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January 22, 2007

Tales of Roe

LB writes:

Continuing that pregnancy wouldn't have been an epic tragedy for me; any proposal for abortion rights that requires abortion to be permissible only when the only alternative would be starving on the streets would leave me right outside.

But man, did I not want to be pregnant. I did not want to be locked into a minimum eighteen-year relationship with someone I'd been dating for a couple of months. I did not want to be responsible forever for someone who didn't exist yet. I didn't want to be physically pregnant. I had no idea of where I was going professionally -- I was a temp receptionist, thinking about maybe taking the LSATs -- or of how I would support myself or a child, and had no idea of how I'd find my way into a career with a new baby. The only thing being able to get an abortion did for me was give me some control over the course of the entire rest of my life.

So, politically useful as it is, I get a little edgy about rhetoric that stipulates that abortion is always a strongly morally weighted decision. I don't think it is, and if it were I'm not certain that my reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy at the time qualify as sufficient to do a wrong thing -- if abortion is an evil, it's not clear to me what evil would have been the lesser under those circumstances. But I am thankful every day of my life that I had the option to end that pregnancy back in 1995.

The abortion rhetoric is so fraught and culturally weighted, it's hard sometimes to remember that abortions are, above all, frequent things and, for many women, they aren't life changing -- they're life preserving. LB's story -- which she calls "a politically counter-productive personal history" -- is a worthwhile one, and I encourage you to read it.

Update: I agree with Kevin's additions here. Speaking of abortion in a sensitive and conflicted way is probably good politics, but I fear the impact on individuals. If we disingenuously hold that abortions are morally excruciating, and keep driving home the anguish all women should/must feel after having one, we risk causing further pain to women who'd otherwise find the removal of a clump of cells unproblematic, or do find the procedure unproblematic and but fret over their "callousness." That's possibly all right if your goal is to reduce the number of abortions, but if you don't think individuals shouldn be tormented because a condom broke or a cycle of antibiotics interfered with the pill, it's more worrisome.

January 22, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Her account seems to me like a good example of the basic reality of how women have to deal with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies: as a matter of family/career/life-planning, not as a crushing moral dilemma. What kind of job do I want, where do I want to live, how long do I want to be in school--all women have to balance those issues with when/whether they want to have kids and raise a family. All of those things are serious issues that can be difficult to balance against each other, but they rarely constitute moral judgments of biblical or even movie-of-the-week proportions. And that's where dealing with an unplanned pregnancy fits in: as a serious decision that affects one's life and career, but not necessarily something that presents an ethical dilemma.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 22, 2007 3:55:41 PM

Re: your update. Should people who are pro-choice, but still find abortion "problematic" (for lack of a better word) just STFU out of courtesy for people's feelings?

I wouldn't shed any tears if that happened, but it's literally suggesting that we stifle debate because it makes some people uncomfortable. That doesn't seem right to me.

Posted by: matt | Jan 22, 2007 3:58:19 PM

I think that "safe, legal and rare" remains the best frame for this debate. Because, at their heart, anti-abortion foes really hate sex more than they value life. Trying to meet them halfway is a mugs game. However, we still have to hold their feet to the fire, i.e. come back with a reasonable position on contraception and maybe we can talk. As they are unwilling to do this in almost all instances, their bluff has been called and maybe then they will STFU or at least have more difficulty pushing their increasingly unpopular opinions onto others.

Having said that, no matter how rare we try to make abortions, they can't be elmininated altogether. Wanted pregnancies sometimes have to end when the baby can't ultimately be viable, for example. Hence, the safe and legal part.

Posted by: gord brown | Jan 22, 2007 4:12:22 PM

"I did not want to be responsible forever for someone who didn't exist yet."

Then why did you have unprotected sex?

"I did not want to be responsible forever for someone who didn't exist yet."

Too late. He/she already exists in your womb.

"I get a little edgy about rhetoric that stipulates that abortion is always a strongly morally weighted decision. I don't think it is,"

That is because you don't want to be accountable for your actions.

LB didn't want to be attached to someone she only knew for a few months, but she had unprotected sex with him, after only knowing him at the most a few months. She does not think she should have to deal with the consequences of her careless sex. LB probably doesn't have health insurance. What if her baby's daddy had AIDS?

I am sure you idiots would be saying society should have to pay for her AIDS treatment, huh?

I guess the point of what you're saying is that abortion should be a form of birth control for those who have no problem killing a human life, because that human life may get in the way of good times. Even tho that person could have prevented the human life with a little effort.

What a classy bunch of folks you are.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Jan 22, 2007 4:22:11 PM

I am pro-choice. I think the right to seek abortion is a fundamental issue of gender equality, and that abortion should be free on demand in the first trimester. I think parental and spousal consent and notification are abhorrent extensions of patriarchal repression. But I've never met a woman who walked away from an abortion without a scar.

Just my experience.

Posted by: RW | Jan 22, 2007 4:23:12 PM

If society, as a whole, agrees that abortions are morally excruciating, and keeps driving home the anguish all women should/must feel after having one, we risk causing a lot more pain to women who'd otherwise find the removal of a clump of cells unproblematic, or do find the procedure unproblematic and then feel great guilt for their "callousness."

This is true, and it is worrisome, but in a way it's a reversal of how we usually think of morally difficult issues. Take capital punishment. There has been a fair amount of complaining that our current President didn't show proper regard for the seriousness of his death warrants for executions in Texas. We feel justified in that criticism because we think capital punishment is a serious matter, even if we favor it. We expect all the people involved with it to take it seriously and show due respect. This attitude undoubtedly makes life more difficult for some judges and jurors, jailors, prosecutors, and governors.

It seems that if abortion is actually a morally heavy thing, then the suffering caused by that recognition is called for. That said, I think those who think that way could often be more sensitive in how they project that concern, especially since the morality is even harder to settle than that of captial punishment, and people of good will differ. But the prior question is what standards should apply.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 22, 2007 4:24:50 PM

Thanks for making my point about the need for more sensitivity, Toke. Your cavalier way of talking about abortion doesn't show any great respect for the important matters involved.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 22, 2007 4:28:20 PM

Wow, is Captain Toke a spoof? Even though I've disagreed with 99% of his posts here, it never entered my mind that he was a spoof until his last post. I feel sort of...relieved.

Posted by: matt | Jan 22, 2007 4:34:28 PM

"What a classy bunch of folks you are."

Not as classy as branding support for helping AIDS patients a form of idiocy, but hey we try.

Posted by: RW | Jan 22, 2007 4:36:24 PM

Should people who are pro-choice, but still find abortion "problematic" (for lack of a better word) just STFU out of courtesy for people's feelings?

I'd prefer it if you did, yes.

Posted by: Jackmormon | Jan 22, 2007 4:44:23 PM

Oh, what the hell...

Then why did you have unprotected sex?

I believe that the appropriate answer is 'it's none of your goddamned business why or if I did.'

Too late. He/she already exists in your womb.

Not without continuing consent; it's not a squatter's shack.

That is because you don't want to be accountable for your actions.

There is no legitimate accountability to anyone except one's partner for non-coercive, aboveboard, completely consensual sex. Period. Yahoos like you have no standing in the matter.

Posted by: latts | Jan 22, 2007 4:48:11 PM

Sorry, latts, but most coherent moral accounts would agree that sex is consent to pregnancy. Next?

Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 22, 2007 4:50:57 PM

"I'd prefer it if you did, yes."

I wouldn't have to STFU because I don't have a problem with abortion, I was asking about those who do, and like you, I wouldn't lose any sleep if they did. But that pretty clearly wasn't my point.

Posted by: matt | Jan 22, 2007 4:53:42 PM

Should people who are pro-choice, but still find abortion "problematic" (for lack of a better word) just STFU out of courtesy for people's feelings?

So the feelings of troubled pro-choicers somehow more legitimate, more worthy of discussion, than those of less-conflicted pro-choicers?- after all, if we're assuming basic agreement on policy, this is just a contentious round of group therapy or some sort of talk-show endeavor. Most wishy-washy pro-choicers don't really want much to change legally, but seem to very much desire some sort of state affirmation of their disapproval and general squeamishness... somehow it doesn't seem that different from the Nativity-on-the-courthouse-lawn crowd's insistence that their right to expression requires some sort of token government approval.

I do wish that people would just grow up and realize that merely disapproving of others' choices is really a matter for private outrage/enjoyment, not public policy.

Posted by: latts | Jan 22, 2007 4:54:21 PM

Sorry, latts, but most coherent moral accounts would agree that sex is consent to pregnancy. Next?

Bullshit. No one ever handed me a contract-- I'd certainly remember it if they had-- and the state can't demand that a private sexual bargain be extended into physical servitude. I do not owe anyone a baby, and my consenting to carrying a pregnancy to term is absolutely not implicit in allowing someone to ejaculate inside of me.

Try to deal with the world as it actually is, not as the backward-ass dystopia you would like it to be.

Posted by: latts | Jan 22, 2007 4:59:54 PM

Sorry, matt, I read your comment too quickly. No, I don't want to stifle debate, but, like latts, I do wonder why people so often feel the need to exercise their right to express disapproval loudly at other people.

Posted by: Jackmormon | Jan 22, 2007 5:07:03 PM

latts, I really agree with your post. There was zero winking or subtext intended in my post. I'm pro-choice and have no qualms with abortion, I just don't agree with shutting out those who are and do.

btw, I think (hope) SamChevre was being sarcastic.

Posted by: matt | Jan 22, 2007 5:08:46 PM

Sorry, latts, but most coherent moral accounts would agree that sex is consent to pregnancy. Next?
Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 22, 2007 1:50:57 PM

What I find so fascinating about the no good abortion position is that there is no thought of the kinds of society that this policy would create.
The fear. The death. The orphanages.
It would not be a Christian world.

Theologically I find the opposition to abortion decietful. Christian theology does not separate the child and the mother before birth. The soul is not present in utero and it is only the advance of 20th century ultrasound imaging that has allowed fundamentalists to assert that the soul is present from conception. As long as the mother and child are linked they are one soul. As long as the child can not live without the mother they are one soul. It is birth that brings the soul into the world. Before then it is between the mother and God.

This is as fundamental a mistake as the misguided defence of the world being 5000 years old because the old testament says so. As a good Christian you should remember that your God is the God of love and reason. Unlike the Koran the Bible is not the literal word of God. It is the word of God as given to us through men, the old testament prophets and the new testament aposels who knew Jesus. They are men and therefore flawed, so the Bible never claims to be a perfect literal document the way the Koran does. This is the Bible's strength and the Koran's weakness. So when modern science tells us that the Universe is billions of years old, it does not touch our faith in God, as we know the men the wrote the Bible did so with what they had and who they were.

Ultimately fundamentalism and Bible literalism destroys Christianity because it pits theology against reason. It pits God against himself.

Posted by: Sceptic | Jan 22, 2007 5:14:08 PM

btw, I think (hope) SamChevre was being sarcastic

Ah, that would make more sense; I responded without looking at the ID, and afterwards I was going 'hey, I don't remember him being a freak.'

Oh well... like everyone else, I enjoy a certain amount of righteous outrage ;)

Posted by: latts | Jan 22, 2007 5:15:01 PM

And I don't particularly think that pro-choice people with moral qualms should STFU. I just worry about thoughtlessly assuming that everyone agrees about the moral import of abortion.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Jan 22, 2007 5:15:53 PM

I was being semi-sarcastic.

I would say that the violinist analogy (to which I assumed latts was referring) is weak; there is at least a decent case that consent to an action = consent to the normal and probable consequences thereof.

In real life--my experience is like RW's. The two people I know well who had abortions (one is still committedly pro-choice, the other is unsure) both consider it to have be a horrible, scarring experience.

Posted by: SamChevre | Jan 22, 2007 5:20:27 PM

"But I've never met a woman who walked away from an abortion without a scar."

I know several women who are very comfortable with their decisions to have abortions. I also know several women who had children due to unplanned pregnancies who wish they had chosen abortion. I also know a couple who were rabidly anti-choice, but who chose to abort when testing indicated "problems" with the fetus.

Let's stop making blanket statements about suffering and anguish - it all depends on the person and the situation.

Posted by: CParis | Jan 22, 2007 5:53:59 PM

We've had this discussion already a couple of months ago, and I'm not inclined to repeat what I said then, but a lot of these discussions bear the ring of the highly familiar; for the record I am in favor of women being able to have abortions. I don't spend a lot of time fumbling with clauses like "safe, legal and rare" because they invite some notion that there's a threshold where we then need to oppose abortions, and I don't. I don't like "pro-choice" because it's vague. Women get pregnant, sometimes by accident, and sometimes by mistake. We don't need a morals quiz to determine, every time, if a woman is getting an abortion for the "good" reasons or the "bad" ones. And we (men, especially, but some women as well) need to keep in mind that this is a woman's decision, rarely done lightly or without full consideration of the issues involved. But really, ultimately, it's none of our business. The alternatives to this - of forcing women to carry unwanted children to term, of burdening an already messy system of foster care and adoption - are unrealistic and, in any case, unworkable. Women get pregnant. Some of them do not want to be, and they will, eventually, not be. That's the reality. Our laws and our lives simply need to accept that and deal with it appropriately.

Posted by: weboy | Jan 22, 2007 5:54:38 PM

there is at least a decent case that consent to an action = consent to the normal and probable consequences thereof.

Theoretically, it's possible that a man could claim breach of contract if a woman consented to unprotected sex (and even then, I imagine a court would have to figure out whose idea it was to eschew birth control before deciding) and then refused to provide him with offspring should she become pregnant. I don't see any basis whatsoever for the state to claim an interest that can be enforced, unless eminent domain applies to our persons as well as our property... in which case, ending Roe's only the tip of the totalitarian iceberg .

Posted by: latts | Jan 22, 2007 6:06:12 PM

merely disapproving of others' choices is really a matter for private outrage/enjoyment, not public policy

Few people who think abortion morally problematic see it as a matter of mere disapproval of others' choices. They see something more at stake, a human life.

No one ever handed me a contract

I think the point is that if the fetus has some kind of important human status, and you do whatever brings that about, your bear some responsibility for that. The state, as the protector of human life, has an interest as well.

I do wonder why people so often feel the need to exercise their right to express disapproval loudly at other people.

This doesn't happen only where abortion is concerned. Maybe you oppose loud disapproval in general.

The soul is not present in utero and it is only the advance of 20th century ultrasound imaging that has allowed fundamentalists to assert that the soul is present from conception.

This isn't true. People have always been able to detect life in utero long before birth.

As long as the child can not live without the mother they are one soul.

What's this based on?

I think there is no good reason for Christians to think the Bible teaches against abortion, but your views on this are idiosyncratic.

Let's stop making blanket statements about suffering and anguish - it all depends on the person and the situation.

Good point.

Weboy, what you say is fine for you, but it doesn't apply very well to those who see the fetus as having some important human status.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 22, 2007 6:26:10 PM

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