Point of View

Arguments Against Abortion

Biblical Arguments Against Abortion



Article ThumbnailIn this essay we will be discussing arguments against abortion. The first set of arguments we will consider are biblical arguments.

That being said, we must begin by acknowledging that the Bible doesn't say anything about abortion directly. Why the silence of the Bible on abortion? The answer is simple. Abortion was so unthinkable to an Israelite woman that there was no need to even mention it in the criminal code. Why was abortion an unthinkable act? First, children were viewed as a gift or heritage from the Lord. Second, the Scriptures state--and the Jews concurred--that God opens and closes the womb and is sovereign over conception. Third, childlessness was seen as a curse.

One of the key verses to understand in developing a biblical view of the sanctity of human life is Psalm 139. This psalm is the inspired record of David's praise for God's sovereignty in his life. He begins by acknowledging that God is omniscient and knows what David is doing at any given point in time. He goes on to acknowledge that God is aware of David's thoughts before he expresses them. David adds that wherever he might go, he cannot escape from God, whether he travels to heaven or ventures into Sheol. God is in the remotest part of the sea and even in the darkness. Finally David contemplates the origin of his life and confesses that God was there forming him in the womb:

    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (vv. 13-16).

Here David speaks of God's relationship with him while he was growing and developing before birth. Notice that the Bible doesn't speak of fetal life as mere biochemistry. The description here is not of a piece of protoplasm that becomes David: this is David already being cared for by God while in the womb.

In verse 13, we see that God is the Master Craftsman fashioning David into a living person. In verses 14 and 15, David reflects on the fact that he is a product of God's creative work within his mother's womb, and he praises God for how wonderfully God has woven him together.

David draws a parallel between his development in the womb and Adam's creation from the earth. Using figurative language in verse 15, he refers to his life before birth when "I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth." This poetic allusion harkens back to Genesis 2:7 which says that Adam was made from the dust of the earth.

David also notes that "Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance." This shows that God knew David even before he was known to others. The term translated unformed substance is a noun derivative of a verb meaning "to roll up." When David was just forming as a fetus, God's care and compassion already extended to him. The reference to "God's eyes" is an Old Testament term used to connotate divine oversight of God in the life of an individual or group of people.

Next, we will consider additional Old Testament passages that provide a biblical argument against abortion.
Additional Old Testament Arguments Against Abortion

Now that we've looked at Psalm 139, the most popular argument against abortion, let's look at two other Old Testament passages.

Another significant passage is Psalm 51. It was written by David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and records his repentance. David confesses that his sinful act demonstrated the original sin that was within him, "Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Ps. 5l:5). David concludes that from his time of conception, he had a sin nature. This would imply that he carried the image of God from the moment of conception, including the marred image scarred from sin.

Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6). Bearing the image of God is the essence of humanness. And though God's image in man was marred at the Fall, it was not erased (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). Thus, the unborn baby is made in the image of God and therefore fully human in God's sight.

This verse also provides support for what is called the traducian view of the origin of the soul. According to this perspective, human beings were potentially in Adam (Rom. 5:12, Heb. 7:9-10) and thus participated in his original sin. The "soulish" part of humans is transferred through conception. Therefore, an unborn baby is morally accountable and thus fully human.

Another argument against abortion can be found in the Old Testament legal code, specifically Exodus 21:22-25.

    If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

The verses appear to teach that if a woman gives birth prematurely, but the baby is not injured, then only a fine is appropriate. However, if the child dies then the law of retaliation (lex talionis) should be applied. In other words, killing an unborn baby would carry the same penalty as killing a born baby. A baby inside the womb has the same legal status as a baby outside the womb.

Some commentators have come to a different conclusion because they believe the first verses only refer to a case of accidental miscarriage. Since only a fine is levied, they argue that an unborn baby is merely potential life and does not carry the same legal status as a baby that has been born.

There are at least two problems with this interpretation. First, the normal Hebrew word for miscarry is not used in this passage (cf. Gen. 31:38; Exod. 23:26; Job 2:10; Hos. 9:14). Most commentators now believe that the action described in verse 22 is a premature birth not an accidental miscarriage. Second, even if the verses do describe a miscarriage, the passage cannot be used to justify abortion. The injury was accidental, not intentional (as abortion would be). Also, the action was a criminal offense and punishable by law.
Medical Arguments Against Abortion

Thus far in our discussion we have looked at biblical arguments against abortion. But what if someone doesn't believe in the Bible? Are there other arguments we can use? Yes, there are: medical arguments, for example. Let's look, then, at some of the medical arguments against abortion.

The medical arguments against abortion are compelling. For example, at conception the embryo is genetically distinct from the mother. To say that the developing baby is no different from the mother's appendix is scientifically inaccurate. A developing embryo is genetically different from the mother. A developing embryo is also genetically different from the sperm and egg that created it. A human being has 46 chromosomes (sometimes 47 chromosomes). Sperm and egg have 23 chromosomes. A trained geneticist can distinguish between the DNA of an embryo and that of a sperm and egg. But that same geneticist could not distinguish between the DNA of a developing embryo and a full-grown human being.

Another set of medical arguments against abortion surround the definition of life and death. If one set of criteria have been used to define death, could they also be used to define life? Death used to be defined by the cessation of heartbeat. A stopped heart was a clear sign of death. If the cessation of heartbeat could define death, could the onset of a heartbeat define life? The heart is formed by the 18th day in the womb. If heartbeat was used to define life, then nearly all abortions would be outlawed.

Physicians now use a more rigorous criterion for death: brain wave activity. A flat EEG (electroencephalograph) is one of the most important criteria used to determine death. If the cessation of brain wave activity can define death, could the onset of brain wave activity define life? Individual brain waves are detected in the fetus in about 40-43 days. Using brain wave activity to define life would outlaw at least a majority of abortions.

Opponents to abortion also raise the controversial issue of fetal pain. Does the fetus feel pain during abortion? The evidence seems fairly clear and consistent. Consider this statement made in a British medical journal: "Try sticking an infant with a pin and you know what happens. She opens her mouth to cry and also pulls away. Try sticking an 8-week-old human fetus in the palm of his hand. He opens his mouth and pulls his hand away. A more technical description would add that changes in heart rate and fetal movement also suggest that intrauterine manipulations are painful to the fetus."{1}

Obviously, other medical criteria could be used. For example, the developing fetus has a unique set of fingerprints as well as genetic patterns that make it unique. The development of sonography has provided us with a "window to the womb" showing us that a person is growing and developing in the mother's womb. We can discern eyes, ears, fingers, a nose, and a mouth. Our visual senses tell us this is a baby growing and maturing. This is not a piece of protoplasm; this is a baby inside the womb.

The point is simple. Medical science leads to a pro-life perspective rather than a pro-choice perspective. If medical science can be used at all to draw a line, the clearest line is at the moment of conception. Medical arguments provide a strong case against abortion and for life.
Legal Arguments Against Abortion

At this point in our discussion, we need to look at legal arguments against abortion.

The best legal argument against abortion can be seen in the case of Roe v. Wade. It violated standard legal reasoning. The Supreme Court decided not to decide when life begins and then turned around and overturned the laws of 50 different states.

Most of the Supreme Court's verdict rested upon two sentences. "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to an answer."

Although the sentences sounded both innocuous and unpretentious, they were neither. The Supreme Court's non-decision was not innocuous. It overturned state laws that protected the unborn and has resulted in over 30 million abortions (roughly the population of Canada) in the United States.

The decision also seems unpretentious by acknowledging that it did not know when life begins. But if the Court did not know, then it should have acted "as if" life was in the womb. A crucial role of government is to protect life. Government cannot remove a segment of the human population from its protection without adequate justification.

The burden of proof should lie with the life-taker, and the benefit of the doubt should be with the life-saver. Put another way: "when in doubt, don't." A hunter who hears rustling in the bushes shouldn't fire until he knows what is in the bushes. Likewise, a Court which doesn't know when life begins, should not declare open season on the unborn.

The burden of proof in law is on the prosecution. The benefit of doubt is with the defense. This is also known as a presumption of innocence. The defendant is assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Again the burden of proof is on the entity that would take away life or liberty. The benefit of the doubt lies with the defense.

The Supreme Court clearly stated that it does not know when life begins and then violated the very spirit of this legal principle by acting as if it just proved that no life existed in the womb. Even more curious was the fact that to do so, it had to ignore the religious community and international community on the subject of the unborn.

Had the religious community really failed to reach a consensus? Although there were some intramural disagreements, certainly the weight of evidence indicated that a Western culture founded on Judeo-Christian values held abortion to be morally wrong. People with widely divergent theological perspectives (Jewish, Catholic, evangelical and fundamental Protestants) shared a common agreement about the humanity of the unborn.

The same could be said about the international legal community. Physicians around the world subscribed to the Hippocratic Oath ("I will not give a woman a pessary to produce abortion"). The unborn were protected by various international documents like the Declaration of Geneva and the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

Just as there are solid medical arguments against abortion, so also there are legal arguments against abortion. Roe vs. Wade was a bad decision that needs to be overturned.
Philosophical Arguments Against Abortion

Finally, we will conclude our discussion by looking at philosophical arguments against abortion.

A third set of arguments against abortion would be philosophical arguments. A key philosophical question is where do you draw the line? Put another way, when does a human being become a person?

The Supreme Court's decision of Roe v. Wade separated personhood from humanity. In other words, the judges argued that a developing fetus was a human (i.e., a member of the species Homo sapiens) but not a person. Since only persons are given 14th Amendment protection under the Constitution, the Court argued that abortion could be legal at certain times. This left to doctors, parents, or even other judges the responsibility of arbitrarily deciding when personhood should be awarded to human beings.

The Supreme Court's cleavage of personhood and humanity made the ethical slide down society's slippery slope inevitable. Once the Court allowed people to start drawing lines, some drew them in unexpected ways and effectively opened the door for infanticide and euthanasia.

The Court, in the tradition of previous line-drawers, opted for biological criteria in their definition of a "person" in Roe v. Wade. In the past, such criteria as implantation or quickening had been suggested. The Court chose the idea of viability and allowed for the possibility that states could outlaw abortions performed after a child was viable. But viability was an arbitrary criterion, and there was no biological reason why the line had to be drawn near the early stages of development. The line, for example, could be drawn much later.

Ethicist Paul Ramsey frequently warned that any argument for abortion could logically be also used as an argument for infanticide. As if to illustrate this, Dr. Francis Crick, of DNA fame, demonstrated that he was less concerned about the ethics of such logical extensions and proposed a more radical definition of personhood. He suggested in the British journal Nature that if "a child were considered to be legally born when two days old, it could be examined to see whether it was an 'acceptable member of human society.'" Obviously this is not only an argument for abortion; it's an argument for infanticide.

Other line-drawers have suggested a cultural criterion for personhood. Ashley Montagu, for example, stated, "A newborn baby is not truly human until he or she is molded by cultural influences later." Again, this is more than just an argument for abortion. It is also an argument for infanticide.

More recently some line-drawers have focused on a mental criterion for personhood. Dr. Joseph Fletcher argues in his book Humanhood that "Humans without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity are not persons, no matter how many of these organs are active, no matter how spontaneous their living processes are." This is not only an argument for abortion and infanticide; it's adequate justification for euthanasia and the potential elimination of those who do not possess a certain IQ. In other writings, Joseph Fletcher suggested that an "individual" was not truly a "person" unless he has an IQ of at least 40.

In conclusion, we can see that there are many good arguments against abortion. Obviously there are a number of biblical arguments against abortion. But there are also medical, legal, and philosophical arguments against abortion. The Bible and logic are on the side of the Christian who wants to stand for the sanctity of human life.


After 15 minutes of arguing with a billing operator, the director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, N.D.,

begins preparing for the patients who will soon arrive. Staff members trickle in. One puts a DVD of old sitcoms on

the waiting-room television. Another straightens a pile of magazines. Someone brews a pot of coffee. By 10 a.m.,

the clinic is bustling with patients. Before the day is over, 18 women will undergo surgical abortions at Red

River. Four others will receive abortion-inducing medication.

Kromenaker, a social worker, was born in January 1972, one year before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. She

has spent her entire adult life providing abortion services and is among hundreds of clinic directors across the

U.S. navigating an ever increasing number of state-imposed abortion regulations. At Red River, the only abortion

clinic in North Dakota, a woman must wait 24 hours between scheduling an appointment and arriving at the facility.

Once there, she must undergo a counseling, verification and testing process that lasts up to five hours. If she is

a minor, she must notify her parents; get permission from one or both, depending on who has custody; or get

approval from a judge. Like Medicaid programs in some 30 other states, North Dakota's does not cover abortion

services except in instances of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.

In the past two decades, laws like the ones that govern appointments at Red River have been passed with regularity

as pro-life state legislators have redrawn the boundaries of legal abortion in the U.S. In 2011, 92 abortion-

regulating provisions--a record number--passed in 24 states after Republicans gained new and larger majorities in

2010 in many legislatures across the country. These laws make it harder every year to exercise a right heralded as

a crowning achievement of the 20th century women's movement. In addition to North Dakota, three other states--South

Dakota, Mississippi and Arkansas--have just one surgical-abortion clinic in operation. The number of abortion

providers nationwide shrank from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,793 in 2008, the latest year for which data is available.

Getting an abortion in America is, in some places, harder today than at any point since it became a

constitutionally protected right 40 years ago this month.

It might seem as though recent electoral victories by Barack Obama and congressional Democrats set the stage for a

reversal of this trend. The President's campaign mobilized Democratic voters and women around the issue of

reproductive rights--an effort that produced, according to some exit polls, the widest gender voting gap in

history. But while the right to have an abortion is federal law, exactly who can access the service and under what

circumstances is the purview of states. And at the state level, abortion-rights activists are unequivocally losing.

Part of the reason is that the public is siding more and more with their opponents. Even though three-quarters of

Americans believe abortion should be legal under some or all circumstances, just 41% identified themselves as pro-

choice in a Gallup survey conducted in May 2012. In this age of prenatal ultrasounds and sophisticated neonatology,

a sizable majority of Americans supports abortion restrictions like waiting periods and parental-consent laws.

Pro-life activists write the legislation to set these rules. Their pro-choice counterparts, meanwhile, have opted

to stick with their longtime core message that government should not interfere at all with women's health care

decisions, a stance that seems tone-deaf to the current reality.

Pro-choice activists' failure to adapt to the shift in public attitudes on abortion has left their cause stranded

in the past, says Frances Kissling, a longtime abortion-rights advocate and former president of Catholics for

Choice. Kissling is part of a small group within the pro-choice movement trying to push the cause toward more

nuanced stances. "The established pro-choice position--which essentially is: abortion should be legal, a private

matter between a woman and her doctor, with no restriction or regulation beyond what is absolutely necessary to

protect the woman's health--makes 50% of the population extremely uncomfortable and unwilling to associate with

us," she says.

At the same time, a rebellion within the abortion-rights cause--pitting feminists in their 20s and 30s against

pro-choice power brokers who were in their 20s and 30s when Roe was decided--threatens to tear it in two. Many

young activists are bypassing the legacy feminist organizations that have historically protected access to

abortion, weakening the pro-choice establishment at the very moment it needs to coalesce around new strategies to

combat pro-life gains and connect with the public.

As memories of women dying from illegal pre-Roe abortions become more distant, the pro-choice cause is in crisis.

In 1973, female lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights said Roe v. Wade was "a tribute to the

coordinated efforts of women's organizations, women lawyers and all women throughout this country." Writing a new

playbook for the pro-choice cause--one that ensures that Roe is not overturned and that access to abortion is

preserved and even expanded--would require the same kind of coordination. If abortion-rights activists don't come

together to adapt to shifting public opinion on the issue of reproductive rights, abortion access in America will

almost certainly continue to erode.

In many ways, the fight to preserve access to abortion is even more daunting than the fight to legalize it 40 years

ago. In a dynamic democracy like America, defending the status quo is always harder than fighting to change it. The

story of pro-choice activism after Roe reveals that there may be nothing worse for a political movement's future

than achieving its central goal.

Around her workspace at Red River, Kromenaker has tacked up photographs of her daughter and phone numbers for the

Fargo police department and a security hotline operated by the National Abortion Federation. In the filing cabinet

behind her desk, she keeps a green folder full of mail from pro-life activists. The correspondence ranges from

vaguely threatening notes to prayers on behalf of Kromenaker, the doctors who work at Red River and their patients.

Kromenaker is proud and outspoken about her work, but she takes different routes to work every day to avoid falling

into a routine that might make her a target for pro-life zealots. (Abortion doctor George Tiller was at his regular

Sunday church service when he was shot and killed by a pro-life activist in 2009.) "Even if I'm at Target looking

at clothes, I never let my guard down," she says. It might seem like paranoia to be so vigilant, but in the late

1990s, Kromenaker testified at the trial of a man accused of trying to start a fire at a clinic where she worked

before Red River.

In 2011, Kromenaker testified again, this time at a committee hearing in the North Dakota state senate, which was

considering a bill passed by the house that sought to ban medication-induced abortions, among other provisions.

Despite Kromenaker's testimony and the efforts of pro-choice activists in North Dakota, the bill passed the state

senate 42 to 5 and was signed into law on April 18, 2011. (Red River is suing to overturn the law, which a judge

has blocked from going into effect.)

In November, feminists celebrated the defeat of U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri, who said a woman's

body can resist a pregnancy in the case of "legitimate rape," and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who said pregnancies

conceived in rape are "intended" by God. Even before Election Day, Cecile Richards, president of Planned

Parenthood, said, "This past year and a half has been a remarkable period of unifying women and men and a whole new

generation of folks who understand that none of these rights or access can be taken for granted."

Yet the candidate who beat Mourdock, Democrat Joe Donnelly, is also pro-life and believes abortion should be

illegal except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother. Voters in Indiana also elected

conservative Republican Representative Mike Pence as the new governor. Pence has been introducing legislation since

2007 to eliminate federal funding for women's-health clinics that provide abortions, including a GOP House effort

to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011. And in North Dakota, which has a Republican governor and legislature,

Kromenaker is girding for new legislation she expects to be introduced that would grant fetuses "personhood" status

and directly challenge the constitutional basis for Roe v. Wade.

The modern era of state restrictions on abortion began in 1992 with the Supreme Court's decision in Planned

Parenthood v. Casey. The court upheld Roe v. Wade but said states have a right to regulate abortion as long as they

don't write laws that impose an "undue burden" on women. Pro-life politicians enacting laws to limit abortion are

now testing the limits of the Casey ruling. Their ultimate goal is to land another abortion case before a

sympathetic Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn Roe. Along the way, in what Charmaine Yoest, president of the

antiabortion group Americans United for Life, describes as a strategy to "work around Roe," pro-life activists hope

to severely--or completely--curtail access to abortion at the state level.

In Mississippi, pro-life activists pushed for passage of a 2012 law requiring that doctors who perform abortions

have admitting privileges at local hospitals. None of the out-of-state physicians who perform abortions at the

state's sole abortion clinic have these privileges. The clinic remains open while a federal judge examines the

constitutionality of the law and whether it presents an undue burden to women seeking abortions. Governor Phil

Bryant, who signed the law, said it was part of an effort to "end abortion in Mississippi."

The Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic in Knoxville, Tenn., was open for 38 years before it closed in August 2012,

citing the state's Life Defense Act, passed earlier in the year, which also requires doctors to have hospital

admitting privileges. A doctor who worked at the facility obtained hospital privileges but died suddenly of a

stroke, and clinic director Deb Walsh said she couldn't afford to keep her doors open while she tried to replace


In Virginia, the state board of health adopted a rule last year requiring abortion clinics to comply with

architectural zoning regulations for hospitals. Like the Mississippi law and one just enacted in Michigan requiring

abortion clinics to be licensed, the Virginia rule seems designed to make clinics safer, but there is little

evidence that women's health had previously been in danger. Loretta Ross, who co-founded Sister Song, an Atlanta-

based reproductive-rights group focused on the needs of women of color, is among those in the pro-choice movement

who marvel at the pro-life strategic vision even though she opposes its goals. "The entire women's-health movement

was predicated on the lack of women's safety and gender consciousness in health care settings," says Ross. "It is a

classic example of our opponents learning from us and taking our script."

In fact, those most affected by new zoning laws are independent clinics like Red River, whose tight margins make it

financially burdensome for them to adapt to new requirements. Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider

in the U.S., but independent clinics collectively deliver the majority of abortions in America. And as abortion

services have become concentrated in specialized clinics--as opposed to hospitals, which accounted for the vast

majority of abortion facilities in 1973--clinics have become easier targets. Pro-life groups celebrate every clinic


The other strength of the state-based clinic laws, which often are based on text written by pro-life activists and

lawyers and distributed to lawmakers, is that they are hard to campaign against. The zoning regulation in Virginia,

for example, would require abortion clinics to widen all hallways to 5 ft. (1.5 m). "Is that the kind of thing that

will rally voters?" asks Cristina Page, author of the book How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. "'We're not

going to expand these hallways to be 5 ft. wide!' is not a compelling message. The villain is now in the fine


When the Red River clinic opened in downtown Fargo 15 years ago, the surrounding area was a sea of blight and empty

storefronts. In the years since, the area has undergone a dramatic revitalization that recently earned it a spot on

a list of great neighborhoods in America. Two doors down from the clinic, customers of a deli check out using

iPads. Across the street, a boutique hotel and restaurant serves upscale cocktails and locally sourced food.

The beige brick building that houses the clinic looks like a vestige of a more hostile era. A glass-block wall

shields those inside from view. The lock on the interior door is operated by a switch inside, and patients are

buzzed in only if they have appointments. Twenty to 25 abortions are performed every week at Red River, and the

procedures are usually all scheduled on a single day. On these days, a staffer inside watches a set of closed-

circuit televisions monitoring the entrance and the handful of protesters from a local Catholic church who show up

and mill around out front with graphic signs showing aborted fetuses.

The atmosphere outside is tense, but inside, on the second floor, the waiting room is filled with sunlight. Lush

houseplants are perched everywhere, and signs and posters decorate the walls: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. WE TRUST WOMEN.


Kromenaker, who has run Red River since it opened, was born in a small town in northern Minnesota. Her family later

settled in a suburb of Minneapolis, and Kromenaker graduated from Minnesota State University at Moorhead, just a

few miles from Fargo. She and her husband, a California native, have stayed put in part so she can continue her

work. "We're committed to this clinic," she says.

In Fargo, Kromenaker is battling the state legislature and the local pro-life community. But in Washington,

establishment pro-choice activists are dealing with another set of threats that are mostly self-inflicted. What

pro-choice activists call "the movement" is in many ways more fragmented than it's ever been, thanks to a widening

generational divide. The problem is rooted in leadership, which is concentrated in a small but powerful army of

women who were in their 20s and 30s when Roe was decided and who now oversee a number of establishment feminist

organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, run by Nancy Keenan, 60; the National Organization for Women,

headed by Terry O'Neill, 60; and Feminist Majority, run by co-founder Eleanor Smeal, 73.

Some of these leaders and their similarly aged deputies have been reluctant to pass the torch, according to a

growing number of younger abortion-rights activists who say their predecessors are hindering the movement from

updating its strategy to appeal to new audiences. This tension had been brewing for years, but in 2010, Keenan told

Newsweek that she worried that the pro-choice cause might be vulnerable because young people weren't motivated

enough to get involved. The complaint struck young activists like Steph Herold, 25, as an effort to place blame on

others for mistakes the establishment pro-choice movement has made along the way. "They are the generation that

gave us legalized abortions, but they also screwed up," says Herold, pointing to the pro-choice establishment's

failure to stop the 1976 Hyde Amendment, a law that prohibits federal funding of abortions and disproportionately

affects poor women. At a conference last May, Herold heard a women's-clinic owner who has worked in the abortion

field for some 40 years echo Keenan's complaint--that young people aren't involved enough in the pro-choice

movement. Herold was furious. She stood up and, trembling, walked to a microphone. "We're counseling your patients

and stuffing your envelopes," Herold told the clinic owner. "You should be talking to us and not just about us."

The power struggle isn't based on differences over the right to access abortion. Young activists fighting for

reproductive rights have the same hard-line view of abortion access as their predecessors: they say it should be

unrestricted by state governments and that the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be left solely to women and

their doctors. But the infighting could splinter the movement if the younger generation abandons those feminist

institutions that have traditionally been the headquarters for voter-mobilization campaigns, fundraising and

lobbying, the lifeblood of any political movement. Erin Matson, 32, became a vice president of NOW in 2009 but

recently resigned. "When you want to build a jet pack, sometimes that means you have to leave the bicycle factory,"

she says.

Matson says she is considering starting a new organization to specifically target young people. "A number of young

women are just saying, 'To hell with it, I'm just going to lead,'" she says. "It's easier for young women to

exercise leadership right now than before we had this technology." The technology Matson refers to is the Internet.

Last February, when the Susan G. Komen breast-cancer foundation eliminated its long-standing grant funding for

Planned Parenthood, a backlash quickly ensued on Twitter. Under tremendous pressure, Komen reinstated the funding.

After the episode, says Herold, "No one can say anymore that young people don't care about this issue."

In addition to being nimbler at Web-based activism, young feminists have another advantage when appealing to

millennial voters, who will make up some 40% of the electorate by 2020: relatability. "We need more leaders in this

movement who are of reproductive age," says author Page, 42. Sandra Fluke, the law student Republicans barred from

testifying before a congressional committee last year, was a valuable asset to the pro-choice cause in part because

of her relative youth. She spoke publicly about the personal reproductive rights and birth control choices of her

peers. Keenan, who has become aware that her own age might impede her effectiveness, announced last May that she

would step down in 2013. She said she hoped a younger person could replace her. "They're chomping at the bit to

have their opportunity," she says.

Young abortion-rights activists have a strategy to modernize the cause, which includes expanding it. They often

don't even mention the term pro-choice, which they say is limiting and outdated. Instead these young leaders have

embraced a cause known as reproductive justice--a broader, more diffuse agenda that addresses abortion access but

also contraception, child care, gay rights, health insurance and economic opportunity. "It's a more holistic

frame," says Matson. "And you see younger people connecting with that."

The term reproductive justice was coined in the 1990s by black feminists who wanted to broaden the appeal of

reproductive rights and speak to the needs of African-American women, whose abortion rate is 3½ times that of white

women. "The pro-choice movement would focus on 'Let's open more clinics.' The anti-choice movement would say,

'Let's stop women from going into them,'" says Ross, 59, of Sister Song. "Those of us in the reproductive-justice

movement would say, 'Let's ask why there is such a high rate of unintended pregnancies in our community. What are

the factors driving that?'"

Addressing issues like economic disparity marks a major shift from the pro-choice messages of the 1970s that made

choice the optimal virtue and an end in itself. But the shift, says Ross, is the natural maturation of the pro-

choice movement and worth the extra effort. The abortion rate in impoverished black communities has remained

disproportionately high despite efforts by Planned Parenthood and others to provide access to family-planning

services. "What this proves," says Ross, "is that if people are not convinced that they have realistic economic and

educational opportunities, you could put a clinic in a girl's bedroom and she would still think early motherhood is

a better choice."

Eye contact can be hard to come by at Red River. Many patients walk the halls with their heads down and their arms

crossed. In journals scattered throughout the clinic in which women are invited to express their feelings, patients

write about nonsupportive husbands and boyfriends and ask God for forgiveness. They write about how they can't

afford to support another child and how they are so glad Red River exists. Amid the low hum of ringing phones, the

sound of a staffer reading a state-mandated script to women wafts through the clinic's upper floor: "North Dakota

law defines abortion as terminating the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

When her name is called, a surgical-abortion patient descends a set of stairs and steps into a room where a

technician performs an ultrasound. Afterward she enters an exam room and is met by the physician on duty. On this

Wednesday it's Dr. Kathryn Eggleston, who informs the woman that she's reviewed her chart and asks, "Are you

confident in your decision to have an abortion today?" If the woman says yes, the abortion begins; the whirring of

the vacuum aspirator used to extract the fetus can be heard in the hallway. Within 15 minutes, Eggleston emerges

from the room and enters another where the removed contents are examined and photographed for the medical record.

In the recovery room, where patients rest in overstuffed leather recliners, Kromenaker chats with a 20-something

woman who declined Eggleston's offer to go on birth control. "Do you have a boyfriend?" Kromenaker asks. No.

Kromenaker runs through a few ancillary health benefits of birth control anyway, hands the woman some condoms and

pats her shoulder.

A 24-year-old patient who drove 80 miles (130 km) alone to reach the clinic says she and her boyfriend decided

together not to continue her pregnancy, which was six weeks along. "Neither of us is anywhere near baby time right

now. We argue over who will take the dog out some days, so I don't think the diaper changing would go much better."

Another young woman at the clinic that day is less sure. When Eggleston asks if she is confident, the patient says

no. Eggleston questions her further, and once it's clear that the woman is conflicted, she gives her prenatal

vitamins and sends her home. The woman returns a week later. This time she does not change her mind.

About three-quarters of the patients at Red River are under 30. More than half have at least one child; about one-

third have had a previous abortion; fewer than 4% are minors. These statistics roughly mirror national data. In

all, more than 50 million legal abortions have occurred in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade. According to the Guttmacher

Institute, a reproductive-rights group whose statistics are cited by both pro-life and pro-choice activists, nearly

1 in 3 American women will have an abortion by age 45. Some 90% of abortions occur in the first trimester of


The abortion war, like many other political fights, is largely waged on the margins of reality. Review the policies

that have stoked widespread national debate and it's easy to assume that late-term abortions and those performed on

underage girls or women impregnated by rape or incest constitute the bulk of terminated pregnancies. In truth,

these are mere slivers of the abortion story in America. And on the whole, there is little public disagreement on

the merits of abortion in such cases. Most Americans support access to abortion in cases of rape or incest or when

the mother's life is threatened, along with a raft of common state abortion restrictions. Gallup data shows that

79% of pro-choice Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy and that 60%

support 24-hour waiting periods and parental consent for minors.

Establishment abortion-rights organizations oppose nearly all abortion-specific regulations. Pro-life activists

view their opponents' hard line as an opportunity to use public support to push for laws that have the indirect

effect of making the process of terminating a pregnancy more time-consuming and expensive. "As we work on this

common-ground package of legislation, we are more where the American people are," says Yoest of Americans United

for Life.

Activists like Yoest are playing a long game that kicked off when the antiabortion movement wholly adopted the

label pro-life in the 1970s. Then, in the 1980s and '90s, as pro-life protesters were dragged to court over their

activism at abortion clinics--blockading entrances, "counseling" patients seeking abortions and occasionally

resorting to violence against doctors and staff--they slowly built a formidable legal apparatus that serves their

cause today, says Joshua Wilson, an assistant professor of political science at John Jay College whose book The

Street Politics of Abortion will be published this year. Of pro-life activists he says, "If they can get laws on

the books, great, because they have the legal resources to defend them when they're challenged. It's an integrated

strategy that's very impressive."

The antiabortion cause has been aided by scientific advances that have complicated American attitudes about

abortion. Prenatal ultrasound, which has allowed the general public to see fetuses inside the womb and understand

that they have a human shape beginning around eight weeks into pregnancy, became widespread in the 1980s, and some

babies born as early as 24 weeks can now survive. Cultural norms about unwed pregnancy have shifted as well in the

decades since Roe v. Wade. "In general, the pro-choice movement leaves people with the feeling that we don't see

these things as complex because the answer is almost always, Well, it's a woman's decision," says Kissling,

formerly of Catholics for Choice. "And that's true, but we don't have kitchen-table conversations at the national-

advocacy level."

Kissling opposes the specific state laws pushed by pro-life activists but says the pro-choice movement's effort to

"normalize abortion" is counterproductive. "When people hear us say abortion is just another medical procedure,

they react with shock," she says. "Abortion is not like having your tooth pulled or having your appendix out. It

involves the termination of an early form of human life. That deserves some gravitas."

While a return to the pre-roe days of back-alley abortions seems inconceivable--even in the face of so many new

state laws restricting access to abortion--there is concern among pro-choice advocates that in places like North

Dakota, where the nearest abortion clinic could be hundreds of miles away, women might be driven to take

unnecessary risks. Those in the abortion-provider community say they worry that women in rural areas might try to

purchase pregnancy-terminating medication on the Internet without a doctor's supervision. Amplifying this fear is

the fact that the generation of doctors who stepped up to perform legal abortions after Roe have retired or died

without a robust new class of physicians to take their place. Efforts are under way at many obstetrics-gynecology

and family-practice residency programs to offer abortion training to more doctors, but the specter of protests and

unwanted attention remains. "It's a vicious cycle," says Eggleston of Red River. "If more of us were doing it,

there would be less stigma."

The smaller number of doctors willing to perform abortions has likely contributed to a fairly steady drop in the

overall abortion rate, from about 30 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1981 to about 20 per 1,000 in 2008, according

to Guttmacher. Widespread access to birth control, which the pro-choice movement strongly supports; changing

attitudes about family and fetuses; and state regulations are also cited as reasons. In theory, a lower rate of

abortion might be something for both sides of the abortion debate to share credit for and even celebrate. But it

also illustrates the ultimate challenge for pro-choice advocates. Their most pressing goal, 40 years after Roe, is

to widen access to a procedure most Americans believe should be restricted--and no one wants to ever need.

The original version of this story equated late term abortion with "partial birth abortion," the latter of which is

illegal in the U.S. Abortions in the second and third trimester of pregnancy are performed using other procedures.


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