Writing this post was a very interesting experience. Because of the sensitivity of the topic, I sent drafts to several friends for feedback, intentionally choosing people from a variety of religious and political backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, everyone had criticisms, for which I was grateful. But what did take me aback was how widely their suggestions for improving the piece varied. The lawyer wanted more evidence. The social scientist wanted more analysis. The activist wanted more fire. The pacifist thought I should tone it down. Whatever each person saw missing in this discussion connected directly to his or her personal life, and each needed something different to make it more compelling or more clear. Often I find myself as interested in the dynamics of a debate as I am in its substance, and with abortion this is definitely the case. Few issues are discussed with greater passion, and few discussions are as unproductive. Ultimately, I decided to maintain my original angle, an attempt at a moderate but still pro-choice argument that focuses on macro-level factors. Whatever your position, I appreciate your interest and thank you for reading.
I know this topic instantly makes people angry, on both sides. Whatever your reaction to what I have to say, know in advance that it’s not my intent to enrage or offend you, to violate things you hold sacred, or in any way to increase divisiveness on a topic that already sends people to opposite ends of the earth. My hope is to honestly express my opinions in a way that fosters healthy discussion and perhaps even a little sympathy between differing positions.
Where I’m Coming From
First, a brief note about me as it pertains to the topic of abortion. I belong to a faith that strongly discourages abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered. It’s a taboo topic in Mormonism as it is in many other circles. I have never heard it discussed in a church meeting, but I know many Mormons hold strong feelings against abortion.
As a teenager, I remember reaching simple conclusions on my own. At 16, I didn’t think abortion was universally bad, and I was far from developing any sort of political opinion on it, but I decided for myself that it wasn’t something I would do. I decided around that age that if I became pregnant, I would carry the baby and give it up for adoption. Then around 19 or 20, still feeling that I would not want an abortion for myself, I decided that if I became pregnant outside of marriage—despite my suspicion that religious leaders would pressure me to give the baby up—I would keep it.
[*PRIVILEGE CHECK* I want to acknowledge the privilege inherent in my ability to make the above choices for myself. First, a privilege of safety: I have never had to worry about becoming pregnant because of rape. Second, an economic privilege: I have always had access to good health care, and my decision to keep any children that came along was backed, if subconsciously, by the knowledge that I would have the means to safely carry and deliver a child. Many, many women in the world face such decisions without these privileges supporting them. Let’s continue.]
So that’s it. I’ve never become pregnant. I’ve never had to make this choice. Today, I’m 25 and unmarried, and I maintain the position that if I become pregnant before marriage, I’ll keep the baby. However, as a feminist with generally moderate political views, I am opposed to legislation of any kind which blocks women’s access to abortion.
Here’s What We Have in Common
But here’s what I really want you to know, pro-lifers. Regardless of whatever personal experience, religious background, or political leanings shape your own feelings on this topic, you and I aren’t so different.
The truth underlying all of this nasty debate is this: we both want a world where there is no abortion.
Did you know I felt that way?
Best case scenario: no abortion. Anywhere.
A World without Abortion
Let’s envision together what kind of world that would be, a world where the only people who became pregnant and had children did so because they wanted to.
What would that world look like? Here’s what I see:
A world without abortion would have absolutely no rape. All across the globe, women would have sex because they wanted to, and when they didn’t want to, their decision would be respected.
A world without abortion would be one where everyone had access to the medical care required to safely carry, deliver, and raise a child. Everyone who became pregnant would have the security of those resources backing their decision.
A world without abortion would be one where everyone had access to contraception, empowering those women who did not want to become pregnant with reasonable means to prevent it from happening.
A world without abortion would have responsible sex education—be it through a school program or in the home—for all of its teenagers, such that every young person became empowered with the knowledge of how a woman becomes pregnant and how to safely avoid pregnancy. Further, those who are sexually active have access to the above-mentioned contraception.
And lastly, a world without abortion is one where women’s intimate partners are fully committed and do not abandon them in the event of a pregnancy.
Who wouldn’t want to live in that world?
Here’s Where We Disagree
Now here, pro-lifers, is where we part ways, not on what we want but how we go about making it happen. Because of your belief, one that I agree with, that it is morally wrong to abort a pregnancy, you want to legislate a short-cut to the world I just described. Your strategy to creating a world where there is no abortion is to outlaw legal access to abortion.
But here’s the problem.
You want to force abortion out of the world by decreasing the supply, by blocking legal means of accessing this procedure. But this does nothing to decrease the demand.
We still have women who are not safe, who become pregnant because of rape.
We still have women who do not have medical care, who become pregnant without the means to safely carry, deliver, and raise their babies.
We still have women who become pregnant because they do not have access to contraception.
We still have women who become pregnant because they and their partners were not properly educated about sex, pregnancy, and pregnancy prevention.
We still have women who become pregnant and are then abandoned by their partners.
So long as these problems persist, you will still have women who become pregnant against their will. You’ll still have women who become pregnant without the physical and emotional resources to safely complete a pregnancy. You will still have women who believe that they absolutely cannot stay pregnant. Outlawing abortion does nothing to prevent any of these problems.
And here’s another issue.
When you lower the supply of something in demand, you raise the value of the remaining supply and also the desperation of demanders. You force remaining supply into underground markets, where access becomes more expensive and more dangerous. Further, when you raise the value of something, you incentivize more people to become suppliers of that good.
In short, your proposed short-cut to the dream world actually pushes us away from it. Outlawing abortion encourages more people to provide illegal abortions, and it completely ignores so many of the problems that make women feel the need to have an abortion in the first place.
What Do We Need?
What we need is a holistic approach that decreases not the supply of abortions available but the demand for them.
We need a world where women do not fear rape.
We need a world where women have the resources to safely carry, deliver, and raise children, as well as resources to prevent pregnancy if they do not wish to become a parent.
We need a world where all people are adequately educated on sex, pregnancy, and pregnancy prevention.
And we need a world where people enjoy healthy, committed relationships, with supportive partners who do not run away when things get serious.
Abortion is a sad, sad thing. So help me make a world where no one needs it.
A Reluctant Pro-Choicer
Erin is originally from Simi Valley, California and studies international affairs and Arabic at the University of Utah. She loves any combination of writing, movies, politics, friends, and food.