Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I am pro-choice. There were definitely times in my life when I would have considered having an abortion had I become pregnant. All through college, even though I worked full-time, I earned about $13,000/year and didn’t have benefits or insurance. I don’t think I would have been able to provide a particularly stable home for a child, plus I probably would have been resentful towards the snot-nose. Even the idea of giving the child up for adoption didn’t seem plausible because several of my jobs involved heavy, physical labor. There is no way that I could have continued working at the tire warehouse, or even at the restaurants (lots of heavy lifting) during the last several months of pregnancy.

Luckily I never became pregnant and never had to actually make the choice between living in poverty while raising a child or having an abortion. For the last several years, I have decided that if I do become pregnant, I will have the child. Not because I particularly want a child, but more because I don’t have the excuse of poverty any more. I somehow feel like this is some sort of betrayal of my pro-choice position, because it obviously demonstrates that I consider abortion to be more than simply a medical procedure without a moral component.

This type of thought is rare in the public discourse regarding abortion, but permeates the thoughts of many other individuals. Definitely there are many people to whom abortion is anything but a black/white issue. The mouth-foaming, rapid pro-lifers who don’t want any consideration made for rape, incest, health of mother are rarities in the pro-life movement.

Once again abortion looms large as we contemplate another candidate for the Supreme Court. It is an issue that makes me want to bitchslap the protesters on both sides and make them shut up so we can have some reasonable conversation as a society, instead of allowing the clamor from the extreme nutjobs on each side to frame the debate.

My first gripe is that I suspect that a lot of pro-life people are actually anti-sex (sex outside of marriage, at least). I have no respect for any person whose motivation for prohibiting abortion is caused by a desire to punish a woman for having sex. That position holds no credibility for me whatsoever, but I feel that it is a strong undercurrent for many pro-lifers. I think it is also the basis for the rape exception – not to protect the woman from further bodily and psychological trauma, but because she didn’t ‘deserve’ the pregnancy and therefore is excused from the consequences.

There are so many problems with this position that I simply don’t know where to begin. I think it is important to grasp how unbelievably crazy it is to think that it is good policy to force a girl/woman who has demonstrated a strong likelihood of irresponsibility & immaturity (by having unprotected sex) to become a parent against her will and be responsible for another life. We generally reserve additional responsibilities for people who can handle them. Irresponsible children are not punished by having to babysit other children, instead they are generally prevented from the additional privilege/responsibility of babysitting because of the expected disastrous consequences. Children should not be the punishment for making bad decisions.

Abortion on Demand. Dear Lord, do I hate this saying. Very, very, very few women treat abortion lightly. Women don’t skip happily to the abortion clinic. They don’t treat it like a haircut. It is a very serious decision for them. The extremely small minority of women who do have abortions on a whim would likely make horrible mothers.

Example: One woman I knew years ago had an abortion because she wanted to drop acid with her friends. There had been an ‘acid drought’ in her area for a while and she had planned on having the baby. One of her friends scored some acid and had a party. She knew that taking acid was dangerous for her baby, so she decided to have an abortion and dropped acid with her friends. "Horrible! Scandalous! A negative result of abortion on demand!!!!!" would certainly be the response of many people. I certainly don’t think it reflects well on the woman. However, I shudder to think what sort of mother she would have been with her priorities. Without abortion as an option, she very well might have added LSD to the chemical stew of alcohol, tobacco & pot that she was pumping into her uterus to marinate her baby. Besides the possible birth defects, she probably would have continued to rank partying higher than the child. I think the equation would result in a very fucked up kid. Do pro-choice people really think that abortion was bad in this instance? Who would have benefitted by forcing her to continue the pregnancy?

All of the waiting periods, required counseling and other bullshit introduced in the last few years is ridiculous. These additional hurdles don’t make women change their minds – they only make it harder and more expensive for them. One definite outcome is that more women wait longer to get abortions – making it a more painful, expensive and dangerous procedure. Congratulations pro-lifers – these policies have caused poor women and teenagers to switch from first trimester abortions to second-trimester abortions.

Partial birth abortion. Yes, I am using the terminology of the rabid right because this is what most people understand.

The way this issue is discussed makes me furious. As mentioned above, most women are not like the druggie who chose abortion on a whim. It is an intensely personal decision that has a lot of cultural stigma. Therefore, even ignoring the expense and danger of later term abortions, it is reasonable to expect that women would prefer to have an abortion as soon as possible and before people realize she is pregnant.

For these reasons, partial birth abortion is extremely rare. Can you imagine what might cause a woman who is eight months pregnant to have an abortion? Women are huge at this stage – people have been rubbing her belly and smiling at her. Everyone in her daily life knows that she is pregnant. (Except for those weirdos who amazingly manage to conceal it from everyone, which I don’t understand At All).

The Right is amazingly silent about why Ms. Eight-month pregnant woman seeks an abortion. I think the silent implication is that Ms. 8-month’s reasons are the same as someone seeking a sixth week abortion. I doubt this is true. Ms. 8-month really has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by carrying the child to term, because she has already dealt with the anger or disappointment of those around her. She cannot easily convince herself that an abortion at this point is simply a medical procedure, because she is all too aware that she has a baby squatting in her belly. She is getting pommeled internally and can probably identify the hands, feet and position of the baby inside her. Her body has already been stretched to hell, and she has incurred the risk to her figure already. Even is she doesn’t want to raise the child, she only has to remain pregnant for another few weeks and give it up for adoption. Certainly the guilt of having an abortion at this point, when it is obviously a baby, would be overwhelming. Can you imagine the horror of her friends, family and co-workers if she suddenly was not pregnant and announced that she had an abortion just for the hell of it?

So given this context, what would possibly make Ms. 8 consider abortion? Threats to her health, notice of severe birth defects or death of the baby are the main reasons that I can think of. (I seem to remember reading that one use for this procedure is to remove a baby that died instead of risking infection and additional psychological trauma on the mother while she waits for her body to expel the corpse naturally. I don’t know for sure, though). The whole ‘health of the mother’ is not a red herring in this issue. I’d bet that the possible death of the mother is the primary cause for most late term abortions. Women die from pregnancy and labor. It is a lot less common than it used to be, but it is still a possibility.

Our second cousin died giving birth in a Catholic hospital in the eighties. I was too young and I think a lot of details weren’t disclosed, but some of the whispers alluded that if given the choice, she probably would have opted to risk her life for the chance of saving the baby. The baby survived, but the mother died, and the father was a wreck for years. I cannot believe that anyone would ever want to force a woman to make the choice that killed this woman. Yet all of the laws that have been passed about partial birth abortion, and then deemed unconstitutional, were dismissed for failure to include a ‘health of the mother’ clause. It is obvious that there are people who don’t want women faced with this horrible, wrenching decision to have the choice to preserve their own lives. I consider this absolutely unconscionable and a demonstration of how little women’s lives and autonomy is valued.

The partial birth abortion procedure is considered by many on the Right to be the logical battleground because it can be painted as such a horrific, unbelievable procedure. Yes, the procedure sounds horrible – but it may be the most compassionate, sane and least horrible of all of the other options. It seems that given the realities of late term pregnancy, the women who are considering an abortion at that point should be given the most deference and least judgment, instead of the bullshit and rhetoric being tossed around about this issue.

Since this is the battleground issue of abortion, the Supreme Court uncertainty is really frightening. Like I mentioned above, I no longer consider abortion a choice that I would consider, so I am not personally invested in the issue. I definitely think it should be available to other women, though.

Partial birth abortion is an issue that potentially can affect all fertile women however. All women capable of becoming pregnant could be faced with complications in the last few months. These certainly aren’t desired and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to make the choice between risking her own life or definitely killing a baby that they have been planning for, but this is a possibility that any woman could have to face. Sure, the odds are really low – but the consequences are life itself. People, and women especially, should really consider that this most-horrific sounding procedure might actually be the most important form of abortion to protect, and the most tragic to lose.

How dare the government, be it the legislature or the court, presume to intrude by diminishing a woman’s options? How dare the discourse be so fragmented and angry that we can’t even have a sensible societal debate about this issue?


At 8:29 PM, Blogger Frick said...

Although I don't want to take away from your well written rant, I just want to say that I laughed out loud at work when I read your use of the word "marinate."

At 7:17 AM, Blogger George said...

Very nicely written.

Here's how I feel about abortion or any body else telling me what I can or cannot do..........


At 11:18 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

I don't see threats to the health of the mother as a valid reason to abort at eight months. Once that thing hits about seven months, chances are very good for survival outside the womb. If they can get it out while terminating it, they can get it out without, no difference to the mother. Correct me if I'm wrong, otherwise next time you're on the topic you might leave that part out.

As for betraying your pro-choice position, the fact that you see a moral component to aborting your child is just that - your view of things. Once you start trying to project those personal morals onto other people through laws (as opposed to personal suggestions) is when you've betrayed your pro-choice position.

It is complicated. Good luck getting that reasonable discussion going...

Oh, and for posterity, you should correct the paragraph about your "first gripe" to say "pro-life people are actually anti-sex" so people don't have to get bogged down there.


At 12:29 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

Interestingly, I was thinking about this just yesterday. What is often painted as a black-n-white issue is to me very gray. Good to know I'm not alone.

I've been following the recent hullaballoo about this Alito character, Normally, my natural gut reaction is to be vehemently opposed to anything that makes Pat Robertson happy. But I kinda like what I'm learning about Alito. A big criticism of him, from the left, is that he didn't rule against a state law that forced a woman to get permission from her husband to get an abortion. While I would personally disagree with such a law, I thought his dissent made a lot of sense - basically he said that the law was, perhaps, not a good law or a wise law, but that didn't make it unconstitutional. Of course, the Supreme Court, namely Justice O'Connor, later expressed disagreement with that view. The implication is that a SCOTUS with Alito as a justice would force women to obtain permission from their husbands to have an abortion. I don't see that this is a likely outcome. Nor do I see Roe v. Wade EVER being overturned. It's simply too hot to touch, not to mention a well established precedent. That said, there will be occasional attempts, successful and otherwise, to nibble away at the edges of abortion rights protections. These are mostly political in nature, not substantive - I'd argue the issue of "partial birth abortion" is nothing more than a clever ploy to cleave supporters from pro-choice candidates. The actual numbers of partial birth abortions are quite low.

I don't like the idea of abortion. I guess I'm pro-choice, when it comes down to picking a side. But it seems to me that there are far better resolutions to the current debate. From where I stand, I think that it is, in fact, the anti-sex sentiment of many Bible-thumpin' right-to-lifers that stands in the way of progress. On a personal note, I avoided involvement in any unplanned pregnancies for at least 10 years of sporadic intercourse simply by having a rudimentary knowledge of human reproductive biology and modern contraceptive devices/techniques. Most of my friends were able to do the same thing. Some people might think that our immorality deserves punishment (an unwanted pregnancy, for instance). Maybe, maybe not. But the undeniable truth is that no abortions were performed as a result of me fertilizing someone's eggs. In other words, I think I've perfected some pretty fool-proof methods of preventing abortions. But the anti-abortion crowd, by and large, doesn't want to use my methods to prevent abortion. They'd like to do it with Jesus. Fine by me, if it works. My brother refers to one proven contraceptive technique as "pull and pray". So maybe religion is a part of it, after all. I've mostly skipped the praying part, with the intended results.

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