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Dear Pro-Life Movement: I respect your opinion. Can you respect mine? From, someone who believes in pro-choice

January 22, 2010

Talking about the topic of abortion makes [most] people uncomfortable—I mean, who wouldn’t want to talk about abortion that “is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo, resulting in or caused by its death” (from Gynaecology for Lawyers)*. There are so many ugly words in that definition: “expulsion,” “death,” and “termination.” Just the definition in it and of itself makes me cringe. But adding the implications of having it or not having it…that also makes me cringe.

It was my mother who always told me, “Never talk about sex, religion, and politics in public” (little did she know that she was raising a staunch feminist who would resist every part of that rule). Unfortunately, abortion  is a triple whammy according to that rule because abortion 1) is the termination of a fetus that was conceived out of sexual intercourse, 2) many religions do not allow abortion and/or 3) many political movements do not believe in abortion.

I find that those are all justifiable reasons to oppose abortion—after all, they are personal reasons. One of the purposes of my mother telling me not to talk about sex, religion, and politics in public is because many of those issues are personal. Therefore, while I oppose the people who believe in a right to life, I respect their opinion.

So why can’t pro-lifers and pro-choicers agree to disagree? Well, as many of you know, it’s not that easy. Both sides take their political beliefs out into the public realm in the U.S.: pro-lifers want to illegalize abortion; pro-choicers want to keep abortion legal as mandated in Roe v. Wade.

Where this becomes tricky—and where I lose the respect of the opinion of those who believe in pro-life—is that pro-lifers want to tell myself and every other woman what to do with her body. Well, that’s not kosher. In fact, my father (who tends to lean towards the conservative/right  side) always exclaims when I’m chatting with him about the abortion topic that

It’s not the government’s damn business as to what women should do with their bodies!

That is where I draw the line in respect to people who do not believe in abortion. But then some pro-lifers retort that statement with:

Well then, I don’t want my tax dollars to go towards abortion.

Especially in the case of the Health Care Reform Bill (which hasn’t been passed yet), where some money may go towards abortion clinics, that idea gets tricky. I understand their concern, but keep in mind that there are many organizations of government funding that I disagree with the core values.

Pro-lifers need to step out of the box for a second and understand that there are many different cultures and values in America. That means that people are going to do different things, and that at some times you may not agree with those actions. But what needs to be addressed, in the pro-life movement and subsequently the pro-choice movement, is that people make their own choices for one reason or another, and we must respect that. Pro-lifers must address that unintended pregnancy happens frequently in the U.S. (almost half of pregnancies are unintended, about 3 million), and women are therefore faced with tough choices. Contrary to the belief of some pro-lifers, it is not easy to make the decision to get an abortion. And it is not easy to choose to get an abortion.

A common mistake that people interpret from the pro-choice movement is that we promote abortion. That we do not. Choosing to have an abortion is a very tough choice to make, as noted above. And I’d hope no one would have to make that choice.

I’m not asking for pro-lifers to understand why someone would want to have an abortion; I’m asking for pro-lifers to understand the opportunities and consequences if women could not choose to get an abortion. These consequences include a quick decline in the woman’s health, emotional state, economic state, employment status, family status, and education status (just to name a few).

But pro-lifers—I’m not asking you to get an abortion if and when you have an unintended pregnancy. Because you know what? You can do whatever you want with your body; and I can do whatever I want with mine.

The women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that abortion is about women’s hopes, dreams, potential and the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women. – Dr. George Tiller, Voices of Choice, 2003

*I know that the definition is not the best because abortion is such a heated debate that definitions can interpret the meaning of abortion in different ways. But it’s used in the above context to prove a point.

3 Comments
  1. Serenity permalink
    January 25, 2010 1:43 am

    I’m here via Feministe 🙂

    “It’s not the government’s damn business as to what women should do with their bodies!”

    I agree. But for a pro-lifer who believes life begins at conception, abortion = ending a life, and it’d be an irresponsible government that *didn’t* make it illegal.

    The fundamental divide between pro-life and pro-choice standpoints isn’t women’s bodily sovereignty, it’s where life begins. And since that can’t be proven one way or the other, there can be no reconciliation between the two viewpoints.

    “But pro-lifers—I’m not asking you to get an abortion if and when you have an unintended pregnancy. Because you know what? You can do whatever you want with your body; and I can do whatever I want with mine.”

    To a staunch pro-lifer, this is akin to saying “I’m not asking you to murder anyone yourself, just respect my right to do so.” Having participated in many abortion debates online, that’s usually what it comes down to.

  2. January 25, 2010 9:56 am

    I agree with the fundamental divide of pro-lifers believing that life begins at conception. While your last quote may be harsh (“I’m not asking you to murder anyone yourself, just respect my right to do so.”), I agree that it’s that’s what pro-lifers perceive the pro-choice debate to be.

    However, my point was to talk more about respecting sides, and think that both sides need to understand the consequences of having an abortion and not having an abortion. I respect why pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception, but they also need to respect what I believe in women’s bodily sovereignty.

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