideration in the Massachusetts legislature, which would require the doctor to provide the woman with information on fetal development, alternatives to abortion and the possible physical and emotional consequences of abortion before she consents to the procedure. In Pennsylvania, the abortion rate fell by 13 percent in the first year after such legislation was enacted: when women are more fully aware of what abortion is, what it could do to them and what other options they have, they choose abortion less often. Abortion businesses certainly have no desire to lose clients, and so they vehemently resist any proposed laws that would enable women to make an informed choice.

One wonders how well the adjective “pro-choice” describes such an agenda. Abortion rights advocates fight tooth and nail against all restrictions on a woman’s “right to choose,” even those that would educate and empower the very women they say that they want to help. They antagonize politically neutral crisis pregnancy centers that provide objective options and counseling to all women facing unplanned pregnancies, material resources to women who choose to carry to term and abortion recovery counseling for those who do not. They insist that the emotional effects of abortion are fabricated, offering no support to women who regret their choice. When Harvard Right to Life (HRL) ran a poster series last year with images of the developing fetus to educate students about human development, the posters were vandalized and torn down so frequently that even many students who disagreed with HRL but valued the right to free speech objected.

Defenders of abortion rights tell us that they are feminists, that they are concerned with what is best for women and that they are defending rights that every woman deserves. When one learns that these groups suppress initiatives and organizations that seek to give women a free and informed choice, however, the rhetoric rings hollow. Only when “pro-choice” activists recognize the necessity of informed consent, when they genuinely support parenting and adoption as realistic and viable options, when they act in the interests of the woman facing the most difficult decision of her life—only then will they earn the name “pro-choice.”

Laura E. Openshaw ’05 is a linguistics concentrator in Lowell House. She is vice-president of Harvard Right to Life.