Sunday, February 28, 2010

How Pro-Choice are you?

Yesterday was my final day in a series of Values Clarification seminars, where we focused exclusively on attitudes toward abortion. My values about abortion are extremely clear, unlike most other issues in my life where there may be many gray areas. However, I find that it is often the case, even with people who identify as pro-choice, that people have their own limits. Their own boundaries with abortion, when things start to become fuzzy. Unclear. With the rise in technology, it has been said that the viability of a fetus will continue to be earlier and earlier. Do your values change if a fetus is viable at 20 weeks? Should there be limits to abortion procedures? 35 weeks?

In my opinion, no. I constantly try to re-evaluate where I stand on all facets of the pro-choice abortion movement, and I am still in favor of protecting the right of the woman until the first breath is taken, when the baby is born. For me, I have remained clear on this for some time, but realize that even within our community, people feel differently about these issues. About the possibility of fetal pain, injecting the fetal heat with digoxin to stop the heart beat, and how late in the pregnancy is too late to terminate.

I think, especially in our field, it is important to engage in values clarification activities. I have posted an exercise below that is useful when clarifying attitudes towards abortion in a fairly homogeneous group of pro-choice individuals, but can also be tweaked for a more heterogeneous group to fit the values of people who are unclear about their stance on abortion. This activity can also be done with a middle alternative or a scale, in case people don't feel strongly on either the agree or disagree side. Also, if a room is available, the statements can be read aloud and people move to sides of the rooms that are labeled in a continuum with "Agree" "Unsure" and "Disagree" and can stand where ever they feel most comfortable.

Do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements:

1. Every woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy.

2. Abortion should be allowed even beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy.

3. Parental consent should be required for any teen under the age of 18 requesting an abortion.

4. Women who have more than 5 abortions are irresponsible.

5. Women who have more than 10 abortions are irresponsible.

6. Women should not use abortion as a form of birth control.

7. I think reproductive health advocacy organizations should promote the use of emergency contraception in order to decrease the number of abortions in the US each year.

8. I feel uncomfortable if a woman has an abortion because of the gender of the pregnancy.

9. Male partners should have the right to be a part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

10. I think a woman's right to choose to have an abortion is an absolute and inalienable right no matter what.

One more activity to sit with is an open-ended finish the sentence:

1. Abortions are:

2. Women who have abortions are:

3. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy needs to:

4. In this country, abortion should be:

5. People working to restrict abortion should:

6. People working on behalf of women's right to choose should:

I personally really liked this activity, and encourage everyone to fill it out, THEN take it to your work place (if possible), your family, friends of whoever else in your community and get the conversation started!

Have you clarified your values today?


  1. 1. Abortions are part of a woman's reproductive health care.

    2. Women who have abortions are women who have abortions.

    3. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy needs to have comprehensive information to make an informed decision.

    4. In this country, abortion should be safe, legal, and no one's business except a woman and her doctor.

    5. People working to restrict abortion should realize that God gave women brains to make good decisions for herself and her family. In other words, don't mess with God.

    6. People working on behalf of women's right to choose should not be afraid to speak up, speak out against the tyranny of misogynistic patriarchal extremists.

  2. These are great questions. I admit to feeling a little uneasy with some of them (especially gender-selection) and I would like to share the only thing that has worked for me in confronting things like this.

    Using Gender Selection as en example:

    1) Acknowledge that this action is taken by a person who is fully capable.
    2)Trust that person.

    So I acknowledge that women who abort in order to select a gender are fully capable, intelligent human beings. I trust them to make the decisions in their lives.

    Does that mean that I no longer consider gender selection (given that it is almost always aimed at producing males over females) misogynist? Do I now think that everything to do with gender selection is peachy-keen? No! I simply acknowledge the other person's right and ability to make decisions for her life.

    Why is that so hard for people to do?

    Why can't an anti say: I acknowledge the ability of women to knowingly choose the course of their own reproductive health and trust them to do so.

  3. Thanks for posting this! I've answered the questions here.

  4. Hm...I hesitate to phrase it as "HOW pro-choice are you" -- simply because when we do workshops like this at work or in class, we don't want people to think they are not being "pro-choice enough" if they don't mimic what the crowd is doing or what they think the moderator wants to hear.

    And if that happens, it precludes real introspection and certainly hinders discussion, so what do those participants gain other than a sense of what they "should" say/think? When really, one of the goals is for people to realize that maybe they DO have limitations/lines/gray areas, and to ACKNOWLEDGE those areas so that if they are faced with a client who will test their limits, they can refer her to a colleague who can put wholehearted effort into serving her. Doesn't mean colleague B is "better" than colleague A, just has different buttons to push!

    I know from experience that our work trainings it can be easy to say "psh, I'm at this end of the room and probably staying here for the duration!", but we sell ourselves/each other/the process short if we do. But by contrast, we just led a couple of VC exercises in the class I help lead at school, and some of the feedback from students afterward made me realize all the above :)

  5. I'm really glad you posted this, and I believe there is a "pro-choice spectrum" and I often talk about it at work. We all have our values and areas we may feel comfortable, uncomfortable with, but when you work in direct service work, you've got to be able to put those grey areas aside and focus entirely on the woman without having your judgments come into play. I think that's crucial.

    I do find it strange when there are people in the pro-choice world or even in Abortionland who are like, "abortion's okay, but -um - I don't get why she just doesn't get on birth control," jumping to conclusions. I am on the very, very left end of the spectrum. I struggle with co-workers who aren't.

  6. I'm with you about a girl... I find it funny because I don't know if I would ever even have an abortion if I got pregnant... Yet I have no problem putting my own personal qualms aside to help a woman out who is pregnant and needs help. The whole "walk a mile in her shoes" thing has always sort of been my mantra. I have NO IDEA what her life is like and I truly have no idea what it would be like trying to raise kids and not know where my next meal is coming from, you know? Why in god's name would be I concerned about going in and getting my pap so I can get BC pills if I can't even figure out what I am feeding my kids for lunch in 2 hours? I just feel like you never really know what someone's life is like or what they are going through so you can't judge.

  7. Abortions are often the last hope for otherwise trapped or desperate women.

    Women who have abortions are just like you and me.

    A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy needs to consider her options.

    In this country, abortion should be cheap, fast, and good.

    People working to restrict abortion should stop.

    People working on behalf of women's right to choose should keep fighting the good fight.


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.