An informed choice

The abortion debate has centered around many misconceptions that need to be corrected before people vote on the issue

By the time this article runs, election day will be upon us. There is an issue that I think vitally needs clarification before you all cast your votes, and as I have been blessed with the forum of this column, I’m going to use it.

I have no problem with the abortion debate dominating much of the recent political discourse. Rather, I take issue with the type of attention that it has received. The ideal news coverage would include facts and objectivity, but most of the dialogue about abortion has consisted of mud-slung statements rooted in hyperbole or extremism. With this article I do not seek to change your moral beliefs, only to clarify some of the most widespread misconceptions about abortion and make you all more confident voters.

This issue has become so polarizing that it will literally be the deciding factor for a huge number of people as to who will get their vote. Single-issue voting is a bad idea regardless of the issue involved, because no presidency will consist of a single piece of legislation or a single opinion. But if you insist on deciding your vote based on one issue, and that issue happens to be abortion, please read on.

To begin, many people are concerned about their tax dollars being used to fund abortions. As it happens, this is almost a nonissue. Although it wasn’t Barack Obama’s doing and is in fact a result of the Hyde Amendment, adopted by Congress, federal policy currently states that Medicaid funds may only be used to fund abortion in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the life of the mother. In addition, Title X federal funding is currently prohibited for use in programs where abortion is used as a method of family planning. Obama has not tried to change these policies. Romney would want to outlaw — and seemingly end funding for — all abortions except under those same circumstances mentioned above. Your tax dollars are not being used to fund abortions now — except in the above circumstances — nor will they be in the future, regardless of who you vote for.

In my opinion, the most egregious misunderstandings surrounding the abortion debate concern the actual function of Planned Parenthood. A significant percentage of the population holds the incorrect belief that the sole job of Planned Parenthood is to be an abortion clinic, and that since Mitt Romney has pledged to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, he will be preventing a large number of abortion procedures.

But the correlation that has been drawn between Planned Parenthood and abortion is logically flawed. Planned Parenthood spends exactly three percent of its annual budget on abortion services. Shutting down Planned Parenthood will not help to promote the pro-life agenda. Rather, it will effectively deprive thousands of lower-income Americans of important health care services. The majority of what Planned Parenthood does involves STD testing, cancer screenings, distribution of contraceptives, and counseling. Also, this is not purely a women’s issue. During the last ten years, the male clientele of Planned Parenthood has increased about 105 percent.

In closing, I would like to discuss what the Constitutional mandate of religious freedom actually entails. Many will argue that the legality of abortion in the United States is an infringement upon theirs and others’ religious liberty, but I would disagree. I truly believe that the most notable statement from any of the debates has been wholly overlooked. I have yet to hear anyone explain freedom of religion better than Joe Biden, so allow me to quote him now:
“Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept [that judgement] in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and I just refuse to impose that on others… I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can’t control their body.”

Freedom of religion means that you can decide not to have an abortion if it is against your moral code. But the government is — or should be, optimally — a secular institution, and it does not have the right to refuse a woman an abortion because of someone else’s religious convictions. You should be able to have faith, or not have it, and display it openly without fear of persecution. By depriving women of the right to control their reproductive choices based on religious beliefs — which the women in question may not share — the government would be persecuting them.

With regards to the controversy surrounding Obamacare and its respect for religious freedom, you should know that churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the contraception mandate of the legislation, while religiously-affiliated hospitals and business are not. Additionally, individual physicians are not required to provide abortive pharmaceuticals, contraception or abortion services if they are morally opposed.

I hope that reading this article has been ten minutes well spent, and I urge you to consider the list of facts I’ve supplied. Please appreciate the gravity of your vote and consider what is at the heart of this abortion debate: not religion, but personal freedom and health.

Ashley Spinks’ column normally appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

related stories