Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rhymes with Smushmortion

I try really hard to not be a militant activist. Strident, sometimes, maybe - I mean, we all have those moments, right? When we get just a little bit too caught up in some debate and all of a sudden we're chaining ourselves to the Thanksgiving table screaming, "You'll never take me alive!" while Great-Aunt Edna looks on in in utter horror before fainting into the mashed potatoes . . . Just me? Well, what I'm attempting to say is I try to keep it toned down - not militant.

That said, this post is going to be a little controversial, so if you are easily offended or don't like reading opinions different from yours, I might recommend reevaluating whether you really want to read this pro-choice woman's blog post. Nope, you're staying? You sure? All right then - just be prepared: I'm happy to discuss at length any aspect of the abortion discussion in the comments section, and would in fact LOVE to see people from different viewpoints drawn in and talking to one another. But flaming, trolling, name-calling, and any other childish behavior will not be tolerated. Let's all take a deep breath and remember, it's just a comment thread!
Do not feed the trolls.
Okay, now that's out of the way, let's get started.

I tend to seek out abortion articles like a pig snuffing for high-end truffles - I pass by a lot of them because they're either old news, too superficial, or so outrageous that the only way to make them die is to ignore them (NOTE: see above). Like I said, I'm pro-choice -- which means I'm pro-every-woman's-choice. Carrying a pregnancy to term, terminating the pregnancy, keeping the baby, putting the baby up for adoption, these things are all fine by me. Sometimes, I may question the reasoning behind another woman's decision regarding her pregnancy, but hell no would I ever take away her right to make that decision.

So, that's where I stand. And here's where the American abortion debate stands: at an absolute standstill, because we've gotten caught up in our sense of moral obligation to protect the lives of others and our God-given* right to personal liberty (I'm thinking T. Jefferson's take on this bit). So what to do?

William Saletan, one of my favorite writers at Slate.com, wrote a couple articles covering a recent meeting of the minds: the pro-life camp and the pro-choice camp got together and hugged it out. Well, technically they didn't hug it out -- they talked abortion policy in America and how to get the debate moving again, and the representatives for the pro-life camp got ostracized by their own groups for fraternizing with the enemy, and the representatives from the pro-choice camp got blackballed for sacrificing the party line.

Extremism: It's not just for the crazies anymore

Basically, not a whole lot happened -- superficially. But as Saletan points out, there were some real concessions made, by both sides, and some real common ground discovered, that could help to move us forward. The main points to take away after the jump, as laid out by Saletan:

For pro-lifers:
  • Reduce the abortion rate through voluntary means.
    • Yep, we're talking about contraception here, people. Prevent the unwanted pregnancy in the first place and there won't need to be an abortion.
  • Subsidize maternity
    • Make sure to provide enough funding for social programs that support low-income families, so poorer women can afford to raise the child.
  • Support contraception
    • This is important enough to be mentioned twice, because not only do we need to make contraception accessible, we need to make sure everyone knows about it and how to use it - even people (ahem, those heathens living in sin) who some might want to discourage from having sex.
  • Early abortions are better than late ones. 
    • Less costly, less controversial, more accessible, etc, etc.
For pro-choicers:
  • Embrace abortion reduction
    • Honestly, I already think the pro-choice movement has done this, but it's worth saying again: an abortion is hardly a desirable event. In a perfect world, no one would ever get pregnant that didn't want to be, but this is real life and shit happens. Finding ways to make that shit happen less is what we should all be working towards, right? 
  • Treat contraception as a moral practice
  • And who doesn't want that?
    • As in saying, to not use birth control outside of trying to get pregnant is to be an irresponsible human being. I'm actually a huge fan of this idea, despite its overtones of shame. It would be lovely if everyone did the right thing at all times out of the goodness of their hearts, but sometimes a little social pressure can go a long way towards reducing undesirable behaviors. Plus, then we can have more ads like this:
  •  Reclaim stigma
    • Not stigma around having sex, silly -- stigma around having unprotected sex! Again, social pressure can be a beautiful thing when applied correctly, and widespread disapproval for not choosing to use birth control could definitely help.
  • Target repeaters 
    • Okay, this one's one of those uncomfortable truths. I don't want to say that just because a woman has had one abortion, she can never have another without being marked as a incautious procreating time-bomb, but there is some good reasoning behind the idea of keeping an eye out for women who can't seem to keep their birth control situation under control, and investigating further to find out why (so long as she's then given the help she needs to ensure she will be able to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the future).
  • Reconsider the legality of second-trimester abortions
    • Not a fan of this idea in the slightest, since as I pointed out above, I'm pro-whatever-choice-a-woman-makes-as-long-as-its-her-own. BUT, if contraception and first-trimester abortion services were really made easily accessible to all, the need for second-trimester abortions would be reduced and so I could see this becoming a point of negotiation.
The fascinating thing about all these points is that among the people at the conference, these were things that both sides could agree on - just look at all that common ground! Surely we can find a way to reach across the aisle and get to the bit where we hold hands and sing "Kum ba ya" together, right? I mean, at least we know there's somewhere we can go with this that doesn't mean one side caving completely to the other.

That said, I'm not the only one feeling a little hesitant regarding Saletan's final point to the pro-choicers, about reconsidering second-semester abortion policies. Ann Furedi penned an article responding to Saletan in regards to the issue, pointing out the problems with restricting abortions at any point in the pregnancy. It's really a wonderfully explored argument, and I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but what I wanted to share with you here was an excerpt from the end.
The moral principle at stake in the debate on later abortions, the one that genuinely matters, has been ignored completely in the recent discussions. This is the principle of moral autonomy in respect of reproductive decisions. To argue that a woman should no longer be able to make a moral decision about the future of her pregnancy, because 20 or 18 or 16 weeks have passed, assaults this and, in doing so, assaults the tradition of freedom of conscience that exists in modern pluralistic society.
The ethicist Ronald Dworkin explains it like this: ‘The most important feature of [Western political culture] is belief in individual human dignity; that people have the moral right – and moral responsibility – to confront the most fundamental questions about the meaning and values of their own lives for themselves, answering to their own consciences and convictions.’
If we accept this, it is clear that to deny a woman her capacity to make the moral decision about abortion is to strip away her humanity. It is to take away not just a right but a responsibility to come to a decision that accords with her values. This has profound consequences for how we see individuals and how they see themselves. Are they capable moral agents? Or must their agency be stripped away?
Dworkin’s argument is interesting because, like most of us who participate in the current debates, he believes that it is ‘irresponsible to waste human life without a justification of appropriate importance’. It is unclear whether he extends that principle to potential human life, but I am prepared to. Most of us think it is better to prevent a pregnancy than to end one. However, this is not the issue at stake: we can all have our own views on when life begins to matter. The crucial questions are: who decides what is ‘a justification of appropriate importance’, and on what basis should they decide this?
Saletan has previously argued for hospital panels to sit in judgment and to adjudicate on women’s requests. Dworkin argues that ‘the decision whether to end human life in early pregnancy should be left to the pregnant woman, the person whose conscience is most directly connected to the choice and who has the greatest stake in it’. Dworkin does not argue that this decision should be limited to early pregnancy; and in later pregnancy, too, I believe that the decision, and the responsibility that comes with it, should rest with the pregnant woman.
Left to make their own moral judgments, some women will inevitably make decisions that we would not; perhaps even those we think are ‘wrong’. And we must live with that: tolerance is the price we pay for our freedom of conscience in a world where women can exercise their human capacity through their moral expression. We either support women’s moral agency or we do not. Part of our valuing of fetal life is the value of what it means to be the humans they have the potential to become. Moral agency is part of that humanity.
The moral case for late abortion, and for preserving the right of women to exercise their moral agency in making their decision, is at least as strong as the pragmatic case. And our normative, moral case is more consistent and ploughs deeper than the instrumental attempts to find moral reasoning to restrict later abortion. Either we support women’s right to make an abortion decision or we don’t. We can make the judgement that their choice is wrong – but we must tolerate their right to decide. There is no middle ground to straddle.
Thankfully, there are common goals to be found between the pro-choice and pro-life lobbies - we don't have to remain trapped in a moral quagmire, unable to act for the good of America's women. However, we must achieve this while further empowering women to make the choice that's right for them.

What do you think?

*used for rhetorical purposes; let's save the theological debate for another post, thx :)!

If you're interested in reading the articles mentioned above, go here, here, and here.


  1. I by and large agree with you, though I do question a few of your points...

    For one, you focus on women's right to choose, but leave the man out of the equation. It takes two people to make a baby, shouldn't both of them have a say in the outcome?

    I mean, sure, it's the woman's body that carries the baby to term, but let's say that you have a couple that is in disagreement over having a child. Should the man's wishes be totally ignored in this situation?

  2. I also agree with the view points you have expressed, and think the reactions to the folks that tried to reach common ground is quite ridiculous.

    As a fellow dude, I can see where you are coming from initially, that it takes two people to make the thing, and not giving the dude any say in the matter seems harsh. But unfortunately the whole "it is her body that has to carry the thing" isn't anything to scoff at. It is a huge deal for a woman to carry a baby to term, and her body will never be the same. If there was some way, in a scenario that you pointed out, for the fetus to be removed from the mother and carried to term in an artificial womb or some such thing. Then the dude could have much more of a say in things. Until that is a possibility, I feel that this is one of the areas that us dudes have to conceded to the ladies.

    One argument that I have heard in a situation that you point out is that if the woman was to make the choice to end the pregnancy, when the guy wanted to keep the baby, that is something that he is going to have to live with for the rest of his life. I have a hard time this this because it is out of his control to make the decision, and he has no right to force another person into a decision that she is against. If the couple is not ready for a child then safe sex measures should be taken, and yes there is some margin of error with all contraceptives, when a pregnancy occurs to the failure of birth control however unfair it may seem I feel that us dudes have to let her decide what she has to do with the result and realize that we did all that we could to stop the pregnancy, and if she wants to end it we can't stop it. Which may help remove the guilt we may feel after.

  3. @ Kevin

    I will agree that it seems unfair to the man involved that he doesn't get a choice in the matter. However, to give him a say as to whether or not the woman chooses to have an abortion seems to me to run up against the same problem with personal free agency, as addressed by Furedi. How does one give a man some control in the decision regarding whether or not to end a pregnancy without his voice and his choice superseding the woman's? It seems to me that although he can, and has every right to, express his thoughts, ultimately the woman must make the call, seeing as it is her body carrying the pregnancy, not his.

    I would be interested to hear your response.

  4. @ Wicker

    The question of guilt is a very interesting one here - why would the man feel guilty? Yes, two people are responsible for causing the conception, but if only the woman has the final say in whether or not to keep the pregnancy, it seems like she is the only one that bears any responsibility for that choice. Therefore, if there is such a thing as "guilt" relating to a decision to end a pregnancy, wouldn't she be the only one rightfully able to feel it?

    Secondarily, should there be feelings of guilt attached to the decision to have an abortion?

    I look forward to your response.

  5. The point you make in the first paragraph is exactly the same point I was trying to make (Must not have been clear enough).
    I don't know that the word "should" is correct here. It should not be a shameful thing to have to do, but it isn't something that you should feel good about doing either. I think the decision to have an abortion definitely has the possibility of making you feel guilty, if we are assuming that a mistake is what landed you in the position to have to make the decision then I think it is entirely possible to feel guilty. Hind sight is 20-20, and looking at the events that lead to the problem in the first place and seeing where you could have done things differently to not have to be in the situation, could make you feel guilty.
    I think we can all agree that under normal circumstances any pregnancy “could” lead to a healthy contributing member of society. Knowing that you are preventing a possible life is not a guilt free decision. That is not to say that it isn’t the correct decision for you at the time, and that you should have the right to make that decision. Also, all these guilt factors are completely internal to the person that has to make the decision. I don’t think that it is ok for others to make them feel guilty about the decision. The procedure shouldn’t have the stigma that it does.
    It is really uncool for people to stand outside of Planned Parenthood clinics and shout at people that are entering the building trying to make them feel like they are horrible humans. Not only do the shouting people not know why this person is entering the building, Planned Parenthood clinics provide many services other than abortions, but the decision is hard enough, and it doesn’t need to be made any harder by these a-holes.
    TL/DR: I think the decision to have an abortion has the capacity to make the decider feel guilty, but that guilt should not come from outside sources. It is guilt that the own person may create for themselves.

  6. Guilt is interesting in how it works. 3 years ago I had an unplanned pregnancy and chose to go with the open adoption route (as a side note, I feel educating and marketing other options such as adoption would make a big difference as well. If I hadn't had a friend go through an open adoption several years before me I might not have considered it, solely from a lack of knowledge about it). I was confident that my decision was the right one, and I was making the right choice for my daughter, but nonetheless, I had to deal with serious guilt issues for quite some time after that. Some of them self-induced, but many many more of them from society (some people sure do feel entitled to pass judgment on total strangers). If I had gone the abortion route (I felt like it wasn't an option for me, but I am very much so pro-choice) then I feel the pressures from guilt would have been astronomically higher.

    On the other note, about a man's right to have a say in the choice, I definitely feel like the father should get a legal say. Legally a man can sign away his rights to decide, but I feel like if a man is staying involved and has a strong opinion it would be negligent to ignore it because he can't carry the baby himself. In cases of differing opinions legal mediation could be offered. In the end, I'm afraid I feel it does still come down to her choice though. Every effort should be made to get the two parents on the same page, but if after trying she wants the abortion and he doesn't, I think she should still have the right to the abortion. Just my opinion.

  7. Krystal, thank you for adding your story to the conversation. That's a very good point, that guilt can manifest in so many different ways for so many different reasons. I'm sure that your decision was the right one for you; bully to anyone who would say differently!

    I can also identify with the thought of abortion - or adoption - being guilt-inducing. One of my greatest fears is getting pregnant but not being in a position to be a parent. No matter what decision I made, I have no doubt it would be something that would always stay with me in one way or another, even if mentally I felt my guilt was socially driven or otherwise outside-influenced.

    I like the idea of legal mediation -- maybe this is a middle-ground?

  8. Hey I just found your blog, and being the creeper I am...I'm reading the whole thing.

    Anyway, stopping second trimester abortions is a very scary idea to me. I did not even realize I was pregnant until three days before my second trimester. As I have told you in person, I had to terminate the pregnancy because my IUD was still in my uterus. I would have wanted to terminate the pregnancy anyway.

    The fact that I didn't know I was pregnant until for a while means that many other women could be the same. (Missing periods is not uncommon due to stress levels; some forms of birth control greatly reduce the number of periods you have; and if you're lucky like me, periods can still occur in the first three weeks of pregnancy) I feel it's important to say that women getting pregnancies in the second trimester allow for at least two things:

    1. Late discoverers still have all the options.
    2. If she finds out early on, it gives her time to really think about her decision and her options. She doesn't feel rushed to make it quickly. I find this is important, because women should be educated on all the implications of abortions. They need to know how damaging it is to the body and the mind. This doesn't mean they should be violently discouraged, but they need to be informed so they can make the right decision for them.

    Okay, I'm done with my 2 cents.