I’m getting tired of talking about abortion.
Not that I’m changing my mind on where I stand about it; if you follow this page, you know that I don’t like it, but I think criminalizing it is a really, really terrible idea. But I’m getting tired of the fact that we, as a culture, are talking about it so much, and more importantly, tired of the way we talk about it.
Gun owners will tell you that it’s pointless to take away guns, because people bent on killing will just kill with something else, that taking away guns will not address the underlying causes of violence. They’re not completely wrong about that. (Americans are violent and a little crazy.) But in a similar way, outlawing abortion really does nothing to address the underlying issues, it just makes the procedure more dangerous and the women seeking it more desperate. Just last year, Ohio State Representative Jim Buchy, who was trying to effectively ban abortion in his state, was asked by a reporter why he thought a woman would be looking for an abortion, and he admitted that he didn’t know, and in fact, hadn’t even thought about it.
Abortion doesn’t happen for no reason. It doesn’t happen for fun. There aren’t “recreational abortions,” followed by mani-pedi’s. They don’t happen because girls don’t understand that they haven’t got a carrot or a Tupperware set growing in there. And throwing up a billion little roadblocks if they decide they need one does nothing to change the culture that produces so many unwelcome pregnancies to begin with.
I hate that the culture we live in leaves so many women feeling, when they find themselves in that place, that abortion is the best of a set of bad options. The dialogue about our reproductive decisions, which ought to be the most personal thing in our lives, is public, and everyone thinks they get a vote. Fourteen states have “conscience clauses” for pharmacists to refuse to fill pill prescriptions without penalty. How do you say you’re pro-life when you’re probably causing more abortions than you’re preventing?
I am beyond exhausted with the idea that, in their zeal to tell us what’s best, those supposedly pro-life politicians are tripping over themselves to pull the plug on Planned Parenthood. Saving lives, except the ones saved by pap smears, STD testing, mammograms and prenatal care.
The baby that was cured of HIV in Mississippi is being heralded as a miracle. But the baby never should have had HIV in the first place. The mother, living in poverty, had never received any prenatal care; if she had, she’d have known that she had HIV and would have been given meds to keep her from passing it to the baby. How does this happen in the richest country in the world? Did the legislators scrambling to defund women’s health clinics factor in the loss of lives like that woman’s as acceptable in their war on abortion? That we call this approach “pro-life” is puzzling.
If you are a young, unmarried girl living in poverty and violence, and you find yourself pregnant, you are judged from that moment on: for opening your legs, for deciding not to bring a child into your difficult world, or for having it and then seeking public assistance to take care of it. Somehow you have no skills, no education, a job that pays not nearly enough, yet there is never a conversation about how if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it’d be twice what it is now, and you could begin to provide for that child. Trying to do right, with a pile of wrong choices. It is so frustratingly limiting to get caught up in arguing the legislative delineations, the moral exceptions, the ethics and philosophy of whose existence supersedes whose; we sit here holding up our virtual placards, hollering into the digital ether about rights, when there is an entire real world that feels to so many people like it’s burning down.
So we split. Into this camp and that camp. Those obsessed with criminalizing abortion have arrested as many as 300 American women for “suspicious” miscarriages under fetal harm laws that are on the books in 40 states. They mandate ultrasounds that women don’t want or need. And feeling besieged, we raise ourselves up on the ramparts of traditional feminism, even as it ignores our sisters of color, and those struggling in poverty and food insecurity. We get hung up in the rhetoric of what we are or are not entitled to, as if justice begins and ends in our uteruses, the way the sanctity of life seems to do for many of those we’re struggling against. We’re so busy “Leaning In”, we’re too close to see the whole picture.
So, I’m tired. Tired of raging about the width of the hallways when the building is collapsing. Do you want to end abortion in America? I do. So let’s make family planning widely available and low-cost or free, the way Obamacare seeks to do. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that if we just keep sex education out of our schools, that teenagers will stop having sex. Let’s get real about addressing poverty, violence, hunger and inequality so that we have a less forbidding world bring a child into. If we want to save lives, then let’s save lives. Let’s make workplaces more family friendly and college campuses more accommodating to the pregnant and the parenting, so that a woman doesn’t feel she’s throwing a future away to carry a child. Let’s do this, and watch things change. At the end of the day, it’s still a decision that a woman needs to make herself, without forced vaginal probes, without harassment and fairy stories propagated by crisis pregnancy centers; but if you’re truly pro-life, it has to extend to the lives of all people, not just the unborn.
I know what this sounds like. “Just fix the world, make it perfect, and then there will be no more abortions.” I’m aware of the crushing enormity. That’s why we tend to keep our focus narrow, on the how and why of keeping abortion safe and legal. We can only do so much. But it’s important to acknowledge the broader context, to step back and view the problem through this lens once in a while, and to recognize that the issue of reproductive justice doesn’t exist alone on some island, that it’s deeply intertwined with everything else that matters. And that’s something that people on both sides of the issue need to recognize, so we can all adjust our thinking accordingly. And then, start doing something real about it.
Because I’m tired of talking.