Kenlissia Jones, a 23 year old woman from Albany, was this month arrested for 'malice murder' after she induced her own abortion with pills she purchased off the internet. Her charges have since been dropped, with it being ruled that under Georgia state law a person cannot be prosecuted for ending their own pregnancy. Though this is in some respects a victory, it is time to examine the ways in which our attitudes to abortion lead to this kind of situation in the first place.
The pro-life versus pro-choice debate has rumbled on for years, and shows no signs of stopping. In a nutshell, it concerns whether a pregnant person has the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to full term. For pro-lifers, they do not, because terminating a foetus is murder. For pro-choicers, they do, because the rights of an unborn foetus do not trump a person's right of determination over their own body. Amnesty International has recently launched a new campaign stating that refusing a person an abortion, as is currently the case in Ireland where it is a criminal offence to have one, is tantamount to torture. Across the pond, the legality surrounding abortions is by and large the same. Even in Britain, where we may take it for granted, abortion is still criminalised after 24 weeks gestation, with regular attempts by parliament to get that time limit lowered.
What we need to discuss is why this is something we are criminalising at all. There is a misconception that people treat abortion frivolously, seeing it as just another means of contraception. There may well be people who do feel this way, and given doctors can give the procedure safely, they are perfectly entitled to do so. However, it is a mistake to ignore that, though medical and psychiatric opinion is that the after-effects of abortion are on the whole neither major or long-lasting, it can still be a stressful decision and procedure to go through. If there are people who see abortion as an easy way out, especially when it is still stigmatised and difficult to talk openly about, it is hard to imagine they are a majority.
With this in mind, we have to realise that people choosing abortion are not doing so lightly. When Jones opted to buy pills from the Internet, she put herself in immense danger. It is likely that terminating her pregnancy in this way caused her a great deal of pain. She is not the only one. In 1994, a teenager in Florida shot herself in the abdomen because she could not afford an abortion. These women were not taking decisions flippantly; they were willing to seriously injure if not kill themselves in order to end their pregnancies.
Carrying through these pregnancies, then, must be similarly life or death. Nobody knows better than a pregnant person whether or not they are physically, mentally or economically capable of raising a child. This is especially true when considering previous surveys have suggested that the majority of people having abortions are already parents. Far from being a case of them not respecting the sanctity of life or not understanding the beauty of bringing a child into the world, it is the fact that they do that leads them to the conclusion that abortion is the best route.
Even those who have not had children can surely know that they are not able to provide what a child needs. In an age where sex does not come after marriage and only for reproduction, where parenthood is no longer the end-goal of many young people, and where people's rights and freedoms are considered more important than ever, this is perfectly acceptable. Not wanting to give birth or have a child is fine. Wanting to have a child but not having the means to raise one is fine. Any answer that anyone could give in this scenario is fine. Nobody should be forced to give birth if they don't want to.
We need laws, and we need a shift in public discourse, that reflects this. If abortion was universally free, safe, accessible, and decriminalised up to the point of birth, pregnant people would not feel the need to place themselves in extreme danger time and time again. This is as true in the West as it is globally, as the World Health Organisation repeatedly reports that millions of unsafe abortions are estimated to take place worldwide each year, almost all in developing countries. The global demand for abortions is evident, as is the fact that even where abortion is not provided safely, legally or without charge, people still obtain it in huge numbers. It is vital that we give them what they need, with access to education, contraception, and support, to ensure that they are always able to make the best choices for themselves.