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