by Hannah McClure Baron
Student Activist, Advocates for Youth
In reproductive justice and abortion advocacy I found myself supported and excited talking to other activists, women who have had abortions, and like-minded friends. We passionately discussed the need for legal, affordable, and accessible abortions and our arguments were well-researched and coordinated. Together, in an encouraging and personal as opposed to confrontational and political climate, we could comfortably and confidently discuss abortion activism because we shared the same basic goals and values of legality, affordability, and accessibility. Yet, all too often, while I was seeking signatures for petitions, in conversation with people on the fence about abortion, or talking with those who challenged the need for making abortions affordable and accessible, I would begin to stutter and become nervous, or ineffective in attempting to articulate my arguments and respond to theirs. I took my comfort within the activist community for granted and I trembled in situations where my activism was really needed.
A close friend of mine pointed out that the language most commonly used in the public abortion debate, Pro-choice vs. Pro-life, is problematic and can be self-defeating for abortion advocates. Walking together she asked me, “Linguistically, what is the logical opposition to pro-life?… Pro-death?” Alternatively, would the logical antithesis of pro-choice be pro-no choice… pro-restriction? The alternative position to Pro-life seemed to have a way scarier and negatively charged image than any alternative to Pro-choice. I recognized that I needed to reconceptualize the abortion debate and understand what abortion advocacy is outside of the Pro-choice – Pro-life reigning framework in order to fully understand my own commitment to abortion activism and be an effective advocate for legal, safe, affordable, and accessible abortions.
The rhetoric of the conventional abortion debate is misleading. Loyal to our hyper-polarized political arena, advocating for abortion within the dichotomous Pro-choice – Pro-life framework does not indicate clearly enough what abortion is really about: a woman’s right to personal decision-making, self-determination and her right to health. Abortion supporters definitely do not identify with the logical linguistic opposition to pro-life, and the label pro-choice understates the importance in this political and moral debate that it is a woman’s decision to become a parent or not in her decision to have an abortion. The polarized language of the abortion debate cultivates a Pro-life political position that uses sensationalism to its advantage and a Pro-choice position that too often conceals the primacy in abortion advocacy of making access to and affordability of abortion independent from political intervention: the need to overturn current laws that restrict federal dollars from making abortion affordable (the Hyde Amendment). Without political interference, we want to strengthen and improve all women’s health and close the gaps of health inequalities by making abortion affordable and accessible in professional safe and sanitary settings. Additionally, in the Pro-choice-Pro-life framework, the word choice is trite and abortion is not a trivial choice; using the word decision as opposed to choice emphasizes how a woman is being responsible in deciding the best plan for her health and future in deciding whether or not to end her pregnancy or become a parent. Recognizing the incongruity of the Pro-Choice label with the movement’s vision, Planned Parenthood has just recently dropped the Pro-Choice label in advocacy for the right to an abortion, and instead has shifted the focus of the movement on the personal circumstances of an individual woman and her decision-making. Abortion is about responsible decision-making and allowing a woman to make the personal decision for her own health and for the health of her family, and contingently the health of our society.
Free from the Pro-choice – Pro-life bind, I confidently respond to opposition to abortion (i.e. “abortion is murder)” by emphasizing that having an abortion reflects an individual woman’s responsible decision (not merely an everyday choice) to become a parent or not, and although each person can act differently in his or her own personal life, we should not put unjust limitations on a woman’s right to determine her own family and be healthy. Furthermore, when confronted with the argument “Why should I have to pay for someone else’s mistake?” I stress that abortion access and affordability is integral to women’s health and needs to be included under the umbrella of all maternity care coverage. A woman’s decision to end her pregnancy in the best interest of her health and her family should not be restricted by financial constraints and unfair differences in insurance coverage. One in three of us has an abortion in our lifetime. We cannot continue to uphold a debate with rhetoric that gives power to political interference in a woman’s decision to have an abortion. We need to shape the discussion of a woman’s right to make informed decisions with the support of legal, safe, affordable, and accessible abortion coverage and care.