The Wide Spectrum of Life: A Pro-Choice Perspective

Stand with Texas WomenI posted this quote on my Facebook from the Texas State Affairs Hearing on HB 2:

“Tell me, where does pro-life stop and start? Does pro-life stop when a child is born?”
-Rep. Sylvester Turner

I don’t think there are simple answers to either side of the situation, but I think it’s important to move the discussion of life beyond a child being carried to term.   By posing this question, Rep. Turner is presenting and highlighting the rhethorical and real-life complexities related to the decision to have children and the lives of those children, such as:

  • the multitude of circumstances that may lead to a woman becoming pregnant
  • the type of pregnancy a woman might be going through
  • the circumstances that a variety of pregnant women may be in when they realize they are pregnant
  • the complexities of women’s health that may relate to all the above
  • socio-economic factors that may exist before and after a woman becomes pregnant
  • the lives of those children who are born into any of those scenarios

When we polarize the discussion to life/death (especially when that definition and understanding differs among people), we create a rhetorical lens that incorrectly simplifies a situation.  How can this be true when each side may have different perspectives that exist within them? 

Some people are pro-life because of

  • personal stories – their own narrative of existence even
  • their religious upbringing and understanding
  • their way of contemplating that they don’t know and they’d rather be safe than sorry  

Some people are pro-choice because of

  • personal stories – their own narrative of existence even
  • their religious upbringing and understanding
  • their way of contemplating that they don’t know and can’t tell other people what to do
  • wanting to have options

(See what I did there?) 

This question, to me, is a way to reframe our discussion, to beam a bright shining light on the fact that: nothing about this is easy.

In the attempt to improve HB 2 with amendments (many reasonable, some just to posit important philosophical points about life/death) the other day, it was obvious (at least to me) that the conversation had very little to do with life as we know it.  Amendments regarding comprehensive sex education, extending the time frame when parents can turn their children over to the state without questions and consequences, and even funding the clinics that will be otherwise closed by HB2 were all tabled.

Life is a continuous cycle.  Life does not begin when a child may or may not exist.  Advocating for that life to succeed does not stop when a child is born into the world.  In fact, that’s probably the most challenging part – to raise a child in this world, to teach that child, to nurture him/her to become someone who makes good decisions and gives something back to the world.  Because if that does not happen, the cycle continues into future generations.

Life is filled with potentially terrible situations and challenges.  If government does not choose to mitigate these situations – while advocating for more lives to born – the poor will stay poor; the uneducated will stay uneducated; and the role that violence may play in all these scenarios is given new life.  Who wants that?

Life isn’t just breathing; the government doesn’t have a hands-off approach to the lives of citizens – we vote for them, we pay taxes, and they provide us services and, in this country, tries to balance a certain level of equity.  If there are 30+ clinics that will be closed because of the actions of the Texas Legislature, that is the government assuming responsibility for lives and being involved in the consequences of actions.

If we are potentially making/ “asking” more women to have children who may not want to have children or who may not able to afford to have more children, what are we doing to deal with repercussions of that decision?  Are we creating better educational programs that increase knowledge regarding women’s bodies and women’s health, and therefore increase better decision making and knowledge about how to prevent pregnancy?  Are we providing better social welfare programs that help take care of children who did not choose to be born under certain socio-economic situations, but arguably deserve to have fair chance in this world?  Are we improving our social service options so that foster care and adoption are more feasible and cost-efficient options for those who can’t have children?

These are questions that are directly related to life as we know it, as we have to live it.

Some of my friends took Turner’s quote to be an argument.  But it is not an argument.  It’s a question.  It’s a valid question that deserves discussion and should lead to more questions and real answers:  Why are we not more pro-life about…life?

The world is not binary.  I’m personally pro-life, but socially pro-choice.  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this perspective.  I think when confronted with the decision to have an abortion, a lot of women would probably say no.  The position to be “pro-choice” is not about being “pro-abortion”.  The position to be pro-choice is to provide all women with the choice to have one if they need one and to have one under safe circumstances.  The percentage of women having late-term abortions is small, but the impact of closing 30+ clinics in a state as large as Texas is high.  If you really want less women to make the difficult decision to have an abortion that late, you wouldn’t be closing 30+ clinics in the process under unwarranted claims about quality of care, you would be doing whatever you can to keep them open.

Recently I’ve been reading To Kill A Mockingbird (It’s my church’s summer reading selection), and I’m reminded a lot about its themes with all of this going on.  Atticus tells his young daughter Scout:

“First of all … if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … -until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I think we may try to do the part where we “climb into [his or her] skin” but I do not think we spend enough time “walk[ing] around in it.”  There are things I know I believe and there are decisions I would make for myself.  Do I personally think 20 weeks is a bit late to have an abortion? In general, yes.  But if I look at the bigger picture, if I take in all the scenarios where that might have to happen I can’t imagine why anyone would ever implement something without exceptions or not do anything that they can to make sure it doesn’t come to that.

I wouldn’t want to walk for too long in someone’s shoes that has to decide at 21 weeks whether it’s the life of the mom or the baby.  And I especially wouldn’t want to walk for too long in a woman’s shoes who has to stand on the edge of that cliff and make that decision.  But if you don’t walk in them at all, when you don’t think about lives different from your own, you can’t reasonably say you are making a socially-conscious decision for everyone involved.

If you did, you might see the wide spectrum of life, where it is not any place to push anyone over any cliff, where the best bet is to help cast a wide net, reach out with your hands to help others as they are asking to be helped.

Rep. Ruth McClendon stated in her argument for comprehensive sex education:

“Everyone does not come from a house like many of us grew up in. A lot of the children come from homes that we would be ashamed to say that a child lived in that environment. So when you say that sex behavior is learned in the home – yes it should be – […] but there are situations where children cannot get this type of nurturing, that we would want them to have. So the next place you go to is the public school system, [where] we are putting money into the school system for sex education classes. These classes at the present time are not thorough at all…we need to do something different. We need to do something better than we are doing it now.”

We do need to do something better than we are doing now, and maybe we can start by looking at life as a whole – in all of its varieties, in all of its contexts, in all of the decisions that happen before and after all kinds of choices.