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.|
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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:
|And who doesn't want that?|
- 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.
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.