On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, and invalidated laws that banned abortions. This is the 34th anniversary of that decision. NARAL Pro Choice America and Bush v. Choice ask that we who are pro-choice take a moment today to publicly say why we support women’s right to access effective, safe, and legal means to end their pregnancies, should they need to do so.
I have been pro-choice for so long that I thought this would be a simple question to answer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many reasons there were.
There are the personal reasons: I was raised by a pro-choice mother in a family that respected women’s rights, valued equality, was open about sexuality. I remember telling my mother when I was 17 that I wanted her to take me to Planned Parenthood so I could go on the Pill because I wanted to start having sex with my boyfriend. She talked about how she wished I would wait a while, but also told me I was the only one who could know when I was ready, and she did take me, and I did get condoms and Pills, and my introduction to sex was much more positive for the openness and safety that surrounded it. Her sister, my aunt, worked at Planned Parenthood as a nurse for several years. The idea that women should have control over their reproductive health was simply taken for granted in my household growing up.
There are the political reasons: I support gender equality and women’s rights and neither of those can be achieved if women are forced to bear children against their will. They cannot be achieved if women do not have ultimate control over when, and if, to bear children. And there cannot be equality or freedom for women if, in order to be certain that they don’t bear children they must never have sexual intercourse with men. (And even for those who choose not to have sex with men, there are cases of rape to be considered.)
There are the moral reasons: To appropriate another person’s body without their consent is to enslave that person, as my friend and colleague Richard has written in his Blog for Choice post. Slavery is about as immoral as it gets. And morally, I do not believe that all life is equal. The life of a woman who is responsible for herself and others is, qualitatively, worth more than the life of a cluster of cells or even a fetus that cannot survive except as a parasitic being within her.
There are visceral emotional reasons: I can imagine what it feels like to be the frightened young woman working hard at getting ahead, suddenly pregnant and unwilling to give up the chance to have the future she dreams of. I can imagine what it feels like to be the mother of three who can’t bare to take away from her children the resources emotional and financial it would take to raise yet another. I can imagine what it feels like to be slowly falling in love with something growing inside me and at the same time be convinced that I cannot raise it, but could not bare to give it away after carrying it to term. I can imagine what it feels like to hate the thing that is growing inside me, put there by an assailant I never want to be reminded of and to feel like nothing is more important than being rid of it. I can imagine the heartbreak of the couple who, after trying to conceive, find that the child they have created will be unable to survive after it is born.
In my ideal world, there would be some button or switch we could activate when we wished to be fertile. Everyone would have such a button. That way men would not accidentally impregnate women. Nor could they impregnate women who didn’t wish to be pregnant. Women could neither accidentally get pregnant, nor could they “trap” a man into fatherhood, and abortions would be much less likely to be needed (though there still would be a need for abortions in the case of health risks).
We do not live in such a world. We live in a world where people, despite their efforts at preventing pregnancy, get pregnant. We live in a world where people are forced, against their will, to have sex. In other words, we live in a world where women must have access to safe and legal procedures for ending pregnancies that they do not wish to have.
And so there is my last reason, a practical one: I am pro choice because I know that, from the beginning of human history, women have found ways to end their pregnancies when those pregnancies have been unwanted. The criminalizing of abortion does not stop women from doing this. It only puts their lives and their families at and unnecessary risk. I am pro-choice because women need safe and legal ways to end their pregnancies sometimes.
I have been fortunate not to need an abortion, yet, myself. I have been sexually active for nearly 19 years and have, because of caution, resourcefulness and luck, not ever had a pregnancy. I know that I don’t want to bear children, though, and I’m certainly not going to stop having sex, so protecting the right to safe, effective and legal abortion procedures is very important to me. And on a much more urgent level, this right has been important to people that I know. I know women who have needed them, I have helped a friend acquire one, and cared for her afterwards. She struggled at first with the decision but ultimately decided that she needed to complete her education before having a child. I know a mom who had an abortion because her marriage was failing and she already had two young children she knew she was going to need to devote all her resources to. I know another woman who had an abortion because she was absolutely certain she was not cut out to be a mom. She’s now in her late 50s and is certain she made the right choice.
Ultimately it comes down to this: women are not safe in a society where they can be forced to bear a child, nor can they achieve equality with men if their only recourse to not bearing unwanted children is to forsake their sexuality.
I am reserving the comments section of this post for readers to offer their own “why I’m pro choice” comments. I will only approve comments on this post that are supportive of abortion rights. On any other post I will not censor debate, but this post not a debate on the issue. It’s simply a place for declarations of support for the right to safe and legal abortions. The debate can continue elsewhere today.
Check back later for a list of links to other Blog for Choice posts.