- The pro-life and pro-choice debate and the right to safe medical access to abortion
By Grace Wickremasinghe
“No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
The term abortion holds a negative connotation across the globe, even today. Some due to cultural and religious ideologies, some due to moral dilemmas, while those from a liberal school of thought hold opposing views.
For the sake of clarity, I will briefly explain the difference between the two main opposing schools of thought. Pro-life is the belief that the foetus and human life are sacred and must not be terminated under any circumstances. Pro-choice holds the view that women and those that identify as women or potential mothers or have the capability to bear children or give birth have the right to choose whether or not to carry a foetus or child to term.
Of course, neither of these views is absolute. Between pro-life and pro-choice, lies a spectrum of opinions and views; both pro-life and pro-choice persons, on occasion, have a meeting of the minds to be pro-choice or rather allow abortion on specified instances. They may include but are not limited to abortion when the foetus threatens or endangers the mother’s life, abortion when the foetus is conceived by rape or an act of incest, and where the baby is or has the likelihood to be deformed or handicapped, i.e foetal impairment.
Both sides of the argument
I, myself being pro-choice, find the opposing terminology of pro-life problematic. It paints a picture that pro-life means that you’re pro-“right to life” and pro-choice isn’t. The reality is far more complicated than that. Pro-choice doesn’t mean one hates babies and believes no one should have children or some similar, extreme viewpoint.
It simply means that they believe that all women and people capable of carrying a child to term deserve the right to have safe medical access to abortion if they so wish to – meaning a safe medical procedure exists for all regardless of social status and reasons for abortion, that there is no need to “justify” why one “deserves” or “needs” an abortion, rather that they simply do. The pro-life group argues against this stating that this liberty would create floodgates, causing “everyone to get an abortion”.
For a myriad of reasons, this argument is logically flawed. No matter how safe a procedure is, there’s always a calculated risk. For example, a healthy and rational person would never extract a tooth or their own appendix, just because access to the medical procedure is freely and safely available. While the procedure for abortion is much more complicated than the extraction of a tooth and appendix removal, the rationale remains the same. If we take into account states with legalised abortion, it is unlikely that we will note a massive influx of abortion. The freedom to choose exists and what people do with that freedom and right is essentially their prerogative.
Nobody regards an abortion lightly. It’s a calculated risk people take to escape abusive marriages, financial hardship, trauma, mental health struggles, et al.
An abortion essentially is similar to a medically induced miscarriage. It’s no secret that natural miscarriages physically and mentally drain people, so one can only imagine how painful abortion is. Why would it be a decision people take lightly? A quote by Fredrica Mathewes-Green carefully and creatively captures the essence of an abortion. She says: “Nobody wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
In Sri Lanka, the S.303 Penal Code only allows abortion for the purpose of saving the life of the mother – meaning, unless there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, any abortion caused is considered to be a criminal offence that could result in three years of imprisonment. The practice is such that three medical doctors should agree and recommend an abortion, verifying that the mother’s life is actually at risk.
Despite the legal ramifications, back alley abortions continue to be rampant. It is in fact a shining example of the real and pertinent need for such safe access to abortion, as a basic medical right for any woman that wants one. In the patriarchal society that we live in, female autonomy and livelihood are policed, time and time again, sometimes even at the cost of women’s lives.
Earlier this year, a 13-year-old girl child from Mullativu died as a result of a botched home abortion performed by the mother. She is only one of a thousand such victims. Obviously, she is a victim of rape, as the age of consent is 16, and her desperate mother tried to salvage the victim’s mental and physical state and her future by trying to prevent her from carrying to term her rapist’s child.
We, unfortunately, live in a world that victim-blames the raped child, criminally prosecutes the mother, and turns a blind eye to the rapist. If by any chance such a child is brought to term by the victim who previously unsuccessfully attempted an abortion, we show no empathy or mercy but rather sharpen our knives and pass judgments on realities in people’s lives that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
No person under any circumstance should be forced by the State to carry to term a child they don’t want. Not only is it inhumane to the mother, but also, the child is born to a mother that was forced upon them. This may result in the mother being resentful towards the child, perhaps leading to childhood neglect, trauma, and all forms of abuse.
What we need as a country and society is far more empathy, compassion, and stronger and more progressive medical and judicial precedent, to better cater to an epidemic that affects the lives of over half of our population first-hand.
(The writer is a passionate poet and advocate of women and gender issues, with an academic background in law, gender studies, forensic science, and criminal psychology)