Safe Abortion Should Be Embraced As Progress

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Safe Abortion Should Be Embraced As Progress

Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale and Susan Yanow

Thirty years ago, abortion was seen as a positive advancement -- medically, socially, and religiously. Now few want to claim it as a good.

"We should reduce the number of
abortions."

"Abortion should be safe, legal
and rare."

"Teens in Gloucester made a responsible
decision when they decided to keep their babies."

"Nobody likes abortion." 

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The Right has done it again. True, they’ve
not yet achieved everything they want legislatively; abortion is still
legal and available – in some places under some circumstances (although
they have been appallingly successful at whittling away at both availability
and legality). But, they have successfully changed the discourse —
and the moral climate — even within much of the pro-choice community. 

Thirty years ago, abortion was seen as
a positive advancement — medically, socially, and religiously. Medically,
abortion was seen as a solution to a public health problem, because safe
abortion reduced maternal mortality and morbidity. Socially, access
to abortion gave women the ability to order their reproductive, family,
and professional lives. From a religious perspective, abortion enabled
women to be responsible stewards of their God-given gifts and talents
— to make decisions about how to order their lives so that they could
best use those gifts to serve God and the common good. 

But now, after decades of badgering and
finger wagging from the purportedly morally superior Right, not only
are individual women succumbing to obligatory guilt where once there
was relief and gratitude, but even the pro-choice movement has jumped
on the bandwagon. Emphasizing the "rare" in "safe, legal, and
rare," focusing more on reducing need than on increasing availability, expecting these decisions to be fraught with moral ambiguity
and guilt…all of these (not bad in and of themselves) are disastrous
when put to the service of disparaging, rather than rejoicing in, abortion. 

How about a reality check? 

The reproductive justice movement has
clearly outlined what women need to control their reproductive lives. 
We need support for the children we want and the abortions we need. 
To be able to choose when and if to have children, we must value healthy
sexuality, live free of overt and covert violence and coercion, have
better contraceptive options, promote sex education in schools starting
from an early age, and be a society that respects women and our moral
agency.  We’re not even close to that. If we were, there
would still be women who needed abortions, but we’d need to rely on
that solution less often. 

Yes, we need to be sensitive to women
who struggle when choosing an abortion.  But that sensitivity
has shifted our frame to "abortion is painful, abortion should be
avoided." 

Can we reclaim the discourse?  When
a woman gets an abortion, how about being thankful that a safe medical
procedure exists to solve her problem?