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The Nation Op-Ed Highlights Necessity of Abortion Access for Gender Equality

In an opinion piece for The Nation, columnist Katha Pollitt rebuts several antiabortion-rights arguments made by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

First, Pollitt argues against Douthat's claim that the mix of federal and state-level abortion restrictions in the U.S., combined with "expanding social safety net programs like" the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), are moving the U.S. toward "'a slightly more European place'" in terms of abortion access. "[I]t's only on paper that Western Europe is more restrictive than the United States," Pollitt writes, noting that abortion in European countries "is generally covered by national health insurance ... is widely available, and does not require the patient to run a gauntlet of clinic protesters."

By contrast, implementing "new 'European' limits" in the U.S. would require overturning Roe v. Wade, which would allow "[l]awmakers [to] do whatever they wanted -- so much for compromise," she writes. She explains, "In practice, fortunate women living in anti-abortion states would travel to get safe abortions and the rest would suffer." Pollitt also points out that Douthat's proposed compromise of banning abortion in exchange for "public provision of non-abortifacient contraceptives" for adults only would actually be a regression in birth control coverage under the ACA and certain public programs, which cover teenage girls.

Secondly, Pollitt reiterates her concerns about how abortion-rights opponents are "placing heavy burdens on women that are not placed on men." She notes, "No law ever forced men to marry their pregnant girlfriends ... and in any case being pressured to marry applies to the woman as well." Further, she writes that child support "doesn't begin to equal the intensive labor that raising a child requires, or the effect of having a baby on a woman's life chances in every area." According to Pollitt, "Fact is, no man undergoes what the woman he impregnates endures to produce a baby, which can include serious physical and emotional trauma and even death. Abortion bans affect only women. That does not seem to trouble Douthat."

Pollitt also debunks Douthat's claims that society can achieve gender equality while banning abortion because "abortion restrictions in the US have coincided with advances for women in many areas." Noting that "there's only so much any society can do to lighten the burden of forced childbearing," Pollitt writes, "[W]e don't hear much concrete from" the antiabortion-rights movement "about how to make that world in which women would be willing to bear however many children they conceived, no matter when they conceived them or with whom, because doing so would not badly affect their lives."

Pollitt also touches on the "personhood" movement, noting that Douthat's argument "against punishing the woman" fails to account for how "personhood has already been used to arrest women for their conduct during pregnancy and for what they claim are miscarriages in many states." She points to "long prison terms for supposed abortions that may [have been] miscarriages" in El Salvador, as well as to advocates who "defended women charged with feticide and fetal assault right here in the [U.S]."

Douthat "relies too much on wishful thinking," Pollitt concludes, noting, "He thinks that because he is open to certain limits on pro-life positions ... the movement he supports feels the same way, and if not, the voters will right the balance." She writes, "Maybe the voters will indeed right the balance, but Douthat surely knows how much suffering can occur before government catches up with reality" (Pollitt, The Nation, 10/30).