Rethinking How We Approach The Abortion Debate
My views on the abortion debate- not so much the procedure itself- changed forever when I found out that a friend of mine had an abortion. She had been engaged and was pregnant when she found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her, using drugs and had a criminal history. She wanted to place the baby for adoption, but the slimeball said he wouldn’t give up parental rights and would get custody of the child.
She didn’t know that his claim to custody and/or visitation would have been on shaky grounds since he had a criminal record and history of drug use. She felt that she had only two options: end the pregnancy or leave a child in the hands of a dangerous person. She chose abortion, but it grieved her deeply. Later on, her friends, not knowing of her experience, would share things on Facebook condemning women who had an abortion as murderers who cared only for their own convenience and it would open up the wound all over again.
The abortion debate is an extremely heated one and I think it’s very common for people from different sides to characterize things in an extremely narrow way. I guess what I would like to propose is that as deep as our feelings run on this issue, that we all try to look at the issue with more understanding of different points of view. In short, I think we need more compassion from everyone. I would like to suggest the following shifts in the way we approach the issue of abortion:
Move beyond the issue of legality– Laws only prevent things from happening to a limited extent. We have laws against a lot of things- speeding, sexual abuse, child pornography, murder, insider trading, etc. and those things still happen. The same is true of abortion.
Before Roe vs. Wade, women still had abortions. In the 18th century, recipes for herbal preparations that could act as abortifacients were known and used. The medical profession’s relationship with the procedure has been complicated. While the AMA took an anti-abortion stance publicly during the 19th century, many doctors continued to offer the procedure- often competing with midwives. Some estimates place the per capita number of abortions in the Victorian era to be seven or eight times as high as it is today. In the 20th century, abortions were still harder to obtain since many doctors didn’t want to be prosecuted under abortion laws, but many women did- sometimes at their own risk. Illegal abortions were often performed in unsafe conditions leading to 5,000 deaths a year. If Roe vs. Wade was appealed, it would not stop women from seeking abortions or being pressured into them. If we’re looking to preserve life and prevent abortion it is going to happen through choices on an individual level, not through legislation.
Understand why women have abortions– The motives for abortion often seem to get reduced down to soundbites about “rights” and “murder”. This isn’t getting anyone anywhere because these two concepts vastly oversimplify the dynamic and don’t address the reasons why women often feel an abortion is a better choice than carrying a pregnancy to term. One of the more detailed studies from 2005 on the subject found some interesting results. This was especially intriguing because it compared the reasons for abortion in 1987 vs. 2005. One of the interesting things that this study found was that “timing is wrong/ not ready to be a parent yet” was still the most common reason cited for having an abortion, but one reason had increased dramatically was “Had completed childbearing/ had grown children”.
Since 1987, fewer women were having abortions because they felt it would interfere with their careers, but slightly more were having an abortion because they felt that it would interfere with school. (This is ironic because more schooling has been moving online since the widespread use of the internet.) Finances was another frequently cited reason. Interestingly, about 40% of women in this study said they had considered adoption, but felt it was morally wrong to give a baby away.
Stop catastrophizing pregnancy– I remember when I was a teenager, it seemed like all of the stuff in my child development class focused on how having a baby young would be a disaster. It would be expensive and would condemn a girl to a life of poverty. It would also be horribly uncomfortable and difficult. I even saw religious groups get in on the act, talking about how terrible it would be to have sex and then get pregnant. Now personally, if my daughter were to get pregnant as a teenager, I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled, but there are far worse things your kid could become (sex predator, terrorist, gang member, scam artist, white collar criminal…). I don’t have any concrete data on this, but I think if we were to stop telling our children that unplanned pregnancy is the worst thing that could happen, we might find that women feel like there are options available to them if they do get pregnant. I don’t think that being honest about the realities and options associated with single motherhood like job opportunities and education options is glorifying young single motherhood, but it is one option. I think that women need an honest view of pregnancy and motherhood that doesn’t reduce it to either easy or a travesty.
Stop castrophizing labor– Again, I don’t have any hard labor here, but I’m trying to put myself into the shoes of the average woman who doesn’t know that labor isn’t an automatic trauma. If you believe that labor is going to be this horribly frightening, painful thing and even life-threatening thing that you have to go through to get a baby, you’re not going to feel very inclined to go through it unless you really want that baby and are going to have it be yours. Labor is hard work-hard work. But it can have dignity, peace and love. The subject of labor and birth support for biological mothers is something rarely discussed, but I think more doulas and midwives should offer their services to women who plan to place a child for adoption and share their experiences about attending these kinds of births.
Have a more open dialogue about adoption– Families and adult adopted children who feel positively about adoption should feel free to share their stories as a way of reducing the stigma associated with choosing adoption for a baby. I think there should be more resources explaining the options for different kinds of adoptions (varying degrees of open to closed) and the rights of birth parents. More information can help people make more informed decisions.