What Does It Mean To Be Unapologetically Pro-Choice?

I found myself thinking about this question last week while engaging in a twitter conversation with an anti-abortion rights individual. When he asked what I believed, I told him that I firmly believed in the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy pre-viability for ANY reason. When asked about post-viability, I started to give the standard “abortion should be permitted even then in cases of rape, incest, danger to the health or life of the woman, or in cases of fetal abnormalities.”

But then I paused.

If I truly believed what I’ve been saying about abortion, that the rights of a woman do (and MUST) trump the rights of a zygote, embryo, or fetus (ZEF), why was I trying to limit a woman’s access to the right to bodily autonomy by listing these exceptions to a restriction of that right? If a woman’s rights trump those of a ZEF, then they ALWAYS trump the rights of a ZEF. And if a woman’s rights always trump those of a ZEF, then legislating to take away those rights at any stage of pregnancy is wrong.

Believing this, and acting upon it, are what I truly think it means to be unapologetically pro-choice. The pro-choice movement, as a whole, often finds itself in the position of apologizing for women’s choice. Whether it be by focusing on whether or not there are exceptions – for example, rape, incest, life and health of the woman – to legislation restricting a woman’s access to abortion services (something I witnessed pro-choice legislators doing in spades while debating the recent DC Abortion Ban), or standing behind Roe (which was not, contrary to popular belief, a great decision for women), or getting behind the rallying cry of “safe, legal, and rare!”

If we truly believe that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is sacred under the Constitution and under international human rights law, then we shouldn’t be concerned with the abortion rate or the number of abortions, except in terms of the impact they have on women and women’s health. And since the health risks of abortion are very low (much less than those for childbirth, particularly for early abortion procedures), those concerns should be minimal, as well. And we shouldn’t feel “good” or “okay” about legislation that restricts the right to access abortion services in any way, unless it is to improve the quality of such services.  “Safe, legal, and rare”? Safe and legal, yes. But rare? What we should really be saying is that we want unwanted pregnancies to be rare, which, coincidentally, will lower the abortion rate.

Now, before any anti-abortion rights people gather their pitchforks and torches to storm my apartment, claiming that I want to rip 9 month fetuses from wombs, I think it’s worth noting that women at any stage of pregnancy, but particularly in later stages of pregnancy, don’t wake up one morning and decide to abort a fetus they’ve been gestating for 6, 7, 8, or 9 months for  “funsies.” Particularly at these later stages, the decision is gut-wrenching for women, who have generally been carefully documenting their pregnancy, taking care of their body to provide the best for a growing fetus, waiting for the day when they will birth a baby. Most of the late-term abortions that take place occur to very much wanted pregnancies, in which something terrible has occurred, something that threatens the life or health of the woman, or when a tragic, potentially fatal, fetal anomaly has been discovered. And the number of abortions that occur at these late stages account for less than 2% of all abortions.

But even if this wasn’t the case, we still shouldn’t be legislating abortion. 

Because, again, a woman’s right to bodily autonomy – that is, the right of a person who is already here – ALWAYS trumps the rights of a ZEF. Deciding when and for what reason(s) it’s “okay” for someone other than yourself to end a pregnancy is ALWAYS wrong. And believing and acting upon that belief, ladies and gents, is what I believe it means to be unapologetically pro-choice.

Till next time,

– H

© Heather Parker and Antigone Awakens, 2012-2013.


6 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be Unapologetically Pro-Choice?

  1. blackdove78

    Countries like Canada show just how unnecessary abortion laws are. Canada's last abortion law was struck down in 1988 as unconstitutional and has been regulated strictly by the medical profession as a procedure since then.

    Despite claims that restrictive laws help to lower abortion rates most recent studies by WHO and Guttmacher Institute show laws have almost no effect on abortion rates. The most effective methods of actually lowering rates were found to be comprehensive sex ed and a generally prosperous economy with extra support for pregnant women/mothers of young children. That might be why Canada's abortion rate was only 14.1 compared to America's 20 in the 2005 WHO study.

    The lawlessness of abortion even extends to late-term in Canada. Only .3% of abortions were performed after 20 weeks and most of were between 20-22 weeks. Abortions after 24 weeks were only a small handful. Almost all of these were for maternal health and/or severe fetal abnormality.

    As can be seen by Canada's record, abortion is something that's best left to the medical community to regulate. They do a damn good job policing themselves in regards to abortion just as they do with every other medical procedure. Restrictive abortion laws do nothing to lower actual rates and only serve to hinder women in getting the medical care they need.


  2. Heather

    I'm saying that a woman is ALWAYS in control of her own body, and that her rights, as a legal person, ALWAYS supersede the rights of a ZEF.

    You and I BOTH know, however, that, in reality, women DO NOT wake up at full term and decide to abort a fetus they've been gestating for 9 month for “funsies.” Women who have late term abortions do so because they are faced with the heartbreaking choice of protecting their own life / health versus that of a developing ZEF, and/or they have discovered that the ZEF they've been gestating has developed a terrible medical condition, often incompatible with life outside the womb. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

  3. blackdove78

    The fact is that in America it's never been legal to abort a full term viable fetus. I don't know any prochoicers that have a problem with reasonable post-viability restrictions as long as there's exceptions for maternal health and fetal abnormality. Even though the stats from Canada show that laws for late-term and abortion in general are completely unnecessary.

  4. Andrew O'Brien

    Heather –

    I'm not sure it is disingenuous. It doesn't so much matter that women do/do not have abortions late term. It is that the principle that determines legality in this sense (a woman's right to her body) means that it COULD happen which many of us take to mean that the principle we are using to determine legality isn't very good.

  5. Heather

    Hi Andrew,

    Long-time, no see. 😉

    I think this might be another one of our stalemates. Personally, as noted above, whether or not a woman has a late term abortions is not for me or anyone besides she and her medical professional to decide. Recognizing that others might feel otherwise is why I brought up the fact that these procedures DO NOT take place except in EXTREME circumstances. VERY EXTREME circumstances.

    In terms of the principle determining legality, I think it's a sound one, both constitutionally and under international human rights law. A woman is a person entitled to rights that supersede any rights that might be afforded to a ZEF (a non-person). As such, it is HER rights that we are to be concerned with first and foremost, and it is based on the protection of HER rights that we should be drafting and enforcing our legislation.

    Have a great evening, and I look forward to continuing this and/or other conversations in the future.


    – H


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