Envisioning a Pro-Life, Pro-Choice World
Ever since Donald Trump’s election, I’ve been doing something I never thought I would do: getting into Facebook debates about abortion. Perhaps I’ve been in a bubble, but I was surprised to discover how many people voted for Republicans, and specifically for Trump, because of this one issue. I had long thought that debating abortion was a lost cause, but as I have attempted to engage with the other side, I have learned a great deal. I would like to re-frame this issue with the goal of inclusion. I think we can create a world that is both pro-choice and pro-life.
Let’s start with where we all agree. No matter where we fall on this issue, I think we can all agree that we love babies. We all value children as a blessing. No one wants babies to die. No one wants to have an abortion. We all agree that abortions are morally complicated. We all would like a perfect world in which every pregnancy is planned, and every family has the resources it needs to raise happy, healthy children.
The question is: as a society, how do we handle an imperfect world? Let me tell you one reason why I feel so strongly on this issue. I used to work at a community health center in rural North Carolina, and it was my job to give women the results of pregnancy tests. I listened to each woman’s story, and each was different and complicated. I worked with women who were sexually trafficked, or in abusive relationships; women with disabilities who lacked health insurance; single women who already had four children and whose birth control had failed; women who developed medical complications with pregnancy making it impossible for them to work if the pregnancy continued; and women who were on medications for mental health which would threaten a fetus. Perhaps a dozen women told me that their partners tampered with their pills in order to impregnate them, so the relationship would stay intact. One woman was sexually trafficked by her own parents as a teenager. I learned that obscene numbers of men refuse to use condoms because “It doesn’t feel good.” Even more men convinced their partners that the “pull-out” method is effective.
I decided, Who am I to judge what is best for each woman? The decision was a painful one for everyone. I decided I am okay with each woman bearing the moral burden herself, and I would rather allow her to have access to medically safe abortion than force her to desperation and/or poverty.
Those who see abortion as murder would say, “I know the world is an imperfect place. But abortion is not the answer. Letting a child die is never the answer.” And yet, the question remains, how can we then justify the consequences of restricting abortion access? The consequences will be more women and children in poverty, increased rates of maternal mortality, increased rates of infant mortality and child abuse, more women who never complete the education and careers they want to, and more women in abusive relationships — not to mention more families who need public assistance and more people on this strained earth to feed. All of these negative consequences cause living, breathing people to suffer and die. I cannot in good conscience let our society ban abortions first, and fix these other problems second.
A more holistic approach to life would address the reasons women get abortions in the first place: poverty, lack of child care, income gaps, the difficulty of getting an education and career after kids, and men who desert and abuse them, among others. Our society could do much more to address these needs. Because we are all pro-life — we wish for all lives to flourish — I urge us to band together to fight income inequality and to push for low-cost, subsidized child care. I urge us to fight for free contraceptives for everyone. I urge us to advocate for workplace environments that are more flexible and supportive of working moms. I urge us to mandate that men step up — why not rule that they share 50% of the costs of contraceptives, medical care, diapers, and food, not to mention 50% of the child care? Child support only requires a man to pay a percentage of his paycheck. A woman must financially support her children according to their needs, not her income.
I struggle with how few politicians who claim to be “pro-life” support ideas like these. All I can figure is that they enjoy the feeling of moral high-ground, but they are not willing to do the work to achieve it. The fact that so many voters choose abortion as a make-or-break issue is deeply troubling to me as well. I’ve heard many people say they would never vote for a pro-choice candidate, no matter what. Why don’t we fight as zealously to combat climate change, save refugees, or end poverty? Those issues threaten far more human lives than does abortion. I may lose many readers here, but I think the real reason is our patriarchal legacy, which is obsessed with women’s sexual behavior and which feels entitled to control their choices, even with the most benevolent of intentions.
Once children are born, we could do better to support their lives. We could invest much more in our school systems, especially in poor areas. We could improve public housing systems to make them accessible and healthy. We could vastly improve our health and mental health systems for parents, as well as their educational opportunities. A world with all of these supports would be a world with far fewer abortions. If we want to end abortion, we must support life in these holistic ways, not focus so intently on limiting abortion access. Let’s support women and children rather than try to control them. Let’s allow them self-sovereignty, trusting that they can make thoughtful, moral decisions, as we try harder to give them what they need.