Can you be pro-choice if you wouldn’t choose abortion for yourself?

Last week I posted a discussion question and asked folks to define what it means to them to be pro-choice. The response that I got from people on Twitter and Facebook was overwhelming. Thanks to everyone who responded.

The diversity of answers people gave me shows that there is such a broad range of thought around what it means to be pro-choice. Most importantly, it’s OK to have a conflicted answer about what “pro-choice” means to you. Rather than getting ourselves trapped in binary frameworks (i.e. “you’re either with us, or against us”), it seems more productive to acknowledge that everyone has their own point of view. When you read on, you’ll get a good sense of why I think there’s a valuable place at the table for each of these opinions.

1. What does is mean to be pro-choice?
Aurelia says, “I am pro-choice for the most basic reason. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do with my body and I don’t think I have any business telling anyone what else to do with their body.”

Van argues that “It seems intuitive and obvious to me that I should be the ultimate decision maker of a decision that has to do with my physical body. On top of that, the fact that the majority of government is men makes it even more insulting.”

Jessica explains that “as an advocate of women’s reproductive rights including when they have children, where
they birth, who they choose as their care provider, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to say that those rights do not extend to terminating an unwanted pregnancy.”

Mary says that “I was taught, from an early age that choice in all matters is an integral part of a fair and just society.”

Tanya makes a strong point. “I strongly believe that all women should have access to contraception and safe abortions and that equality can only be fully achieved when all women have control over their own fertility.”

2. If you found out that you were pregnant, and you didn’t intend to be, would you continue the pregnancy, or would you choose to have an abortion?
I really appreciated the complicated answers that people gave to this question.

Van explains: “When I was younger I would have definitely considered it but I don’t know if I would have ever been able to go through with it. At this point in my life because I am in a committed long term relationship I would not consider abortion because I don’t think that I could live with the guilt. However, if the case was rape I think I would have a totally different perspective. I can’t really imagine what I would be feeling in that situation.”

Hannah echoes Van’s desire to give her answer some context. “I would consider one but I cannot see myself taking this option. I am the kind of person who obsesses over every small decision in my life for years and years after. I dwell and dwell on these things, and abortion is a BIG decision. I have friends and family who have had abortions and who sometimes struggle to come to turns with that decision, I know that it is unlikely that I ever would. That is just the kind of person I am. If it had happened a few years ago then the decision would have been more difficult, but now that I have a steady partner and a steady job I could not see myself doing it.”

Gwen says, “If I found out I was pregnant, I wouldn’t consider abortion because I’m in a position where I would actually be pleased. However, I don’t feel that I ever would have considered it. My mum had my sister at 17, so I was brought up to know that I would be supported whatever happened. I once thought that I may consider abortion if I had been assaulted but having had a child now I don’t think I would be able to. Hopefully I will never find out.”

Jessica gave a very thought-provoking answer: “I have twice very seriously considered terminating an unwanted pregnancy. One was while I was hospitalized for severe dehydration due to hyperemesis gravidarum. I was told I was dying, there was nothing they could do to save me and if I didn’t terminate the pregnancy both my 10-week old fetus and I would die. Desperate and incredibly ill I agreed. However my heart wouldn’t let me go through with it. The burden was too heavy and at that time I chose to selfishly risk the life of my two living daughters mother so I did not have to endure the guilt I felt about terminating. Make no mistake, the decision to continue my pregnancy was the selfish one.

The second time was years later and before I was severely ill in the pregnancy. We had been preventing so were surprised to be pregnant and terrified of what was to come my husband and I very seriously considered terminating. Never able to have any peace about that decision and again more afraid of the inner guilt I felt we elected to continue the
pregnancy, changing our mind the day before the procedure.

So yes, I would consider abortion for an unplanned pregnancy but I am fairly confident that I would not be able to actually go through with it. I have felt physical pain and deep depression every time I have considered terminating, for me the emotional suffering was more significant than the physical/emotional/financial burden of continuing the pregnancy.”

Alexandra had an equally nuanced response. “No. And interestingly although I’m Christian, I don’t consider that a factor in my decision. I wouldn’t because I’m married (more importantly, settled), have a planned and wanted child, have somewhere to live, have a good job … I’m in my early 30s, middle class, I have a support network of close family; I wouldn’t be judged, and I would be helped. Also, seeing a heartbeat in an early scan made a strong impression; yet I didn’t feel that thing was really a person for quite a long time.

If any of those key factors were missing, or if I were much younger or much older, or just wasn’t emotionally or physically ready to have that child, I might well consider it, though I don’t think it would be an easy decision and my first reaction would be to try to deal with those factors rather than ending the pregnancy. Still, having had a child, I also know how much it costs your body and mind. And frankly the idea of adoption is, to me, considerably more terrifying than abortion, for all sorts of reasons.”

Tanya talks about her own experience with pregnancy as a factor in her opinion about abortion. “If I had been asked this question three years ago my answer would have been yes. However, in the intervening years I became a mother and that has changed my opinion. Although still pro-choice, the joint experience of pregnancy and childbirth have changed me as a person and I do not believe I could go through with an abortion. If ever in the position of being unexpectedly pregnant I know I wouldn’t be able to prevent myself from thinking of the joy my daughter has brought and how protective of her I felt before she was born.”

Robin explains that “It would depend on how far along – if it was very early in the first trimester, I would be okay with it, within the first month or so, but not after that point. If my life were in danger later on in the pregnancy, I would consult with my physician about the decision, but it would be difficult. I strongly believe the child’s life is important along with my own, so my decisions would take that into consideration.”

Speaking from her abortion experience, Sophia tells us that the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one, and there are so many factors to consider. “When I realised I was pregnant I realised this wasn’t an abstract moral decision any more. I had a potential baby growing in my body. I don’t think an abortion is killing a baby, but it is causing a potential baby to not exist. If I hadn’t done anything, then odds are I would have given birth to a healthy baby – my child – eight months later.

I felt very strongly that the minimum moral responsibility I had to this potential person was to seriously consider keeping it. Not just knee-jerk decide to have an abortion like it was blowing your nose. I’ve talked to other women about having an abortion and mostly they said similar things – women take the decision seriously, for the most part.

I found it quite difficult – I never doubted my right to choose an abortion, but I wasn’t a teenager with no support network or money, it wasn’t unfeasible for me to have a baby. Aborting it clashed with my idea of myself as a nurturing person (although I do see that this is partly a result of cultural conditioning on women’s roles, etc).

My relationship was breaking down at the same time, a lot to do with his complete failure to support me or respond to the situation in the way I wanted. It was all very emotionally difficult.

One of the things I found particularly hard – i.e. beat myself up over – was that it was partly my fault I’d made a fetus I now was going to abort. It wasn’t intentional, but it was lax. Lulled into a false sense of security by taking risks when i was younger but not falling pregnant, I kind of assumed getting pregnant was harder than it actually is.

I basically realised that if I did the same thing again, I’d find it hard to justify it to myself. So I had to be very careful with contraception in future. Or have a baby.

I still think I made the right decision for that situation.”

3. Do you believe that you can personally oppose abortion and still call yourself “pro-choice”?
Becki says, “I don’t think you can oppose abortion and be pro-choice. If you are pregnant and do not want to be so, there aren’t other choices that don’t involve a lot of public intrusion into your life. While I don’t think abortion is an easy choice, it’s got to be a whole lot easier than carrying a child to term and giving birth to it, only to then hand it to someone else or find you have bonded and keep a child you aren’t prepared for.”

Sarah argues, “Yes if they oppose it on a personal, individual level (i.e. as a choice for themselves) – no if they oppose it for other people. I used to think I was pro-choice but had strong opposing abortion views in certain situations, i.e. a late term abortion for cleft palate or club foot or for so-called ‘social reasons.’ Then I realised thinking that I wasn’t truly being pro-choice, and that I had no idea what the women making those difficult decisions were going through. Being pro-choice it’s not my place to judge anyone else for the choices they make but to try to help campaign and protect a woman’s right to choose, so that women can access proper support in making these decisions and having the procedure if they choose, within the rights and legislation enshrined in law.”

Van explains that “People appose abortion for a lot of different reasons. You can oppose it for moral reasons or maybe for religious reasons. Either way, you can still believe that the government does not have the right to invade that space in your life. Just because I think something is wrong does not mean I believe that everyone should be forced to my moral code.”

Aurelia argues that, “Reproductive freedom is a lot more complex than pro-choice/anti-choice. People look at situations from different perspectives. I think that the key to being pro choice is to allow women to choose, even if you are opposed to abortion. It seems that there are many people that do not believe women are capable of thinking the decision to get an abortion through. The recent restrictions passed here in Arizona seem to be bullying tactics to ‘safeguard’ women. Instead of legislating doctor visits, I want the government and society to focus on real problems in our country.”

Jessica sums up the debate by saying, “Life is complicated. I absolutely believe that individuals can be personally conflicted on the matter and still align themselves with the ideology associated with pro-choice.”

If you’d like to add your own definitions to the discussion, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

 

About Serena:
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.

Comments

  1. That’s the beauty of choice, it includes the decision of no, and I don’t think it matters what the reason is. It is knowing you were free to make the opposite choice, depending on circumstances or timing or belief. No shoulds or have-tos.

  2. Thanks for this. I believe it’s possible to be pro-life personally, yet pro-choice politically. I had an unplanned pregnancy as a teen and though I had no money and the father was completely unsupportive, I never considered abortion – having the baby was just something I had to do. That said, I would never dream of insisting any woman continues her pregnancy if she doesn’t want to! That seems completely wrong. Now, years later, I’ve written a pro-choice novel which has just sold in Germany – fingers crossed for the english version! Interested parties can read more on my blog http://lucyvee.blogspot.com/2011/09/but-what-next-my-novel-current-abortion.html

  3. Mandy Winter says:

    I feel that I am pro-choice for the reason that I believe that women should have the choice as to whether they want to be pregnant or not. I cannot judge when it is ok or not ok because I have not made that particular choice myself. I have had one unplanned pregnancy, which I decided not to terminate, despite being only 18 and the relationship with that child’s father breaking down when he was only months old. I chose to keep my baby because I didn’t feel I had a good enough reason not to, and my only regret is that I was too young and that I wasn’t aware of post natal depression until I was recovering from it.

    But saying that, I could understand why a woman in a similar situation would find it the right choice for her to have a termination. The decision is a hard one, whichever way you choose, and I don’t think there are many women who would flippantly terminate without giving it some careful consideration.

  4. Great conversation! The whole point of being pro-choice to me means that I have no right to say what is right for another person. It doesn’t matter if YOU would or would not choose to have abortion (and many people would likely not make the choice that they think they would make), it matters that you wouldn’t tell someone else whether or not to have an abortion because it’s not your place or your right. That’s what makes you pro-choice in my eyes.

  5. This is precisely why I make a distinction between pro-life and anti-choice. My gramma and I were talking about reproductive issues the other day and when abortion came up she said, “I could never have had an abortion. But I can’t say what’s right for other people, so I would never judge a woman for having one and it’s ridiculous they pass laws about it.” As the conversation went on, she said that she does believe abortion is murdering a baby and that she would be sad if I had an abortion, but, “I can’t control other people and I wouldn’t want to. Women have to decide what’s right for them.”

    THAT is a purely pro-choice position, in my opinion. It has very little to do with what you as an individual would do and more to do with whether or not you’d try to force women to make decisions against their will.

  6. Thanks for adding your voices to the discussion, everyone.

  7. These women were very brave to tell their personal stories. I used to be very anti-choice but as I got older, I realised I have no place to tell other women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. I’ve become an ardent feminist and now fully believe that no person or govt has the right to choose for a woman. I’m not sure if I myself could have an abortion but if the circumstances weren’t right, I’d rather have the option to choose than not. I wouldn’t want to bring a baby into this world if I wasn’t prepared to support it.

  8. I am pro-choice, I do agree with the above comments. I have always been quite open-minded ever since I was a small child and before I considered myself a Feminist, I realized that I was one all the long. I am only 19 years old, but have a very strong, set-in place morals and ideas that I hope will never change in me. I do not want children, (though I’ve been told repeatedly that I will “change my mind”, cultural conditioning on women) my boyfriend and I do not want or plan on having a baby, he is 6 years my senior, so he is positively set on no children.

    But I have repeatedly had a battle about this in my head countless times, I can also say; I don’t know what I would do in the moment. To me, it is but an incomprehensible idea, only until (hopefully not) I do have an unplanned pregnancy will I know how I would react and handle the situation at hand.

  9. Elizabeth (Aust) says:

    I’m pro-choice, but would only have an abortion in certain circumstances – if I was raped or there were major issues with the pregnancy (development of the baby) and I’d want it done immediately or as soon as possible.
    I do feel uncomfortable with late term abortion which is now possible in Australia – up to 20 weeks. Premature babies are viable shortly after that time, albeit with a lot of medical help.
    I think abortion should be an option for women and hopefully it happens very early in the pregnancy, but it should never be used as a method of birth control.
    I think the Pill should be freely available – the consequences of locking it away means unplanned pregnancies are more likely, also miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and more abortions.
    After decades of research the Pill has been proven safe and should be available over the counter. The medical profession is reluctant to lose control of women and treat us as adults. Viagra is available everywhere – I suspect the Pill would be readily available if men got pregnant and needed it.
    The barriers in the States are onerous and paternalistic….thankfully, they are finally being broken down.

  10. I am pro-choice and want you to imagine a world where we don’t have that choice. It can never happen again.

    I always wanted 12 kids and a ranch so they could grow up doing chores to find out how easy it is to make your world the way you want it, find out how cool it is to do things, and tons of open space and freedom away from adults to dream their dreams and learn from nature.

    I lived in Jersey City when I got pregnant at 32. I had just broken up with the potential father. I was making 18,000 a year and my only choices were to have the baby and be on welfare, or what? No family, no relatives, no nothing. My dreams for a healthy family, and my reality after 11 years of Ronald Regan and George W. Bush where I felt my soul was dying and there was no hope for peace in the world completely clashed. Remember, back then the Fear Tactic was death by nuclear war with Russia or China. Plus I wanted to be with a man who had always wanted a family. I wasn’t healthy enough to attract such a person.

    I loved my child far too much to bring him/her into this world where I would have to become a total militant/angry person to protect them. My inner warrior would have been a ballistic freak if I had a child during those horrible social claw back times. I had enough healing to do for myself and was in the midst of an 8 year depression due to my constant beatings, rape and sexual tortue as a child and young teen. I read in a Marion Woodman book that sometimes the sacrifice we make having an abortion while we are healing from unbearable grief and rage are more important than having a child out of guilt and fear. Sometimes you have to save yourself first. I decided that it was more important for me to heal myself than bring some dear soul into this world who would only see grief in my eyes every time they looked at me.

    And my thanks to the Feminist movement and all their effort on my behalf. I walked through the corridor of angry ranting men into the Clinic to do what was best for both of us. I loved that child with all my heart and soul. I blessed him/her and told it that it had to find a soul who could give it what it needed. I told him/her that I had never been happier in my life then when I found out I was pregnant. And I hadn’t ever been happier to know my body worked after all those rapes by family members where I never got pregnant, and all the unproteded sex I had because I couldn’t speak up for myself.

    My many thanks to all those who made this outcome possible including all the women who lost their lives getting “back alley” abortions. Bless their souls.

    No one can judge anothers circumstances and no one knows who anyone else is. I am white and “look normal” but I carry a backlog of amazing generational abuse. I am now 54, single and content. I am learning to play instead of just work for a living or “do the right thing all the g-d time.”

  11. I am pro-choice and I had an abortion at 35 as a mother to a 13 year old. Prior to having an abortion, I would have told you this: I am pro choice yet I would not choose to have an abortion myself. Ever. Guess what? I was wrong. Sometimes we have no idea the choice we will make until we are in the situation where we have to face that difficult (or for some easy) decision. My experience has been that I surprise myself quite often, thinking I would make one choice in life yet when the times comes, I realize how wrong I was. Can you be pro choice yet opposed to abortion for yourself? Absolutely. Are we sometimes wrong about what decision we might make until we are in the situation? I think so.

  12. Elizabeth (Aust) says:

    Angie, that’s right, we never know what life will through at us.
    Close friends were both against abortion, but found 18 weeks into the first pregnancy their baby had major problems with her brain and was likely to be stillborn – if she survived it would have been with major life-long issues.
    Our friends decided to terminate – it was heartbreaking for them, but in the end they felt that was the best decision.

  13. I don’t think any woman can truly say they will never make this choice themselves, Even “pro lifers” have made the choice and went back to being pro life which boggles me. I was always pro choice, never thought I would make this choice myself, but 10 years 5 months after I decided I was done having children, I got pregnant, post my tubal, I was married my last pregnancy, this one I am not, My pregnancies have always been high risk, I weighed my options and within hours I made the choice to abort. Honestly it was an easy decision for me, and people who don’t know me are accusing me of being cold and heartless because of it. Its an easy choice for me because I, as a working single mom can not afford to risk bed rest for extended periods just to save my life, I can not risk my kids becoming orphans. I went to see what I was in for and I really hadn’t realized the way these “pro lifers” were, so I actually feel blessed because I got put in this situation. I was blinded to what many of my fellow woman are going through, I now know how hard I need to fight, to keep my daughters right to choose safe. I have been called a murderer, I have been told I hope your kids die, I have been told I shouldn’t be allowed to have sex, and I have been told I should be forced to risk my life because I had sex. This is not pro life, this is very evil and very against woman.

  14. My partner and I made a decision not to have children together. I meant it, and was on birth control.
    I fell pregnant just a week later. So yeah, it happens.
    I have always been and will remain pro-choice, but the rattling catholic skeleton in the closet probably had a lot to do with my decision to keep the pregnancy. I would be a liar if I denied there were many times during my pregnancy in which I wished I had the guts to go ahead with a termination- the abortion I had arranged and financed, and gone as far as the ultrasound that told me I was actually having twins.
    I looked to my sisters for support and found only distress; an expectation that I couldn’t emotionally handle an abortion. I’m actually quite strong. This damaged my relationship with my sisters to the extent I can’t respect them anymore. I thought they were feminists. I do believe that if i had adequate support from my family- the paradox being, those who I felt most likely to be judged by- I would have been able to make a choice that did not risk placing an unwanted pregnancy in motion. That is where my weakness is. I’m due in only a few short weeks. I have spent the entire pregnancy in terror, or more often outrage, further learning that we will be judged and expectation will be placed on us for our choices, and that this is almost conditional of pregnancy. I want to raise my son as a feminist, and my eyes are opened further every day to the blatantly sexist..understandings, almost to which I suspect I will be supposed to subscribe as a mother. I feel as though the rage I’ve experienced through this situation could eat me up. Its great to be able to at least voice it through a blog as thought provoking as this. Thanks.

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