What does victory look like for the pro-life movement?
For all who believe overturning Roe v. Wade is the magic solution to ending abortion in the United States, it is worth reading this article in the Christian Science Monitor on the state of abortion in Poland. While the predominantly Catholic country has strict laws against abortion, the practice is still quite common on the black market.
The CSM references the testimony of one woman in a 2009 documentary:
"'I found some phone numbers in the newspaper; I called around,' explains a young blonde woman named Jola. The doctors are listed anonymously in the classifieds section offering to 'induce menstruation' or provide 'full service.' Everybody understands. 'You cannot use the words 'abortion' or 'termination'; rather, 'I am pregnant – can you help me?' Something like that,' she says."
Obviously there are no records on how many abortions are performed illegally in Poland, and there is a fierce debate over how widespread the problem is. One estimate puts the number somewhere between 80,000 and 200,000 per year. Safety is of course a concern too, but the article reports that newly proposed legislation to legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is still likely to fail.
Were the pro-life movement in the United States to win its battle to overturn Roe, would the same thing happen here? Making abortion illegal wouldn't change much for women in crisis pregnancies who see no other way out, and doctors here would likely be just as willing to capitalize on the demand for abortion as those in Poland. The problem wouldn't go away, it would just be redefined.
As we reported in our January issue, many in the pro-life movement are already looking at other ways to regulate abortion, though overturning Roe is still seen as the ultimate goal. But as pro-life Catholics like Catholic University professor Stephen Schneck have argued, it is also important to look at issues that impact a woman's decision to have an abortion, such as poverty, affordable health care, and access to supplemental assistance programs like WIC. An in-depth, independent study of the reasoning that leads women to choose an abortion would likely yield many other concerns that might be solvable, but not by simply outlawing abortion.
Limiting or ending access to abortion would be a major step in the direction of protecting the lives of the unborn. But on its own it would be a hollow victory without a major effort to understand and address the reasons why women would choose to end their pregnancies in the first place.