My original goal for this week’s post was to talk about how I respond to the question that I often get from White people, “Why are Black people allowed to use the n-word while White people aren’t?” Unfortunately, though, in my preparations for my last 3 HOBY seminars of the year, I didn’t have time to get to writing that piece. So stay tuned, as I have had a number of people say they were looking forward to it.
I recently had a young man reach out to me and ask about why I am such a vocal supporter of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. He asked me if I would be able and willing to boil down my support for abortion rights into four clear points so that he could better understand. I very much appreciate his interest in seeking more information and seeking truth, so I wrote him back, and I thought I would post my response here in hopes of inspiring some discussion around the issue of a woman’s right to choose, particularly considering the all-out assault on women’s rights in state legislatures around the U.S..
Why Do I Support a Woman’s Right to Choose?
1. Every woman should have the right to control what happens with her own body. For better or for worse, a fetus growing inside of a woman has dire consequences for a woman’s body and her life. Having a child can be a very dangerous physical change, and it undoubtedly will change every aspect of a woman’s life during pregnancy and after. Thus, a woman should have the right to decide what will or will not happen in her womb. It is absurd to think that a legislator or church or anyone should be able to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. As part of this point, it is important to understand that until a fetus reaches viability (usually around the 24th or 25th week of pregnancy), it acts biologically no different than any other parasitic organism. That language is SUPER harsh, so I tend not to share it, but the point is the same. If a life cannot live outside of a womb, it should not have rights that outweigh that of the woman carrying it.
2. That brings me to my second point. Those who say that abortion should not be legal and accessible for woman are essentially saying that the life of the fetus is more important than the life of the woman carrying the fetus. Though many try to say, “But we’re saying that the life of the fetus is EQUAL to the life of the mother,” there is no room for equality of livelihood when one being’s livelihood depends completely upon the livelihood of the other being. With that in mind, how can we possibly tell a woman that her life (one that is fully realized and viable) is less important than the potential human life that grows inside of her? Why does the potential human being that grows inside of her (and is completely dependent upon her to live) have rights that supersede her own? If we believe that the woman should be able to live her life to its fullest potential and that she is an independent being, then we have to respect her right to make a decision to value her life over the life of a fetus. It should be noted that while there is no doubt that a fetus is, biologically, human life, the real question is when personhood begins. I do not believe that a fetus can be considered a child (or a person) until it can survive outside of the womb. Until that point, it is a mass of developing cells that have the potential to become a person. This is an important distinction because of the moral question involved in abortion. I do not believe that to have an abortion is to kill a baby. It is to end the growth process of a mass of human cells. Again, to make the point, I will use a harsh analogy. Technically speaking, cancer in a human being consists of human life (it is alive, and the cells, though cancerous, are human cells). Would we ever argue that a woman should not have a surgery to remove cancer because it is human life? No way! As a result, we need to have a clear understanding of personhood in order to argue abortion politics.
3. People often say that we should eliminate abortion because adoption is always an option. In the United States right now, there are approximately 107,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted, but only about 53,000 of them will actually be adopted. This is, in part, because only 37% of those interested in adoption will adopt from foster care; the rest will adopt privately and internationally. Because of this reality, more and more children are simply aging out of foster care and into adult life. Within that reality, because of subtle and not-so-subtle racist attitudes, children of color are significantly less likely to be adopted than white children and spend more time in foster care. Children who grow up in the foster system are four times as likely to experience physical and sexual abuse and neglect. They are more likely to abuse drugs. They are significantly more likely to drop out of high school. They are more likely to spend time in prison. Essentially, those who spend their lives in foster care are significantly more likely to have a really, really, really tough life. Now consider further that 1.3 million abortions are performed in the U.S. every year. If even 1 million of those children were born and only 80% of them went into the adoptive system, we would have another 800,000 children who need to be adopted. It’s an untenable option, and it is an option that will only further guarantee that many children will experience abuse, neglect, and trauma in the foster care system. When there are so many children in this world who already need homes (both domestically and internationally), why should we pressure women to bring a fetus to full term if that child will be unwanted? Why should we put at least 800,000 more children into the adoptive system? For simple practicality sake, abortion must continue to be an option.
4. Lastly, any part of this conversation needs to be about the concept of “respect the right, reduce the need.” Rather than denying a woman her own bodily autonomy to protect the life of a potential person, why don’t we put our energies into preventing unwanted pregnancies. Let’s face it: we have a TERRIBLE system of sex education in this country. Very few students who are of age to produce a child can tell you much of anything about how a child is created and how to prevent a child from being created if they were to have sex. Thus, any conversation about abortion needs to include conversations about education and access to contraception. I find it frankly absurd that the same politicians who call for an end to abortion also speak out against the use of contraception. Just about every single person will at some time have sex, and it is our responsibility to empower them with the knowledge and tools to make sure that sex is as safe as possible and can be enjoyed without fear of unwanted pregnancy.
There is likely a whole heap more that I could say about a woman’s right to choose, but when asked to boil my views down to four points, this is what I came up with.
What would you add? What do you disagree with? I’m curious to see if we can get some good discussion going in the comments.