The demand for abortion has existed since time immemorial, although the absence of safe medical procedures meant that many women lost their lives or sustained permanent injury. In the United States alone, one in four women lost their lives due to botched procedures before the 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalized abortion. However, despite legalization, the controversy between the pro- and anti- abortion groups has raged on. Indeed, it has turned out to be one of the most challenging and divisive issues in America today. In this debate, the pro-choice group which supports a reproductive choice for women and, therefore, legalized abortion is pitted against the pro-lifers who equate abortion with murder and demand limiting access to abortion as well as introducing legislation that makes the procedure illegal.
Among the numerous questions raised by the two sides are: does life begin with conception, or is it only a potential life? Should the rights of a fetus be so all-encompassing that it comes at the cost of controlling women’s lives and destiny? Both sides have campaigned in their own ways. While pro-lifers show brutal pictures of aborted babies, the pro-choice contingency asks us to show compassion for women that request these services. In recent times, this issue has turned into a political power struggle in the United States, rather than being a woman’s individual decision to give birth to and mother a child. The killing of abortion doctors and violence towards clinics has been somewhat matched by restrictive legislation and reduction in the number of abortion providers in several states. In future this could go even further. As Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says, “If the Republicans keep control of Congress, American women will lose the right to choose by 2008."
Our Choices, Our Lives examines the abortion issue in a refreshingly different manner. This collection of personal stories shows abortion from various angles: the situations and minds of individual women who seek these services, the practical problems that providers and doctors of those services encounter, and activists who speak out about the danger that any anti-abortion legislation would have on the lives of thousands of women. These writings make us aware that, although abortion is increasingly being viewed in a political context, it is hardly a political act or statement that women make in their lives. In one story after another, women talk about how they had no recourse as they found themselves pregnant at a time when they were too young or incapable of facing the responsibilities of motherhood or when bringing another child would strain the resources of the existing family. More often than not the fathers-to-be were not around or, in some cases, not to be found; more often than not the women experienced immense guilt, trauma and grief -- some points that pro-lifers somehow always forget to talk about.
The section written by the healthcare professionals is an eye-opener. Apart from the continuous demonstrations outside abortion clinics and the incidents of violence against doctors that we often hear about, these people also face situations where women who have just completed their safe abortions return to protest outside the same clinics. We are also told that many conservative, white male-dominated institutions and medical facilities are unwilling to talk about pregnancy options or other drastic methods to prevent conception such as the morning-after pill. Open discussions on such matters would be enough to trigger letters and marches of protest on several medical campuses across the country.
The last section is written by pro-choice activists. These writings delve into our earlier religious and social beliefs and show how the campaign against abortion is a form of extension of patriarchal control of women’s reproductive choices. To that end, religion is also being employed today to own, master and control the very crux of creation. Women also talk about the basic premise of the much-misunderstood pro-choice movement: that the choices women make are those that ought to be honored by society, and that pro-choice need not always imply pro-abortion. Irrespective of whether she chooses the abortion experience or decides on pregnancy and parenthood, the state should not and cannot withhold medical services.
A compelling read, Our Choices, Our Lives shows that instead of limiting the focus to abortion as an issue, society should look at the diversity of women and their situations, and decision-making issues related to pregnancy should largely be controlled by women themselves. For if women are to get social or economic equity, they must have control over their own reproductive choices.