Everybody is proud these days. While “pride” as a collective concept may have originated with the Gay Rights movement of the 1970s, now marchers in the St. Patrick’s Day parade are as likely to sport pins boasting “Proud to be Irish” and my Jewish friends are as proud to be Jewish as my Muslim friends are proud to be Muslim—although I always wonder if they wouldn’t be equally proud if they had been born into the opposite faiths. Recently, I even spotted a bumper sticker on a jalopy that declared: “Proud to be humble.” While the Book of Proverbs may warn us that “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” the political and social reality today is that pride is a necessary prerequisite for acceptance and equality. That is why the moment is ripe—more than ripe—for an Abortion Pride Movement.
The anti-abortion movement already has its own pride movement. If one reads about reproductive issues in the conservative media—which I often do—one is bombarded with tales of mothers who have sacrificed personal and professional opportunities to bring fetuses to term. The implication is that while bearing a child when one is ready is a blessing, bearing a child when one is not prepared garners one extra moral credit in the cosmos. Similarly, while having a healthy baby is a cause for joy, some opponents of abortion profess that having a baby with a devastating or even fatal birth defect is proof of the mother’s fortitude and character. If one believes that human life begins at conception, this is logically the case. However, if one believes that life begins after conception—as do a wide majority of Americans, if polls on such issues as embryonic stem cell research are to believed—then the suffering caused by transforming an unwanted embryo into a living baby, who will either endure debilitating disease or will enter a deeply inhospitable home environment, is not at all a cause for pride. It more is akin to deciding that the world is flat and then boasting of not falling off the edge.
In contrast to women who have foregone abortion, women who have chosen to terminate their pregnancies are rarely encouraged to take pride in their decisions. That is unfortunate. In the current political climate, deciding not to bring a fetus to term, if a woman is unready to parent, or if that fetus is likely to lead a life of great physical suffering, is a courageous and noble moral choice. Recognizing that thirteen or fourteen years old is rarely a wise age to embark on the process of parenting takes personal insight—but it also requires wisdom, at that young age, to terminate a pregnancy and so spare a child from growing up with another child for a parent. In short, women should not merely have the right to end unwanted pregnancies, they should have the right to be proud of having done so. Surely, there is enough suffering in this world already without adding infants with Tay-Sachs disease and Lesch-Nyhan syndrome to the mix. Women who step up to the ethical plate and have the strength to say, “This is the wrong time,” or “This is the wrong fetus,” should hold their heads high in the streets.
That is not to say that terminating a pregnancy may not prove a difficult choice. Even if one believes that fetuses are not human beings, one might take a risky or inopportune pregnancy to term for a host of reasons: fear that one may be too old to try again, a desire to reach common ground with a spouse or partner, etc. But the difficulty of making a personal decision should not be mistaken for doubt regarding the morality of the conclusion. While choosing to terminate may be difficult for women under many circumstances and for many reasons, if they have made the correct choice for themselves, they should be proud that they have done so. And our society should be proud of them too. Our message should not be merely toleration or resigned acquiescence, but genuine joy that someone has made a decision for their own and for the collective good.
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Somehow, many supporters of abortion rights have been lulled into accepting the rhetoric that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” That may be good language for winning elections, but it does a profound disservice to the millions of women who have abortions in this nation each year. Abortions should be safe and legal. That goes without saying. But rare? Abortions should be as frequent or as infrequent as are unwanted pregnancies. I dream of the day when women are not afraid to walk the streets with pins reading, “I had an abortion and it was the right decision,” and when station wagons bear bumper-stickers announcing, “Thank me for having an abortion when I wasn’t ready to be a parent.” I admire those individuals who work to ensure a women’s right to choose. But choice is a merely a foundation. Ultimately, women—if they so desire—should feel comfortable expressing public pride in their brave and wise choices.