What it Means to Be Pro-Choice

My colleague Joshua Alvarez recently wrote that Democrats need new language to talk about abortion. He suggested that rather than talking about being pro-choice, it would be preferable to talk about being pro-life in a new way.

The central issue shouldn’t be whether a woman should have the choice and ability to have an abortion at a licensed medical facility. The central issue should be how to make abortion as rare as possible.

Is there a candidate who is brave enough to be reasonable? Is there a candidate clever enough to repurpose the label “pro-life”? It is pro-life to make contraception widely and affordably available. It is pro-life for sex education to be taught in schools early and often. These are the things that prevent unwanted pregnancies.

I was reminded of that when I read about a recent event that, while it took place in Britain rather than the United States, affirmed the importance of being pro-choice.

A court ruling that a woman with learning disabilities must have an abortion against her wishes has been overturned on appeal.

The decision came after the woman’s mother, a former midwife, challenged a court order issued on Friday.

The judge who originally ruled that this woman must have an abortion was no less controlling than those who would take away the choice to have one. She claimed to be acting in the woman’s self-interest by going against her wishes and said that “she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll.”

It is true that the woman in question has a learning disability. But her mother had offered to help care for the child. The two of them, as well as the woman’s social worker, had opposed forcing her to have an abortion.

But all of those are details. The central issue is that it is no more offensive to deny a woman access to an abortion than it is to force her to have one. I once knew a teenager in a similar situation. She was pregnant and wanted to place the baby up for adoption. But since she had named the father and he refused to sign away his parental rights (even though he had no means to care for a child), that option was not feasible. When she relayed her situation to me, her words were powerful: “I have no choice, I have to have an abortion.” It was heartbreaking.

Women’s lives are complicated. While it is true that in most instances, being pro-choice means supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion, those words take on a whole new meaning in situations where women feel they have no choice other than to have one.

The whole point of being pro-choice is that a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her own body. We should do everything in our power to ensure that right—regardless of whether we agree with her decision.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.