abortion alabama
Ethics & Morality

Abortion banned in Alabama: a pro-choice/pro-life dialogue

This is a guest post by Neil Richardson, a church community worker in Croydon, teacher of Latin, and author of Courting Disaster. He is a passionate advocate for the rights of the unborn.

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In the last few weeks, eight American states have passed laws to restrict abortions. Utah and Arkansas voted to limit abortions up to the middle of the second trimester. Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia limited abortions from when the heartbeat is detected (can be as early as 6 weeks).

This week, Missouri voted to ban abortions at 8 weeks, and Alabama went furthest of all, banning all abortions (except to save the life of the mother).

I’ve read a lot of the comments on people reacting to this news, especially under the BBC article on Facebook. I’ve collated together, roughly, a top 10 of most commonly used arguments as to why these decisions are considered to be so outrageous by my fellow Brits.

I’m going to try not to caricature these positions and give them a fair hearing to show that I do understand, I hope, the pro-choice position. If you are pro-choice, please let me know if I’ve misrepresented these arguments in any way. In return, pro-choice friends, please do me the courtesy of understanding why we pro-lifers take the stance that we do, without resorting to verbal abuse, name-calling or straw men. It’s always good to strive for better understanding of alternative views, even if one is not persuaded by them. I hope the dialogue format helps. Please feel free to engage below if you have something useful to contribute.

1. Whataboutism

Pro-choicer: OK, so why are you making such a big deal about the right to life of the unborn child? WHAT ABOUT gun control? What about school shootings? What about the death penalty? What about looking after the already-born? You may say you’re pro-life, but really you’re just pro-birth. What about child support? I bet you won’t go after those no-good fathers who spread their seed without taking any responsibility! What about all those unwanted kids? How is it fair to them to bring them into a world where they’re unloved? What about the strain on child services and foster homes? What about the planet? Aren’t we overpopulated anyway? Go Thanos! (JOKES!)

Pro-lifer: The right to life is the most basic right, from which all other rights spring. This is obvious. If you’re dead, then freedom of speech, religion and movement are all useless. We’re debating the most basic right.

But we can go on in another debate and talk about gun control, if you wish. Certainly we pro-life Brits tend to be more in favour of it than our American cousins. But forgive us, it’s somewhat besides the point at hand. The same applies to all the other issues you’ve raised. I’m sure you don’t mean to do this, but it seems like you’re changing the subject rather than bringing forward good arguments for abortion? Correct me if I’m wrong, please. Of course we are pro-life, from conception to natural death. Some pro-lifers (not all) support the death penalty precisely because they value life and feel the punishment for the crime of murder should reflect this value.

We don’t lose interest when babies are born. In fact, many of us are involved with parenting, fostering, adoption, sponsoring children’s education, teaching, childcare, paediatrics, social services and all kinds of things to make the lives of children better. It’s funny that you should assume otherwise! And you’re completely right about deadbeat dads! Of course they should pay to support their children. But have you considered why dads feel so disenfranchised, as well, if their partners can end the life of the child they have together without them having any say? Still, here I am changing the subject. Let’s try to stick to whether abortion is right or wrong! But since you’ve raised these points… Nobody wants a world where children are unloved. But many of my friends have opened up their homes to adopt children. Children can have wonderful lives even with very difficult beginnings. Go watch ‘Shazam!’ And still, why would killing a kid be a better solution than fostering? The planet’s problem isn’t overpopulation – it’s poor distribution of resources, war, greed and selfishness. With more people dedicated to the right tasks, we can work together to solve problems like food and water shortages. Hope these help!

2. Oppression of women

Pro-choicer: I can’t believe you hate women so much! You are such a misogynist. Think of how much progress has been made since the sexual revolution in the 60s. Women have fought long and hard for equal pay, recognition in the public square and reproductive rights. You and your American redneck friends want to take away all these hard-won gains and subjugate women back into some kind of dystopic, medieval, sharia-style Gilead! You’re the kind of people Margaret Atwood was warning us about in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Under his eye! Bet you’d love that. You want women back to being bare-foot and pregnant, nothing but baby machines and domestic slaves.

Pro-lifer: You’re clumping a lot of issues together here. Why does standing up for the right of the unborn child equal hating and oppressing women? I don’t get that equation. Half the unborn babies are little women, aren’t they? What about their women’s rights? Or don’t they get them because they’re too small and literally have no voice? As Dr Seuss says, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Why do we have to choose between women’s rights and babies’ rights? What kind of society are we creating where the best option we can give a woman is the terminate the life of the small occupant of her womb? Some early women’s rights campaigners (especially suffragists) were really anti-abortion as they saw it as a means of oppressing women even more. We are in favour of equal pay and votes for women and for men to treat women with respect. We don’t tolerate misogyny or viewing women as inferior in status or value. Half of us are women! Women have many contraceptive options that don’t involve abortion. In fact, abortion is not contraception, because it doesn’t prevent conception, does it? It ends the life that has already been conceived. Surely one of the greatest rights and privileges a woman has (which a man could never have) is to have the miracle of a new human person growing within her womb! That’s something to be celebrated, surely? How are women helped by abortion? The problems in the Handmaid’s Tale are not that women don’t have access to abortion. It’s that they are the sex-slaves of their masters. In fact, Atwood’s vision is that almost everybody in that dystopia is enslaved in some way. It’s a critique of totalitarianism, and a million miles away from demonstrating why it’s fundamental to a woman’s rights that she can dispose of her unborn child.

3. Extreme cases

Pro-choicer: Yeah, yeah. You still want women forced to have to carry a baby to term – even if she doesn’t want to! Even if she was raped by her dad! That is sick! How you could expect a traumatised 12 year old to pay for the rest of the life for something some twisted psycho did to her. Every time she looks into that baby’s eyes, she will see the eyes of the man who violated her. And you don’t even want to bring an exception clause. I hope this never happens to someone you love because then maybe you’d take a more compassionate view, and it might be too late.

Pro-lifer: Rape and incest are shocking and evil. You’re going to find complete agreement from me there, of course. And we pro-lifers believe in the rule of law – we agree with you that rapists should be punished with severity. But this is the point: why punish the child for the sins of its father? When did two wrongs ever make a right? When is the appropriate punishment for rape to impose the death penalty on the baby? Additionally, many of us know brave women who have been raped and have gone on to carry those babies to term. Those children have been loved and nurtured and are worthy of life just like anyone else. A person is a person whatever their origin. And there is always adoption – a much better option. A rape victim has been horribly violated, but the best solution for her is not to end the life of her child, because this will be a second trauma for her, scarring her emotionally and possibly physically. Pro-life people need to stand by such wounded women and do everything in our power to put our money where our mouth is, giving them and their child every support they need for as long as they need it. In short, love them both.

4. No uterus, no opinion!

Pro-choicer: Ha! Have you noticed it’s mostly old, white men imposing their disgusting outmoded views on women? I bet men would legalise abortion everywhere up to birth if they could get pregnant. Well, I say, no uterus, no opinion! What possible right could a man have to comment on an issue that will never affect him personally?

Pro-lifer: It’s actually a woman governor, Kay Ivey, who signed the Alabama bill into law. Also, did you know it was nine old, white men on the Supreme Court who brought in Roe v Wade in 1973 which legalised abortion in all states. You didn’t hear pro-choice people objecting to old, white men then! So let’s be consistent. We all have opinions on female genital mutilation (FGM), human trafficking, sex trafficking, the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations and so on. But few of us have had to go through these things. Do we have no right to speak on these matters? I’m glad that non-slaves like Wilberforce fought so hard alongside ex-slaves like Frederick Douglass to bring slavery to an end. Abortion does affect men personally – the little men in the womb, the fathers who wish their child hadn’t been aborted, the brothers, the grandfathers, the ones who support their teenage daughters and friends when they do keep their babies. We are all one human race, and none of us is an island.

5. Take your rosaries off my ovaries!

Pro-choicer: Religion has no place in politics. You pro-lifers are all religious nuts! If you weren’t God-bothering so much, maybe you’d have time to confront real issues like child poverty and then maybe more women would feel they could keep their babies WHICH IS THEIR CHOICE, NOT YOURS! Religion causes all the wars and is all about subjugation of women and minorities.

Pro-lifer: None of the arguments I’ve used so far have been religious, have they? We are all arguing ethically here, asking serious questions about what is best for society: for babies, women and men. Some of us are informed by our religious beliefs, and some are not. Either way, our arguments are scientific (life begins at conception, not at birth) and civic (human rights should be for all, and the vulnerable should be more protected, not easily killable).

6. Backstreet

Pro-choicer: If you ban abortion, you will drive it underground. It will be horrific. The old dark days of coat-hangers will be back. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Women are going to die because your sick, backwards philosophy! Nobody says it’s an easy decision, and sometimes it might be a little selfish, but you’re talking about criminalising it, for goodness’ sake! You’re going to have blood on your hands.

Pro-lifer: You could use this argument for anything. If abortion is the deliberate killing of a human person, then no argument for it is sufficient. There is no safe way to kill a baby. We don’t let people beat their spouses for fear that it will drive it behind closed doors. We ban domestic abuse, and rightly so, whether it happens ‘underground’ or not. Legalising things legitimises them, and we can’t do this if we truly believe the unborn baby is a human person. Obviously, you may just see it as a clump of cells, but then you don’t really need any justification for abortion. It’s just like getting a tooth removed. But then it wouldn’t be hard decision, would it?

7. My body, my choice

Pro-choicer: Women should have bodily autonomy. Nobody has the right to tell a woman to do with her own body. Stopping someone getting an abortion is a kind of violation on a level with rape. How dare anyone tell me or my friends what we can do with our bodies! It’s no business of anyone’s but mine.

Pro-lifer: Nobody would debate bodily autonomy. We don’t force people to have their wisdom teeth removed or have their nails cut. It’s because there are two bodies that we are making this stand. It’s because of the little human person’s body inside the bigger human person’s body that we are wanting to see them protected. Your body only has two hands, one head and one nose. So when you have an abortion, you are not having part of your body removed. You are having a completely distinct human person, with her own hands, head and nose removed – violently and fatally. This is no way to treat a guest. Bodily autonomy is cherished, but not if it interferes with the bodily autonomy of another. That is exactly what abortion does. It is the ultimate anti-human act – instead of a parent saying to their child, “I will lay down my life for you,” the parent says, “You will lay down your life for me.”

8. Back to the dark ages!

Pro-choicer: By bringing in this offensive anti-choice legislation, we are thrusting our civilisation back into the dark ages. Hey, Republicans? Haven’t you heard? It’s the 21st century now! We’ve moved on. You’re on the wrong side of history. We should be progressing as a human race, but this is a seriously backwards step.

Pro-lifer: Are you assuming that later equals better? We had a horrendous amount of genocide in the 20th century, even dwarfing the bloody 19th century. Are you so sure the human project is moving onwards and upwards in the direction of the life? Is it so very dark to want the life of the unborn child to be cherished? We are not anti-technology. We are not anti-human rights. We are very much in favour of human rights from conception.

9. Viability

Pro-choicer: Listen, mate. If this clump of cells can’t exist on its own outside my body, then it has no independent existence. It’s just this blob and it’s up to me what I do with it. It’s not a viable human person. Maybe it’s a potential human, but that’s all it is. And it’s my choice to do what I want with my womb.

Pro-lifer: It’s true that some human persons can’t exist outside of the womb, though progressively medical science is making it possible for premature babies to survive outside the womb at earlier points of gestation. In reality, none of us can exist in improper environments, such as under the sea or in outer space or without clothing in the North Pole or without water in the desert. Our size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency (SLED) don’t make us any less human, just more or less vulnerable. Surely we should be protecting the more vulnerable, the less ‘viable’ amongst us, rather than destroying them?

10. Trump

Pro-choicer: Hmm, well none of this would have happened without that orange-skinned guy with the funny hair in the White House. What a nightmare! America has gone mad voting in this nutter. It’s no surprise to me that it’s under his watch that these retrograde steps are being taken. Shame on you, Trump, and all the deplorables who back you.

Pro-lifer: Trump is a phenomenon, that’s true. But it’s not Trump behind this. It’s the individual states and their legislatures. Trump said 20 years ago he was “very pro-choice” and has praised Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortion provider in the US. He admitted that he had probably donated to them in the past. Anyway, thanks for engaging in this vital (literally, life and death) topic and hopefully we’ve ‘got’ each other a little bit more?

Pro-choicer: Yeah, OK, thanks. I still think it’s some kind of Orwellian nightmare, what’s happening in the US right now. I can’t believe you are going along with this nonsense.

Pro-lifer: Can’t really take any other position, can I, if the unborn is a real living human person like you or me? God bless you, anyway.

Pro-choicer: See! I told you! It always comes back to religion.

Pro-lifer: Ha – OK, you got me. 😂