I used to be pro-life. I suppose that isn’t entirely true, since as much as I called myself pro-life, I never actually wanted abortion to be illegal, and that’s kind of the point of the movement. In high school, I would listen to my smarter, more politically aware, more liberal friends talk about abortion, and my response was always “but it’s not the baby’s fault.” They would look at me, with understanding and almost pity in their eyes and nodded solemnly, yet never wavered from their views. And I commend them for that. Thank you for staying with me. You all knew I would get there, that eventually I would understand. When I was beginning my transition from in-rhetoric-only-pro-lifer to passionate pro-choicer, I often wondered where my friends had gotten a wisdom beyond their years when it came to abortion, since as innocent and naïve high-schoolers all of us were virgins, yet even then they recognized something greater than what they had encountered in their short lives: empathy.
Empathy is not something commonly associated with the pro-choice movement outside of its supporters. A simple google search for ‘being pro-choice is….’ Resulted in options such as ‘bad, a sin, pro-abortion, and selfish’. However, in my time as a fervent pro-choicer (2 and a half years now), I have come to realize being empathetic is one of our greatest assets. Ironically, I associate empathy with the pro-life movement as well- sometimes. I do not mean this post to be belligerent towards those who are pro-life. I believe you have good intentions. I believe (most of) you are good people and want to do what is right. I may disagree with your tactics and end objective, but I also believe that we have a lot in common that often gets ignored in the hyper-politicized and polarized abortion debate in the United States.
What is this common ground? Well, to reduce the need and number of abortions, of course! I believe that is the goal of the pro-life movement, short of criminalizing the procedure. It makes sense, of course, to want to reduce something that ultimately you want to be made illegal. Well, here’s a (not-so-secret) secret: pro-choicers also want to reduce the need and number of abortions. I assure you it’s true. I travel in a lot of pro-choice circles and believe me, nobody is saying “How can we pump out as many abortions as possible?”. I stand by the pro-choice slogan of ‘safe, legal, and rare’- the rallying cry of many a feminist. Safe and legal are not controversial in the pro-choice community, but rare is. Its use is often decried as stigmatizing towards those women who have had abortions, but respectfully disagree. Abortion stigma is real and awful and should be addressed, but attacking those who publicly say that they want abortion to be rare is simply barking up the wrong tree. To explain this, I will use a term that is prevalent in the pro-choice community: reproductive rights. Reproductive rights are not limited to abortion, but include contraception, midwifery, natural childbirth, STD testing and treatment, prenatal care, economic security, and so many more issues. Using the reproductive rights framework is crucial to understanding why, as a passionate pro-choice (wannabe) activist I insist on saying abortion should be rare. It is not out of a desire to stigmatize abortion and those who have had, or will have, abortions. Far from it. It is, quite simply, because abortion is nobody’s first choice. To quote one of the greatest movies of all time, Argo, “Ex-fils are like abortions. You don’t want to need one. But if you need one, you don’t do it yourself.”
You don’t want to need one. That one sentence is key. Nobody plans to have an abortion. Abortions happen for two reasons: an unplanned pregnancy that the woman does not want to continue with, or a planned pregnancy that has health problems and risks for either or both the fetus or the woman. The second reason, while a tragic situation, is a small percentage of women seeking abortions and is also a situation that is dependent on outside factors such as genetics or severe health risks. These abortions account for 1.5 percent of all abortions performed in the United States, which leaves 98.5 percent of all abortions because of an unplanned pregnancy. It stands to reason that if there were less unplanned pregnancies, there would be fewer abortions. Something the two sides can agree on! What prevents unplanned pregnancies, you may ask. More effective and more affordable birth control, for one. Accurate and comprehensive sex education, for another. So back to Argo- women who have abortions do not want to be in that situation. I try not to make overarching statements, but every single one of them would rather they didn’t have to be in that situation, which is why nobody wants to have an abortion. To think otherwise is simply absurd.
So why am I pro-choice? What changed? My freshman year of college, I was talking to my boyfriend from high school (we were in a long distance relationship as he finished his senior year of high school), and the topic of abortion came up. I said that I was pro-life, and he got quiet. After a little bit of prodding, he explained his reason for being pro-choice: “I just can’t justify making that decision for anybody else. It’s not my call.” After that conversation, I had to question what I had always thought about abortion. After a lot of reflecting (it took months), I realized that it didn’t matter what I personally thought about abortion. I mean, sure, it mattered for me, if I was ever in that situation. But honestly, nobody else would care what my personal opinion on abortion was. What matters is what the consequences of my views are on other people. And making abortion illegal has some very real, very devastating consequences on the lives of people who aren’t me. I don’t get to decide what somebody else does with their body. I just don’t. A person’s body is their property, and they decide what to do with it. When a woman is pregnant, it is still her body. A fetus growing in your uterus does not take rights away from you. I believe that life begins at conception- that is a scientific fact. When an egg and a sperm come together, a zygote is formed. That’s a new life. Recognizing that a zygote/embryo/fetus is a life, however, is not antiethical to the pro-choice position. Life is scientific, personhood is legal. A fetus should not be considered a person legally until it has been born, as that is when a fetus is truly separate from the woman’s body. Any other position does not give equal rights to the fetus and the woman, as the pro-life side states their mission is, but rather elevates the fetus’ rights above those of the woman. See, I don’t have rights over anybody’s body except my own. Making abortion illegal makes the fetus more important than the woman, as in she must give up her bodily autonomy for the fetus. This is not right and cannot be tolerated in our wonderful country.