May 25, 2004

Roe v. Wade

I hate to link back to another blogger in two consecutive posts, but it's going to happen on occasion, especially with people like Dean Esmay and James Joyner.

This time it's Dean, who's written an especially thoughtful entry on abortion. I think that most of us can agree that the Roe v. Wade case was especially destructive to the national psyche, in that it was not a thoughtful decision legally--and that it Federalized something that should have been left to the states. It exacerbated tensions on the matter, and has kept the wound festering for forty years.

Official bias statement: I'll stipulate that I'm pro-choice, except in the case of partial-birth abortions, which I would prefer to allow only if the woman's life is in jeopardy. (I'd love to leave the language "life and health" intact, but health is often interpreted very loosely. [That is, sometimes it's taken to mean the woman's fertility. Others, it's taken to mean "mental health," which in practice equals "if she'll be upset by a live birth in any way, she gets to kill the baby."])

Dean discussses the gender gap on the issue, which falls contrary to where stereotypes place it: more women are pro-life than men. This has often been atrributed to various factors: 1) men are more likely to be interested in "no strings" sex (I'm unconvinced that this is the case WRT women in their teens and early 20s); 2) women carry children, and this experience (or even sometimes its potential) is more likely to give women a certain reverence for nascent life; 3) older women will sometimes get married, get pregnant, look at the ultrasound pictures, and have a "holy fucking shit!" moment. That is: "if it's a baby this time around, what was it that first time?" Answer: a baby.

I have something to say about each side, here. First, I'll look at something I see among some pro-lifers. I'm always confused--and perhaps even taken aback--by those who say that they are adamantly pro-life, but favor exceptions for rape victims. If your position is that the rights of the fetus should be respected, how is it different for a fetus that was conceived during a violent act? He or she can hardly be held responsible for that. To me, this position appears to represent the point of view that pregnancy is a punishment for sex. Since the woman isn't responsible for the sex act, she shouldn't have to endure the "punishment" for it. If that's your position, fine. But please acknowledge it for what it is. And admit that you only want to protect some unborn children, and not others. I don't think it's a position without merits, but it has an intrinsic contradiction, and there's a faintly sex-negative smell to it.

I also want to say a word to the pro-abortion people. One of the concerns that the anti-abortion people have is that the word "choice" is used a lot by those who would give young women no choice at all. That is, "I want my daughter to have a 'choice,' so I can pressure her into getting an abortion." Or: "I want my girlfriend to have a 'choice,' so I can threaten her with awful consequences if she doesn't terminate the pregnancy." After all, the debate over counseling usually comes down to neither side trusting the other to counsel young girls in a truly neutral way.

There is a tendancy for the "adults" around a young woman to go into histrionics at the idea that she might experience nausea that could affect her GPA. Or that she could have a rough trimester and have to take a term or two off from school. There is such a concern about the slightest delay in her getting that all-important education.

Say what?

I live in the richest country in the world. I belong to a gender that out-lives the other by years and years. If there is one thing we should have time and money for, it's having babies. (And, believe me--if you're young and pregnant, there are Christian groups [Catholic and Protestant] that will help you with prenatal care and the other costs you incur by carrying this baby to term.)

Graduate a little later. Have the kid, and have it placed. Years later, if you can't have children because you waited too long, you'll feel better asking young women to let you raise the kids they bear.

Trust me on this.

There's also that "selective sentimentality" thing, wherein young women are encouraged to feel so sentimental toward the little lives inside them that they can't possibly "give them up for adoption." But they can kill them. The most loving thing you can do when you haven't yet finished your education is to allow someone who has to raise that baby in a good environment.

What if we were to take the words "safe, legal and rare" seriously? What if we really tried to make that a reality, and stopped pressuring women and girls into having this procedure?

I think we'd be better off. I really do.

Posted by Attila at May 25, 2004 03:47 PM

Very interesting - and I thought your comments were far more interesting than the two sources you quoted.

For making such an eloquent statement for pro-life, though, it seems odd that you'd make the statement, "I'll stipulate that I'm pro-choice." Is that a typo?

Posted by: Michael at May 25, 2004 08:24 PM

It's not a typo. I believe in choice, but I wish young women were counseled a little bit better, and that they weren't pressured by their families and boyfriends into rushing off to have abortions without any reflection.

More than that--and here, even more than with being pro-choice, I know I shock my conservative friends--I'm passionately against parental notification laws. The people who are in favor of these seem to believe that their own daughters will sneak off and get abortions--but I don't believe it's so. They usually have good communication with their kids. I was in the other kind of family, where anything (not doing the dishes every single time, anything) was a reason for my parent to go on a screaming rampage.

As it was, I didn't tell my mother about my own abortion (at the age of 19) for years afterward, even though she is politically pro-choice and theoretically in favor of sexual liberation. I didn't tell her much of anything until she learned to stop berating me for having any flaws at all.

My understanding is that most European countries will allow abortions only if the girl signs a form stating that she understands the gravity of what she is doing. That's the kind of thing I'd like to see in this country--a tremendous slowing down of abortions, rather than a complete halt. I also think it's a more realistic goal.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 25, 2004 10:55 PM

Hi Attila, I'm sorry about your experience and the infertility. Your family situation at the time of the abortion is all too drearily familiar to people who are involved in crisis pregnancy counseling or post-abortion support. I saw a 19-year-old yesterday who just found out she is pregnant. She is deathly afraid to tell her parents. Why? Because her older sister had several children as a teenager, and this girl has heard scathing comments about her from her parents for years. Also, her mom withdraws into a stony silence that lasts for months when she gets upset. No wonder she is terrified to tell them--especially since she is pregnant and feeling especially vulnerable.

Keep the faith. You'll be a great mom and I'll be cheering for you and your children to come together, however that is going to happen.

Posted by: Emily at May 26, 2004 06:51 AM


Ok, I should have gone with my first instincts, but after you made such a passionate "pro-life" argument, I wasn't sure I had read you correctly.

I sat on the fence for years on this issue - heck, I'm a man, stay out of it, right? But I had an epiphany along the way similar to your "if it's a baby this time around, what was it that first time?" Answer: a baby. " (I'm a single father of an 18 year old now, if that's any help in perspective). I started thinking, "At what *point* does it become a baby? And after that point, isn't it murder?" Since there is no way for a mere mortal to know when life begins, I decided that erring on the side of caution was prudent.

There was a good article last night at ah, here it is:

He attempts to distill the decision making of abortion into 4 secular categories:
1 - It's a baby and we know it. Abortion in this case would clearly be murder.
2 - It's a baby and we don't know it. This would be manslaughter, killing without intending to, and also clearly something to be avoided.
3 - It's not a baby and we don't know it. This means we don't really know what our actions would be, but we're recklessly going to do it anyway. Criminal negligence.
4 - It's not a baby and we know it. You can easily justify abortion under this condition. But then the burden of proof is on you to prove (not opinionate) that it's not a baby.

Your point about rape is a good one, though one could make an argument easily that 9 months of living with a daily reminder that one was raped would easily jeopardize the mental health of the woman. That's not a decision I'm going to make for somebody else, but your contention that it unfairly penalizes an innocent life is a good one.

Posted by: Michael at May 26, 2004 07:01 AM

I was able to write a bit of my story Emily in Dean's post about After Abortion. You and many commentors brought me to tears and I felt maybe somebody would know that adoption is a most loving and endearing gift.

I did give life and twenty years later I was reunited with my son. Their was so much shame in the 60's for both abortion and adoption. That shame carried in my soul for twenty years. It was not until I found my son and started a search and support group for Birthmother's, Birthfather's, Natural Parents (adoptive parents), and adoptees wanting to reunite.

There are thousands of search and support groups now and people wanting to reunite can go to The American Adoption Congress on the internet and find help to reuniting. Birthmother's do care and most every one I worked with to help bring about a reunion just wanted a piece of the puzzle so to speak, in their lives to find that missing piece.

My heart goes out to you Emily and your work is so important and vital to women. I hope you will read my post in Dean's World and know because of you and the other thoughtful commentors I spoke out.

Thank You...Janelle

Posted by: Janelle at May 26, 2004 03:50 PM

Thanks, Janelle and Emily--and Michael, too.

Michael, I would just say that I'm a libertarian, and therefore in any moral dilemma that could be construed as personal, I think the individual should be front-and-center in making the decision, rather than the state. This isn't a foolproof process, by any means (look at me--I wouldn't have had an abortion if I'd had a stiffer backbone back then).

BTW, though the fathers should be involved in this process, the burden of child-rearing has tended to fall disproportionately on women, so I tend to think that the final choice must actually rest with them.

It could be that my position is a philosophical cop-out, but I don't know the mind of God. I know that we could accomplish a tremendous amount by reducing the number of these procedures done each year--and it would be good for the mental health of many women. And I believe that by de-Federalizing the issue and taking it back to the States, we could do a lot for the constitutional health of the nation.

And, Janelle and Emily: I wonder if we could go all the way to de-stigmatizing adoption in the way that abortion has been de-stigmatized (to the chagrin of many)? I certainly love the idea of replacing the term "adoptive parent" with "natural parent," though I'm sure it will take mainstream society some time to catch on to that one.

Thanks so much for your good wishes about my impending parenthood. I must say, in situations like these it's a very nice thing to believe in God, and to sense that He might very well have a plan.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 27, 2004 03:09 AM

I enjoyed reading your post and I wanted to say all of our discussions we dont talk about talking to our daughters, and the young women in our lives about the ultimate choice and that is to not hand their bodies out to every boy that they think that they are "in love" with and reserve sex for marriage or at least maturity. I think that when we dont discuss self control with young men and women we miss the chance to really be pro choice. Take the time to grow up and be mature before you have sex. understand the consequences of these actions. And support adoption, not early motherhood. I think that we are at a place where we should be able to discuss this as a society...dont you?
Will drop in again!

Posted by: DancingRainGirl at May 28, 2004 12:57 AM

Thanks for dropping by. I wish, though, that there were a magic day upon which one were clearly "mature," and demonstrably capable of handling sex. When I got pregnant, for instance, I was already living with my boyfriend.

The chastity-until-marriage idea strikes me as a dicey way to operate, too: there is such a risk of getting into a (semi) permanent arrangement with someone with whom one isn't sexually compatible, or before one really knows what one likes in bed. That sort of thing is a divorce waiting to happen.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 29, 2004 04:17 PM

dlzaka lria.

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