With Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court looking like a done deal, and with fears that his will be the last needed vote to overturn Roe vs Wade, I thought this might be an opportune moment to ruminate a bit about abortion.
I've always been opposed to abortion, but I find myself believing that it must remain legal, and that way to reduce it (hopefully drastically) is through better education, provision of quality, affordable day care, developing a society that supports parenting rather than the current corporate culture that tries to wring every second from a person's life that it can, holding fathers equally responsible for child care (just paying child support is not enough!), and access to reliable, inexpensive birth control for all.
Until we develop sound alternatives for women, until we are truly supportive of parenting, until our society stops pushing kids into sexual relationships long before they are ready, until the best, most reliable birth control is available to everyone, then there are going to be unwanted pregnancies. And as long as there are unwanted pregnancies, women will try to get abortions. A sudden change in the abortion law -- making it illegal in a matter of months or even a couple years -- would clearly result in a horrifying mess. Hundreds of thousands of women get abortions each year; it is unrealistic to think that the number of unwanted pregnancies would drop significantly if the only change is that abortion is no longer legal with out any of the other necessary social, economic, and educational changes. Which means tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of back alley abortions with all their attendant horrors. Babies will be dying; mothers would be dying along with them.
This is not a very comfortable position for me to take.
As I said, I've always been opposed to abortion. I can help but see it as taking a life, stopping a beating heart, ending a person who would grow up to be something wonderful.
I was what one might call a love child, although my parents were engaged when I was conceived, and they got married seven months before I was born. Nonetheless, they were young, in the middle of college, and chances are if I'd been conceived today I'd have been an abortion. That is not to suggest that my parents hate me, or that they wish I hadn't been born. In fact, we have an excellent relationship, very loving and mutually gratifying. I had a great childhood with fun, involved, supportive parents. The fact that I have four children of my own ought to suggest that I was not raised thinking that children are an unbearable burden, but rather that they are a delight and an enrichment of our lives. And yet, I can never forget that had abortion been available, there's a good chance none of this would have happened. Needless to say, this background gives one a very visceral reaction to the issue. 1) a cold shiver of "I could have been a statistic in a trash can" and 2) my parents got over their initial reactions, made the best of a challenging and at times difficult situation, and everything worked out pretty darn well.
I had the opportunity to meet a young man this summer who has overcome many, many physical challenges in his young life. (He's written about them in an inspirational book called Wrestling with the Goddess
.) What one takes away from Azeem's story is that you do what you've got to do, and things turn out for the better. What I take away from my parent's story is much the same -- you rise to meet the challenges you are faced with, and life turns out ok. I often wonder, if people who think they could not possibly handle a kid might find out they could. Or if they think that it is too embarassing, painful, etc to carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption, that they might find out, they could handle that. After all, when push comes to shove we can do what we never imagined we could.
Of course, there are very real issues that go along with the idea that abortion should be avoided at all costs. Social pressure is immense. We may not have honor killings, but there is a lot of denigration and belittling of teen moms, single moms and so on in our society. If those pressures were relieved, perhaps things wouldn't look quite so dire to young folks faced with "being in trouble." If quality child care were readily available and affordable, perhaps things wouldn't look quite so black. If dads weren't so easily able to walk out of a child's life, if our society raised its boys to be responsible, active parents rather than just the guy who brings home the bacon, maybe that would alleviate alot of the pressure as well.
And then I think, if we had more education about the probabilities of pregnancy, about the other emotional, phyisical, and social drawbacks to early sexual encounters, less glorification of sex as the ultimate human experience in our media then we'd have less of a problem to begin with. It seems like, for Hollywood and the advertising community sex has become the most meaningful, powerful human experience. I think there are other experiences which are equally profound or more so -- experiences like altruism, like love between family and friends, spiritual experiences. Can you imagine if more cars were sold on the basis of bringing families together and less on the basis of power, speed and sexiness? Can you imagine if the thing that brought lovers together in the movies was not passion, but the deep joy one gets from a lasting bond with another human being? Or that the most moving experience of a human life was the mystical bond that human feels with the Divine, the rest of creation, other humans? Maybe, then, kids would be looking for those things, rather than sex.
What if being an adult was defined not only as being sexually mature, but also being fiscally, socially and emotionally mature? What if one's stature wasn't measured by one's wealth and one's looks, but by one's charitableness, the sweetness of one's tongue. Those are values not often portrayed in the popular culture.
If they were, maybe the intensity of the abortion issue would fade, because the sheer number of abortions would fade.
Another problematical issue for me lies in the argument that it is a woman's body she should be able to do with it as she pleases. Yes, and no. It is also the body of a developing child. I don't believe that women's agency is compromised by making abortion illegal; I think that is a red herring -- she has the agency to choose not to engage in sexual activities or to make darn sure she is protected if she does choose to engage in them. That's where women's agency lies -- in controlling how they want to express their sexuality. It shouldn't extend into terminating a life, pre- or post-natally. It should extend into deciding if she wants to give that child up for adoption or not -- no one should be forced to raise a child they don't want -- but that doesn't giver her the right to terminate that life any more than she would have the right to terminate it once it was no longer within her body.
And yet, despite all the reasons to be anti-abortion, there remains the fact that even with impeccable sex ed, and widely available and affordable birth control, people are going to get pregnant when the didn't intend to or when they don't want to. And at that point, the question becomes, it is worse to have women risking their lives in back alley operations, or to have the procedure done safely, and legally, under regulation. And, when push comes to shove, I have to stand for keeping abortion legal. The consequences otherwise are simply too ghastly.