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pro-choice

I remain, pro-choice

THE ISSUE

In recent days, the topic of abortion has been on the minds of many following a(n inflammatory) statement by one of our religious figures. In a recent statement, he called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to ‘rein in’ the Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, who has been a vocal advocate for the discussion of the current abortion laws with a window to legalization and regulation.

The issue of abortion has been one of international significance for decades. Countries have taken varying stances on the topic, primarily in accordance and compliance with the religious or secular views of the masses. In predominantly Christian countries, the issue of abortion is a point of great contention, with the more pious of the population being staunchly against the medical procedure.

The terms pro-life and pro-choice have become inextricably intertwined within the socio-political framework of many of these countries as the argument rages on regarding the morality of the procedure and the bodily autonomy of women.

Pro-life advocates argue primarily on the premise that life begins at the moment of conception and abortion therefore constitutes murder. They are advocates for the living, though voiceless, embryo, and have committed themselves to protecting that “life” until birth. In some extreme cases, there are those opposed to contraception because they view even the prevention of conception as somehow sinful and unacceptable. The Catholic Church is one such entity that encourages (just short of mandating) that their members do not use contraception or any prophylaxis that may prevent pregnancy. The arguments are largely based on religious ideologies and most pro-life supporters tend to be religious persons.

Pro-choice advocates on the other hand support the right of the woman (and to an extent the man) to determine the outcome of any pregnancy including the choice to terminate. The foundation of this support is that of the bodily autonomy of the woman and her inalienable human right to choose to endure the requirements of carrying, bearing and responsibility for a new human life. Pro-choice advocates tend to be a more mixed group with a number of religious persons taking the stance in favour of the woman’s agency to choose to participate in the pregnancy or not. In many countries, their efforts have been rewarded with the lifting of bans, sanctions and penalties for abortions and increased access for women to obtain safer procedures for the termination of a pregnancy.

THE ARGUMENTS

The arguments both for and against abortion are varied; this seems to add to the complexity of the issue and the difficulty in making a final decision. At the crux of it though, is the fact that whether or not abortion is legal in a particular region, country or in the case of the USA, state, they still happen. The illegality of the procedure does have significant impact.

Against – Pro-Life

Pro-life advocates argue about the sanctity of life and assign personhood at conception as well as the potential of life with arguments that the unborn child deserves the right to their potential as a member of society. Assuming that life begins as soon as the embryo is formed, there are many who view abortion as murder and argue for strict penalties in accordance with this. The stance taken is that not only should it be illegal, but the woman and the medical practitioner should be penalise for the termination as murderers. Advocates lobby lawmakers in efforts to influence the legal aspects of it by mounting arguments to keep it on the books and indeed to make it more difficult to access and make the penalties more prohibitive and dire. Others protest at locations where they know or think the procedure can be obtained. Some protests are peaceful, taking the form of picketing and blocking entrances. Others however have become violent with participants hurling insults and in some cases projectiles at patients and personnel. This has resulted in injuries and in a few tragic cases, death. In some extreme actions, these locations have been attacked, shot up or even firebombed and burned.

For – Pro-Choice

However, regardless of the protests, the demand for the procedure has hardly lagged. Even in places where it is illegal and women face prosecution, there are still known instances of pregnancies being terminated. The procedure being illegal often forces women to seek the services of unlicensed and/or unqualified practitioners, a dangerous practice that can lead to loss of fertility or loss of (the woman’s) life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost half of the pregnancies worldwide are unintended/unwanted. These pregnancies occur both in and out of “committed” relationships and can happen for a number of reasons including but not limited to:

  1. Contraception/prophylaxis failure
  2. Rape
  3. Lack of knowledge re the reproductive cycle

In some situations, the pregnancy may be wanted but it is determined that the woman will not likely carry to term or may be at mortal risk as the foetus develops. Advances in medicine and science can also now determine if the foetus is healthy and viable and will have quality of life after birth. In these instances, it may be safer and/or more humane to terminate the pregnancy.

And even more, there are those who simply argue that the woman should have agency over her body to determine if she wishes to carry a child to term and accept all the risks and responsibilities involved in that situation. Personal, financial, physiological, mental, emotional and/or physical reasons can all play a part in such a decision and pro-choice advocates argue that it is for the woman to decide to keep or terminate.

On the Fence

There are some persons who are willing to compromise, arguing for the sanctity of life while prepared to acknowledge that there are instances where the pregnancy might pose a risk to the fetus or the woman and as such may warrant termination. The allowance in these cases is mostly given to circumstances of mortal danger where it can be determined that the woman and/or the child will die as a consequence of the attempt to carry to term and/or deliver the child. They most often however draw the line at the argument of agency to terminate in the case where the woman decides that she does not want the pregnancy but there is no risk to life or well-being.

The Opinion

I am pro-choice. Unequivocally. I have taken this stance for logical as well as emotional reasons. A number of countries have made amendments to abortion laws over time, largely on the inarguable basis that abortions will happen whether they are legal or not and this poses a risk to the woman’s life while still resulting in the termination of the pregnancy. As a result, there are a number of countries in which abortion is legal on broad or limited terms.

Even in many staunchly religious nations, laws are changing based on increased advocacy by pro-choice groups, as well as research based evidence that it is safer for it to be legal and regulated rather than risking the mortal danger to women that comes with botched “backdoor” procedures.

Even more significant is the evidence that where it is made legal, rates actually decline, contrary to the arguments constantly put forward by pro-life advocates, that legalization will lead to an increase. This is typically because legalization often goes hand in hand with destigmatisation which can reduce the judgement women face from even health care providers, increased access to information about family planning and contraception as well as improvements in the manner in which sex education is administered. This results in fewer unwanted pregnancies and consequently fewer abortions.

My personal advocacy is for education, regulation and legalization. Comprehensive sex education that is honest, secular and inclusive will allow young boys and girls to understand how their bodies and their reproductive systems work, empowering them with both the ability and the willingness to make better decisions. Honest dialogue about sex and sexuality as well as contraception will invariably lead to better decision-making.

There is too much information that is lacking. Too many people learn about sex through informal means like pornography which tends to be heavy on the sensationalism but not so much on the accuracy as well as in predatory situations where young boys and girls are groomed and assaulted as minors. Too many of us learn through trial and error (way too much error) how our bodies work. Too many women (who are the ones who bear the brunt of pregnancy and child rearing) do not know how their reproductive systems and hormonal cycles work.

Every girl should be taught how to track her cycle and fertility as soon as she starts having her period. There needs to be more than a glossing over of ‘Tab A fits into Slot B, baby happens’. That’s NOT how it works. Tell our children the truth. Greater access to contraception is also needed. Abstinence teaching doesn’t work.

Considering the number of sex “scandals” within religious organizations, it’s clear that it’s not even working at its point of origin much less to try to force it on wider society. People are going to have sex. Our hormones are designed to encourage/urge us to do it. That’s how the human body works. We no longer live in a time where children were married off as soon as they hit puberty so the reality is that when those hormones kick in, sexual interest, pursuit and exploration is going to happen. That’s a fact. No amount of prayer and fasting is going to change that.

Sexual activity is normal, pleasurable and necessary and when it is done safely and with a sound knowledge of our bodies, can be healthy and functional, even outside of our capacity to reproduce. All sexual beings eventually come to the knowledge of this. That isn’t going to change. Some of our health care practitioners are judgemental.

That’s a fact.

This makes it uncomfortable or unpleasant for persons to utilise the free clinics and access to contraceptives. Who wants to go ask someone for condoms if they’re going to look at you with disdain or judgement or attempt to preach to you? No-one does. Use dispensaries, like vending machines, that require the least amount of interaction. Make the cost nominal for maintenance. Cut out the potentially judgy middle person. There also needs to be emphasis on family planning, access to contraceptives and prophylaxis and disseminating knowledge about how to use them correctly.

Once these things are done, the argument of legalisation of abortion flows seamlessly. Making it safe and accessible means that we reduce the stigma and the danger to women. Abortions are going to happen whether they are legal or not. Regardless of the penalties in place. All scientific evidence points to it being beneficial to legalize it. No-one is challenging the church’s stance. They are free to continue to encourage their members to not avail of the procedure. That is their mandate – to guide and encourage and influence their members, not the wider society which is comprised of persons who are not religious or do not subscribe to that specific doctrine/dogma. It is time to apply logic to the argument and logic only as it affects the wider society. The emotional choices should remain in their hallowed halls and personal spaces leaving society to apply scientific, quantifiable research based facts on the positive societal impacts of the legalization of abortion.

I remain, Pro-Choice.