It’s time to have a frank conversation about abortion. In the South, abortion continues to be the single issue that drives our people to the polls to vote for one candidate or the other. On the far left, some advocate for a “litmus” test on abortion. On the far right, some push for overturning Roe. vs. Wade completely. Sadly, because of the deeply personal and intimate nature of this issue, often our rhetoric is reduced to sheer hyperbole on both sides of the political aisle. We resort to such language as “women-haters” or “baby-killers,” only furthering the political divide that plagues this nation.
The reality is this: No woman WANTS to be in the painful position of deciding whether to have an abortion. Show me a woman who wants to be put in that awful and heartbreaking situation, and I’ll show you an anomaly – like easily finding a four-leaf clover in a one-acre field in the South. And by focusing on the result instead of the cause, we are alienating ourselves from one another and doing more harm than we are good. What we need to be focused on is how to reduce the number of abortions by putting our attention in the two places we can do the most good: Education and prevention.
Arkansas remains as one of the highest in the nation for teen pregnancy rates; in fact, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, in 2014 we were ranked #1 in the country for teen pregnancy rates among females aged 18-19 and 15-19. Even more alarming is that 84.5 percent of those teen births were to unmarried teens. And teen pregnancy comes with a hefty price tag to taxpayers; according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an analysis in 2010 found the cost to the public due to teen childbearing comes to a whopping $9.4 billion per year.
This doesn’t factor in the enormous emotional and economic toll teen childbirth has on the immediate family. Young women who become teen moms are overwhelmingly more likely to live in poverty, according to NCSL. Only half of teen moms are ever able to finish school, and most end up depending on welfare programs in order to support themselves and their family. In the South, many young children end up in the care of their grandparents, as teen mothers are too often unprepared to cope with the financial and emotional challenges that come with raising a child.
Whatever your personal position on abortion, it’s time for us to come together on an issue where we should all agree: Reducing teen pregnancy. Whether you advocate for abstinence based programs or comprehensive sexual education, the end goal is the same. We all want fewer of our young women to ever be put in a situation where they might have to contemplate an abortion. How do we do that? We implement a dually structured curriculum choice for families in our public schools to be taken by teens during the fall semester of their sophomore year of high school. Parents can elect whether an abstinence only or comprehensive sexual education program is the right choice for their child, but both programs should include the enormous economic and emotional implications of becoming pregnant when you aren’t ready. We cannot continue to ignore a problem that isn’t going away.
This isn’t rocket science. If you want to solve a problem, you start with the cause of that problem – not with the result. Of course, I know that there will still be those who will demand a black and white answer to my position on the issue of abortion, as I’m running for office in a state where this single issue can determine the candidate that a voter chooses. But abortion, like so many other complex and complicated moral issues, is far too often not black and white for the women who are put in that heartbreaking position for whatever reasons. And I refuse to presume that I could ever make a choice for another family about an issue that is so deeply intimate and personal. So my answer is this: I won’t answer for someone else.
I know that my stance on this issue is not a popular one. I also don’t doubt that before the election is over, I will face appalling commentary and perhaps even outrageously be painted as a “baby-killer” for refusing to make a moral choice on behalf of someone else. But you know what? I’ve got broad shoulders. I can take it. And I dare those that might attempt to use hyper-partisan language (on both sides) to look into the eyes of my husband and precious three-year-old little girl before they ever presume to attack me or my moral values. In Arkansas, we value faith, family, and a better tomorrow for the future of our children. I’m running for office to protect those values, regardless of what direction of the political aisle you might lean.
Now is not the time for more partisan infighting in this country. Now is the time for us to come together to find bipartisan common-sense solutions on the tough issues, and that includes reducing the number of abortions and lowering the teen pregnancy rate in Arkansas. We cannot shy away from the tough issues. Our young men and women deserve leaders who are brave, bold, and driven to make real change for the country they will inherit from us.
After all – it’s our tomorrow.