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What Pro-Choice Really Means

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By Joyce Arthur, Pro-Choice Action Network

With support from Everywoman's Health Centre and Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic in Vancouver, and the Kensington Clinic in Calgary.

A localized version of this article was published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper, August 24, 2000

Mainstream media, under the influence of anti-choice lobbying and propaganda, contribute significantly to the promotion of basic misconceptions about the pro-choice position and abortion services to the general public.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the abortion issue lies in the way people often refer to anti-choice and pro-choice as "two sides." In fact, the anti-choice are in favour of forced motherhood, and the opposite of that is forced abortion. We oppose both of these extremist positions.

Pro-choice occupies the broad middle ground on the abortion issue. A large majority of North Americans believe abortion should be decided privately between a woman and her doctor. Pro-choice people include those who are personally against abortion or feel uncomfortable with it, but who would not impose their viewpoint by law onto all women. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. We do not advocate abortion over birth - we simply defend the right of women to decide for themselves. The pro-choice movement supports and works towards preventing unwanted pregnancies, reducing abortion, promoting contraception, educating women and youth, and ensuring families have the necessary resources to raise healthy, happy children.

But most anti-choice groups oppose contraception and sex education. They want to return to the days of illegal, unsafe abortion, while naively trying to stop women and youth from even having sex. Under those terms, no common ground exists between pro-choice and anti-choice. That's why the pro-choice movement largely struggles alone in our efforts to decrease the need for abortion, and it's why most of us refuse to publicly debate anti-choice spokespersons. Legal, safe abortion is a matter of fundamental human rights for women - because laws against abortion don't stop abortion. They only kill and maim women, turn them into criminals, and reduce them to second-class citizens. We are repelled at the thought of debating those who wish to strip women of their rights and turn them into baby-making machines.

The anti-choice often accuse us of trivializing the fetus - for example, we apparently call fetuses "lumps of tissue" or "blobs." But the only time I've ever heard the word "blob" used to describe a fetus or embyro is when the anti-choice attribute it to us. No matter how much they want us to use that word or similar terms, the abortion services community is well-aware of what is really inside a pregnant woman. But so is almost everyone over the age of six.

The anti-choice imagine that they know what goes on inside abortion clinics, and unfortunately, many of these mistaken ideas make their way into public discourse. Here are the facts:

  • Clinics and hospitals follow proper medical protocols for abortion. Most clinics are members of the National Abortion Federation, and follow NAF's Clinical Policy Guidelines, which are rigorous and professional.
  • Clinics must provide full information on abortion's risks and side-effects, and the abortion procedure itself. They often explain to the woman exactly what is happening during the abortion, if she wishes.
  • Clinics allow a woman to view the aborted fetus or embryo, if she wishes.
  • Clinics usually inform a woman if she is carrying twins (if this has been determined from the ultrasound). This is because it sometimes leads a woman to rethink her decision.
  • Clinics provide fetal development photos and information and show women their ultrasound pictures, if women request this. Professional counselors do not force information onto women who don't want it, because good counseling is "patient-directed".
  • Clinics offer non-judgmental options counseling to women who are unsure, providing information and referrals on adoption and keeping the baby.
  • Women are counseled on birth control, and given education and information on reproductive health issues.
  • The vast majority of women who come to abortion clinics have already made a firm decision to have an abortion, and will not be dissuaded by anti-abortion picketers.
  • Women who are unsure what to do are strongly encouraged to take more time to decide.
  • The few women who are ambivalent about their decision to have an abortion are counseled carefully to make sure they understand their decision and take responsibility for it, as far as possible. Some of these women ultimately decide to have their babies, but many return later with a strong resolve to have an abortion.
  • Roughly 1-5% of women who come to a clinic for an abortion change their minds after counseling. A typical abortion clinic counselor saves far more "unborn babies" in a year than an anti-choice picketer saves in a lifetime.
  • Women are generally counseled alone to ensure they are freely choosing abortion. If a counselor learns (or even senses) that someone is coercing a woman into an abortion, an abortion will not be performed unless the woman makes her own decision.
  • Clinic counselors spend much time clearing up women's anxieties and unfounded fears about abortion, caused by anti-choice propaganda and scare-mongering. Abortion is a simple and extremely safe procedure with a very low complication rate. It does not cause excessive pain or bleeding, infertility, future miscarriages, breast cancer, or child abuse. It rarely leads to long-term psychological problems.

The pro-choice movement and abortion providers are in the business of protecting and respecting women's human rights, their moral autonomy, and their choices. We want every mother to be willing and every child to be wanted. We are pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family, and pro-life, in the true sense of that term.

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