“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana

After alcohol prohibition in America was repealed, after having given organized crime more power, India instituted prohibition and experienced the same results. They should have know.

Now that Roe v. Wade is likely to be effectively overturned, a historical perspective may help us avoid the unintended consequences of when abortion was criminalized.

After the Civil War, Alabama criminalized abortion. The legislature realized white couples used abortion to plan for smaller families, and Black and immigrant families were much larger. Alabama’s legislature was terrified non-whites would populate the country, and many states followed suit. As multiple abortion bans went into effect, police and prosecutors threatened, arrested, and even prosecuted some women for having an abortion. Doctors often questioned women who miscarried to determine if they’d had an abortion. When abortion was illegal, many hospitals had “entire wards for patients experiencing sepsis after shoddy or self-induced abortions. Chicago’s Cook County Hospital had 5,000 patients annually in the abortion ward – women who were bleeding, infected, and sometimes dying.”

The deadly act of advocating a return to when abortion was a crime is a criminal act itself. Yet, some highly educated and supposedly informed people support a return to the dark ages. In the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Dianne Irving, M.A., Ph.D., writes, “The question as to when (a human being begins) is strictly a scientific question, and should be answered by human embryologists” and, “The question as to when a human person begins is a philosophical question.”

Irving then correctly concludes, based on scientific and medical evidence, that the process of human development begins with fertilization. Unfortunately, she then interjects her personal philosophical opinion, without evidence, that personhood is established at fertilization.

Legally granting personhood to a fertilized egg creates multiple problems. If a fertilized egg is a person and a woman has taken birth control medication that prevents implantation, is she guilty of murder? If a fertilized egg is a person, should that person be counted in the census? Should “people” conceived in a petri dish for in-vitro fertilization and not implanted in a woman be named and buried?

These questions do not take personhood arguments out of context or exaggerate their claims. Christian lawyers who advocate for personhood at fertilization answer yes to every question. This assault on women’s reproductive choices is the primary reason every personhood bill has failed. The other reason these bills fail is many anti-choice Christians vote against the bill too. Their fear in the past was that Roe v. Wade could be reinforced if appeals went to the Supreme Court and the Court struck down the state law.

That fear may be unfounded now that the majority of justices on the Supreme Court are pro-birth ideologues.

The scientific, medical, and legal communities have long-established that pregnancy starts with implantation, not fertilization. Granting personhood at fertilization puts every woman who uses hormonal birth control in danger of being charged with murder. While never 100% effective, some hormonal birth control prevents ovulation or fertilization, respectively, but both methods can work as an abortifacient by preventing implantation after fertilization.

If personhood begins at fertilization, then all hormonal birth control can abort that person. Pro-birth movement leaders routinely avoid contraception discussion. They know if female supporters understand they are working to deprive themselves of the most reliable way to plan when to have a child, they would no longer act against their interests.

Some argue that the rights of the fetus and the pregnant mother are necessarily in conflict if the same rights are granted to both. In her paper, The “Moral Significance of Birth” published in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Mary A.Warren writes, “(granting) rights to fetuses is necessarily to deprive pregnant women of the rights to personal autonomy, physical integrity, and sometimes life itself.”

Making abortion illegal will not end abortion. Women without means will risk their lives, and many will die, by going to an unqualified person for an abortion. Women with means will get abortions from gynecologists who are willing to disguise the abortion as a different procedure.

For these reasons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the new restrictive laws that are occurring nationwide. If Roe v. Wade is effectively overturned, as many suspect it will be, history tells us a lot about what we can expect.

That brings up another saying: Be careful what you wish for — you just may get it.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at: [email protected]


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