A 21st Century Look At A 20th Century Abortion Law

via iStock Photo/Natalie Ozog

I’ve been pro-choice since I read Orson Scott Card’s classic Ender’s Game,in which, the government limited the number of children parents could have, based on some sci-fi reason of intelligent selection, only parents who had especially bright children could get a waiver to have a third child who might save the world. I figured if the government could make birth choices — well, then they could control birth choices. China controls birth choices. The United States controls birth choices. I don’t like the idea of that at all. I think parents should make birth choices. Since mothers carry the responsibility of birth, and the primary responsibility of raising said children if dads choose to skip out, then mothers should be allowed to make the choices around the carrying of the child.

So, I’ve been pro-choice. I’ve been a supporter of Roe v. Wade, which holds that the termination of pregnancy is lawful until the viability of the fetus or if the mother’s health is in danger. 

Changing Viability

With current science, the viability of the fetus is changing every day. Meaning, younger and younger babies are living outside of the mother’s womb. More babies are being saved with medical intervention. Michelle Duggar’s 19th baby, Josie, at 25 weeks, weighed only 1 lb. 0.6 oz., and she lived. Not only has she lived, but she’s thriving after the first year of a lot of medical intervention. Premature babies that never would have lived in 1973, when Roe v. Wade became law, are living full, meaningful lives.

My perspective has changed from when I read that book as a freshman in college, as a 16-year-old kid. I now have these little kids, five and nine. They aren’t just “cells,” as I have heard some pro-choice abortion activist try to minimize them as. They are people. It bothers me. They aren’t hypothetical anymore.

A 20th Century Debate in a 21st Century Reality

The debate should be different than it was in 1973. Yet, somehow it’s not. I find this incredibly frustrating.

In 1973, there were hardly any birth control choices that were reliable. Condoms sucked. The birth control pill was like 75% effective. There was no Nuva Ring, no Depo Provera shot, no Norplant, no Ortho Ethra patch.

In 1973, having a baby out of wedlock probably did ruin your life or at least drastically change it. Your parents might kick you out of the house or disown you. They sent you off to relatives to avoid the shame you would bring to the family. You would get kicked out of high school, you might be forced into a terrible marriage. You would likely not go to college. You would likely be doomed to poverty. Certainly there was a terrible social stigma.

Today, I’m in my late 30s and have known lots of girls who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock and it’s been long enough that I’ve seen it play out. Here’s the thing — it hasn’t ruined their lives.

In fact, some of these women are the best mothers I know. Some of them married the baby-daddies and have solid marriages and went on to have other children and have careers. Some have been kick-ass single moms. Some had abortions and went on to have other children out of wedlock and went on to be great single moms. Some gave their babies up for adoption and went on to have families. Some had their babies, were single-moms for a time and then married and had more children and normal lives.

Having a child did not ruin their lives. Didn’t ruin one single life. Not their’s, not their baby’s. Isn’t that funny? It turned out to be a total fiction, meant to scare us into not having sex, I guess.

This year two women close to me chose to go through unplanned pregnancies, one very young and one in her 30′s. Several relatives of mine also went through the same experience. It was beautiful to watch how warmly those babies were received into this world. It was wonderful to watch how the mothers were warmly embraced and supported during their pregnancies and after. It was an honor to participate in. Was their road harder? Harder than my own road of witnessing 9/11 in my last month of pregnancy and experiencing devastating postpartum depression with my first planned pregnancy? Maybe. Maybe not. Is their future less bright because of their unmarried status? Maybe. Maybe Not. When I look at their future I have no problem seeing a very bright future in front of any of them. I don’t see a scarring social stigma of unmarried, unplanned pregnancy attached to them anymore. In fact, what I see is motivation, they have been motivated to stop playing childish games and get a move on in their futures, enroll in schools and seek out their futures with ambition and energy that they had not exhibited before.

Need I mention that the President of the United States is the son of a single mother, the product of an unplanned pregnancy? Probably not. Though I do think it’s relevant to the conversation at hand.

The Morning After Pill

The real turning point for me has been the invention of the Morning After Pill. With the invention of the Morning After Pill, I simply don’t see the need for most abortions anymore. The Morning After Pill prevents the egg from dropping so no pregnancy can occur. You can use it five days after sex and no pregnancy will occur.

Which means if rape, a date rape, a bad decision, the condom breaks, a drunken episode you wish hadn’t happened, something you don’t quite remember occurs or  you get slipped a roofie, you can take this medication and though grief may be had, babies will not.

See, for me, this should make everyone happy. It’s a brilliant and necessary compromise. This should be legal and available for everyone regardless of age and without parental consent. It should be over-the-counter without a prescription, right next to the condoms on the shelf in Walmart.

The pro-lifers have a point. It’s Life. Life is essential. Life is beautiful and lovely and worth protecting. So are women’s choices. So are women’s rights. So are women’s bodies. So are women’s dignities.

But, the reality is that girls and women will make bad choices sometimes. The reality is that men and boys will violate girls and women sometimes.

There has to be something available for women and girls in these cases. But that something doesn’t need to extend into the lives of babies. If something happens, women and girls should know they can do something quickly and efficiently.

We can educate them about what needs to be done, so they are ready and they can quickly go to any store and get the Morning After Pill. We should educate about it, like we educate about the use of condoms. Let’s just be done with this 30-year-old unsavory, hostile and embarrassing battle that has run its course and has gotten very, very stale.

Before you think I’m speaking from my Ivory Tower, in my younger years, I assure you there were plenty of times when I woke up and my first thought was, “Oh my God, I made a terrible mistake!” But, I assure you, it was my very first thought. And after a date rape, I did take the Morning After Pill, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it was better than the alternatives.

Hope & Reality 

Will the Morning After Pill resolve every single instance in which every single woman might want to seek an abortion? I am not that naive. But I don’t want to keep having an outdated 1973 conversation about abortion given 21st Century medical advances and a lack of social stigma about nontraditional pregnancy time lines and circumstances.   My tolerance for legal 2nd trimester abortions is gone because I consider them “viable” as defined by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.   I no longer believe many of the hypothetical fictions and “justifications” often touted by pro-choice advocates are acceptable reasons for getting an abortion.  I think we can do a hell of a lot better job educating about birth control methods and providing access to them; we should be making better use of and educating about the Morning After Pill and I think we should be romanticizing the hell out of adoption as a beautiful option.

Tracee Sioux is the founder of the blog, The Girl Revolution and the author of Love Distortion: Love Stories We Tell Our Girls.

  • You’re right – the debate SHOULD be changed to reflect the reality of today’s medicine and social mores. Unfortunately, the anti-abortion crowd doesn’t seem to be happy with just making it impossible to obtain an abortion. They not only don’t want to see the Morning After Pill made available (not even via prescription), but they don’t want women to get any information about any kind of contraception, period. They want to get rid of sex education in public schools and replace with abstinence-only programs (which have proven to be ineffective). They want to keep women in the dark about their options.

    It is tough for the pro-choice lobby to give when the legal right to have an abortion has been technically eroded by the so-called “pro-life” people — who don’t appear to give a damn about life once the baby is born.

  • I hear what you’re saying Donna, and I can see how it would appear that way because those are the loudmouths who get all the press.

    However, I come from Religious Pro-Life Mormons and my husband’s family is Religious Pro-Life Evangelical Charismatics. I lived in Utah for my adolescence through mid-20s and then did an eight year stint in the Bible Belt of Religious Pro-Live Conservative East Texas.

    Based on my experience with Religious Pro-Life real human beings, all of them use birth control, believe in educating about effective means of birth control (in roundabout ways – for instance my sister who taught junior high sex ed in Utah was not permitted to discuss condom use UNLESS a student asked the question and then she was permitted to discuss it freely, of course they asked the question) and sanction the government helping women get access to birth control methods. Quite a lot of them depend on agencies like Planned Parenthood and Women’s Health Clinics while they are in poverty, especially in Utah where the women stay home and the young husbands are finishing college and start their careers. They see the reality of women needing birth control to stay off welfare with unplanned pregnancies and they don’t take hard lines about various birth control methods.

    In other words, those loud mouth extremists — they don’t have the numbers to get the votes. Not in the general population and not in Congress. They never will. They are a very small majority of Pro-Lifers.

    Which means, in my opinion, the Pro-Choice Lobby CAN afford to give a little on abortion, especially outlawing 3rd and 2nd term abortions, and this will allow the Pro-Lifers to step up and voice their support for birth control in a louder way. Right now they feel backed into a corner with the abortion issue. It’s been painted as “all or nothing” by the loud mouths.

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