DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be an expert on abortion, the pro-life movement, or the pro-choice movement. I am writing based on experience and exposure. While I believe firmly in the thoughts I articulate in this article, I am open to hearing other arguments or facts that may be contrary to the opinions I currently hold. I recognize that I may not have full knowledge or awareness of the many angles and conflicts that fall under the umbrella of this complex topic, and I would be more than happy to engage in a thoughtful, respectful discussion with anyone who feels compelled to reach out privately.
The pro-life v.s. pro-choice debate has always been one that arouses deep passions and moral devotion from both sides. Particularly in recent years, it has become a topic that causes stark division among families and social groups of all kinds. I was raised devoutly pro-life, but as I have grown and expanded my understanding of the issues affiliated with being pro-life, I have realized how often hypocritical and incomplete many of the pro-life promises and beliefs are. While I still consider myself pro-life, by the definition I will articulate shortly, I believe that the pro-life movement is in desperate need of redirection and compromise.
In political and social terms, "pro-life" has become synonymous with "anti-abortion". While being anti-abortion is the focal position of most pro-lifers, looking at the intention behind that position makes it a far more complex position to hold. In my experience with pro-life organizations, and in my personal opinion, the pro-life movement is based on the belief that all human life should be preserved and protected. For purposes of consistency, this belief must be extended to all stages of human life and all other political debates. Preserving and protecting all human life, especially the most vulnerable in our global society, should be the primary goal of any person who claims to be pro-life in every political matter.
In regards to gun control, the foster care system, sex education (and education in general), prison reform, immigration, homelessness, and the death penalty, the first and most essential factor for a pro-life person to evaluate is whether or not human life is being protected and preserved. Often times, pro-life people zealously preach their belief in the sanctity of human life when it comes to the womb but fail or forget to continue that devotion post-birth. For example, people who claim to be pro-life but hold anti-immigration sentiments take it upon themselves to dictate which human lives matter, which is contrary to the definition of what it means to be pro-life. In many cases, immigrants are left voiceless and underrepresented in conversations that decide their future, which can easily be compared to the situation many pro-lifers use to describe unborn children.
While it is no little-known fact that, in many cases, the pro-life movement lacks necessary consistency, it is also abundantly clear that this movement desperately needs a reality check. Many pro-lifers rally behind the legal abolition of abortion as the finish line of the movement. Illegalizing abortion would certainly cause a decrease in the amount of abortions, but it would also inspire a chaotic shift to illegal, unregulated, dangerous, and unreliable forms of abortion. While perhaps making abortion illegal would help pro-lifers sleep at night, it would not solve the problem.
What is the problem? The pro-life and pro-choice movements are radically divided on most every question related to abortion, but abortion is simply a temporary fix for the overarching problem: unplanned pregnancy. From either side of the issue, I think people agree that, in the majority of cases, unplanned pregnancies are undesirable and preventable. Becoming pregnant without the means or intention of caring for a child can be terrifying, uncomfortable, demanding, or, at the very least, inconvenient. (This is not to say that unplanned pregnancies cannot also result in excitement and joy under the right circumstances, but I am referring primarily to situations in which abortion is a probable option.) Addressing the problem of unplanned pregnancy is far more effective, permanent, and respectful of all people than trying to outlaw abortion.
As I see it, there are two main routes to addressing this problem: ample sex education and accessible birth control. I have heard some pro-lifers suggest that the best and the only way to permanently prevent unplanned pregnancy is through abstinence. While this is biologically true, it is another nonviable solution to a problem. While any person can choose to be abstinent for any reason, it would be nearly impossible to stimulate a cultural shift so monumental that pre-marital abstinence would be established as the widely accepted and practiced norm. While abstinence will always be one of the avenues for avoiding unplanned pregnancy, it cannot effectively stand alone. Exclusively preaching abstinence contributes to a culture of people who are unequipped to make safe, responsible, informed decisions regarding sex under any circumstances which, ultimately, results in the very situations that lead to abortion.
I know that many pro-lifers might cringe at my suggestions of ample sex eduation and accessible birth control as primary methods of preventing unplanned pregnancies and, by extension, abortion. I have spoken to pro-lifers who believe that educating children about sex actually encourages sexual activity among young people. While I disagree with this blanket statement, I will address it by asking a question: from that perspective, which is worse? More safe sex among young people or more abortions over the course of a generation's lifetime? If pro-lifers claim that abortion is murder of the innocent, what could possibly be worse than that?
This same argument applies to pro-lifers who are against birth control. Some pro-lifers will group birth control and abortion together as processes of the same gravity, but that could not be further from the truth. The primary function of popular birth control methods is to keep sperm from fertilizing an egg. While people disagree on when life begins— some argue that life begins at conception, some argue at the first heartbeat, some argue at birth, and many others argue a multitude of stages in between conception and birth—I have never heard anyone argue that life begins at sex. For this reason, birth control and abortion cannot be treated as one and the same within the pro-life movement. Again, one is clearly preferable to the other. While choosing the lesser of two perceived evils may seem like a dispiriting compromise for the pro-life movement, I would argue that compromise is necessary in the current political climate around abortion. If the pro-life movement wants to effectively and permanently prevent abortion, it is going to take a lot more than outlawing the procedure. It will take time, small steps, and compromise.
These small steps begin with making birth control more accessible and sex education more thorough. While these ideas are fairly self-explanatory and I do not have the credentials or full knowledge to say exactly how they should be implemented, I do want to articulate one important facet that may not immediately come to mind. Sex education must also include detailed lessons on consent and respect for students of all ages. Sex education does not have to be constrained to high school health class; themes of physical respect and consent should be heavily implemented nation-wide through different subjects and years of school. One conflict that often arises within the pro-life movement is the question surrounding the conditions of rape. Again, this should not be an issue of what rape victims are legally allowed to do with their bodies, but rather an issue of why rape happens in the first place. Rape is the root problem to be dealt with. The education of young people is one of the most powerful tools we as a society have to combat this issue, and, incorporating ideas of consent into education as heavily as possible is a concrete way, we can combat the circumstances that lead to the need for abortion.
While the intention of this article is to address the problems within the pro-life movement, it is also to relieve some of the tension around this issue. I understand that pro-life and pro-choice people have very different opinions and beliefs, but I also believe that it is possible for the two groups to unite in addressing the issue of unplanned pregnancy.
For so long, the pro-life v.s. pro-choice debate has been a debate of right and wrong. Pro-lifers believe it is wrong to kill a baby that is developing in its mother's womb, and pro-choicers believe it is right for women to have full autonomy over their bodies. Changing people's ideas of right and wrong is a difficult feat and often causes more frustration and division than progress. In many instances, both parties in the conversation find themselves more concretely fortified in their own beliefs, and the divide grows. While I recognize that it is very challenging to suspend one's moral dedication in any aspect of a conversation regarding abortion, I challenge everyone to put more thought into what should be done rather than what is right.
The question of what should be done opens the door to a productive, complex conversation that more relevantly applies to the current decisions being made by politicians across the country. It helps to dissolve the "us and them" aspects of the abortion issue and, hopefully, find areas of agreement and potential compromises in order to move forward as a nation, more united than divided.