There’s perhaps no more contentious topic of discussion in Canada than abortion. Even Canadian lawmakers are hesitant to debate the subject.
As a high school teacher of a class called Social Justice 12, I can’t ignore the topic. And my code of ethics requires that I facilitate legitimate research and respectful discussion, all the while keeping my opinions to myself.
What many people forget is that abortion is a social justice issue for people on both sides of the divide. Therefore, when I ask my students to research a topic of their own choosing and present their findings to the class, abortion is a fairly common subject.
I learn a great deal from my students. The most important lesson they’ve taught me is that the issue can actually be discussed respectfully. People can hear opposing views, offer well-reasoned counter-arguments and learn from each other, even though they may not agree.
The passage of new anti-abortion laws in several American states has brought this topic to the fore. Anti-abortion advocates believe very strongly that human life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Their intention, therefore, is to save the lives of unborn children.
The question, however, is whether these laws will actually be effective in achieving that goal.
According to research, simply making it illegal doesn’t reduce the incidence of abortion. It can, however, increase the incidence of unsafe abortions. According to the World Health Organization, these procedures are the third leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide.
We also need to remember that abortion isn’t just an issue in the developed world, where abortion rates have actually been dropping. In the developing world, abortion rates have remained stable, despite restrictive laws in many countries.
What, then, actually reduces the incidence of abortion?
According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, when more is invested in the health of young women, abortion rates drop. With increased government spending on health care for all, abortion rates in the United States in 2014 were roughly half of what they were in 1980.
I recall visiting a centre for pre-natal and post-natal health for women at risk in my community. Though the people who ran it openly called themselves pro-choice, I remarked to myself that I had never seen a place that was more pro-life. Women were given support regarding their reproductive health and they learned what they needed to do to have healthy babies. In addition, they were given support after their children were born, including everything from getting diapers to receiving job training.
It seems quite ironic that many promoters of anti-abortion legislation in the United States are also supporting cuts to public health-care spending. These policies will likely result in more unplanned pregnancies and could actually make the abortion rate increase.
So what’s the solution?
Perhaps we need advocates on both sides of the divide to be true to their preferred monikers.
Pro-Life supporters need to be pro-life in every aspect of the term. In particular, they need to be in favour of health and social programs that promote the well-being of all. They also need to support foreign policy that provides funding for the education and physical well-being of women in less-developed countries. If they don’t, they’re simply anti-abortion.
Pro-choice supporters need to be open to questions regarding abortion. Do we really want to allow more boys than girls to be born, as is the case in several countries? Do we want to prevent the births of children with disabilities?
If we’re going to call our society democratic, we have to allow for these uncomfortable conversations.
We need to talk about abortion. We can’t continue to hurl insults at one another.
As my students have taught me, we’re quite capable of seeking truth in an objective and respectful manner.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.