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:
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?
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.