Okay, everybody ready for a hot-button issue? I am! But you all need to promise to get into this conversation and comment on this post and send us e-mails and like us on Facebook and share this with your friends and ask them about it. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about abortion as a woman, as a feminist, as someone who doesn’t want a kid yet but (maybe?) wants to have sex, as a person…
I struggle with this a lot. And I’m guessing you do too. So you better have your fingers and keyboard at the ready!
I think a good place to start would be the arguments I’ve heard about abortion in the past:
–A woman has the right to abort a pregnancy if she wants, and nobody else’s moral or religious ideals can take away that right.
–An abortion stops a beating heart. A woman’s “right to choose” violates that unborn person’s right to live.
–What about in instances of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life? Should a woman’s safety or mental health be the put on the line for the sake of a fetus that may or may not survive (especially in instances where the mother’s life is in danger)?
–If someone really doesn’t want the child, they can put it up for adoption.
–If abortion is illegal, some women will still abort pregnancies on their own, which is really dangerous and harms both mother and fetus. Nobody wins.
–What about people who abort fetuses because of its gender or because it will be born with Down’s syndrome or a serious defect? Isn’t that discrimination? Isn’t that human rights abuse?
–Children are expensive. Should low-income or young mothers have the option to abort a pregnancy that they can’t take care of?
–I don’t like abortion when it’s used as birth control. Once is one thing, but regularly is not okay.
–What about a woman’s emotional health? Unwanted pregnancies can be shameful, and if a woman doesn’t have the means or isn’t old enough to care for a child, motherhood can put her under stress that impairs her ability to care for a child.
–Women can also go through emotional trauma after an abortion and after putting a child up for adoption.
–About half of all fertilized eggs do not implant to the wall of the uterus and the female body menstruates them away. Are those fertilized eggs also considered human life? What do we do about them? Are miscarriages a form of child neglect or abuse? What are the implications of defining life at conception? Will we eventually define eggs and sperm as invaluable potential human lives which shouldn’t be wasted?
–Abortion goes against my religious or moral beliefs–and even though I understand that people’s situations are different from mine, and that my beliefs shouldn’t dictate what other people do, I feel like this is different. (this is the category I usually fit into)
Phew. It really doesn’t seem like there’s any common ground, is there?
So a person like me, who does not see abortion as a good option, but doesn’t want to institute laws that violate another person’s rights for what I believe is sort of left in the dust. As a feminist, there’s also pressure to support women’s rights. But there are also women out there who oppose abortion. Does that mean religious people, people who see abortion as amoral, and people who oppose abortion can’t be feminist? Where do men fit into this? Can men have an opinion or any sort of active role in the process? Does this mean that I’m not a feminist?
What I’ve come to realize is that this fight about abortion is more about politics and political divisions than it is about human rights, either for women or for fetuses. People who don’t think abortion is the right answer and people who believe a woman has the right to do what she wants are not to be reconciled, at least not in the near future. If we take a cue from the current group of people in Congress and on the Republican primary ballot, we know that yelling and digging our heels in the ground on issues like this doesn’t get us anywhere.
So maybe we should turn away from this issue and look at other ones instead, ones that don’t raise moral questions, and ones that don’t ostracize whole groups of feminists.
Most people talking about abortion agree that if a woman’s life is in danger, abortion should be an available option. If you don’t think that’s a good reason for abortion to be available, I’d like to hear why, because I can’t really think of one. If a woman could die from carrying or birthing a baby, she should be able to talk with her doctor (and partner, if present) and decide how she wants to handle the situation.
Okay. So now we’re left with some other serious problems, including instances of rape, general unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, people who are too young to care for a child, people who can’t afford children, etc. These are cases that are all unique and I don’t think it’s right to pass sweeping judgement or try to pass laws that will impact all of them. So we’ll work through them one by one.
If a woman is raped, and she becomes pregnant, should she have to go through nine months of pregnancy (which involves a lot of attention and questions and could mean re-living the rape every single day, to put it really simply) and then the grieving process that can follow an adoption or completely change her life around to raise the child? Does she deserve that? If she’s a victim of rape, will she get child support from the perpetrator? But then I wonder about the child, and you hear stories of mothers and the children they gave up after being raped, and the joy and closure they can experience, not to mention the life that child gets to live. So should the victim be able to have that abortion? It’s a difficult question, and I’ve never had an answer.
I still don’t have an answer to that, but here’s my solution. What if we left the abortion question alone, and instead worked to eliminate those rapes in the first place? Rape will always happen, because the world isn’t perfect, but it happens in our world way more than it should. As you’ll see on this blog and all over the internet, violence against women is so normal in our society that rape is not taken as seriously as it should be. We can all say that we are against rape, right? So let’s work to end rape. Educate people about what it is. Inform people about their rights and the consequences of rape. Work to silence the voices that objectify women and blame victims of rape. If the number of rapes in our society goes down, so will the number of pregnancies resulting from rapes. That will limit the number of abortions on that front.
Okay, so what about people who can’t afford medical bills or childcare? Or just don’t want a kid right now? You can work to make health and childcare more affordable, but I’m not going to have that debate in this post (it’s already pretty long!). So I’m going to say, let’s try to eliminate those unwanted pregnancies to begin with. If they never happen, it’s not an issue. That means giving people more access to birth control and sexual health education. Modern condoms, if used properly and with enough lubrication (usually more than the natural stuff than the bodies involved produce naturally), are becoming more and more effective on their own.
Of course, if you want to have full-penetration sex and not get pregnant, it’s always best to use medical birth control in addition, but that’s not an option for everyone.
First, some people object to medical birth control. I’m trying to be as inclusive as possible here, so that means we need to find an alternative route. People are never going to stop having sex–and they shouldn’t…it feels good and it’s good for you–so they need options. I think that the best course of action is to make all types of birth control as available and affordable as possible, and if you have issues with pre/extramarital sex and don’t believe birth control is a good option, have that conversation with your kids and let everyone else and their kids make their own choices.
Also, adequate sex ed is important too. There are sooooo many myths surrounding pregnancy and birth control just because there’s a lack of scientific communication (really, ask any sexual health educator, and they’ll tell you the comic at the right isn’t far from the truth). Sex ed isn’t going to encourage kids have sex: those that weren’t planning on it will likely still wait, and those that were thinking about it anyway (or already engaging in it) are going to do it safely. Education means that people understand that non-penetration sex (including manual, oral, anal, etc.) won’t cause pregnancy and can feel just as good if partners communicate. Moreover, kids and young adults need information to make their own decisions eventually–that’s part of growing up.
Unplanned pregnancies will always still occur, though, so if we’re trying to limit the number of abortions on that front, what else can we do? In many circles, an extramarital pregnancy means many negative and harmful labels are cast upon the mother–irresponsible, sinful, lustful, promiscuous, etc–and some women get abortions so that they don’t have to deal with all of that. It’s a little counter-intuitive, though, to discourage abortions but simultaneously treat single moms so poorly. I think that eliminating the negative impressions and labels that surround single parenthood would decrease the number of abortions because single or extramarital parents might not feel so ostracized.
And, of course, many unplanned pregnancies are carried full-term, so we don’t need to worry about those.
Whatever you think about abortions, I think that putting all your money behind the abortion fight might not be the best approach. Negative connotations about single parenthood, a lack of education about sex, and rampant rape are bigger issues that we should cope with first. I’m not saying abortion isn’t an issue, I’m saying that focusing on it alone ignores the big picture. People should have rights in America. The funny thing is, people already have the right to not be raped, the right to be a single parent without negative social repercussions, and the right to honest and scientific sex education. So maybe we should work to protect and enforce the rights people already have, be proactive instead of reactive, and unite against problems that affect all of us rather than divide over issues that don’t. If we approach the abortion issue this way, eventually the abortions that occur will only occur as acts of true need, and that’s what we want anyway, right?
I know that this approach might seem idealistic. But if all the people fighting the abortion fight were to pool their efforts towards a common cause, things might just get better. It’s sad that our nation is so divided that a unifying approach seems idealistic, but maybe that’s what we need. I think the one of the best parts of this approach is that it is activist-driven, rather than policy-driven. I would really rather not have a Congress dominated by men who will never understand what it’s like to be a woman in this society pass legislation that controls my or any other woman’s body, no matter how I feel about the issue at hand.
So what do you think? Now you’ve heard me out, and remember that you promised to respond! Get on it! I can’t wait!