Using birth control to tackle the root cause of the abortion debate

Look, this pro-life/pro-choice thing is obviously becoming such an issue that it has reached me all the way over here in Ljubljana, Slovenia (ah, the wonders of Facebook). There have been a couple of times throughout my Mercer career that I’ve wanted to throw my two cents in on this issue, but I’ve shied away from it because who really wants to draw a red target on their own forehead? After seeing photos of the chalk war on a friend’s Wall, however, I’ve decided I’d like to throw my opinion out there. Let me begin by saying I am Roman Catholic and I am pro-choice.

Go ahead, freak out. Now let me explain. I find there to be a fundamental problem with the title “pro-choice.”

Pro-choicers tend to throw out this argument that protecting the rights of the unborn strips away the rights of the mothers. Pro-choice claims to stand for the “choice” of the mother, that it is her choice what happens to her body.

Well yeah, sure it is…but the only choice this seems to be talking about is the choice she makes after pregnant. Another choice came before that. Sex leads to pregnancy; if a woman has chosen to have sex then she has chosen the risk of pregnancy. Every form of contraception declares a 99.9 or less percent effectiveness.

Which means even if a couple chooses to have sex with protection, they are accepting a .1 percent or higher chance of pregnancy. If a woman willingly chooses to have sex then she has already chosen to accept the risk of pregnancy. That’s the choice that is most important in my eyes.

And that’s the choice that should be emphasized in this issue. By the time a woman is pregnant, she has already made her choice. Why should a child who results from that choice be terminated because the woman regrets the consequences?

As much as I would like to emphasize the choice made before becoming pregnant, I would also like to address the pro-life side by saying it is unrealistic to expect abortions to be made illegal. Prohibiting abortions would only drive women to riskier and often deadly procedures. If you are truly pro-life you cannot promote a decision that would put a life at risk.

Please note that throughout the above I used phrases like “willingly chooses.” Cases of rape or otherwise impaired choice are completely different situations and I would NEVER demand that a raped woman bring a baby to term. I have heard firsthand accounts of raped women who regretted aborting their babies or were even more traumatized by the abortion than the rape as well as those who found therapy in bringing the baby to term and keeping the child or giving him up for adoption. For others, however, having the baby could be more traumatic than abortion and more damaging to their body or psyche.

These are the first stats a Google search gave me (from surveys by the Alan Guttmacher Institute and data from seven state health/statistics agencies that report relevant statistics), so take them for what they’re worth:

“Actual percentage of U.S. abortions in ‘hard cases’ are estimated as follows: in cases of rape or incest, 0.3%; in cases of risk to maternal health or life, 1%; and in cases of fetal abnormality, 0.5%. About 98% of abortions in the United States are elective, including socio-economic reasons or for birth control. This includes perhaps 30% for primarily economic reasons.”

Provided those statistics are at least generally accurate, that means a HUGE majority of abortions are birth control or because the mother could not take care of the baby. Those are two issues I think both sides of the abortion argument should get together to solve. Focusing our efforts on solving those together would be more effective in decreasing the amount of abortions and improving quality of life for women than having more useless chalk arguments.

For the birth control issue I would hope we could all agree that abstinence is the only way to completely remain pregnancy-free. Abstinence-only education, however, is ineffective.

Abstinence-inclusive education is ideal, with accurate information on all forms of birth control. As a Catholic I imagine many of you may be surprised that I would promote birth control. But let’s be real — this is a human world, people are going to choose to have sex. It seems preferable to me to choose to prevent life than to abort it once it’s begun.

As to the economic question, I would hope that comprehensive sex education would knock out a large portion of that problem. If women are thoroughly educated about their options before sex then hopefully more of those who cannot afford to bring children to term would choose to prevent pregnancies before they happen.

However, that means making all birth control options widely available and possibly paid for for those who cannot afford them on their own. It also means improving adoption and foster care systems so that those women who choose to carry the baby to term but cannot keep the child have a safer, better option for their children than those available now.

Improving the system might also make it more attractive for women to at least give birth to the baby. Perhaps some of their expenses could be covered during the pregnancy.

The problem with the abortion argument is that it calls for one to walk an incredibly thin line: retaining the rights of both baby and mother. For me, the ideal would be that no baby would ever be conceived who was not wanted or could not be cared for. For now, though, we should work towards a compromise that may in time lead us to such an ideal.

The arguments that have been flying back and forth from both sides recently have been convincing no one and annoying everyone. I would be more impressed if both Mercer organizations could get together and talk about how we can improve the world together and not whose concept of morality is better.

At the beginning of this article I said I was pro-choice, and I mean that but in a different way than either side uses it right now. The choices I am “pro” on are the choices made before a pregnancy occurs: the choice to engage in sex safely and willing to accept the consequences of that act and the choice of society to inform and protect both women and children.

Comments on this opinion should be sent to [email protected]