Niedbala: Finding Common Ground
By Anna Niedbala, Guest Columnist
Published on Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Serrin Foster, president of the pro-life organization Feminists for Life, declares in her landmark speech “The Feminist Case Against Abortion” that “abortion is a reflection that our society has failed to meet the needs of women.”
Let me set something straight. Yes, I believe that life begins at conception, and therefore, every abortion ends a human life. Having accepted this viewpoint, I am basically obligated to fight tooth and nail against what I believe is one of the biggest human rights abuses in history. But I am not naive enough to think that everyone will just convert to this point of view tomorrow if I present a persuasive enough argument. Instead, I’ve come to realize that the most likely way to actually end abortion is to find common ground with those who support its legality.
An embittered battle between two polarized camps gets us nowhere. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A constant back and forth of, “Abortion is murder!” and, “My body, my choice!” makes for long, emotional and completely unproductive debates. So how do we move forward from the endless battle between “pro-abortion” and “anti-choice” advocates, as the sides choose to label each other?
Believe it or not, there is a lot of common ground to be found, even in a debate as bitter as this one. Most people don’t think a woman expelling a fetus from her uterus is something to be celebrated. Rather, the majority of pro-choice advocates believe abortion protects a woman’s right to decide her own future. Even Planned Parenthood states that abortions should be “safe, legal and rare.” No one takes pleasure in the actual fact of abortion. Deep down at the heart of both camps lies a concern for the protection of human dignity — we just define it differently. I think we agree in our fight for the advancement of women and the desire to create a better future for our sex and for our children.
This is why the first action we must demand from our lawmakers should not simply be to make abortion illegal or restrict access to it. The first step should be the establishment and improvement of health care, welfare and social support systems that prevent women from feeling like they have to get an abortion. Millions of women have been put in the unacceptable position of having to choose between themselves and their children. What kind of society forces such a choice?
A few months ago, Lauren Campfield discussed the virtually nonexistent or at least inaccessible resources for pregnant and parenting undergraduate students at Dartmouth (“Somewhere to Turn,” May 25, 2011). This problem is not unique to Dartmouth. Women aged 18 to 24 account for 44 percent of abortions nationally, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute. Many women feel they are not in a position to handle a child. Three out of four women who terminate their pregnancies cite their reason for having an abortion “concern for or responsibility to other individuals,” according to a 2011 Guttmacher report. Three-fourths cite financial concerns, and 75 percent say that a baby would “interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents.” Women whose income is below 100 percent of the federal poverty level have abortions at two to three times the national rate and account for 27 percent of abortions performed each year.
Given these statistics, where are our so-called pro-life politicians when it comes to making a country without abortion actually feasible? Where are the policy ideas that make abortion unnecessary and not just illegal? We seem to have forgotten that being pro-life means being pro-person, and that means protecting women as well as children. We should not have to choose one or the other.
If abortion were made illegal tomorrow, women would still face the same crippling situations that drive them to seek abortions in the first place, and the possible consequences of illegal abortions are frightening. So instead of arguing over legality, we should unite in a proactive approach and provide resources to women that make it possible for them to keep their children without giving up their education, their jobs, their success or their pride.
If both sides give a little ground, the possibility of uniting under one banner and calling for much needed reform is closer than we think and will help each achieve the goals they are ultimately fighting for: an end to abortion and a brighter future for women.
Anna Niedbala ’12 is the treasurer of pro-life student organization Vita Clamantis.