Beyond Black and White in the Abortion Debate


There's a fantastic article on Alternet right now called "Reflections from a Former Anti-Abortion Activist" – a must-read for those on both sides of the abortion debate. The article, written by the intelligent, thoughtful, and truly pro-life Elizabeth Wardle, is an excerpt from the recently published Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice. If this article is any indication, the book may not be a bad investment, especially for those who believe that the best way to move forward amidst the current political deadlock on abortion is to broaden, rather than narrow, the conversation.

Wardle's story isn't particularly shocking or sensational: growing up, she was a self-described "chaste, Christian, small-town, pro-life teenager from a happy home with two parents." She began to rethink her views on abortion when she arrived at college-she encountered points of view on sex and gender that were different from the ones she grew up with, her classes raised her historical and social consciousness, and she started to seriously contemplate what she would do, as a girl coming from a fundamentalist Christian family, if she accidentally got pregnant. Slowly, through a combination of empathy, contemplation, and pragmatism, her rigid views on the unacceptability of abortion for all women changed, and she now considers herself pro-choice.

I admire Wardle's open mind, her willingness to place herself in other people's shoes, and most of all, her ability to base her new views about abortion on the same beliefs and convictions that originally inspired her to oppose abortion-to wit, a desire to live in a just and loving society, and a belief in the value of all people's lives (ahem, including women's). The main argument in her essay is reminiscent of one of my other favorite ways in which the abortion discussion has been deepened in the past few decades, the reproductive justice approach. As Wardle argues,

Abortion is generally not the problem in need of our attention. In most cases, abortion is one result of a number of related problems; abortion is wrapped up in intimate ways with attitudes about sex, living wages, access to good jobs, healthcare, childcare, education, and so on.

It's not my style to tell anyone why or how they should believe what they believe, but I think the current discourse on abortion would be a lot more interesting and valuable if people on both sides were open to thinking and arguing like Wardle, and like advocates for reproductive justice. In South Dakota, for example, where the right to safe and legal abortion is currently hanging by a thread, I wish that some of the messaging was challenging citizens to contemplate the kinds of questions that Wardle raises, rather than playing it safe and short-sighted with a strategy that very well might wind up causing more harm than good. Just my opinion, but I'd rather have a conversation about what our society is really willing to do to support women and their children, rather than whether you have to get raped to deserve a safe abortion.

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