The Right to Choose, Part 1

Recently, a video of an interview with a Planned Parenthood employee was leaked by an anti-abortion group, and it appears to be stirring up concerns.  Reading all the responses of my conservative family and friends caused me to reflect on my journey of perspective in this area.

Unsurprisingly, I used to be in the pro-life camp.  “Of course I believe it’s wrong to kill babies!  Those babies never even had a chance at life!  Obviously if someone wants an abortion it’s because they were irresponsible, careless, or cruel!  Of course the better alternative is to have the mother carry the pregnancy to term, then give the baby up for adoption!”

I spoke in a previous post about words that sound good, but feel wrong.  The pro-life movement rhetoric is, in my opinion, strongly in this category.  Originally in this post, I wanted to cover 2 main topics.  One is the story of how I became pro-choice (a very recent development.  I became an atheist about 3 years ago, and I have probably been comfortably, fully pro-choice for maybe 2 or 2.5 years).  The other is the topic of these pretty words used by pro-lifers that sound right (and are therefore hard to argue against), but feel wrong.  However, the post has gotten longer than I anticipated, so I will probably choose to do a follow-up post to break apart these 2 topics.

My Story: From Pro-Life to Pro-Choice

I started in the fully pro-life box, where no abortions are OK ever.  Once I got an ounce of education about the topic I realized that some women have huge health risks during pregnancy or medical conditions that complicate pregnancy, so I viewed abortion procedures as maybe sad necessities in this case.  I never viewed it as OK for a grown adult woman to risk her life and the health of the unborn child, especially if either person may not live, just to avoid aborting a fetus.  I thought abortions should be legal, but heavily restricted to cases where it clearly threatened the life of the mother.

Then somewhere along the line I started hearing about countries where abortion is not legal, and the health risks of illegal abortions, and the pain and suffering it caused families to not have access to abortions.  Because I am a compassionate person, I realized that it is much worse for women and families to not have access to safe abortions.  The main point that I found is that abortion rates stay the same whether or not it is legal in a country.  My thinking at this point was that abortion should be legal, because “if people are going to do it anyway, might as well make it safe so that people are not suffering and dying from the procedure.”  I still didn’t think it was right, though, and I still thought the “better” option was for a woman to carry the baby to term, then give it up for adoption.

I think I was there for a long time.  I suppose that place was on the pro-choice side in that I thought abortions should be legal, even if I still held some judgement or sadness for those who chose to have an abortion not out of medical necessity.  My thinking became more refined, maybe – realizing that better access to birth control meant less abortions, for example.  Reading this amazing article by Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism solidified my thinking on many, many points that I had some difficulty with and made me realize that yes, having better access to birth control and better sex education are the best ways to prevent abortions; and that yes, the pro-life movement is going about the whole thing backwards.  Instead of lobbying to push birth control and better sex education, they are working against these things and therefore making it more likely that people will have abortions.  (Please, please read the article by Libby Anne if you want more information about this.  She breaks it down so beautifully and has the facts to back it up, and I’d be getting way too off topic if I keep going down that road).

Now, the problem with my former position was my attitude regarding abortions and those who choose to get them.  It changed when I began to listen to stories.  Some women do not regret having an abortion and believe it was the best choice for their lives.  Some women argue that it’s cruel to force someone to endure pregnancy and child birth, which are not easy things for anyone, even someone who wants a child.  There are all sorts of potential problems.  Gestational diabetes.  Postpartum depression.  Heavy bleeding, excessive nausea and vomiting, preeclampsia that could be fatal.  Even with modern health care, pregnancy and child birth are huge life-changing experiences.  Pregnancy can interfere with your ability to do your job, and your job might not have paid maternity leave if you’re in the US.  What do you do then?  What if you don’t have family support, and you don’t have a relationship with the father, and you don’t have great medical insurance or paid leave options?  It is really right to force someone to risk their life just because, for some reason, a sperm fertilized an egg?  It is right to force a woman to go through extreme financial strain and hardship for a clump of cells?

Thankfully, I have never been pregnant and have never had to make this decision.  Especially never having been in this position, I feel I have no right to judge anyone, whatever the reason was for their abortion.  Even if I had been in this position and having to make a decision about whether or not to abort, give up, or keep, I wouldn’t be able to judge someone else.  I have good family support, decent medical insurance, a job with no paid maternity leave, and a faithful, supportive partner.  This kind of situation is way different than someone who has great medical insurance and paid maternity leave, or someone who is going through a divorce, or someone who doesn’t have a steady job at the moment or in the foreseeable future.

It’s just not as simple as I once saw it, and that’s one of the reasons I support the right to choose.

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