Ellen Brady: End of Roe would be the worst nightmare of women

Loss of abortion rights would threaten free will, the bedrock of all ethical systems.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fern Creson poses for a photograph during a rally in the capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on May 21. This rally was part of a nationwide series of protests to bring attention as a number of conservative states pass laws aimed at getting abortion before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion on a Mississippi abortion case turned the worst nightmare of women into stark reality, robbing us of the ability to make profoundly personal choices about our bodies, our families and our lives.

This decision would overturn 50 years of precedent, the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, set by a 7-2 decision. If the leaked opinion stands, two of the votes for it would apparently be cast by justices credibly accused of sexual misconduct and ethical lapses; three votes from justices appointed in a precedent-breaking manner by a lawless president who was elected without a majority of the popular vote.

I urge Utah’s congressional delegation to right this wrong by passing the Women’s Health Act. I do so as someone who is profoundly pro-life and pro-choice. Let me explain.

As a woman and a mother, I understand that pregnancy and parenting are not nine-month deals, but lifetime commitments. Done well, they come with joy, worry and, too often, pain. Thus, they are not choices made lightly, both for the well-being of the mother and the child.

As a person of faith, I recognize the sacred nature of life but also recognize that religious traditions do not universally oppose abortion. The Hebrew scriptures in Genesis — The Beginning — declare that humanity began with “the breath of life.” Hebrew Judges attempted to induce abortion as a test for infidelity. When someone injured a pregnant woman, Hebrew law clearly placed a higher value on the woman’s life vs that of the fetus.

Christian scriptures are silent on the issue and opposition to abortion did not develop until the Moral Majority drove it as a wedge issue. Accordingly, law needs to respect this diversity of belief.

As someone married to an ethicist and who, both by nature and osmosis, has thought deeply about broader ethical constructs, I note that respect for choice — autonomy/agency/free will — is a bedrock of all ethical systems. Likewise, the need to choose calls for the weighing of benefit vs harm.

It seems intuitive that, in any such hierarchy, the needs and well-being of the fully formed, living, breathing, adult woman in community with others take precedence over a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus still dependent on another’s body for life. This seems especially relevant in cases where the mother’s life is endangered by continuing the pregnancy or in instances where the fetus is non-viable.

As a physician with a public health degree, I am all too aware of the physical and medical risks of pregnancy and childbirth. Globally, they are a leading cause of death among women and girls of childbearing age. Notably, the United States doesn’t compare well to other “developed” nations. Further, before Roe v. Wade, complications of self-induced abortions filled OB-GYN wards and killed many. The lives and health of women matter.

As an actively engaged citizen, I note that unplanned pregnancies profoundly impact our society. Lack of adequate child care keeps women out of the work force. Teen and unplanned pregnancies interrupt education and life goals for far too many. Single parenting is a well-trodden pathway to poverty and dependence on public “safety nets.” Unwanted children often become victims of abuse.

My circle of acquaintances, friends and family profoundly illustrates the reasons I believe that choice is essential. Too many have been victims of abuse, rape and incest; two bore children as a result. Others bore children with no chance of survival after birth or who led extended lives in a perpetual state of developmental infancy. Others were struggling to get by when they became pregnant — again putting their dreams on indefinite hold. One died in childbirth. Their scars are real and lifelong. I fight for them.

If we truly value the lives of women and their families, and if we truly want to reduce abortions, we will provide comprehensive sex education, affordable access to effective contraception, pregnancy care, support for children and families and yes, we will find a way to ensure unobstructed access to affordable abortion services. The latter will facilitate early, safe termination before the fetus nears viability, leaving late-term abortions to those much rarer and heart-wrenching circumstances where the pregnancy has gone awry, threatening the life of mother and/or child.

It is past time to respect the agency and autonomy of women, leaving these deeply personal decisions to them, without government intrusion.

Ellen Brady, M.D.

Ellen Brady, M.D., MPH, is a retired physician and issues director for the Women’s Democratic Club of Utah.