The most emotionally powerful fiction in politics today is that pro-choice is the opposite of pro-life. These positions are not opposites. They are different, but not on the same continuum.
Pro-life is a choice. Pro-choice advocates respect an individual woman’s decision to have her baby – even if she can’t afford it, if she is too young or too old, if it is her husband’s child or if she doesn’t know the father, even if it is the child of her rapist. A woman may choose to have a baby even if she needs fertility treatment in order to conceive. She may choose to have her baby even if doing so will end her career, stop her education plans, and insure her a life of hard work and low wages, and even if the child will live in poverty, subsidized by welfare and taxpayer-funded services. A woman may choose to have her baby even if it will damage her health or kill her, and even if the baby has severe problems that will insure fetal death or a short, painful, and difficult little life. Pro-life is a choice even when it is based on religion, because the woman makes the choice within her own religious and moral understanding. That no one should – or even could – force a religious choice on another person is not only a democratic principle, it is a New Testament Christian principle that a person must freely choose to follow Jesus.
Pro-choice on the other hand is not a choice. It is the assertion that each woman has a right to make her own reproductive choice because it is her body. Abortion in the first trimester is a reasonable choice – not a good choice, but often the least bad one – and an individual woman should have the freedom to make that choice. The pro-choice position protects a woman’s right to a safe abortion as well as her right to have her baby. In China a national effort to control population growth resulted in women being forced to have abortions under a restriction that permitted only one child to a family. Life is complex and unpredictable, as are nations and legislatures. The only good reproductive rights law that any legislature can enact is one that recognizes the complexity of women’s lives and circumstances, their humanity, their love of life and of children, their freely-chosen moral and religious understandings, and their right to choose when and if they will become a mother.