The debate over abortion has reignited in the United States in recent weeks, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to a Texas law that places new regulations upon abortion providers. Opponents of the law argue that it places undue burdens upon women seeking an abortion, as it will likely result in the closure of 7 of the 17 abortion clinics currently in operation across the state.
An article published in The Atlantic highlighted these concerns by citing two recent studies conducted at the University of Texas, which found that well over 100000 women in Texas have at some point attempted to end a pregnancy by themselves, the vast majority through the unsupervised use of abortifacient medications. The intended take-away message of this article is that the Texas statute should be overturned because of the desperate measures which women may be driven to as a result of reduced access to abortion providers (it should be noted, however, that the researchers of the study in question were unable to conclude whether past restrictions on abortion in Texas have actually resulted in an increase in self-administered abortions.) What this article perhaps predictably fails to discuss, however, is that a pro-life approach to these difficult pregnancies does a better job of actually addressing their underlying causes than the most liberal of abortion policies.
Pro-life and pro-choice advocates disagree on many things, but one area of common cause is that both seek to support women who are experiencing crisis pregnancies. As such, statistics such as the ones cited in the Texas studies should be troubling to both sides of the debate, as they paint a picture of a large number of women facing isolation and despair in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. The key difference, though, lies in how these two groups approach this serious problem. From a pro-choice perspective, the default solution to a crisis pregnancy is to eliminate the pregnancy, which is why any abortion-limiting restriction is seen as so damaging. While seemingly merciful, this “solution” comes at the terrible cost of the life of a pre-born child. Less apparently, however, it also fails to adequately address the factors which have created the crisis-component of the crisis pregnancy. A society where abortion is the easiest option to provide to those who feel hopeless in the face of a pregnancy loses the incentive to actually tackle the issues which underlie that sense of hopelessness.
Contrast this with the pro-life approach. From the pro-life position, termination is not an option, because ending the pregnancy results in the killing of another human being. As a result, the pro-life philosophy forces us to seek out the deeper reasons that motivate a woman’s decision to seek an abortion. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the decision to undergo an abortion is taken due to a particular fear or concern, be it a question of financial insecurity or a fear of irreparable disruption to daily life. It is through recognizing these complex social factors which complicate pregnancy and parenthood that pro-life campaigners have been motivated to expand their advocacy work to issues such as improving access to adoption services and promoting a more parent-friendly culture on university campuses. A refusal to countenance abortion as a just pregnancy option has helped make the pro-life movement far more sensitive to identifying and trying to mitigate the various factors which can contribute to the crisis component of a crisis pregnancy.
Bolstering this pro-life approach to the challenge of crisis pregnancies are the results of a survey which was included as a component of the University of Texas studies, which sought out women’s perspectives on the issue of self-induced abortion. In it, the most commonly selected answer was “I am against abortion, but I can understand why a woman would try this,” which was closely followed by “I am against abortion, which is why I am against a woman doing this on her own.” One can infer from these responses that in a large number of cases, the decision to end a pregnancy is taken in spite of a strong moral opposition to abortion. For many women, therefore, abortion is not a solution to their problems, but seemingly the only option provided to them by a society which sees it as the most expedient answer to offer to those facing complex social or economic circumstances.
In short, if we focused our efforts on removing the “crisis” rather than the “pregnancy” from “crisis pregnancy,” our society could do a much better job at helping support the many vulnerable women who see abortion as unjust but feel helpless to make any other choice. While this message is a direct challenge to the prevailing pro-choice culture, it is also a reminder to the pro-life movement not to lose sight of the complex nature of our campaign. While we believe that legislation against abortion remains necessary, stories like this one from The Atlantic reinforce that legislation is not in and of itself sufficient to end the tragic impact of abortion upon our society. A movement which succeeds only in pushing abortions from the clinics to the back-alleys is a movement which has not succeeded at all. In seeking an end to suffering, we must always seek its root, and be driven by compassion and empathy for those who far too often suffer alone.