- Mothers have the right to choose when and if they have children.
- Unborn fetuses have a right to life, which is secondary to the mother's right to life.
- Sex, parenthood, and childbearing are sacred, and worthy of the highest protections our society can offer.
Most of the debate around abortion surrounds the competition that can arise between the first two principles: does a rape victim have a right to an abortion? Does consensual, unprotected sex constitute consent to the possibility of pregnancy? What about consensual, protected sex? Is abortion a valid back-up option for birth control?
The questions are challenging, and different people prioritize life and choice differently. My purpose here is not to claim that life is more important than choice, or that choice is more important than life. My purpose is to show how we can protect them both, simultaneously.
Similarly, sex education debates about birth control vs. abstinence are really about a false dichotomy between sexual agency and sexual sanctity; in reality, teenagers do make choices about sex, and sex is sacred, and the data I've seen shows pretty consistently that teaching about birth control, or even providing free birth control, does not make teens more promiscuous. In other words, whether they happen to have birth control handy is not usually the deciding factor when teens decide when to become sexually active.
A comprehensive approach to sexual agency, the sanctity of unborn life, and the sacredness of sex and parenthood involves at least four major policies:
- Public and private recognition of the dignity of the unpaid work of caring for children
- Support for parents who are struggling to provide for their children
- A culture that encourages teen fathers to be involved in their child's life and support
- A culture that celebrates both abstinence and birth control
Allow me to explain.
I loved Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate. I really did. But to me, his most offensive comment was not about the 47% who would vote for a Democrat no matter what because they benefit from government programs (which he apologized for)--I already knew he didn't really understand poverty, without him saying something unkind and memorable on the subject. No, what bothered me most was when he said that young mothers on government aid should be required to have a job outside the home so they could learn "the dignity of work."
How often we use the word work in that way--as if paid work, outside the home, was all that counted?
"Oh, your wife has kids. Does she work?"
"Your baby is 2 years old now. Are you planning to go back to work?"
"When are you going to put that degree of yours to work?"
Of course she works! Stay-at-home parents are some of the hardest workers in this economy. By failing to recognize their unpaid work, we put a huge amount of pressure on new parents, especially women. We could resolve this by using the word "work" differently, by recognizing that having a kid under 5 is a full-time job in our SNAP and TANF and other government aid requirements, and perhaps even by having a national database that tracks the amount of unpaid work being done in our civilization.
This leads into my second point: as a culture, we need to support young parents. Imagine how many more women would choose not to have an abortion if they knew their families, their churches, their governments, their employers, or other organizations would help them every step of the way? (Being unable to afford a child is consistently the top reason for getting an abortion, followed by fear that the new child would disrupt their career or education plans.) Imagine if we had decent maternity leave, paternity leave, and other programs to care for new parents!
Some people criticize those who have children because they know that they will have substantial help from parents or government programs. But having a child is an enormous sacrifice, a sacrifice that should be honored. Unless both the financial care and the caregiving labor are primarily given by someone else, by the parent's own choice, the parent deserves to be respected as such.
Getting fathers involved would add to that support system, financial and emotional. I'm not an expert on this, so here's a list of facts on teen dads. Educate yourself. Fatherhood is sacred and powerful and worthy of respect, no matter the age. Most teen fathers do want to be involved, even though they may not be of much support financially.
Finally, we need a culture that celebrates abstinence and birth control. It is my understanding that teaching abstinence in schools is marginally effective for kids who haven't started having sex yet, but kids who choose to wait are almost always doing so because of their religion or their family. On the other hand, birth control education in schools, as well as providing free birth control, are very effective for teens who have chosen to be sexually active.
Sexual agency--the right to choose when and with whom to have sex and children--is a sacred part of our free will. It is so central to our sense of self that being raped can cause PTSD, just like almost dying can. Birth control enhances our sexual agency, and if used consistently with one's conscience and religious convictions, it takes away nothing from the sacredness of sex and parenthood. It makes it easier to protect the mother's health by spacing out children; it allows a sexually active couple to go to God and ask how many children they should have, and when.
In summary, we can simultaneously keep sex sacred, protect unborn children, and uphold the woman's right to choose, by providing a culture and support system that upholds parenthood. If we have laws against abortion, this would give these laws a context that prevents dangerous illegal abortions and protects mothers' well-being. If we legalize abortion, then this system would minimize the number of abortions.
I hope that this perspective offers a common vocabulary and set of goals that helps conservatives and liberals to be Pro-Mother, together.