I pissed off a great number of people in college with some of my opinion columns on abortion. It’s critical to note that at the time they were written, I had never had a pregnancy scare, and I was adamantly against the pill: my understanding of how it worked wasn’t entirely accurate.
Today, I’ve experienced both of those things, and my viewpoints have been changed considerably, even though I still consider myself pro-life. The leaked video of Deborah Nucatola discussing the pricing of fetal body parts got me thinking again – but this post isn’t about the details of that video, which I haven’t watched.
There’s two kinds of pro-lifers, I think. There are the ones who only want to outlaw abortion but do nothing to help prevent the circumstances leading women to choose it (and they probably abhor the idea of women choosing and enjoying sex in the first place). And then there are the ones who want to see a reformed society: one that educates its children, encourages healthy relationships, takes care of its poor, and places compassion above judgment. I’d like to think I’m the latter kind of pro-lifer – I hesitate to call the former pro-life at all.
There are so few people I can discuss this with openly and without argument. Many of my Christian friends will stop at “It’s murder!” and find the circumstances in which a woman chooses abortion to be irrelevant. Doesn’t matter if she’s poor and can’t feed another child. Doesn’t matter if her child has been diagnosed in utero with a disease that will surely make his life painfully short. In many cases, abortion is an act of desperation, not a celebrated decision, and compassion for the circumstances is completely absent.
On the flip side, I have extremely liberal friends who will fight to the death (no pun intended) to defend abortion as a constitutional right. It’s the woman’s choice only that matters – the father’s opinion isn’t relevant. The woman’s family’s opinion isn’t relevant. It’s her decision, and her decision alone.
Honestly, I think both sides get things backwards. There are some questions I’ve been afraid to ask, at the risk of starting an argument and coming across as anti-feminist, but nonetheless, they bug me: Why is the father’s opinion of the fate of the pregnancy not important? Assuming the sex was consensual, and even better – assuming the couple has a committed relationship, why can’t this be a decision they work out together (obviously if the pregnancy was caused through rape, the “father” is no father at all, but rather a sperm donor). The woman didn’t get pregnant all by herself. And, most controversially, I also have to ask why abortion is considered a constitutional right? I do not understand the denial, even outrage, that the biological purpose of sex is to make babies. That’s an evolutionary fact, not just a religious idea.
I ask these questions not to shame or judge anyone. As a now-married and sexually active woman, I finally have a concern in this debate when I didn’t before. And as a married woman on the fence about having children, I think I’d be in for a major attitude adjustment if I did get unintentionally pregnant, but hopefully (knocks on wood) my taking a pill every day will prevent that from becoming a reality before we’re ready. I feel sad that women get unintentionally pregnant because they were denied access to birth control for financial or other reasons. It scares me to think there are teenagers out there who never learned how sex actually works, and buy into myths that pulling out is foolproof or that you can’t get pregnant the first time. I’m upset that some women choose abortion because the programs designed to help low-income families have been shut down by greedy politicians, and they can barely afford the children they already have.
I’m much more interested in working together with pro-choice and pro-life people alike to prevent abortion from becoming an option in the first place. I was wrong to think that making abortion illegal would magically stop unintended pregnancies from happening and motivate people to make more responsible choices with their sexuality. I was wrong to think policing people’s sex lives would result in a better world.
I’m tired of the black and white thinking on both sides of the issue. The grey middle isn’t any easier, though. The moment I admit that I don’t think outlawing abortion will solve anything, but actually worsen the situation with more back-alley procedures, has earned me a scarlet H for heresy on the extreme pro-life side, and merely asking about the fairness of women making all the decisions themselves has branded me an anti-feminist on the pro-choice side, which couldn’t be further from the truth. But if both sides envision a world with less abortion, honest communication accomplishes far more than marching with picket signs and shaming women whose stories you don’t know. That’s the only thing I’m certain about, other than that a baby should ideally not have to suffer the consequences of a society that isn’t always fair to its women.