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Pro-Choice Is Not Pro-Abortion

by Corey Purdy-Smith
September 2008 

            As a pro-choice activist I am always surprised to hear others talk about how much I love abortions.  I’d never thought of myself as actually liking abortions, but to hear the comments of nearly every single pro-life writer, politician and activist, you’d think that I and all my cohorts just go all gooey inside every time a woman walks into a clinic.  For some reason ‘Pro-Choice’ has come to mean ‘Pro-Abortion’ in the minds of our opponents and even in the minds of the mainstream public.  This is unfortunate because if there is anything that both sides of the debate can agree on it is that the fewer abortions there are, the better.

            For the pro-choice folks this is because any woman, given the choice, would prefer to either bring life into the world or avoid pregnancy altogether rather than endure an abortion.  Women only choose abortion when their other choices have failed them or have been denied them.  This means that as pro-choice activists our duties go far beyond fighting for the legalization of abortion.  Here in Canada, that happened 20 years ago.  If legalizing abortion was all pro-choice was about, we could have packed up and moved on long ago.  But pro-choice means a great deal more.  In fact, pro-choice is as much about ensuring a woman’s right to not abort as it is about her right to abort. 

            Pro-choice means ensuring that women are able to choose if or when they will have sex.  In part this means demanding access to adequate information regarding sexual health.  I still remember my sex-ed courses in Jr. High.  It was there that I learned that condoms almost always break, pills will give you cancer, everyone around you has a terrible disease that may or may not kill you and your only hope is the diligent practice of abstinence and chastity until marriage…when of course you will be absolved of all disease and any desires to avoid pregnancy.  This method of sex-ed was so effective that while I was growing up, my home-town was the teen pregnancy capital of the province.  We need to do better than this.  As a pro-choice woman, I believe that women have the right to access relevant and accurate information regarding their sexual health so that they have the power to make healthy choices regarding their own sexuality.

            Pro-choice also means fighting the social stigma around women who choose to be sexually active.  When a woman becomes pregnant unintentionally she is often looked down upon and made to feel ashamed, as though she had committed a horrible crime.  Many younger women end up having abortions simply to hide the fact that they are sexually active, terrified of what their parents would think if they found out that their daughter was pregnant. This state of affairs is shameful.  Should a woman become pregnant she aught be greeted with respect, love and support from her family and community because it is a woman’s right to choose to have sex, and to do so without guilt or shame.

            Being pro-choice also means fighting the sexual abuse and violence against women that is rampant in our society.  All too often women are pressured or forced into sex against their will.  Odds are that just about every person in this room knows a woman who has been the victim of sexual abuse, though you may not know it since the majority are never reported.  This abuse is frequent, it is devastating and it robs women of the ability to control their own bodies.  It is a woman’s right to choose not to have sex.

            Being pro-choice means also fighting to ensure that women have the resources to care for a child should they wish to go through with a pregnancy.  This means fighting for universal access to child-care.  This means adequate maternity leave that is actually available to the women who need it.  It means fighting for pay equity so that women are able to provide for their families.  It means ensuring access to adequate social assistance so women and their children are not forced to live in poverty.  Women have the right to choose to have children, and they have the right to access those resources they need to care for their children and their families.

            And yes, pro-choice means fighting to ensure that women have access to safe, legal abortions, free from guilt and judgement.  Sadly we are far from achieving this in Canada.  While abortion has been legal here for just over 20 years, it is still inaccessible to many Canadian women.  Too few hospitals and doctors will provide it.  Many women are forced to seek services from clinics that their province will not pay for.  For some, even that is not an option when the nearest services are simply too far away to be of any use.  And all the while we are bombarded with attempts at legislation that if passed, would threaten even these services.  And should a woman manage to access abortion services, her character now becomes the subject of intense scrutiny and often scorn.  Her decision concerning the use of her own body becomes the subject of endless public debate, perpetuated primarily by those who will never have to stand a moment in her shoes.  Being pro-choice means fighting on this front too.  Because the choice of how one’s body is to be used, the choice of whether or not to use it to bring life into the world, is too profound and too central to the life of the woman, to allow anyone else to make this decision for her.

            Pro-choice is not pro-abortion.  Pro-choice means recognizing that women have the right to say if and when they will bear children and demanding that this right be respected.  Pro-choice means exactly what it sounds like.  It is about ‘choice’ in the true sense of the word.