As someone who identifies as a liberal and a feminist, in the midst of the current political and social turmoil, I have spent the past few months scrutinizing these labels, especially on the topic of abortion. I’ve decided to read up on both pro-choice and pro-life arguments and see if there is any common ground or compromise that can be reached between the two opposing sides.
Pro-choice advocates, more accurately described as pro-reproductive rights, are often liberal feminists who believe women should have control over when and whether they want to start a family or not. No woman should be forced to carry a baby for nine months, especially if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Carrying a child is physical and emotional labor, and if the child isn’t wanted because of the mother’s situation, forcing a woman to carry a baby to term to give the child up for adoption will result in possible trauma for both mother and child.
The main hole in the pro-choice argument is that it’s impossible to refute the fact that every fertilized human embryo has the potential to become a person and taking that right away is morally questionable.
The opposing side, pro-life advocates, or anti-abortion advocates, often focus on when “life” begins, citing neonatal research to prove that a baby is “alive” during the early stages of pregnancy. In the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade case — which ruled on women’s rights to abortion — fetal viability, or the ability of a baby to survive outside the womb, was defined at around 28 weeks, a rough estimate and arbitrary measure of time in which a pregnant woman should be allowed to get an abortion. New research shows that 22-week-old premature babies can survive outside the womb with medical intervention, strengthening the anti-abortion argument for the livelihood of unborn children.
The anti-abortion argument defends the possible life of the baby, claiming that the potential human has the right to live according to the 14th Amendment. Yet on the other hand, from the pro-choice standpoint, forcing a woman to carry a baby to term is a huge, stressful, time-consuming, emotionally draining and expensive commitment.
Due to the fact that many anti-abortion advocates root their beliefs in religion, individuals who aren’t Christian often feel as if the projection of their Christian morality onto secular American policymaking is unjust. A good argument for an anti-abortion stance should be able to appeal to people from all religious affiliations.
Pro-choice rhetoric often “straw man” the opposition by generalizing anti-abortion advocates as old, white Christian men in government that want to control women, their bodies and their pregnancies. In the end, it almost seems like the divide is between the well-being of a potential child, the woman carrying the child and who gets to decide.
Like any societal issue, discussions on abortion don’t exist in a moral vacuum. Anti-abortion advocates often focus on the immorality of abortion, and pro-choice advocates focus on the well-being of pregnant women. In an ideal world, abortion wouldn’t have to be a choice because pregnant women and mothers would theoretically always want to keep their child. Unfortunately, in our current social moment, this is not the case.
Pregnancy is often perceived as a career-wrecking disease, and in certain senses, yes, pregnancy brings on a lot of physical changes and illness-like symptoms that are extremely disruptive to a woman’s life. But if the pregnancy is wanted, negative symptoms are treated as just steps in the beautiful process that results in the creation of new life. Pregnancy is also seen as a career-wrecker because paid parental — not just maternal — leave can oftentimes have negative monetary consequences on new families.
If women had more support in carrying a child to term, and if pregnancy was less taboo, then pro-life policies could be passed safely. But currently, there isn’t a safe space for women to do that. We need more sex education in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies. We need to support women who encounter accidental pregnancies instead of shaming them. We need paid parental leave so people can begin to raise their children without worrying about financial stresses.
If we were to implement pro-life policies right now, it would put many young women in danger, and forcing them to carry children to term is abusive, unsympathetic and harmful to both parent and child.
Both sides of the argument make valid claims: Pro-life focuses on the rights of the unborn child and pro-choice on the rights of women. The real problem isn’t about women who want to murder their babies and not be held accountable for their choice to have sex. The problem also isn’t old Christian men in government policing women’s bodies and denying them healthcare. The real problem is the fact that women want abortions in the first place.
With sufficient sex education to prevent accidental pregnancies, and programs put in place to support women and give them a safe space to carry and raise a child, fewer women would want to terminate their pregnancies in the first place. Our current social climate expects women to go through with pregnancies without support, so many women opt for abortion in order to survive.
Unfortunately, the split between pro-life and pro-choice has been escalated by the conservative side. Some anti-abortion activists go to extreme, dangerous and even violent means to prevent women from getting abortions. People have opened up fake abortion clinics to try to stop women from getting accurate, unbiased medical treatment and the state of Texas even tried to pass legislation that could punish women who get abortions with the death penalty.
As a result, “pro-life” activists no longer seem like they are advocating for the unborn child, but are rather punishing women for having sex and getting pregnant. On the other hand, pro-choice violence is a myth, lacking evidence that liberals are going to the streets to harm evangelists.
The ideological divide between the two sides of the argument has grown so wide that they are both blind to the real problem at hand: Motherhood is becoming viewed as a burden rather than a decision that women can choose to celebrate. Instead of advocating for the safety of pregnant women and their unborn babies, anti-abortion extremists use their stance to incite violence against women — especially women from marginalized communities.
Blocking sex education and stigmatizing pregnancy is a big factor behind why abortion is such an important right for women. Anti-abortion laws most heavily impact women of color from poor communities, especially those who don’t have access to health care that can provide them with contraceptives and sex education.
If pro-life supporters really do care about women and their well-being, understanding that now isn’t the right time to pass anti-abortion laws is crucial. There is much more social work to be done regarding sex education, health care and the breakdown of the taboos surrounding motherhood before abortion will no longer be chosen as an option.