I am beginning a series here at the Fireside Post to tackle some of the major issues of our cultural conversation. I want to start a dialogue that has depth; rather than a name calling dispute that hovers right around the 110 character mark. I will post links to all of the articles in the series on the Fireside Issues page. My intent is to post weekly on Mondays (or Sunday night). So, without further ado, this week’s topic is abortion.
I am going to make some assumptions about the reader here, and this may not apply to you, but I don’t want to start with a lengthy dissection of all the possible perspectives. For brevity, I am going to assume we can agree that abortion is a problem that we need to deal with. If you feel that abortion is not a problem that we need to deal with, then this article probably won’t do much for you. I will briefly explain why I feel this way, though.
The mind is a fascinating thing, since it really doesn’t exist in any physical manifestation. I am not sure exactly what a soul is, but I am confident that the mind is as close to an illustration of the soul as I can get. Our brains and neural pathways are all connected and fire impulses to control our bodies, but our consciousness doesn’t really exist. We make it up. It is what makes me, me. It allows me to form the very ideas that I am communicating to you right now. It is, as far as I am concerned, what makes me human and different from all other species of life on earth. So, if that is what makes me a person, when does that start? When does that physical process start shaping into a mind. I believe that the process starts at conception. My wife and I have experienced four pregnancies, and every time her body reacts to the parasite that begins to grow inside her. That fetus is not independent, though, the way that a person is who lives and breathes outside of the womb. Still has consciousness, yes, but entirely dependent on the woman to live. I will leave the soul problem to the Theologians.
Alright, I think that you can see where this is headed. I think that abortion is a problem that we need to solve because I think that we need to honor that consciousness as a fellow person. In order to solve this problem, we need to define it. Why is it happening? What is the problem that we are trying to solve? Why are women inclined to have an abortion? According to a survey by the Guttmacher Institute in 2004 (which you can read here, it is a fascinating study), the main reason that women cited having an abortion was, “Having a baby would dramatically change my life.” Reasons cited were school, employment, and already having other children (families that were done with childbearing). The second reason was “Can’t afford a baby right now.” Those two responses made up nearly three quarters of the respondents’ answers. We can safely say, then, that women are having abortions largely because they are not confident in their security after the birth of the baby. That would be the problem statement. I made an inference about “security” that was not in the findings from the survey, just to be clear. A few interesting facts from the survey: nearly 40% of the respondents already had children, and less that 20% were under the age of nineteen. I just note that in case there are any myths that you hold about who is getting abortions that need to be cleared up. Moving on.
If we want to tackle this problem, which is a cultural problem, not an individual one, we need to look at the underpinnings of these statements in our society. Point of clarification here, it takes two people to make a baby. You will have to look that up on your own, I am not getting into it here. If we want to effectively eliminate abortion, we need to effectively deal with the root cause (unplanned pregnancy resulting from unprotected sex.) If you are one who believes that legislation is the answer to ending abortions, then you will have legislation that deals with abortions and does nothing to address unplanned pregnancies resulting from unprotected sex. What you will have is about 1.3 million women every year looking for a solution to their problem and only finding it in unsafe, illegal avenues. We will have effectively criminalized behavior without changing it. In case you were unaware, that just makes more criminals, and does nearly nothing to solve your issue.
We have a culture of shame for women who have unplanned pregnancy. That is what is hard to tease out from the survey numbers. Women, not just teenagers, are facing guilt, shame, and ridicule for getting pregnant, while men are largely off the hook. That is the culture. This is not a male problem, they aren’t to blame. Women are to blame because they are sluts or just irresponsible. Boys will be boys, right? YOu may say that you disagree with these statements, but I beg you to challenge your unconscious biases and think about it. I can tell you, my wife and I had an unplanned pregnancy. I spent the first three months of that listening to people tell me “Hey – you know what causes that, right?” Chuckle chuckle. And “Geez Bryan are you trying to start a soccer franchise or something?’ Hardy har-har. My wife will tell you she got very few congratulatory remarks. And we are married. Can you imagine what a twenty something business major at a University would face? Is that a justifiable reason to have an abortion? Well, apparently it is, and if you are a man, you wouldn’t know, because you have never faced it. I am not supporting anyone’s actions here, I am just saying that if we want to address the problem, then we have to stop worrying about the Supreme Court and start figuring out how to educate men and women about avoiding unplanned pregnancy, removing the stigma from women who get pregnant unexpectedly, and build support systems for women who are concerned about their future and their finances. When we de-fund Planned Parenthood (who gets zero funding for abortions), remove health care funding options for single mothers, and frown at the woman who just found out that she is pregnant, we are actually growing the problem of abortion in the United States, not reducing it.
If you want to end the practice of abortion, as I do, you will have to do that in partnership with women and providers. If you criminalize them, you will never see the result that you want. Never. Invest in your communities, volunteer for clinics and programs that educate men and women about sex and protection, and shape yourself into a champion of women who are pregnant. Until each of us does that on a regular basis, the Supreme Court will not be able to help us. In fact, they will likely make it worse.