By Sarah Levesque (Rated PG13)
Abortion. It’s in the media a lot nowadays. Many people would like to outlaw it. But I’ve been thinking about this subject for a week or so, and last night I was talking about the issue with a friend, and I’ve come to a conclusion I’ve been working towards for a while.
Abortion alone is not the whole issue. Abortion is an effect of other problems. And it is these problems that need to be rectified.
The pro-choicers have been trying to tell us this for ages, and it appears that we have not been listening. Now, that might only be the media talking; I’m not sure. But the focus has been on the legal issue. But we don’t just want to make abortion illegal, we want to make abortion unthinkable. And that takes a different approach, an approach that people are already using quietly. That approach is two-fold: give women other options when they feel like they have no choice but to abort, and take away the reasons each person has to get an abortion.
There are many crisis pregnancy centers, many places to get information on raising a child, on adoption, on fostering and more. But these centers – be they places of education and help or homes to provide for the mother – aren’t usually well known. We need more of them, and we need to market them at least as well as Planned Parenthood markets their services. These marketing efforts and the centers they are representing need to treat all with concern and compassion, rarely pity, and focus on the building up of women, not the tearing down of institutions that provide abortion. As I said earlier, this work is already in motion, but it needs to be continued and grown, and it is currently being kept rather quiet when it ought to be loud.
The other side of the solution is to take away the reasons each person has for getting an abortion. Almost nobody wants to get an abortion, as far as I’ve ever heard. But why do women get abortions? For many reasons including but not limited to the following:
- They are in abusive situations and they believe (rightly or wrongly) pregnancy and/or (more) children would make the situations worse
- They are in abusive situations and they don’t want to raise (more) children in those situations
- They believe (rightly or wrongly) that they are financially incapable of raising a (another) child
- They believe (rightly or wrongly) that they are emotionally or psychologically incapable of raising a (another) child
- They believe (rightly or wrongly) that having a child would ruin their relationship with someone of personal importance (i.e. significant other, parent, boss, etc.)
- They are being pressured by others for these same reasons or out of stigmas (stigmas against unwed/single mothers, against teenage mothers, against children of rapists, against disabilities, against pregnancy in the workplace, against working mothers, against stay-at-home mothers, etc)
- And more
That’s a lot of reasons, right? The list might leave you wondering if we have the ability to get rid of them all. And they all have one thing in common – the women are afraid. Afraid of violence, afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of being ridiculed or ostracized, etc. It’s going to be a long slow haul, but with effort, I believe we can drastically reduce these reasons, and that fear. Let’s start by looking at what needs to be done:
- Greatly reduce violence towards women
- Greatly reduce peer pressure
- Offer women (particularly pregnant women) free or cheap emotional and financial education/counselling
- Greatly reduce the stigmas attached to motherhood and more
- (Continue) founding homes/centers for women in crisis pregnancies
This list, while shorter, is even more imposing than the last. But I believe that if enough people jump on board, we can make this happen with time. How? Well, I’m sure there are a million different ways. I’ll give some examples to get started.
Greatly reduce pressure
Many women who choose abortion are pressured into it. This, in and of itself, is wrong. Threatening that a relationship will be severed, that a job will be lost, a housing situation rescinded, etc. simply because a woman is pregnant is wrong. It is using one’s power against someone of lesser power in that situation – in short, it is bullying. Most of the people using that power say they’re doing it for the women’s own good, pitting the good of the unborn child against the good of the mother. The logic tends to be along the lines of “Now is not the right time,” “You can’t afford it,” and “It will ruin your career.” This type of rhetoric tears a woman down, instead of building her up, sowing more doubt in her mind. In addition to causing stress, anxiety and potentially corrupting a relationship or situation, it is much better to support the mother through her pregnancy by helping her find whatever she needs, whether it is prenatal care, financial support, housing, etc. We should never intentionally tear someone down, nor limit someone to what she has been doing, but we should be inspired by the power of mothers to do whatever their children need, provided they are supported. Be that support, and teach others how to be.
We also need to work on eliminating stigmas, which I will discuss soon, but part is just realizing that babies are a gift, no matter the situation they enter, and that pressuring someone to have an abortion is actually pressuring them to kill their child, to murder an innocent. Each baby is a life, a precious relationship that should be more important than any career or stereotype.
Greatly reduce violence towards women
Some women are get abortions because they fear for their safety or because they have been raped. These are both forms of violence. While there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all cure, I believe that part of the reason we have such an issue with violence has to do with how we let boys treat girls and men treat women. We as a culture need to continue to teach what many individual families are still teaching – that women are to be respected and protected. This idea of protection may rankle feminists and proudly independent women, but as a Christian feminist who is fiercely independent in many matters and who did grow up in a micro-culture where this was taught, I think it makes a great difference. Yes, men and women (or boys and girls) are equal in rights and in dignity. But on the whole, men have a greater physical advantage – on average, men are taller and more powerful. This is great if these men are protecting the women around them, but it is threatening in the opposite situation.
Another thing to look at is how women are portrayed in entertainment (including porn). When people see women dressing scantily, accepting negative attention from men or positive attention from dangerous men, and allowing themselves to be controlled, manipulated or hurt – whether physically, emotionally, or psychologically – it becomes normalized, the expectation instead of the taboo. Women who watch entertainment like this are more likely to think it’s acceptable to be treated like this. Men who watch entertainment like this are more likely to think it’s acceptable to treat women with violence. How many people emulated the behavior in 50 Shades of Grey after they saw it? How many men expect their partners to behave like women in porn films do? Far too many. It’s a decent shot that if we take out violence shown in entertainment by men towards women, the lessons we have been teaching in non-violence will be better received and acted on.
Offer women (particularly pregnant women) free or cheap emotional and financial education/counselling
We need to teach girls and women to respect themselves, to be strong enough emotionally to withstand positive attention from negative people and negative attention from people they see as positive, to hope instead of despair, to be students of life, not victims of life. We need to teach women to not accept violent behavior from anyone, including romantic partners and family members, and what to do if they are in that situation. We need to teach women and men, girls and boys about the connection between sex and new life as opposed to the ideas of “sex is recreation” and “sex when I want it because I want it”. We need to teach women the skills they need to be emotionally ready (or as ready as it gets) for motherhood. And we need to teach them the financial skills to support themselves and their families. There are definitely programs who do this, but we need to continue to grow these programs, add more like them, and market them until they are known and normalized.
Greatly reduce the stigmas attached to motherhood
While we ought to reduce all stigmas, let’s focus on those attached to motherhood for a moment. There are so many – stigmas against unwed/single mothers, against teenage mothers, against pregnancy in the workplace, against working mothers, against stay-at-home mothers, etc. They all boil down to three ideas – primarily, that a mother is incompetent; secondarily, that a fetus isn’t a child; or thirdly, that an adult has more rights than an unborn child. To respond to the third idea, an unborn child is a living, growing human being with the same human rights as the mother. To respond to the second, a person exists as soon as egg and sperm join and create a new individualized set of human DNA. To respond to the first idea, we need to be building up the competency and the confidence of mothers instead of tearing them down, no matter their situation. If they are actually incompetent, let’s help them. But as far as I can tell, most women are fairly competent parents, and (like everyone else in every other situation) they learn by experience. As long as their children are being kept safe and healthy, let’s give them a chance, whether or not they are parenting as we would prefer them to.
There are other stigmas that mothers face too – stigmas attached to children with disabilities, and stigmas attached to the children of rapists. These boil down to the idea that children are problems, not gifts. Yes, a child with a disability will be harder to care for, but that doesn’t make him or her any less of a person, or incapable of receiving or giving less love. And the children of rapists typically grow up exactly like other kids, and tend to personify good coming from evil (for stories from people conceived in rape, whose opinions we so rarely see, click here).
(Continue) founding homes/centers for women in crisis pregnancies
Of course, we need to continue helping women in crisis pregnancies. I’m proud to have been a (small) part of creating a new home for women in crisis pregnancies in my own area. We need to see more of these across the nation – and probably across the globe – as we work on reducing the causes of abortion. And we need to market them until every person who has heard of Planned Parenthood has also heard of a local pregnancy center. We need to be loud. But we also need to be gentle, caring and giving. We need to combat the fear in these women who are considering abortion.
To conclude, yes, we need to defund abortion-based organizations. Yes, we should redefine the law for the unborn as we did for people of color and for women, so that our legal protection includes all, as it should have always done. But we need to work to reduce the reasons people have abortions, particularly violence, financial instability, lack of options and fear. If we can greatly reduce these things, which are atrocities in their own right, we can end abortion.