MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, if you've ever cared for an elderly parent or needed care yourself, you know it can be an overwhelming and exhausting experience. Our next guest has some wisdom to share that we hope will be helpful. We'll speak with Jane Gross. She's the author of "A Bittersweet Season: Caring For Our Aging Parents and Ourselves." That's a little later in the program.
But first, we wanted to spend some time talking to women about an issue that still fires some of the most intense political disagreements of our time. That issue is abortion.
Despite dreary skies, demonstrators are in the nation's capital today for the March for Life, the annual event marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. That's the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
The debate over abortion rights is still raging in state legislatures. A new report by the abortion rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, says that in 2011, some 69 new laws were passed around the country that made it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion. That's just one short of the record for new restrictions that was set in 1999.
To mark this anniversary, we thought it would be a good idea to hear from those who are most likely to be affected by the legal status of abortion. That is to say young women. Fifty-one percent of women who have abortions each year are 24 years old or younger, according to the latest data available from the Guttmacher Institute. That's a research group that focuses on reproductive and sexual health issues.
We have with us today three young women who were born well after Roe v. Wade was decided, but whose lives continued to be touched by that decision. Joining us now, Kelsey Hazzard. She is a law student at the University of Virginia. She founded a group called Secular Pro-Life, a group that opposes abortion rights.
Mara Hollander is a senior at Georgetown University here in Washington, D.C. She supports abortion rights. And Lauren McEwen is a senior at Howard University, which is also in Washington, D.C. She's the life and style editor for that campus' newspaper, The Hilltop. Welcome to you all. Thank you all so much for joining us.
KELSEY HAZZARD: Thank you.
LAUREN MCEWEN: Thank you.
MARA HOLLANDER: Thank you.
MARTIN: And I'm going to start with you, Kelsey, because you are active in this issue.
HAZZARD: I certainly am.
MARTIN: And I wanted to ask how you got interested in the issue and how you arrived at the position that you have now. Did you grow up with it?
HAZZARD: You know, I really didn't grow up with it. My parents certainly inculcated me with certain values about treating other people the way that you want to be treated and caring for weaker members of society. But they really didn't talk to me specifically about abortion and they weren't, you know, activists in any way.
For me, it really has to do with the science and human rights-based arguments against abortion. You know, if someone is a human being - and science tells us that the unborn are - I'm just very, very uncomfortable with making these political distinctions that a certain age group or ethnicity group or whatever group - however you're going to define it - that a certain group isn't going to have a right so basic as the right to life.
MARTIN: Mara, what about you? You support abortion rights for women. How did you arrive at your point of view?
HOLLANDER: I do support abortion rights. I think abortion rights are important for women. I grew up surrounded by a lot of strong women who taught me that women should be able to make their own decisions and have a certain level of bodily autonomy that is the ultimate level of bodily autonomy to decide what happens to them in their existence.
And as I grew older, this became more and more important to me. I think, while I respect Kelsey referring to the science, I do think the science is not as clear as some people will suggest. I think, when people talk about life beginning at conception, I do not believe that. And because I do not believe that life begins at conception, because I don't think the science demonstrates that life begins at conception, women should be able to make their own decisions...
MARTIN: Did your parents - I asked Kelsey this question, too. Did you grow up with your parents talking to you about this?
HOLLANDER: My parents did talk to me about it. I think when I was younger it was harder for me to understand. I think that abortion is a bit of a complicated issue, so just being told by my parents was helpful, but it wasn't enough for me to understand. I really had to come into the beliefs on my own, I think.
MARTIN: Interesting. OK. And, Lauren, you know, we're glad you're here because a recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that most Americans - actually, 60 percent - fall somewhere in the middle when they're asked whether they think that abortion should be legal or illegal. And also, as an African-American, African-Americans tend to have an interesting perspective on this. They tend to believe for themselves, personally, that abortion is not the right choice, but they don't tend to think they can make that choice for other people. And I understand that that's kind of where you are.
MCEWEN: That's exactly where I am. My mother always raised me not to believe that abortion was really an option for myself, mostly because she never wanted me to feel that kind of guilt and she just was afraid of - girls, like, making that kind of decision and then regretting it later.
MARTIN: Do you have an opinion that you claim as your own about this?
MCEWEN: Definitely. I just think it's very easy to be either/or when you're not in the situation. Luckily, I haven't had to face that kind of decision - and knock on wood. Just God forbid. But I don't know what I would do.
HAZZARD: I understand. I would like to...
HAZZARD: Sorry. This is Kelsey. I'd like to just politely disagree with Lauren a little bit. And I know that every person is different. But among my pro-life friends and activists who I know, a lot of them have become even stronger in their views or come to the pro-life position as a result of personally experiencing pregnancy.
MARTIN: You have had friends who've had what we would call unplanned or...
MARTIN: ...what some people call crisis pregnancies?
HAZZARD: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: And did they all choose to keep the...
HAZZARD: Not all. No. Some - you know, I do know people who've had abortions and that doesn't prevent me from being friends with them. I know a lot of pro-life people who have had abortions and they were pro-choice. They had an abortion and then, through that experience, wound up, you know, getting to a point where they said, I don't want any other woman to have to go through what I've been through.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
It's been 39 years since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, to some extent, in this country. I'm joined by three young women with different perspectives on abortion rights. They were all born after the decision - well after the decision - but they're living with it now.
Lauren McEwen is the student editor of the Howard University newspaper. Mara Hollander is a student at Georgetown University and is an abortion rights supporter. And Kelsey Hazzard is a law student at the University of Virginia and founder of a group called Secular Pro-Life.
You know, one of the interesting things about Mara and Kelsey that both of you are activists and have strong points of view on this issue. So, you each said you started with a position and then you studied more that reinforced the position you already had.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: And I'm curious about. Mara, if that tells us something about why we continue to fight over this.
HOLLANDER: Yeah. I mean, I think people become very ingrained in their positions on these issues. Obviously, it's a very complicated issue. If you do believe that life begins at conception, I do see where Kelsey is coming from. If you do believe that life begins at conception, it would be very difficult to sit across the table from me while I'm saying that abortion is OK.
That said, because I don't believe that life begins at conception, most of the arguments that I see support your point of view. And I think that is at the very heart of the abortion debate.
MARTIN: Let me ask you this, though. Kelsey says that she has met people - she's known people who have had abortions and she can still be friends with them. What about you? Can you still be friends with somebody who has a very strong position against or who feels that women should not have the right to choose abortion?
HOLLANDER: I definitely am. One of the great things about being at Georgetown is that I'm surrounded by people with all sorts of political views. It is a Catholic, a Jesuit university where the...
MARTIN: Position is...
HOLLANDER: The position is one of a pro-life position. There are a lot of pro-life conferences on campus. And I do have friends who are very strongly pro-life and who will be attending the march and some of the rallies this week. I'm still friends with them. I don't think I would go to them were I in a situation where I felt I needed to make a choice and that's unfortunate to me.
MARTIN: Kelsey, can I ask you a question? Because this is something that came up when, you know, Sarah Palin was running for - was on the ticket to be vice president of the United States. And she - Mrs. Palin, Sarah Palin, as a public position, strongly opposes Roe v. Wade and does believe it should be repealed.
HAZZARD: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: And the argument that her critics have made of her is that she - this is - your conviction about this arises from the fact that you have a choice. Does that make sense?
HAZZARD: To me, it really doesn't because, I mean, she did give birth to that child and Bristol did give birth to that child because they were not going to deny the right to life of their children, even if the law of the land is that other children may not have those rights. They were going to say, well, this is my public position and I'm going to live my private life, you know, consistently. Well, I think that's not hypocritical at all.
MARTIN: I think the argument that some people make - that critics make is that what's wrong with the position that Lauren has enumerated, which is that, if that's your personal conviction, that's fine for you. But why do you feel you have the right to deny others the right to make a decision that's best for them? I think that's the argument.
HAZZARD: What I would say to that is simply that, if you look at abortion as a violation of the rights of the fetus, then it's not enough to just say, well, you know, it's up to you. It's your choice. Because there's another individual in the mix here who doesn't have a voice in the decision. And because of that, the legal system has to step in to protect those individuals even if their parents, you know, do not want to step up and take that position.
MARTIN: Lauren, you wanted to add something.
MCEWEN: I do. I just struggle with that because of the fact that, nine times out of 10, when most young women especially are thinking of aborting a baby, they're thinking about this because they are afraid that they can't provide for that child because of their status in life.
HAZZARD: That's absolutely true. I do understand that. And I think that the pro-life movement is making strides toward, you know, creating more resources, but that a lot of work needs to be done.
MCEWEN: I just struggle with that because...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Lauren.
MCEWEN: I'm sorry. I struggle with that because the majority of the people who I've spoke to who have usually been pro-life also don't support things like WIC and welfare for these mothers. So, the only time the baby is actually important to them is when it's in the woman's womb.
And I struggle with that. As with a lot of people I've met. You might not feel that way, personally, but I just struggle with that idea because most of the time, these are just girls who feel like they don't have any other option other than to either put their baby in foster care once they have it or to get rid of it while it's in the womb. And it's just so many girls who have done it before regret it. But they don't regret it because it hurts them to think about it again. But they don't regret it thinking that, my child wouldn't be able to make it on what I make.
HOLLANDER: I think another important - this is Mara. I think another important factor to consider here is what is happening to the woman while she is pregnant. There is precedent that says that human beings cannot be forced to forego their bodily autonomy for other - pretty much anything. You can't be forced to consent to a medical procedure if you are declared competent. You cannot be forced to donate an organ to another person, to give up a kidney, to donate blood.
And one of the biggest issues that strikes me here is that we are - if it's even just for nine months, even if you do have an option for foster care at the end of that, even if there are resources for women at the end, which I do think need to be there, you're still removing women of their bodily autonomy and their ability to make decisions for those nine months.
MARTIN: What about those who would argue that, except in the cases of rape and incest, that the woman made the choice to have sex and, therefore, the consequences of that, she should be responsible for?
HOLLANDER: I think that sexual development is different for a lot of different people. I think that some people can be healthy sexually while remaining abstinent and that's great for those people. I think we also need to consider people who approach their sexual development differently. Some who use contraceptives incorrectly because they don't know how, they weren't taught. People who don't know how to use contraceptives at all and, therefore, don't use them. I think it's more complex than just the rape and incest issue.
MARTIN: OK. Kelsey, what about - would you respond to Lauren's point, which is that her perception is that a lot of the people she sees as being pro-life only care about the fetus as long as it's in the mother's womb, but don't care about the child after that and don't seem to show any regard for the child's quality of life afterwards.
HAZZARD: Right. I think that problem really arises from this political alliance that is somewhat strange, the political alliance between the pro-lifers and these fiscal conservatives. And that's done so that we can elect pro-life people to office. But pro-life pregnancy centers rely greatly on WIC. You know, pro-life pregnancy centers are connecting women in crisis to government programs. They rely on those things.
So the pro-life movement - there is this tension in trying to get our representatives, especially the ones who are more fiscally conservative, to say, hey, you know, I realize that the budget is a mess, but these are vital programs. And, you know, please don't eliminate them.
MARTIN: We only have a couple of minutes left. And so, before we let you go, this has been an interesting discussion. Obviously, we're not going to resolve this issue here that has bedeviled this country for - what - you know, 40 years and truly even before that.
But I did want to ask each of you for a closing thought and I think I'm interested in this whole question of - if we were to get together - you all are very young. As I said, you're of an age where - and I'm not going to ask each of you what you think you would do if faced with this. I mean, Lauren, you talked about that a little bit because - a little personal. But I do wonder whether when you are no longer of the age when this is a pressing issue, when you're - you know, as we mentioned, a majority of the people who have abortions in this country are younger than 24.
MARTIN: Five years from now, if we get together - 10 years from now, if we were to get together, where do you think we'll be?
HAZZARD: That's a really interesting question. I do think that it's a more pressing issue for young people. We see a lot of young people at the March for Life. It's become a very youth-oriented issue. But I certainly think that I'll still be involved in the pro-life movement and working on those issues in 10 years, 15 years.
MARTIN: You think there'll still be issues to work on?
HAZZARD: Oh, absolutely.
MARTIN: You think the issue will still be with us?
HAZZARD: Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, then it just goes to the states. Even if abortion is outlawed entirely, then we still have to be working on resources for women and educating people about how to have a healthy pregnancy. There is always going to be pro-life work to be done.
MARTIN: Mara, what about you?
HOLLANDER: Well, I hope that this remains an issue in 10 or 15 years because I can't imagine this going in the direction I would like it to by then. So, I hope that we're still discussing it. And I think that one area that it seems that all three of us have been able to agree on is that we'd like to see more resources for women throughout their pregnancies and as well as after.
And I think that, at least my personal opinion would be that it would be beneficial to work with pro-life advocates on an issue which most of us can agree, which is stopping pregnancy before it happens. And one of the - and some of the ways that we can do that include contraceptives, birth control and, for some people, abstinence if that is a decision that works for them.
Ultimately, though, I think that women do need to be able to have the choice. And I think that this probably will eventually go back to the states. And I hope that each state is going to make decisions that recognize where its women are and what kind of resources they have available to them.
MARTIN: Lauren, what about you?
MCEWEN: I still think I'll feel the same way. I still think that I'll feel that I don't agree with it for myself, but for other people - my friends who have come up to me and said, I'm thinking of doing this, I can't tell them, no. I can't tell them that's not their right. And I still hope that we'll still have this option because I'm afraid that if we don't, women will turn to back alley people who will do things for them and will turn to alternatives that could leave them in more danger than actually having an abortion at Planned Parenthood or some welcome and friendly resource for them.
MARTIN: Do you think this issue will still be here 10 years from now?
MCEWEN: I definitely do.
MCEWEN: Just because people are always going to have unplanned pregnancies and people are always going to have situations where they might want to have an abortion. It's never - that want and that need isn't going to go away, but our argument about it will still be here, regardless of what happens.
MARTIN: Lauren McEwen is a senior at Howard University. Mara Hollander is a senior at Georgetown University. Kelsey Hazzard is a law student at the University of Virginia and she founded a group called Secular Pro-Life. She's actually here in Washington, D.C. today to attend the annual March for Life and they were all here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.
HAZZARD: Thank you so much for having us.
MCEWEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.