Thistlethwaite: Overturning Roe v. Wade is immoral



I have been a pro-choice pastor since I was ordained in 1974. And I am staunchly, vigorously pro-contraception. I am also pro pre-natal care, subsidized early child care, and a guarantee of free health care for all children.


A leaked, draft opinion by the Supreme Court indicates that the conservative majority on the court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that upheld a constitutional right to abortion.


This will have tragic results. Forced pregnancy is immoral on many levels. Women and girls have a fundamental right to decide what happens to their own bodies. Pregnancy itself is a risk to a woman’s or a girl’s life. Pregnancy is dangerous. The maternal death rate in the United States has doubled in the last two decades due to lack of health care, lack of providers and chronic and often untreated health conditions.


For example, African American women in New York City are 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women.


And please do not resort to a false equivalence of lives. A fetus is not a child. It is, in fact, a fetus. To bring that fetus to term requires a huge physical and psychological commitment from a woman, a commitment that is life-long, even if the child is adopted. Believe me, as the veteran of many counseling sessions for women and girls who have given up a child for adoption, that decision is a huge wrench.


No one should be allowed to require these choices of any woman or girl. It is, in fact, her decision.

The 1973 Supreme Court Decision on a constitutional right to abortion did not start women having abortions — it stopped women and girls dying from abortions. I was in college in the late 1960s. Women who got pregnant went to a nearby big city. Some did not come back.

Control of women’s and girl’s bodies is not about the fetus. It is about controlling the tremendous power of reproducing human beings that womens’ and girls’ bodies represent. That control has often been asserted in very violent ways.

I spent six years researching and writing my book “Women’s Bodies as Battlefield: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women.” I argue the fight to control the bodies of women and girls is the world’s longest war. Every day this is a huge and often very violent struggle. Overturning Roe v. Wade is violence against women and girls. Don’t dress that up with moral-sounding code words like “life.” If you disagree with abortion, do not get one. That’s what choice means.

A solid majority of Americans (54 percent) say the 1973 Roe decision should be upheld, according to an ABC poll, while 28 percent believe it should be overturned — a roughly 2-to-1 margin. This Supreme Court is widely unrepresentative of the American people on this issue, and I suspect now, many. We are in the midst of minority rule by the Supreme Court, not to mention gerrymandered states.

Most abortions can be prevented by accurate sex education in schools and free contraception. Rapes should be investigated, and the woman or girl reporting the rape should not be targeted. Rape kits should be tested, not left to molder in storage as has been the case in many states. And, of course, pregnancy that results from a violent assault must be quickly ended if that is the woman or girl’s choice.

If the lives of women and girls were actually valued in this country, pregnancy could be a joyous choice, as it was for me and my husband, with maternal health care and support. Not everyone wants to get pregnant, or can, however, and their paths should be equally valued. But the lives of women and girls are not valued in this country — they are a political and physical battlefield.

Shame on those in this country who’ve made it that way.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.



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