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Ultrasound image of fetus in uterus.

 

A large component of many feminist movements is the defense of a woman’s right to decide whether people like me should exist.

I will say up front that I think abortion should remain legal in the United States. I know that when it’s been made illegal elsewhere, more human beings die. I think that access to birth control should be free and unlimited, and I’m willing to put my money behind it. But sisters please gather round, because we need to have a talk. Some of the arguments I’ve heard presented on behalf of abortion rights are appalling, and you need to understand why.

I’m disabled and I love who I am. I’m an abuse and neglect survivor, and I love who I am. Despite the difficulties I have faced, and will very likely continue to face, I’m grateful for my life.

The most misguided argument in promotion of the right to legal abortion is what I’ll call the freedom from a life of suffering argument. Sometimes it goes something like this: Abortion shouldn’t be restricted because most unwanted children end up horribly abused and neglected, and there aren’t enough homes for all of the abused and neglected children. Other times it goes like this: People with medical condition X have very hard lives. A child with medical condition X would be a burden to me and society. I wouldn’t want my child to have a hard life as a person with medical condition X.

Sounds reasonable right? I mean who is going to step up and argue on behalf of child abuse and neglect or its effects on survivors? Who’s going to promote leading a life with obstacles around every corner?

But the appeals are neither reasonable nor compassionate. They are dehumanizing and debasing. Just because a child is unwanted by his or her biological parents, she or he is by no means doomed to a childhood filled with abuse. Unwanted does not necessarily equal abused. Conversely, a wanted child is by no means guaranteed a life free from abuse or neglect.

Most importantly, even if a child (wanted or unwanted) does end up experiencing abuse or neglect, it is the right of that human being to decide for herself whether life is worth living as a survivor.

The second manifestation of the freedom from a life of suffering argument serves to promote genocide against people with disabilities. It is common knowledge that pre-born people with genetic markers associated with disabilities are frequently aborted.

My mother liked to remind me throughout the course of my childhood that she could have aborted me. The power granted to her by that statement was palpable. It was visceral. I didn’t have to be here. I was only here because of what she presented as her nearly messianic benevolence.

The very fact that I exist today and advocate for disability rights would not be the case if my mother had chosen to hand over the right sum of money to the right doctor.

My mother allowed the men in her life to abuse me. I was homeless as a teen and resorted to prostitution to survive when I was still a minor child. Would I rather have been humanely relieved of this life so that I never had to endure that suffering?

No.

It took me a good deal of time to recover from the abuse I endured as a child and teen. Years of meditation and reflection finally allowed me to see things as they are and were. Temporary. Transient. Non-defining. Traumatic events were experiences I had lived through. The experiences were not me. They were events in time that had not been instigated by me. I was free to choose how my mind responded to them. I was free to live a life that extended beyond those events.

I was not doomed. I have not perpetuated some mythical cycle of abuse. I am a human being who speaks. I am a human being who thinks. I am a human being who loves. I am a human being who matters.

Just because you can’t imagine surviving what I have survived does not make it your moral right to decide for me or anyone else whether they can survive and thrive. Survivors of abuse and people with disabilities are often told horrific things. People say to us, “I’d kill myself if I was deaf/blind/paralyzed…”, “I’d die if that happened to me.” It is this same mentality that drives people to declare that some children should compassionately be spared the burden of existence, because they may endure challenges that seem unfathomable to some.

That I experience disability, marginalization, and abuse survival does not mean that my life is not worth living. It does not mean that I shouldn’t be here to use my voice. It does not mean that I shouldn’t be here to love and lift up others in my community.

Imagine if a woman stood up and recommended gender selective abortion for female embryos based on the argument that women are statistically more likely to encounter adverse life events like rape and discrimination. What if a woman recommended euthanasia for females who had been raped based on the argument that females who have been raped will inevitably suffer.

To stay consistent in our reasoning we might then want to consider the forcible sterilization of all women of childbearing age in all war zones across the globe. Because what kind of future could a child born in a war torn environment have?

Do those ideas strike you as reprehensible? I hope they do. They’re very analogous to the pro-choice freedom from a life of suffering argument.

Child abuse and neglect need to end. There needs to be more support for survivors. Likewise, people with disabilities need support, as every human being needs support. Nothing about my disability reduces my humanity.

Even though abuse and neglect persist, a person cannot reasonably consider themselves to be moral if they believe they can decide for me that I shouldn’t be here because I’m a survivor of crimes perpetrated against me or because I live with disabilities. If women have compassion, then they must recognize that it is not within their moral power to determine whether another human being who poses no threat to them has the right to be on this planet. If my life isn’t a threat to yours, I have just as much a right to be here as you do.

I believe that everyone has the right to be here. Every single one of us. Disabled and able, of different sexual orientations, of different genders, all ethnicities, all religious affiliations, no religious affiliations, and of all nationalities. All of us have a right to exist and a right to self-determination. We have a right to love each other, support each other in our struggles, and hold each other accountable for our errors. We have rights to basic necessities like food, water and health care.

I’m not looking to change laws, I’m looking to change the conversation. I think there are some circumstances where abortion is absolutely a moral choice. But the appeal to freedom from a life of suffering argument needs to be examined and discarded, because if lives like mine aren’t respected, then the conversation is in no way liberating, empathetic, pro-woman, or inclusive.

 

Twilah H is a recovering patient. She studied Philosophy with a concentration in ethics at the University of Kansas. Through writing, meditation, relationship building, and quilt creation she has found a place of peace.

16 thoughts on “The Pro-Choice Argument I Never Want to Hear Again

      1. Thanks very much for your reply. I’m sure that NIH article is correct that when abortion is made illegal, maternal mortality rates will increase (unless women’s health care is bolstered simultaneously, as in Chile, where the rates actually decreased). But that NIH article doesn’t even seem to ask the question, Won’t illegalizing abortion save more unborn lives (which are also human) than will be lost due to the maternal mortality increase?

        Here is a yes answer to that question: http://blog.secularprolife.org/2017/08/pro-life-laws-stop-abortions-heres.html

        Under that blog post, commenters provided further evidence that the answer is yes. Some of my own comment was:

        “Some dramatic evidence that abortion restrictions do work was inadvertently provided by the ‘Turnaway Study.”The NY Times article about that study ( http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/magazine/study-women-denied-abortions.html ) said: ‘About 20 percent of the turnaways received an abortion elsewhere.’ So out of the studied group of women who were denied an abortion by the law, 80% obeyed the law and did not opt for an illegal abortion.

        “Of course those were mostly late-term cases, and many of their options even for illegal abortions had no doubt run out, so it’s not representative, but it’s a dramatic figure.”

        Also, you wrote, “I will say up front that I think abortion should remain legal in the United States. I know that when it’s been made illegal elsewhere, more human beings die.” If you come to know that when it’s LEGAL, more human beings die, will you think it should be made illegal?

        1. Thank you for your thoughtful evaluations. After I review all that you’ve presented I’ll be able to offer a response to your question of, “If you come to know that when it’s LEGAL, more human beings die, will you think it should be made illegal?” You’ve made some very compelling points and I’d like to give them due consideration.

  1. As someone who has been abused, I thank you for this article. I am constantly having to tell pro-choicers that no one gets to decide for me that I live or die besides myself and that we should not be killed off in the womb for what they think our lives would be like and what they think would be best in that scenario that they are imagining as they go along away. We can never tell someone’s future and even if we could, we do not get to decide the fate of their life for them. Though I do hope you realize that the unborn should have a legal right to not be killed as well.

  2. Wonderful words of changing the conversation.

    I can tell you that its absolutely untrue where abortion is illegal that more humans die.

    I was born and raised in Dubai where abortion has always been absolutely illegal. Of course if the unborn child will mean the mother dies, the mother is saved. Such as ectopic pregnancy.

    In Dubai people know the importance of birth control – yes there are some slips, some mistakes, some medical rarities that take place and women do get pregnant. What do they do? Well usually they decide to keep the child if at all possible, If its a very tough situation you also find the most people are super vigilant and have a very early abortion out of the country. As much as its still taking a child’s life, i hope that pain receptors are lesser in a 8 week baby than a 15 week one.

    On record about 5 to 7 women have died in the past 30 years trying to get a back alley abortion. Definitely way way lesser than the babies who have lived. I think at least one in 4 families have a child who would otherwise have been aborted.

    I am the second girl child and would have been aborted had my mother been in India while pregnant as most families want 2 children out there and they want at least one boy. My younger sister would deft have been killed in vitro. The hassle of traveling to India for my mother saved both our lives. She was in India when pregnant with another girl after that and the sister of mine got brutally killed. I say brutal because that’s what it is when she must have been at least 16-18 weeks pregnant to know for sure that sister’s gender (ultrasound machine back in early 80s).

    Most people I know do a double birth control thing out there. So say condoms and pulling out in fertile days or a loop and pulling out etc etc. Abortion should never have started as an option for humanity.

    I agree with you very much about others not deciding for us. I have been raised in a seriously abusive childhood and check mark all the types of abuse. I suffer from complex PTSD and more. Yes, I do know there were excruciatingly painful times where I had hoped I was aborted and hence never born to bear all the pain. but today I am here well and have two incredible kids and rather successful in life. I live detached and see my life as a journey of ups and downs and as an experience.

    On abortion to me the only exception has been a child so severely brain damaged that it would be in a vegetative state, but I know doctors can be wrong with prognosis…

    The changing conversation is a wonderful way to view a different perspective and eventually people will realize the wrongness of killing the beating human heart within our bodies.

    1. “I think at least one in 4 families have a child who would otherwise have been aborted.”

      Unborn child-protection laws are vital. Thank you for a beautiful comment that covers all the key points, including the exaggerated back-alley abortion issue. (It’s exaggerated in relation to the enormous number of abortions that take place.)

      I keep a record of all evidence about the impact of unborn child-protection laws (anti-abortion laws) on abortion rates, and I will add your comment to my collection of evidence.

      “Abortion should never have started as an option for humanity.”

      Thanks.

  3. Seems to me this article presents an inherently conflicted view. On the one hand, you’ve declared that you believe abortion should remain legal. On the other hand, you don’t believe women should abort as a means to prevent living a life of struggle and suffering. You say you don’t wish to change laws, but change the conversation. I guess I should be thrilled that you’ve at least reached the point of understanding the value of a human life, however troubled it may be.

    Perhaps a question and thought would be good:
    I should think that a premise by which every human life–even unborn–has value and should be allowed to live would compel one to seek to abolish abortion laws. That being the case, what reasoning do you follow to justify continuing to allow abortion to be offered?

    1. My view isn’t conflicted at all. It’s realistic. Laws, even those clearly aligned with moral precepts, fail to achieve what a change in the conversation can achieve. For example, a multitude of laws restricting the use of certain drugs has failed to prevent widespread drug abuse, the affects of which stretches far beyond drug abusers. I see the situations as very analogous. People do destructive illicit drugs because they suffer under the illusion that the drugs will make them happier. Of course they’re wrong, but restrictive laws have done nothing to rectify the situation.

      I see it as more productive to promote viewpoints like mine and that of other commenters on this thread to the end goal of stimulating women to understand perspectives they may have never considered because such perspectives aren’t included in the dominant narrative about abortion. Once more perspectives like mine enter the conversation, women will be inclined to make truly compassionate choices of their own free will, rather than under compulsion of law, which engenders no compassion, but only fear of punishment. I think many abortions are due to a sincere misunderstanding of compassion, which was my primary discussion in this piece. Eliminate that misunderstanding and reasonable women who are capable of making decisions without the looming penalty of law will make the truly compassionate choice, rather than the choice they previously thought was compassionate based on misinformation.

      1. I agree with you that changing the conversation, or changing hearts, will be more effective than changing laws, but please see here –

        http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/whats-in-it-for-the-born/

        – an argument to the effect that changing laws will help us to change hearts. (Search for “Law affects culture” and read that paragraph and the few that precede it.)

        “restricting the use of certain drugs has failed to prevent widespread drug abuse”

        I am inclined to legalize all drugs (while strenuously educating against them), but remember that the truth of your above sentence does not answer the question, Have the laws saved at least a few people?

        Also, drug abuse is a victimless wrong (the abuser does not victimize any other person) which we might therefore consider decriminalizing, but the same cannot be said about abortion. Martin Luther King said, “It may be true that laws cannot change hearts, but they can restrain the heartless.”

        1. Have the laws saved at least a few people? Probably. But nuance matters and my analogy with drug abuse matters. It is absolutely false that drug abuse is a victimless crime. Show me an addict whose behaviors haven’t caused a ring of devastation around them. Addicts lie, manipulate, steal and kill for drugs. Victims abound. And since the point of what we’re discussing is pre-born people, its relevant that the two tie together, because addicted women don’t give pre-born children a choice as to whether they become addicted to drugs. That’s one more reason I’d like to change the conversation rather then compelling under force of law. If women better understand the full humanity of pre born humans, I think we would be more inclined to have healthier pregnancies that are free from drugs and other stressors to both mother and child. Here’s a link to a meta-study on the effects of anxiety during pregnancy https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499279/. If stressors are mitigated, mother and baby are healthier. When a woman is forced to maintain a pregnancy she doesn’t want under penalty of law, that necessarily causes anxiety which is harmful. When a woman voluntarily chooses to maintain a pregnancy because she has compassion she didn’t have before, she’s more inclined to promote the health of herself and her child. My point is not that children from stressed pregnancies are doomed or less preferable to dead children–my point is the knowledge that one has power to promote the health of oneself and one’s child can motivate a woman to desire a healthy and complete pregnancy. Laws intended to restrict things to which people perceive they have or should have rights (regardless of the truth of that perception) don’t work. Abortion is illegal in the Dominican Republic, but look at these numbers http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-dominicanrep.html. Also, in the US we know that laws are enforced disproportionately for different populations. In reality we’d end up with laws that disproportionately punished poor communities and communities of color. I’d much rather uplift those communities (I’m a woman of color who grew up in poverty) than use laws to further oppress them as would inevitably be the case. Women have the capacity to make the right decisions, we just need less biased information in order to do so. Right now there’s a lot of biased information saying children who come to exist under certain circumstances are better off dead. Eliminate that error in thinking and women will be able to make truly informed, compassionate decisions. I’m also concerned that restrictive laws would not permit exemptions for pregnancies that endanger the life of mother, child or both, which are clearly counter productive.

          1. Thanks for your reply.

            “Addicts lie, manipulate, steal and kill for drugs.”

            Sure, but we do have laws against stealing and killing, and against some kinds of lying and manipulating, including when those things are done to buy drugs. And I don’t think you oppose those laws as you oppose laws against abortion and oppose (or point out the inefficacy of) laws against drug abuse.

            Shooting up is not, per se, killing. Abortion is, per se, killing. If we analogize killing an unborn person with killing a born person (which you probably support criminalizing), rather than analogizing it with an activity that is not, per se, killing, wouldn’t that be a closer analogy?

            (I don’t say that the substantial – not total – failure of drug-abuse laws is not worth mentioning, but as an analogy, the above are the problems that I see in it.)

            “That’s one more reason I’d like to change the conversation rather then compelling under force of law.”

            But that doesn’t explain why we should not change the conversation AND compel under force of law. What did you think about the argument at the link I provided, as to why permissive laws make it difficult to change the conversation, difficult to make people think that anyone really believes in the full humanity of preborn humans?

            “In reality we’d end up with laws that disproportionately punished poor communities and communities of color.”

            Is prevention of abortion a punishment?

            “I’m also concerned that restrictive laws would not permit exemptions for pregnancies that endanger the life of mother . . .”

            Well, we might also have opposed child-abuse laws for fear they would prevent parents from imposing even reasonable punishments. But those fears would have been unfounded. And if the laws did prevent parents from imposing even reasonable punishments, the solution would be to refine the laws, not to allow child abuse.

          2. I’m sorry, I don’t have time to read that link. Yes, I understand we have laws against stealing and killing. In the US we give lip service to laws being about deterrence, but they’re really about punishment. Laws against murder didn’t stop 15,696 known murders from occurring in 2015 in the US. If abortion were made illegal in the US, it would be about punishment, not deterrence, because that’s how things work here. I won’t put my energy into promoting ineffective, punitive laws that fuel the prison industrial complex when we as humans have the opportunity to communicate and elevate one another from the horrible conditions that drive us to dehumanize and kill one another. Conversations and compassion interest me. I’ve got to leave this thread now to spend my time creating new content. Thank you for the conversation and differing viewpoint.

  4. Replying to “I’m sorry, I don’t have time . . .”

    Thank you too. The United States with a criminal justice system that at least attempts to protect the weak and helpless is awful, but the United States without a criminal justice system that attempts to protect the weak and helpless? Wow.

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