“The right to life”—we are all endowed with it. It’s in the Declaration of Independence, next to the right to “liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Of course we believe in the right to life. But what if that life will be denied the liberty to pursue happiness? When we stick up for the right to life by trying to ban abortion, do we consider whether the child whom we mandate be born will have the love and care to maintain life? Do we consider whether the three rights are equal? Or whether “quality of life,” as implied by liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be taken into account? And are we talking about only the unborn lives or also those of the living who will be impacted by each new child? Because I can’t answer these questions for others, I support the availability of abortion.
I know a couple who already had four young children when they found they were unexpectedly pregnant with a fifth. The baby would likely be as beautiful and bright as its siblings, but the parents had neither the money nor energy to absorb another child without jeopardizing the welfare of all five. In a decision that would remain painful throughout their lives, the parents chose abortion. Abortion was not taken lightly. No need for the in utero photos brandished by pro-life supporters. The parents could picture the child whose life they were ending. But they could also picture the struggle for food, bedtimes with too few beds, no time for stories, no room in the car for everyone, and not enough money to be sure that each child would have the chance to experience anything—from camp to college.
Not that I prefer abortion. Contraception is my solution. I’m furious when two people, perhaps even strangers, hot for sex, and likely inebriated, have a one-night stand that results in a human being no one wants or is prepared to raise. Furious if a child is conceived to prove its father’s sexual prowess. Furious if its mother spreads her legs so she can boast, “See, he loves me. I’m going to have his baby.” No child asks to be a badge of its parents’ sexuality. Each baby deserves to be the result of a loving commitment to raising a human being. But since it’s unlikely that sex will be limited to those times when adults want to create or increase a family, contraception is the answer.
But contraception isn’t always reliable, affordable, or available—and never in rape. And so I support abortion because I care most about the welfare of the child after it’s born, not its right to a life that could be miserable. To me, abortion—like food, adequate housing, educational opportunity, and, most importantly, the parent’s desire to have a child—must be available to insure that each child born can pursue happiness.
What about the mother’s right to liberty? Without abortion as an option, a woman is forced to carry an unwanted child through birth. Nine months of her life dictated by others—perhaps because the contraception she’d counted on failed. Pro-lifers might argue that the baby can be put up for adoption. More cruelty— because once a woman has heard and held her baby, maternal instincts kick in. Giving the baby away is wrenching. And what if the child is not adopted? Right now, more children are eligible for adoption than there are adoptive parents. Even if we believe that life begins at conception, can we recognize that abortion might be a better alternative than lives constrained by whatever conditions caused the request for abortion?
Republicans in Congress, sympathetic to their evangelical base and with no respect for a woman’s right to liberty, champion the right to life of a fertilized egg but show little interest in assuring that the resulting child has a chance at happiness. They’re reluctant to increase support systems such as CHIP, to raise the minimum wage for over-worked parents, or to allow the puny tax breaks for the middle class to extend beyond eight years. Don’t the conditions of life count, too? Who should be the judge?