Having been pro-choice since I was old enough to understand the spirit of “every child a wanted child” and “pro-child, pro-family, pro-choice,” I’ve been disturbed in recent years by the focus on abortion in reproductive justice rhetoric to the exclusion of children. I’m not the only one, as it turns out; advocates are concerned about the direction of some conversations about reproductive rights, and they’re putting their heads together to talk about how to bring the issue back to its core values.
Reproductive justice, after all, isn’t just about the ability to access safe, humane, compassionate abortions and to obtain them without shaming, pressure or judgment. It’s also about being able to use birth control to have a say in the timing and spacing of your children. And, critically, it’s about having kids, too! That is, after all, what the whole reproductive tract evolved for. This is something that often gets left out in conversations about reproductive rights and it matters as a women’s health issue as well as a social one.
In comparison with other nations in the West, the United States has comparatively very poor outcomes on maternal morbidity and mortality scales and infant wellbeing, especially for parents and children of color. That’s a concern that ties directly in with reproductive rights: women and their babies are dying or experiencing serious health complications because they cannot access the health care they both need and deserve. The advocates in the best position to fight for that care are those who are already looking at other aspects of reproductive rights and thinking about women’s health issues.
After all, the same doctors who perform abortions are also involved in prenatal care, labor and delivery, and wellbeing for newly-delivered mothers and babies. Their clinical expertise, along with that of the nurses and technicians who support them, is critical not just for making sure pregnancies are terminated safely, but also for helping women successfully carry pregnancies to term. Ultrasound technicians, labor and delivery nurses, and all the other staff who make a clinic tick aren’t just there to perform abortions; many ob/gyn practices actually offer a scope of services including a full range of reproductive health options.
Refocusing the direction of the conversation onto holistic family planning and helping every family grow comfortably, happily, and healthily is critically important. Not just because it would improve outcomes for many people in the United States, especially low-income women and children who are currently at a big disadvantage. It would also force the conversation about abortion onto a different tack, making it harder for conservatives to challenge reproductive rights advocacy.
If that advocacy is directed solely at abortion access, it becomes easy to attack for those who are anti-choice. When it comes down to caring for pregnant women, promoting healthy pregnancies and getting young children the headstart they need in life, that conversation becomes much more complicated. And it turns the tables, morally: who wants to argue against the wellbeing of women and children? Who would want to fight initiatives intended to help women access the best in pregnancy care?
Being pro-choice absolutely means being pro-child, and the language of the movement must reflect that.
Photo credit: Steve Slater.