I know that abortion is one of those topics that can fuel tensions for both conservatives and liberals. It has polarized both sides of the debate, making sworn enemies out of complete strangers. With the appointment of Justice Alito to the Supreme Court, many conservatives are hoping to take a shot at banning abortion. If they should succeed, I believe that this could be one of the greatest tragedies to befall the pro-life movement, throwing us into a battle over the right for abortion, rather than addressing the reasons for abortion. I hope to spend a little bit of time here fleshing out why I think this is so.
I began musing over the polarities of the abortion debate a year ago. It’s simply irresponsible to villify conservatives as wanting to control women and take over their bodies or liberals as murderers with blood-stained hands. Please spare me from such incomplete thoughts here. Both sides of the debate want good things, but both have a dark side. We need to explore both dark sides and then find a place where we can find a win-win solution that saves as many lives as possible and takes care of women.
I agree with the pro-life movement in their assertion that all life is sacred and begins at conception. I believe that aborting a child at any stage of pregnancy is wrong and should not be tolerated. There is no doubt in my mind that those in the Pro-Life movement have an important role in our society as they speak up for those who do not have their own voice.
That being said, the Pro-Life movement tends to miss out on the plight of women who desire an abortion. Some are young women who do not want to face their family. Others are poor women who unwisely consented to have sex with an unreliable partner, became pregnant, and lack the means to support a child because their partners are irresponsible and abandon them. Other women do not want to have a child for life-style/convenience reasons, and therefore seek out an abortion.
While the last woman has nothing that can stop her from having an abortion, the pro-life movement has yet to make bold, sweeping strides to help the women in the first two categories. Crisis pregnancy centers are perhaps the best example of pro-life advocates who provide for the needs of women who would otherwise have to seek out an abortion.
The fact of the matter is that women with little support or income have few options beyond an abortion when pregnant. Unless the pro-life movement can provide a network of financial and personal assistance, many women have no where else to turn. While the pro-life movement can condemn abortion as unethical, it is equally unethical to withhold assistance, when you have plenty to offer, and leave these people in the position where an abortion seems like the only option. Passivity of the pro-life movement when dealing with the basic needs of women is a very effective way to increase the demand for abortion.
The Pro-choice movement, in my opinion, errs in regarding life in the womb as less than a person. The embryo is just a part of the mother that can be removed like a kidney or gall bladder.
But the pro-choice movement has excelled greatly in providing healthcare and support for women. They rightly want to help women take care of their bodies, and without groups such as Family Planning many women would lack essential healthcare. Though wrong in their beliefs about when life begins, the pro-choice movement is doing many things right.
Steps Toward a Solution
In moving toward a solution in this polarized debate, I would like to make a few assertions. The first is that nothing of a lasting value can be accomplished by either side through legislation. Whether you ban or allow abortion, there will always be groups who work tirelessly to overturn the law or find a loophole in order to subvert it.
In addition, while you can slow down abortion by outlawing it, women will always seek them out. In fact, this argument is a powerful one in the hands of the pro-choice movement. If women do not have a safe place to have an abortion legally, they will find an alternative that could be even more detrimental to their health in a back alley or elsewhere. The pro-life movement has to realize that we cannot legislate morality in our nation.
Even if abortion is outlawed, there will be more legal battles, more loop holes produced, and more delays and stalling while the real issues are never addressed. Can we help women in low-income communities? Can we work to provide healthcare for all women? Can we provide alternatives to abortion that are practicle? Can we make abortion more unnecessary than illegal?
Working to make abortion unnecessary is a far safer and more effective path that can be easily controlled. While legislation outlawing abortion will always be challenged and will probably be overturned, pro-life groups could work to pass legislation that will make adoptions easier, provide healthcare to poor women, and provide crisis pregnancy care for younger women. Crisis pregnancy groups are always in need of volunteers and funding. No one on either side of the issue, regardless of motives, will criticize an effort to provide more healthcare for women or to support crisis pregnancy centers.
I honestly do not believe that we can stop a determined woman from having an abortion. Legal or illegal, it will happen. The pro-life movement may make them scarce if it ever passes the legislation, but since Roe vs. Wade, I think it’s clear that abortion has a strong foothold in our culture that will be hard to remove. If that is the case, then legislation is at best a short term solution that does not address the real reasons why women have abortions.
If the pro-life movement can address these vital concerns that relate to both child and mother, perhaps the pro-life movement can still uphold its agenda to promote the lives of unborn children while joining the pro-choice movement in its concern for women’s health. Such a move may just change the lives of many for the better and save more unborn children in the process.
For more about crisis pregnancy centers and ways you can help, see: Ramah International.