Saturday, January 29, 2011

Finding common ground

The topic of abortion brings out a lot of passion on both sides of the issue, with neither bothering to listen or trying to understand the opposite stance. Recently, I was able to sit and talk to my mother-in-law and have a very reasoned discussion. The thing is, we agreed on an awful lot of stuff. I think if most people could put aside their differences, take emotion out of the discussion, and just talk, a lot could be done.

Out of that discussion, I wanted to share a few things. I don't want a flame war, but I welcome comments if people can be calm, polite, reasoned, and refrain from using 'the Bible says so' as their ENTIRE argument.

For the record, I am pro-choice. I would like to address that first because it seems that amongst the pro-life crowd, there is a misconception that pro-choice = pro-abortion. I think the majority of people who describe themselves as pro-choice would agree that they are NOT pro-abortion. I think most, based on conversations I've had, would agree that we all share the goal of reducing the number of abortions (for various reasons), but that we don't support a full ban on them.

Since I can only speak for myself, the reason I don't support a full ban is that abortions have existed since the beginning of time. Before they were legal, many women sought them and they were unsafe. Why was Roe v Wade fought in court? Because women had a need and didn't want to die. If abortion were banned once again, I firmly believe that abortions would still happen, but we'd be losing the women too, not just the fetuses.

Abortion is a symptom of a much larger disease. Banning abortion puts a bandaid on that disease rather than curing it. Here's the thing: at the dining table summit, both sides were able to agree that we really need to solve the underlying problems. Let's reduce the need for abortions. If women don't need them, they won't have them. Everyone wins.

So what do I think we need to focus on?

First, let's get good, comprehensive, factual sex ed. I think it has pretty much been proven in areas where abstinence only is taught that the teen pregnancy and STD rates increase. That doesn't work. Let's face facts. Some portion of teenagers will have sex. We cannot prevent that. Teenagers have been having sex since the beginning of time.

Think back to your high school days. Either you or someone you know was fooling around. I knew several girls in high school who a) had an abortion, b) had a baby they gave up for adoption, or c) had a baby they kept.

I had a really good sex ed teacher. He was the health teacher and was very matter of fact about everything. He kept a box outside his room that anyone could anonymously slip a question in and he would find the answer and present it to the class. This was a marvelous thing: he found out exactly what students didn't know and needed answers to AND found out what misconceptions were out there, all without embarrassing anyone. We all had a safe place to go for REAL information.

It's all well and good to tell kids not to have sex, but it is much more powerful to tell them the consequences and give them the tools they need to make an informed decision. Knowledge really is power. Why has there been a rise in things like 'lollipop' parties and STDs when teen pregnancy rates go down? Because kids are getting the message that traditional intercourse can lead to pregnancy. They aren't learning that STDs can pass through other methods, that oral sex is still sex, that there are other consequences.

And can we teach that consequences effect both genders? Girls are very aware that their lives will change if they get pregnant. Boys don't have that immediate issue. They need it. They need to know that they are responsible.

After good sex ed, I think we need to build up self-esteem, especially in girls. Everyone knows the cliche 'if you love me, you'd have sex with me.' What teenage girl knows the rejoinder to that is 'if you loved me, you wouldn't push me to do something I'm not ready for'? And how many have the confidence to say it? It's hard when you don't know who you are to take a stand. I see a lot of girls who define themselves by their boyfriends. Can we try to teach both boys and girls to love themselves first? The best way to do that is by example, but how many women (probably men too) can really look themselves in the mirror and like the person there? Can we try so we can teach our kids to like themselves? Maybe that would help.

Being supportive of our kids is huge. How many abortions happen because a parent has told a girl that if she ends up pregnant, she can forget coming home? So her choices, if she makes a mistake, are to a) leave home and probably live on the streets or b) have an abortion. How much could be changed by talking to our kids, letting them know that even if they disappoint us we will still love them? That they can come to us with anything and we will do what we can to help?

A lot of this is aimed at teenagers, but reaching people young is a way to make a big impact. More than half of abortions are for women 25 and under. These are women in high school and college. Most (64%) are performed on women who have never been married.

So what about the older women, the non-teenagers? What about better access to birth control? Plan B is a start. Better access to condoms, Planned Parenthood, clinics, would help. On the argument that birth control, especially Plan B, is immoral, would you rather prevent the pregnancy or deal with the consequences? To me, it's a no-brainer.

If we work to prevent the unwanted pregnancies which account for 93% of abortions, wouldn't that be better than trying to legislate a ban? Think of that. If 93% of the estimated 1.2 million abortions per year (2006) could be prevented by removing the need, wouldn't that be a better solution? That's over 1 million not needed. As opposed to over 1 million either being performed under less than ideal situations or babies coming into the world who are in need of adoption, abused, mistreated.... If someone really doesn't want a child or can not afford a child, should the theoretical child have to pay for that? If there is no child to begin with because there was no pregnancy, we don't have to worry about a potential abortion or a strain on social services.

I don't know all the answers, but it just seems that current legislative efforts (abstinence only sex ed, restrictions on abortions) are just bandaids. They aren't going to solve the problem, just sweep it under the rug. That's a waste of time and money in my book. I want the same goals; I just have different methods of reaching them. Why should a woman be punished for a lifetime for a mistake? Especially since so many men get away with no consequences.

These are all things my mother-in-law and I could agree on. We may have different stances in the political debate, but we're really saying the same thing, just in different ways. Let's get rid of the rhetoric.


  1. I love the idea of the sex ed question box! I wish I had the balls to be a sex ed teacher, but I don't think I could deal with the stress and controversy from the parents and administration. I don't think I have what it takes to fight that fight every day, but I am grateful for those that do.

    This is the best article I have ever written on the abortion topic. I want to add something insightful, but really, I think you've said it all. Thank you.

  2. The question box was great. And he was very matter of fact, which helped a great deal. I remember someone submitted a question about the nutritional value of semen. What sex ed class covers that material?

    I'm glad I've only gotten positive feedback on this one. I don't mind a good debate, but too often the issue devolves into namecalling. Feel free to share. And I really do want to hear other ideas/solutions!


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