Monday, May 18, 2009

A Lesson in Semantics: Pro-Life v. Pro-Choice

I'm sure by now you've heard about the Gallup Poll's report that More Americans “Pro-Life” Than “Pro-Choice” for First Time. As you can imagine, I have a few things to say on the subject.

The poll asked if people identified as "pro-life" or "pro-choice." The problem with asking people this question is that few people understand what these terms mean, especially when we're asking questions about political policy.

You may remember I have ranted on this topic before. This is the Cliff Notes version:

"Pro-life" does not mean, "Well, I personally would not choose to have an abortion." It does mean that you agree with a group of people who want to impose their personal beliefs on everyone. This group also seeks to limit women's access to birth control, and information about their own bodies by forcing abstinence-only programs in schools.

"Pro-choice" does not mean, "I would totally have an abortion. Rock on! I think I'm going to have unprotected sex RIGHT NOW so I can have an abortion!" It means that you understand not everyone's life is as pretty as yours, and that other people want different things and believe different things than you. It means that you want women to have access to birth control and information on how and why to use it.

Pro-life and pro-choice are not about what you would personally do with your body -- they are political stances about what laws you want the government to enact. Pro-life means you want to make one choice for everybody. Pro-choice means you want the government to step back and allow each individual woman to make the choice for herself.

Also, talking about these two sides merely in terms of ABORTION is stupid and small-minded. Discussing reproductive rights only in terms of abortion is like discussing obesity only in terms of lap-band surgery.

How do you fight obesity? Eat healthy food, eat smaller portions, exercise. Is this going to work for EVERY person? No. Some people don't need to exercise because they were blessed with good genes and a high metabolism, so they're thin and healthy naturally. Some people eat all the right foods and get regular exercise but still have problems with weight because of glandular problems, etc. (I'm not a doctor, so I can't elaborate). Some people eat crappy food and never get any exercise and develop health problems, others eat crappy food and never get any exercise and don't develop health problems. Some people are so scared of "getting fat" they develop eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia because of messages the media sends about body image and what "pretty" is supposed to look like.

"Well, people wouldn't be fat if they just went to the gym every week!" Um... that only works if you can afford a gym membership. Or the time to go to the gym or work out. And you own lots of work out clothes, so you can sweat in them and not have to do laundry every day. (No, nobody thinks about that, but do you know how many socks I had to buy when I was training for my triathlon? Do you know how expensive sports bras are? Do YOU have time to do laundry daily, especially when all you have to put in washer is a pair of socks, bike shorts and a sports bra? But I digress...)

"Well, people wouldn't be fat if they just kept their mouth closed and didn't eat that extra piece of chocolate cake!" Yes, that'll work effectively. Let's shame people into getting thin. Not like that creates eating disorders or anything. And that's the only reason people become overweight, that extra piece of chocolate cake. Life is so simple, isn't it?

The issue is complicated. Many of us don't know everything that is involved in the issue because we are not medical doctors who understand how different bodies metabolize food and process calories and protein and so on and so forth.

Do some people need surgery (lap-band, gastric bypass) to help them overcome weight problems due to obesity?


Should every overweight person undergo surgery?


If we make these surgeries legal, and allow people to have their insurance companies pay for them, would everyone above a size 10 run to get surgery?

Uh... I dunno, are they? Oh, that's right -- NO, they're not.

Discussing the issue in terms of lap-band surgery is not going to help anybody.

Providing factual, medically-accurate information about what a healthy body weight is, how to eat a balanced diet, how to incorporate regular exercise into your daily or weekly routine... these things will help people, and will help take care of the problem before it becomes a problem.

The more we talk to people about ways to prevent obesity and provide them with the tools they need to take care of their bodies (make fruits and vegetables available in grocery stores, create hike and bike trails in cities so people have a safe place to walk/jog/bike), the less people we will have needing these surgeries or suffering from weight-related problems.

This makes sense when we talk about health and obesity. Why does this not make sense when we talk about reproductive rights?

We spend all this time yelling about abortion, instead of talking about the ways to solve the problem and reduce the need for abortion.

"Pro-choice" means you want schools to provide medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive sex ed to teens.

"Pro-choice" means you want insurance companies to cover birth control (at least as often as they cover, say, Viagra).

"Pro-choice" means you want rape victims to be offered emergency contraception when they report the crime in the ER.

"Pro-choice" means you want EC to be available to women.

"Pro-choice" means that you agree a woman has a right to decide what happens to her own body -- that nobody has the right to mandate what choice she cannot make.

Meghan McCain recently wrote a post on the Daily Beast about the Republican Party's problem with sex. She was right about everything, except for one thing:
Here’s what I’ve never understood about the party: its resistance to discussing better access to birth control. As a Republican, I am pro-life. But using birth control and having an abortion are not the same at all. Actually, the best way to prevent abortions is to educate people about birth control and make it widely and easily accessible. True, abstinence is the only way to fully prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Still, the problem with abstinence-only education is that it does not make teenagers and young adults more knowledgeable about all the issues they face if or when they have sex—physically and emotionally.
Meghan, if you want access to birth control and comprehensive sex ed, which you must because that's what you just wrote, then you are pro-choice. You may not like abortion, and you may never choose one yourself personally*, but if you want better education about sex and contraception, if you want women to have access to birth control, then you are part of the pro-choice movement. It's not about abortion, it's about reproductive rights. This includes birth control and comprehensive sex ed.

As Jezebel pointed out:
It seems, slowly, that the anti-abortion folks are being incrementally successful in defining "pro-choice" as "very, very pro-abortion".
We're not "pro-abortion." Our goal is not for women to get abortions. (If it were, we'd join the abstinence-only, no-EC, birth-control-not-covered-by-insurance bandwagon in a jiffy! Really, can you think of a better way to increase the number of abortions? Whoo-hoo!)

Our goal is for women to have access to a safe and legal abortion, if they ever need it. In the meantime, we're doing all we can to prevent the situation where she would ever need it.

Eat your veggies. Take the stairs. Use birth control. Be pro-choice.

Or at least admit to it, since more than likely you already are.**

*Not saying anything about Meghan, but I used to think I'd never have an abortion. Until I got pregnant. Many women tell the same story. Just something to keep in mind.

**Your voting patterns say so (make sure you make it to the end... the article has a lot of anti-choice nonsense, skim through that).

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