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September 15, 2008

Maybe it depends on what the choice is?

Pregnant I know we're supposed to leave the pregnant 17-year-old daughter of the Republican vice-presidential candidate out of the political discussion, but she does inspire some personal reflection for me.

As I've gotten older, and further away from the situation, it's become pretty easy for me to be open about that fact that I was a pregnant, unmarried, nineteen-year-old college student. My boyfriend of nearly a year and a half was the father, and we had already talked many times about getting married after we finished college - this moved the date up a couple of years. My parents couldn't have been happy about this, but they were very supportive. They made room for us in their house (I was still living there anyway), helped us stay on track to finish our university degrees, and provided assistance with childcare and other matters of daily life until we were ready to get out on our own.

My parents were also devout Catholics, and I'm sure one reason they were supportive in my situation is that they believed that I was making the right choice - marrying the father and having the baby. And while I doubt they were pleased that there was a baby on the way at that time in my life, this did tell them that we weren't using non-Church-sanctioned, "artificial" methods of birth control. (It did tell them we'd had sex, though...couldn't keep that one a secret anymore.) Had I made a different decision, they might not have taken it so well. However, one important difference between 19 and 17 is 18 - the attainment of adult legal status. My parents officially had no say in my decision.

This happened almost eleven years after abortion was made legal, and almost 25 years later, I'm sometimes amazed that there's still debate about that issue, and that its status remains precarious. While I don't think I would have gone that route even if my circumstances had been different - I've always thought I would have most likely given the baby up for adoption, because in no way was I prepared to be a single parent at that stage of my life - I have always appreciated that a legal, safe abortion was an option for me.  To me, that's what being "pro-choice" really means - not necessarily that you choose to abort a pregnancy, but that you accept and respect that it is one possible response to a pregnancy.

A long-popular "pro-life" bumper sticker says "It's a child, not a choice." Yes, it is. And because it is, the decisions concerning it need to consider things well beyond the months of pregnancy - long-term issues affecting the life of that child, from the moment it arrives and onward. I think that being truly "pro-life" means concern for the life of that child, taking into account the parent's ability to support and care for him or her at the most basic level - to provide a healthy and safe environment, to feed and nurture, to educate. A concern for the life of that child has to consider that the biological parent may require community support in order to meet the child's needs. A concern for the life of that child needs to include a concern for the life of the parent - her health, her resources, her readiness for the commitment involved. A truly "pro-life" viewpoint needs to consider more than just the biological definition of when life starts.

But some choices are made well before someone has to consider what to do about an unexpected pregnancy.  Celibacy or abstinence is a nearly foolproof preventive method that actually is chosen by some people, but it's just unrealistic not to address birth control that acknowledges that sex happens. Ideally, before it does happen, the people involved have chosen methods to protect themselves and each other - and when it happens, they actually choose to use them. Instruction about and access to effective birth control is a start, but choosing to make use of it can help make other choices down the road unnecessary. (I speak from experience on this, as you can infer from earlier in this post.)

Abortion was not what I chose in my own circumstances, but if someone else's were different, her choice might well be too. I understand that some people may see framing it as a woman's choice about her own body as selfishness, but let's be honest; in many situations where abortion ends up being the response to a pregnancy, the woman didn't get pregnant by herself, but she's the only one around to make the decision. No one I've known who has taken a "pro-choice" position has ever declared a belief that abortion is a good thing. It's not, and it's not a substitute for effective birth control either, but I think a realist has to accept that it's sometimes necessary, and that safe, legal access to it is better than the alternative - because, being honest again, some people will seek it out regardless.

I believe that supporting the right to a safe and legal abortion is the same as supporting the decision to carry, give birth to, and raise a child with a known developmental disability. It's the same as supporting the choice to embark on single parenthood, or to give a baby up for adoption, or even to accelerate wedding plans (although in my opinion, it's not the best choice for a couple who never considered marrying in the first place to do it because a baby's on the way, especially considering the marriage casualty rate). Ultimately, I believe that supporting comprehensive sex education, including birth-control information, access, and use, would reduce the need to make any of these choices - and for me, that's a truly "pro-life" position.

An original Los Angeles Moms Blog post

Although her personal blog, The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness, is mostly about books and more mundane matters, Florinda Pendley Vasquez does sometimes veer off on a more political path.


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