In a humane society, where women are not treated as second-class citizens and all life is truly valued, the way to be pro-life is to be pro-choice.
That does not mean making abortion — in some, many or all cases — legal and just standing back to “trust women” to work it all out for themselves. No, it’s a much heavier lift than that. But it is doable.
Being truly pro-life means actively working to provide women — and men — with choices, choices given to individuals that lead to a society with many fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer women who have to face those pregnancies alone, with no support, no prospects, no other way out.
It means giving women the choice of completing their education — high school, trade school, medical school — as fits their interests and abilities, without taking on crushing debt. The choice of a self-directed life in which early or unplanned pregnancies are not seen as normal, inevitable or a means of self-preservation.
It means giving women the choice of low-cost — free would be better — safe and effective forms of contraception. It means offering both genders complete and judgment-free sex education at age-appropriate levels.
It means giving women the choice of living in a society where their male contemporaries are raised to respect women, not treat them as objects for sexual gratification, not abandon them or, worse, coerce them into having abortions.
It means giving all people the choice of easy access to basic health care, including mental health and addiction treatment. A choice of living in a nation that, unlike this one, does not have appalling levels of maternal and child mortality.
It means the choice of jobs at livable wages, and housing that real people can afford.
It means the choice of living in a culture where tools of death don’t have more constitutional protections than women’s bodies.
It means the choice of living somewhere where laws governing reproductive physiology are not made by people who are astoundingly, if not willfully, ignorant of the subject. It means voting out lawmakers who really seem to think that women can fend off pregnancies created by “genuine rape,” that ectopic pregnancies can be surgically repositioned, that the vibration of fetal cells at six weeks’ gestation constitutes a “heartbeat.”
We know these things matter, if significantly reducing the number of abortions sought, and thus the number of abortions performed, is the real goal.
We know this because, in the United States, affluent women have abortions at much lower rates than poor women, not because they are better people but because they have choices. We know this because, in Colorado, where the state rolled out a program of free, long-term contraception for low-income women, abortion rates plummeted.
We know this because, in Western Europe, where women can count on the extensive support system that American women have to pay for, women also have abortions at lower rates. In poor countries, without healthy social safety nets, not so much.
The goal of the current wave of state laws seeking to prohibit abortion in virtually all cases is not to reduce abortions. It is not to “respect life.”
It is to be cruel, to be coercive, to excite a political base, to pretend to solve a public health problem with law enforcement tools, to further boost mass incarceration, to Make America Great Again by making women legally inferior again.
It resembles not any form of enlightenment but the folly and meanness of the War on Drugs all over again. Utah’s elected leaders, who have recently shown some courageous — if underfunded — enlightenment by moving away from a criminalizing approach to drugs, should resist any temptation to treat abortion as a crime.
Respect for life means respect for women’s choices. And making sure they have more of them.