20 years ago the Supreme Court of Canada made the only right and just choice when they struck down the laws restricting the right of women to control their biological destiny, eliminating abortion from the criminal code. A society that does not provide a guaranteed adequate annual income, safe and affordable housing, emotional and social supports for those dealing with a pregnancy in personally difficult times, universal good quality child care, equal access to the best possible health care; a society that does not do everything possible to make having a child a universally desired experience is one that should not create barriers for women facing difficult decisions. Until there are such minimal standards, the whole debate around abortion feels wrong. We do not have a society where the concept of a truly free choice about whether or not to have an abortion can be fully realised.
Over the years I have had the chance to work with seamless pro-life people—usually from the Catholic and traditional peace churches but also within the anarchist community. They oppose abortion and euthanasia, but also oppose war and capital punishment. They have been a minority voice, often drowned out in the louder debates. At its core, the seamless pro-life people believe that it is wrong for anyone to take the life of another. And, in essence, I believe this as well. I can not help but feel that we are diminished individually and collectively when we harm one another—and for the most part the greatest harm we can do is to kill someone. I also feel that killing takes many forms—we kill the spirit; we kill hope; we kill potential. And in dealing with the pro-life/pro-choice debate we also deal with what we are willing to impose as punishment on those who chose abortion. I don’t desire to kill the spirit, hope and potential of a pregnant woman faced with a difficult decision. I can not picture myself ordering the imprisonment of a 13 year old incest victim or 38 year rape victim or a 44 year old dealing with difficult news from ultrasound and other tests; I can not see myself fining, jailing or executing a doctor for performing an abortion for reasons that are only marginally related to health. If I won’t punish a woman for having an abortion or a doctor for performing an abortion in a proper medical facility, on what grounds could I ask society as a whole to step in and punish someone?
To decrease abortion, to move to a truly pro-choice world, common ground can be found. A sufficiently high guaranteed annual income so that all can live in dignity will help. So will access to, and information on, safe birth control (information that was illegal to distribute in Canada until the late 1960s—made legal primarily due to an effective civil disobedience campaign supported by many within the United Church of Canada and other faith communities), barrier free access to education from pre-school to post-graduate studies, an end to all forms of gender discrimination, an end to violence in our homes and in the streets—-in short a better world for all women will inevitably lead to removing social and individual pressures on women to have an abortion.
As someone who will never be pregnant, my voice on this topic should be muted. None-the-less, as there are many within the faith community stating that women should be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy I do want to be public with a voice of support for choice. And if I am serious about being pro-choice I do need to work towards a society where social justice is woven into the very core of how our society functions. It is a way of practical solidarity with all those facing harsh realities and hard decisions.