By Rebecca Huber
Reproductive rights remain one of the most politically charged topics in America. The most visible pro-choice conversations focus on control over one's body, while pro-life perspectives are based primarily in moral objections.
There is little dialogue encouraging an intersection of these discussions in mainstream political thought. Increases in legislation that limit reproductive healthcare in recent years signals that it is time to foster these debates in a constructive fashion. Therefore, pro-choicers must ask themselves, what is the moral inclination behind choice? And correspondingly, pro-lifers must ask, if abortion is morally unacceptable, what are other ways we can support women and their families in life?
First, the fact that the pro-choice conversation takes its deepest roots in bodily rights is ironic, and ultimately, confining. A common feminist critique notes that women are more than just their bodies, and it is due time for this argument to adapt to the reproductive rights movement.
Boiling the reproductive rights argument down to a conversation about body ownership silences the experiences of marginalized women. The process of exercising choice is nuanced, weighing factors of financial standing, support networks, partner status, mental well-being, and if one would like to be a parent in the first place. Since low-income women of color disproportionately experience a heightened wage and wealth gap, lower instances of health insurance coverage, and lower rates of partnership and marriage, these stories are effectively censored when activists rely on simplistic arguments of bodily rights.
Further, exercising reproductive choice and family planning encourages resilient parents, children, and families. Placing more stress on the preparedness and resources needed to raise a child in the pro-choice argument would better position it towards the interests of strengthening the family unit, of all shapes and sizes. This is something that seems to be wholly glossed over in the mainstream pro-choice conversation, and has the potential to speak to the specific moral foundations of the pro-life position.
Many pro-lifers do support choice when it is necessary to save the life of the woman, with “life” defined in clinical, medical terms. But what if the financial life of the woman is at risk? What if the mental health of the woman is at risk? Further, what of the life of the woman who doubts her parenting abilities and therefore does not wish to have a child? Or the woman who risks her life with an unsafe abortion in countries where the procedure is illegal (which happens with the same frequency as countries where it is legal and safe)? It seems positively anti-life - twice over – to enact legislation that forces women who are unable or unwilling to fulfill parenthood duties to bring a child into that environment.
If pro-lifers aim to foster a culture of life, then they should demonstrate support for more women and families throughout their life course. Some examples include expanding social welfare safety net programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help bridge the needs of individuals otherwise unprepared for parenthood. Conservatives, who traditionally oppose reproductive choice, have recently made attempts to curtail these exact programs, which seems counter-intuitive to a truly pro-life mission. Further, while some pro-lifers consider certain types of birth control to be a form of abortion, expanded access to preventative contraception is associated with sharp declines in abortion rates.
Finally, increased attention to policies that address household inequities such as the wage and wealth gap, universal childcare, eldercare and healthcare, paid family and medical leave, and adoption services would also do wonders to strengthen family life. However, the meager progress we have made as a country in these fields is also under attack by the same conservative politicians that hold anti-choice sentiment.
Pro-lifers would do well to realize that life comes from women. If they wish to maintain their stance against choice, they must strengthen the status and equity of women in the interest of truly advocating for life and family. As it stands, the pro-life platform comes across as punitive on a topic that most Americans take no issue with.
Similarly, pro-choicers must redirect their arguments to speak to the pro-life claim of morality and extend definitions of choice beyond bodily autonomy. Reproductive choice creates circumstances more conducive to prosperous family life. Choice engenders positive outcomes for parents – and their partners, if they have them – to be more engaged, leading to children who are more thoroughly supported and prepared to succeed and thrive.
Quite literally, the future of American life depends on it.
Rebecca Huber is a dual Master’s in Public Policy / MA in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies student at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Her specialties lie in women's familial roles, care taking, and economic security. Prior to studying at Heller, she worked at a direct service nonprofit aiding formerly incarcerated women to re-enter the Philadelphia community and volunteered as a patient escort with Planned Parenthood.