Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bringing the abortion debate into the 20th Century

In response to Justice O'Connor's retirement announcement, the National Organization of Women has gone into full attack mode about the abortion issue. That is, to them, the only issue arising from her retirement is preventing a reversal of Roe v. Wade. I grew up, a woman of the Bay Area and the 1970s, very pro-choice. Now that I've had children of my own, my dogmatism has softened substantially, since I know that, if I were to get pregnant again, I would not be able to abort that child. The act of having children gives emotional meaning to the scientific fact that the fetus is the beginning of the child you love. The result is that, as far as abortion goes, I'm in some grey moral and scientific area area, able to see and appreciate both sides of the argument, without espousing either. Not a comfortable place to be. Getting back to NOW, though, is something that struck me forcibly about the NOW hysteria (and they are hysterical over there) -- how dated their position is. Their main web page (see link, above), shows photographs of four women who died from abortions. If you follow the link, you're led to the story of seven women who died from botched abortions. Years of death: 1929, 1929, 1940, 1950, 1967, 1977 and 1988. The dates are significant, since only the last two occurred after abortion became legal. The death in 1977 is blamed on the fact that the decedent was denied public funding for her abortion; the death in 1988 is blamed on a young woman afraid to seek parental consent for a legal abortion. Thus, with the exception of the 1977 and 1988 abortions, all the highlighted deaths occurred in times when birth control options were nil to limited, and when the stigma of pregnancy for unmarried women was extraordinarily high. The 1988 abortion was also a "stigma" abortion, since the girl was afraid to tell her parents. The thing is, nowadays, in 2005, pregnancy is inconvenient, but is no longer social death. Women are not turned out at night into snow storms, women do not become community pariahs, women are not forever tainted because of having an "illegitimate" pregnancy. It may certainly be embarrassing for a woman to admit to a pregnancy, but it is no longer the end of life on earth as the women knows it. So let's talk about why women want abortion now, and what are good reasons and what are bad reasons: Women want abortion because they were raped -- I think that may still be a pretty good reason. My blood runs cold at the thought of carrying the child of rape. Women want abortion because the pregnancy carries an incredible health risk for them -- I think that's a good reason. Certainly, this would have been an impossible-to-sustain reason in the old days, when pregnancy was the main reason women died. Nowadays, however, fatal pregnancies are few and far between (thank goodness), and they should be treated with respect. Women want abortion because the fetus is profoundly damaged -- Ohhh, a tough one. If it's clear that the fetus will die in utero, or will not survive birth, abortion is certainly easier on the woman and I believe should be a viable option. The problem begins if the fetus will be born a handicapped child. There are so many degrees. There is the handicapped child who will not live past its first year, and who is a grotesque, unformed creature, without any signs of humanity. There is the Downs syndrome child, who will have a functional, but difficult life. I don't know what I would do if the decision were mine, and I'm loath to impose some state oriented, or one-size-fits all decision on others. Women want abortion because they already have too many children -- No, this doesn't work for me. In this day and age of readily available birth control, accidental pregnancies should be infrequent. That means you don't have the old scenario of seven accidental pregnancies followed by an unbearable eighth accidental pregnancy. In those circumstances, yes, I can understand a desperate woman's effort to stop the pregnancy. Nowadays, though, it's hard to imagine more than one, maybe two accidental pregnancies -- which can occur even with dutiful use of birth control. But under those circumstances, you're still looking at no more than 3, maybe 4, children, and that's not so burdensome on the woman that abortion should be a readily available option. Women want abortion because they just weren't meaning to get pregnant and it's not a good time for a baby -- Okay, in my 20s, I would have said this is a perfectly good reason to get an abortion. I cannot say the same now that I'm in my 40s. Aging teaches you the sanctity of life, and says that this type of casual, selfish response to pregnancy is morally unacceptable. Shame on you, 20 year old self. Women want abortion because it's incredibly embarrassing that they got pregnant -- No. You weren't too embarrassed to have sex, so you can't be too embarrassed to keep the baby. Indeed, single mothers are practically de rigueur now. It's not easy for the mother, and I think it's way worse for the child than a two parent household, but it's still not a good reason for abortion. Girls want abortion because they can't admit to Mom and Dad that they got pregnant -- This one troubles me something awful. I think it's a terrible reason for an abortion. Yet we all remember being teenagers and we have to accept that your average teenager may not have the strength to confess. Also, while we have become a society that completely accepts single mothers, we don't appreciate single teenage mothers. And the alternative, which would be to give approval to single teenage mothers, would positively encourage teen sexual activity. Be that as it may, despite the intellectual conflicts about this, I don't think you can base an entire nation's abortion policy on pregnant teenagers. Am I boring you yet? My point is that, as long as NOW and NARAL, and all these other abortion groups ground their arguments in pre-1973 sensibilities about the stigma of unwed motherhood, we will never have an honest debate about abortion in this country in 2005. And for them to hide behind their hope of liberal judges to avoid that debate is just, well, lazy, shocking and dishonest.