Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice: Missing The Point?

Today’s guest post comes from Penny. Blogging at Penny Gets Lucky about things like feminism and sexuality, Penny’s comments have been featured here before and I was delighted that she was willing to write a post for the Tea Cosy. 

A Difficult Topic

Abortion. It’s an ugly topic. Emotionally charged, difficult to sort out, and fraught with hyperbole on either side.

So I’m not writing this to discuss my views on abortion, per se. I consider myself both pro-life and pro-choice; the two are not mutually exclusive, regardless of what the rhetoric in each camp may say. I believe that every wanted baby should be given the best possible chance to make it into this world; and I believe every woman should be allowed to make a fully-informed decision as to whether she wants children or not. No one should enforce having babies; and certainly no one should enforce not having babies.

Right now, though, I think there’s a piece of the abortion-debate puzzle that’s largely getting ignored. We’re all so worried about what happens if abortion were made legal, or what happens if abortion were abolished, we’re forgetting to ask a fundamental question… What if we simply made abortion obsolete?

Making Abortion Obsolete?

It doesn’t matter, in the end, if we fall in the rhetorically pro-life or pro-choice side of the debate – I think we can all agree that, in a perfect utopian world, abortion wouldn’t need to exist. In this magical fairyland, children would only be born to families that really, truly wanted them; becoming pregnant would always be a choice, one made with excitement and joy, and those pregnancies would never threaten the life or health of those who were pregnant.

But, of course, we don’t live in that world. So how do we approximate it? What steps can we take to make abortion as unnecessary as possible?

I think no one wants to ask that question, because the answer involves more than a few pieces of legislation and some slapdash measures. The answer to that question involves cultural change, the spreading of information, the readjusting of attitudes and beliefs. It means accepting a different way of thinking about women, sex, and reproduction, and no one’s comfortable with that. It means understanding what motivations people have for wanting or needing an abortion in the first place. I want to point out some of these motivations and outline ways we, as a society, could address these issues without infringing on the rights of pregnant people – or, in many cases, the unborn child.

Abortion as a means of birth control.

It seems like this, especially, is a favorite for the rhetorically pro-life side to point to and scream, “Murder! How can you approve of this?” It’s a facet of the debate that, from what I’ve seen, makes even rhetorically pro-choice folks a little uneasy. After all, we want to support the right of every woman to do what’s right for her, but there’s no denying that the process of abortion comes with significant physical and emotional risks. I don’t think there are many people that truly want to see a friend going in to the clinic for her tenth abortion.

So how do we avoid that? Well, first of all, there needs to be better sex education. Young people need to understand what types of sex lead to pregnancy, and how. Along with that needs to come education on how to avoid pregnancy when engaging in those activities. Teach young people other methods of being sexual that don’t result in pregnancy. Teach contraceptives. And, yes, teach abstinence.

Part of that education should be methods for talking about sex and contraceptives. We need to learn how to discuss these things with prospective partners in a way that is healthy, open, and unabashed. We need to create a culture that is comfortable talking about sex.

There also need to be reliable, accessible, stigma-free sources for contraceptives. In fact, studies have shown that access to free contraceptives significantly cuts down on the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. People should not be ashamed to take whatever measures they need to take to avoid becoming pregnant. Every sexually active person should know how to use a condom, how to use hormonal birth control, and what their backup plan is if any of their methods fail or fall through. Every sexually active person should be able to talk with their partner about the risk of pregnancy and, ideally, come to a consensus on what the expectations are if a pregnancy does occur. By blocking access to contraceptives and education, society is in essence perpetuating the issues that lead to many abortions in the first place.

Abortion in cases of rape or incest.

I’ve seen reactions range from “Of course an exception should be made” to “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” (And, thus, abortion should be outlawed even in these cases.)

Unlike the “abortion as birth control” situation, the solution to this is not in the hands of those who might become pregnant, but rather those who might impregnate them. The only way to eliminate abortion in the case of rape and incest is, naturally, to eliminate rape and incest.

The steps we need to take to achieve that goal are numerous and far-reaching. They do, however, break down into some relatively simple key components; things like “Allowing individuals autonomy over their own bodies,” “Creating a culture of consent,” “Creating a culture of equality and egalitarianism,” and “Removing moral values from sex and sexual activity.” By systematically examining and re-evaluating the attitudes and thought processes that contribute to rape culture, it would be possible to create a society where rape was all but eliminated, and with it the incidence of rape-related pregnancy and abortions.

I could go into much more detail about eradicating rape culture, but others have covered it much more intelligently, wittily, and in greater detail than I probably can here. I will say that it starts with us; that it’s a conversation that should be happening on a global scale and that it’s one that goes hand-in-hand with the abortion debate. It starts when we make our voices heard.

Abortion to save the life of the mother.

I… actually don’t have an answer for this one. I can’t come up with a way, off the top of my head, to stop these situations from happening. More to the point, I’m not sure there is a way to stop these situations from happening. What I have noticed, though, is that all but the most rhetorically extreme pro-life camp still leave space in their ideology for people whose lives would be endangered by carrying a pregnancy to term. In fact, if one advocates the enforced death of one human is good and necessary on the off-chance that the life of a fetus might be saved by it… I find it hard to accept that one is still pro-life. It seems more like pro-fetus at that point, and that really should be a separate debate.

However: if other types of abortion were made unnecessary through better sex education, access to and destigmatization of contraceptives and family planning methods, and respect for individual autonomy… I have the feeling that perhaps medically necessary abortions wouldn’t carry the moral value they currently do. They would be considered a life-saving medical technique much like a lung transplant or open-heart surgery.

If the goal is to truly reduce or eliminate the number of pregnancies that end in abortion, there are ways to make that happen. Creating and enforcing legislature that limits people’s freedoms and takes away human rights is not the answer. This is not a problem that can – or even should – be solved with a signing of a bill and the pounding of a gavel. This is an issue that needs to be addressed through a change in cultural attitudes toward sexuality, pregnancy, contraception, and consent.

It’s time to re-frame the debate. Rather than squabbling about “Should it be legal or not?” we should be asking ourselves “How do we make it unnecessary in the first place?”

Penny Posh is the writer of Penny Gets Lucky, a blog mostly focused on feminism and social justice, with occasional poetry thrown in among dashes of this and that. She has trouble adhering to labels, and since her recent move to the Pacific Northwest has been happily and energetically engaged in the process of becoming more who she is and less who others expect her to be. It all began when she learned that “Because I want to” is a perfectly valid reason to do something.


Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice: Missing The Point?
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16 thoughts on “Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice: Missing The Point?

  1. 3

    Great post. Tricky subject well tackled.
    I sadly know too many young girls who have had multiple abortions before the age of 21. I think its a lack of sex education as well as carelessness on their part. If you are going out and having multiple partners – which is totally fine – please do so sensibly. There’s almost no excuse for getting pregnant these days, there are so many options out there for women, and men. Its the responsibility of both parties, however, yet it still seems to be down to the girl to “sort it out” most of the time. Which is another story for another time!

    1. 3.1

      I don’t agree with the idea that there’s “almost no excuse for getting pregnant these days”. I can think of a ton off the top of my head. Starting with people who are assaulted/raped or in abusive relationships. Then there’s people for whom contraception isn’t so easy- people with latex allergies, negative reactions to HBC, people who don’t have the €$£ for methods that work for them. There’s the fact that no method of contraception is 100% effective. There is, as you said yourself, a major lack of sex education in most places. There’s widely-spread misinformation and myths about the effectiveness and safety of contraceptive methods. There’s religious and cultural factors, such as the way that for a lot of fundie christians, planning to have sex (buying condoms, getting a BCP prescription) is considered even worse than a momentary lapse of control.

      That’s just off the top of my head.

  2. 4

    “I think we can all agree that, in a perfect utopian world, abortion wouldn’t need to exist.”

    I don’t agree in the least. To me, abortion is neutral, not bad or undesireable.

    “There’s no denying that the process of abortion comes with significant physical and emotional risks.”

    I would deny that. Many abortions are not surgical, but medication-induced, and almost all of them are safer in than childbirth, in the sense that they are less likely to be complicated and maiming. A properly performed abortion by a medical professional is extremely safe and unlikely to have a long-term effect on health, according to the scientific evidence. I would be interested to know what you mean by “emotional risk”? There have been several studies that show many people feel relieved and elated after an abortion. The belief that abortion is a sad, morose and horrific procedure is particular to a certain group of people who share a worldview, not an objective truth.

    “I don’t think there are many people that truly want to see a friend going in to the clinic for her tenth abortion.”

    Only if s/he* was unhappy about it. I see abortion as a vital procedure, one that should be universally available, a force for societal good.

    *Women are not the only people who get pregnant, trans men and non-binary individuals seek abortions as well.

    1. 4.1

      I agree with you on this one- abortion is a hell of a lot less risky than giving birth, there’s no evidence for post-abortion syndrome, and maybe that tenth abortion is something your friend is just fine with.

      On the other hand, where I come from at least, abortion is expensive and stigmatised. And in the majority of cases there are forms of birth control that would be a hell of a lot easier, if they were accessible. I think that Penny’s getting at the idea that abortion is fine, but it would be nice if we stopped worrying about whether people had abortions and started talking about how to make them unnecessary in the first place. Most people who get abortions don’t want to be pregnant in the first place, y’know? And for some people it is an emotionally and/or financially difficult thing to do.

      1. Sorry – y’know, it could be that my understanding of the actual process of abortion is limited. I was under the impression that abortion is a surgery and therefore comes with typical surgery-like risks. I also was laboring under the assumption that an abortion is similar to a miscarriage – something I have experienced that did have significant emotional and physical consequences. (I blame the fact that I was raised Catholic for my lack of knowledge :p)

        As far as your other points, kungfulola:

        My apologies. I should have said “I think many can agree…” rather than all.

        My bad. I should have said “It’s my understanding that the process of abortion can sometimes pose serious physical and emotional risks…”

        You’re right. I guess there are tons of folks out there who are like “Yes! It’s way better for you to have multiple abortions than to be educated about contraceptives!” and are super-excited that people close to them are getting abortions. I am also aware that trans folks exist, and was careful to use non-gendered language in the rest of my post for that reason.

        Maybe my particular experience is coloring this post – I willingly admit to that. After all, it’s clear I have some misconceptions and misinformation about the particulars of abortion, how it’s performed, and the risks involved. And even though the pregnancy I miscarried was unexpected and not particularly wanted, miscarrying was still a harrowing and terrifying experience – one that I (perhaps mistakenly) projected onto the recipients of abortion as well. Out of curiosity, could you link me to the studies you mentioned?

        All that aside, I still believe that squabbling over whether or not people should be legally allowed to have abortions is missing the point. If people had access to contraceptives and education, and were free from sexual violence and social stigma surrounding their sexual activity, then the argument over the legality of abortion would hopefully be moot.

  3. 6

    I mostly agree, except for this:

    “After all, we want to support the right of every woman to do what’s right for her, but there’s no denying that the process of abortion comes with significant physical and emotional risks. I don’t think there are many people that truly want to see a friend going in to the clinic for her tenth abortion.”

    I think that’s a strawman. Does anyone really get that many abortions? Are the risks of getting an abortion really any more significant than that of any other elective surgery?

    1. 6.1

      The reason my best friend thinks abortion should be illegal is that she personally knows a girl who has already gotten nine abortions. Obviously an extreme example, but not exactly a strawman.

      And again, my knowledge of the process of abortion is admittedly limited – but as with any surgery, there is always a risk. I was told there was a remote chance I could die on the operating table when I went in to get pins put in a broken ankle. So is it better to take even a remote chance that I could die under anesthesia, or would it be better to have prevented the broken ankle in the first place?

  4. 8

    I mostly like and agree with this post. I grew up in an anti-choice family, and it took me a long time to come to terms with abortion being a neutral thing.

    Kungfuola, I actually would like to live in a world where abortion wasn’t necessary – I’d also like to live in a world where people didn’t need to have their tonsils removed. I am thrilled to live in a world where we can terminate unwanted or dangerous pregnancies – and in a world where we can remove tonsils if someone like myself keep getting tonsillitis. I would love to live in a world where both of those decisions would be seen as neutral, and up to each individual person to make.

    Abortion as birth control? As Aoife already pointed out no birth control is 100%. My friend got pregnant while on the pill, and there might be some genetics involved there as her mum got her pregnant with her while on the pill and with her younger brother while having an IUD. Then, as Aoife also pointed out, there’s the whole question of availability of birth control – and personally I’d just love to see birth control made free and readily available.

  5. 10

    The thing I don’t like about abortion the most is that sometimes, both the mother and child will die during. If I were a husband or boyfriend, I would rather you spare my wife or girlfriend though. I’d rather the unborn child die than her. If someone can come up with a way which makes it nearly impossible for a woman to die while going through an abortion, I would be much less hostile to abortions.

    I also do not think abortion is a necessary form of birth control. That’s what contraception is for. It’s better to prevent the pregnancy than to terminate it.

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