In case you missed it, we launched The Minimise Podcast this week. In our first episode, Muireann and Ben interview Minimise’s own Ciara about changing her mind from being pro-choice to pro-life, and what lead her to making that move. Give it a listen!
One of the most well-known pro-choice slogans is a very simple one: ‘Trust women’. As far as many pro-life people are concerned, this slogan is completely nonsensical, while for pro-choice people, it’s a slam dunk. I think this slogan is mostly wrong, but that pro-life people can still learn from it.
Blind trust in women doesn’t apply in any other situation
Pro-life people often get exasperated by this slogan due to how blunt and ridiculous it sounds when applied to any other situation. No one would say you should feel completely comfortable leaving your phone and wallet in plain view in a women’s changing room. No one thinks women who plead ‘not guilty’ to crimes should be automatically cleared of all charges while men should proceed to trial. No one thinks you should follow patently stupid advice just because it was issued by a woman.
But in fairness to pro-choice people, it’s just a slogan – maybe what pro-choice people mean is, ‘Trust women when it comes to pregnancy’? Or, maybe not.
Even when it comes to pregnancy, people don’t advocate blind trust in women
The pro-choice credentials of retired obstetrician Peter Boylan could hardly be stronger: he was one of the front-runners of the campaign to end Ireland’s legal ban on abortion. Boylan did countless media interviews and wrote many articles in which he argued, amongst other things, that we should ‘trust women’ and get rid of legal protection for unborn babies. But here’s what Boylan had to say when he was asked what he thought of providing free folic acid, which is known to greatly decrease the probability of neural tube defects in unborn babies:
With regard to neural tube defects and folic acid supplementation, the easiest way of getting around that is to supplement food on a nationwide basis. Education is essential and to be recommended but it will not work. We should supplement food in the same way that we put fluoride in the water, which helps our teeth. I do not see any problem with it, apart from objections by some people who will object to everything, including vaccines and so on. We should just go ahead and put the folic acid into the food. [Emphasis mine.]
When it comes to taking folic acid before and during pregnancy, Boylan doesn’t appear to think women can be trusted at all. In fact, he explicitly says that educating women on the importance of taking folic acid will not work.
It’s not just folic acid. If we really ‘trusted women’, we would explain to them the increased risk of listeria from eating certain foods, and then trust them to decide for themselves what they wanted to eat during pregnancy. Instead, we simply give pregnant women a list of foods to avoid. Similarly, we would explain the body of evidence regarding the effects of smoking and alcohol during pregnancy, and trust women to decide for themselves whether and how much to smoke and drink. Instead, we tell women, in no uncertain terms, to avoid all alcohol and smoking, including second-hand smoking where possible, for the entirety of pregnancy.
Ok, so perhaps we’re still being too picky. Perhaps what pro-choice people really mean is, ‘Trust women to decide for themselves whether they should continue a pregnancy or not’. I suspect that this, in fact, is what pro-choice people really do mean by ‘trust women’. Assuming this is the case, this gets to the heart of why pro-life and pro-choice people disagree.
Acting in our self-interest doesn’t equate to doing the right thing
If I’m correct that pro-choice people really mean ‘trust women to decide for themselves whether they should continue a pregnancy or not’, then the slogan implies that pro-life people think women don’t have a clue what pregnancy and parenthood entail. It suggests that pro-life people know better than an individual woman whether going through with her pregnancy will impact her life for the better or not. They know better whether having a baby right now would ruin her life or not. They know better whether she can handle the physical, emotional and financial strain. And that makes pro-choice people’s blood boil. It would make my blood boil too.
However, that’s not what pro-life people think. We don’t oppose abortion because we think every woman is better off after having a baby any more than we oppose burglary because we think every burglar is worse off having robbed someone. If we did, we wouldn’t just campaign against abortion – we’d campaign for constant, compulsory pregnancy and childbearing. The reason we oppose abortion is the same reason we oppose burglary – we believe it is wrong. We believe that, even if the person having the abortion (or committing the burglary) would be materially or otherwise better off, it’s still not justified because someone else’s rights are trampled on – the baby’s (or the property owner’s).
Pro-life people absolutely accept and understand that pregnancy and parenting can make someone worse off. We accept that many people who avoid pregnancy are acting in their own self-interest, and with good reason. And we accept that many women who have abortions are furthering their own self-interest, of which they are the best judge. We just don’t think that justifies taking another human life.
And so, like so many things, disagreement over the slogan ‘trust women’ actually stems from another disagreement altogether – is abortion morally justified? Or do unborn babies have an objective right to life?
However, I do think pro-choice advocates have a genuine point, and possibly a grievance, relating to how pro-life people talk about this point, and it relates to abortion regret. We’ll tackle that in a future blog post!