Why pro-choice is “middle ground” in the abortion debate

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Women here in North Carolina are reeling as our state legislature has unleashed a sneak attack against women’s reproductive rights, attaching anti-abortion proposals to bills that were originally about banning foreign laws from being used in NC courts (commonly known as the anti-Sharia law) and motorcycle safety. Yes, motorcycle safety. The General Assembly was supposed to be wrapping up their session as soon as possible, with looming issues of tax reform and the state budget that still need to be finalized, yet the new Republican majority who campaigned on “jobs, jobs, jobs” decided to take on this major social issue at the eleventh hour.

And yes, the irony of an anti-Sharia law turning into a Tali-Bubba law is not lost on us.
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So this issue has been looming large in our minds as hundreds of women have shown up in the chambers of the General Assembly, and thousands have gathered each week for the Moral Monday protests, now approaching their 11th week.

Amy Tiemann and Laura Edwards at Moral Monday

Amy Tiemann and Lillian’s List co-founder Laura Edwards at Moral Monday

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I have been thinking a lot about the abortion debate. I think it is framed all wrong. Our brains are so primed to have a “meet in the middle” approach to our social debates. It’s no secret that the media is pressured to provide “both sides” even on an issue like man-made climate change or vaccine safety—issues on which there is a large preponderance of scientific evidence on one side, and a small number of very persistent dissenters on the other side. Yet even if 99% of climate scientists believe in climate change, most interviews feel obligated to include input form the 1% vocal minority.

On abortion, I do acknowledge that there is a wide range of personal feelings and moral beliefs about this issue, which will remain divisive. But the two “sides” are asymmetric. Pro-choice covers a whole lot of ground, even leaving room for doubt and uncertainty. Anti-choice is unflinchingly restrictive and punitive.

Here’s the essence of the asymmetry: If we pass pro-choice laws and you don’t want to have an abortion, you never have to have one unless you change your mind for your own personal reasons. You get to live out your personally held beliefs in your life under this legal system.

If we pass anti-choice laws, the anti-choice people are then controlling the bodily integrity, autonomy, and important life decisions of every woman in the state. Millions of women will no longer get to live out their beliefs, and may have their health or life threatened as a consequence.

Even more unfair is that many anti-choice people will find a way to get an abortion if they or their loved one needs it. The privileged men in the General Assembly know that not only will they never have to face an unplanned pregnancy themselves, but if their wife, daughter or girlfriend should ever need an abortion, they can afford to make this available to her one way or another. (Hypocricy much?) In the meantime, poor women will be either forced to continue a pregnancy, or risk an unsafe illegal abortion.

So I believe that if you do seek a middle ground on the abortion issue, you land firmly in pro-choice territory.

If you hope you’ll never need to have an abortion, but realize that any woman including you or your loved ones could potentially face an unexpected, difficult or life-endangering situation requiring one, you are pro-choice.

If you would not presume to tell another woman what do to, you are pro-choice.

If you prefer that your daughter does not become sexually active at a young age, but would not force her to become a mother against her will, you are pro-choice.

If you would like to see the number of abortions reduced through means that help and respect women, such as increased access to health care, birth control, and medically-accurate sex education, you are pro-choice.

I have never liked the terms pro-choice and pro-life and have struggled to find better labels. I support a reproductive rights framework. And today, thinking about North Carolina, I feel like the sides are Allow Abortion versus Outlaw Abortion. The new laws restrict abortion, but I know that many of the people supporting the laws would Outlaw Abortion if that was an option. Lawmakers have been very cagey about this, but the “pro-life” activist supporters have openly said that if they can’t outlaw abortion outright, restricting as much as possible is a good incremental option. The new restrictions being passed this week could close 15 out of 16 abortion clinics in the state by requiring unnecessary renovations costing millions of dollars.

The effect of these restrictions will be to push women toward later abortions or unsafe abortions. The effect will be to control women by controlling our reproductive destinies. We need women to truly realize these stakes are high, and immediate—across the country!—and keep standing up to fight for our right to comprehensive reproductive health care. We want our health care decisions to remain between us and our doctors, not controlled ideologically-driven politicians whose actions have shown at ever turn that they do not really care about the well-being of women.

“Don’t tell me what you believe; show me what you do and I’ll tell you what you believe.” Unfortunately, this is where we are headed right now in my beloved state of North Carolina:

misery