Pro-life or pro-choice? Both.
or, Why I can be pro-life and still want abortion legal
The movement for illegalising abortion made a major PR coup when they adopted the name ``pro-life'': it implicitly accuses opponents of this view of being ``anti-life''. I really don't know very many people who are actually against life; I really don't know too many that even think abortion is always a good idea. Many pro-choice people think that abortion is usually or always a bad idea, some going as far as to call it evil.
How, then, can they want it to be legal?
There are many, many reasons to want abortion legal. Some are strong, some are weak. You may not agree with all of them, but if you agree with even one it should give you pause for thought. I have broken them down as follows:
If abortions are legal, then they can be regulated.
We can require medical training for the doctors and nurses who will be performing them; and we can require sanitary conditions to prevail in the operating room. While you may or may not believe that abortion should be painless (probably not), it should at least not endanger the life of the mother. Yes, the fetus is aborted, and that might be wrong; but two wrongs do not make a right.
We can make sure that the mother has considered all her options. Note that this is not a licence to browbeat the mother into not having an abortion, as is the common practice currently where ``pre-abortion counseling'' is required. However, it is not unreasonable to require that she read and understand a list of alternatives, including (though not limited to) putting the child up for adoption or joining one of the programs run by religious and charitable organisations to help out mothers who choose not to have an abortion. (I cannot emphasise enough, however, how easily this could be abused: ensuring that the mother is informed is absolutely not the same as persuading her and guilt-tripping her about the abortion. If she's aware of the other options, she's made her choice, and she'll be haunted enough in later years as it is.)
If abortions are legal, then women can choose not to have them.
At pro-life rallies and in pro-life commercials, we frequently see women saying things like, ``Ten years ago I decided not to have an abortion. And look at my son now! He's grown so big and tall and I'm so proud of him.'' And so on. Ads like this are so effective, and women like this are so inspirational, because those women made that choice. It is because they could have aborted the child, and didn't, that this message is even remotely meaningful.
As for themselves, if abortions were illegal, wouldn't these women wonder for the rest of their lives whether their ``choice'' to have the baby was due to inner spiritual strength, or just fear of the law?
If abortions are not legal, it creates an atmosphere of sexist and classist inequality.
If a young boy and girl are fooling around and have sex without knowing what they're getting into, it's very easy for the girl to get pregnant---and for the boy to just walk away. Whether he immediately reforms his ways or never does, he can go on to finish his education and build a successful career. But if abortion is not an option for her, then no matter how much of a wake-up call the pregnancy is and no matter how deeply she wishes to reform her life, she will at best have a very much more difficult time finishing school and getting a good job. That goes double if she doesn't have a strong support network of family and friends to help her out. If anything, this makes it more important that abortions be available---somehow---to minors; for the people who might need them most, 18 is too late.
If a girl from a rich family gets pregnant, let's face it, legal or not her family will be able to help her arrange an abortion. Thus it is disproportionately the poor that would bear the burden of illegalised abortion. As if they needed even more obstacles in their path to rising out of poverty.
Different points of view
Although you and I might think that having an abortion is morally wrong, there are people that don't. It's certainly their prerogative to think that, but I would argue that it is also their prerogative to follow up on that belief. If someone has an abortion, then they might go to Hell or the equivalent. Or they might not: having the abortion might be so distressing that it causes them to see the light and have a conversion experience of some sort. The various religious mythologies, not least the Christian Bible, are chock full of stories of people who were very wicked but became very good, often as a result of realising just how bad they'd been. In any case, it's not really our concern in this world.
It should be pointed out that even those who find abortion to be within their moral compass don't generally think it should be done frivolously. If nothing else, there are financial arguments---birth control is much cheaper---and health arguments---even a regulated, ``safe'' abortion is not entirely without risk. Those pro-life activists who talk about women who use abortion as their primary form of birth control are just beating down a straw man. (Exception: poor women who are kept uneducated regarding birth control, and who cannot get access to birth control. Ironically, it is largely the same pro-life activists preventing such education about and access to birth control.)
What can we do?
Right about now, there are a lot of people reading this saying, ``but abortion is wrong. What else can we do, if not make it illegal?'' This is more good PR work on the part of the illegalise-abortion camp. They have made it seem like if you are ``pro-life'' (and anti-abortion), the only thing to do is to illegalise it. On the contrary, there are a number of very useful things we can do to decrease the number of abortions performed---perhaps even more effectively than illegalising it.
Promote birth control
It's simple: if people use birth control, they're much less likely to get pregnant. And if they don't get pregnant, they won't be getting an abortion. Promote abstinence all you want, but if kids don't know about birth control, then when they do have sex there's a good chance they'll get pregnant. Possible compromise: the use of birth control could be taught in the context of marriage. As in, ``when you first get married, you might not be ready to have kids yet, so here's how you put them off a while.'' I mean, don't get me wrong---kids aren't dumb, they'll figure out what you're really telling them here, but if you need to toe the official line for some reason, there's your out.
Don't badmouth single mothers
Many pregnant teens turn to abortion because they are deathly afraid of their parents ever finding out. Every time you utter anything bad about single mothers, you are making it that much more likely that, if your daughter gets pregnant, she'll want to do anything to keep that fact from you. Including getting an abortion.
Lend assistance to single mothers
If there is a single mother in your community---church, family, friends, neighbours---help her out! Offer to babysit, offer to come in and cook occasionally, donate old baby clothes, be a shoulder to cry on, anything. The more visible, the better. Then, when someone else in the community gets pregnant, you've set yourself up as a sympathetic ear for her to go to. She'll be scared, but you can point out that the community is there for her and will help out, etc, etc.
Behave well when someone announces her pregnancy
Especially if she's your daughter, but really no matter who she is, behave yourself! Surprise is fine; disapproval and shame are not. Do not say: ``well, I hope you're ashamed of yourself.'' Do say: ``wow, that's a heavy load for you to carry. How can I help?''
Give to single mother organisations
There are a number of programs out there, run by churches or other charitable organisations, that give aid of various sorts to pregnant women and single mothers (usually simply on the condition that the baby be allowed to live). Donate to them!
Support pro-life propaganda
There are many radio and TV commercials out there that ``there's another option'', or several other options. Convincing pregnant women not to have abortions is All Good---as long as we are honest enough to recognise that someone might choose abortion anyway, and humble enough to recognise that we aren't allowed to dictate their life.
I honestly think that if all the money and effort put towards illegalising abortion had instead been put towards helping single mothers (and publicising the organisations that do so), there would have been much more progress towards curtailing abortion than has been made so far. I also think that we have for far too many years let political candidates use this as the only issue they run on, rendering this ``democracy'' incapable of representing its people on any other issue (if indeed it even represents us on this one).
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