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Commentary: Abortion is about the pressure and pain of real people. Don't get lost in the political narratives

Op-ed

These decisions are not made by people based on politics

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

An Alabama man is suing the clinic at which his girlfriend got an abortion against his wishes.

The county has recognized the aborted fetus as a human with rights, allowing the lawsuit to go forward. Attributing personhood to an unborn child is something that outrages pro-abortion/pro-choice advocates.

One of the responses to this story has been to accuse the man of trying to control the woman. This line of thinking exposes a problem with how we discuss abortion, regardless of what side of the issue we're on. We try to fit everything into the macro narrative. But that's not how these decisions are made.

It's easy, when discussing abortion in the media from a legal or political perspective, to view the issue through the lens of whatever big-picture narrative will resonate with our audiences or fits with our own legal or political views.

And that may be how decisions will ultimately get made by the Supreme Court or by Congress, but there is a place for more awareness and discussion in society about the micro-level considerations that lead to individual women or couples deciding to get an abortion.

While the variables are certainly more diverse than I will claim to have a grasp on, I feel confident in saying that no pregnant woman or couple that has decided to terminate a pregnancy made that decision based on grand ideas of women's rights, or patriarchal control over women's bodies, or any of the other social frameworks we construct around the issue.

Abortion is typically an act of desperation. It is a decision often fraught with guilt, fear, secrecy, shame, and which can be followed by severe regret, even if a person's political or moral beliefs affirm abortion as right.

People who get abortions are people who feel like they can't make it any other way. They feel like that pregnancy represents the end of their hopes and dreams, or the end of their reputation with their families, or the end of their ability to make ends meet financially.

That's why it's so cruel and harmful to the pro-life movement for people to stand outside abortion clinics and berate the women who enter and exit. Those people don't need judgment. They need help. Many of them, if they had more help, would never have had to go there in the first place.

A flaw I've observed with some pro-life advocates is that there is a tendency to love and value the life of the unborn child more than the life and challenges of the pregnant woman who feels like she has to get an abortion. In an effort to protect the unborn child, we can often carelessly belittle women who would even consider an abortion.

Not to say the unborn child should be loved less, but the solution to reducing the number of abortions in this country is not simply to cause guilt in people over how horrible abortion is. We have to show compassion for those who are likely to choose that route and seek solutions to the problems that lead them there.

I don't think most people who get abortions are happy about having to do it. I don't think they are evil people who celebrate their ability to exercise the power of choice and end the life of their unborn child. Yes, I know some people want to "shout their abortions," but I don't think those are people the pro-life movement will ever have influence over.

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the case of the Alabama man suing over his girlfriend's abortion puts the woman's rights third in line behind those of the woman and the unborn child. That's a big-picture legal argument. And there is a place for that fight.

But don't forget to look more closely and see a young man who conceived a child with his girlfriend, and who wanted it to live, because it would have been his son or daughter as well. It's important to acknowledge the significance of that, apart from fighting over who is the most important person in the equation. They're all important. They're all real. They all need help.

We can't only look at cases like this as legal and political battlegrounds, even though that is, by necessity, partially what they are. We should also remember that in this case, and many other cases that result or could result in abortion, hurting and scared people are overwhelmed in a situation that is leading them to consider the most extreme choice possible: to take a helpless life.

They're not just pawns and anecdotes to be weaponized online to further a stance. They represent the people who need to be seen, reached, and loved if the pro-life effort is going to be truly successful in this country.

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