A side to the abortion debate I hadn’t considered

Friendships, Relationships & Sex, Resilience & Managing Emotions

Yesterday I had a very ragey, emotionally charged conversation with a friend who is on the fence about whether making abortion illegal is a horrendous backslide into the dark ages… or not.

Note — the subjects in this blog post may be very triggering to some people. Please consider whether it’s wise for you and your nervous system to read on.

When I heard about Roe v Wade being overturned, I felt so much rage and grief parading around inside me that I didn’t know what to do with it. So naturally, I took it out on a friend, Barb,* who I knew was not 100% on the side of “pro-choice”, unlike most people I know. This person is not fully in either the “pro-choice” or “pro-life” camp,

but I channelled my rage at them anyway.

*Barb is not Barb’s actual name.

Barb comes from a very religious family, and their family are pro-life/ anti abortion, so she had a good understanding of the frankly baffling beliefs of “the other side.” I know so few people who aren’t pro-choice that it was a distressing revelation to me that there are still a surprising number of people in the world who believe we should go back to what I feel are archaic, patriarchal laws.

I am firmly pro choice, and pro safe abortions. I’ve known a number of women who chose to end pregnancies because they were too young/ too ill equipped/ were in an abusive relationship/ too stressed/ just didn’t want to have a baby, so I know the kind of turmoil, grief, and in some cases, religious shame they had to go through to make a decision that was right for them.

I feel passionately that no matter what your moral beliefs, people’s choices about their body are nobody’s business but their own, and that one person’s morals should not be enforced on another when it comes to reproductive rights.

Anyone who strongly believes that abortion should be made illegal fills me with rage. (But, if you’re pro-life, please read on, this is not just a pro-choice rant).

I live near an abortion clinic. Every time I walk past the people protesting outside (mostly men), I always feel the strong urge to kick them. I can barely contain my rage towards anyone who thinks it’s ok to force their ideologies on another person’s body, judge and shame them for their choice, and by doing so further traumatise people who are likely already experiencing an immense amount of stress, grief, and/or trauma.

I find it incredibly hard to understand how anyone could think otherwise.

But I want to.

Surely not every single person who is pro-life is a misogynistic bastard?

You don’t need me to tell you that the problem in America is much bigger than just the pro-life/ pro-choice debate. The supreme court justices in the US senate make out that overturning Roe v Wade is about pro-life, yet “life” is so clearly not their priority when it comes to so many other matters, notably gun laws.

As with all extremely polarising political issues, it’s clear that we as a society are not handling differences in opinions well. We’re becoming more divided and more polarised, and it feels like we’re losing the ability to wisely and rationally discuss political matters and come to a better mutual understanding. I know many families, friendships, and relationships have been completely decimated by political issues, especially in the last few years.

We’re all raging at each other, and completely invalidating and devaluing other people’s opinions in favour of our own.

Not that rage isn’t useful, necessary, and warranted. But if we want to move forward, we need to work with our rage and find a way to express ourselves in a way that supports progression on both sides, not regression into infantile, unhelpful behaviour.

Rage and harsh judgement directed from one side of any debate towards any individual on the other side just elicits more defensiveness and rage. It’s a sure fire way to make sure the other side won’t listen to a thing you say. And so no one ever comes to understand anything other than their own opinion.

We can be rageful about the situation, without directing our rage at the people who disagree with our perspective. Especially not those who have nothing to do with the policy changes in question. And especially not in the form of scathing judgement and broad character assassinations.

We can instead direct our rage more productively into action, into activism. By communicating wisely, without letting our rage colour personal interactions, we have a much better chance of being heard and listened to.

I believe that true wisdom is about being able to hold all our opinions with a lightness. Without attachment to being right. Being able to see and come to understand many sides to every situation, rather than just doggedly repeating our own perspective to ourselves and others.

I aspire to this, but completely failed this week with Barb.

So, even though to me the answer to this abortion debate seems black and white — they’re definitely wrong and we’re definitely right — I want to understand both sides fully, without talking over people who disagree, and without colouring everything they say with my very one-sided view.

After a tense conversation followed by some space, Barb and I talked again. We both agreed that we were triggering each other, and that we instead needed to have a more nuanced, tolerant conversation about the perspective on both sides of the abortion debate.

Via Barb and all the pro-life people she knows, I’ve been trying to understand “the other side”.

As a result, I have come to better understand why some people, religious and otherwise, feel strongly that a life is a life, and that no matter whether a baby is inside a pregnant body or outside the body, that laws should ensure that everyone has the right to live without being killed by another.

As Barb put it, the moment a baby is born, it’s illegal to kill it. So why is it legal to kill a baby when it’s four or five months old and already significantly developed? This makes sense to me. It’s unclear where the developmental line is drawn between an undeveloped foetus and an individual person, worthy of protection with the same laws that protect the life of a 1 day old baby.

Barb also asked — if someone purposefully injures a pregnant person and they lose the baby, is it murder?

I looked it up, and even in Australia where abortion is legal,* the state laws around this vary significantly.

*In Australia (except WA) abortion is decriminalised. After 22-24 weeks of pregnancy (the point at which a healthy baby is generally deemed capable of being born and surviving), two doctors need to sign off on it in most states.

These two points that Barb made helped me to better understand the perspective of “the other side”. They don’t change my belief that abortions should be legal and safe for all, at least for the first few months of pregnancy.

To me, it’s still a no brainer. A person with a womb is not just a baby vessel, but a human with needs, desires and fears that may not align with becoming a parent for the rest of their lives.

Especially in the case of rape, abuse, medical concerns, and financial inability to support a child. But in all cases, having a child has the potential to completely derail your life, harm your body, and in some cases, kill you. Freedom to choose safely is about protecting the pregnant person’s life, too.

Through our conversations (the calmer ones!), Barb came to the conclusion that although she still has some uncertainty about her views, especially as it relates to late stage abortions, she agrees that abortion should not be illegal, and that bans that would make it unavailable and unsafe are a terrible thing.

Similar to the failed war on drugs, the results are in — making things illegal doesn’t stop people doing them. It just makes it significantly more likely they’ll take huge risks and do them unsafely, with no way to legally seek help.

The moral of the story here is not that Barb changed her opinion. That won’t always be the case, and it should never be the goal of a respectful conversation.

The moral of the story is that by (eventually) not taking our rage out on each other, we were both able to have a more helpful, nuanced conversation and come to understand both perspectives better. We can continue to agree to disagree, and to challenge each other to grow more tolerant and more understanding.

If you find yourself raging at people on “the other side” of any polarising political debate — see if you can try on their beliefs for a while. Put your judgements to the side for a bit and listen to what they’re saying. Really try to see where they’re coming from.

It doesn’t mean we need to change our morals or our beliefs, nor cease being an activist for the causes we believe in.

But I reckon that if we want to turn this ship around, we need to get much better at having respectful conversations around challenging issues. (Thanks Captain Obvious, I know… but are you putting this into practice? I wasn’t.)

Rage at the situation, not at individuals whose views we haven’t first tried to understand.

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