Rewriting the Pro-Life Agenda

Dear Pro-Lifers:

I’d like to make some suggestions. You believe that abortion is murder. Okay. You therefore understandably want to end or at least reduce the practice of abortion. I get that. What I don’t get is the way you go about it. Protesting at abortion clinics only scares women who are already in very difficult situations, and legally restricting abortion will not actually achieve your goals.

Do you want to know where the practice of abortion is most rare? Western Europe (12 per 1000 women). And yet Western Europe is quite known for having some of the most open abortion laws in the world. Isn’t that odd? Shouldn’t abortion be most common in Western Europe, rather than least common? Do you want know which region has the greatest number of abortions? Africa (29 per 1000 women). And yet, abortion is completely illegal in most African countries. Isn’t that odd? Shouldn’t abortion be most rare in Africa, not most common?

Outlawing abortion does not work. Put quite simply, legally restricting abortion does not decrease the number of abortions that take place. In fact, doing so will simply increase the practice of illegal abortions as we have already begun to see. This leads to harmful consequences for women, as we see in Africa, where tens of thousands of women die each year from unsafe abortions.

But don’t despair! It is still possible to drastically decrease the number of abortions that take place, as Western Europe has shown. How? The answer is simple.

1. Encourage birth control. This includes both comprehensive sex education in schools and offering women government subsidized birth control. Half of all pregnancies that occur in the United States today are unintended, and of those, four in ten end in abortions. This accounts, in fact, for essentially all abortions that occur. The key, then, is to eliminate unintended pregnancies. The simplest way to do that is to increase use of birth control. Yes, I know you are probably against sex outside of marriage and perhaps against birth control itself, but which is worth? Sex outside of marriage (by someone who would likely be doing it anyway), birth control, or murder (for that is how you see abortion)? Wouldn’t it be better to compromise slightly on a few issues in order to save babies’ lives?

2. Support mothers. Sixty percent of women who have abortions in the United States already have at least one child. These are not women who hate children; these are women who know how much work and money it takes to raise a child, and do not believe they will be able to raise an additional child. In giving reasons for having an abortion, three-fourths of women say they cannot afford it, and three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with their work or school or their ability to care for other individuals. Half say they do not want to be a single parent, which is no wonder given the lack of support for single mothers. This really should be no surprise. For the working mother (and 60% of American women work outside of the home), issues like maternity leave, health care costs, and daycare loom large. Women in the U.S. are guaranteed at least six weeks of maternity leave, but they need not paid for this time, resulting in a loss of income. In addition, daycare and health care costs are high; where I live, daycare costs $10,000 a year and adding my child to my health care plan costs $4,000 per year. Then factor in the fact that 42% of women who obtain abortions already live under the federal poverty line during a time when welfare has been gutted and made only more difficult to obtain. Is it any wonder that so many women choose abortion? It does not have to be this way. Western Europe supports it mothers, offering generous welfare benefits, paid maternity leave, government health care for them and their children, and free or subsidized daycare. Perhaps if we did the same, women would not have to choose between feeding the children they have and having another child. Perhaps if we did the same, the number of abortions would decrease.

It strikes me, then, as incredibly wrongheaded that you pro-lifers work at every bend to defeat the two things that actually have a chance to decrease the abortion rate – widespread birth control and governmental support for women with children – while at the same time advocating tactics that have been shown ineffective – legally restricting abortion and protesting outside of abortion clinics. Is your intent to save babies, or to shame women who have sex when you think they shouldn’t? Because at this point, I’m seriously confused.

Sincerely, Libby

PS – You’re probably wondering where I got my statistics. Feel free to read for yourself: For stats on abortion worldwide, here. For stats on abortion in the U.S., here. For a New York Times article on the ineffectual nature of legal restrictions on abortion, here. For statistics on the number of working women, here. Also, for an interesting examination of late term abortions, see here.

NOTE: See here for an example of how supposedly pro-life politicians are driving up abortion rates today by cutting birth control services and services for new mothers.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Jendi

    Right on! I would add #3, work to make the adoption process more affordable and transparent, and end right-wing stigmatization of unwed mothers, so that girls don't choose abortion simply to avoid the embarrassment of pregnancy.

  • Anne —

    Ditto to Jendi! Great post!!It's also my belief that laws should not be made based on christian beliefs (i.e. no gay marriage, no abortion, etc). Separation of church and state, anyone? I mean hello, we don't make laws based on Catholic beliefs (no birth control…at least that used to be one of their beliefs) or Muslim or any other religion.

  • Chantel

    I do believe abortion is wrong, but I don't believe in judging people or carrying on the way that I've seen done a lot of. It seems like a poor way to actually take care of the "issue". Plus, for those not comfortable with hormonal birth control, there ARE other options. Maybe not as "simple", but they do work and if it is a huge concern, we should be more open about educating people about all their options instead of condemning them for a choice they may well feel forced in to.

  • Libby

    Chantel – Exactly. I personally see nothing wrong with a first trimester abortion, though I think it gets more iffy as time goes on. But even for someone who DOES think it's wrong all the way, trying to legally restrict it simply isn't the most effective answer. I really think people should be able to come together on this issue – no one *likes* abortion, even pro-choice advocates simply want to make it "safe, legal, and rare" – but it seems like the vast vast majority of pro-lifers just put their fingers in their ears and yell "make it illegal! make it illegal!" rather than really looking at effective ways to decrease the number of abortions, such as advocating birth control and actually supporting mothers.

  • Katy-Anne

    I'm pro-life, but I am totally dismayed at the inconsistency in the pro-life world. I wrote about it from a political aspect here: find it offensive that people want to "save the babies" and yet don't want to offer these babies health care when they are born. I also believe in education, believe it should be REQUIRED to teach sex education in schools. It's very conservative here and the parents won't "allow" the schools here to teach sex education, and then wonder why they have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the area. I think it should be easier for teenage girls to obtain birth control, too.

  • Libby

    Exactly, Katy-Anne! I wasn't trying to say that *every* person who identifies as pro-life (like you) thinks only of banning abortion and picketing clinics, but rather that that is all the leaders, movers, and shakers of the pro-life movement itself seem to think about, and also that they seem to actively work against real solutions – such as the ones you suggest and the ones that I discuss in this post. It's so weird!

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    My disagreement with abortion is purely non-religious. I see it as ending a life at the hands of another without the consent of the dying individual. That being said, I am 100% in agreement with physician assisted suicide (after watching my wife's great grandmother suffer needlessly for six months at 103 years old), legalization of drugs, and stem cell research (I just don't care to have a position on this, so I just shrug my shoulders).But, regardless of my position, you are so dead on. Your stats prove your point well. I grew up believing birth control was wrong and now I am at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Also, my political ideology when I was younger prevented me from accepting ANY form of financial assistance whatsoever.That all changed when my wife and I ran a daycare for a year. Almost all of our clients had their childcare paid through the government. We saw the full spectrum of laziness to hard work (trying to get out of the rut they were in) throughout the year and concluded that our current welfare system has failed families.We need skills training/education based welfare. Helping to pull the families out of their initial failures and setting them up for success. Anyway, that's where I am. You can state my position as, if you want to hurt yourself, go right ahead. Hurt others, not good.Great post and I'm behind you all the way.

  • Libby

    I want to make a quick point: Anne mentioned that we don't legislate religion and Incongruous responded that it's not about religion, it's about human life. I think this points to the actual point of debate: when does a fetus become actually a person? At conception? At viability? At birth? The problem is that people disagree. Incongruous seems to think it happens at conception (if I understand correctly). Others, like myself, disagree. The problem is that questions of religion naturally get mixed in here. Many people believe it is a person from the moment of conception because they believe that at that point a soul is placed in the microscopic glob of cells, making it human. Most Jews, in contrast, place it at birth (because that is when it breathes in "the breath of life"). I would argue that it has to have something to do with higher brain function (because we generally consider someone without higher brain function "brain dead," and thus for all practical purposes dead). (By higher brain function I mean things like personality as opposed to the part that just makes you breathe, I'm not at all referring to how smart someone is.) The point is first that religious beliefs do enter into what someone believes about when the fetus becomes a person and second that people disagree on when this happens. I really think this is why the debate gets so heated, but I really think everyone needs to take a step back and realize that everyone would like to decrease abortion, but that the way to do that is by ending the necessity for abortion (birth control and better maternal support, etc), not by banning it.

  • Libby

    Also, the fact that Incongruous and Katy-Anne can agree with what I've said here even though they are pro-life and I am pro-choice shows the potential for cooperation. If only we could really realize that in the political sphere instead of everything being so polarized!

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    The funny thing is, in about half the states, brain dead = dead. In the other half of the states, heart stopped = dead. If you took an ambulance ride across the Continent, having no brain function but a beating heart, you'd be pronounced dead 25 times and alive 25 times.Anyway, I don't know what I believe about when a life becomes viable. Its such a gray area there that I just don't bother taking a position. If I did, I would have to argue for the potential viability, no matter how small, of an ectopic pregnancy. I am not going to ever say that type of pregnancy is viable.If you believe life begins at conception, then act accordingly. If not, act accordingly. Unfortunately, I'm a terrible person to ask because my kids were all born when we decided to stop. So, I never had to broach such a tough question (which would be a no-brainer to me, but for the time factor).Is that clear? LOL! I think not.

  • Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    So right on!

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Another thing. I don't put much weight on politicians who say they are pro-life. If they really wanted the law changed, it could have been done years ago. In my humble opinion, its all a money thing. If we outlawed abortion, these pols would have one less thing to run on.

  • Lewis

    Is your intent to save babies, or to shame women who have sex when you think they shouldn’t?How dare you ask a question like this of the most holy pro-life movement? ;)BTW, it's more the latter than the former. It's about a moral code that has less to do with "murder" and more to do with sex, or more specifically, sex they can't control.And Joe's dead-on about the politicians who run on a pro-life platform. They're shull of fit.

  • Libby

    Incongruous – I TOTALLY agree! They know that if they say it they will get votes!

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    OK. I'm now running for prez and I'm pro-life, unless your pro-choice, then I'm wishy washy, unless your wishy washy, then I'll give you a hug. But, whatever I am, I'll ALWAYS kiss your baby!

  • Libby

    I just added a note to the end of my post because I found a news article discussing this very issue today. Basically, the article looks at nine states where Republican strategies will actually drive up the abortion rate – these states are cutting birth control, health care, and child care services for low income pregnant women. The article's byline is "Republicans, who claim to find fetal life precious and abortion horrendous, also favor the very policies that drive increasing numbers of women to seek abortions." THIS is what I am talking about!

  • Hippie Housewife

    As a Christian who is firmly pro-life, I completely agree with you. Too often the pro-life camp is focused solely on a) making abortion illegal and b) the life of the unborn. To be truly pro-life is to value life after birth as well – including the lives of the pregnant women who find themselves in the position of feeling abortion is their only answer. Take care of them instead of shaming them! Make sure they and their babies have health care. Provide for their needs, both physical and emotional. Focus on laws that will reduce the need for abortion in the first place.

  • Young Mom

    After moving to Canada and seeing the huge difference in support for moms up here ( monthly government tax credit per child, government check to help with child care every month, 12 months maternity leave, free health care for mom and baby, support groups and classes for moms) has made me appalled by the stupidity of America's policies, as well as the complete lack of empathy and justice. Makes me want to stay in Canada for good. (And Canada isn't even as good as some countries in Europe) If you want abortion reduced, start to make it possible for women to support their children.

  • Rob F

    Sadly, there really are people who use an increase in premarital sex as grounds to object to using contraception to reduce the abortion rate. See here.

  • Elizabeth

    To me, it really does not matter whether a fetus is a life or not. You cannot compel one person to use their body, to its detriment, to support the life of another. It is morally reprehensible, and there is certainly no legal precedent. Abortion past the point of viability makes things a bit trickier to me, but in nearly all of those cases it is either a severe birth defect or danger to the mother's life that drives those decisions.

  • be

    I would say that abortion is the taking of human life.But the pro-life political movement, as I know it, seems more interested in controlling women than in saving lives. I agree with Elizabeth that it's not just about shaming women for having sex. It's about using the fact that a little unborn citizen is inside of a woman's body to gain control over the entirety of that woman's person. (I've read that anti-abortion laws have even been employed against mothers who chose natural childbirth over C-sections, and whose babies were subsequently lost in delivery.) So I believe an unborn child is human and a person, but I don't think an unborn child is a citizen. The law can't reach that far without going through the woman's body!If a woman wants to get her unborn child out of her (and her reasons are her own business), then inside of her is not the right place for her unborn child to be. Real pro-lifers should be eager to help out.So here's the pro-life movement I would like to see. Abortion procedures that specifically take life before delivery should be illegal. Doctors shouldn't be made to take lives; abortion should be treated as pre-term delivery. Then once the embryo/fetus/child has been delivered, any willing pro-lifer is welcome to step up and sponsor his/her continued care, and the hospital is legally obliged to care for any sponsored child.Yes, we don't have an artificial womb yet, but we are working on it, and imagine if the pro-life movement put its time, money, and energy towards the goal of *saving human lives*, instead of preventing women from getting to end their pregnancies?Because why should we care if women choose to end their pregnancies if we could still try to save the baby? Unless the pro-life movement is being appropriated as an arm of the patriarchy, that is.

  • Adirondack Autumn

    The modern pro-life movement in the united states is misogynist at it's very core. It's about controlling women, pure and simple. It's about punishing women for being sexual beings and trying to control their sexuality. Every unplanned pregnancy has a bathroom mirror moment where a woman decides the fate of this surprise. If you want this woman to choose life then give her the tools and support she needs. By all means we need comprehensive sex ed. We need to teach all young women about their bodies and how pregnancy happens. We also need healthy attitudes about sex and a general idea that if you are going to have sex you are either prepared to welcome a new life or you are using an effective means of birth control. (I know people trapped in abusive relationships often can't make these choices, that's a whole other kettle of fish!)Oh and lets stop shaming women who use Plan B, and men and women who know they don't want any (more) children and wish to be sterilized. Let's stop with shame in general, it doesn't help change the world, it only hurts.

  • be
  • Freedom

    In keeping with my current trend of reading all your blog posts (I'm a bit behind) and then posting affirming comments, I agree with you 100%!Let's start off by saying that I am firmly in the closet on this and would NEVER tell my parents that I disagree with their Pro-Life activism and support of politicians that would ban abortions if they were given the power. I respect my beliefs and am only staying in the closet because I don't want any strain on my relationship with them.Now that THAT'S out there- I do agree with you completely. It took a lot for me to step out of my lifelong indoctrination in the Pro-Life movement and say that there are more effective ways to protect life than banning abortion. There will always be unwanted babies and terrified pregnant women- but what are we going to do about it? That is where the activism should come in! Loving them and giving them options and above all, if they choose the "easy way out" (which, by the way, doesn't seem like an easy decision at all), not ostracizing them!My message to Pro-Lifers (myself included) is to lay off the abortion thing! It's never going to go away and only creates rifts between political parties who should be cooperating with the common goal of HELPING THESE WOMEN.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree and agree about making it easier to adopt an less stigma with adoption to. There's so many people who wantyo adopt and can afford a baby, just not the 30k on average it takes to adopt. And I bet there's a lot of pregnant women who would choose adoption if it wasn't for the stigma of being pregnant in the first place.

  • S_Morlowe

    I definitely agree with the points you've made in this post.However, I just want to clarify something that you've missed. I'm from a country in 'Western Europe'…the Republic of Ireland. Where abortion is illegal, and our idea of separation of Church and State is a joke. Homosexuality was only legalised in 1994, and divorce in 1996! We're definitely getting better, but there's little hope of abortion being legalised here this decade at least.I'm really enjoying your blog, I can't wait to read more.

  • Libby Anne

    S_Morlowe – I had no idea it was that bad there! Wow. I guess I should have clarified which countries count as "Western Europe," lol. Or actually, I wonder if the Republic of Ireland is counted in the statistic but just gets drowned out by the other countries? I don't know.

  • brokendaughters

    I just wanted to add something on support of mothers in Western Europe where I live. Health care is really cheap (200 a month if it's expensive, I pay nothing cause I'm under 25 and student), if you can't afford it you'll have it paid by social security. All prior to birth care is free as well as all hospital costs. After birth, you'll be counceled by a midwife for a month, once a week, at your house. Free. Children under the age of 13 I believe are free to add to your healthcare, above is just a small additional fee. Maternity leave is always paid and you have two options: 12 months with 70% of what you used to make (yes, if you made 2k/month you will receive about 1.5k) or 36 months with the "basic" secrurity of about 800 a month. Childcare may be expensive if you choose private. Private child care may cost up to 500 Euros/month but that's really fancy and for rich people. "Normal" childcare is between 60 and 120 Euros a month, depending where you live.Sadly, this still isn't enough to satisfy people here to acctually have kids. The general attitude twoards kids around here is… "oh my annoying brats." and that this type of support is not enough. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time when I realize on what a high level people bitch and cry about good things.

  • Libby Anne

    Lisa – WOW to the whole 12 months at 70% or 36 months at a basic rate. That's incredible. Here in the states we get…6 weeks with no pay. Now, some companies do better and give up to twelve weeks, some or all of it paid, but they're not required to. Also, to put what you say on childcare into perspective. You say 500 euros a month for fancy private daycare, or as low as 60 euros a month for public childcare. Well…I have Sally in a middle of the road place here, and I pay the equivalent of 600 euros a month. You couldn't find daycare for less than the equivalent of 450 euros a month, and depending on where you live daycare can cost the equivalent of over 1100 euros per month. So…yeah.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, thank you for this post! I never thought pro-lifers and pro-choicers could both like a post AND speak civilly and politely–guess I've been watching the wrong conversations!You guys even have mind-reading powers–I'm pro-choice and was just thinking to myself as I read Libby's post "You know, I don't like abortion either. Why do these pro-lifers think I love it or something?" And you even go on to discuss this, something I've never seen, either.To me, it all boils down to choices. I'm not omniscient. I can never confidently say, "I know what you need, and what you need, and what you really want." Only those people really know all the factors in their lives, every facet and nuance that influences their decisions. If we can't give fully-grown adults the ability (not just the right) to make their own choices, can we really call ourselves a free country? The right to abortion is meaningless if you are still unable to make that choice because of money/family/restrictions on abortion.Thanks again–you guys made my day :).

  • Autumn M.

    Great post, Libby! The bottom line for me is that it's MY BODY and MY CHOICE! No right-wing politician or patriarchal church is going to tell me what to do.I grew up in an anti-choice household and attended an anti-choice church until just a few years ago. Believe me, the main thing driving the "pro-life" movement is a desire to control women and keep us in our place. They fear women's sexuality and independence. The goal is to keep us in submission.If they can't ban abortion outright then they'll pick around at the edges. That means cutting off funds for poor women's abortions, restricting teen girls' access, attacking Planned Parenthood, imposing waiting periods and other Bullshit. All restrictions on abortion must be opposed if women are to have true autonomy.Peace, Autumn

  • Rebecca

    Hi Libby,I know this is an old post of yours, but I just needed to say THANK YOU. I just made the mistake of reading some of the pro-choice pro-life argument comments on Pinterest and it gave me a literal HEADACHE. I get so angry at both sides, and I wondered if anyone in the world wide internet could voice what I was feeling, and I just have to thank you, because you did with this post.Reading this post and the AMAZING comments from both pro-choicers and pro-lifers alike has restored my faith in humanity. If, somehow, we as a society could actually support women, mothers, and families, spread the use of birth control, and promote a healthy view of sexuality, then the need for abortions would nearly cease to exist.I would also like to add that the obsession on preventing premarital sex also needs to just STOP. I do think churches, families, and other communities should be free to urge people to wait until they are older and/or married to have sex. That's what communities are for, to help people make good choices about their lives. But making it practically government-enforced that any woman who has sex before marriage is a whore, and using that sort of argument in political campaigns, needs to STOP. Once upon a time, the life expectancy was much lower, and the child mortality rate was much higher. Once upon a time, a woman would most likely be married and gave birth practically the moment she had her period. Now, our medicine and science have granted most of us long lives and the expectation that we will see our children reach adulthood. I see nothing morally wrong with people using this same medicine and science to enjoy sex, choose to wait until they are ready to have children, and to limit their families to a size that allows them the best care, support, and well-being.Sorry for the super-long comment, and thank you for the wonderful blog!

  • Christine

    I refuse to call myself pro-life because I don’t agree with that movement at all. I think abortion is wrong, although it’s not always the greatest wrong. You have highlighted the biggest issues I have with the pro-life movement. Rather than shaming women who have abortions, and making them illegal, why don’t you try to reduce the number of abortions that happen. (Let’s not forget the fact that by making it a hot-button issue, people pick a side and entrench their position, where if it was less fraught they might be willing to evaluate more.)

    I find I tend to be on whichever side of the issue opposes the argument I have last read. (“No, believing that it’s murder doesn’t make it a good idea to picket clinics, how can people be so stupid!” but also “How on earth can you think that it’s something that people need because sometimes it’s ‘inconvenient’ to have a baby” – being Canadian might be a factor here, where a pregnancy and birth only cost a few hundred dollars.)