The Problem With The Abortion Debate
Perhaps it is that me and my beautiful wife are going to be welcoming another member to our already large family this December (#5- if you’re counting)-lately I have been really getting annoyed with the tone of the debate over abortion. There are the “pro-life” people- forever calling people who disagree “anti-life”, “pro-abortion”, “abortion advocates”, and the like. There are those on the “pro-choice” side forever bringing up abortion clinic bombings as though every “pro-lifer” is a domestic terrorist– or the constant and droning use of the term misogynist at the drop of a hat.
There are words flying across both sides of the fence that make any reasonable treatment of the topic impossible. It boils down to two very important and very reasonable positions. On the one hand, we have the pro-choice camp who believe women need to have ultimate control over their bodies and be given the same opportunities as men. This seems quite reasonable. On the other side of the fence lies a group of people who believe in the primacy of existence- that once you create life there is no return policy. Quite reasonable as well. Both miss the point when boiled down to this kind of generalization. Both miss the point when staring down the opposing position.
As a Pro-Choice advocate, I am most familiar with what frustrates me when trying to explain my
position to people who have a laundry list of preconceptions, misleading talking points and bad logic regarding what it means to be an “abortion advocate”. I know some Pro-Life people, and I can sympathize with their feeling that they are generalized and marginalized as well. This post is meant as a treatment of what frustrates me most when discussing abortion- how I feel that my position is mistreated and misunderstood by the Pro-Life camp. They surely feel the same, and I’m happy to make room for that conversation as well.
Conversation stopper #1:”You are anti-life”
I am not oblivious to the human cost of abortion. I do not objectify human lives. I am a father to four young children. I have a fifth miracle on the way. I cannot look into my children’s eyes, or stare at the ultrasound picture hanging on my fridge, or touch my beautiful wife’s bulging belly without being reminded that a pregnancy is a human being. It is a unique and special person waiting to meet the world. I don’t diminish the value of that miracle. It is the reason this debate is so rightfully charged with emotion. We are talking about a human life- a life that deserves to be realized. I cannot stress this enough- I know what is at stake, and I know that if others saw a pregnancy through the eyes of a loving parent, abortion would be much less common practice.
I also know the sacrifices I happily made to make those four lives a reality, and will continue to make in the future. I know the sacrifices my wife made- greater than my own- physically, mentally, and financially to bring our children into this world. Parenthood is not without its costs, but it is a job with infinite rewards. I value each of those lives I have been entrusted with completely. I am far from anti-life.
Conversation Stopper #2: “You only care about a woman’s right to murder her fetus.”
Being pro-choice does not mean that I only want women to have the choice to abort or not abort. Being pro-choice means valuing the ability to make choices. It means advocating for policies that make the choice to carry a child to term easy, realistic, and reasonable. We are talking about a choice- with abortion- with the ultimate consequence. We are talking about a choice- to bring a child into the world- with a mountain of costs: physical, mental, financial, social, emotional. If we assume, as I do, that most if not all women are cognizant of the gravity of the choice that faces them, the best way to make the choice clear is to give them a sense that there are few reasons not to choose life.
For women contemplating putting a child up for adoption, making financial and social resources available is key. The cost of prenatal vitamins, medical check-ups, ultrasounds, nutrition, time off work, and delivery can make adoption an unrealistic choice for an expectant woman. Add to this the additional health effects of pregnancy and the emotional burden of carrying a child, and choosing to carry a child to term only to put that child up for adoption can seem like a choice akin to climbing Mount Everest on your hands or on your elbows. Neither less painful, reasonable, or daunting. This is no simple choice.
For a young woman planning her future around a University degree, giving real choice means having a support network at her disposal. Flexible class schedules, blended campus and distance education, institutional daycare, and government financial assistance would turn a choice between two futures of lost potential into a reasonable choice to bring a life into this world. As it stands, the demands of higher education on finances and time make pregnancy and parenthood a sacrifice of lifelong proportions. This is not a simple choice.
For people living paycheck to paycheck, one unbudgeted expense away from no electricity, bankruptcy, or homelessness- an unexpected pregnancy is impossible and irresponsible to manage. We are giving these people an impossibly difficult choice.
If we truly value life, if we want to impart on people how much society values a human life- we
should be willing to attach real value to that potential life. The pro-life movement could drastically reduce the amount of women choosing abortion simply by committing ideologically to the true meaning of its creed- that human life has infinite value. It could, in a sense, put an end to the idea of “pro-choice”- it could truly and irreparably take the concept of choice away from pregnant women by making the choice so easy as to be absurd. Like choosing between having your fingernails pulled out or having a manicure.
Conversation Stopper #3: “You don’t believe there are any bad reasons to have an abortion.”
To an average Pro-Life advocate, Pro-Choice means that you think abortion is reasonable under almost all circumstances. This is absolutely absurd. To almost every pro-choice person I know there are very few circumstances that we would consider “good reasons” to have an abortion. Most of us would never consider abortion an option for ourselves. If any of my friends approached me for counsel about having an abortion you can be damn sure I would give them a million good reasons to keep a child- at the very least carry the pregnancy to term.
From a moral standpoint, abortion is not a morally ambiguous act. It is inherently a moral wrong. As such, there are no “good reasons” and “bad reasons” to have an abortion. There are reasons all right- each one loaded with a powder keg of negative consequences.
What we need to ask is are there invalid reasons to have an abortion. The answer to that question is a bit more nuanced and difficult than simply “good reasons” and “bad reasons”. Are there reasons we might consider “invalid”- ones that show that it is wrong to give someone the choice to govern their reproductive system?
If you are asking me if it might be alright for our society to limit abortions to a set amount of “good reasons” and refuse for “bad reasons”- quite honestly- I have to begrudgingly say “No.”
I don’t make that statement lightly, and I am not oblivious to how callous the ramifications are- but I stand by it nonetheless. The reasons women choose to have an abortion, “good” or “bad” as they might be- are valid in the context of their lives. There are real financial, physical, and emotional responsibilities that accompany pregnancy and parenthood. For better or for worse, we live in a society that almost makes the choice for the potential mother. We lack the will and the resources to give women the ability to choose adoption, or choose to become unexpected parents- but some of us feel it entirely reasonable to take the one choice that we do give women away.
I’m not standing here prepared to argue that abortion is a victimless act- my personal beliefs are clear on this issue. I cannot stare at the ultrasound picture on my fridge right now and say in good conscience that I don’t value the life that my wife and I are bringing into this world- or that I don’t see that little person as being human. This is not an easy stand for me to take. This is why I get so angry when “pro-life” people argue from ignorance and assume that I and others are heartless assholes who flippantly devalue human life without any care at all. It is decidedly not the case with me, and certainly not for many others either.
The way to stop women from making “bad choices” is education. It is taking the time and resources to prepare them to be healthy sexually active adults. It is making birth control inexpensive and accessible, and teaching people to use it. It is proactively targeting money and resources to give women more choices when they are faced with an impossible decision. It is meaning it when we say we are “pro-life”- making that word mean more than just “until you come out of the womb”.
I’m not telling you that we can end abortion. I’m telling you that we can take away many of the “bad reasons”, the bulk of the objections- and give women a real choice.
I’m saying we can all be Pro-Life, and all be Pro-Choice.