On Abortion, Privilege, and Productive Problem Solving

Written by Helen Rose
November 24, 2018

I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro “it’s absolutely not my business to even have an opinion on something incredibly so personal and life-altering that has nothing to do with me.”

More simply said, I’m pro-choice.

I made the choice to keep my son. An incredible amount of privilege and support went into that choice.

The fact is that not all people have that. The fact is that for some women, an unintended pregnancy can mean life or death.

And even when it doesn’t – it is not anyone’s business but the woman involved.

Ideally, I’d love to live in a world where abortion is not necessary. It can be a traumatic thing for some people and I’m all for avoiding trauma whenever possible.

So, what would that take?

It would take compulsory, comprehensive sex education for all people. Ideally, this would happen at the family level. Realistically, too many people shy away from uncomfortable conversations with their kids.

I understand. It was mortifying to learn the mechanics of intercourse from my mother. But I am so thankful that she chose to have that awkward conversation with me rather than avoiding it.

It would take investment in social welfare agencies and organizations to help provide education, easily accessible contraception, and services to parents and children.

A sweeping ban on abortion would not end abortion – it would end safe abortion.

Education, accessible contraception, and increased material and emotional support in our society could significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and therefore the number of abortions.

The number of abortions will never be zero. There will always be cases of fetal abnormalities, imminent maternal illness or death, rape, incest, or birth control misuse, disuse, or failure. There will always be cases where the best choice will be termination, for whatever reason. Ultimately, those reasons do not have to be justified in the court of public opinion. Those reasons are between a woman and her healthcare provider.

If you asked 100 women why they chose termination, each one would have a different reason, if even slightly.

A sweeping resolution about this issue cannot be effective because it would fail to address the many reasons why women seek termination, and fail to to prevent those reasons from becoming an issue where termination becomes an option.

It’s not about killing babies. It’s not about selfishness or irresponsibility. It’s about weighing the pros and cons and choosing the decision that works best for the individual situation.

It’s also about the kind of environment that potential baby will be born into.

Is it compassionate to bring a new life into the world where it will struggle greatly because of poverty or abuse?

Is it compassionate to bring a new life into the world to be sent into a foster care system where they may be adopted into a loving family, or an abusive one, or none at all?

Is it compassionate to bring a new life into the world where it will bear the psychological consequences of knowing it was unwanted?

Is it compassionate to bring a new life into a world where it may not have stable access to food, safe shelter, and medical care?

In America, social welfare programs exist. They are also staffed by too few overworked, underpaid workers. Resources are scarce and constantly at risk of being cut. They are also difficult to navigate and often have long wait times.

I have a degree in social work and I have found the social welfare system difficult to navigate. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to someone with less education, less time to devote to figuring it out, and less social supports to lean on during lapses.

If your goal is to end abortion, then you may want to consider it a goal which requires serious investment.

We must invest time into educating people about reproductive health.

We must invest money in this education, as well as in improving social welfare programs. These programs must include providing accessible contraception and pre and post-natal care and support to new mothers and children in need.

If you are unwilling to contribute to a solution – and not just monetarily, but with your time, input, and effort – then really, what right do you have to demand change?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

***

When I hear people talk about abortion, I often hear a great testament to their own privilege.

I mentioned before that a lot of privilege and support went into my decision to keep my son. Let me explain.

The day I found out I was pregnant, I told my partner, who was shocked, but agreed that we would do whatever I wanted to do.
Some partners may have become aggressive, insisted on making the decision, or bailed entirely.

I texted my therapist to help me figure out what to do next.
Not everyone has a phone. Not everyone has insurance to pay for mental healthcare or access to community mental healthcare. Not everyone has mental healthcare providers who are able to be on-call to their clients.

I told my parents, who told me they loved me and were incredibly excited to become grandparents.
I’ve heard of families threatening, shaming, and physically harming women who become pregnant while unmarried.

I told my best friends, who were a little freaked out, but supportive and excited to become aunties.
Not everyone has close friends, let alone ones who are supportive and non-judgmental.

I scheduled an appointment with my OB/GYN, where I would later have an ultrasound and bloodwork, including genetic testing.
Not everyone has access to healthcare. Not everyone feels as if they can trust healthcare providers. Many women avoid prenatal care because they are in active addiction and fear the repercussions. Not everyone has insurance which will cover genetic testing.

I told my employer, who offered me modified duty and as much time off as I needed for appointments, as well as long breaks during my double shifts so I could rest.
Not everyone can afford to take on light duty or extra breaks. Not every employer will offer light duty. Not every employer will treat their employees compassionately if it impacts their bottom line.

When pregnancy complications made it inadvisable for me to keep working, my family stepped in and took care of me physically and financially.
Not everyone can just leave work, even to go to the hospital. Not everyone can prioritize the health of a pregnancy over paying bills or eating.

When I returned to my church after some time away, five months pregnant with no ring on my finger, they accepted me joyfully and with open arms. (One of my former Religious Education students literally flew down the front stairs of the church and into my arms.)
Not every spiritual community is so accepting. Many religious communities can be the opposite, offering blame and shame instead of support.

Five weeks after my son was born, I went back to work, and my mother watched him for free while I was away.
Not everyone has access to affordable or free childcare. Childcare is prohibitively expensive – I was paying $875/month at one point, and that was for a mid-range facility.

When my son was six months old and I decided to go back to school, my entire family took turns watching him so I could go to class, go to work, and study.
Not everyone can afford to go back to school. Not everyone has a support system to help them get through school. Not everyone can handle the level of concentration that higher education requires because of other stressors. Not everyone has the time to spend on school, or the desire or motivation to go.

When I experienced postpartum depression, I was able to see my therapist, see an APRN for medication, and take time away from school and work.
Not everyone can take time off from school or work to attend to their mental health. Not everyone has access to mental healthcare. Not everyone can afford the medications prescribed to them. Not everyone has been taught that mental health is as important as physical health because there is still so much stigma surrounding it.

The bottom line is that I had the resources and support available to me that sustained my choice to keep my son – and not everyone has that same privilege. If any one of the many factors listed above had been different, then termination may have been the right choice for me.

***

Let’s go ahead and get a few points out of the way:

“I don’t want my tax dollars paying for abortion!”
Under the Hyde Amendment, it is unconstitutional to use federal money for abortion services.

“I don’t want someone teaching my kids about sex!”
Your kids already know about sex. They’re going to do it. They might as well do it safely.

“It’s not my responsibility to take care of other people’s children!”
If you are unwilling to be part of the solution, you don’t get to complain. It’s like not voting and then being mad about who gets elected.

“They can just put the child up for adoption.”
A) Pregnancy and childbirth take a massive physical and emotional toll on a woman. It can take years to fully recover.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2565801/
B) Adoption is prohibitively expensive for many prospective adoptive parents.
https://adoptionnetwork.com/cost-of-adoption/how-much-does-it-cost-to-adopt-a-child C) There are currently over 100,000 children awaiting adoption in the foster care system. Statistically, over 20,000 will age out without ever being adopted.
https://adoptionnetwork.com/adoption-statistics

“They should just keep their legs closed!”
A) Sex is not just for procreation
B) Abstinence-only sex education does not work
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3194801/

“They should take responsibility/get a job/stop relying on the government.”
Most people who participate in social welfare programs do so temporarily. They also are largely employed, and therefore paying taxes which help fund the programs they are utilizing.
https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15-97.html
Welfare exploitation and fraud do happen –  but not at the alarming rates we’ve been told. Not to mention that poverty is cyclical, and under-education and unintended pregnancy are part of that cycle. If we can interrupt that part of the cycle, or provide support if it cannot be interrupted, we can give people a leg up out of poverty. Long term, this can decrease the strain on social welfare programs as people become more educated and self-reliant.

***

Several years ago, I read a poem that referred to pregnant women jumping from slave ships as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The imagery was shocking and I found myself wondering what it would take for me to make that sort of decision.

I find myself thinking that again as I consider mothers bringing their children to the border of a country where they are told they are not wanted and know they may be separated.

And again when I think about a woman who may want to be a mother, but chooses termination because she cannot afford a child, or who does not have the support system necessary to sustain a pregnancy and a child.

I think about it again when I consider women who had coat-hanger abortions on kitchen tables or took scalding baths or drank cleaning products because they did not see another option.

When I am tempted to judge someone, I try to think about what it would take for me to do what they are doing. It is an incredible lesson in compassion, empathy, and privilege.

There are not many things in this life which are black and white, and there are even fewer problems with simple solutions.

Nothing that I have suggested here is a simple solution, nor is it all-encompassing. However, in order to get to all-encompassing solutions, we must begin somewhere. We must have the conversation without judging, name calling, or shaming. We must work together and approach solutions with an open mind and abandon the us vs. them mentality.

Abortion is an emotional topic. It is a multifaceted issue which many have extreme opinions on, though most are reasonable enough to sustain an open-minded conversation about. It can certainly be a tough conversation to have, but most conversations worth having are – just as most things worth doing take significant effort.

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