With the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the Supreme Court, the issue of abortion, always operating in the background of American politics, has leaped to the forefront of the nation’s attention in a way that it has not in recent years. In the war over public opinion, abortion rights advocates have shown a cold disregard for those who are living examples of births they say should never have been allowed to happen.
There was a time in which liberals as staunch as the Clintons stated that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Today an ad flashed across my screen declaring, “Adoption cannot replace abortion.” As an adoptive mother, my heart broke thinking of the message that this ad would send to my children: your life is not worth fighting for and the world would have been better had you never been born.
Some may say that this reaction is overly sensitive and that I should know what the advertisers meant, namely that simply advocating for adoption does not address the underlying social or medical issues that accompany a woman’s choice to end her pregnancy. Those are real issues that are often overlooked, but in fairness, this particular ad along with many others that have popped up on my social media feed of late have not addressed those issues either, and neither have the comments under the posts.
In an age in which careers are ended and lives upended over poorly chosen words, perceived offenses, and disregard for groups of individuals, it seems unfathomable that the lives of groups ranging from children in foster care to the disabled could be spoken about with such callous disdain and indifference free from consequence.
At the end of the musical Hamilton, the refrain speaks of the importance of, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” The stories of the people portrayed by some in the abortion debate as unworthy of life matter; they matter as much as the stories of women who face the choice of continuing or terminating their pregnancy.
“If you don’t have a uterus, you shouldn’t have an opinion,” is an oft repeated mantra of pro-choice advocates. The unspoken part is, “And if you have a uterus, your only choice is to be pro-choice.” To be pro-life is portrayed as being anti-woman, as if womanhood is a monolithic group of likeminded automatrons who have all been told to want the same thing out of life. That is some very limited pre-2nd Wave Feminist thinking.
Ironically, the pro-choice feminist view on abortion solidifies the heteronormative male centric worldview. It labels children as a hindrance to success, and whereas in the past the inconvenience of child rearing was passed to women to deal with, the acquiescence of responsibility gifted to fathers has been replaced by the elimination of the child altogether for mothers. In this way, men do not have to change their behavior and the onus for “dealing with the children” is still placed on woman and thus nothing has really changed. But I digress.
Abortion is a complicated issue, and not one that should be reduced to soundbites. I have spoken with mothers who were pregnant with babies that were loved and cherished but who could not survive birth and the continuation of that pregnancy would seriously endanger the life of the mother.
There are women for whom continuing a pregnancy is a Sophie’s choice between her ability to balance a fragile economic existence for her existing children with her desire to give birth to the child she is carrying. Young women raised in fervently pro-life conservative households face the decision of being ostracized from their family for engaging in sexual behavior outside of marriage or secretly ending the pregnancy that is the result of that choice in order to maintain unblemished familial relationships. And, because society does not support motherhood, there are millions of women forced to choose between their potential and the potential of their unborn child. It is a very limited viewpoint that says that women take decisions regarding pregnancy lightly or flippantly; these are often painful decision wherein choice does not appear to part of the equation.
To truly curb abortion in this country, we must support women and children. That means social programs that make choosing life the easiest decision. That’s often the rub in the conservative community because that support will cost money – money for childcare, medical care, education, and housing. It will also involve investment in things that seem to be outside the traditional scope of women and children.
For instance, changing our drug policy so that it focuses on rehabilitation instead of incarceration, thus providing people with the skills they need to be good parents instead of breaking up families. Robust sex education in schools with lessons on the destructive potential of porn addiction so that young people do not normalize an unhealthy relationship with sex which has the potential to lead to unwanted pregnancies. Transportation infrastructure so that parents can get to work, to childcare, and to school thus giving them time during the day to invest in their children.
Finally, incentives for companies that provide support for a healthy work-life balance for their employees including flexibility for maternity and paternity leave not just after a child is born but with an eye towards flexibility for parents throughout their child’s upbringing.
As we face this moment in our country’s debate regarding abortion, we cannot allow ourselves to devolve into soundbite wars. Too often these one-off volleys discount the value of the lives and experiences of people on both sides of the debate: adoptees and their parents, the disabled, those with fertility challenges, women in physical and economic danger, and parents without support. Birth is too often a dividing line with one side of the debate focused exclusively on those being born and the other solely with those giving birth. There is nothing in this debate that is as simple as either/or.
My children’s lives matter and the world would be a poorer place without them in it, but I am not so naive to be blind to the fact that this issue is more complicated than any one person’s experience. My prayer is that we would have a real conversation in this country about how to value life in all its complexities and not degenerate into divided crowds screaming slogans at each other on the courthouse steps.