I think there is a foreseeable future in which the issue of abortion does not divide people and determine elections. That doesn’t mean I think that people are going to stop arguing about whether or not abortion should be legal. At least not in the US, not in my lifetime. But it does not need to continue to be the political football that it is.
What got me thinking about this was this piece on what it was like before abortion was legal in all 50 states. It was pretty harrowing to read what women who felt that they needed abortions had to go through before abortion was legal. Then, a friend of mine commented on it:
Friend: “I take responsibility for all I do. I break it I buy it. I don’t see a difference in having sex without condoms or other controls. Don’t play the game unless you can live with the outcome. Its still killing a child no matter how they want to paint it. When my wife said she was pregnant and asked what we should do I said..have a baby..I was out of work..she had a low paying job and we struggled..I sold things to make ends meet. We used WIC for a short time..but we didn’t kill our baby because it cramped our life style or it was the wrong time..bullshit excuses..grow up. Take responsibility for your actions and their outcomes.”
I responded: “I get wanting people to take responsibility for their actions, but I also think illegalizing abortion will take us back to the world described above…” (above being in the article)
A lot of people, like my friend, like to couch their view of abortion in the language of personal responsibility. But a child is more responsibility than one person can bear. As a father, I can tell you that having a child really is more responsibility than two people can bear without a lot of support. Every woman who is pregnant has to make a judgement call about whether or not the community around her will support her in raising her child. This isn’t something that the pregnant woman will necessarily have thought of before. I would hazard a guess that most people don’t think about it. At least in our culture, that seems to prize independence, I wonder how many people think about their wider community when they are considering having a baby. How should people even begin to think about that? But I’m getting off on a tangent…
My friend, and many other people, argue that if you can’t live with the consequences you shouldn’t do the deed. That’s fine as an argument, but we aren’t going to be illegalizing unprotected sex. Nor are we going to be making a law that says someone can only have unprotected sex if they want to have a kid. People are well within their rights to have unprotected sex if they choose to. So sure, you can tell people that they shouldn’t have unprotected sex if they aren’t ready to have a kid – but saying that isn’t going to stop anyone from having sex, nor is it a substitute for policy. Ultimately I’m not sure what good it does to even make that argument.
I suspected that the reason most women have an abortion is because the logistics aren’t lining up for them. So I googled, and literally the first relevant response backed up my suspicion. 86% of respondents in the most recent study I found cited reasons for getting their abortion that I would categorize as logistical: unready, can’t afford baby now, has all the children she wanted or all children are grown, has problems with relationship or wants to avoid single parenthood, is too immature or young to have a child, would interfere with education plans/would interfere with career plans.
This makes me think that we’ve been focusing on what divides us instead of what can unite us. Sure, whether or not abortion should be legal is a thing that divides our population. But making sure that pregnant women have the support they need to confidently give birth is a completely different conversation that does not have to divide us. That is simply a question of logistics. What logistics would make a difference for people who would, in today’s world, consider abortion? Enough maternity and paternity leave, robust adoption and foster programs, affordable day care and affordable medical coverage – I’m just brainstorming here, but these are what come to mind. I imagine that those of you reading this can come up with more good ideas as well.
If it is indeed roughly accurate that 86% of abortions in the US in a given year are due to pregnant women not feeling like they can get the support they will need (don’t take my word for it, I just did a cursory review of one study)… then we’ve been having the wrong conversation this whole time. The primary question is not “should abortion be legal?” but “how do we support women who are pregnant?”
Whether or not abortion is legal isn’t going to change the demand for abortion. But I do think we have to consider the role of government policy and/or private institutions in a woman’s calculus when she is choosing to have a baby or not. I think that if we address this as a society, we can look towards a future when the issue of abortion is actually in the rearview mirror. When we can read about it in history class, instead of in blaring headlines in the news feed of our choice.