The Rhetoric of “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” (Guest Post)

Once upon a time, I was an undergraduate student. My last time in a university classroom was in spring of 2009. That being said, I stumbled upon an interesting file the other day–a copy of my final paper for my Engendered History class. It was one of those “you can write about whatever you want as long as it makes sense” papers, and, for a somewhat ambiguous reason, I thought it best/most interesting to write about the pro-life/pro-choice movements.

When I was in high school, I remember being tearfully upset about a similar topic; fleeing my sparsely-populated English classroom because someone failed to understand how significant the topic of abortion was for me: a Christian, adopted woman. In a previous year, I had emerged the ethical, victorious ninth-grader in a “yay or nay abortion” debate. In all these developing teenage years of mine, I was most adamantly and certainly pro-life.

Now this isn’t going to be about how I had some life-altering circumstances or conversations, and now–lo and behold!–I’m pro-choice. Let’s make that abundantly clear. When I wrote that paper in undergrad, with the sole intention of writing about how things changed post-Roe v. Wade from a historical/cultural perspective, somewhere along the way, in the midst of the infinite books I was reading from dusk until dawn, I realized things didn’t make sense. I realized that, if both sides of this big ol’ argument care about women, and about babies, that being divisive was the least helpful thing in the universe. That the rhetoric of saying one is “pro-life” or “pro-choice” is far too messy to solve any problems.

The annual March for Life was a few weeks ago. I heard it (including the annoyingly-looped emotional music) from my office window. And, as much as I am one hundred percent for democracy, and the right to express one’s opinion, I don’t think the March for Life will solve any problems. In fact, I think events like the March for Life create problems. I realize by saying this I will likely have a lot of pro-life Christians beating down my electronic door, but hear me out on this one.

If being pro-life (and, in the case I’m talking about, also being a Christian) fundamentally boils down to loving people because they’re created in God’s image, how does a protest of abortion help? Because our society is abundantly aware of the issue of abortion–in fact, abortion is a very well-known “issue” in politics–it doesn’t need more awareness. And because if I’m a woman and I’m thinking about having an abortion, seeing thousands of people protesting that choice isn’t going to change my not wanting a baby. It’s certainly going to make me feel guilty, and shamed, but seeing that many people don’t support abortion doesn’t make keeping a baby or giving a baby up for adoption any easier, or more logical for that matter.

In a perfect world, there would be absolutely no abortion. This is something I dream of. In the mean time, however, let’s be real: women still have abortions. People are still adamantly “pro-life” or “pro-choice” or screaming their opinion into a megaphone. But here’s what I propose: what if everyone (meaning everyone, on both of sides of the divide) focused their energy into something positive. And I don’t mean in the “every pregnant woman keeping their baby” sort of way, or in the “abortion liberates me as a woman” sort of way. These aren’t positive. If everyone focused their energy into teaching women about healthy relationships, and providing job support and stability, and making health care (and thus contraceptives) accessible and affordable, and generally loving on everyone who may or may not end up having a baby or an abortion… I think that things would be a lot better.

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2 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” (Guest Post)

  1. As a non-religious pro-lifer I don’t think that the position boils down to “loving people because they’re created in God’s image”. For me, it boils down to valuing all human life because it’s special and amazing. Actually, ALL LIFE is special and amazing. Why should we not kill babies? Whatever justification can be given will result in one of 2 things. You’ll either justify vegetarianism or you’ll justify the immorality of abortion. I think that most of us agree that life is valuable and that some lives are more valuable than others.

    With that said, I’d like to applaud you for your recommendation! You’re absolutely right. But, I do have a worry. If babies were being butchered should we focus on the positive and not stand up against the action? For many, abortion is seen as a morally abhorrent practice and to ask them people to stand by and focus on education is a very difficult task, but, as you have eluded to it may be the most fruitful.

    • I think you’re generally right Justin. We should value all human life and, if I were put in such a hypothetical position, I’d like to think that I would not get an abortion. I guess the one problem I see is that you can’t prove – scientifically or philosophically – that human life actually begins at conception. If that were to be proven, the debate would cease to be.

      But since the question of when life begins is so ambiguous, it seems impossible to legislate abortion’s illegality. You can certainly stand up in moral protest if you believe you are on the right side of the ethical debate. But the people you are standing up to don’t actually believe they are doing something wrong, since they don’t believe – as the pro-choice side contends – that they are killing a baby. Both sides value life; it’s just impossible to say when life actually starts. So I guess that’s why the rhetoric on both sides of the debate is so unhelpful. Civility and understanding – on both sides – will certainly go a long way.

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