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Can We Stop Using the Terms Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?


I keep seeing this picture in the wake of the passage of the new draconian abortion laws. I stole it from Vox, but it’s properly credited, so hopefully I won’t get in trouble. I wanted it here because to me, it holds everything we get wrong about the abortion debate.

As a culture, we frame it as a debate, for one. We argue our sides and think there will be a winner—the pro-life or pro-choice side. But abortion isn’t the black and white issue we believe it to be. Pro-lifers will never convince pro-choicers that life begins at conception and that all abortions are evil. Pro-choicers will never convince pro-lifers that a fetus is just a clump of cells and that woman’s life is more valuable than said clump of cells.

Abortion—the actual lived experience that most people who argue for or against it have never had—is much more complex than each side’s collective talking points. I have had two abortions. They have never been black and white. They were the saddest, most difficult, and most painful thing I’ve ever gone through. And, I’m so grateful I was able to have them.

Do I regret them? Sometimes. Or, before anyone twists my words and uses them to prove a bullshit religious or moral point—it’s not regret so much as knowing that if I were faced with the same choice today I would make a different one. But I know in my heart of hearts that I made the right decision for who I was at the time, for the relationship I was in, and for dozens of other reasons.

This is something the pro-life/pro-choice narrative often misses, and it’s something I think is important to remember. Abortion can be difficult. It can be heavily weighted. It can leave scars that some women never get over. I have never gotten over it. AND it can be no big deal. It can be the oft quoted “relief.” It can be the best thing to ever happen to a woman. BOTH THINGS CAN BE TRUE.

That’s why the above photo is so interesting to me. Those six women regret their abortions. I'm sorry for them and empathize with their pain. But. BUT. That has no bearing on whether or not other women are allowed to make that choice for themselves. That does not mean that other women will regret their abortions. That does not mean they—or anyone else—get to make that choice for others. That does not mean abortion shouldn’t still be safe and legal.

If you don’t believe abortion is right, then you don’t have to have one. And no one is going to force you to get one. But similarly, you cannot force a woman to have a child. ESPECIALLY if you aren’t going to do anything to help that woman after she gives birth. ESPECIALLY if you don’t believe in universal healthcare, paid parental leave, or any program that helps feed and care for the most vulnerable among us.

We need to change the narrative. There are plenty of pro-choice advocates who also believe that life begins at conception, and there are plenty of people who believe abortion is a grave evil but that a woman still has a right to choose it. BOTH THINGS ARE TRUE.

The terms we use box us in and put us on one of two sides. But there are no sides. There is only one issue here—whether you believe a woman gets to have agency over her own life and her own body. If you do, then you have to fight to keep abortion legal. You don’t have to like it, condone it, or participate in it in any way. You don’t have to agree with it. But you have to do it. If you don’t, you will be standing by while women die too. And what’s pro-life about that?

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