There is no question that abortion is a controversial issue. For many, it was Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s views on abortion that led them to vote the way they did. But it has only been relatively recent in the timeline of the fight for women’s reproductive rights that abortion has become so black and white in mainstream politics. According to the research of Edward Carmines and James Woods, abortion became a mainstream partisan issue in 1984 due to the work of party activists responding to the sentiments of party member constituents. Although it is a relatively new phenomenon, for too long we have come to accept and partake in these black and white arguments, failing to recognize both of their inherent flaws as they neglect deeply rooted issues of structural inequality.
On one hand, the pro-life movement claims that the unborn fetus has a right to life. Regardless of the debate as to when life really begins, there is an inherent irony to this argument. Pro-life activists and politicians work to limit women’s reproductive rights through Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and ‘gag rules’ to ensure the birth of the fetus, despite the fact that the woman might not be able to provide for it. Once the child is born into a family with low economic means; however, the same individuals end up being against providing welfare services for the child that they wanted to be brought into the world. This paints a picture in which pro-life activists support the life of the fetus only up until it is born, but do not care to ensure that it will have a meaningful life once it is born. As a result, some may respond by stating that if the woman knows that she cannot afford to have a child, then she must abstain from sexual activity. Nonetheless, this argument fails to understand that similar views upheld and justified a system that would sterilize racially and socio-economically marginalized women, undermining the class and racial ties that are interwoven into our current system that benefits a certain few (aka middle and upper class women).
On the other hand, an inherent problem with the pro-choice movement is the politics of choice it suggests by maintaining abortion as a privacy issue as found in the penumbras of the constitution. On the surface, the ability to choose may appear as a mechanism of empowerment by the person who has a choice. The reality however is that women have a choice insofar as they can afford to get an abortion. Forty years ago the Hyde Amendment eliminated federal funding for abortion. What happens to all the women who cannot afford to get an abortion or to travel long distances to get an abortion because many abortion clinics are being forced to close down? Do they really have a choice to get a safe procedure? The truth is they don’t because although there is access – it is not equal access. With this unequal access, society maintains racial and socio-economic systems of structural inequality, considering women of color and from poor backgrounds have fewer means of getting a safe procedure than white middle and upper class women.
Regardless of one’s stand on abortion, it is apparent that we need to reframe the issue of abortion to one of positive abortion rights. In other words, women need the right to choose whether or not they want to have a child and the ability to undergo such actions respective of their decision. Although pro-life activists might worry and assume this is an argument for abortion, this in its totality is an argument for the creation of meaningful lives for both a woman and the child she desires to have or not to have. Instead of criminalizing and othering women who have abortions, this framework would allow us to introduce family-friendly laws that will provide affordable day-care, paid paternity leave, equal pay for equal work, subsidies on necessary infant supplies, and the federal funding of abortions with the goal of eventually diminishing the current structural problems that exist. Today, the role of being mother is the most uncompensated form of labor in the world. Instead of forcing women into an undesired role and its possible detriments or into the hardships of a much desired role, we must create circumstances that make it easier for women to make these decisions and to be empowered. Not only will this ensure that the woman lives a meaningful life, but that the child she chooses to raise will also.
For too long, pro-life and pro-choice arguments have failed to recognize the discrepancies within their arguments and the full implications of their views on the lived experiences of women and children. Many of these people have lived lesser lives because of the societal pressures that force women into motherhood regardless of their situations. It’s time to reframe this conversation within policy so that we can solve the issues that are at the root of this controversy.
Disclaimer: All views/opinions stated in this article are of the respective writer and not of The Youth Observer.