Let US court ruling on abortion enrich debate on weighty issue

An illustration of abortion laws and legislation on an unborn baby. [Getty Images]

Dobbs V Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, the Supreme Court decision that reversed Roe V Wade will remain one of the most consequential decisions rendered by the American court for decades.

On June 24th, the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 decision that had permitted unrestricted right to abortion within the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy and had limited states’ rights to restrict abortion in the second and third trimesters.

After last week’s decision, the boundaries of a woman’s right to abortion will now be determined by states without federal oversight. Indeed, immediately after the decision, laws that had been passed by conservative legislatures in what is called the “bible belt” and that placed absolute restrictions on abortion, became instant law.

While there has been celebration of the decision in many “pro-life” communities, there has also been an outcry against the decision which “pro-choicers” see it as an attack on women’s rights over their bodies. 

As a bible believing Christian, I have found this one of the more difficult issues to grapple with. On one hand, I believe life is sacred and starts at conception and so abortion takes a life.  I also believe one of the strongest definers of our humanity is our ability to protect and speak out for those unable to speak for themselves, which includes the unborn. To that extent, I struggle with any laws that would permit liberal abortion in all circumstances. 

On the other hand, I recognise the enormity of responsibility that comes with carrying a pregnancy to term and bringing a child to life and how this can be traumatic if it is not borne of one’s choice, including out of rape or incest.

I have seen many lives shattered by a pregnancy that occurred at the wrong season and condemned both mother and child to a life of struggle. I also know numerous maternal deaths occur through the application of unsafe “backstreet” abortions which are the only avenue desperate women use to terminate a pregnancy unseen by the law. While data on this issue is difficult to obtain, most studies on unsafe abortions in Kenya show that up to 40 per cent of pregnancies are unwanted and half of these end up with abortions. Of the latter, more than half end up with severe complications and death with at least 10 women dying every day from unsafe abortions.

Unfortunately, there is also a direct link between poverty and unsafe abortions. In America, the affluent have numerous options of obtaining safe abortions including by flying to permissive states and procuring abortion legally.

In Kenya too, where the Constitution permits abortion if a medical practitioner confirms that the health of the mother is at stake, the affluent can access the necessary medical opinions and get safe legal abortions.

Ultimately, the absolute ban on abortion impacts the poor disproportionately. One way that would lower the trauma of carrying an unwanted pregnancy is if our adoption and foster environment was friendly. It is not. There is still a social and cultural barrier to adoption and many children are languishing in overcrowded children’s home and in the streets.

The social support systems for girls who become mothers is also lacking. In many of our communities, motherhood brings an end to one’s upward mobility, complete with an end to education. Institutions, including the faith community, that strongly support life for the unborn make zero investments, including lobbying for changes in policy, for the same life once it appears on earth.

These are difficult issues that require more reflective thought that balances right of the unborn with realities of the living as the reverberations of Roe V Wade’s reversal find themselves on our shores.