I Am Pro-Life and I Vote… Pro-Choice

Yesterday marked the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. With the anniversary, there were protests and celebrations from both sides, and it has been a time for everybody to reflect on the meaning of reproductive rights. In the media, anti-abortion groups are often referred to as pro-life; we need to examine this label, and think about what it actually means. To be pro-life is to be in favor of life. Anybody who calls themselves pro-life cannot, in good faith, oppose legal abortion.

I have a confession to make. I am pro-life.

A few weeks ago, the philosophy class across the hall from my office held a series of in-class debates. I listened in, because it was interesting to see how 18-year-olds see the world, and to mentally re-phrase their arguments to reflect my own viewpoint. I am very opinionated (big shock, right?), and I love to get into verbal spars. I imagined taking part in the debates, and grinned when they would present some flawed aspect of this or that point. My daydream would continue as I imagined myself swooping in and slaying the argument dead.

One day, the argument was pro-life vs. pro-choice. I wasn’t even thinking as they argued, just reciting arguments that I knew from years of debates, when one of the boys trotted out the old “life begins at conception” argument.

And even though in my imagination I demolished his argument, something about it stuck with me. Like a pebble in my shoe, it was constantly there, in the back of my mind, bugging me.

And instead of arguing with the 18-year-old across the hall, I found myself arguing with myself. Driving to work, it was turning itself around in my mind. As I cooked dinner, it incubated. Singing my daughter to sleep, and thinking about abortion in the back of my mind.

And even though I don’t want it to be true, even though I want to believe that life doesn’t begin at conception, I can’t. Maybe it’s because I had an embryo and then a fetus inside of me, maybe it’s because an unknown 18-year-old was more convincing than anybody else in my life has been, but really, I think it’s just that my views have changed. Something has shifted.

I believe that life begins at conception.

And I am pro-choice. So where do I go from here?

The first part of this slogan is true. The second part of this slogan is true. But the people who are posting this slogan so often get it wrong. (Taken from http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=66086772760)

To start, I have to admit to myself that I am pro-life. Truth be told, I have always been pro-life, as in “in favor of life.” I am disgusted by the death penalty. I hate to kill mosquitos, even as they conspire to kill me, or at least make my life itchy and miserable. I’ve spent time as a vegetarian because the thought of killing animals makes me squeamish. But therein lies the rub, right? I’m not vegetarian. I own bug spray. I kill bacteria, constantly, with antibacterial soap. Most of the time, it’s unprovoked: because it makes me feel comfortable, because I am hungry, because the consequences of letting such creatures live are worse than the squickiness of eliminating them.

People are not bugs, it is true, but fetuses aren’t people. At 15 weeks, a fetus just barely is developing bones. It has only been able to piss for two weeks. It maybe has a sex, but maybe not. It is the size of an orange. Take this fetus outside of a womb, and it dies immediately. It is life. But it is not more life than the pig that was slaughtered so that I could enjoy bacon, which sees, and feels, and rolls around in the mud soaking in the sunshine, and breathes and pees and loves being scratched between the ears.

Is all life the same? If so, we are all doomed, because we will succumb quickly to bacterial diseases and infections if we refuse to fight them off. On a more practical level, cockroaches and bedbugs are gross, and chicken is delicious.

Although there are people whose religious or ethical beliefs compel them to avoid killing any life, the vast majority of humanity lives according to the belief that it is morally acceptable to end certain types of life. Because of all this, we have to admit that all life is not the same. While I am pro-life, I do not believe that there is something super-duper special about a potential human form. At the point of most abortions, there is no consciousness, there is no soul, there is no movement or hair or digestive system.

The sticky point here is that there is potential for a human being. If you treat the fetus in a certain way, it can turn into a person. This is a beautiful thing – but it does not mean that the fetus is a person. A wisp of cloud is not a rainstorm.

Let’s assume for a minute that a potential human being is the same as a human being. In this case, we must outlaw masturbation – all those wasted potential babies. And any sort of kissing that doesn’t lead to unprotected sex, because if one person kisses another, there is the potential for sex to occur, which means that there is a potential conception, and a potential human being. Actually, we should probably outlaw men and women being in view of each other, because you know how looks can lead to kissing which can lead to sex which can lead to babies. Potential! And while we’re at it, we should outlaw everything, because frankly, I can easily make an argument that everything is potential procreation.

A fetus is further along in this hypothetical situation, but that does not change the fact that a fetus is a potential person. Not a person.

To recap: I am pro-life. I am in favor of life. I know, though, that it is impossible to treat all life as the same, to be in favor of all life, because to do so would mean that I would die of bacterial meningitis. I also know that every single day, we make choices that put certain types of life above others. A fetus, while pretty cool, is not more life than many of the animals that most of us eat daily. A potential human being is not the same as a human being.

And on the other side of the equation is abortion policy. Do you know what happens to the abortion rate when abortions are not safe and legal? Or, rather, what doesn’t happen? Abortion rates do not change. Take away the right to a safe and legal abortion, and the same number of abortions occur. But restrict access to safe and legal abortions, and more women die. Right now, worldwide, a woman dies every eight minutes because of complications from unsafe abortions.

I need to repeat this because it is really important. If abortion is legal, X number of fetuses are terminated. If abortion is illegal, X number of fetuses are terminated, and an additional Y number of women face serious health consequences or die because of unsafe abortions. Making abortion illegal increases death.

There are lots of people who hate abortion, people who would do anything to bring the abortion rate down. Making abortions illegal does not do that. What does?

Education (and not abstinence-only bullshit) and access to contraception. From the Alan Guttmacher Institute:

“Abortion levels are high in countries where the desire for small families is strong but contraceptive use is low or ineffective.”

In the Soviet Union, the line “u nas seksa nyet” (we don’t have sex) was the running joke that underscored a truth about Soviet Culture: in the Soviet Union, officially, there was no sex. It was an entire abstinence-only culture. And the average number of abortions per woman in Russia in the 1990s was 3.7, perhaps the highest in the world. Six out of ten pregnancies ended in abortion.On the other hand (again from the Guttmacher Institute):

“In sharp contrast, even in countries where abortion is legal and widely available, abortion rates are low if couples practice contraception effectively to limit or space births. In the Netherlands, for example, where abortion has been legal and widely accessible for many years, abortion and unintended pregnancy rates are low because of widespread contraceptive use.”

Clear education about and access to contraception reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies, which reduces the number of abortions.Making abortion illegal does not change the number of abortions, just makes them more dangerous, so the potential for more death arises. Providing education and access to contraception through companies such as Planned Parenthood decreases the number of abortions.

Anybody that wants to decrease the number of deaths is mandated to support programs such as Planned Parenthood. That is the only way to reduce abortions. Rallying for prohibition of abortions increases death. Taking money away from organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide contraception and education increases death. Preaching abstinence-only increases death.

If a person describes themselves as pro-life in good faith, they have no choice but to vote in favor of legal, safe abortions, comprehensive sex education, and easy access to contraception. Otherwise, they cannot consider themselves to be pro-life.

I am pro-life. I am in favor of life. The only way to be pro-life is to be pro-choice.

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I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

47 thoughts on “I Am Pro-Life and I Vote… Pro-Choice”

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Susan.

    A lot of the comments I’ve been reading reminded me suddenly of a talk I attended my senior year of high school that was given by Arlen Spector (he was our Senator at the time). A student asked about his beliefs on abortion, and his reply was that he didn’t personally agree with it, but as a man, the decision on whether or not to carry a child was not one that he’d ever have to make and also that he believed that it wasn’t his place to make that decision for anyone, and therefore was pro-choice. Regardless of his other politics, I’ve always respected him for that answer.


  2. Even if I adamantly disagreed with what you said, I would have to loudly applaud your courage for sharing your post so unapologetically despite the possibility of backlash.  As it is, I agree with most of what you say.  I am vocally pro-choice, but personally I am pro-life.  Or rather, I’m idealistically pro-life.  I wish we lived in an ideal society where there never had to be an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy.   I also wish that we could all work toward that type of society.  But until humanity evolves to a place where evils that result in pregnancy are not exacted on women’s bodies, where every woman is given unhindered access to contraceptive freedom, and where all people are educated about reproductive rights and responsibilities, then I believe that abortion is the only answer to the issue of unwanted pregnancy

  3. I think this way of thinking is far more common than it first seems. For me, whether or not someone would ever choose to have an abortion, or even whether or not they feel it’s wrong, is irrelevant. My concern is if they think they can tell everyone else what they can and can’t do. I know many people who would never consider an abortion, or even who morally object to it, who are nonetheless pro-choice.

    In an ideal world, abortion wouldn’t be necessary, because women could decide when and how and if they wanted to become pregnant and have children. Unfortunately, much of the world’s (and the U.S.’s) population does not have easy and affordable access to birth control. Rape exists. So many factors exist that take that control away from women.

    So whether or not you personally would choose to have an abortion doesn’t matter. It’s whether or not you feel the right to tell others that they don’t have the right to make that decision that makes you pro-choice.

  4. Thank you for being so honest here. I wish more women would speak out about this, but I do believe that they’re afraid of the shit they’ll get from either side. I happen to know several women who are personally pro-life and vote pro-choice, because they too recognize that they cannot legislate women’s bodies. As I always say to them, “Thank you for making your choice and for letting me make mine.”

    1. I’m not going to lie, it was really scary having this post go up.  I had two of my friends read it over before I did it (one who is a strong Christian, the other who works at Planned Parenthood) because I was afraid that it wouldn’t come across the way I wanted it to, and because I was so scared.  They both said “this is pretty close to how I feel,” which was very telling to me.  It’s hard to remember that not everybody falls squarely on one side, because it seems like such a polarizing issue.

  5. This post is beautiful, and I’m so happy that you exist.

    Abortion will never be preventable. It has long been a historical reality for women across the globe. Even ancient Greek and Roman texts refer to forms of contraceptives and methods of abortion dated to the fourth and fifth centuries BC. No matter the amount of education or the availability of contraception, abortion will continue to be a reality. I commend you for recognizing this and taking a pure pro life stance by also caring about the lives of pregnant women.

    I’m struck by the clear inclusion of how your bodily experience as a woman served as a determining factor when determining what your personal ethics are on the topic. This feeling of life growing inside our bodies is one that only women can have (not to exclude trans people). Our personal ethics on the subject is therefore derived from our experiences as such. THIS is why men lack the authority to engage in discourse regarding abortion. (So fuck you Santorum!)

    And even though I don’t want it to be true, even though I want to believe that life doesn’t begin at conception, I can’t. Maybe it’s because I had an embryo and then a fetus inside of me…

    I also can’t help but notice how rationally you approach this subject. I’m sure we’ve all met the people who are unable to have productive conversations about abortion because they are blinded by their spiritual beliefs and frankly find joy in the punishment of those who they believe have “sinned.” It is fine with me if people wants to live in their little bliss bubbles of ignorance, but don’t force me to live there with you. For example, I know NO pro-life individuals who would be able to say:

     At the point of most abortions, there is no consciousness, there is no soul, there is no movement or hair or digestive system.

    But this is probably because all of the pro life people I know are deeply involved in religion. Is that the difference here? Is it possible for you to come to this conclusion because you are not religious?

    1. To be honest – I struggle with religion.  I don’t think it’s completely right to say that I’m not religious, nor is it completely right to say that I am.  What I do know is that logic and truth (for me) trumps faith in the unknown.

      To me, this isn’t a question about religion, it is a question about life.  There are two paths.  One, held up by those who consider themselves to be pro-lifers, leads to more death.  The other, held up by those who consider themselves to be pro-choice, preserves more life.  I wish that people would take religion out of the argument, to the extent that it’s possible, and pay attention to what *actually* happens when legislation changes.

      1. To see religion taken out of the argument and the emphasis placed on logic would be ideal. I love the optimism it requires to even dream that will happen.

        I think your perspective, in particular, proves that the pro-choice/pro-life stances really represent a false dichotomy. To over-generalize the goals and objectives undoubtedly leaves some people out every time. This stifles productive conversation and without conversation, how do our legislators know how their bills will actually impact people’s lives? They are already so privileged and clueless. When you’re in a position of authority, you should have an obligation to at least try to make judgments based on logic.

        Can we make that a law?

  6. Susan, I know you were worried about this article being published and how we would react to it, but I don’t think you should have been worried at all! I think this is a great piece and you stated your opinion quite eloquently. I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said, so I’m just going to praise you some more. *praises*

  7. Well said! So many activists treat pro-choicers as if we hate babies–not the case. We really just want control over our bodies. Control to choose when we start a family. Control to choose our own destiny. And as for the “abortion as birth control” argument, I can only say that taking a pill is a bagillion times more preferable than a medical procedure. Of course it is preferable that all pregnancies be wanted (and we are getting better at preventing the unwanted kind!) but the reality is that mistakes happen. So many people talk about the right to life as if it is a punishment; they say, “Well, you’re the fool who didn’t use a condom so now you need to be a big girl and live with the consequences!” My mind boggles at these pro-lifers who promote indentured pregnancy and motherhood as an atonement for enjoying sex. What kind of life awaits children born under these kinds of circumstances? And for the mothers? Studies have proven that a woman’s ability to control her womb leads to an increase in economic mobility. It’s better for her life, better for her family, and better for her children.

  8. Yes. I completely agree with every point–this is the fundamental logic the “pro-lifers” miss. Being pro-choice (or to teach sex ed, for that matter) acknowledges certain truths (people have sex. Sometimes they make babies. Sometimes they cannot have that child. Sometimes they’ll do anything the can to take care of the problem). Allowing abortion keeps it safe. Teaching sex ed helps people know their choices before & after sex. Education rather than blind following is very much in support of life–and a happy one at that!

  9. You’ve written a lot of my thoughts on the issue as well. A mouse is a living thing, with its own DNA, and it can feel, move, etc. etc. but you’d better believe if it’s in my house eating my food and defecating on my stuff I’ll get rid of it – the most humane way I know, but I’ll get rid of it.

    The other touchstone for my thoughts on abortion is the famous ‘Violinist’ essay by Judith Jarvis Thompson, which like you Susan, allows the premise that life begins at conception, but it doesn’t then follow that abortion is always wrong.

  10. It took me a long time to figure all this out for myself. After much soul-searching, I finally realized that I do think that the viability argument is bullshit, but it doesn’t matter. I may not ever want to get an abortion, but I think it displays monumental arrogance to think that I, or anyone else, could make this same decision for every other woman in the world. That, coupled with the knowledge that you can’t kill an idea*, means that I am pro-choice for life.

    *people know that there is such a thing as abortion, and when there aren’t legal options, they WILL go to horrible extremes to get one if they want one. That’s just how people work.

  11. This was nice to read.  I too believe that life begins at conception.  We’re talking spark of life, creation of the soul, what have you.  Nothing else makes sense to me.  That said, I separate that belief from the fact that my body is my body and I never want to be pregnant.   I never understood why so many people have such a hard time separating their beliefs about life from their beliefs about bodily autonomy.

  12. One of the biggest misconceptions that the “pro-life” movement has about the pro-choice movement is that we are pro-abortion. Hardly. It would be fantastic if no one ever needed or wanted abortions. It would be fantastic if everyone had access to 100% effective birth control, if no one ever got raped or was the victim of incest, if no one was ever faced with life-threatening illnesses while pregnant. That’s never going to happen. People will always need abortions, and we have a duty to ensure that they’re safe, legal, affordable, and easily accessible.

    Great article Susan!

  13. Susan, so beautifully put. I very much agree with the reasoning behind your views. I’m not sure if I could have an abortion, but how is it any of my business what other women do with their own bodies? Of course, with ready access to contraception, it’s not a fear I have to live with every day and I am SO FUCKING GRATEFUL for that. I don’t have to fear being pregnant and having to go to some shady backroom operator.

    Here in NZ, abortion is legal through a legal fiction, in that it is illegal to have an abortion unless 2 doctors have said not aborting would be affect physical or mental health. Most women fall under the mental health aspect of that test. Abortions are also thankfully done in hospitals, which means the horrid anti-abortion protesters have no way of knowing which women entering the hospitals are having abortions (doesn’t stop them from waving their signs in front of the hospital, which is by a school by the way). It’s not perfect, but it allows women the choice and I never ever want that choice taken away (thankfully no credible politician goes near it as an issue, I wonder how this can be but then I shut up and pray things stay as they are!)

    1. Thank you.  In one version of this I mentioned how privileged I am to be in a position now where I probably won’t ever need or want an abortion (I am married, I’m old enough that I would figure it out, I have a good job), and how that probably colors my views, too.

    2. Cesy, I remember hearing about the ‘two doctor’ thing and it kind of bothered me. A lot. I feel that as long as you’re old enough and of sound mind enough to make that choice no doctor should tell you you can’t (they can advise you against, but they shouldn’t hold your fate in their hands). But, I never really understood the process completely.

      1. Totally agree with you there Teri, and I do believe there are doctors who refuse to sign it off because of their own beliefs, which to put it incredibly mildly, is disappointing. When it’s a legal fiction in such a way that is, it’s going to be weird and convoluted. I would love to see it more accessible, I really would.

  14. Your title set my teeth on edge, but of course you chose it for a reason. You sneaky one ;)

    I can understand you. You pull the ‘All life is sacred!’ line through to the less heroic and more icky (we eat meat, kill bacteria etc) to put it less and more in balance. You’re not saying ‘Shun the abortion’ but pro-life  became simply too synonymous to it. I am pro-life, if that life ends up healthily in a loved family who can raise it and support it. But, and I fear a bit saying this, I will always be more pro-choice. The woman victors over the womb.

    And on abortions: I know stories of girls that use abortions as a replacement for the pill and/or morning after pill (welcome in the Netherlands. We’re really not that bad). I think that’s dumb as fuck, but the ability is there so she can use it. How/and if she will have a mental and/or physical backlash of it .. not my yard, her life.

    1. I know people who have used the morning after pill as their primary form of abortion, but as far as abortions being used as birth control:  I don’t have the best data here (I think I have better data on my work computer), but the Soviet Union provides such a clear argument that I think it is hard to argue against it.  When abortion is legal, *some* people use it as birth control.  When abortion is illegal, and paired with abstinence only education, it is *primarily* used as a form of birth control (here is one link:  http://www.prcdc.org/files/Substitution_of_Contraception.pdf).  I know abortion and sex education aren’t the same, but they get so tangled up so often – the people who are fighting so strongly against abortion are the same people who think kids should not be taught about sex.

      I just do not think it is possible to say that you hate abortion and then turn around and defund places like Planned Parenthood.  You don’t hate abortion.  You hate women.  (Not YOU, of course.  You as in the traditional pro-lifers).

      1. And hate giving women a choice, exactly.

        Abortion as birth control could  easily be something of an urban legend, I mean: we also have people here who like to say that having an abortion = you must be/have been a slut. The whole mind set about it is just so wrong with some people.

  15. I Rather love this post. I wasn’t sure exactly *what* to expect from it, but it was great.

    I have some complex views on the issue myself. For religious reasons, I wouldn’t get an abortion myself. In case of medical need, I’d counsel with a Rabbi who I trust so that I’d have support as I go through the process of termination. (Conservative leaning Reform- I’m not Orthodox, even with covering my hair.) I do have an elaborate contingency plan should unwanted pregnancy happen. But I have PCOS, lost an ovary, etc, and between that and the medications I’m on, it would practically take a miracle to conceive unintentionally. When I’m ready, I might not even be able to carry to term using in vitro (though you bet I’ll try), and may need a surrogate.

    Also for religious reasons, I don’t believe that a Fetus becomes a person until “first Breath”.  Like you’ve pointed out, cattle, parasites, and germs are all living things. They all have a quickening to them, like fetuses do. A fetus, while being the object of the idea of what person could happen, isn’t Actually one outside of our projections. Thus, abortion is not murder any more than slaughtering animals is, or killing germs. There are simply more or less humane ways to go about it. And one of the humane ways to go about it is to to make sure that those who want an abortion have safe legal access to humane treatment.

    Additionally, I don’t believe my religious beliefs should be legislated. I feel like saying that because my religious convictions bar me from having one, no one should have one is in direct violation of the first Amendment. It would mean that I’m asking for a law that says everyone must abide by my religion. To me, that is repugnant.

    So, I support the efforts to provide safe, legal, humane abortions for anyone who wants or needs them. When my younger sister got pregnant, I made sure she was aware that it was an option for her. (She sustained the pregnancy and kept the baby, and I now have a wonderful, strong, smart 3 year old niece.) If I drove, I’d be making myself available to drive people to the nearest clinic. Nearest PP is 43 miles away and in another state, and they only do referrals- they can’t do them on site at that particular PP clinic. Nearest in state clinic providing abortionsis 70 miles away in Pittsburgh. So rides are a big thing- but I can’t legally drive for reasons related to my disabilities.

    The one non-religious thing that makes this complicated for me is the practice of Eugenics against fetuses that might develop into individuals with disabilities. I know with some of my own disabilities (I’m an Autistic adult) would be targeted if there were genetic testing, and my friends with Down Syndrome and their parents have horror stories about the pressure that they faced for not terminating the pregnancy. But this is a super complex issue, and not one I have the brain power for today. (I also have Fibro, and it’s a bad day so I’ve had to take my pain meds.)

    PS: Ahhhh I think I have some typos/grammar issues. . . I blame the pain meds.

  16. I have very simple views on abortion – except in cases or rape and incest, etc., I believe it’s wrong.

    I also don’t believe I have the right to force other women to live by my opinion so I vote pro-choice.

    I’m okay with each of those actions.



    1. It’s almost silly how hard it is for me to admit that I am pro-life.  Because I associate that term with such vitriol (as I’m sure people do with pro-choice, even though I do not at all) – it seems to me like we should all be moving toward the same thing, which is preventing abortions in the first place.

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