Pro-life vs. pro-choice: The real ethical dilemma

Sabrina Almeida

The leaked draft of the Supreme Court of the United States opinion striking down Roe v. Wade caused a firestorm of political debate about a women’s right to bodily autonomy this week, with some quite concerned about what it would mean for Canada. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reaffirmed his pro-choice stance, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen avoided taking sides by saying that her party will not reopen the abortion discussion.

If the supreme court were to overturn the national right to abortion, keeping it legal would then be left up to individual US states, around 13 of which have so-called trigger laws that would impose an immediate ban. However, in the absence of a uniform approach, the move would simply make it more difficult for women to access abortion services but not impossible. Meaning those who elected to terminate their pregnancies would have to travel to another state or come north of the border where these services are available.

The pro-life, pro-choice debate has often been coloured by religious beliefs. Pro-lifers have been fighting to criminalize abortion to protect life which they believe begins at conception. Most religions support this ideology which some see as orthodox and anti-women.

Those who are pro-choice, on the other hand, are looking to preserve a woman’s right to elective abortions. Their stance is simple – my body, my choice – it’s not up to the government to make reproductive or health decisions for women. Several global campaigns, including one by Amnesty International, raise awareness about these rights around the world particularly in countries where abortion is criminalized, or these decisions are taken by other people rather than the woman.

In America, as in Canada, the debate has also taken on political overtones with conservative Republicans pushing their anti-abortion agenda and liberal Democrats trying to defend their pro-choice ideology.

But in reality, banning abortion doesn’t necessarily achieve the pro-life objective. In many cases, it just gives rise to unsafe pregnancy termination practices, like drinking toxic mixtures and untrained people trying to break the amniotic sack with sharp objects. Consequent complications, such as heavy bleeding, infection, damage to internal organs or an incomplete abortion, often prove to be fatal because women are then afraid to seek medical assistance for the fear of being found out.

Unwanted pregnancies and the inability to freely access safe abortion services are also among the most common causes of infanticide nowadays. Stories of infant remains in dumpsters have their origins here.

Human rights bodies have therefore characterized restrictive abortion laws as discriminatory against women as well as disproportionately harmful to the people with the fewest resources. Sex education and easy access to contraception, on the other hand, can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and consequently abortions.

A study which showed that abortion rates have dropped globally over the past 25 years attributed it to increased and more effective contraceptive use. Another, though contradictory, stated that “it’s increased the most amongst the countries that are restricting or completely prohibiting abortion”. A 2021 research study, quoted by a Boston news station, also predicted that abortion bans would lead to a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths. All of these detrimental public health outcomes will disproportionately impact people of color and other people already facing inequities, it said.

What’s clear here is that taking away a woman’s right to elective abortions does not always end in a happy pro-life story as the anti-abortionists would have us believe.

A JAMA pediatric study found higher proportions of children born after denial of abortion experienced poor maternal bonding and lived in subjective poverty. This study’s findings suggest that access to abortion enables women to choose to have children at a time when they have more financial and emotional resources to devote to their children.

I’m pro-life and pro-choice. I strongly believe that the decision whether to have an abortion or not should be made by a woman not the government, after all it is she who has to live with the consequences of her choices. Any kind of coercion is morally and ethically wrong, just like abortion according to the pro-life stance!!! 

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