The Abortion Binary (and me)

Regarding abortion, there are exactly three terms to describe two different views: pro-choice and pro-life/anti-choice (pro-life being the term chosen by people holding said view, and anti-choice the one used by people holding the opposite view).

And, as with any social binary I’ve ever known, a lot of the area is blurry and grey. (Regarding how to categorize/name it, that is. Not necessarily regarding whether it’s a good area to be in.)

When I was a child, I believed that abortion was wrong. I thought it was against God’s will, I thought it was killing someone, I thought it was bad for people (well, women; trans people were not exactly on my radar at the time) who had abortions, and I thought that alternative decisions – primarily, adoption – was always better, unless there was a medical emergency that required abortion to save the pregnant person’s life. (I don’t think I was aware of other medical issues with pregnancy at the time and am not sure where I would have drawn the line.)

But I never (as far as I can remember) wanted abortions to be illegal*. I had watched Dirty Dancing with my mother once, in which a woman has an unsafe abortion prior to its legalization and suffers complications, and I was aware that people attempting DIY abortions or going to hacks with a knife were an issue, and that sometimes pregnant people even attempted or committed suicide because they saw no other way out.

What I wanted, even back then, was support for pregnant people in difficult situations, good counselling to help them make the “right” choice, destigmatization of unplanned pregnancies in unmarried people (because I fully understood that fear of negative social consequences would cause them to want to hide the evidence of sex out of wedlock), and better access to birth control. (Or at least some forms of birth control – I did believe that life started with zygotes back then, and that birth control pills and IUDs caused early abortions.)

Does that mean I was pro-choice? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But wanting safe abortions to be available to everyone is quite far from what’s typically considered pro-life as well.

The pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy doesn’t seem to hinge on any single factor.

Consider some dimensions of people’s views on abortion:

  • The origin of the pregnancy
    Many people considered to be pro-life do support exceptions in the case of pregnancies caused by rape, while most don’t support pregnancies caused by contraceptive failure, let alone failure to use contraception. (Which begs the question of how exactly to determine which pregnancies have been caused by rape, but that’s a whole different matter.)
  • Gestational age
    Some people oppose even forms of contraception they believe to prevent the implantation of a zygote (fertilized egg), such as IUDs and birth control pills, while others draw lines at fetal heartbeat, fetal pain perception, or possibly other developmental criteria.
  • The reason for the abortion
    This one is a big one – from medical risks for the pregnant person to disability to the embryo’s sex, there are many different factors to consider and weigh.
  • Abortion regulations
    Mandatory counselling, waiting times, who may offer and perform which types of abortion to whom – the possible regulations are numerous, and so are the possible motivations behind them (preventing regret, minimizing health risks, ensuring informed consent, and sadly less noble ones such as lowering the number of abortions without addressing any underlying problems or having to fight against too powerful laws and past court decisions).
  • Legality vs. morality
    Whether someone considers abortion morally wrong or thinks it should be illegal are two different questions, and the answers to both can be split again by the factors already mentioned. In the case of legality, outlawing abortions also leads to questions about who should be punished how, what exactly counts as abortion, and how to prevent the persecution of people having miscarriages (and to get an idea of what is already happening out there, I highly recommend Libby Anne’s post on women persecuted under restrictive abortion laws).
  • Financial considerations
    Who should pay for abortions, and how much? How much should society support childrearing (through financial aid, subsidized childcare, paid parental leave, subsidized housing, subsidized nutrition, and other social safety measures)?

It’s hard to decide which exact views on all these dimensions count as pro-choice and which count as pro-life, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a a consensus. The labels are part of a mental map describing clusters of answers to the many questions surrounding abortion, and while many people will fall down pretty clearly on one or the other side of the dichotomy, many will not.

I’m in favor of legal and accessible abortions for everyone, and within that frame, I want there to be as few abortions as possible. I don’t think that anyone should be forced or pressured into giving birth to a child they cannot care for, even if their inability to do so is due to their child needing accommodations for a disability, but I do think that legal exceptions for such abortions are troubling, especially in light of often subpar legal support for actual people with disabilities/disabled people. I think that the decision not to give birth to a child with a vulva in a misogynist society which will treat it like shit is probably a good decision, but that certainly doesn’t prevent me from thinking it’s an outrageous fucking tragedy that this is even a consideration, let alone that it actually might be better for a child with a vulva not to be born.

Social issues don’t ever seem to be simple or binary.


* Abortions are actually illegal in Austria, but not subject to prosecution if:

  • done within the first three months of pregnancy after medical counselling (not further specified), or
  • necessary to avert serious danger to the life, physical or mental health of the pregnant person (not further specified), or
  • there is serious danger of the child being mentally or physically disabled, or
  • the pregnant person was a minor at the time of conception.
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