As we watch the current events unfold in the abortion debate, I have felt the need to revisit this topic with a piece I posted some time back on Facebook. I believe that it is valid to question the validity of supporting choices of women in childbirth while opposing the choice to abort. Is there a conflict in supporting freedom of choice in some arenas while opposing “choice” when it comes to abortion? Here is why I believe that it is consistent to hold to a pro-life position at the same time one espouses the position that women have the right to choose where and with whom they birth:
Some have wondered how I can be pro-birth freedom and pro-life at the same time. In other words, how can I justify supporting mothers’ choices in birth unless I also support their choices regarding abortion. And at first glance, it may seem inconsistent. But I don’t believe that it is, and here is why.
When I talk about Birth Freedom, I talk about the God-given, unalienable, Constitutional right to freedom or liberty, and to life. An unalienable right is not an arbitrary right that someone made up, like, say, the right to eat cream-filled doughnuts every morning, or the right to play video games. An unalienable right is one that government did not confer, and therefore, government cannot LEGITIMATELY take away. It is one that is inherent in humanity, like the right to digest your food. That is something that will happen with or without government approval. Unalienable rights are those common to the human condition. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution secure these rights, but they did not give them to us. As the founding fathers recognized, these are rights derived from God, as they stated in the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Birth Freedom falls under the Right to Life and Liberty. Under the Right to Life, a birthing mother faces a maternal mortality rate in the United States that is more than double what it was just 20 years ago. Our maternal mortality rate stands at the time of this writing at #49, rock bottom of the industrialized nations. And our infant mortality rate is only slightly better – an abysmal #42. All of this is on the watch of the doctors and hospitals. Every VALID study that has ever been done on midwives and homebirth has found the rates to be at least equal to, and most, better than hospital rates. And a mother’s chances of having an unnecessary c-section have greatly increased, bringing with it the increased risk of death or morbidity from the cesarean. Both homebirth and hospital birth carry their own set of risks. The essence of freedom demands that the choice of which risks to take, when the life of her and her baby hang in the balance, is the mother’s and no one else’s. And thus this falls under her Right to Life.
Under the Right to Liberty, a mother has the right to make choices regarding her freedom of movement. In many hospital births, it is not uncommon for a mother to be compelled to stay in bed, though she is not sick. For her to be refused food and drink, and even hardened criminals are afforded more liberty than she! For her to be cut or her most private places to be violated, even if she refuses. For her to be compelled to submit to procedures that can cause severe trauma for years to come. It is her Right to Liberty to stay in her own home with someone SHE trusts and do something her body was designed to do. Brain surgery must be done in the hospital, but birth is something that a woman can do anywhere. Even if she is deep in the woods with no one else around, and her time comes, birth will happen, with or without assistance. It is the way the female body was designed. The Right to Liberty is the right to do what her body will do anyway.
Birth Freedom, the right to birth where and with whom one chooses, is about choice, but it is about the right to choose life and liberty. This right comes from God, and has been secured by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and my hope is that it will be further secured by state governments that will recognize this fact.
A pro-life or anti-abortion stance is consistent with this view, because the baby in the womb has the God-given, Constitutional, unalienable right to life as well, because he/she is a person from the moment of conception with the ability to make choices, to remember, to discern tastes, to respond to external stimuli, to feel pain, and so on. My years of study of psychology and of midwifery and birth have borne this out, as well as my own memories from the womb. Many prominent people in the birth world have testified to the importance of the prenatal period upon the person in the womb. Dr. Michel Odent, Dr. David Chamberlain, Dr. Thomas Verney, Joseph Chilton Pierce, Suzanne Arms, Karen Strange, and Mama Hug Barbara Stevens all have made profound contributions to our understanding of what babies feel, know, remember, and are capable of in the womb. Though I do not know, and cannot speak to, their stance on abortion, their works support the concept of the personhood of the pre-born baby. I know that the baby in the womb is capable of choosing life. The decision to end his or her life does not belong to anyone else, just as the decision to end the life of a mother does not belong to anyone else.
There is the fear of some, as well as the overreach of some, to extend the baby’s Right to Life to include the right to health, to a perfect womb environment, to be free from any potential harm that the mother may cause by her lifestyle. There are actually cases where women have been jailed for making unpopular decisions, and this certainly takes it too far. We don’t need nanny government to protect us from every real or imagined threat or harm. Life just doesn’t work that way. The way to avoid such extremes is to remember where the foundation of the Right to Life came from. It is the unalienable, God-given right, common to all humans, secured by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Right to Life is exactly that, no more, no less.
There is the belief among some that to be pro-life is to be anti-woman, and I want to address that as well. Just as I am an ardent supporter of truly informed choice for birthing mothers in regards to things like cesareans, inductions, epidurals, and so on, I have recently recognized that there is a desperate need for truly informed choice about abortion. There has been almost a black-out of information reaching the public about the effects of abortion, and women “choose” without having a clue what the ramifications are. Because abortion is legal, it is considered safe. But Cytotec and cesareans are also legal. Would you call them “safe”? Just as no one told me of the myriad of side effects and complications that could arise from my epidural, women are entering abortion facilities with just as much blind faith as I had in my epidural. No one tells them that many women will show up soon in the local emergency room from things like hemorrhage, perforated uterus, nicked bowels, or even incomplete abortion. No one tells them that they could die. Or that it often hurts terribly. They don’t know that their chances of being rendered infertile or of having breast cancer or having a subsequent baby be born prematurely are increased. They believe that the abortion will “fix” the problem, but they don’t realize that their problems are just beginning. Depression, suicide, anorexia, bulimia, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse have all been associated with post-abortive women at a higher rate than those who have not had an abortion. Nightmares, numbness, and mental illness increase. Borderline Personality Disorder is seen most often in women who have had abortions. And for those abortions done to save a relationship, the relationship statistically will end in less than a year. Women are often manipulated and coerced into an abortion by a boyfriend, husband, parents, or even doctor. Often, it wasn’t even THEIR choice! These are the stories that we are just beginning to talk about.
A woman in a desperate situation, with hormones and emotions raging, is extremely vulnerable to pressure from an “expert,” and she may wind up making a choice she never wanted to make, and that choice may haunt her for the rest of her life! Let’s compare her desperation to a man trying to jump off of a bridge. Do we fight for his right to jump? Do we hold rallies campaigning for legislation to help him be free to jump? Of course not. But as a culture we all see the harm in his jumping, even though technically he always has the right to choose. The problem is that we are so focused on the right to choose that we fail to acknowledge or communicate the harm TO THE MOTHER that her choice can cause. Because the focus is on her right, we fail to do everything we can to give her other options and support her in her unbelievably difficult circumstance. But just as TRULY helping the man wanting to jump involves encouraging him as a person, empathizing with his heartache, and offering to help him face the problems that are driving him to his desperate choice, we can BE THERE for the mother wrestling with abortion, encouraging, empathizing, and offering real hep in dealing with the pregnancy. Pro-life feminist Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote: “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 it own leg. Abortion is a tragic attempt to escape a desperate situation by an act of violence and self-loss. Abortion is not a sign that women are free, but a sign that they are desperate.” And I, as an advocate for mamas and babies, believe that women have a right to hear these things, to truly be informed about the choices she is considering. That is the heart of being pro-woman. Withholding information or pushing woman into choices she really is not ready to make, to me, is actually what is anti-woman.
And so I say that the reason that I can be both pro-Birth Freedom and Pro-Life is because the foundation for both is the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and before that, from the nature of the Creator. They are not incompatible concepts. They are quite consistent with each other.