The politicization of abortion harms youth

Social Double-take

I was utterly shocked when a friend I have known since I was young told me she was accidentally pregnant at the age of 19. But my own shock was nothing compared to her own reaction of sheer panic and fear. Her struggle to decide whether to keep the baby was made all the more difficult by the fact that she had never even thought about abortion before, because she never thought she would be in this position. She was completely at a loss for what to do.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics — and rightfully so. No matter what your ideology, the thought of terminating a pregnancy is an uneasy one. But politicians shouldn’t use their power to make decisions about someone else’s reproductive system. And political efforts that seek to ban or limit abortion fail to treat its real cause.

More than half of the women in the United States who obtain abortions are between 15 and 24 years old. If anything, instead of politicians dominating the conversation about abortion, it should be held by the people who are most affected by it — the age group most UC Berkeley students fall into.  The current conversation surrounding abortion needs to change. My friend’s experience made it clear to me that young people deserve objective, impartial facts about the options they have, procedures involved and the safe steps to take after making a decision — and they’ll hardly find such practical information in a heated, ethically fueled political debate.

The issue of abortion affects women of all ages, but I specifically point out younger women because we’re more likely to face this issue, and because I truly believe there is a poor quality of discussion and information about abortion among us. My friend’s lack of knowledge about abortion caused me to talk to others of our age about the topic, and it became obvious to me that most young women are either unaware or indifferent about the issue. The panic and sense of urgency that arises after finding out you are pregnant makes it difficult to properly consider whether to have an abortion, especially for college students who are stressed out by the threat pregnancy can pose to their education and career pursuits. Combined with a lack of education about abortion, this could lead to pressure to keep the pregnancy a secret, a failure to seek help, rash decisions and even unsafe abortion procedures.

Young men are hardly exposed to proper information about abortion. A 2006 study on “waiting-room males” — male partners who accompany women to their abortion procedures — revealed that a significant percentage expressed interest in discussing their situation with a professional during their wait. Sixty-two percent of the men studied signaled their willingness to pay for male service options, including educational group sessions focused on the techniques, effectiveness and costs of contraception. But the vast majority of clinics lack male service options on the premise that “the client is the female and not the couple.” While I agree with the idea that whether or not to have an abortion is ultimately a woman’s decision, male partners should not be excluded. A man is still legally required to adjust to a woman’s pregnancy decision (through child support, etc.). This is no light responsibility, especially among college students who may be vastly unprepared to face the difficulties of fatherhood so early in life.

Currently, those with an overt political agenda are steering the discourse on abortion, which has created what I like to call the “pro-choice myth.” The abortion positions of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” become oversimplified to the point of obscurity. Political candidates are expected to very clearly state their positions on abortion, which are usually divided along party lines. So, under the pro-life conservatives and pro-choice liberals, the two abortion positions become polarized. Because pro-life is “against abortion,” pro-choice automatically becomes “for abortion” in too many minds. This myth desperately must be debunked.

The pro-choice position does not mean that one is pro-abortion at all. People who identify as pro-choice include even those who are personally opposed to abortion — pro-choice simply means that you would not impose your personal viewpoint on others.

And, sometimes, it slips our minds that although there are key differences in the two positions (when personhood begins, cases of rape or incest, etc.), the ultimate goal of both pro-life and pro-choice activists are the same — an overall decrease in unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

While abortion debates among politicians are limitless, discussion about abortion among young men and women is hard to find. It only makes sense that young people end up confused and scared about abortion and later arrive at negative conclusions about their decisions or themselves. My own friend ended up making an ill-considered decision without a proper understanding of her options, which she now regrets. Isn’t it time for more discussion about this sensitive but relevant subject among our generation?

Hailey Yook writes the Monday column on contemporary social issues. Contact her at [email protected].