Seeing as the debate over abortion has reached a fever pitch in this country, I figure it’s time for me to throw my two cents into the fire.
I grew up in a conservative Catholic household, so I’m familiar with the rhetoric that is used in the argument against abortion. What strikes about the language they use is that it is so clearly religious. Even today, when the religiosity has been scaled back, the argument for abortion hinges on one fundamental concept: that life begins at conception. As I watch the debate over abortion unfold and then catch on fire, I’ve always bee perplexed by that tenet. To say that life begins at conception is something that many people can get behind, but it’s still something that can’t be scientifically or objectively proven. The debate over when life begins hinges on other arguments from both sides: when does a soul enter the body (here, a wildly religious argument that is less popular nowadays but shows the religious bias in the argument because that’s what’s great about religious freedom: you don’t even have to believe in a soul, so why should someone else’s belief in a soul dictate your access to abortion care?), fetal viability, fetal heartbeat, the ability of the fetus to feel pain. However, after having grown up hearing this argument over and over and over again, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: this is not the debate we should be having. Arguing when life starts is an argument that can never be won because it can never be proven. Throw it out the window. The argument isn’t about when life starts – it’s about whether or not abortion should be legal, and getting wrapped up in the argument about when life starts automatically cedes ground to moralizing a topic that shouldn’t be argued on primarily moral grounds. This is about the law, not religion. When you argue about when life starts, you lay the groundwork for arguing that abortion is murder. Instead, we should allow each person to decide for themselves from a religious perspective when life begins, but we should also acknowledge that such a subjective, unprovable perspective shouldn’t write laws for people who don’t believe that life begins at conception, or for people who don’t know when life begins, or even for people who believe that life begins at conception but that abortion isn’t wrong.
What I find so striking about the religious right’s arguments against abortion is that it also seems to hinge on another fundamental: that life is sacred. I find this to be fairly ironic seeing as we live in a society that doesn’t reflect the idea that life is sacred – just look at the border, at Black Lives Matter, at Flint, Michigan. The list goes on and on. It’s difficult to hear religious conservatives claim that life is sacred, but perhaps we should all ask ourselves: what has the religious right done to prove to me that my life is sacred? As someone who grew up in that culture, let me tell you: they did nothing. Even if we take the idea that ‘life is sacred’ to it’s most extreme and claim that murder is immoral and illegal – well, I have news for you. Murder is legal in this country. It’s just not legal for you. It’s legal for police, military, and anyone rich enough to get away with it. In fact, murder is a fundamental aspect of our humanity – survival of the fittest, baby.
Anyways, back to abortion. One of the clauses on all these new abortion bills states that abortion is still acceptable if it threatens the health of the mother. This has made me ponder: what is health? Does health exist merely in the physical realm? What about financial health? Mental health? Professional health? Social health? The health of relationships? Can we argue that a baby threatens those things as well? I had an abortion, and my professional and financial health were a huge part of the decision. My housing situation was unstable, and I knew that having a child could put me at the risk of homelessness or joblessness because, oof, the Bay Area is a hard place to survive. With that in mind, I know that my situation pales in comparison to the situations of many other women, many of whom can’t afford to take sick days when the morning sickness acts up because they live in states that don’t mandate sick pay, or they can’t afford to take maternity leave because they don’t have access to workers’ rights or lawyers who will help them get their jobs back after maternity leave. Missing work means being late on rent, skipping meals, or making other sacrifices that threaten the mother’s health. Isn’t that a valid argument?
And what about social and relationship health. What if a woman has gotten pregnant by a partner who beats her and having his baby means that she can’t leave the relationship. What about the ensuing mental health – what if staying in that relationship and having that baby makes her want to kill herself. There are so many things that are far less than rape and incest that threaten a woman’s health, and so many of those problems can be compounded by an unwanted pregnancy. Having had an abortion, let me tell you: this wasn’t an easy decision. But it was a decision I made for myself. Nobody wants to be in a situation where this kind of tough decision needs to be made, but if someone is there, give them the freedom of choice.
Which makes me realize: this more about “my body, my choice.” This is about more than the physical ramifications of pregnancy. This is about my life. This is “my life, my choice.” Although, often times the decision to have an abortion is made by both parents. Sometimes it’s “our life, our choice.” Because, yup, cis men have abortions, too. Which is crazy because you’d think that the men would start acting like they have a vested interest in this situation. But instead abortion is treated as a woman’s issue even though it is not a decision that a woman makes in a vacuum. However, it is a decision in women hold most of the power so perhaps it’s not surprising that men don’t want to enter a conversation where their voice is ancillary to a woman’s, even though a woman’s power to make that decision also comes at the cost of bearing the entire physical burden of abortion. Crazy how easy it is for men to be apathetic about decisions they make when they shoulder none of the physical consequences and just as many benefits.
At the end of the day, this debate is about freedom. It’s about freedom to have options, to make decisions for yourself, however you see fit, and for whatever reason. You are free to decide if life begins at conception. You are free to decide if abortion is either moral or immoral for you personally. You are free to decide that your financial, professional, or mental health are at risk. No one on either side is making light of abortion – I found it to be a physically unpleasant and emotionally trying event in my life, but, ultimately, it was the right decision for me. It’s the right decision for a lot of people. We shouldn’t allow certain people to legislate their religious views. It’s just…ridiculous.