Daniel Rollins writes in response to Grace Gawn's article "Why Abortion Should Remain Legal", published previously on the blog and in Portsmouth Point magazine.
Abortion is bad. This should be the start of any discussion about this sensitive issue. However you feel about access to abortion and the personhood of a foetus, the killing of a potential human being is not something. Why then has abortion changed from a last resort for mothers whose health is in danger or are unable to look after a baby to a considered option for many pregnancies?
The idea that abortions do, in fact, have moral or ethical weight has been suppressed in this culture. However, every so often our buried objection to the practice is exposed. The widespread objection to pro-life protesters showing pictures of the remains of aborted foetuses, insensitive though it is, is evidence that there is an ethical element to the debate, not just on the side of the mother but for the protection of the foetus. If a woman’s “right” to have sex without having to take responsibility for any babies produced is valued more than any baby’s right to exist then something is very much amiss.
Conversely much of the opposition to the pro-life movement focuses on its apparent misogyny, favouring the life of the baby over the woman. While the mother is at least as important as the baby she is carrying, it must be recognised that an abortion is not a positive result for either. Many women suffer emotional pain or psychological harm during and after undergoing an abortion, as well as the small risk (admittedly much smaller than the risks from a “backstreet abortion” common before the practice was legalised) of complications such as infertility and haemorrhage.
The real misogyny in this debate does not come from either the pro-life or pro-choice factions but from society’s general neglect of mothers. “Pro-choicers” often illustrate their arguments with examples of young or poor women who are unable to support or raise their child or whose lives would be adversely affected by having a baby. Abortion is presented as the only ethical solution to the situation. Surely the real scandal of the situation is not that woman’s lack of access to an abortion but the fact that the woman must consider finances when weighing up a foetus’ life or that she must choose between her future and her baby’s? There must be a better way to deal with these cases, alternatives to abortion.
The only way the pro-life movement can have any credibility in this debate is by providing these alternatives. Instead of just protesting and condemning women who have abortions, they must provide practical alternatives in which both the life of the baby and the life of the mother are considered.
There are many shocking statistics that have come out of China: 500,000 people in prison without trial, thousands of executions, but perhaps the most shocking statistic of all is that 330 million abortions take place in China each year (over 900,000 per day on average). Many, if not most, of these abortions are forced, either directly by officials upholding the country’s one-child policy or indirectly by the financial burden of a second child when state support is lifted. While women in the West are thankfully freer in their decision whether to have an abortion, the concept of a financially forced abortion is still a problem for many women with low incomes. The cost of raising a baby, providing food and finding childcare may push both the mother and baby into poverty, forcing a woman to choose between feeding herself and having an abortion. The obvious way to save a woman in this situation from having to make that decision is by giving her money, funding programs that provide food and affordable housing for pregnant women and new mothers in poverty. This funding could come from either government or charity (maybe even those protesting abortion clinics), whichever corporate expression of compassion your political position prefers. Promoting adoption as an alternative to an abortion and providing women who choose to keep their baby with jobs with flexible hours and attached childcare, although difficult to provide in the currently depressed labour market, would also prevent mothers having to choose to have an abortion out of financial fears.
Another fear that can force women to make a choice about abortion is how having a baby could affect their future. When discussing this issue, several young women expressed fears about how an unplanned pregnancy would affect their future education and opportunities. Although the life of foetus may be considered more valuable than any of these opportunities, it is still a tragedy that young women who fall pregnant must choose between their future and that of their baby. Girls who become pregnant while in education should be given support by their school, college or university, which would allow them to keep studying for as long as possible and, after giving birth, they should be given further support if they choose to not give their baby up for adoption so that their education is affected as little as possible by their pregnancy. This would allow them to gain knowledge and training to find a job to support their baby and also provide them with personal opportunities to fulfil their own potential.
However the most effective way to prevent women having to make a pressured decision about abortion is through preventing unplanned pregnancy in the first place. When asked on Twitter, a feminist blogger suggested three ways to provide alternatives to abortion: combating poverty and lack of support for women; creating better awareness and use of contraception; and providing better Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Modern contraception gives people almost complete control over their fertility, therefore better use of it should prevent many unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
This is why women (and, importantly, men too) need to take responsibility for any pregnancies both in prevention and in the case of conception, whether planned or unplanned. In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, women should not be forced into having an abortion by financial or social factors but, equally, should not use abortion as an escape from the shock of an unwanted pregnancy but take responsibility for the life inside and seek to look after the child, whether that involves giving him or her up for adoption or not. Abortions do have a negative moral weight and consequences, but they should not be needed.
This article was originally published in Portsmouth Point Magazine, July 2013