Reframing the Abortion Issue

One of the most volatile social issues facing our country today is abortion. There have been approximately 45 million abortions performed in the United States since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. Nearly one billion pregnancies were terminated worldwide in the last fifty years. Abortion finds itself afloat on the murky waters of social, political, moral, and personal agendas all fighting for consideration. The institutional and non-institutional construct of abortion policy development has spawned numerous debates and growing division. This paper examines the social construction of this problem and its ability to drive creative framing techniques to support agenda-setting motives; specifically in redefining the abortion issue. Motive is always a question and reality is confined to situational and individual ecosystems that are sometimes miles apart in ideologies, moral tenets and belief systems. Perhaps this latest effort by the State of North Dakota will dash all hopes of gaining mutual support for accurate problem identification and solution solidarity.

The perpetual struggle between social work and social reform is like the ultimate game of tug-of-war being fought across a great abyss. The distance between the participants is miles and the cost of failure is considered certain death; and yet the battle rages. In certain ways, this tension is reflective of the perpetual battle between policy makers, practitioners and the general public. This tension does not negate mutual respect, but cohesion and potential synergy become casualties as individual purposes collide. As social workers we generally agree that we are in the field to improve the human condition, pursue social justice and work to eliminate inequality. But our field is so vast, so complex, that it becomes apparent that we must part company at some point in our journey. Practitioners become street-level bureaucrats and policy-makers become administrators; and then there is the politics that seems to forever impede the effort to move from problem identification to effective solution development and implementation. Abramovitz ((Abramovitz, 1998) discusses the pressures between containment and change and how they have plagued social work since its inception and the accusation that the profession has been the “handmaiden of the status quo” (p.512). How can social work effectively advocate for social reform when these struggles exist? Is it possible to navigate the deep waters of social reform when social workers are so intimately connected to multiple, diverse individual causes? If there is no thread running from the microsystemic realities of the practitioners and the public they serve to the macrosystemic world of the policy-makers can genuine reform ever really be accomplished? Nelson (1984) did a superb job of asking a very important question, “Which issue, or issues should I choose (p. ix) (Nelson, 1984)?” In an attempt to better define and understand the breadth of these questions, the abortion issue is taken to task.

There is little doubt that the move toward multiplicity and integrative perspectives in practice will enhance the field. Borden’s (2009) insight that there is scant discussion of integrating differing concepts, procedures and empirical data concerning the life of a given intervention is noteworthy. There is a dilemma on the administrative side that could benefit from the idea that supports taking multiplicity seriously. This dilemma is more precisely the lack of integration of fact and usable ideas from thinkers outside of our political, moral or religious base. Perhaps taking some of the insights Lipsky (1980) presented that brought to light the power-structure mere mortals hold at the street level can at least help us to better understand the tension that exists between the needs of the general population, the distribution of public goods and services, and the politics that holds it all together (Lipsky, 1980). Abortion is the shot heard around the modern world and there appears to be no middle ground on the issue. One of the criticisms of integration of therapeutic models is the idea that there are contrasting perspectives of reality (Messer & Winokur, 1980) and nowhere is this more prevalent in the realm of social reform than it is in the abortion debate. Ignoring the fundamental reality that compromise and convolution lessen the impact of ground-floor policy initiatives as they make their way through the approval, funding and implementation mechanisms, ignores the fact that different worldviews create chaos. If the individual cannot be changed, can society still be changed? How does the social worker bridge individual differences to enhance societal reform initiatives? Taking a closer look at the complex issue of abortion may provide some valuable insight into bridging these gaps.

There are three primary areas of focus and contention surrounding the abortion subject. First, there is the rights issue; second, the privacy consideration; and third, the volatile question about the presence of life viability. These three areas of contention yield further complications depending on worldviews, or conceptual realities. The complexities of the Supreme Court decision rendered in Roe vs. Wade severely complicated the political, social and moral landscapes by focusing more on medically approved autonomy than on the constitutionally based sexual equality issue. This invited a great deal of academic, legislative and public resistance to the ruling (Ginsburg, 1984), but was perhaps necessary to get the ruling – a classic example of reframing an issue to further the cause of legislative rhetoric and the approval process. This is of vital importance because what is seen in the aftermath of Roe vs. Wade is simply the clash of worldviews – the frontline of a perpetual battle of individual opposing realities. Simply taking sides and charging into the arena of social reform will not solve the abortion issue. Likewise, cheapening our professional competence by total disregard and disgust of opposing worldviews would only highlight a professional hypocrisy. Social workers cannot devalue any individual beliefs, moral values, or religion simply because we do not agree. Doing so would only ignore the history of the profession and the ethical considerations and responsibility toward the individual. However, in the effort to heal and to promote wellness, empowerment and equality, we have a responsibility to find the common ground that will allow the productive discussion of volatile issues like abortion, capital punishment and assisted suicide. These issues must be re-framed. We have a professional and moral obligation to move in the direction of the practice sector and to look for the truth, the facts, and to boldly proclaim an initiative that is not self-centered, self-based, or biased by our personal realities. To do so would only foster shortsightedness and ineffective persuasion. Abortion is correctly classified as a social problem, but how that problem is defined and what solutions are identified to address it are critical questions in understanding how the larger context, the ecological construct, can manipulate the process (Linders, 1998) of change.

Claims-makers want to persuade, but their motives must be addressed. Simply making the claim that women have the right to terminate a pregnancy because their body is their own does not negate the viability of the argument that if life begins at any point prior to the abortion, the rights of the fetus are equal and therefore infringed upon. Likewise, simply disbelieving the possibility of motives embracing population control, eugenics, and welfare costs, does not negate their influence in policy direction and legislative decision-making. Dismissing the Christian worldview without dismissing the Muslim, Jewish, Hindi, or other worldviews embracing fetal life preservation is dishonest and duplicitous. Exercising the right to abort based on individual rights of ownership and privacy does not extend equal rights to the father who may share ownership of the fetus. Claims-makers work to convince others that a specific problem exists, that a particular solution is necessary, and that a certain policy should be adopted that utilizes the proposed solution to correct the problem (Best, 1987). However, if the problem is inaccurately identified, the proposed solution and policies are useless; and even worse, potentially incendiary. Any attempt to remove ourselves from the role of subjects, or observers, and to pretend that our perceptions of the object, or problem are personally non-motivating does nothing but reinforce the dualism we must move beyond; especially if social workers are going to effectively bridge the gap between social problems and social reform. The complicated interactions we share with the individuals in their microsystemic realities are only one ingredient in the larger social construct, and this construct is filled with opposing worldviews and personal realities. If we take sides, we only add to an opposing argument. If we fail to act, we reinforce the status quo. However, if we desire social reform and change, something must change. The pro-life Evangelical Christian is never going to accept the worldview of the Agnostic pro-choice feminist; and vice versa; and why should they? Both realities and worldviews are just as valid in their own ecological sphere. Attempting to change mindsets for the sole purpose of propagating our own personal worldviews is not social reform; it is an attempt to get everyone to agree with our reality to the exclusion of their own.

The critical thinking mandate demands a non-biased, selfless approach to healing. Dismissing the opposing viewpoint simply because it is not our own dismisses on average, fifty-percent of the potential input to effective problem-identification and solution-building; it castigates holistic synergism and grows strong negative emotions and sometimes hatred. Leaving ourselves behind we must pursue a reality that transcends the opposing worldviews and work, empirically, to find the thread that makes its way through both camps. Stephen Toulmin (1958) presented a basic structure for logical argument that has contributed greatly to the field of critical thinking and rhetoric as potent weapons in helping claims-makers persuade more effectively (Toulmin, 1958). Toulmin drew a distinction between the claim or conclusion that we are trying to justify, and the facts that we use to build our position (Best, 1987), but he also acknowledged the necessity to understand the “constellation of interests and resources held by the various constituencies in the process, the way claims are articulated also affects whether they persuade and move the audiences to which they are addressed” (Best, 1987 p. 102). This process is the key to effective interventions on the practice side and it is welcomed in the move toward multiplicity, critical thinking, and pluralism. When Hacking says that some evil actions are public and discusses the constructing of the child abuse issue he definitively states that child abuse is the worst of private evils, he has the ear of an entire nation, if not the entire world (Hacking, 1991). Interestingly enough, if one were to rewrite his article switching the term “child abuse” with “abortion,” he would split his receptive audience in two while simultaneously making a great deal of enemies. If everyone believed that life began at conception perhaps abortion would be considered child abuse. But everyone does not share this belief and this causes two specific framing elements, or objectives to take form; and they are mutually opposing. The difference here is not that one term is more evil than the other; the difference is simply the amount of people who share your interpretation of the definition you are choosing to utilize. The practice side sees merit in numerous theoretical perspectives and strives to improve their scholarship through mastery of these theoretical frameworks so that their clinical skills can be more effective; they can become better healers. On the policy side there is tension between differing political camps, religious affiliation and morality. These typical tenets of separation contain the very worldviews and ecosystems we need to explore, accept as valid and embrace if we are to effectively reform society. There is a bridge to be built and maintained between the data we have and the claims we are making. What Toulmin called the warrant, the link between the data and the claim, is a third type of proposition that authorizes “the sort of step to which our particular argument commits us” (Toulmin, 1958. p.98). Can the abortion issue be restated in a way that will garner open ears and consideration from both sides of the debate?

Historically, abortion was not condemned; during the classical period the ancient Greeks actually advocated abortion to regulate population and stabilize economic conditions. Much like today, clinical urgency and socio-political origin were the two predominant criteria employed in the abortion decision. Possibly the earliest recorded account of abortion use as a population control measure was a recommendation of Aristotle to ensure an ideal size of a city, but specifically in cases where couples already had ”sufficient” children (Farr, 1980). Throughout the ages the three areas of constraint – legal, religious, and medical – were always present but in differing capacities. English law allowed a woman to have an abortion at will from 1307 to 1803 as long as the first movements of the fetus had not yet occurred (generally around 16 to 18 weeks); an abortion performed after the fetus started to move was considered a criminal offense though only a misdemeanor (David, 1992). However, beginning in 1803 with the reign of George III, the Lord Ellenborough’s Act made abortion before fetal movements could be felt, a felony, and any abortions after fetal movements could be felt, murder, punishable by death (David, 1992). During the remainder of the 19th and 20th centuries, abortion was very restrictive in most cultures. The legislative trends that began in the 1920’s were felt worldwide, were extremely complex, and resulted in numerous challenges to restrictive abortion laws and opened a divisive dialogue between opponents and proponents. Since the 1960’s there has been a tremendous movement toward lessening the restrictions placed on induced abortions worldwide, and specifically in the United States with the finding of the Supreme Court in the Roe vs. Wade decision. The legislative footprint surrounding the abortion issue is extremely diverse, and perpetual legislative manipulation wrought by the dynamic political processes associated with many newer abortion laws have attributed to a growing divide among supporters and non-supporters. The social revolution that has occurred over the past fifty years regarding abortion legislation has been enormous. As of today, Europe, which in 1954 had only three countries where abortion was not legally restricted (Sweden, Denmark and Iceland), has completely reversed their position (David, 1992).

The multicultural expansion of the pro-abortion movement can likely be attributed to one of the following four interrelated causes according to David (1992): The general recognition of the threat to public health of legally restricted abortion; support for a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy under safe conditions and an early stage of gestation; liberalization of legislation concerning the availability of modern contraceptives; and provision of equal access to all methods of fertility regulation for woman of all strata of society. These considerations were benchmark defenses for loosening many of the previously restrictive abortion laws. However, these very defenses are also the foundation for much opposition and though it is probably a safe assumption to say that abortions, at least in some sense, are here to stay, the bridge between opposing sides of the issues has yet to be built.

Regardless of stance, both sides have to acknowledge certain, irrefutable facts. In the United States an estimated 44.6 million abortions were performed between 1973 and 2005, or slightly more than one in five pregnancies resulted in abortion (Jones, Zolna, Henshaw, & Finer, 2008). And though the abortion rate in the United States has seen a decline in abortions since 1992, the latest numbers still reflect an annual rate in excess of 1.2 million abortions. One of the most common medical procedures undergone by women in the United States is abortion (Owings & Kozak, 1998). The maternal death rate from induced abortions has declined from 4.1/100,000 to less than one percent per hundred-thousand over the past 35 years (Bartlett et al., 2004) but still remain disproportionately high for women receiving abortions after eight weeks of gestation. It may be assumed that the rise in use of medical abortions using Mifepristone may have lead to a decrease in abortion related deaths, however, research shows that the mortality rates from medical abortions are statistically equal to the mortality rates of induced and spontaneous abortions, and therefore the reduction in the mortality rate cannot be directly attributed to a reduction in surgical abortions (Grimes, 2005). Furthermore, even with the addition of the medical abortion regime, abortion is still considered to be one of the safest medical procedures in contemporary practice in the United States (Grimes & Creinin, 2004).

David (1992) said that “Abortion is a social reality that can no more be legislated out of existence than the controversy surrounding it can be stilled. No matter how effective family planning services and practices become, there will always be a need for access to safe abortion services” (p.1). This quote came from an article written following the keynote address at a conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR in October of 1990 titled, From Abortion to Contraception: Public Health Approaches to Reducing Unwanted Pregnancy and Abortion through Improved Family Planning Services. This brings us to our second irrefutable fact; there is a universal effort to stem the flow of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore abortions. Considering the fact that one of the most common medical procedures in the United States and Europe is abortion (David, 1992; Owings & Kozak, 1998) and that most medical professionals do not advocate unnecessary medical procedures, especially surgical procedures, one must consider the cause. A global snapshot of total abortions, legal and illegal, worldwide in 1995 tallied an estimated 46 million abortions in one year; citing that 26 million were legal and 20 million were illegal, abortion accounted for the termination of 26% of all pregnancies worldwide in 1995 (Henshaw, Singh, & Haas, 1999). Henshaw concluded that, “Both developed and developing countries can have low abortion rates. Most countries, however, have moderate to high abortion rates, reflecting lower prevalence and effectiveness of contraceptive use. Stringent legal restrictions do not guarantee a low abortion rate” (p.1). Again, the consensus is to look for better contraceptives, family practice services, and a global reduction of abortion practice. Looking at global rates of abortion over the past 25 years shows a staggering estimate of nearly 800 million abortions (David, 1992; Finer & Henshaw, 2006; Henshaw et al., 1999; Jones et al., 2008; Sedgh, Henshaw, Singh, Åhman, & Shah, 2007; Shain, 1986; Ventura, Abma, Mosher, & Henshaw, 2006; Wilkinson et al., 2006). This number of aborted fetuses is equal to the entire United States and European Union populations combined. The third indisputable fact is that abortion is a world-wide concern on many different levels.

To summarize, we have determined that there are to this point, three discernable facts surrounding the abortion issues: First, that in the United States alone there have been an estimated 46 million abortions since the passing of Roe vs. Wade; second, there is a universal effort to stem the flow of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore abortions; and third, that abortion is a world-wide problem. But what are we to do with the issues of women’s reproductive rights; the question of when life begins; the rights of the unborn; the moral obligation to personal responsibility; and the population questions? Fighting the abortion issue on these levels will never bring about cohesion and healing on both sides of the issues. The determinant of any perpetual social problem is the viability of the fight between two or more opposing sides. If both sides can acknowledge the claims of the opposition and demonstrate a willingness to find common ground the fighting can stop and progress can be made. However, when any of the negotiating parties are incapable of either accepting the opposition’s claims as valid, or unwilling to refocus their efforts on a larger, nobler cause, the problem will continue forever. What needs to be done in the case of the abortion issue is to begin to reframe it into a more palatable issue. We must shift lenses, share lenses and find a unified focal point.

There is little doubt that abortion is a universal phenomenon, but attitudes toward abortion have been changing. In the years following the historic Roe vs. Wade decision over 80% of Americans approved of abortion in cases of rape, serious birth defects and health issues, and over 40% approved of abortion under most circumstances (Shain, 1986). The political debate has grown over the past twenty years as new methods are tested and employed that are medical alternatives to surgical abortions. Politically, an interesting correlation was found in a clinical trial of medical abortion using Mifepristone-Misoprostol demonstrated medical abortion choice as a political support consideration that increased with education level (Clark, Ellertson, & Winikoff, 2000). Another claim states that women who disapprove of abortion tend to have achieved lower educational levels (Shain, 1986) Sociodemographically, there are numerous claims and accusations being made on both sides of the issue. Petchesky (1998) makes several claims regarding the increase in the abortion rates among adolescent teenagers stating that the increase should be viewed as positive, demonstrating that teenagers now have a choice whether to marry or not marry. She goes on to make the claim that abortion is a necessary good and that the rise in abortion rates indirectly indicates that women have gained power (R. Petchesky & Judd, 1998; R. P. Petchesky, 1990a). Presently, the issues are broad and complex. What makes this social problem so important is its volatility, the propensity for fierce emotion, and the extent to which either side will go to enforce their views. The passing of House Bill 1572 by the sixty-first Legislative Assemble of North Dakota was a bold stroke at reframing the entire abortion issue from a reproductive rights campaign to a campaign for human rights; they simply defined human life (Davey, 2008; Johnson, 2007; Koch, 2008; Richardson & Times, 2009):
b.”Human being” means any organism, including the single-cell human embryo,
irrespective of the method of reproduction, who possesses a genome specific
for and consistent with an individual member of the human species.
c. “Human embryo” means all human beings from the beginning of the
embryonic period of their biological development through eight weeks,
irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of
reproduction, whether in vivo or in vitro.
d. “Human fetus” means all human beings from the beginning of the fetal period
of their biological development, which begins at nine weeks gestation through
birth, irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of
reproduction, whether in vivo or in vitro.
e. “Human genome” means the total amount of nuclear and extra-nuclear DNA
genetic material that constitutes an organism as an individual member of the
human species, including the single-cell human embryo.
f. “Person” or “individual” means the legal recognition of a human being’s full
status as a human person that applies to all human beings, irrespective of
age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction,
including their preborn offspring at every stage of their biological

Simply by refocusing the issues, the State Legislature of North Dakota undermined the entire “rights” agenda simply by redefining and advocating for these very rights. It was a broad-stroke of political magic that will eventually see its way to the United States Supreme Court. It was masterfully done, considering the new “issue” of defining the beginning of human life, because this will be very dangerous political ground. Who will step up to the plate and actually proclaim when human life actually begins? North Dakota was the first to act on this human-life interpretation, and in this case, being first may prove to have been the greatest asset to claims-making and agenda-setting in our recent history. Perhaps, taking into consideration political self-survival, the abortion issues may finally be remanded back to State control. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next several years.

Abortion cannot be globally defended as a stand-alone issue aside from some obvious serious medical issues such as rape, incest, or serious birth defects. In these cases, even in the United States following Roe vs. Wade, 80% of the people thought abortion was a viable consideration in these types of cases (Shain, 1986). However, when we activate mutually exclusive ideologies and begin to provide radical demonstrations of opposing moral, medical, and gender equality concerns we may find ourselves in the middle of political, social and religious minefields. Even bringing the issue of parental notification into the arena causes a watershed of debate and hostilities even though some research claims it to be effective in reducing abortion rates (Joyce, Kaestner, & Colman, 2006). The downside of this type of front is that it drives division and rhetoric that fans the flames of strife rather than quells the heat and advocates for cooler heads and progress. Many times we become more radicals than advocates when we take sides at the exclusion of the rights and consideration of those who oppose us. Diversity is a wide, two-way street. And though there are times for fighting and self preservation, the first response should always be mutual recognition and support. There are many voices speaking in the fields of social reform, but anything less than perfection in navigating the treacherous waters of rhetoric, politics, and research will leave many facts unusable and distorted. Perhaps a warning can be found in the study looking at the disposition toward critical thinking when we find that “Entering college freshman students showed strengths in open-mindedness and inquisitiveness, [but] weaknesses in systematicity and opposition to truth-seeking” (Facione, Sanchez, Facione, & Gainen, 1995). Truth-seeking is a selfless character trait and open-mindedness is not an indication of one’s ability to see, find, apprehend, embrace, or simply acknowledge fact, which is the gateway to many truths. Redefining the abortion issue is a key component to solving this volatile social problem.

In finding middle ground we must side-step issues that some embrace as their holy grail, such as fetal right to life and women’s right to reproductive ownership. These are sizable, interesting and valid issues, but a closer look at their foundations leads to a skewed reality of the problem. Abortion is simply a means to terminating unwanted pregnancy. Even taking into consideration the number of abortions performed because of incest, rape, or because of vital health concerns of the mother, the numbers are statistically insignificant when compared to the total numbers of abortions performed world-wide on a yearly basis. Forming an argument incorrectly can produce some unwanted resistance as well as to reinvent, or even worse, shift problem focus. Even considering what some may consider positive attributes of pro-abortion legislation, such as higher college graduation rates among women (Ananat, Gruber, Levine, & Staiger, 2006), are nullified by the voices condemning the practice because of the moral repercussions. New research might confirm that most people who have been educated about the decrease in maternal mortality in countries where abortion has been legalized would find that a positive outcome, but weighing that outcome within the framework of their personal moral beliefs would have little effect on their acceptance of legalized abortion as an advanced method of birth control.

Looking at abortion and defining it differently would be to conclude that in the vast majority of instances it is simply an advanced method of terminating unwanted pregnancies. There are those who hear the women’s rights issues about privacy and right to reproductive sovereignty but would conclude that those rights are no different than those exercised by an obese person who cannot control their physical urges to get surgical or medical relief from their unwanted pounds. Some see the voices of women calling out for the right to abort as waving a white flag of surrender to sexual irresponsibility. When looking at the abortion issue from the moral perspective of most conservative groups they do not simply see the lives of nearly 45 million babies destroyed on a yearly basis, they see it as more than 5000 lives terminated against their will every hour, every day of the year. Regardless of the issue live-viability, the liberal cannot concede to anything less than would allow them to get their abortions on demand, and the right will equally resist the demand to concede to their beliefs. A careful look at the Roe vs. Wade case will show the complexities of the social, legal and political construct necessary to move this country to legalizing abortion (Ginsburg, 1984). The Annulla Linders study was a monumental progressive work toward understanding the social, political and moral dynamics that drive policy and decision-making on the institutional and non-institutional fronts (Linders, 1998; Linders, 2004):
The question of social movement outcomes is obviously a pressing concern to movements themselves, and increasingly so to social movement scholars. The question is not only, or at least not simply, to what extent a particular movement succeeds in accomplishing its goals, but also what the larger social consequences are of movement activity-for movement constituents, for other movements, for the political process, and for the organization of social life more generally. Movements certainly do make a difference in contemporary democracies, but in order to understand exactly how and why movements matter, we need to reach beyond them and examine the larger social and historical context in which movements formulate their demands and press for change.

In conclusion, if we want to understand what happens to movements and their goals in the long term, and why, the findings of this paper suggest that our explanations of social movement outcomes need to be sensitive to the dynamic interplay of protest, targets, institutions, and other environmental constraints in distinct historical locations. This approach not only bridges movement- and policy-oriented approaches to the study of movement out- comes, but also has implications for how we think about and conceptualize social movements. While the abortion challenge in the United States clearly looks like a “social movement,” comprised as it did a wide range of loosely connected national and local grass-roots organizations and groups, the Swedish challenge is more difficult to distinguish from institutional politics, or “politics as usual.” And yet, in both Sweden and the United States the efforts to liberalize the abortion law amounted to a major challenge of institutionally protected forms of privilege and an entrenched system of gender inequality. Thus, comparisons across different nations (or other con- texts) provide opportunities for extending our understanding of the origins and organization of social protest in such a way that both institutional and non-institutional politics get incorporated into the analysis of what Zald calls “ideologically structured action (Linders, 2004).

Restructuring a social problem to make it more palatable to opposing sides is a challenging venture but in the course of productive social change and reform advocacy without consideration of the global impact of choosing sides, it could be catastrophic. Refocusing, or realigning ourselves with a new problem identification agenda will further establish mutual acceptance of opposing ideologies with concessions, not compromise. Advocacy is different than social reform, and in some cases where it demands taking a position simply because we believe in it as opposed to because it the right thing to do, it can discourage open and honest communication and work against a cultural and national realignment. Abortion, in all its definitions is rarely described as something good. Most reiterations of the abortion term are negative, which constitutes support of its distastefulness in naked terms. There are physical (Bartlett et al., 2004; Grimes, 2005; Grimes et al., 2006), psychological (Coleman, Reardon, Rue, & Cougle, 2002; Fergusson, John Horwood, & Ridder, 2006; Najman, Morrison, Williams, Andersen, & Keeping, 1991), social (Hansen, 1980; Linders, 1998), moral and personal (Correa & Petchesky, 1994; Joyce et al., 2006; R. Petchesky & Judd, 1998; R. P. Petchesky, 1990b) considerations to be navigated. As social work professionals we may find that we are short-selling the larger social reform agenda by grasping too tightly to any one of these multiple, interrelated issues surrounding the abortion problem. Advocating for any one position over another may inadvertently set us at odds with each other and lesson the greater hope and cause of simply working together to lessen the occurrences of unwanted pregnancies and thereby reducing the incidence of abortion without even addressing abortion. Working together to reduce unwanted pregnancies is a cause everyone can get behind, abortion will never be an issue that everyone can support.

As social workers, our hope may be to open a few minds to the potential of solving one mutually-agreed upon problem – unwanted pregnancies – and inadvertently reducing the incidence of abortion without ever addressing the abortion issue, a global and irreconcilable social issue. Abortion is a symptom, it is a reciprocatory action taken only when a very specific set of circumstances comes into play. It is interesting to note that regardless of the dynamic banner we stand under – gender equality, equal rights, woman’s rights, reproductive rights, right to life, right to choose, conservative, liberal or independent – abortion and it’s very construct and purpose are forever static. Nonetheless there are numerous political, social and moral holes to fall into to distract us from the real problem of unwanted pregnancies. There are fewer and more hopeful solutions to reducing pregnancy on all sides of this social problem than there will ever be to calm the tumultuous seas of numerous personal agendas.

Finally, the fourth and probably most indisputable fact is that every abortion is at the very least a termination of a potential life. Considering that the world has aborted nearly one billion fetuses over the past fifty years, the potential of having destroyed millions of possible writers, artists, musicians, sculptors, mathematicians, teachers, and others is a sobering fact. In our practices we have collectively met millions of people, most in dire straits or going through hard times, but how many have actually said and believe that they wish that they were never born? Every human being alive today is alive only because their mother decided to give birth to them, regardless of circumstance. Every human being on the planet today, nearly seven billion of us, were nothing more than potential lives at one time. Let us, as social work professionals, advocate for the solution that benefits the entire world, one that will reduce the tension and side-shows that do nothing but increase the friction of this hotly debated issue and attack it at its cause; let us all work together to reduce unwanted pregnancies so that the issues of morality, gender and rights can all meet under the same global umbrella of care and concern for our fellow human beings across the globe. It is a winnable situation if we define the problem differently, frame it in a mutually acceptable manner and move towards agenda setting and advocate for the greatest good.


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