How to defend pro choice beliefs

The Bible never mentions abortion, but it does offer support for choice.

Who is pro-choice and religious? Denominations with official and long-standing pro-choice positions include the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and Reform and Conservative Judaism. These organizations have a diversity of views about abortion and recognize it as a morally complex decision that must be made by the person most affected–the woman.

Among religious groups, the pro-choice position is nuanced, recognizing that most people believe abortion–as well as bearing children-are matters for individual conscience, not government or religious mandate. Pro-choice denominations don’t seek to impose their views on others or to make them law. They recognize that in our pluralistic society, politicians must not be allowed to impose laws about childbearing based on any particular belief about when life begins. The notion that life begins at the moment of conception is a belief held by some, but not all, religious groups.

In fact, the Bible never mentions abortion and does not deal with the question of when life begins. Genesis 2:7 (God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being”) refers to the specific, unique event of the creation of Adam out of the earth. It says nothing about the process of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life. [Editor’s note: Read more detailed pro-choice and pro-life analyses of Exodus 21.]

Religions have many different–and changing–tenets about abortion. Some oppose abortion in all cases because they believe human life begins when an egg and sperm meet. They hold this belief even though medical science defines pregnancy as beginning with the implantation of the fertilized egg. Others believe abortion must be allowed in cases of rape and incest. Some believe abortion is required in certain circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is in danger.

Many religions believe the decision must be the woman’s because she is the person most affected.

Christians and Jews agree that all life is sacred–the life of a woman as well as the potential life of a fetus. Many Protestant Christians emphasize the New Testament’s teaching of the priesthood of all believers, meaning that everyone has direct access to God and therefore the ability to do God’s will.

The Bible tells us that God acts within human beings to set us free and enable us to assume responsibility for ourselves. If we make wrong choices, God forgives us. Humans, by the grace of God, have developed medicine, surgery, and psychiatry to prolong and enhance life. These same medical approaches can be chosen to prolong or enhance the life of a woman for whom a specific pregnancy would be dangerous.

All Jewish authorities base their understanding of the Jewish view of abortion on two basic Jewish principles–that preserving life is of paramount importance, and that the fetus does not possess the same status as a living woman. Most Jewish thinkers throughout history have held that when a woman’s life or health is at stake, abortion is permissible and sometimes even mandatory, regardless of the stage of fetal development.

Together, pro-choice Christians and Jews base their views on these biblical principles:

Stewardship. Genesis tells us we are created in God’s image and that with that gift comes the responsibility for “.every living thing that moves upon the earth” (1:27-28). It follows that, as moral agents, women have the God-given obligation to make decisions about the course of action that seems most responsible in cases of unwelcome pregnancy.

Free will. Created in God’s image, we are endowed with the ability to make moral choices. This ability is the very basis of an individual’s dignity and autonomy.

Personhood. The Bible’s portrait of personhood centers on the woman and man who bear the image of God and live in responsible relation to God.

The sanctity of life. All religions revere life. It is because we believe in the sanctity of all human life that we are sensitive to the effects of an unwanted pregnancy on women and families. We pray for a world in which every child is wanted, loved, and cared for. Because we believe in the sanctity of human life that we believe a child has the right to enter the world wanted and loved. Because we believe in the sanctity of human life we are sensitive to the effects of an unwanted pregnancy upon individual women, upon their loved ones and their families, and we recognize that they, not we, must determine what is best for those directly concerned and involved.

Respect. The Bible places full responsibility for procreation in the hands of parents. Requiring a woman to complete a pregnancy against her will devalues motherhood and shows lack of respect for women.

Religious Liberty. Religious Americans honor the dignity and value of all human life but recognize that different religious traditions hold a variety of views regarding when life begins and when ensoulment occurs. In this nation all are free to live according to their consciences and religious beliefs. No one religious philosophy should govern the law for all Americans.

In conclusion, being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. Bishop Melvin Talbert of the United Methodist Church put it this way in a 1996 sermon: “In reality, there are many of us who believe that choice is the most logical and the most responsible position any religious institution can take on this issue. My sisters and brothers, we are dealing with something that is deeply spiritual and cannot be left to those who would choose to politicize this issue and further victimize those who must ultimately decide for themselves.”

How to defend pro choice beliefs

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Your Pro-Choice Cheat Sheet: How to Respond to Anti-Abortion Arguments

How to defend pro choice beliefs

From Flickr user “openDemocracy”

Last week, my school was “lucky” enough to play host to an anti-abortion group called Creating Equal. The group stopped by for two days as part of their annual “justice ride,” in order to spread propaganda and put down the pro-choice movement.

Their argument was based on the fact that abortion is “ageism” and the group showed pictures of “abortions,” as well as a video of what an abortion looks like (on a large screen in the middle of campus, no less).

When students realized what was happening, they formed a counter-protest, complete with safe spaces to help those who were triggered by the images. Arguments over ethics and the pro-choice movement littered Facebook and one counter-protest participant admitted that an anti-abortionist had her talking in circles.

I get it. Talking pro-choice can be hard, especially if you don’t have a fact sheet in front of you or you have trouble thinking on your feet.

Here are some of the more common anti-abortionist arguments that I heard, as well as responses for you to keep in your back pocket:

“If you have sex, you have to be prepared to be responsible for the outcome of your actions.”

Not all people who have sex choose to get pregnant, and even those who do should not be forced to continue a pregnancy. This essentially shames people for enjoying sex and makes it all about reproduction rather than pleasure or connecting with a partner. I would also argue that it is more responsible for a person to have an abortion if they know that they cannot care for or support a child. The American foster and adoption systems are already very full, and there are not necessarily government systems (welfare, universal healthcare, etc.) that might provide for a child. Abortion might very well be the most responsible decision for a person.

“How is it right for someone to decide whether an innocent and defenseless child can live? All humans are created equal.”

An important thing to remember about pregnancy is that fetuses are dependent on the pregnant person’s body in order to stay alive. And because of an idea called bodily autonomy (i.e. the reason that you can’t be forced to donate organs even if it would save a person’s life), we cannot make a person continue a pregnancy when they do not want to. I would also point out that it isn’t right for someone to decide whether a person has to continue a pregnancy that might negatively impact them physically, socially and financially.

“I’m okay with abortion in the case of rape, but that’s it.”

We already know that many people who are raped don’t report it, so this would make it impossible for even people who actually have been assaulted to prove that they are “worthy” of an abortion. Also, lives conceived through rape are fundamentally no different than fetuses conceived otherwise, so this argument destroys the “pro-life” belief of many anti-abortionists.

Specific to the demonstration on campus, someone said: “The pictures were graphic, but that’s the truth about abortion.”

Except it’s not. Surgical abortion is actually one of the safest types of medical procedures. Giving birth incurs 13 times more risk of death than having an abortion. Anti-abortionists choose to show graphic images for shock value. Most often, these photos are of miscarriages, late-term abortions (which do not represent the majority of abortions), or are otherwise Photoshopped. The overwhelming majority of abortions are safe, clean and easy—at least, when they are legal.

This isn’t an argument, but one anti-abortionist did mention this to me: “Conception occurs immediately after having sex.”

This isn’t even remotely scientifically correct. This is also assuming that everyone gets pregnant from penetrative intercourse, while many people might choose to get pregnant through other means, like in vitro fertilization. Still, even referencing penetrative sex, conception can happen multiple days after sexual intercourse. This isn’t necessarily an argument, but it was funny to me and serves as a good reminder that many anti-abortionists use incorrect facts and statistics, fallacies in their arguments, and made-up ideas.

If you do get in an argument where you need to defend reproductive justice, relax. It’s easier to make mistakes and to say rash things when you are worked up, so calm down and articulate your viewpoints clearly. You don’t need to include specific facts to make a point (for example, “legal, surgical abortion is actually a really safe procedure” is just as valid as providing the medical risk statistics).

If you are interested in looking up statistics, or looking up more reproductive justice talking points, I recommend pro-choice research sites. This article also covers more anti-abortion arguments and what you should say in response, as this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

What are your go-to talking points when discussing pro-choice and reproductive justice?

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How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views
in 5 Minutes or Less

Suppose that you have just five minutes to graciously defend your pro-life beliefs with friends or classmates. Can you do it with rational arguments? What should you say? And how can you simplify the abortion issue for those who think it’s hopelessly complex?

Here’s how to succeed in three easy steps:

1) Clarify the issue. Pro-life advocates contend that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. This simplifies the abortion controversy by focusing public attention on just one question: Is the unborn a member of the human family? If so, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, killing them for any reason requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled.

In other words, arguments based on “choice” or “privacy” miss the point entirely. Would anyone that you know support a mother killing her toddler in the name of “choice and who decides?” Clearly, if the unborn are human, like toddlers, we shouldn’t kill them in the name of choice anymore than we would a toddler. Again, this debate is about just one question: What is the unborn? At this point, some may object that your comparisons are not fair—that killing a fetus is morally different than killing a toddler. Ah, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? Are the unborn, like toddlers, members of the human family? That is the one issue that matters. (See the “Toddler Tactics” article for more on this.)

Remind your critics that you are vigorously “pro-choice” when it comes to women choosing a number of moral goods. You support a woman’s right to choose her own doctor, to choose her own husband, to choose her own job, and to choose her own religion, to name a few. These are among the many choices that you fully support for women. But some choices are wrong, like killing innocent human beings simply because they are in the way and cannot defend themselves.1 No, we shouldn’t be allowed to choose that.

2) Defend your pro-life position with science and philosophy. Scientifically, we know that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Leading embryology books confirm this.2 For example, Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud write, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”3 Prior to his abortion advocacy, former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would question this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge,” he wrote in his book Life in the Making.4

Philosophically, we can say that embryos are less developed than newborns (or, for that matter, toddlers) but this difference is not morally significant in the way abortion advocates need it to be. Consider the claim that the immediate capacity for self-awareness bestows value on human beings. Notice that this is not an argument, but an arbitrary assertion. Why is some development needed? And why is this particular degree of development (i.e., higher brain function) decisive rather than another? These are questions that abortion advocates do not adequately address.

As Stephen Schwarz points out, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant such that we can say that you had no rights as an embryo but you do have rights today. Think of the acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences:5

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.

3) Challenge your listeners to be intellectually honest. Ask the tough questions. When critics say that birth makes the unborn human, ask, “How does a mere change of location from inside the womb to outside the womb change the essential nature of the unborn?” If they say that brain development or self-awareness makes us human, ask if they would agree with Joseph Fletcher that those with an IQ below 20 or perhaps 40 should be declared non-persons? If not, why not? True, some people will ignore the scientific and philosophic case you present for the pro-life view and argue for abortion based on self-interest. That is the lazy way out. Remind your critics that if we care about truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter what the cost to our own self-interests.

Educating the new generation about Life, Chastity, and Copyrights,

By Scott Klusendorf

Suppose that you have just five minutes to graciously defend your pro-life beliefs with friends or classmates. Can you do it with rational arguments? What should you say? And how can you simplify the abortion issue for those who think it’s hopelessly complex?

Here’s how to succeed in three easy steps:

1) Clarify the issue. Pro-life advocates contend that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. This simplifies the abortion controversy by focusing public attention on just one question: Is the unborn a member of the human family? If so, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, killing them for any reason requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled.

In other words, arguments based on “choice” or “privacy” miss the point entirely. Would anyone that you know support a mother killing her toddler in the name of “choice and who decides?” Clearly, if the unborn are human, like toddlers, we shouldn’t kill them in the name of choice anymore than we would a toddler. Again, this debate is about just one question: What is the unborn? At this point, some may object that your comparisons are not fair—that killing a fetus is morally different from killing a toddler. Ah, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? Are the unborn, like toddlers, members of the human family? That is the one issue that matters. (See the “Toddler Tactics” article for more on this.)

Remind your critics that you are vigorously “pro-choice” when it comes to women choosing a number of moral goods. You support a woman’s right to choose her own doctor, to choose her own husband, to choose her own job, and to choose her own religion, to name a few. These are among the many choices that you fully support for women. But some choices are wrong, like killing innocent human beings simply because they are in the way and cannot defend themselves. 1 No, we shouldn’t be allowed to choose that.

2) Defend your pro-life position with science and philosophy. Scientifically, we know that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Leading embryology books confirm this. 2 For example, Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud write, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or leukocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” 3 Prior to his abortion advocacy, former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would question this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge,” he wrote in his book Life in the Making. 4

Philosophically, we can say that embryos are less developed than newborns (or, for that matter, toddlers) but this difference is not morally significant in the way abortion advocates need it to be. Consider the claim that the immediate capacity for self-awareness bestows value on human beings. Notice that this is not an argument, but an arbitrary assertion. Why is some development needed? And why is this particular degree of development (i.e., higher brain function) decisive rather than another? These are questions that abortion advocates do not adequately address.

As Stephen Schwarz points out, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant such that we can say that you had no rights as an embryo but you do have rights today. Think of the acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences: 5

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.

3) Challenge your listeners to be intellectually honest. Ask the tough questions. When critics say that birth makes the unborn human, ask, “How does a mere change of location from inside the womb to outside the womb change the essential nature of the unborn?” If they say that brain development or self-awareness makes us human, ask if they would agree with Joseph Fletcher that those with an IQ below 20 or perhaps 40 should be declared non-persons? If not, why not? True, some people will ignore the scientific and philosophic case you present for the pro-life view and argue for abortion based on self-interest. That is the lazy way out. Remind your critics that if we care about truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter what the cost to our own self-interests.

How to defend pro choice beliefs

Photos by Jacqueline Pei.

Last Week, I came to realize just how difficult it can be to defend pro-choice in the face of pro-life’s ethical arguments, and found myself rooted even deeper in my pro-choice stance.

On May 23 and 25, UCLA Live Action and Justice For All put up a pro-life exhibit and “free speech” whiteboards to engage with students passing by with the pro-life advocates standing by, ready for respectful debate and dialogue.

As I approached the exhibit, one of the towering panels displayed a Renaissance painting with the caption: “Poverty is better than abortion.” Other panels read “Suffering is better than abortion” and “Commitment is better than abortion.”

How to defend pro choice beliefs

“We want to make abortions unthinkable,” explained Ines Zinkewich, a student pro-life advocate from Live Action.

But the fact is that abortion is not unthinkable. Whether it is in the case of a pregnancy resulting from rape, a strained financial or social circumstance, or any other reason, an unwanted pregnancy resulting in the choice to abort is common and understandable. Childbearing is a life-consuming process and responsibility that affects the wellbeing of the pregnant person 24/7 for an average of 38 weeks . Abortion is a critical part of providing reproductive freedom to these people, which makes way for other social and economic freedom, too. The right to an abortion, therefore, should be protected if we are to gain equality and justice. The UN agrees that the “denial of legally available health services such as abortion” is a human rights violation . Justice For All and Live Action want to make giving people the option of abortion unthinkable, but doing so would force people to continue pregnancy against their will, a gender-based injustice which is, as affirmed by the UN, unthinkable.

The pro-life argument depends on the belief that a human person begins at conception. This assertion, I find, is problematic since human life/personhood cannot be defined in these stages with certainty, and so there is no common ground in claiming when life begins.

Everyone has different personal beliefs regarding when a human person’s life begins, and science has not been and is not able to unanimously agree on when a fetus gains personhood , a moral standard cannot be established. Thus, each case of pregnancy and each case of abortion should be in the hands of the pregnant person. Pro-life advocates’ plan to ban abortion is to force a decision for all pregnant people based on the pro-life opinion, not the personal beliefs of each individual person about their own body, which the fetus is a part of. This is the pregnant person’s right to their body, and any legislation that claims that right is infringing on the pregnant person’s freedom. Everybody is entitled to making decisions for their own body, and in pregnancy where the fetus is a part of the body, the pregnant person is entitled to making their own decision for that as well.

Steve Wagner, the Executive Director of Justice For All, said, “I don’t believe that my position that abortion should be illegal, generally speaking, is a position that forces women to become mothers. I think it forces [pregnant] women to comply with the fact that they already are mothers.”

But making abortion illegal would restrict women by causing major social and economic repercussions for their lives. The consequence of pregnancy can impact every other sphere in a pregnant person’s life; it can cause heavy financial burdens , increased anxiety and stress , restrictions on academic pursuits and career aspirations , exacerbating discrimination in the workplace , and crap ton of other shitty consequences, depending on each case. Choosing pregnancy is not easy. Choosing abortion isn’t easy either. It cannot be fair to criminalize a person who was faced with this decision, and ultimately decided to abort, preserving the freedom of and exercising the right to their body, life, and future. It is unjust to criminalize a person’s choice to an abortion based on the belief of pro-life groups and not the individual’s own. In the absence of a scientific consensus, situation-based judgement and autonomy of individuals is the most legitimate moral ground for abortion policy to respect and support, especially in a democratic society. How can we force people to seek out illegal procedures or go to drastic lengths of self-performed abortions that put them at risk as well?

I asked Steve if he agreed that it would be better for a pregnant individual to have a safe, regulated abortion procedure rather than having an illegal one that is much riskier for the health and safety of the pregnant person. While he did say that “Legal abortion is safer for the woman,” he argues that “It seems tantamount to saying even though women kill children in the course of an abortion procedure, it’s really important to make sure that abortion procedure is safe. It would be like saying, it’s really dangerous for a woman to kill her toddler, so we need to make it legal so it’s safer for her to kill a toddler.”

Once again, it comes to the question of whether the unborn can be equated to a live child, which cannot be answered with a scientific basis, or with a universal consensus of personal beliefs. It comes back to the question of whether a mass of cells should be entitled to human rights, which is ambiguous with scarce hope of more scientific clarity . But forcing a pregnant person, whose personhood is clearly established, into pregnancy is clearly an infringement on their human rights, and that is unquestionable — unlike the indefinitely unclear personhood of the unborn fetus. That being said, society must unquestionably agree to protect the rights of people who do get pregnant and decide to abort.

“I think there’s another question of, to what extent, the pregnant person’s right to their body, which I believe exists, how far does it extend? Does it extend, even to killing a human being? But you see, that question is meaningless if we don’t resolve the question of if this is a human being at the four-week stage… I think everybody in the discussion bears a burden there,” Steve concedes, if only just a little, to the fact that everyone will have a different opinion of the unborn’s living status, even if he believes his belief that life begins at conception is the belief with which all people should comply with.

That, ultimately, is what pro-choice stands for. Pro-choice champions for the freedom of people to choose what to do with their body and life depending on their own beliefs and life circumstances. Pro-choice has room for people who support and don’t support abortions alike. Pro-choice leaves the choice up to the individuals rather than imposing only one choice for everyone. This is the reality I hope state legislators will acknowledge and respect, and in turn make abortion not only legal but also accessible for people so they can truly claim the right to their body, their choice.

Can you explain what pro-choice means and pro-life means? When my family talks about abortion I think they’re saying “pro-choice” and “pro-life” wrong, but I’m not sure.

The pro-choice and pro-life labels are confusing for a reason: They force people into just two boxes for all their religious, moral, political, and practical beliefs on abortion. Still, a lot of people use these labels (like your fam). Below, we’ll nail down what most people intend when they say “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” plus our suggestions for better words to use when describing your views on abortion.

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice

Generally, people who identify as pro-choice believe that everyone has the basic human right to decide when and whether to have children. When you say you’re pro-choice you’re telling people that you believe it’s OK for them to have the ability to choose abortion as an option for an unplanned pregnancy — even if you wouldn’t choose abortion for yourself.

People who oppose abortion often call themselves pro-life. However, the only life many of them are concerned with is the life of the fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus. They are much less concerned about the life of women who have unintended pregnancies or the welfare of children after they’re born. In fact, many people who call themselves “pro-life” support capital punishment (AKA the death penalty) and oppose child welfare legislation.

The black-and-white labels of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” pit people against each other, as if they’re on two different teams. But we agree more than we disagree: A majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal, and they support the right to access abortion.

We Say “Pro-Reproductive Rights” and “Anti-Abortion”

To be more clear and inclusive with our word choices, we at Planned Parenthood say “pro-reproductive rights” and “anti-abortion” to describe people’s beliefs about abortion access. The pro-reproductive rights and anti-abortion labels leave room for a variety of beliefs, while focusing on access to abortion specifically. “Accessing” abortion means having the ability to afford it, physically get to an abortion provider, and other factors that allow you to exercise your right to abortion care.

When you say that you support reproductive rights, that means you support laws that allow people to access the full range of reproductive health care — including safe, legal abortion.

If you identify as pro-reproductive rights, it means you want to keep abortion legal and you believe people have the right to be able to access abortion.

Pro-reproductive rights folks oppose laws that ban abortion, as well as laws that keep abortion out of reach — like laws that shut down health centers or that force patients to jump through hoops to get the care they need.

Many pro-reproductive rights people also support access to birth control, sex education, care at Planned Parenthood health centers, and other forms of sexual and reproductive health care.

Using the term “anti-abortion” is a more accurate way to describe people who want abortion to be illegal. Many anti-abortion people don’t believe that pregnant people should be able to choose abortion under any circumstances, even if their pregnancy is a result of rape or if carrying the pregnancy to term puts their life in danger.

Anti-abortion people tend to:

Disagree with most medical authorities about the definition of pregnancy. They mistakenly believe that pregnancy begins with the fertilization of the egg. Most authorities believe that pregnancy begins when the implantation of the fertilized egg into the lining of the uterus is complete.

  • They believe that people should not be allowed to use birth control.
  • They want to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. In that decision, the court ruled that a woman’s right to choose abortion is protected by the Constitution and that abortion is legal throughout the United States.
  • The Bottom Line

    “Pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels don’t reflect the complexity of how most people actually think and feel about abortion. Instead of putting people in one category or another, we should respect the real-life decisions people and their families face every day.

    Decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or continue a pregnancy should be made by a pregnant person with the counsel of their family, their faith, and their health care provider. Politicians should not be involved in anyone’s personal medical decisions about their reproductive health or pregnancy.

    Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of people worldwide. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 13-1644147. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable under the law.

    © 2021 Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.

    Every woman should be able to decide for herself if, when and with whom to start or grow a family.

    The right to choose abortion is essential to ensuring a woman can decide for herself if, when and with whom to start or grow a family. We’ll never stop fighting to protect and expand this fundamental human right.

    The Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that affirmed abortion as a constitutional right for all was supposed to be the beginning of the fight for women’s equality and autonomy, not the end. Since then, we’ve been forced to defend it over and over again as anti-choice politicians and organizations focus on undermining and chipping away at our rights until they can do away with legal abortion access completely. They’ve passed hundreds of laws to restrict a woman’s ability to access abortion care. These laws take many forms, including trying to outlaw abortion altogether, shutting down clinics, restricting access based on income level and dictating which medical procedures are available.

    Anti-choice extremists will stop at nothing. They have opened thousands of fake health-care “clinics” that lie to and mislead women to prevent them from considering abortion as an option. And some anti-abortion zealots—emboldened by extreme rhetoric from anti-choice groups and politicians—have even murdered doctors and bombed clinics.

    When the right to abortion is endangered, the fundamental equality of women is threatened. A woman can never be equal if she is denied the basic right to make decisions for herself and her family.

    Seven in 10 Americans support the right to legal abortion. 1 NARAL Pro-Choice America will continue to fight to keep abortion legal for all women, regardless of ZIP code or income. We will mobilize together to defeat attacks in the states and in Congress. We’ll help elect candidates who will be champions for reproductive freedom. And we will continue to educate, inform and rally the public to protect and expand the fundamental human right of all people to make their own decisions about their lives.

    Restrictions on Abortion Access

    Click the issues below to learn how anti-choice politicians and activists are blocking access to abortion care.

    This article sets out the women’s rights arguments that, in certain circumstances, favour abortion.

    On this page

    • Women’s rights arguments in favour of abortion
    • Abortion affects women disproportionately
    • Bodily rights
    • Childbearing, freedom and equality

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    Women’s rights arguments in favour of abortion

    Here are some of the women’s rights arguments in favour of abortion:

    • women have a moral right to decide what to do with their bodies
    • the right to abortion is vital for gender equality
    • the right to abortion is vital for individual women to achieve their full potential
    • banning abortion puts women at risk by forcing them to use illegal abortionists
    • the right to abortion should be part of a portfolio of pregnancy rights that enables women to make a truly free choice whether to end a pregnancy

    This argument reminds us that even in the abortion debate, we should regard the woman as a person and not just as a container for the foetus. We should therefore give great consideration to her rights and needs as well as those of the unborn.

    Pro-choice women’s rights activists do not take a casual or callous attitude to the foetus; the opposite is usually true, and most of them acknowledge that choosing an abortion is usually a case of choosing the least bad of several bad courses of action.

    Abortion affects women disproportionately

    Abortion is an important element of women’s rights because women are more affected by the abortion debate than men, both individually (if they are considering an abortion) and as a gender.

    Pregnancy has an enormous effect on the woman involved. As Sarah Weddington put it to the US Supreme Court in Roe v Wade:

    A pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life. It disrupts her body. It disrupts her education. It disrupts her employment. And it often disrupts her entire family life.

    Sarah Weddington in Roe v Wade

    And Mrs Weddington continued:

    And we feel that, because of the impact on the woman, this … is a matter which is of such fundamental and basic concern to the woman involved that she should be allowed to make the choice as to whether to continue or to terminate her pregnancy.

    Sarah Weddington in Roe v Wade

    And the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson wrote:

    . a great deal turns for women on whether abortion is or is not available.

    If abortion rights are denied, then a constraint is imposed on women’s freedom to act in a way that is of great importance to them, both for its own sake and for the sake of their achievement of equality;

    and if the constraint is imposed on the ground that the foetus has a right to life from the moment of conception, then it is imposed on a ground that neither reason nor the rest of morality requires women to accept, or even to give any weight at all.

    Judith Jarvis Thomson

    Bodily rights

    Many people regard the right to control one’s own body as a key moral right. If women are not allowed to abort an unwanted foetus they are deprived of this right.

    The simplest form of the women’s rights argument in favour of abortion goes like this:

    • a woman has the right to decide what she can and can’t do with her body
    • the foetus exists inside a woman’s body
    • a woman has the right to decide whether the foetus remains in her body
    • therefore a pregnant woman has the right to abort the foetus

    The issue brings many ideas about human rights into brutally sharp focus.

    • every human being has the right to own their own body
    • a foetus is part of a woman’s body
    • therefore that woman has the right to abort a foetus they are carrying

    The important US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade to some extent supported that view when it ruled that a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in family matters and was protected by the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

    This leads some people to claim is that it is unethical to ban abortion because doing so denies freedom of choice to women and forces ‘the unwilling to bear the unwanted’.

    Opponents of this argument usually attack the idea that a foetus is ‘part’ of a woman’s body. They argue that a foetus is not the same sort of thing as a leg or a liver: it is not just a part of a woman’s body, but is (to some extent) a separate ‘person’ with its own right to life.

    A second objection to this argument is that people do not have the complete right to control their bodies. All people are subject to various restrictions on what they do with their bodies – and some of these restrictions (laws against suicide or euthanasia) are just as invasive.

    Childbearing, freedom and equality

    The women’s liberation movement sees abortion rights as vital for gender equality.

    They say that if a woman is not allowed to have an abortion she is not only forced to continue the pregnancy to birth but also expected by society to support and look after the resulting child for many years to come (unless she can get someone else to do so).

    They argue that only if women have the right to choose whether or not to have children can they achieve equality with men: men don’t get pregnant, and so aren’t restricted in the same way.

    Furthermore, they say, women’s freedom and life choices are limited by bearing children, and the stereotypes, social customs, and oppressive duties that went with it.

    They also regard the right to control one’s own body as a key moral right, and one that women could only achieve if they had were entitled to abort an unwanted foetus.

    No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.

    Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood

    • women need free access to abortion in order to achieve full political, social, and economic equality with men
    • women need the right to abortion in order to have the same freedoms as men
    • women need the right to abortion to have full rights over their own bodies (including the right to decide whether or not to carry a foetus to birth) – without this right they do not have the same moral status as men

    The US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, which gave women a right to abortion (under certain conditions) is seen by many as having transformed the status of women in the USA.

    This landmark decision. not only protects rights of bodily integrity and autonomy, but has enabled millions of women to participate fully and equally in society.

    Among people you know, your friends, and your relatives and loved ones, there are women who have had an abortion. Would you call them murderers and have them thrown in jail?

    Anti-abortion voters are single issue voters. They don’t change their minds. That’s the thinking anyway — “pro-life” on one side, “pro-choice” on the other, and no room in the middle. But sometimes people do change. This is the story of my evolution.

    I was raised Catholic. As a teenager, I was 100% in the “Abortion is murder, ought to be completely illegal” camp. I attended a rally at the State Capitol and carried a gruesome sign, totally convinced we were in the right. I met some other pro-life teens and we picketed a Planned Parenthood the next weekend.

    The issue was black and white for me. I didn’t think much about the women coming and going at the clinic. I hope I didn’t yell at any of them.

    I wasn’t able to vote yet, but if I’d been able to vote in the 1988 election, I might have voted Republican, solely on the issue of abortion. I agreed with the Democrats on basically everything else, and I thought this was consistent with being a Catholic. I was against the death penalty, in favor of programs to help the poor and extend health care coverage. But that one issue might have made the difference.

    I wasn’t active in the anti-abortion movement after those couple of instances, but I continued to believe in it through college.

    Then I went to medical school.

    Once we started clinical rotations, there was an option to excuse yourself from participation in abortions, and I opted out. This was the only medical procedure with that choice. For example, I trained in the pre-Viagra era and scrubbed in on several operations on men to allow them to have erections.

    It was on the OB/GYN rotation that I started to see things differently. There was a woman who was terminating a pregnancy. I don’t remember exactly how far along she was, but into the second trimester. The fetus had anomalies incompatible with survival. She was devastated. This was a wanted pregnancy.

    I stayed, I held her hand. And a light bulb went off in my head. How could I judge this lady? I couldn’t and I didn’t, and right then it dawned on me that for all of the women facing termination of a pregnancy I didn’t know, and no one but the woman knows, what led her to the decision. If it was understandable in this case, who was I to judge what was understandable in any other case?

    One in four American women will have an abortion by the time they are 45. That means that among people you know, your friends, and your relatives and loved ones, there are women who have had an abortion. Would you call them murderers and have them thrown in jail?

    Starting around the last election, the lie that abortions happen up to the moment of birth and that somehow the Democratic Party was in favor of infanticide became popular. What? That is not true. It’s not real. Where did this come from? Thinking about that reminded me of another family I’ll never forget.

    I was in the NICU and a baby was admitted with multiple abnormalities. She was a beautiful baby, and the parents had no prenatal warning anything was wrong. After some testing we determined what the problem was, and unfortunately it was severe. She wouldn’t live long, even with intervention. So we talked with her parents. We could either put her on a ventilator, feed with tubes, do multiple surgeries, or we could make her comfortable and not intervene. They chose the latter, and after a couple of days she stopped breathing and died in her mother’s arms.

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    That’s infanticide? No. Of course it’s not. These decisions are complicated. They’re personal, and they should not be dictated by the government.

    Abortions still happened in high numbers in the pre-Roe v. Wade era, but women died.

    I’m a pediatric emergency room doctor now, and I’m worried. I’m worried that I’m going to see teenage girls with sepsis, bleeding, and death from complications of illegal abortions. The best way to reduce the abortion rate is to improve access to birth control, health care for women, and child care.

    Please, when you think about this issue, think about the women you know. Trust them, and don’t judge.

    Dr. Lydia Holm is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and mother of four boys. She lives in West Des Moines.