STRAIGHT TALK ON ABORTION
(or TO ELIMINATE THE EVIL, ELIMINATE ITS NEED)Several letters, articles, surveys, syndicated editorials, and papal pronouncements have appeared in the news over the last few months concerning abortion, pregnancy, and teen-age sexual activity. Pro-life people quote the statistic of millions of murdered fetuses per year, while pro-choice people say it's none of anyone's business what they do with their bodies. Still others are upset over teen-agers' use of The Pill. Nobody agrees on anything, it seems, though everyone has an opinion. We need fewer opinions and more serious discussion.
In all the melee and furor of marches, protests, letter-writing campaigns and abortion clinic bombings, an important point is being missed entirely. There were millions of unwanted pregnancies last year to teen-agers and non-teens alike, and untold millions more which were not aborted. America, let's address the REAL problem: pregnancy prevention.
While many will say that the answer to that is simple, that not enough couples are using the word "No", it is not that simple. "No" is definitely a viable way of dealing with pregnancy prevention, but first it must become more widely used and effective. I intend to shed some light on why "No" doesn't seem to be as effective in 1990 as some would like it to be, and what should be done about it.
Avoidance of pregnancy is a difficult, three-step process for most American adolescents and adults. First, there is the decision to engage in sexual activity -- the initial loss of virginity. At this point, common sense and the word "No" work pretty well, which is good. The biggest problem here lies in the couple's ability (or lack of it) to realize what all is involved with being sexually active if they say "Yes". This calls for good judgment and maturity, traits not commonly associated with teenagers (and some adults, too). Parents, take note: If you don't want kids to get started, the aforementioned traits must be fully developed before the onset of potential sexual activity, and by that I don't mean programming them to say "No" all the time. They have to understand WHY they should say "No". They have to know how to gather information from reliable sources and make decisions.
Teens must also be able to recite and understand all the ramifications of having a sexual relationship. Just for starters, they take more time, use more thought energies and result in more emotional anguish than non-sexual ones, and saying "No" becomes more difficult with each successive "Yes". This subject requires a discussion unto itself.
Once sexual activity has begun, at whatever age, prevention of pregnancy must be handled on a situation-by-situation basis. Simply put, "Should we or shouldn't we do it?" I used the word "we" here; often "I" is the proper word for the situation. In a given situation, if only one half of the couple is thinking about pregnancy prevention, there is only half as good a chance, at best, for achieving it.
Don't look for much common sense and clear-minded thinking with a couple just minutes away from potentially making a baby. Temptation and impulsiveness are the rule here. Human resistance to the temptation of the sexual urge is every bit as difficult as (if not more than) a hungry dieter's resistance to the temptation of a chocolate bar within arm's reach. It's the same thing. If you don't think it's difficult, just ask anyone who's gained back lost weight. Some can resist it, some can't, and some don't care. But they certainly do worry when a period is overdue!
Impulsiveness is a little easier to handle. It is related to time. The closer time gets to the moment of impregnation, the more impulsive the couple tends to be. Conversely, an hour before making a baby, it is more likely that one or the other could mention that pregnancy, and resultant parenthood or abortion, are not wanted, and intelligent discussion about that, sex, and contraceptives would take place. This conversation will practically never occur when they are less than a minute away -- they're too busy! This is where a "No" decision could be made, but it isn't happening much in 1990. One measure of maturity is being able to recognize such a situation with enough time beforehand and starting the conversation. Teens, are you listening?
The third step in the prevention of pregnancy comes into play when couples decide to go ahead (or just go ahead) with sexual intercourse. In order to prevent it here, education in advance is needed about the methods and proper use of contraceptives. Regardless of your feelings about sex education, contraception and abortion, the bottom line is that your feelings mean absolutely nothing to couples at this point, no matter who you are.
Sex education in some form should begin at birth and go on continually in some form until the time of death. It certainly should not be restricted merely to one class in high school and a little talk by one parent around age 10 or 12. Open, frank, non-hostile and informed, two-way discussion about it should take place regularly at home and at school, and by this I don't mean the one-way outpouring of beliefs and opinions. I mean facts -- facts about how the human reproductive system works (mature, informed members of both sexes know in detail how both sexes' systems work), how contraception works (regardless of beliefs and preferences), and about all the feelings and emotions involved with sexual awareness.
Parents, please talk with your kids (not TO them or AT them), and for their own sake, listen to what they have to say without anger, criticism or judgment. If you can't do this, please get help. They're not only your kids, but you're their closest friends -- I hope. Teens, if you can't get any straight answers from your parents, please get your information or counseling from someone reliable. You'll do well by teen hotline numbers. They're in the phone book.
Of foremost importance is the information. Every adolescent and adult in this nation who ever expects to experience sexual intercourse any more than one time more than he or she will have children, must study about contraceptive methods, make a choice, and then make the arrangements to have that choice on-hand for when the time comes. (This CAN BE the so-called "rhythm method".) Why is it that such a rational, reasonable concept as this gets so much debate, especially when the Sex Ed curriculum in the schools is undergoing an update? The only debate that should occur is how to fit it all into 13 years of formal schooling in such a manner that the children can understand it, handle it emotionally, and discuss it rationally with parents and friends, and later on, their mates -- and eventually their own children. I should know -- I was a teen-ager myself ten years ago and I know what my own attitudes were back then. I know that I've developed a more mature attitude toward the subject through information and rational discussion.
If it sounds like I'm overstating it, just keep in mind that the pro-life people consider this a life-and-death matter. Elimination of abortion via legislation is not a viable goal, given the current situation: Some people think abortion is murder, but many people do not. There is just too much controversy. Whether it is murder or not is irrelevant to the problem I am addressing here, the termination of pregnancies that can be prevented. Pregnancy prevention is the key, but a wholesale change in people's beliefs on many subjects is necessary in order to resolve this problem, let alone that of abortion itself.
By the mid-1990s, the children born after 1980 will be of reproductive age; hence, the time to educate them about the processes of fact-gathering and decision-making is now. For each of our own family members, the time to discuss these subjects is now. If you have teen-age family members, have them read this, for a start. The sooner we get started with such teaching and changes, the sooner that unwanted pregnancies can be avoided, and as a result, the sooner abortion can be eliminated.
Stuart M. Strickland
Original draft: March 1985
Last modification to this text: 1990
Four of the five final paragraphs appeared in the Greensburg Tribune-Review in April 1987.