The Problem With The Abortion Debate

I come from a country in which illegal, unsanitary and unsafe abortions are thankfully, for the most part, a thing of the past, where women aren’t arrested for making a choice about their own body and children aren’t born in to less than favourable circumstances needlessly. Yet, this was a reality of life when my grandmother was my age. Abortion was still a punishable offence when my dad was a child. In my immediate family, I am still only the first generation to have been born into a country where abortion is both legal and safe. Let that sink in.

In Ireland, our closest neighbours, abortion is so vehemently and violently policed that women have been left to die by health authorities rather than allowed the abortion that would have saved their lives.

In the US, our closest allies, over-privileged and overly entitled white men are now stripping sexual health services to the bone, cutting funding in their attempt to impose dangerous ideologies on one and all, thinking not of the consequences to the women they are supposed to represent, but of the political and financial advantages these moves will afford them.

abortion debate pro life vs pro choice trump reproductive health

Why are women’s reproductive organs still not their own yet? | © Denis Bocquet/Flickr

Pro-life vs. Pro-choice?

Stepping away from the Black Mirror episode that is our lives for a moment, there is one glaring flaw in the abortion debate that I want to discuss, which, aside from the fact that we still have to debate it in the first place, is the misleading branding of those who believe abortion should be banned as ‘pro-life’. First of all, this suggests that the life of the foetus for which they are so avidly campaigning is worth more than the life of the woman within whom it resides. It implies that the potential life of poverty into which that foetus might be brought is far favourable to it not being born at all. It positions existing as the most important thing in the world, far above that seemingly abstract concept of, oh, you know, quality of life. I move to have the pro-life campaign renamed to the far more accurate anti-choice campaign.

Furthermore, pitting the campaign-formerly-known-as-pro-life against that of the pro-choice movement also implies that that those who are pro-choice are, by very definition, anti-life. Nothing could be further from the truth, as to be pro-choice is to be pro-happy and healthy women and children. It is to recognise that life is about more than just existing, and that for some, abortion is and should be an option. Those who are pro-choice recognise that quality of life far outweighs being alive, they value the future of the potential child and the potential parents.

abortion debate pro life vs pro choice trump reproductive health

An Argentinian campaign for legal abortion | © Beatrice Murch/Flickr

The Personal Isn’t Political

Moreover, positioning the two in contra also gives the misleading impression that everyone who is pro-choice is also stoutly anti-abortion. In fact, these two stances are not mutually exclusive; rather, the pro-choice half of the debate recognises that the personal should not be political. To be pro-choice is to recognise that your opinions shouldn’t dictate the choices of others. It is a supportive and clear-headed, rather than reactionary and emotive, statement which says “I understand the necessity for abortion to exist and I support that.” It doesn’t say that abortion is OK, it says that it is necessary. It doesn’t say I would have one myself, it says I understand and respect that others might need one. On the other hand, what pro-life campaigners are saying is more akin to “I wouldn’t so you shouldn’t.” What I’m getting at is that you can be against abortion all you want, but that doesn’t give you the right to decide that it shouldn’t exist. That is to say, you can be both anti-abortion and pro-choice by recognising that the personal is. not. political.

You might be thinking, “but aren’t you forcing your opinions about abortion onto me right now?” Well, no. Banning abortion is a limitation of human rights, whilst allowing safe and legal abortions provides options. An abortion isn’t an impulse buy at a supermarket checkout – you don’t have to get one just because it’s there. Furthermore, there is a difference – a very big one – between saying to someone “I don’t agree with you, but I respect your views” and saying “I don’t agree with you, so I want to limit your rights.”

abortion debate pro life vs pro choice trump reproductive health

‘If the pope were a woman, abortion would be law’ | © Felipe Becerra/Flickr

The Mexico City Policy

Let’s sway back to the personal again. I live in a country where women can only access abortion in the capital, Mexico City. This is a country where the minimum wage is 80 pesos, or around £3.50, a day. How can the poorest women, who are often those so desperately in need of an abortion, be expected to travel to the capital? If I were to need an abortion while I lived here, I would have the resources to visit a clinic and have the procedure. How many Mexican women do you think are in the position to say that?

That brings me roundly on to perhaps one of Trump’s most abhorrent executive orders to date, that of the Global Gag Rule otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy. This rule essentially bans the already criminally-underfunded and over-subscribed reproductive health clinics outside of the US from hinting at the existence of, providing information on and performing abortions for the women who might be in the greatest need of such a last-resort service. Should these clinics choose to mention abortion, it means that their ability to provide contraception and reproductive health advice will take a substantial, financial hit. Either way, it basically ensures the personal ideologies of a select handful of over-entitled white men effectively make decisions for women across the world. I didn’t realise coercion was legal in Trump’s America.

abortion debate pro life vs pro choice trump reproductive health

If only… | © Seth Anderson/Flickr

Fundamentally Misguided

Furthermore, this Gag Rule masquerades under the notion that it merely wants to help prevent abortion. What Trump fails to recognise is that preventing mentioning abortion and preventing abortion are two very different things, but I digress. Even members of his own government have spoken out to say as much; Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been quoted as saying that “President Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families. We know that when family planning services and contraceptives are easily accessible, there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths, and abortions. And when women have control over their reproductive health, it improves the long-term health of mothers and children and creates a lasting economic benefit.” In short, if you want to prevent abortion, the last thing you should do is ban it. In denying women safe, legal abortions, it merely drives the practice underground, into unsanitary and untrained hands, literally condemning desperate women to death in many cases.

abortion debate pro life vs pro choice trump reproductive health

We should be aiming to end unsafe abortion | © Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

How To Actually Prevent Abortion

So, if you’re really concerned about preventing abortion (which may or may not be the case), you instead focus on educating women and men about the steps they can and should take to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. You hand out free condoms, you support the provision of free or, at the very least, affordable anticontraceptive options beyond just barrier methods. You do not sign executive orders cutting funding to already stretched reproductive health services in a quite frankly overt attempt to bribe them into parroting your ideologies. You do not lay claim to the title ‘pro-life’ when your interpretation of life is both short-sighted and destructive. You do not (effectively) ban abortion.


  1. Nan 28 January, 2017 at 17:49 Reply

    An abortion isn’t an impulse buy at a supermarket checkout – you don’t have to get one just because it’s there. This comment is so obvious, yet there are those who, IMO, actually believe this is the case. They simply cannot get it through their heads that abortion is NOT a decision made on the spur-of-the-moment. Many women agonize over the action for weeks and months before they finally take action.

    This … \”I don’t agree with you, so I want to limit your rights\” … is wrong on so many levels.

    • laurencocking 28 January, 2017 at 18:22 Reply

      Thank you for commenting! 🙂 In what way do you believe that last statement you mention is incorrect? (I\’m interested, as I don\’t see what\’s wrong with it myself.)

      • Nan 28 January, 2017 at 18:57 Reply

        No, no! It\’s not \”incorrect.\” It\’s the principle behind the statement. As you mentioned, saying “I don’t agree with you, but I respect your views\” is much different than \”I don’t agree with you, so I want to limit your rights.”

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.