Pipe Dream: Pro-Life Pro-Choice Alliance

As pro-choice activists gather to defend Planned Parenthood funding under Title X the same exhausted fight over abortion rages on, one fraught with violence, anger and divisive rhetoric. You are either for women or against them, support babies or want to kill them. We scream our positions until we become deaf to anything but our own messages.

One pro-life person on Twitter said this:

can hear the #nyc4women rally from my window. Those words are loud and empty…. #prolife

We must ask ourselves how a woman could find a rallying cry for women’s rights empty. What in that message is missing?

The pro-choice movement, in its fight to secure access to abortions, often glosses over the very visceral emotional distress some people have over abortion. Often this stems from the belief that life begins at conception and I can see no way to convince someone of this viewpoint that abortion is not infanticide. There is no greater horror than the death of a child.

A horror so powerful and so gripping blinds the pro-life movement to any data supporting legal access to the procedure. When a person believes life starts at conception and that children must be protected at all costs, accepting arguments supporting abortion access must create a debilitating cognitive dissonance.

And so we scream. We kill. We angrily raise our fists and shouts derisive epithets. Baby-killer. Woman-oppressor. Idiot. Zealot. Fanatic.

But what if we conceded to each other? What if we all attempted to eliminate abortions? What would that effort look like?

First, let’s create a realistic picture of abortion from available data.

  • Abortion in the United States (the developed country with the highest rates) is relatively low. According to Guttmacher, 2% of women aged 15-44 have an abortion each year.1
  • Teenagers are not the primary group having abortions. Women in the 20-29 age bracket have 57% of abortions. Only 6.4% of these abortions occur among minors (those under the age of 17) and 11% occur among 18-19 year olds.2
  • The majority of women have access to abortions. Only 35% of women live in counties lacking abortion providers.3

These figures tell us that in the rare instances of abortion, the majority are adults living in counties with abortion providers. Now let’s understand what’s going on with this 2% of women having an abortion each year.

  • Many of them are already mothers. Women who already have one or more children account for about 61% of abortions.4
  • Many of them do not have significant partners. Single, never married women who are not cohabitating account for 45% of abortions.5
  • Many of them are poor. 42% of women having abortions live below the federal poverty level.6
  • The majority seek abortions out of pragmatism. From Guttmacher:

The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.7

So now we’ve established that among the minority of women seeking abortions they do so because of life circumstances such as lack of support and financial strain due to socioeconomic status and having other children to support. Within these guidelines, what can be done?

Contraceptive Access

Due to religious beliefs characterizing the debate, a dominant pro-life discourse condemns contraceptive access as a solution. Selective data support that contraception does nothing to curb abortion but taken as a whole and critically examined, this is false.

Among women seeking abortions, half were using contraception and half were not. 8 Taken at face value this seems as if contraception doesn’t work as a preventative but in reality the problem is correct use. Only 13-14% of contraception users report correct and consistent use.9

The overall relationship between contraception access and abortion rates is highly complex. What we can glean from data is that over time contraception access will curb abortion rates. The mitigating factors are familiarity with methods, comfort obtaining contraceptions, on-hand supplies and the overall fecundity of the female population. (For more complete discussions please read this, this and this.)

Community and Financial Support

As the adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” For women without a village, a partner or a decent living wage, abortion may be the only option when they become pregnant. Support does not mean adoption services or a nuclear-family marriage but rather general child-rearing services. If every woman felt she could have a child without worrying for its well-being and her family’s financial security, I wonder how this would influence the decision.

My Pipe Dream: A Pro-Life Pro-Choice Alliance

I have a dream that we could all lay down our arms and work peaceably on this issue. Pro-choice activists would have to concede that not every community will allow abortions to be performed in their area. This is absolutely an issue of religious morals dominating through a democratic process. If the majority of people living in an area absolutely condemn the practice, working within those guidelines is necessary for the sake of reproductive health. Pro-life activists would have to concede that attitudes over abortion will vary by region and that making abortion illegal at a federal level will in no way diminish the amount of abortions performed. All that is impacted is safety of the procedure.

I propose the following mission for a Pro-Life Pro-Choice Alliance:

  • Ensure universal access to contraceptive and family planning services.
  • Ensure proper education about birth control methods.
  • Ensure access to a living wage and social services to assist in child-rearing.
  • Support and foster calm, non-judgmental public discourse around sexuality.

I am sure that some people will be angry with what I propose. This seems to be the au courant emotion in our country. But I am not writing this because I want to stir the controversy pot. I write this because I want to respect the magnitude of ideological diversity in the United States and find ways for conflicting groups to work in tandem towards achievable goals. Perhaps I am naïve. Perhaps I am so tired of polarizing rhetoric that I’m raising a white flag where I should be raising a fist.

Or perhaps I am just an idealist with a silly dream of peaceable compromise and the power of cooperation.

11 thoughts on “Pipe Dream: Pro-Life Pro-Choice Alliance”

  1. You are absolutely right – it is important that we begin to see some Pro-Life as those that would say nothing is more important that saving a child. As I do not condone forcing one religion on all people, I can’t tell others what to think about conception, either.

    However. I don’t believe that all Pro-Life is about that. I DO believe some Pro-Life is anti-sexual freedom. That there are roots in misogyny and simply telling me I can’t have sex unless I am married and want a baby (which is what I should want). I shouldn’t enjoy sex. I shouldn’t explore my sexuality. I am a woman and am here to bear your children. There are also roots in racism, and prejudice against the poor. I think that’s clear with the battle against Title X.

    All that being said – I am with you on wishing we could agree on working to end abortion. I don’t understand why we can’t do this. And then, of course, I do. Because it’s not just about abortion. It’s about access to sex ed and preventative care, too. Not all Pro-Life, but it seems to me a lot of Pro-Life is also No Sex – and especially about No Sex For Women. And that I am not ok with that. BUT. I would LOVE to be proven wrong!

    In addition – I’m not sure I can concede that there should be counties where access to abortion is denied. If we went back in time, and we decided that there could be places where “Separate But Equal” was ok, simply because the majority of people in that area agreed with it, would that be all right? Nope. If you allow for some places to be without access, you are telling the women in those places that the majority of people around her hold her reproductive rights – not her. And I can’t concede that.

    In the end, however, I can do better about understanding where many Pro-Lifers come from. And I am with you in wishing wishing wishing wishing that, at the very least, we could agree to promote education and prevention. If we did that, I bet abortions would drop – more than anything else we could do. And that is something we could all be happy about.

    1. “I DO believe some Pro-Life is anti-sexual freedom.”

      In the same vein, I think some pro-choice is vehemently anti-religion.

      Regarding access in counties: I understand the segregation analogy but perhaps another way to think about it is a dry-county analogy or areas that won’t allow adult video stores. I struggle back and forth about a region’s rights in this matter and if they can have a say in something as controversial and personal as an abortion. If people in San Francisco can ban toys in happy meals or some areas can boycott any corporate chain stores from setting up shop, can people of an area decide to boycott abortion providers? I’m still undecided about this.

      1. Some Pro-Choice may be anti-religion, but do they tell other people they can’t have religion? Or is it more, “I don’t want your religion put on me”? I am not entirely sure – I’m actually asking. I feel like the “anti-religion” slant may be not wanting the religion slant of Pro-Life, while Pro-Life may actually want me to take on their values re:sex, etc. Am I wrong? I don’t mean all the time, but generally?

        I see your conflict with the access question. However. I argue there is a HUGE difference between reproductive rights and my rights to alcohol and porn. HUGE. While I don’t equate it with segregation (obviously that was an analogy), I think taking away someone’s ability to care for their own body is closer to segregation than alcohol, porn, or children’s toys.

        Would you say it’s ok for pharmacists (etc) to deny someone access to contraceptives? The morning after pill? Simply because they don’t agree? Does it matter if the general public in the area is behind the pharmacist?

        The thing is, it’s about MY body. While I understand and respect another person’s views on conception and a fetus, I don’t share those views. They should not have a place in how I take care of MY body and MY life. Reproductive rights are absolutely central to how I live – and they are central to where people stand in the world, in terms of everything from sexual health to economics. While I greatly respect other opinions, and while I see the point you are trying to make, I can’t take someone else’s moral views to have such a significant impact on MY life – when I don’t share them.

        1. I think with anti-religion and anti-sex slants the pressing issue for those camps is “I don’t want your values to dominate the cultural space.” You even hear from lots of homophobes “It’s fine if you do that, I just don’t want to see it!”

          My view on governments role in this is that they absolutely must not legislate against abortion because the decision is personal. Where it becomes gray for me is whether or not communities, such as the ones with no abortion providers, can influence what exists in their area. I understand the parallel that you draw with pharmacists, but I want to point out that a pharmacist has no authority to intervene in a patient-physician decision. Furthermore, because pharmacists have to fill prescriptions from anywhere they cannot impose local standards.

          I am really fascinated by this issue of provider access vs. local opposition. In no way am I advocating that local governments impose ordinances. Rather, I want to be realistic about areas in the country that will boycott clinics and do everything they can to shut down abortion services. If an alliance could form between the two groups they would need to work within those parameters regardless of how they feel about a community’s stance regarding abortion.

          Personally, I don’t think it’s right to close down clinics but from a pragmatic reproductive health perspective, wouldn’t it make sense to devote more resources towards contraception access in areas where the local population is adamant against abortion providers instead of throwing tireless amounts of time and money trying to keep abortion providers in those areas? Considering the low incidence of abortion overall, this just makes more sense to me.

          Admittedly, I don’t live in an area where this is the case and neither to the majority of women. I think I’m just trying to come up with some solution that meets in the middle.

  2. A wonderful dream. I, most unfortunately, have become too much of a realist (pessimist?) to see this in America’s future. I fear what is coming is a serious attack on all public funding of contraceptive and family planning services; sex education in our public schools, especially any discussion of effective birth control methods; public support to assure a living wage for all of those living in our country; and social support of child rearing. This attack will be made under the excuse of fiscal responsibility. But the real driving force is the puritanical judgmental basis of American moralism that drives public discourse on all topics concerning sexuality.

    Is Still Here

  3. I cast my vote for Sexademic.

    Abortion: My final word on unwanted pregnancy
    groups which claim to be against abortion oppose the very strategy that results in significant declines in abortion.

    they support policies that researchers show lead to sharp increases in unintended pregnancy and abortion rate.

    To all pro-lifers: The statistics are in and they clearly state that an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    The following information clearly supports my article. By preventing unwanted pregnancies (through contraception), you can significantly reduce abortions. And this is what we all want, right?

    Guttmacher Institute:


    By providing millions of young and low-income women access to voluntary contraceptive services, the national family planning program prevents 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, including almost 400,000 teen pregnancies, each year. These pregnancies would result in 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages, according to a new Guttmacher Institute report.

    Absent publicly funded family planning services, the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher than it currently is, and nearly twice as high among poor women.

    Cristina Page: “Pro-Life” Movement Admits Pro-Abortion Stance

    [The Guttmacher Report] specifically concluded that making contraception available to low income women reduces the number of abortions by nearly 40%. When birth control isn’t available unintended pregnancy increases by 2 million and the number of abortions spikes by more than 800,000 each year. Researchers noted that providing contraception saves taxpayers 4 times as much as not providing it.

    Some 91% of Americans favor contraception and so were startled to discover that groups which claim to be against abortion oppose the very strategy that results in significant declines in abortion. Instead, in a further shock, they support policies that researchers show lead to sharp increases in unintended pregnancy and abortion rate. Many ordinary self-described “pro-life” Americans were confused by news of the seemingly incomprehensible, yet universally-held, position of groups that have, for decades, promoted themselves as opponents of abortion.

  4. If it is true that some pro-Life is about an anti-sex stance, and some pro-Choice about an anti-religion stance, then there are at least some people who could never be a part of your proposed alliance.

    I don’t know if I’m pessimistic, realistic… or self-delusional, but it seems to me the number of people in these two areas — i.e. the number of people for whom the issue of abortion is symbolic of something else, rather than simply a practical issue about how to solve a problem — is too big. Especially among activists, but more generally probably even among simple supporters, the number of those who simply see the other side as evil (pro-life = anti-woman; pro-choice = baby-killer) is too big. I don’t think there’s much chance of winning people over to a compromise of the kind you propose here. Sure, it would be the logical thing to do if people were simply interested in solving a problem. My impression, however, is that by and large they are not.

    1. “the number of people for whom the issue of abortion is symbolic of something else, rather than simply a practical issue about how to solve a problem — is too big.”

      And thus the dramas of culture continue to play out upon women’s bodies. Sad face.

      1. Indeed. I wished I could get anthropologists trying to answer the question of why it is so strongly symbolic. Why is it that issues concerning sex and reproduction — like abortion — often end up meaning a lot more for society as a whole? Why do they end up being metaphors for the whole of society, for the battle between Barbarism and Civilization? Why has it become so important to so many people throughout history that sex and reproduction happen this way, but not that way?

  5. I grew up in and live in Canada, so I speak from a position of semi-ignorance. I think your plan is a great idea: put the emphasis on preventing unwanted pregnancies with education and contraception, and have social services for mothers. Abortion should be a legal, accessible, and affordable last resort for cases where it is medically necessary or no other solution will work. This is approximately what Canada does, in my experience, and it seems to work well.

    The fact that such a system is not acceptable in the US, and that the people against it can’t really articulate why, is suspicious to me. It makes me think that, consciously or not, that making sure every baby is wanted and will be properly cared for is not in fact the goal for some or even all of the people involved, especially on the pro-life side. Because if that were the goal, then there would be a huge amount of common ground to make progress on before having to butt heads over the last little contentious bit — but is that what happens? No. So I bet you, that while there are plenty of people on each side who’d like to make progress on that common ground, that they aren’t in charge, while the people with a second level of agenda are.

    I have trouble believing that it is all simple ignorance, either, because this has been going on long enough for lots of evidence to come in…and all too frequently the anti-abortion protestors want to institute the strategies that are proven to not prevent unwanted pregnancy, and to avoid strategies that are proven to. Strong ideological convictions plus willful ignorance of/disbelief in the evidence could be what is happening…but does that make the problem more or less tractable?

  6. Worthy goal, and not really naive at all. I think the abortion “debate” is the manifestation of internal values, projected externally.

    If you believe that we “own” our bodies, then abortion is simply a “property right’ which should not be subject to non-voluntary coercion, or trespass. An axiom called by some the “non coercion principle”.

    Abortion, sexual freedom, et al, have all been taken away from the individual in the name of democracy. The perpetrator of all the hysteria that surrounds the legislation of these types of consensual acts is the State. Which encourages individuals, pro or anti, to take advantage (majority rules) of an already corrupt system. Its the State that perpetuates this evil, not some pro or anti interest group.

    You should check out Walter Block’s book Defending The Undefendable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s