I love abortion. I don’t accept it. I don’t view it as a necessary evil. I embrace it. I donate to abortion funds. I write about how important it is to make sure that every woman has access to safe, legal abortion services. I have bumper stickers and buttons and t-shirts proclaiming my support for reproductive freedom. I love abortion.
And I bristle every time a fellow activist uses a trendy catch-phrase or rallying cry meant to placate pro-lifers. The first of these, “Make abortion safe, legal, and rare!” has been used for decades as a call for abortion rights.
Safe and legal are concepts I fully support, but rare is something I cannot abide. I understand the theoretical mindset: it is better for a woman to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to bear the physical and financial burden of an abortion. While my own abortion involved very little pain and a minimal financial expense, one which my ex-boyfriend was willing to share with me, even I can admit that using condoms or the pill is preferable to eight weeks of nausea and weight gain. Contraception is a valuable tool.
However, there is no need to suggest that abortion be rare. To say so implies a value judgement, promoting the idea that abortion is somehow distasteful or immoral and should be avoided. Even with affordable, accessible birth control, there will be user errors, condoms that break, moments of spontaneity. The best contraceptive access in the world won’t change the fact that we are merely human and imperfect in our routines. The best access in the world also won’t change the fact that some women are raped, while others find that even wanted pregnancies sometimes need to be terminated for the woman’s well-being or to avoid birthing a child with painful or unmanageable disabilities. Women who find themselves facing any of these situations shouldn’t feel guilty for failing to keep the numbers low.
It stands to reason that if we ensure contraception is both readily available and easily affordable for sexually active women of all ages, the need for abortion may decrease as a result. That would be a laudable accomplishment and an indication of social progress for an America otherwise plagued by anti-feminist, religious conservatism known for shaming women’s sexuality.
Nevertheless, even in the face of such (hypothetical) strides, we must remember that extenuating circumstances like health, contraceptive failure, and rape mean that abortion will always be a normal, necessary, and reasonable choice for many women. As such, we must avoid stigmatizing it in any way. No woman benefits from even the vaguest insinuation that abortion is an immoral or objectionable option. That’s the weak argument made by misogynistic, forced-birth advocates, and it has no place in a dialogue about reproductive freedom. Terminating a pregnancy is not an unethical act, yet suggesting that abortion should be rare implies that there is something undesirable about having one.
Similarly, I’ve heard reproductive rights activists claim that “no one likes abortion,” in an attempt to find common ground with anti-choicers. While it may be true that no one likes the physical act of having an abortion (any more than she may like her yearly mammogram, life-saving chemotherapy, or temporarily uncomfortable dental surgery), a great many women like abortion itself. They like knowing that an unwanted pregnancy does not have to yield an unwanted child. They like knowing that their mental and physical health take precedence over an embryo. They like knowing that they own their bodies. Many medical procedures are physically unpleasant, but that doesn’t lessen how grateful we are to have them available when we need them.
Suggesting that abortion be “safe, legal, and rare,” and crowing that “no one likes abortion,” accomplishes nothing for women’s rights. Pandering to the anti-choice movement by implying that we all find termination distasteful only fuels the fire against it. What good is common ground if it must be achieved at the expense of women who have had or will have abortions? Those women need advocates like us more than we need support from anti-abortionists. Rather than trying to cozy up to the forced-birth camp, women who value their freedom should be proud to say that they like abortion. In fact, they should venerate it whole-heartedly. Abortion is our last refuge, the one final, definitive instrument that secures our bodily autonomy. What’s not to love?