It’s time to rethink the abortion debate

An abortion rights protester in Brooklyn, New York City, on October 9, 2021. (Image: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Abortion is health care’ — a line so familiar among pro-choice progressives that it borders on a religion.

And it is absolutely true.

Except when it’s not.

For many women, choosing to end a pregnancy is not a matter of health, but a matter of autonomy and self-determination. This was true for me when I was a 22-year-old university student, and got pregnant at the end of an emotionally torturous long-term relationship. I made the decision to have an abortion, carried out at eight weeks, so I could move on and start my life with a clean slate.

Twenty plus years later, however, advocates for legal abortion have made this deeply serious issue into a chic lifestyle. And it’s gross.

As the American pro-choice movement holds its breath, waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on Women’s Health vs Jackson, a ruling which is being billed as the greatest threat to Roe v Wade in decades, I find my own life-long, personally lived, deeply held pro-choice position coming into question.

Not because I think abortion should be criminalized, but because I see a pro-choice movement that has become unmoored from reality and driven by highly immature messaging that borders on offensive. That, coupled with the fact that in wealthy countries foetuses are becoming viable at ever-decreasing ages, has got me thinking that greatly reducing the term limits on abortions, except when the health of the mother is at risk, would actually be a good thing.

I have come to this position because the ugly truth is that the contemporary mainstream women’s movement cannot be trusted with such a sacrosanct moral question. This is a movement that has gone along with the lie that men can get pregnant, and therefore need abortion services, that women should be referred to as “menstruators” to protect the feelings of men who claim they are women and women who claim they are men, and that the term “mother” is offensive, as it excludes males. To me, it seems like common sense to say that any group willing to indulge in infantile fantasy and dehumanize women in order to protect the desires and delusions of men should not be an arbiter in matters of life, death, women’s rights and autonomy.

I have long recognized that abortion involves the destruction of a life. It struck me as naive to try to avoid or deny this. For me, the equation was always about which life carried more weight: the life of an adult, out in the world, with ties to a community and family and friends, or the life of a tiny protohuman — yes, alive in a biological sense, but still part of the woman’s flesh — that would cease to survive were it disattached from her body.

An adult woman’s life clearly outweighs the protohuman foetus. And the adult human woman — a sovereign person — should be the ultimate decision-maker.

Nonetheless, it can be a solemn decision to make. It requires gravitas to intervene in the sacred life-creating power that women have. It is a decision that requires self-reflection. In my experience, it transforms a young woman into a grown woman. That’s what it did to me.

This is simply not reflected in the conversation of the moment, which seems to take a bizarre, girlish delight in the woman’s power to end a life she is responsible for creating. This diminishment ill-serves women in the end, because by downplaying the importance of our power to create life, we are downplaying our power. It’s crass, it’s immature, and it’s terrible PR for us as the key propagator of the human species.

I had thought there was a common understanding that society decided to recognize and enshrine in law that women are wise and mature enough to be openly and safely allowed to do what we have always done in the privacy of our own lives: end unwanted or non-viable pregnancies. In return we would do so with wisdom and discretion. The public face of the pro-choice movement shows otherwise, putting women and girls who do act with wisdom and discretion at risk of losing this much-needed right.

I used to find the pro-life position that women shouldn’t be allowed to have access to legal abortions because they will only regret them in the end immensely irritating. Both because it did not reflect my own experience and also because it presumed that women didn’t really think about these things or take these decisions seriously.

But how can you claim to be a serious, science-based movement when you take quotes like this seriously:

“I didn’t want to be a pregnant man in Texas. It was terrifying for me because I realized, by the time I could even confirm I was pregnant, I didn’t know if I could even get somebody to look at me or even take me seriously.”

How can you claim to be a mature, thoughtful movement when you sell silver necklaces that say “abortion” in cursive script? Because nothing says you take your grave moral responsibility seriously like abortion-themed jewellery!

And how do you propose to deal with the moral problem of premature babies surviving at 21 weeks gestational age — three weeks before the current legal abortion limit of 24 weeks?

I cannot speak for any other woman, but I know that after I terminated my pregnancy, I had no regret. But I also never felt the need to turn this sad interlude in my young life into a fashion accessory. I did not feel any shame about not bringing a child into the world with a man who I could not raise that child with, but I also felt an urgency to terminate the pregnancy because I innately understood that the longer the foetus developed, the less the decision became about just my life.

I’m sure many young women feel the same today as I did two decades ago. And I’m sure many more young women and girls who are on the fence about the morality of abortion are horrified and repulsed by what the pro-choice movement has become.

Until the wise, grown-up women return to mainstream feminism and stop the destructive kids running amok, it might actually be safer to allow 12 robed justices decide what is best for women. At least now they are not all men.

We have lost moral high ground in trying to be edgy and inclusive — in so doing we became monstrous.

Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter, now based in the United Kingdom. Follow her writing on Substack and on Twitter @semperfemina21

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