Monday, September 27, 2010

Education and the Abortion Debate

I’ve been avoiding posting on this topic for some time because of its highly divisive nature but I’m going to dive into it today.  I’m sure this is a sensitive issue to a lot of you here because so many of you have kids and families of your own.  I get that. 

Since I first became politically aware, I’ve been a strong pro-choice advocate.  This does not mean that I hate babies.  On the contrary, I love babies, just as long as they are not pooping on me.  I’ve read so many bloggers lately that are either pregnant now or have just given birth recently.  I stand in awe of the love and dedication it takes to care for a baby, or a toddler, or a kid of any age.  Each comes with its own unique set of issues.  I don’t know how any of you do it without cracking up.

The thing that always gets me about the whole pro-choice/pro-life argument is that other people… those other than you or your mate… presume to want to tell you that upon accidentally becoming pregnant, that you would have to take on that responsibility by substituting their moral values in place of your own.  They’re saying “Hey, you had sex, now you must pay.  Because WE, (the stuffy, predominantly middle-aged white men of the US Congress), think that it’s a full-fledged person the very second those two cells intersect, that YOU must change your life forever by raising it.  OR you must change your own personal body forever by carrying this baby to term so that you can then give it away.  And this is because of OUR beliefs, not yours.

If I’m a woman, I’m telling every last one of them to go to hell, because in MY moral view, two cells intersecting is a science experiment, not a person, and I’ll thank the rest of the world to get out of my god-damned business.


There isn’t a bigger question than “when does life start.”  It’s chocked full of moral and ethical dilemmas, and they’re all very personal. 

As a country, we claim that we have religious freedom. (When in fact, we have all the freedom we want to be Christian, or failing that, Jewish.)  But yet when it comes to this issue, there’s this push to let the strict views of the very few take precedence over the views of everyone else.  Or anyone else.  The numbers don’t really matter.  In no way should the decision to carry or raise a baby belong to anyone other than those directly involved.  Period.  If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.  That’s the end of your reach on the issue.

This argument has hampered medical research and practically torpedoed health care reform.  The sad part is that both sides are so entrenched, it’s practically impossible to find common ground.  I think there’s an obvious middle ground to “no abortions ever ever ever, even if you’re raped by a gang-banger, your prom date or your Dad” versus “abortions on demand up to full term” or “abortions as a lazy-assed method of birth control.” 

Personally, if I were made King I’d draw the line at viability: abortion upon demand, up to the point of viability.  Afterwards, I would make exception for the health of the mother or baby.  Plan B/Morning After birth control should be OTC and as available as an aspirin tablet.  The birth control sub-dermal implants would be offered as a free service to anyone that’s had an abortion.

I’d immediately end all the bullshit hoops that women have to go through… the literature and the videos and the waiting periods.  These are all things designed to make it inconvenient for the woman and use a passive-aggressive approach to keep her from having the abortion.  Instead, I would create a single, fact-based information packet, spelling out the scientifically documented risks and issues surrounding the procedure.  And by “scientifically documented,” I mean scientifically documented by independent scientists, not the paid flunkies of the Right to Life lobbying industry, where the conclusion is already written, with the data filled in later.

It’s sad that we even have the need for as many abortions as we do.  It should be in the best interest of both pro-life and pro-choice supporters to prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place.  You’d think the two sides could get together on something as simple as that, right?

Wrong.  If you look, you’ll see that so many of the people that are adamantly against abortion are the same ones against easy access to birth control, or God-forbid, sex education.  They cling to the idea that if they keep their heads in the sand and preach “abstinence,” their precious offspring will refrain from all manner of frolicking until their wedding night, (and thereafter only when necessary.)  It doesn’t matter that study after study shows that abstinence training doesn’t work.  The kids screw anyway and those with abstinence training have a much higher likelihood of pregnancy, due to said screwing.

So they’re preaching, “don’t have sex,” preventing any information on contraception be discussed at school, then bemoaning the decline of values in America while they make sure that all pregnancies come to term.  And you’d also think that they’d then support federal programs for child care, health care, after-school programs and the like, in order to deal with all the babies being born to single mothers or hard-luck couples.

Nope.  Those are the first things they want cut at budget time, presumably so they can afford more high-end tax cuts.  The fact is that the right-to-life brigade only gives a shit for children up until they’re born.  Then it’s someone else’s problem.

I feel the only answer is age-appropriate and comprehensive Sex Ed classes in school.  I mean, parents can feel free to supplement the classes with their own moral bent, but depriving information never the way to go.  Because with the lack of hard-core, factual information, kids will get the dirt elsewhere: from TV, movies, their idiot friends and Internet porn.  That information is guaranteed to be rife with rumor, innuendo and misinformation that can potentially be fatal.  Is that really a good alternative?

I remember when I was in 6th grade and we were all gathered together for assembly with the boys in one session and the girls in another.  Our principal, a tall, lean, dour, bi-spectacled man, led us through the biology of fertilization, culminating in the mysterious statement that “the man’s sperm then goes from the penis into the woman’s vagina.”  Then he asked if we had any questions.

By this time, my little head was swimming.  We were supposed to do that?  With girls??  I was WAAAY to shy to even consider doing something like that, no matter how far into the future that would be.  But still, one thing puzzled me even more, so I put up my hand.  The principal called on me.

I stood up and asked my question:  “How does the man know when the sperms are going to come out?

The principal coughed a few times, looked around furtively and said, “Um, you’ll know.”

Well that was no help!  I didn’t know.  I looked around and none of my friends knew.  Hmm.  I’d have to watch that.  I could be running around on the street one day and bang!  Stuff would be coming out and I’d have to hurry up and find a vagina to put it in.

See, there was so little context regarding the entire situation, our big Sex Ed Speech made everything an even greater mystery.  I’m sure kids today are far hipper to such things, but still, they’re kids.  Without proper context, it’s no wonder young people have so many misconceptions about sex.  If we’re going to do something about curtailing abortions in this country, we can’t just preach “no sex” and then put the screws to young adults or troubled couples when something goes horribly wrong.

Basic information has to be given out.  Access to preventative measures must be guaranteed.  Every abortion is a tragedy; an often-preventable tragedy and we should be doing everything we can to make them unnecessary.

OK, and if you guessed that the only reason I’m writing about this today was so I could tell that story, you’d be right.

20 comments:

  1. Thank you, dear Bluz. The only way to prevent the tragedy of abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. This knowlege is available, accessible and necessary.
    Abortion is a painful, dehumanizing and unnecessary expedient. No woman should need to subject herself to such an obscene alternative.
    No thinking, sensitive person is for abortion.
    Sexual autonymy includes the right to reject unwanted pregnancy and choose the means to prevent it.

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  2. There it is, my whole post in one paragraph. Perfect.

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  3. As a mother of 2 1/2 kids, I will clearly voice my opinion for being pro-choice. It's simply what it is: a choice. I'm fortunate enough to be in a loving relationship where my children are planned (for the most part) and welcomed. Not all are as such. And for a woman to be denied that because a MAN tells her she can't, well that's just wrong. No one, and I mean no one, should be able to tell someone what someone can or cannot do to their body. I want a tattoo - oh wait, the government needs to sign off on that first... HELL NO. (Not to simplify abortion to a tattoo.)

    I know first hand what it's like to see a woman go through the painful, demoralizing, pitiful experience of abortion. No one should have to see that. But if she had to carry that baby to term and raise or give it away...either decision would have about killed her. I, personally, could never do it myself. But I, personally, have never been down that road.

    Bluz - it's simple. It's a woman's body. Not a man's. Not a congress person's. Not a doctor's. It's simple math. Either pray that your child will turn out OK because it's not aborted and may be neglected because the mother never wanted it in the first place and pay all kinds of mental health fees and personal suffering and anguish, or abort the baby, grieve, feel like shit for a while, but know in the bottom of your soul that perhaps you did the world a favor.

    But I don't know - like I said, I've never been there. Plain and simple.

    And most people haven't. So they should shut their trap, too.

    I'm just glad I'm here. I'm glad my Mom made the right decision for her.

    But the right decision is what's best for the Mom. It's all speculative.

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  4. My daughter said to me the other day, "I'm so happy you are pro choice, not pro abortion." There is a difference and those who think pro choice means that we want to kill babies have their heads up their you know what.

    The fact is that those who wish to overturn Roe v Wade would force a 13 year old victim of incest to carry that child to term without regard to her emotional well being. She is still a child herself and we should be looking our for her welfare too. What is in her best interest? What about the woman who finds herself pregnant after rape? How does she feel about carrying that child?

    Studies have shown that the mother's emotional health during pregnancy does affect the child they carry. Mothers with too much stress during the pregnancy tend to have children with serious emotional issues themselves and do not fare well in life. So it isn't just the mother that suffers. It is the child they carry as well. Forcing someone to carry a child they do not want only hurts society in general.

    Do I wish everyone who was pregnant wanted that child or knew they would give them up for adoption so they would have a better life? Sure I do. I wish there were other alternatives. It isn't always possible. Not giving a woman a choice is what slavery was like.

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  5. Cassie and Christy,
    You both put it very eloquently and I totally agree. It's a horrible proposition. But as a country, we can't legislate that decision. We just can't. It's one thing to sit on your couch, or in a Senate seat and go "tut tut, all the babies..." But try walking in the shoes of a young, scared, broke and broken young lady. Our culture is very good at judgement and punishment, and pretty light on actual empathy.

    As my mom says, "If men could get pregnant, abortion and birth control would have been a constitutional right."

    And I've never met a single person, ever, that is "in favor of abortion." That's just a straw-man set up by the religious conservatives that they use to light a fire under their sheep... Nothing but a boogie-man story to frighten people into granting them control of women's bodies. It's a common (and faulty) argument: to take the most extreme of the extreme and position that as the fundamental argument of the opposition.

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  6. and if priests could conceive, both abortion and birth control would be sacraments, complete with rituals and fees like weddings and baptisms.

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  7. First of all, this made me LOL: :)
    "hurry up and find a vagina to put it in"

    Secondly, you did a wonderful job of expressing my own feelings about abortion and birth control. I'm not "pro-abortion" - I'm "pro-choice." Who am I to judge what the factors might be in making that decision? How dare I presume to not GIVE her that choice?

    The thing that always annoys me about some of these people is that they don't put themselves in other people's shoes when discussing these choices. They're too busy pushing their belief systems on these girls and women and don't spend nearly enough time considering how it might affect them. When someone brings up how bad abortion is, I want to look them straight in the eye and ask, "So, you're telling me that if you were a 13-year-old girl that was raped by a violent man, that you would be able to handle not only the ridicule and depression and anger of carrying the baby that resulted from that heinous act, but that you'd be able to find a way to support it during your teen years? And, all this without succumbing to suicide beforehand because of the immense social pressure and self-hatred?" Whatever.

    Also, I've recently looked at the book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility," which points out a very interesting point, which is that women are only fertile a few days a month, while men STAY fertile... ALL. THE. TIME. So, why is it that women have had to take on the role of birth control? Our bodies are not the ones with the highest pregnancy risk factors. God, when I read that, my mouth hung open for about half an hour afterward. Wow.

    Anyway, my point is that the education just isn't out there. Adults are afraid of giving kids too much information too early because they don't want them to experiment or be exposed improperly, so kids end up not getting nearly enough information to keep themselves safe.

    I remember my mom sitting me down with an encyclopedia when I was about 8 and explaining all this stuff, but a few years later, when things were actually starting to happen, nothing... No new information. No enlightening instructions. It became hush-hush. That is so messed up. I know it's an embarrassing topic, but it NEEDS to be discussed!

    I agree with you that the "don't have sex" message, combined with the "you have to keep it/carry it to term" arguments are ridiculously misaligned. All that offers is judgment and pressure and alienation. Horrible.

    ************
    Okay, now that I've expressed my actual opinion, I have a thought for discussion:

    The reason this came to mind was the Tea Party candidate, Rand Paul's very controversial view on the federal government's role in prohibiting racial discrimination (see here). Think about this for a second - he's saying that the federal government shouldn't be able to place strictures on choices an individual business should be able to make regarding discrimination.

    Okay, so tell me how urging the government to make abortion (a choice an individual is making on how to run their personal lives) illegal is okay when the above (the fed government saying you can't discriminate) is not.

    It's kind of complicated, but do you see where I'm going with this? I know he was criticized by his own folks, too, but most right-wingers would gladly make the illegality of abortion law, thereby taking a personal freedom of choice away from the common person. Seems fishy to me.

    Gosh, that was long! Sorry! What do you think about this?

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  8. Bluz, I am personally against abortion but would never presume to tell another woman what to do. Last time I checked we still have rights in this country. On the other hand, I think before a woman makes that decision, she should hear the heartbeat of the fetus...and then decide. It would be a better decision-making process. It did for me on my last, and quite unexpected pregnancy.

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  9. Wow, Bluz. What's next, a personal story about capital punishment or health care? That Sex Ed class was hilarious. "You'll know."

    I find myself in that middle gray area on this. Mainly because I'm a man and it's easy to have an opinion when you'll never have to make that choice. (I've always said, if men got pregnant, abortion would not only be legal, it would also be tax deductible.)

    Things get murky when it is a 16-year-old. Should she have to have a parent's permission? Yes, if everyone had perfect parents, but they don't. I'm sure if you were the parent, you'd want the chance to make sure she was making a wise decision--either way.

    The hardest thing for me is your question on the definition of life. If I push a pregnent woman down the stairs and the baby dies and the woman wanted it, I'm charged with taking a life. If she doesn't want it and has an abortion, it's not a life. I'm a little uncomfortable with defining life by whether or not it's wanted. Other than that, I'm with you... it's a woman's choice. I could never side with those puritans who refuse to give condoms to the wives of AIDS vicitims in Africa because it might encourage them to have sex. Use of condoms should be taught alongside driver's ed. Shoot, maybe in driver's ed. They'll most likely be used in a car anyway!

    Now, back to the ridiculous and mundane.

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  10. You and I agree exactly on this issue. I think the line is also viability. If the child can survive outside the womb, aborting it is murder. While abortion is not for me, I can see why women do it.

    Also, preaching abstinence isn't going to help anything. I really think promoting safe sex and condoms and showing kids what it's like to have a baby (and I do not mean 16 and pregnant which glamourizes teen moms), kids would be more careful and not need the abortion.

    I know, if i have a daughter, she's going on birth control. I'd rather have her protected than having her come home and tell me she's pregnant.

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  11. Every single day there are articles in newspapers, or stories on the news, about children who have been abused, or killed by the parents who gave birth to them. There are people who just should not have children. For the right wing conservatives who argue that abortion is a sin, and should be against the law, I challenge them ALL to take those unwanted children and raise them as their own. Talk is cheap. They should either put up or shut up.

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  12. Cristy,
    Again, that’s the crux of the matter to me. People can have whatever views they want on the matter, but they don’t get to decide for anyone else. That goes for having babies or what can be broadcast on TV, as far as I’m concerned. We spend way too much time, as a country, trying to make other people get in line behind what we ourselves believe. We preach that we’re this wonderful, open society, but woe be to anyone that doesn’t run with prevailing majority.

    Regarding your Ron Paul question, I think that just points out the inevitable hypocrisy behind the Tea Party (and other) conservatives. They scream about limiting government but have no problem with government regulating your bodily functions. Remember how fast they rammed that Terri Schiavo law through Congress? That was a law designed to affect one particular family, going through an insanely difficult ordeal. How much more intrusive can you possibly get? And then to go cry about the Democrats overreaching with the government because they want health care for everyone? Crass hypocrisy, pure and simple.

    It’s just like when they yell about a balanced budget but won’t budge on tax cuts for the super-rich. It’s all, “We want what we want because we want it.” Just put it on the country’s license plates… “Me First.”

    If left to the masses, women and minorities would still be second class citizens in the eyes of the law. It takes a progressive and occasionally activist government to overcome innate or cultural prejudices.

    Lastly, thank you for acknowledging the story at the end. Once I grew up and thought about that whole thing, I suddenly felt very bad for my principal. I bet he was talking to his friends about that question for years.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and insightful comment. And never worry about going long. I love the “after-party” conversation. The same goes to everyone else that has commented so far. It’s sessions like this that make blogging so much fun and make me want to continue digging into the heavy issues.

    Cher,
    I don’t think listening to the heartbeat is necessarily a bad thing, it is what it is, however things like that tend to get legislated as ways to talk women out of having the abortion. That, I don’t like. First it’s listening to the heartbeat, then it’s being required to look at a sonogram, then it’s having to come back a couple days later… what’s next, being required to name it?

    I know I can’t speak to the emotions of carrying a baby inside of you, like you can. So I’m left with trying to look at the big picture. Is the baby wanted? Are there resources to care for it? What’s the family situation? What’s the health history? Sometimes it just doesn’t add up. And like you said, no one should presume to interfere with or dictate a decision like that. Decisions made solely on the emotion of the moment can lead to terrible consequences, when the reality of the situation rolls in and the participants are not mentally, physically or financially equipped to handle it.

    Cher, you may be amazing (at least that’s what I believe,) but sadly, not everyone can say the same.

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  13. Faux Trixie,
    I love the idea of those baby projects where students have to care for a mock baby, whether it’s one of those mechanical ones pre-set to cry every couple hours or otherwise act unpredictably, or even just an egg that they have to keep with them at all times. A little time with those crying faux-babies will deglamorize the pop-culture notion that being 16 and pregnant is cool.

    Bagger,
    Yeah, I know… it’s a real detour from Game Jersey Mojo to the abortion issue. And you’re right that with our positions as men, all we can ever be is spectators to the issue, which to me makes it even more important that all decisions rest with the woman. It’s real easy for us to sit back and judge what others should or shouldn’t do. It’s an issue that only affects us by association.

    Like Trixie, I think that the viability issue is the key to drawing some of the lines that need to be drawn. Like with your pregnant woman getting pushed down the stairs, if the fetus was at a viable stage, I wouldn’t have a problem with a murder charge. Short of that, I’d throw the sick fuck in jail for all kinds of assault and battery, and general douchebaggery charges for pushing a pregnant woman down the stairs.

    Or maybe they invent a new crime: Deprivation of Potential.

    To me, that’s the gist of the pre-viability abortion… it’s a waste of potential. It’s lamentable, it should be avoidable, but sometimes it is in the best interest of those directly involved. Those that are more religious or faithful than I may see that as a life. I don’t, not so much that it over-rules the life of the woman of whom it is inside. Potential is wasted millions of times a day in this country. It may be regrettable but it’s not a crime.

    Now the 16-year old pregnant girl? On paper it’s a no-brainer… At least it would be if you could predict the level of parental competence. Unfortunately there are no licenses granted to become parents. Anyone can become one, from morons to scholars, from the saintly to the most depraved. One would really hope that such a young girl could come to their parents for help and advice. It just kills me that it’s just not so.

    While I’m loathe to create any more barriers, I’d like to see some kind of “out,” where a girl could see a judge in a time-sensitive manner, and make a case for avoiding parental consent. Even better would be instant access to Plan B, the Day After contraceptive. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re old enough to be having sex, you’re old enough to buy the Plan B and take care of things before it becomes a pregnancy.

    Good idea about learning condom use in Driver’s Ed. You’re right, some things just naturally go together.

    And yes, I’ll make sure the next post goes back to my usual level of frivolity and merrymaking.

    Judie,
    As I mentioned above, I often think there should be some kind of Parenting License issued before one can become a parent. We do as much with cars, and the misuse of either one can and does ruin lives. If every household was like the Cleavers, the Nelsons, or even the Stevens’ on Bewitched, we wouldn’t have nearly the problems that we do. But that is not now, nor has it ever been, reality.

    The social conservatives are great at telling others how they should be living, but not so great at actually contributing to any of the solutions. When they talk about the Right to Life, they mean THEIR right to intrude into YOUR life.

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  14. For what it is worth, PA does have a statute whereby minors can bypass the parental consent requirement. They are entitled to an expedited hearing before a juvenile court judge and are provided counsel. Now, of course, the decision is then left to whichever judge happens to be sitting, but the option is available. I'm not sure about other jurisdictions.

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  15. DG,
    When I’m King, I’ll make that the law of the land… That and making my birthday a national holiday.

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  16. What a post.. I too am prochoice, but only because I don't think you can conditionally allow something like abortion with any success.
    And while I agree with almost everything you said, I do have to disagree with abortion being a religious issue. I know that many fanatical prolifers are conservative Christians, but I see this as more of a moral issue. And if we start questioning laws based on morality then we have throw in rape, child abuse and murder along with countless others (if you really think about it most laws are morality driven).
    But I do agree that more agressive sex educcation is needed and ideally from the parents. I found out recently that I have talked to my 10 year old son about sex more than my ultaconservative aunt and uncle have talked to their 18 year old. Its sad. And its very true.
    I hate sex ed in school. I don't want someone else talking to my kids about sex, but its become vital because other parents are shirking their responsibility and not having those hard talks.

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  17. This is long-winded, so sorry.

    As a conservative (in mostly fiscal issues) Catholic, I am pro-life (anti-abortion and anti-death penalty) but pro-birth control, the latter of which leaves me at odds with the church. To say you should always be open to kids and never use an artificial method to stop it, particularly in these tough times, is irresponsible in my mind, though I can understand (although not agree with) their views on chemical birth control.

    That said, I can't stand when rights or even privileges of any sort are taken away; abortion is legal, so I accept it. Plus I am a pretty open-minded person and I can understand (even if not agree with) people, particularly women, not wanting others to tell them what to do with their bodies. But quite frankly, I think less of people who were lazy about birth control, got pregnant, and then had an abortion, which is not to say I would openly chastise those people. It comes back to birth control. Make it easier and cheaper for people to get it!

    As for the under-age consent thing, in most schools, a kid cannot take an aspirin without a note from a parent, but that same kid could go have an abortion without parental consent? That bothers me. If my daughter were ever in that situation and did not tell me, I would be devastated both b/c of what she did and b/c she did not tell me. But, again, as an open-minded person, I can't help but think of the kid whose parent would push her to suicide if said parent found out.

    And, yes, if men could have babies, then there would not be half the controversy about abortion. I really do think they should have less of a say in the matter. For that same (or a similar) reason, although I personally did not oppose the (not really a) mosque near Ground Zero, if my loved one were killed by one of those people, particularly if I lived in NYC, then my feelings should probably count more.

    Done now.

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  18. Jennifer J,
    I see what you mean. On one hand I see moral issues going hand in hand with religion. On the other hand, I can see being quite moral without bringing religion into it at all. But the beauty of the Pro-Choice position is you do what is right, according to your own conscience. Going the other way, you are imposing your particular beliefs onto people that do not necessarily share them.

    The “morality” of the other issues you mention, rape, murder, etc., I don’t really see applying because of who they are committed against. While there is great and ongoing debate on when “personhood” starts, there is no debate regarding the victims of those other crimes. They are undeniably crimes against sentient people. It’s not a gray area.

    It’s a shame we even need sex ed in schools, but unfortunately so many parents aren’t like you and would be perfectly content never speaking to their children about sex, at all. (Other than saying, “Don’t do that, or I’ll disown you/kick you out of the house/ground you for life/cut off your tuition payments…”)

    Facie,
    First of all, never worry about going on too long here. I look at it as added value for people who come to this site.

    It turns my stomach to think that there are people out there for whom abortions are routine. That’s not how it should be. Prevention has to be paramount, with abortion as a last resort.

    Your daughter is lucky to have a caring, reasonable parent like you. I’m sure she would come to you with such a problem. It’s too bad that it’s not universal, or in my opinion, even the standard in this country. The news is filled with stories of awful things happening to kids, at the hand of their parents, be it directly, or through negligence or apathy.

    I think the law has to be written to encompass the widest possible range of scenarios.

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  19. Bluz, I have nothing to add here whatsoever except to say:

    TOTALLY AGREE. 100%.

    Right on, brotha man.

    Nothing would make me happier than for all the abortion clinics in the world to remain empty at all times. That's never gonna happen, I feel sure, but if it did, it would be because of sex education and rape prevention education. When are the pro-lifers gonna figure out that those are the key to everything?

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  20. Bachelor Girl,
    That’s the truth, BG. You attack a problem at the source, not after it’s too late. And more importantly, you attack based on a plan that WORKS! Abstinence-based sex ed classed Do Not Work. Sex is not delayed and teen pregnancy rises.

    What does it say about the people that so vehemently insist that we keep trying? It tells me that either their delusional, or they have money in the game.

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