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Where We're at, 40 Years After Roe v. Wade: Many More Right Wingers Have Abortion as Single Issue, Than Do Liberals

Four decades on and the fight continues.

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TW: I think that when rhetoric gets overly heated it does lead in the direction of people who are living on the margins acting in very awful ways. I do think the targeting, the direct targeting and killing of abortion providers is related to how hostile we’ve allowed the rhetoric to become. I think what’s interesting -- and you were asking earlier about whether Roe was poorly decided -- is one critique of the Roe decision's privacy frame. The second critique of the Roe decision is the extent to which it made it seem like abortion is about doctors and not about women. Doctors have the authority to do abortions under the Roe decision. We forget that it’s really women who have abortions. So if our society were to say, "Who is murdering babies?" It really would need to be that it’s women who are doing it.

That kind of hostility towards women I think exposes a different level of what’s really at stake in this. We’ve allowed the hostility to be transferred to doctors and then they’ve been targeted for direct action. I think we need to remember that ultimately it’s women who make decisions about abortion. It’s women who have abortions and it’s women who decide the fate of any individual fetus. I think if we could return the conversation to that, to remember who is making the abortion decision, then I think that some of the polarization declines, because people have a lot more empathy and sympathy for women’s individual circumstances. It brings, I think, the nuance and the context back into the discussion, which doesn’t happen when it is focused solely on either the courts making abortion legal, or doctors are killing babies.

JH: I want to talk a little bit about the discourse on the other side as well. We both know the reality of abortion in this country. The overwhelming majority occur early, in the first trimester. Is it 88 percent, or something like that?

TW: It's over 90 percent.

JH: Over 90 percent. And what share of later-stage abortions are due to complications that threaten the life, or the health of a woman?

TW: We don’t actually know the answer to that question. Only about 1.3 percent of abortions occur after the 20th week and we really don’t know exactly what causes that. Our research here suggests that it is sort of a confluence of experiences. Sometimes it’s what develops medically in a pregnant woman. Sometimes it’s what develops in the fetus -- poor development of the fetus. It can also be poverty. It can be a series of -- look, say  a woman doesn’t diagnose her pregnancy until she is in the second trimester, then she tries to find a clinic. Then she tries to find the money. She can’t find the money and then suddenly she is over the 20th week. So there are medical reasons why women end up that way and there are social reasons why women end up that way.

I think what’s so ironic is that the very laws that are being passed now that make abortion harder to obtain, mean more women get pushed into that category. If we really cared about later abortion we would do a lot more to increase access to early abortion, but we’re going in the opposite direction unfortunately.

JH: The law of unintended consequences. So 1.3 percent are after 20 weeks. One other question that I have -- and I guess that was a weird set-up -- but I really want to ask about pro-choice people criticizing anti-choice people for not respecting exceptions for rape and incest. When you focus on the rape and incest angle, are you not implying that there is something wrong with getting an abortion unless you were raped, or are a victim of incest?

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