It’s easy to assume that pro-life proponents are decent people who honestly want to see good done in the world. The problem is that their arguments are out of touch with reality, so let me make some suggestions that I think will make the discussion more effective for everyone.
It may be odd for a pro-choice advocate to offer suggestions to the pro-life movement, but I want them to be more in line with reality, and I can critique from a very different perspective than an insider can.
1. Don’t Deny the Spectrum; Embrace It.
When trying to shock someone with the downsides of abortion, would a pro-life advocate discuss the horrors of the “morning after” pill rather than talk about a late-term abortion procedure? Of course not. There is a spectrum of personhood from a single cell to a newborn baby, and pro-life advocates know it. Their “it’s a baby” claim for the fetus at every stage of development ignores the glaring fact of the spectrum.
If a pregnant woman sees her fetus as a baby or a gift from God, that’s fine. The problem is when that view is imposed on women who may have very different circumstances and good reason to see their pregnancy differently.
Today, the pro-life movement minimizes information and discourages all abortions. The result is that the abortions that happen are often delayed, resulting in the death of an older fetus. If the pro-life movement acknowledged the spectrum and worked with it, they would instead encourage early detection of pregnancy and a prompt discussion of next steps so that any abortion is done as early as possible. An early abortion is better than a later one from every angle. Of course, pro-lifers could put forward their argument against abortion, but making abortion a taboo subject delays addressing the problem and makes any abortion later than it needs to be. Instead of a naive zero-tolerance approach to abortion they would focus instead on minimizing the harm. (Let’s not pretend that overturning Roe v. Wade would end abortion. It would only allow states to regulate it themselves. Some would make it illegal, but even that would only end legal abortions in those states.)
Recognizing the spectrum would also free stem cell research from nonsensical constraints. (You’re delaying research into treatments that could improve public health because of a worry over the rights of cells?! Get serious.)
2. Embrace Allies.
While I’m pro-choice, I don’t like abortion. The pro-life advocate doesn’t like abortion. In fact, the scared teenage girl going to the clinic doesn’t even like abortion. No one ever said, “Gee, I’m feeling kinda gloomy today. I think an abortion would perk me up.” Some people see abortion as the greater of two evils and others see it as the lesser of two evils, but everyone sees it as a bad thing.
Why focus on the disagreement when both sides of the debate are actually in agreement? And here’s the really important agreement: no one likes the primary cause of abortion, unwanted pregnancy. Instead of the current conflict, all sides should be marching arm in arm toward a better way to minimize unwanted pregnancy.
3. Focus on Education.
Whatever we’re doing to discourage unwanted pregnancies in the U.S. isn’t working. Half of all pregnancies are unintended, and evangelical young adults are about as likely to have had sex as any other group. A no-sex-before-marriage attitude leads to early and less-viable marriages.
Among countries in the West, the U.S. compares poorly. In the U.S., the annual birth rate was 56 per 1000 women aged 15–19. Compare this to 8 in the Netherlands. The U.S. abortion rate for that group of women was 30 per 1000, while it was 4 in the Netherlands. Clearly, there’s tremendous room for improvement.
The goal of the pro-life movement has been to stop abortion. Instead of swimming against the current with this approach, they should work with the current by stopping the need for abortion.
Teen sex is a bit like teen drinking. When a kid gets to be 15 or 16, the parent warns their child against underage drinking. But the wise parent gives a part 2: “If you do drink, or the driver of your car has been drinking, call me. I’ll pick you up anytime, anywhere, with no questions asked. Your safety is the most important thing.” The lesson: underage drinking is bad, but getting hurt while drunk is really bad (and avoidable).
Likewise, if a parent wants to tell the kid that sex is bad before marriage, that’s fine. Just give the part 2: “If you do have sex, you need to know how to have sex safely and use a condom.”
The results show that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work:
A 2007 Congressionally mandated report found that, on average, students who participated in abstinence-only education had sex at the same age as students who had comprehensive sex education. They also had similar rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and used birth control at similar rates as students who had comprehensive sex education.
As children grow into adulthood, they get adult bodies. Wishing it weren’t so doesn’t help. Why wouldn’t we want to give them the owner’s manual that goes along with those new bodies? It’s like kids having access to the car keys without being given driver’s education.
Don’t our children deserve the best training for minimizing unwanted pregnancy? Abstinence-only training has been given a shot, and it doesn’t work. If you oppose the frank teaching of how to not get pregnant in Health class, avoiding abortion must not be the critical issue you say it is.
4. A “Pro-Life” Movement Should Treat Threats to Life in Priority Order.
There are roughly one million necessary abortions per year in the U.S. But around the world there are ten million deaths per year of young children that are not necessary.You want to protect life? Then do so by focusing on this much larger number of children in the developing world who die of mostly preventable causes. Jesus said nothing about abortion, but he did talk about helping the poor and sick.
5. Tell Politicians to Leave You Alone.
Politicians buzz like flies around the pro-life cause, eager to solve the problem. At least they say they want to solve the problem, but they have little motivation to do so. A solved problem doesn’t get votes, and as long as it’s unsolved, the problem remains a vote getter. Politicians benefit from the controversy, not a resolution, and they would stand in the way of the pro-life movement working in harmony with pro-choice advocates.
The Christian can become a marionette to the politician who can say “If you’re truly a moral person, you must vote for me.” Christians should just say no.
There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot,
to suffer it like Christ’s Passion.
The world gains much from their suffering.
— Mother Teresa
Photo credit: macropoulos
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 2/4/12.)