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Breaking a Binary Frame Part 1

February 6, 2019  |  Viable Options

A Divisive Conversation

For many, the issue of unintended pregnancy represents over 40 years of conflict, struggle, and political turmoil; because—though in itself not a politically divisive topic—it is intricately connected to the outcomes of a pregnancy decision, either to carry to term or to abort.

And with that, you’re now on your guard. You’re ready to defend your beliefs and stance. You’re armed with arguments, apologetics, slogans, and a list of reasons why your position is right and just. Merely reading the word “abort”, like a warning bell, has alerted you to the possibility that you may have to attack this piece or to defend yourself against it.

This is not only unsurprising, but is to be expected. As an American society, we have spent the last four and a half decades conditioning ourselves to approach the conversation of unintended pregnancy through a binary lens: “pro” vs. “anti”; “woman” vs. “baby”; “liberal” vs. “conservative”; “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice”.

Immediately, you’re running through the labels in your mind. You’re trying to figure out which camp this piece belongs to – trying to determine where it fits. Because if you know which point of view it’s coming from, you can then decide whether you will read it with an open mind or throw it out as irrelevant and fallacious.

But, unfortunately, this piece is going to disappoint you.

It’s not going to fit a side, a stance, or align with a political position. It’s not going to talk about ideology, party preferences, or an opinion on the morality of abortion.

Uncomfortable? Good. The goal is to challenge and stir you to view this issue through a new lens, and to recognize a significant problem within our culture. This problem has nothing to do with the validity of political arguments or moral or religious beliefs. But it has everything to do with how we respond to them.

Which Labels Will You Choose?

In American culture, there is tremendous pressure to align with a single camp.

We are often driven to identify with one or more specific labels which will then define how we relate to everything connected to the world around us – to politicians, legislation, media, Hollywood, religion, community, friends, neighbors… the list goes on.

And once you have chosen a side, it is then your responsibility to defend it at all costs. And the moment someone challenges your views, you must be ready to fight back, to tear down their arguments, and, sadly, for some, call into question both the intelligence and character of the challenger.

The Binary World of Unintended Pregnancy

Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, our nation has been deeply torn by a fierce conflict between two opposing views; and the conversation surrounding unintended pregnancy has become centered around the outcome of a woman’s choice – to carry to term, or to abort.

In the years following that decision, right up to the present day, the focus of our debate, our political efforts, and even our medical care, has remained fixed on these outcomes, and on this single, weighty decision in a woman’s life.

Both camps have an opinion of what is best, and the arguments are ones of morality, ideology, and agenda. This has divided our nation in two and promoted widespread ill will, polarization, and discord, as each side tends to view the other as the very epitome of injustice or even moral ignorance.

A Far Greater Problem

Anyone living in the US today can recognize and relate to the palpable tension surrounding the conversation of unintended pregnancy.

As a culture at large, we’ve been conditioned to view and respond to this issue in one of two ways – through a binary lens of “pro” vs. “anti”, or worse, by avoidance.

In a world of snap judgements, simplistic labels, and divisive language, there are many topics that few would choose to bring up at a dinner party, in the workplace, or at family gatherings. Because the conversation of unintended pregnancy is so closely tied to that of abortion, it can be extremely volatile and often explosive. As a result, it is a conversation that rarely appears in our day to day interactions. And when it does, there is a constant danger of offense, conflict, or even damaged relationships.

The consequences of this, in regards to our ability to relate to one another and to engage in healthy discourse, are certainly concerning. But there’s an even greater problem than this.

Because we’ve lost our ability to discuss the decisional outcomes of unintended pregnancy in a non-political way, we no longer quite know how to respond to it in our individual lives and communities, without often defaulting to a political position.

So, where does this leave the millions of women and men across our nation who find themselves facing an unintended pregnancy?

Responding to an Unintended Pregnancy

When a person finds themselves unexpectedly pregnant, the last thing on their mind is politics. Many find themselves distressed, overwhelmed, and feeling pressured, trapped, hopeless, or isolated. For those that don’t have a healthy support system, the complexity and difficulty of the situation will likely be even greater.

Where can they turn for support and advocacy?

A pregnancy decision is often one of the most significant and life altering that a person can make. When they turn to friends, family, and neighbors, they might receive comfort and guidance. Or they might be subjected to a reactionary stream of disappointment, frustration, anger, confusion, judgment, or indifference.

And when the conversation turns to the decision? This is where the greatest tension lies. The common responses may be: “You can’t afford a baby”; “What about your education?”; “You’re not thinking of abortion, are you?”; “I can’t believe you could be so irresponsible”. Or on the other hand, many default to a passive response, “I’ll support whatever you decide”, followed by a failure to be compassionately present in the decision process, or to identify needs and provide solutions.

And so, the individual facing the decision is frequently met with pressure, personal opinion, or abdication, and left with nowhere to process their thoughts, fears, emotions, desires, and needs – despite the intentions of those around them.

And in this way, many have unintentionally forfeited their ability to serve and empower those in their lives and communities walking through a pregnancy decision.

Unintended pregnancy must be reclaimed from the political stage and the responsibility of women’s care returned to communities, families, and professional, nonpolitical agencies. Only then can we see hope restored to this conversation, and a new generation equipped to respond relationally to the needs of those around them, going beyond the binary frame of politics.