Meira E. Schneider-Atik
marching to the beat of my own drummer

My honest take on the abortion issue

The overturning of Roe vs. Wade has left a lot of people in shock. Myself included. I’ve had a very difficult time collecting my thoughts on it. Even now, I’m stuck with a hodgepodge. However, I think it all comes down to one simple thing- Mothers AND babies are human lives and neither of them deserve to be treated like objects. 

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is M*A*S*H. For those not familiar with it (I feel very sorry for you), it’s about a group of people working in a medical unit during the Korean war. It was one of the earliest “dramedies” on TV- it was officially a comedy but it dealt with serious issues in very serious ways. 

There was one episode in which Margaret, the head nurse of the unit, thought she might be pregnant. She was not happy about that. First, at that time, pregnancy meant automatic discharge from the army and she didn’t want to end her army career. Second, the character was married but her marriage was troubled (she would get divorced later) and she knew that a child would make things more difficult. The doctors arranged for her to have a pregnancy test at the unit. The test was negative and both Margaret and the surgeon who did the test were relieved. But then the surgeon said to her “I’m sorry.” She responded “I’m sorry too.” Despite her solid reasons for not wanting a child, Margaret was well aware that a pregnancy meant that there was potential new life inside of her. And she acknowledged that.  

What’s the point to learn here?

There’s a prevalent myth in the abortion debate that most women who get abortions do so willy-nilly, by choice, for convenience, etc. The statistics show that over 70 percent of abortions are “elective,” meaning that they’re not for medical necessity or for rape or incest. But the reasons are not given and that’s where the myth starts. 

The truth is that most women are like the character of Margaret. They feel the unborn baby is exactly that- a baby. Not a body part or an object with which they can do whatever they want. If they decide to have an abortion, it’s not just a matter of “I just don’t want to have a baby.” Most women have solid reasons for it. They may not have access to appropriate prenatal or postnatal care. They may not have access to birth control. Maybe they do have birth control but it failed. Maybe the woman’s job won’t accommodate her pregnancy and she has no other means of support. Maybe she can’t get appropriate child care. These reasons may not allow an abortion within Halacha but that doesn’t make them any less valid. And none of those reasons are being addressed appropriately in ways that will ACTUALLY reduce abortions.  

Plus, abortion is nowhere near as simple as “take two pills and call me in the morning.” It’s a medical procedure with risks. No woman WANTS to go through that. Late-term abortions are even worse. Not only is the procedure itself more difficult but it’s almost always done for medical reasons. By the third trimester, the mother is thinking in terms of a baby. She’s collected baby equipment and clothes and has chosen names. If she has an abortion at that stage, it’s almost always because there’s a serious complication, the baby is dead or dying, and it’s either abortion or die with the baby. Again, this is not about “I just don’t want to have a baby.”  

The above myth is why I dislike the pro-choice slogan of “my body, my choice.” It plays into that myth that women see the unborn baby as a body part. 

I think a much better slogan would be “the MOTHER is a human life too.” 

According to Halacha, an unborn baby is a potential life and is not to be terminated without sufficient cause. But the mother is an actual life and if it’s a choice between her life vs. the potential life of the baby, the mother’s life comes first. 

But even here, the details are not so clear cut. Thanks to advances in medical knowledge, technology, and techniques, many conditions that were once a cut-and-dry threat to the mother’s life are less so (if she can get the appropriate medical care) which means that abortion goes from obligation to choice (those conditions are still threats that allow abortion). There are also conditions that might not be an immediate threat to the mother when diagnosed but that may become serious threats later on. Thanks to advances in psychology, we know the importance of mental health and so threats to the mother’s mental health are now considered when deciding on abortion.  

Without the protections of Roe vs. Wade, states are free to pass restrictive abortion laws. And while there are Jewish leaders who think these laws are good, these leaders aren’t considering the fact that they cannot guarantee that Jewish women will get abortions if they need them Al Pi Halacha. These laws make only a token mention of medical necessity but they do not define it. That’s because there are as many situations that call for medical necessity as there are women and therefore medical necessity cannot be defined. These laws also do not state who gets to decide medical necessity. That leaves the whole thing open to arguments and delays that could kill the mother. 

The laws also make no exceptions for rape even though Halacha does make that exception by considering the threat to the mother’s mental health. But even if the new laws did make that exception, would a rape victim have to prove that she was raped in order to get an abortion? That’s just one trauma on top of another. There are those who say that rape victims can give the baby up for adoption. Some can do that and I applaud them. Others can even keep and raise their babies and I applaud them. But some just cannot handle that nine-month-long reminder of their trauma. 

These laws also do not prevent miscarriages. But if a happily pregnant woman gets a miscarriage, she can be subject to criminal investigation unless she can prove that it really was a miscarriage and not a botched abortion. This too is one trauma on top of another.     

Another myth in this whole thing is that restrictive abortion laws will actually reduce abortions. No, they won’t. Those laws will simply send women into back-alley abortions that will put them at greater risk. And for women who won’t go there, then thanks to the arguments and delays, the babies will still die but the mothers will die with them. 

Then there’s the other myth that people who are anti-abortion are just trying to control women’s bodies. Honestly, my gut knows that this is a myth and I can’t explain it otherwise. Even though I do believe that the anti-abortionists are seriously misguided and are going about it all wrong, I also believe that most of them care about babies and do not want to see them destroyed. That’s not about controlling the woman’s body. It’s about acknowledging that there’s another body going on inside. Which most of us acknowledge anyway. Again, it’s a myth that most women see the unborn baby as nothing more than a body part. 

Not that these myths aren’t based on some fact. There are women who see the unborn babies as objects and there are anti-abortionists who are trying to control women’s bodies. Yes, those types are out there. But they’re not in the majority. The majority are the people who CARE. 

Maybe… if the anti-abortionists would acknowledge that women do know that it’s a baby and not a body part to be destroyed out of convenience, and maybe… if the pro-choice faction would acknowledge that this is about caring about babies and not about controlling women, they would be willing to sit down and work together. Maybe then the non-medical issues that drive women to abortions can be addressed while still acknowledging that the mother’s human life and health deserves the same fight that the babies deserve.  

Yes, it’s a hodgepodge. It’s complicated. Because the whole issue is complicated. But again, it all boils down to the fact that mothers AND babies are human lives and neither of them deserve to be treated like objects. 

That is my honest take. 

About the Author
Meira E. Schneider-Atik is a wardrobe stylist, personal shopper, and writer/blogger. Her goal is to help women feel good about themselves and to dispel the myths about tzniut and dressing well. Her heart is in Eretz Yisrael, but for now, she and her family live in Queens, NY.
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