Friday, February 06, 2009

What "pro-life" means (and why it should be called something else)

I welcome comments and information on this topic (more than on the others, I mean) because, obviously, this is not my side and I very likely may miss something.

However, there is one thing we need to get straight first: pro-choice and pro-life are political movements. It's not about what you would personally do, or about how you choose to live your life; these terms are about politics and laws. Let's keep this in mind when we talk about what the words mean.

Being pro-choice means that you think the laws should let women make their own choices about their bodies and their reproductive health. In order for women to make informed choices they need education, and they need access to health care and contraception; so we fight for laws that help us accomplish these goals. Pro-choice is about giving women choices.

Being "pro-life," on the other hand, means that you think the laws should force all women to do things your way. That you think the government should control what a woman can and cannot do. You expect a woman to think, feel, and act just as you would, regardless of how vastly different your individual situations may be.

Being "pro-life" does not mean that you, personally, would not choose an abortion. It means you think it's right to force everyone else to do the same.

(I say this because I've had conversations with women who use birth control and think a woman should be allowed to terminate a pregnancy in certain cases, but they say they are "pro-life" because they themselves would not choose an abortion. If you think this way, then you are pro-choice. You agree you have a right to your choice, and I have a right to mine.)

Several things bug me about the term "pro-life," because I find it inaccurate.

First of all, it's a little silly. We're all "pro" life; being "anti-life" would mean you'd commit suicide.

It's also presumptuous. The main disagreement between both camps is whether that zygote/embryo/fetus is, in fact, a "life." That is exactly where we don't agree.

It's also untrue: the extreme right of the "pro-life" movement wants to outlaw any and all abortions, even the ones necessary for the health of the mother. As in, the mother will die if the pregnancy is not terminated. Her life will end. But the "pro-lifers" still want to make a law making that medical procedure, which will save that woman's life, illegal.

I think we can all agree that a woman is alive. I don't think there is a question about that: she is an undeniable, unequivocal life.

She, being born, and undeniably alive, has full inalienable rights. It's in the Constitution. And there is a whole lot more to being alive than merely having a pulse and breathing in and out. A woman's life encompasses many things, many of which could be in danger if she were forced to carry a pregnancy to term, and/or bear and raise a child. Why do we always forget those rights? That life? How does a potential being trump an unequivocal life, especially for a group that claims to be all about life?

There is debate about whether or not the zygote/embryo/fetus which could potentially* develop into a full-term fetus and be born is, in fact, a "life." This is a huge topic, so I'll address it later. (Maybe tomorrow.)

Sticking to today's topic, the names of these two political movements, "pro-life" should not be allowed to call itself that when part of its faction has such disregard for the life of the woman -- the one which both sides will agree is an unequivocal life.

*According to the American Pregnancy Association, "10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage." So, up to 25% of those zygotes, embryos, and fetuses will not develop into a full-term fetus and be born. (I assume this percentage does not include stillborns, since a miscarriage is defined as taking place in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.)


  1. everyone is "pro-choice" too.

    It's just about who gets to do the choosing. Everyone - and I mean everyone - believes in some measure of "my choice supersedes your choice".

    i think you are spot on identifying a key fact many in the debate can't see eye to eye upon, whether the pregnancy is life or not.

    however, you are overlooking the folks in the debate that believe that it is in fact life, and that aborting it is just fine or vice versa. how you frame things indicates you do not consider these significantly prevalent points of view.

    for the first time, i will state my view.

    i'm somewhat torn on whether it is life or not. i'm inclined strongly to consider it life.

    i'm firmly in the camp that legal first term (for any reason) abortions are a necessity for society as a whole. although, it seems they are generally devastating on an individual level - and not primarily because of the "A", but that doesn't help.

    i'm firmly in the camp that abortions in the third term are an abomination fundamentally indistinguishable from murders.

    in any case, i think the health of the mother is the paramount.

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  3. (Deleted my first comment b/c there's no option to edit after being published)

    Whether or not a fetus is considered a "life" is a debate that will likely never be settled, as it changes and is different depending on your life situation and beliefs. Any woman seeking to get pregnant will tell you she damn well considers that embryo to be a life as soon as she gets that positive result back... even if that embryo is barely 1 week old at the time and little more than a cluster of cells. At just 10 weeks of pregnancy-- 8 weeks gestational age-- an embryo has a head, arms, legs, fingers, toes, the beginnings of all its major organs, and a beating heart. It's difficult if not impossible to see that image on a screen and not deem it a living being, even in within the confines of that first trimester. I know I celebrated the life of my child-to-be from the first moment of discovering it to be there, though I also know that if I[d gotten pregnant in, say, college, I would have likely viewed it much differently. So, I try to stay away from that part of the debate b/c it's kind of a lost cause, where people's stance is so firmly ingrained in their personal beliefs and can't be swayed.

    Instead, I justify abortion's legality on the basis that is it a necessary evil in society. One that, if made illegal, will still continue to exist only in much darker, and more dangerous forms. The reality of abortion is inescapable, and thus we might as well make it available in a safe manner so that women don't die along with their unborn babies. (This is similar to the need to acknowledge that teens WILL have sex, whether you like it or not, and so we might as well provide them with the information and options that will help keep them safe and lower their risk as much as possible).

    I think first trimester, and to a more regulated extent 2nd trimester abortions should be legal, coupled with counseling and the presenting of all other options. Third trimester abortions might as well be illegal, as they seem pretty gruesome and make up such a small percentage of the total number of abortions that it's not even that big a deal to outlaw them anyway (will affect few women, since those who need it for the sake of their health can have an exemption, too).

    The grand irony of it all, is that polls show that most of Americans agree with the above, but the debate will never end because neither side is willing to put forth such a compromise. We're each too scared to give an inch for fear of losing all our ground.

  4. Hi! I found your blog via your comments on "A Charmed Life," with which I wholeheartedly agree, by the way. I just read through your last several blog posts and I am SO thrilled to have stumbled upon them. You tackle difficult questions with a level-headed, rational approach, something many people cannot do when it comes to such emotionally-charged issues.

    I have long thought that "pro-life" seems like an oxymoron, especially considering the fact that so many women could lose their lives without legal and safe abortions. I have a progressive illness, and it is theoretically possible that I could find myself in such a situation. Now, I don't know what I would do - maybe if I were already pregnant I would be unable to elect to save my life over the embryo's, even in the earliest stages, but maybe I would want to preserve myself so that I could mother my future children. After all, if I were to die, the likelihood is that my unborn child wouldn't survive, either. Either way, I would always want the CHOICE to determine which course of action would be best for me, and, dare I say it, my unborn child, to lie with my husband and myself, not the U.S. government.

    Crisatunity put it very well - it really is all about who gets to do the choosing. When in doubt, I would think that in a democracy we would want to keep the choice at the most basic level possible: i.e. with the individual. Abortion certainly isn't right for everyone, and ideally it wouldn't be necessary for anyone, but who are we to determine when it is and isn't appropriate?

    I am, though, completely against late-term abortions with the exception of, again, situations in which it is necessary to preserve the mother's health or in situations where there is a diagnosis that makes the unborn child completely incompatible with life. I'm not talking about birth defects here (like I said I have a genetically inherited illness), but a condition that would not, in any way, allow survival. In general, I draw the line at around 23 weeks, or around the very beginning of viability. There's something really disturbing (to me) about terminating a pregnancy at a point when the baby could survive after birth.

    Anyways, just my two cents!

  5. By the way, I just read the first of the posts for your month-long string, and let me just thank you for being so frank and honest. I know that the choice you made was right for you at the time, and I know that it was a difficult one to make. I hope we can all encourage a community where everyone feels safe enough and loved enough to share their experiences without fear of judgment. Good for you.

  6. Anonymous4:29 PM

    The LA Times did a study on the politicizing of these terms back in the 90's. They found that the terms "pro-choice" and "anti-abortion" were rehtorically tilted toward favoring the pro-abortion-rights side. They recommended using the terms "pro-abortion rights" and "anti-abortion" to avoid unfairly skewing the debate.

  7. @Anonymous: I'd like to see that study. I don't like the term "pro-abortion rights" because it talks about ONE SMALL part of what the movement's about.

    @Kate C: Thank you! :)

    @Marcy: I have a lot to say about when "life" begins. There's a whole post about that coming later... I thought I'd get it done this weekend, but I'll probably wait until Monday/next week.

    Re: late-term abortions: it is my understanding that discussing third-trimester abortions is rather pointless, because they are so rare. They are a huge health hazard for the woman, so doctors (perhaps here I need to clarify: ethical doctors) do not like to perform them. They are only done when the risk to the mother is greater if she carries the pregnancy to term than if it's terminated at that stage. I don't have any evidence on this, though, so I'll have to research and get my facts straight before I post about it.