Safe, legal, and rare

Much internet bandwidth has been taken up over the last few days on the matter of abortion, after some legislative initiatives in a couple of states in the USA. It’s a fraught issue, no matter on which side of the divide you find yourself. Do I dare wade into the issue? I have a feeling that whatever position I take, I risk losing the affection of some friends.


When abortion first became legal in Canada, my father was deeply distressed. He was a dedicated doctor and committed Christian, regarding abortion as murder. He could not at first reconcile himself to its legality in this country. A few years later, somewhat against his wishes, he found himself as a member of the local “Therapeutic Abortion Committee” charged with reviewing abortion requests, as was then required in Canada.

His time on that committee changed his position dramatically. He told me that he had never before really encountered women seeking to terminate pregnancies, but now he was required to hear their stories first-hand. What he learned was that in almost of all the cases they considered, the “applicants” had no good choices. Desperation was the rule, and if they could not get a legal abortion, many women intended to procure one by any other available means.

In other words, these abortions were going to happen, whether my father liked it or not. If the committee did not approve a request, the procedure would likely happen in unsafe and illegal circumstances, putting the mother’s life at dire risk.

This was in the 1970’s. Unsafe and illegal abortions had been happening for centuries (millennia?) before that. Untold numbers of women had died seeking to assert some control over their lives and what was happening in their bodies. The new legislation in Canada sought to make abortion safe and legal, reducing the death toll. Surely that was a good thing.

But (again) nonetheless…

Whatever the legislators of the world may decree, women will continue to assert their right to reproductive choice. The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be up to the woman in question — and to no-one else.

Every abortion is in some way the ending of a life, however we understand it. No abortion is a good thing, but it well may be the least bad outcome of a bad situation.

I believe that abortions should be safe and legal, and that women have the right to choose when and if they will bear a child. I also believe that abortions should be rare.

Current moves to re-criminalize abortion focus only on the act. In economic terms, they are supply-driven. The thinking seems to be that if you cut off the supply of the service, the act will disappear. History and human experience such as my father’s tell us that this is a vain hope. Sending an Alabama doctor to jail for 99 years will never eliminate the desperate need experienced by many women.

Speaking again in economic terms, to make abortions rare, we should address the demand. What kinds of situations lead to women needing to terminate pregnancies? Incest and rape have been widely adverted to as particular circumstances, but they are in fact the exceptions. There are many others: poverty, domestic violence, illness, unemployment, lack of appropriate housing — all of these factors and others contribute to the demand for abortion.

To make abortion rare, we must build a society in which every child is wanted, every child is cared for, every child is safe in his or her home, every child has an equal prospect of growing up in peace and happiness.

Banning abortion will do none of this.

To be truly “pro-life” means to me to promote quality of life for everyone. To be truly “pro-choice” means to me to give the possibility of a real choice for a decent life for everyone. I can see no real conflict between these two positions.

Abortion should be safe.
Abortion should be legal.
Abortion should be rare.

As a man, I relinquish all supposed authority over what choices any woman may make about her sexual and reproductive choices. That’s not my right.

Here I stand.
I can do no other.