Opinion: Finding empathy in difficult abortion debate

·4 min read
Over 50 pro-choice attendees protest the leaked draft opinion of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade and end the constitutional right to abortion access Saturday, May 7, 2022, at the northeast end of the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart.
Over 50 pro-choice attendees protest the leaked draft opinion of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade and end the constitutional right to abortion access Saturday, May 7, 2022, at the northeast end of the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart.

I spent last Tuesday, the day of Ohio’s primary election outside a polling place. Though I am running for state representative, I was not on the ballot, as our redistricting disaster means that my race is still awaiting a constitutional map. That frustration aside, the primary for Senate and Governor was a great opportunity to do something our elected officials often fail to do: listen. In hundreds of conversations, I learned a great deal, but one issue towered above all others in urgency and importance: a woman’s right to make decisions about her reproductive health.

With last week’s news that the Supreme Court may overturn a half-century-old judicial precedent in Roe v. Wade, it was no surprise that the people of Eastern Cincinnati had women's rights on top of mind. If we go back to the dark days before safe and legal abortions, women and girls will die.

I’ve spoken with women who have had abortions. A friend wanted her pregnancy but had a non-viable fetus that would have killed her had she not terminated. A family member couldn't afford to have another child. Some women were the victims of rape. Others simply didn't want to be pregnant.

I’ve also heard from concerned women who have not had abortions, but understand that women's rights have broad impacts on our society. An elderly woman in Anderson told me that she would not have had the same careers and opportunities if not for the ability to make decisions about her reproductive health. She was worried those rights would be taken away from her daughters.

Of course, not everyone I've spoken with supports abortions. In Hyde Park I’ve heard from devout Catholics who considered abortion a sin. One woman in Walnut Hills, seeing only that I was a Democrat, screamed at me that I "wanted to kill babies."

A sign is held during a protest in downtown  Fort Myers on Tuesday. Supporters and opponents of abortion rights were present. Members for abortion rights held the protest in response to a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade.
A sign is held during a protest in downtown Fort Myers on Tuesday. Supporters and opponents of abortion rights were present. Members for abortion rights held the protest in response to a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The diversity of experiences reflects the fact that abortions are quite ordinary, even if we don't usually talk about them. It's estimated that 1 in 4 American women will have an abortion in their lifetimes, making abortion common even as abortion rates have declined since Roe v. Wade.

Pundits call abortion divisive, but if you take the time to talk with people you find it's more nuanced. I've met devout Christians who have had abortions. And I had a fascinating conversation with a married father of two who described himself as "pro-life," yet told me that his most pressing concern was women’s access to abortion. When I asked why, he told me, "what women decide to do with their bodies is none of my business."

The decision to have an abortion is deeply personal. Many women agonize over a decision that pits their health against their wish for a child. I will never experience that decision myself, yet I try to have empathy for those women who do. Empathy is what's lacking in the leaked draft opinion that terminates women’s constitutional right to privacy.

Abortion protestors outside Planned Parenthood of Canton are Paul Crowley,left, Gary Cerrone, and Christy Ballor .
Abortion protestors outside Planned Parenthood of Canton are Paul Crowley,left, Gary Cerrone, and Christy Ballor .

Anti-choice legislators across the country, such as Cincinnati’s Rep. Jean Schmidt, are working to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest, a position supported by merely 1 in 10 voters. Schmidt recently described the rape and impregnation of a 13-year-old girl as an "opportunity" for the girl. As the father of a girl that age, I see a child forced to make a painful adult decision beyond her emotional capacity. I wish for her support and compassion instead of condemnation. For politicians to take that decision from her, and force her to carry that pregnancy to term, denies her basic human rights and further injures a victim of sexual assault.

With the Supreme Court returning issues to the states, state legislatures matter now more than ever before, as it will be up to those governing bodies to decide whether women will be relegated to second-class citizens denied privacy, liberty, and personal autonomy.

If our state legislators took the time to speak with their constituents, they would know that the majority of voters are against overturning Roe v. Wade, and that most of us support a woman’s right to make her own health decisions. But the Ohio GOP has gerrymandered the legislative maps so that our state legislators never have to talk with voters because they’re all but guaranteed to win based on party alone.

I have chosen a different approach. I have personally spoken to thousands of voters in Eastern Cincinnati where my campaign team and I have knocked on the doors of nearly 20,000 voters: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We ask what matters and we listen to voters’ answers.

I cannot change the actions of nine life-appointed Supreme Court justices. I can be a state representative who holds himself accountable to the people of his district. And I can fight hard to protect the rights that underpin our democracy against those who attempt to take us backward.

Mount Lookout resident Gavi Begtrup is a candidate for the Ohio House 27th District comprising Eastern Cincinnati. He is a father and husband, public school parent, small business owner, Ph.D. physicist, and former policy advisor to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Gavi Begtrup
Gavi Begtrup

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Finding empathy in difficult abortion debate