Breaking a Binary Frame Part 2

March 6, 2019  |  Viable Options

The Politicization of Pregnancy Care

The growing polarization in American politics does not only impact the way we discuss (or fail to discuss) the issues of unintended pregnancy, but it has also shaped the way we respond to it. Not only are political tensions present in our communities and families, as well as in the overarching cultural conversation – they have even begun to infuse the care offered for those facing a pregnancy decision.

The noise and confusion surrounding the outcomes of an unintended pregnancy have only grown in intensity as the world of pregnancy care has developed. And in the midst of this, many nonprofits, women’s clinics, and even professional medical institutions have allowed their political views to influence their care and service.

The majority of organizations and institutions that specialize in this area of women’s health have become increasingly politically motivated and agenda driven – often prioritizing personal and organizational preferences over the health and wellbeing of the very women they seek to serve.

Touting slogans about women’s autonomy, empowerment, and choice, many have failed to champion these ideals in their feverish pursuit of a political or ideological victory.

And with a focus on decisional outcomes, they often set aside the unique circumstances, values, convictions, and needs of each individual woman – many times boiling down her situation into a formula designed to lead her down the path they deem best.

A Preferred Outcome: Carrying to Term

Those holding a moral or religious stance which opposes abortion often offer counseling and education that is designed to sway her toward the outcome that they deem morally right – meanwhile, many times failing to make space for her thoughts, fears, and emotions regarding the pregnancy.

This decision is one of the most important and intimate that a woman will ever make. It is one that will in some way affect her either monetarily, emotionally, physically, spiritually, or relationally, regardless of her final decision. And as such, it ought to be handled with attention and sensitivity to the uniqueness of her situation, perspective, and needs – recognizing that her story does not end with the pregnancy decision. To pressure a woman toward a specific outcome while failing to recognize the complexity of what she is walking through is to demonstrate a lack of compassion and care, as well as a disregard for her value and dignity.

Regardless of intention, adding to the already overwhelming nature of a person’s decision by leading with a moral argument or emotional appeal is to take advantage of their vulnerable state of indecision and to overlook the very real obstacles standing in their path. Sadly, this demonstrates an indifference toward the feelings and needs of the individual facing a pregnancy decision.

A Preferred Outcome: Abortion

Meanwhile, those claiming to advocate for women’s empowerment and choice often lose faith in the strength and autonomy of the woman when it comes to her ability to carry to term if the circumstances surrounding her unintended pregnancy are in any way less than ideal. And in doing so, they frequently fail to recognize the validity and health of other options. And instead of being championed to overcome obstacles, the woman is reminded of all the difficulties that could arise from choosing to carry and many times told that her goals and dreams are dependent upon her reproductive independence.

And in this, those who claim and endeavor to champion women and their autonomy of choice, take it upon themselves to steer her toward the choice that they think she ought to make – often promoting abortion.

What this does not account for is the feelings, needs, and desires that the woman has for her life. Not every woman will be empowered by an abortion, just as not every woman will be empowered by choosing to parent their child or by placing for adoption. To equate a single option as the only means of empowerment is to pressure women into a specific outcome. This, like the moral argument of those who oppose abortion, fails to consider the unique desires and circumstances of the individual woman and removes the autonomy of choice from those facing a pregnancy decision.

Agenda Driven Care

When it comes to an unintended pregnancy, there is no black and white answer, no one-size-fits-all solution, no easy way out.

The external pressures can be numerous—financial, relational, medical, mental, emotional, or even spiritual—but only through relationship and support are women and men empowered to make informed choices wholly theirs, free from any outside compulsion or circumstance.

Where every option is not possible, there cannot be empowered choice. And where passivity and neglect result in a withholding of vital information, there is not truly care, but manipulation.

The patient’s right of self-decision can be effectively exercised only if the patient possesses enough information to enable an informed choice.

– The American Medical Association

Perhaps most gravely, manipulation often surfaces in the framing of educational materials offered to women facing a pregnancy decision.

When women attend counseling for an unintended pregnancy, all too often the information they hear is politicized, incomplete, and many times inaccurate – carefully selected, edited, and presented in a way that reflects the political or moral bias of the organization.

If choice is dependent on informed consent, there can’t be true choice where information on every option is not presented.

Anything less than comprehensive information is an assault on the right of women to choose what they feel is healthiest for them, for their families, and for their futures, regardless of what we may think or believe.

Partial or Selective Information

For far too long, objective and thorough education on the risks associated with each available pregnancy option has been missing from the resources offered to pregnant women. Often risks are presented for only one option depending on the ideological and political leanings of the organization. Many times, credible studies that don’t align with an ideological position are discredited, because politically motivated organizations have deemed them as “unreliable” and “biased”. But is that really enabling an informed choice?

Because no decision is without risk, whether that be physical, psychological, emotional, or financial. To paint a single, preferred option (for some, termination, and for others, carrying to term) as idyllic, simple, and risk free, is deceptive and harmful, and is an outright assault on the autonomy of women.

Partial or selective information is a form of manipulation, and much of its current pervasiveness can be attributed to our societal inability to discuss the outcomes and issues of unintended pregnancy in a non-political way. When a political agenda becomes more important than the welfare of women, anything will be done to ensure that that agenda is promoted, protected, and reinforced, no matter the cost to the woman in need.

Regardless of personal conviction, belief, or moral and political stance, we must be fully committed as a society to holistic and rigorous conversation and research surrounding the issues and outcomes of unintended pregnancy, even if such dialogue poses a threat to our personal ideology.

After over 40 years of looking to politics and moral argument as the ultimate solution for unintended pregnancy, it is time that we commit ourselves to finding a holistic approach that goes beyond the binary care that is often the only support available to those facing unintended pregnancies.


[Next month, look for the third and final installment of the Breaking a Binary Frame blog series]