Posted by: emjb | October 7, 2006

What I mean when I say I’m pro-choice…

…is a post I’ve tried to write a dozen times. Abortion and reproductive rights in general are issues that are so complex, so tangled up with religion and our feelings about women, children, babies, and what life means, that it would probably take a book to explain it all. So tangled that I once considered myself part of the pro-life movement. Which is why going into all my thoughts on the matter involves telling a big chunk of my life story, and that’ s more than a blog can do.

This post at Feministe says a lot of what I think more succinctly than I ever could.

There is no excuse…no excuse….for forbidding abortion while also making survival more difficult for mothers and children, while also making contraception more difficult to get, while also cutting back on services for women and children’s health. No excuse at all. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot reduce abortion while increasing the reasons a woman would feel desperate to seek one. But the anti-abortion Republicans have done exactly that. Making it crystal clear that it is not the little babies they are concerned with–not once they are born, anyway.

What they are doing instead is revealing the truth underneath their mask of compassion for the unborn; the truth that they hate and fear the poor, and blame the poor for their misfortunes. Denying poor women a way to stop having more children than they can afford to raise is a way of keeping them poor. Rich women have always gotten abortions, and they always will, and that includes a lot of churchgoing pious Republicans. But poor women are the ones who put bleach into themselves, or used knitting needles and crochet hooks, or went to underground doctors who butchered them, and often died.

When I was on the other side of the issue, I would disbelieve such stories. I could not imagine a sane woman doing that to herself! Surely it was exaggerated.

But now I can see it. I can see having three kids already, and a husband who’s gone or abusive, and not enough money to feed and clothe the little ones you already have. The condom broke or your husband wouldn’t use it or you used birth control and it failed, as it sometimes does. And you’re pregnant, and if you take time off to have the baby and give it up for adoption, you’ll lose your job, and you don’t have health insurance anyway. And your choices are stark; try to get an abortion, or lose your home and go onto the streets with your kids.

I don’t like abortion…and here’s a news flash…no woman does. It is by all accounts a difficult and uncomfortable experience. But then so is frostbite and starvation on the streets. The only proven method of reducing abortions is not to make them illegal, but to make them unnecessary by increasing access to education, contraception, and other resources that help women get themselves out of desperate poverty.

So here’s the analogy I use now. Let’s say you sell cruise ships, which come with lifeboats. About 10% of the time, your cruise ships go off course, hit rocks, and start to sink, and everyone has to use the lifeboats to survive. The way to fix this situation is not to get rid of all your lifeboats. It is, obviously, to fix the faulty navigation system. And maybe train the crew better. And maybe get a better construction company to build your boats. And maybe find a less rock-filled course for your ships to travel. Etc.

But if you follow the current logic of the antiabortion Republicans, you decide that all these sensible measures are just coddling. Instead you get rid of the lifeboats and blame the drowning passengers and crew for failing to stay out of trouble, or for not being good enough swimmers to stay afloat for days while fending off sharks.

It’s time we all became grownups on this issue, and stop talking about the way we wish the world was, and start looking clearly at the way it is. Poor women face enormous obstacles, and every child they have increases those obstacles. That’s the hard truth. And all women, at some point in their lives, may come to a similar place of desperation, and seek to save themselves by ending a pregnancy. We cannot change that fact; we have to work with reality instead of against it. If we do that, we might actually accomplish the original goal of reducing abortions, instead of just ensuring another generation is forced to live in poverty.



  1. i think i definitely agree with you. and when i say ‘i think’ i agree, i mean that i have always been anti-abortion, but have also known that resources to help the poor are shabby at best. i appreciate that you wrote this and that you feel the way you do.

    now that i can see more clearly, i have to do something about it. 😉

  2. Seems you don’t post trackbacks, so I’ll mention that I posted something like a response on my blog:

    It’s not particularly directed at you, emjaybee, though it was definitely inspired by this post. 🙂

  3. Your post supposes that only poor women get abortions and that abortions occur only for economic reasons.

  4. That’s true, lp (sorry it took so long for me to moderate your comment). I only approached it from an economic angle, because that’s the one that’s most obvious to me, and one of the most compelling to someone wavering on the other side (and there is only so much space in a blog post). There are certainly other reasons…and even if we could ensure the economic well being of any woman who had a child, she should never be forced to do so. Which is a whole nother blog post, about bodily autonomy.

    And you could certainly argue that is a more important reason to be pro choice. But my own path away from being anti choice took that route–I first became aware of the survival costs, and then began to appreciate the importance of autonomy.

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