Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why I am Pro-Life

I have something in common with Planned Parenthood.  We are both pro-life.

It amazes me that people have co-opted that particular term to promote an agenda that does anything but promote life.  I could say a great deal here about how their aim is control and dominance over women, how they use the cloak of enforced morality to create a culture of shame, fear, and powerlessness.

But I won't, because this is not about them.  Enough people talk about them.

Instead, I want to talk about how Planned Parenthood and I are working together to end abortion in the only way possible:  by making it functionally obsolete.

It's a sad reality that no one wants to have an abortion.  No woman gets up one morning and says, "Boy howdy, I'm gonna make a series of choices that will end with me terminating a pregnancy!"  The myth of 'women who use abortion as birth control', who cavalierly and willfully have unprotected sex with abortion as a safety net, kind of befuddles me.  I have never, in two decades of pro-choice activism and even longer just plain hanging out with other women, met anyone who thinks that.

When a woman terminates a pregnancy, it represents a failure somewhere, somehow:

Perhaps it's a failure of education.  Comprehensive sex education would prevent many unplanned pregnancies, simply by drilling the basic biology of conception into us at a young age and ensuring that everyone past the age of puberty knows that penetrative penile-vaginal sex has a strong chance to lead to pregnancy *and* that there are ways to decrease the possibility of it doing so.  We especially need it made clear that many factors can affect a woman's fertility cycle, and that until you fully understand how your own body works, there is no such thing as a 'safe day' for unprotected sex.  We need to overcome the completely wrongheaded idea that you cannot teach young people to be both responsible and joyful about sexual intimacy.

It could also be a failure of access.  A frankly stunning number of women don't have access to safe, effective, low-cost birth control.  Many women cannot use hormonal birth control due to side effects or expense, so they're dependent upon barrier methods.  Many lack affordable healthcare, or the sole pharmacist in their town feels an obligation to enforce morality and refuse to fill a prescription.  Currently, the only options for male birth control in the US are condoms and vasectomy, neither of which is an ideal solution.

Maybe it's a failure of empowerment.  Young women are taught from an early age that they must please the men in their lives, and that can lead them to give in to pressure to have sex before they're emotionally ready, or to have unsafe sex.  Young men get a constant message that the only way to demonstrate manhood is through the display of sexual virility, preferably with multiple women.  Men and women of all ages need to believe that sex is a choice they have the right to make, or not make, wholly on their own terms and for their own reasons.  To be a virgin, to be a slut, to be a committed monogamist or an unashamed polyamorist, to broadcast your sexuality or keep it private, each of us has the right to establish our own sexual identity, and the only people we should be explaining our decisions to are our partners.

It's quite often a failure of resources.  A woman who might otherwise want to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term may find that her job or her education has to be completely derailed, especially in areas where unwed motherhood carries social stigma.  Parents may throw out or refuse to support a child who becomes a parent at the wrong time.  A couple facing an unplanned pregnancy may find themselves unable to financially cope -- not only with raising a child, but even with paying for prenatal care and delivery.  Some people might find adoptive parents to bear those expenses, but especially among minorities it's more likely that they will fall into the gap of 'too poor to afford it, but not poor enough for welfare'.

There are other, darker failures.  We have not ended rape in this country or any other.  We have not ended domestic abuse.  We have not ended human trafficking.  In each of those situations, a pregnancy can be a tie that binds you to the one who brutalized you, and in more than thirty states a rapist can sue for visitation of the child he fathered.  Abusive husbands are finding sympathetic courts to grant them visitation even when the abuse is documented, and there are advocates for laws that would allow an abuser to block his victim's abortion.  We have not ended molestation, or incest.  We do not protect those who cannot protect themselves from predators.  The 'Morning After' pill is not fully accessible, and carries many of the same side effects as hormonal birth control, but it's currently the only option for a woman who's been raped and is afraid she might get pregnant.

Some of our failures are medical.  Women who don't get good prenatal care are at higher risk of developing complications that can require the termination of a pregnancy.  We do not diagnose and address potential problems with the mother's body or her health before they become critical.  Our screening techniques for genetic predisposition to fatal birth defects aren't good enough.  We don't have options to support parents who are facing a lifetime with a disabled child and unsure of their ability to cope, or the therapies to treat many common birth defects.

Abortion, by and large, represents solvable social and technical problems, and I stand with Planned Parenthood and with those who wish to solve them:  by advocating for comprehensive sexual education at all levels of schooling; by advocating for and funding access to safe, low-cost birth control for all women; by supporting those seeking to develop better birth control options for men; by seeking to empower men and women BOTH to make responsible and informed decisions about sex and relationships; by providing better resources to those facing an unplanned pregnancy; by breaking down the social stigma applied to single motherhood; by fighting to eradicate rape, domestic abuse, human trafficking, molestation, and incest; by ensuring that everyone has low-cost, readily accessible prenatal care; by improving our understanding of pregnancy and gestation; and by improving our diagnosis, treatment, and support for potential birth defects.  And in the meantime, while we solve those problems, I stand with Planned Parenthood to fight to keep abortion safe, and legal, and accessible.

We will never end abortion by legislating against it, and I genuinely do not understand how anyone really believes we can.  In fact, given that bodies are odd things and medicine is an imperfect science, it's likely we'll never fully eradicate the need to terminate a pregnancy.  But we can create a culture of education, empowerment, and equality, in which sex is an enthusiastic and joyful sharing between partners who understand and embrace its potential to create life, and who have the tools and knowledge to choose whether or not to fulfill that potential.  In that culture, there will be no need to outlaw abortion because we'll have made it functionally obsolete.

Whenever someone tells me he or she is pro-life, if they do not support the agenda of obsolescence, then I consider them to be fundamentally mistaken about their proper title.  They are anti-choice, but they understand precious little about what it means to improve and celebrate life.


  1. And dont' forget failure of contraception; nothing we have except abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy (unless you've had surgery of some kind). Until we have some kind of magic bullet, there's always the risk that, no matter how careful, your condom could break, your IUD shift, your pill is forgotten, etc.

  2. Oh, absolutely. When you're talking about access to birth control, you have to be considering *effective* birth control. As it stands now, abstinence is the only thing at 100% unless you're pulling out organs (because tubal ligation and vasectomy have been known to spontaneously reverse). We have to be working on better options with fewer side effects, most definitely!