Friday, 19 October 2012

On being pro life AND pro choice and what it means.

Dawn Purvis - Programme Director of Marie Stopes in Belfast
I wanted to write about abortion last week when the news about Marie Stopes opening in Belfast first came out. I'm quite comfortable with my views on abortion and so it should have been, in theory, an easy post to write. In the end, it wasn't at all easy.

This may not come as a surprise but when I write, I consider the reception to whatever I write. Many of my friends are avidly pro choice, many are just as avidly pro life (please can we ignore the idiocy of the terminology for now?) and I wanted to be careful. That's not usually a consideration for me so it's an indicator of just how polarised the debate is.

Over the last week or so though, considerations for the views and opinions of the other side of the argument clearly hasn't concerned a whole host of commentators or even news outlets so I may as well weigh in. As the title says, I consider myself to be pro life and pro choice and I don't think the two positions are mutually exclusive. Why? Because I agree with many of the arguments presented by both sides. I don't agree with abortion; I consider the termination of a pregnancy at even a few weeks to be the ending of a life whilst acknowledging that the life at that point is little more than a collective of cells and tissue.

So that's my pro life position. My pro choice position is that it's not for me to make that determination for others and it's not for me to judge those who wish to have a termination. There are many valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy and I abhor the implication from some within the pro life camp that women use abortion as a method of contraception. One DUP Councillor referred to 'designer abortions' - about as awful language as you can get.

Abortion should be a last resort. It should be, as Bill Clinton once said, "safe, legal & rare". The part of me that is pro life says I should focus on how to make it rare, because making it illegal will undoubtedly make it unsafe.

So it is the pro life part of me that supports comprehensive sex education for all children in high schools; it's that part of me that supports free contraception for school children; it's the part of me that thinks girls shouldn't need their parents consent to get the pill - only their doctor's; it's the part of me that believes fully funded maternity and paternity leave for all employees should be available; it's the part of me that believes businesses and the state share a responsibility for providing affordable childcare to working parents; it's the part of me that thinks we should stop stigmatising single parents and it's the part of me that thinks adoption should be based on your ability and suitability to be a parent and not based on your sexuality.

You see: you can't be pro life unless you make preventing unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place your number one priority. You can't be pro life unless you have a plan to make continuing with a pregnancy the best option. It's not enough to just say 'oh, there's always other options and there'll be plenty of support' - you have to come up with the options, you have to provide the support.

Even after that, you have to cater for the exceptions - victims of rape & incest, genuine & serious health risks to the mother, the likelihood of stillbirth etc - but with the right approach to the issue, abortion will stay as an exception.

Anyone who thinks they'll ever be able to stop abortion from happening is deluded but if the majority of pro-life activists dedicated their time and energy into achieving the measures I outlined above, they'd soon see a huge drop in the demand for abortion and that's a more achievable goal.

Or they can continue to stand outside clinics intimidating women who desperately need help and advice. Yeah, i'm much happier with my definition of pro life.


  1. Amazing article, very well written and shows that because you may be pro-choice it doesn't mean you are pro-abortion! Well done

    1. Thank you very much, I appreciate the comment!

  2. Pretty much sums up my position as well, the Pro-lifers only see one thing that needs stopping and not all the other things that need doing. Also they judge, often from positions of comfort and full support, those that lack the back up, love ans support network that many have and take for granted.

    I once had a mother of one of a church youth group I used to lead (I'd moved back here since) call me on the matter of her teenaged daughter getting pregnant. She asked what should she do. I don't think she expected me to say, let your daughter make up her mind of what she wants to do and support her as best you can whatever she decides.

    FTR there is a fine young teenage boy with a loving mother and grandmother out there as a result of that support.

    1. As with just about every subject, I'd like a more mature debate and I'm constantly struck by how often pro life advocates talk of 'other options' but rarely talk about what they do to provide them.

  3. I wish we'd had more of this well thought out opinion this week, rather than the name calling and blinkered attitudes that we did have.

    1. Thanks, Linda. Really appreciate the positive response this piece had recieved.

  4. Excellent piece Ed. Brilliantly balanced. This is the sort of balanced piece that is so rare in the World of polemic pieces, arguing only one point of view. As a beginner blogist, your style is inspiring.

    I hope you don't mind me sharing my blog address on here - I have just started a PhD at the University of Stirling, and you can find out more on my blog. You are welcome to share the link or not. I'm trying to get across the facts about the run-up to the 2014 referendum, and to stimulate debate. I believe that the debate on Scotland's constitutional future has profound implications for the Union as a whole.


  5. Perfectly sums up the thoughts I've always had about abortion but sometimes found difficult to put into words! I've always found it ludicrous that the same people who are pro-life are also usually those who stigmatise single mothers. Great piece!