The Irony of Pro-Choice

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The Student Lounge at Harvard Law School is currently home to a “free speech” wall – created by student activists to be a place where disgruntled students can express their thoughts about the school. The wall reads “Harvard Law should stop/continue/start…” Students can place sticky notes with their opinions under the headers. When pro-life law student Josh Craddock placed a sticky note on the wall reading “Stop funding abortion in student health plan” (because yes, they currently do this) it was removed. Not once, but four times. When it became clear Josh would continue to replace the sticky note, his note was surrounded with other sticky notes containing pro-choice messaging, jeering and—dare I say it – even shaming his opinion.

It’s all only slightly ironic.

But hypocrisy and irony are not new to the pro-choice movement. And unfortunately, it doesn’t stop at a devastatingly wrong understanding of free speech. (And these are Harvard Law students?) The greatest irony of pro-choice is twofold. First, the legal changes intended to make our culture more pro-choice have actually reduced the choices available to underprivileged women. Second, the women who get abortions rarely describe their experience as anything like “choice.”

In the 1970s, when abortion was legalized and contraception was being made available to non-married individuals for the first time, the US went through something of a “reproductive technology shock,” sparking a cultural change that has fueled the feminization of poverty. In theory, the ability to prevent or end pregnancy was supposed to protect women from the poverty that tends to accompany single motherhood – effectively giving them more options. The exact opposite occurred. As the Brookings Institution explains, “Although many observers expected liberalized abortion and contraception to lead to fewer out-of-wedlock births, in fact the opposite happened because of the erosion in the custom of shotgun marriages.”

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Prior to the legal and cultural acceptance of abortion, men were held responsible for childbearing. Now, all a man has to do is offer to pay for the abortion. If the woman doesn’t want it – well, that’s her choice. The end result is a poverty cycle in which single mothers are disproportionately stuck. Far from increasing options for the underprivileged woman, the choice movement actually decreased them.

But even if a woman’s choices weren’t reduced, she still might feel as if they were. Immense pressure is exerted on women to abort unplanned babies. One study found that as many as two thirds of post-abortive women felt “forced” into aborting. It also found that the vast majority would have carried their baby to term if they had had better circumstances or more support.

Dr. David C. Reardon, writing for The Post-Abortion Review, says

“Such data suggests that rather than ‘choosing’ abortion, many women, perhaps most, are instead ‘submitting’ to abortion. The rhetoric of ‘choice’ may actually be obscuring the national problem of unwanted abortions – abortions on women who would prefer to keep their babies if only they could receive the love and support they need to empower them as mothers.”

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The reality is, “free speech” often means “free so long as we like it,” and “pro-choice” often means “pro-this-particular-choice.” It’s time the pro-choice movement reevaluated either its rhetoric or its aims. Giving women a choice who find themselves in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy isn’t just offering them an abortion free of charge – it’s empowering them to mother, educating them about adoption, providing them with affordable prenatal care, and being up front and honest about the costs of abortion.

To be pro-life is to be anti-abortion, but it is not to be anti-choice. To be pro-women is to be pro-options.