Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What pro-choice means

Words are powerful things, and people on both side of the reproductive rights issue know this. Which is why they choose their words so carefully.

The words used irk me, because, the way I see it, the words my side uses actually mean what they say. The words the other side uses, on the other hand... have twisted and shaded meanings.

When we say we're "pro-choice," we mean exactly that. We support a woman's right to choose: we support her right to decide what happens to her body and her life.

We are not "pro-abortion." NOBODY is pro-abortion. No woman tries to get pregnant for the sole purpose of going to the abortion clinic.* Planned Parenthood is not going around to high schools, picking up sixteen-year-old girls, sticking turkey basters in them, then taking them to the clinic six weeks later.

There is no such thing as "pro-abortion." So, people, please stop using that term. Because it makes you look dumb.

The goal of the pro-choice movement is to reduce the number of abortions, by giving women information about and access to birth control, health care, and how their bodies work. Our goal is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies so that no woman has to be faced with making that choice. But, we know we are far from being anywhere near a time when there will be no more unwanted pregnancies, so we want the option of terminating the unwanted pregnancy to be there for the women who choose it.

In theory, the pro-choice side and the anti-choice side want the same thing: no more abortions. The pro-choice side understands that in order to get there, we need to address the problem and find a way to reduce (ideally, eliminate, but that's pretty unlikely reality) unwanted pregnancies. In order to do that, we need to educate women about their bodies and about the options available to them -- primarily, all the different methods of birth control. We also need to make these options available to them, by making birth control affordable and easily accessible.

The other side thinks we can achieve utopia by telling people to do as they say. Which is a reasonable view to hold when your head is deeply burrowed in the sand.

(Okay, so that last part was a little snippy. Or, a lot snippy. But that's how I feel. But I shouldn't be snippy when I'm trying to foster civil discourse on the issue. So, I apologize.)

But you can understand our frustration, can't you? Obviously abstinence doesn't work. We've tried it, and it's failed miserably. What does work? Birth control. Can we please get it in people's hands? Can we please teach them about it? Can we please give them access to it? Can insurance companies please cover it, at least as often as they cover Viagra?

You know what else works? Education. Explaining to people that sex makes babies. Yes, you and I know this full well -- you and I are educated and smart. We have access to computers and the Internetz and we have enough free time to write and read blogs, so we're living pretty cushy lives. I bet you come from a home with one if not two involved, caring parents, who talked to you about the birds and the bees, like I did. To you and me, the idea that someone would not know that sex makes babies is laughable, but to people whose lives are very different than yours and mine, IT'S NOT.

Then again, considering the fact that there exists a TV show called I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, can you really doubt that there are people either uninformed enough or unaware enough or in denial enough to now know sex makes babies?

(And speaking of TV... how many teens on TV are having rampant sex, with nary a consequence? Ooh, sure, every now and then one of the girls will have a "scare." For tension and all, during sweeps. But does she ever get a positive on the EPT? In the real world, I mean, not Juno-world. Or "I can get a job at Ralph Lauren just because I want to and raise a baby in New York as a single mom with no nanny because the script says so" world. Because babies are no work at all, really, all you do is play dress-up and patty-cake with them all day. But that's another rant.)

I had another point to make, but that rant took me a little too far off-track, and now I can't remember that point. Since it's past my bedtime, I'm going to leave it at that for today (after all, I have a whole month, right? There's time, young Padawan. Patient you must be.)

Tomorrow I'll address the other side's lingo. Because I have a lot of issues with it. Indeed, I might even have a whole subscription.

(And, later on, I will finish the thoughts I started babbling about in the last post. For your sake, gentle reader, I decided to organize my thoughts better on the subject before sitting down to spew at the keyboard again.)

EGADS! I just remembered the point I was going to make. But I'll leave it for tomorrow, as it requires some research and I really need to get to bed. So, the pro-life lingo post will have to wait until Friday, it looks like.

*Many years ago, I remember reading an article about the new stem-cell research that was being done to cure Alzheimer's. The article told of a woman who asked her doctor if she could get artificially inseminated and the doctors could use the stem cells from that embryo to help her father, who had Alzheimer's (I don't remember the details, but that's the gist). Some might say this woman "got pregnant to have an abortion," but those people would be wrong. What this woman wanted to do was create stem cells for the doctors to research or work on her father because she was desperate and wanted to help her father, and she was willing to do anything in her power to help him. She was not getting pregnant "to get an abortion" because it's fun. Nobody does that, nobody thinks that way. Nobody is "pro-abortion."


  1. we've had in the past a slight hint of go-around on the term pro-abortion. since this post is about clarify, defining, i will continue in that vein.

    i am in accord with you that the application of pro-abortion in propaganda fashion pointed at the pro-choice folks as a wholesale inaccuracy. no disagreement there, whatsoever.

    that said, your blanket absolutes on the non-existence of such a constituency is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. i assume the former in you.

    there is just too much invested infrastructure in health care (in general), and callous indifference towards life in this country to believe with any self-respecting honesty there are in fact NO pro-abortion individuals and forces at play.

    in terms of numbers they represent a minuscule minority, but they exist. that is something you should consider, come to grips with, accept and use when refining your position on these matters.

    perhaps you mean on an individual basis that no woman, who is pregnant, is pro-abortion. though common sense makes you want to believe that is true - even that isn't absolutely true. in my life i've met a woman who was not pregant, assumed she would get an abortion if she got pregnant, was properly educated on how not to get pregnant, became pregant, and joked and laughed (and celebrated) her abortion. maybe it could be argued she was behaving to mask her true feelings. perhaps, but on it's surface i'd call that pro-abortion. not typical, definitely - but it happened, it happens.

    outside of this country (and perhaps that isn't germane) there are forces in densely populated countries who are most definitely pro-abortion and influence the behaviors of entire societies with the weight of law and force as needed.

    i am not saying you are pro-abortion. i'm not saying planned parenthood is pro-abortion. i'm not saying any woman that finds the experience of an abortion less taxing than i would imagine it should be to be pro-abortion.

    what i am saying is that the world has greedy and disturbed energies that cannot be wished away because our common sense doesn't expect or want them to exist.

    saying that they don't exist actually helps them hide and fester.

  2. I agree that there are women who take abortion too lightly. If I were to find myself facing another unplanned pregnancy, I'd have a hard time justifying a second abortion (then again, my situation is quite different now than it was ten years ago, when I had to make that decision the first time). However, I still say there are not "pro-abortion" women.

    Using abortion as a method of birth control IF you happen to get pregnant is lazy and, I agree, wrong. It's also hopelessly stupid, since it's much more expensive and taxing and dangerous than taking a pill, or getting a shot, or sticking a plastic ring up there. But being careless about sex is not going out of your way to get pregnant for the sole purpose of getting an abortion just because it's fun.

    Not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. Not everyone who drinks a lot is an alcoholic. An alcoholic is a person who cannot stop drinking, not someone who simply drinks a lot.

    To me, "pro-abortion" would mean that a woman gets abortions for fun. Which is different than using them as birth control.

  3. I think you explained everything clearly and eloquently in this post. Kudos to you.

    In continuing asides, I had a gyn appt the other day and was asking about the IUD and my insurance covers the ENTIRE thing. I was really impressed by that. Now, another friend said her insurance apparently makes you pay for it if you take it out before 2 years, BUT at least one very large insurance company in California is willing to make you pay a measly $15 copay in order to get 5-10 year's worth of impossible-to-fuck-up birth control. That's pretty nifty.

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  5. Crisatunity-- Yes, technically you are probably right. I'm sure there are some people who actively support and encourage abortions with no remorse. Just as there are serial killers and psychopaths. They are such a marginalized and small group that their existence doesn't affect Criss's arguments in this post in any significant way.

    I'm not sure which densely-populated societies you mean, I imagine maybe places like India where communities still routinely perform abortions and infanticide if they find out they're having a girl due to the preference for boys. This is an incredibly sad and disturbing practice, and while it should be acknowledged and discouraged, it has little to do with the abortion debate within our borders because the reasons for abortion in that case, vs for most women in the US, are so vastly different (one of many being that those abortions in India [or, say, China with the 1-child rule] are often forced, while the pro-choice movement's biggest cause is the ability to make your own choice one way or another free of social/family/other pressures; that no one should be forced to have, or not have an abortion because of the laws of that nation).

  6. @criss - i understand were you draw the lines. we draw them somewhat differently. for example i am completely at ease using the term pro-abortion for a man or woman that is comfortable with the use of abortion as a primary means of birth control.

    @marcy - i agree that international standards and practices are not relevant to the stands criss is articulating this month. her posts are definitely within a domestic scope. however, just because those international standards are not relevant to today's discussions here, they do matter and cannot be ignored. it would be difficult to argue that the Chinese government *isn't* pro-abortion.

    would you feel as strongly, fight as hard - as a pro-choicer - against legislation that prohibited any woman from having more than one child? two children? four? eight? does the number matter if you are pro-choice?

  7. @crisatunity: Part 2 of the 14-kid-woman rant is going to address the whole how-many-kids-can-a-person-have issue. (I need more time to get my ducks in a row on that topic.)

    And it is very likely I'm going to start contradicting myself, when talking about that and even birth control, regarding the limits of "choice"... because then we start getting into the "Your right to swing your arms extends to the tip of my nose" thing. Where's the fairest place to draw the line?

    (I'm not going to address the Chinese government stuff because I don't know enough about their history, politics, culture, or details of their laws to discuss it intelligently. There are a lot of problems there, at least in our point of view, but like y'all said, that's a different issue because it's a different situation.)

  8. Anonymous4:48 PM

    You say you want to discuss this but in fact you don't seem to respect people who are anti-abortion or want to know why they think what they do. So what is the purpose of the discourse? I'll try to give you my reason for being anti-abortion.

    When you get accidently pregnant, and yes, it does happen, birth control fails, believe it or not, and you're facing a critis pregnanacy, if you're against abortion, you have the child. And you're grateful for the rest of your life. You look at this person, your child, and say, "she might not be here if I'd listened to society and its pressures."

    That's me, sign me anonymous and grateful, and anti-abortion.

  9. @Anonymous: Rome was not built in a day, and this is a huge topic we're talking about. I have a whole month to talk about it, so I'm taking my time.

    Also, this is my personal blog, of course it's going to have my personal bias. But I welcome discussion on this topic.

    Your comment is exactly the point I was trying to make with this post: you faced an unplanned pregnancy, and chose to keep the child. THAT WAS THE CHOICE YOU MADE, and I support your right to make that choice. My sister made the same choice you did, and even though I thought she was making a mistake, she has proven me completely wrong. Her daughter is one of the coolest, smartest, most well-put-together kids I know, and I am in awe of my niece and of her mother every time I think about them.

    My sister managed to finish college while caring for a newborn, and now she's putting herself through law school as a single mom. While I was probably not as supportive as I should have been when she was pregnant, she has, as I said, proven me and my judgmental attitude completely wrong.

    The reason I am so violently pro-choice is because being pro-choice, I allow you to make the choice you made (to keep the baby), but I still allow someone like me to make the choice I made. The "pro-life" side does not offer that luxury: they want everyone to do it their way.

    Also, you mentioned birth control failing. I assume you were on birth control, and it failed (happens a lot, I agree with you). The pro-choice movement is about informing women about their birth control choices (after all, some method are more reliable than others) and about giving them access to that birth control. The anti-choice movement wants to limit education about birth control (with abstinence-only education) and they also want to limit access to it. They promote abstinence, and only abstinence.

    This are some of the reasons why I have a hard time understanding the "pro-life" side. The way I see it, limiting information and access to birth control, they are creating a bigger problem (because they are withholding the solution).

    I hope you come back to this blog throughout the month and participate in the discussion. My sister proved me wrong, and I bet you have things to say that will make me reconsider my position, or at least understand the other side a little better.

  10. Crisatunity-- "however, just because those international standards are not relevant to today's discussions here, they do matter and cannot be ignored." I believe I specifically said almost exactly that.

    "it would be difficult to argue that the Chinese government *isn't* pro-abortion." I guess this is just semantics at work, and I'm making assumptions here, too, but the Chinese government probably would rather not have to have abortions if the pregnancies could be avoided in the first place. Same as pro-choicers here.

    On the subject of how many children a woman/couple should have, that's a nearly impossible subject to tackle. In an ideal world everyone would have as many children as they can afford (financially, as well as being able to nurture and love them and raise them well). For some people, this means none. For others, it can be as many as 10 or more. Because it is such an individual issue, I could never support legislation limiting the number of children someone can have. As with the option for abortion, I don't think your family size is a matter that should be decided for you by law.