How to Resolve the Abortion Conflict

A just and lasting peace between pro-choice and pro-life people is possible, but it lies in the history of those who have fought over this issue, not in the tired rhetoric of "common ground."
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Once President Obama transitioned into power, all it took was one day and a web page to replace eight years of the White House's pro-life agenda with a new pro-choice one. Now, he is leading a discussion around common ground between the pro-choice and pro-life movements. Yet, the cycle of war -- victory and retribution, triumph and payback -- continues, reminding us why a final resolution to the so-called abortion war is so important. It is vital not just to break this cycle, but also to deny the leaders who feed on the conflict an excuse to grow their fight and further the divisions.

But everywhere one looks, among the speeches and the advocacy, there is no real way forward. A just and lasting peace between pro-choice and pro-life people is possible, but it lies in the history of those who have fought over this conflicted issue, and not in the tired rhetoric of "common ground."

Although it's hard to realize, the cycle of war between the pro-life and pro-choice people has not always existed. In fact, many of the divisions between pro-life and pro-choice are recent ones. People on both sides of the abortion issue worked alongside each other for years delivering babies, helping families in need and opening up the adoption process to make it more supportive and respectful of women, adopted children and their families.

Pro-choice and pro-life people can be members in the same family. Throughout the decades both faced hostility and judgment from others for their views and they often found solace in each other when they talked, and learned about their different perspectives. Pro-life people can support the legal right to have an abortion and pro-choice people can hope for a world free of the need for abortion.

The history of abortion is not remarkable by human standards. Over the course of history, people have found -- and continue to find -- ways to manipulate and control nature to make our lives easier, healthier, and longer. But it is our cultures -- our values, beliefs, morals and norms -- that help us make sense of our power and give us codes and direction for how to relate with nature. Yet, across the world and throughout history, there is great diversity in how cultures value women, the unborn, children and abortion. That is why it gets complicated when members of either side proclaim the moral high ground.

The basis for the legal right to abortion is the historic inequality of women, which is undeniable. Women used to be the property of their husbands, unable to own their own land, not to mention left legally unprotected when raped or abused. Women want and deserve their equal rights, especially to their own body.

But the value and treatment of human life is of great importance to cultures throughout the human race and the growing life inside a woman is viewed by many as sacred, including by the woman herself.

Thus pro-life people believe that protecting the growing life within a woman is paramount, even if the woman herself does not want to carry the child. And pro-choice people believe that her right to do as she chooses with her own body is more important than the value of what's growing inside of her. Now, as a pro-choice agenda has been re-established in the White House, calls for "common ground" persist. But neither will work.

A "common ground" solution will create unacceptable conditions for pro-life and pro-choice people. A country where abortion is legal, but abused teens have to get permission from their violent parents and dying women late in pregnancy are refused abortions no matter their circumstance, is a country that has written off entire segments of women as undeserving of equal rights and protection, an unacceptable concession for pro-choice people.

For the same reasons, a country that only seeks to reduce abortions, rather than eliminate them, with free contraception and comprehensive sex education does not take the strong, moral stand against the practice of abortion and only slows the loss of life, a weak-kneed attempt at appeasement that pro-life people will reject in the face of their higher calling.

In absolute terms, the two movements must remain in perpetual conflict or a compromise must be reached. The compromise is "a life choice" for all, a pro-voice agenda that would allow the people on each side to feel that their values are respected throughout the country and they are not deprived of practicing any part of their beliefs.

A key prerequisite for peace is safety for every woman who has had an abortion and the right to speak the full truth of her experience -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- and be heard from all sides. It is an injustice that these women who have not done anything illegal have been marginalized, stigmatized and silenced from all sides despite their experiences being at the center of this conflict.

It is a fact that when abortion is made illegal, abortions don't end, instead numbers of abortions go up as do deaths of women. It is important to note that pro-life people do not hate women, nor are they advocating for women to die. Yet, they must understand that this is a consequence of their political actions and the onus is on them to figure out how to uphold and promote their value of life for both women and unborn children. Only a pro-voice solution can accommodate all the voices on this issue and bring about the justice that is key to peace.

Integration of pro-choice and pro-life values is already a fact of life in the United States. Most Americans want fewer abortions, are against making it always illegal, and value the human life that grows within a pregnant women. This successful integration can be a model for "a life choice."

If the present interdependence and the historical fact of Pro-choice/Pro-life coexistence guide their leaders, and if they can see beyond the horizon of their own recent wins or losses and thirst for revenge toward a long-term solution, then these two peoples will come to realize, I hope sooner rather than later, that living under pro-voice is the only option for a lasting peace.

*Aspen Baker wrote this article after reader Mammar Qaddafi's op-ed in the New York Times on January 21, 2009 called the One-State Solution. She replaced the words "Palestine" and "Israel" with "pro-choice" and "pro-life" to demonstrate the possibilities for resolving conflict. Her re-write of the article was originally posted on RH Reality Check.

Since this article was originally published, abortion has re-entered the top of the news, from the murder of Dr. Tiller, to the President's Common Ground discussion, and the latest move on the part of pro-life Democrats to amend health care reforms by refusing payment for abortion services. The need to proactively address the abortion conflict has never been more important.

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