Last month was the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the war over women's right to abortion is no nearer to being over than it was in 1973. The discourse has been pretty static, barely moving on over 25 years. It's an ideological war in which I walk through No Man's Land.
I'm also pro-choice.
This is only a contradiction in the eyes of dogmatists on either side.
On the one hand, there are the dogmatists who describe themselves as being pro-life. It might be more appropriate for them to call themselves "pro-existence." They picket such places as Planned Parenthood, harassing women as they go inside. Often, they picket on days when abortions aren't being carried out. One client of Planned Parenthood recalls a time when she was hassled by anti-abortion protesters as she went in to get birth-control pills.
"They showed me photographs of dead fetuses. I thought, 'The reason I'm going to Planned Parenthood is to avoid that.'"
However, these people don't show pictures of abused children, or children abandoned--literally or emotionally--by parents who don't want them. Their interest in "life" tends to stop at birth. These same zealots almost invariably favor capital punishment.
On the other hand, there are the dogmatists who favor abortion. The common myth is that hard-core advocates of abortion are feminists. Look at the body of contemporary feminist theory on the subject, and it's clear that the opposite is true. Feminist discourse on abortion tends to be complex and thoughtful. But abortion is a sacred cow of middle-class white liberals, especially men, who often sound so enthusiastic about it that they make it sound like a recreational activity.
Both sides are wrong.
Abortion is an obscenity. It may not be killing, but it is certainly the taking away of what is necessary to sustain life.
Of course, the most extreme pro-choicers deny that a fetus is really a living being. They have to, or it would be impossible to justify their position. Throughout history, people who commit atrocities have justified their behavior by denying that their victims have validity as human beings. The slave trade depended on black people being seen as less than human. The Nazis justified the Holocaust by denying the validity of the Jews as human beings.
And so, those who are pro-abortion (which is not the same as being pro-choice) view the fetus as a cluster of growing cells, a tumor, something to be gotten rid of without remorse. The fetus, it seems, is not a baby until near the time of birth, or after it leaves its mother's body.
This is an incredibly arrogant premise: As the fetus matures and looks more like a baby, it has more validity as a baby. The less it looks like you and me, the more okay it is to kill it.
This denial of the fetus's validity as a child doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny, whether religious or scientific. If you believe humans have souls, how can you say when the fetus has a soul? Does the soul hover like a vulture outside the mother's body, waiting to jump into the baby as soon as it comes out? If your perspective is that of an atheist, then the argument is even simpler--if there is no soul, then life is life. A fetus is alive inside the womb, feeding and growing. And abortion is the taking of life.
A fetus is a baby. And yet I'm pro-choice. I believe all women should be entitled to abortion on demand.
Two reasons. One is that abortion is often a necessary evil. Pro-lifers believe they can speak for the fetus. They talk about the baby's right to be born. What gives them the right to decide that the baby would choose to be born? Can anyone be sure that a baby would choose to be born to a mother who doesn't want it? Pro-lifers tend to be solipsistic in the extreme. I've heard them say over and over that, even if the woman doesn't want to have the child, she'll love it after it's born.
You only have to look at a newspaper to see the fallacy of this. People who love their children may find it impossible to believe that all parents are not like them. But in a world in which child abuse and neglect is routine news, in a country with the highest rate of child poverty in the industrialized world, it's clear that too many children are being born into misery.
But even this argument is a red herring, a distraction from the real issue, which is one of freedom. You don't have the right to kill, but you have the right to refuse assistance if that assistance would invade your body, which is the last boundary of privacy.
Suppose you're driving on the highway and you see an accident; the law requires you to stop and render assistance. But if one of the victims needs a blood transfusion, you can't be compelled to hand over your blood. To refuse might be considered despicable, but you have the right to refuse. It's your blood. Nobody owns your body except for you, and nobody has the right to use your body or take from it without your permission.
Suppose you have a 10-year-old child, and that child needs a life-saving organ transplant, and you are a suitable donor. You don't have to do it. You can refuse to give your child one of your kidneys, even though the child will die without it. There are many names that can be applied to you if you refuse to help your child live, but you have the right to refuse. There is no question that such selfishness is revolting, but it's still your right. When it comes to your own body, you have the moral right to do what is morally wrong.
This right applies before birth, too. Even if we recognize the fetus as a child, you can't be compelled to carry a child inside your body, and to go through the painful and sometimes dangerous process of giving birth. If the fetus could survive outside a woman's body, there would be no case whatsoever for the right to abortion. This is why there is no moral defense for partial-birth abortions, unless the health of the mother is in danger.
But if you get pregnant by accident, you find yourself with an unwanted stranger living inside your body, feeding off you as it grows. And you have the right to refuse to give yourself to that stranger. You have the right to abort, to let the child inside you die. And, whatever anyone might think of you for the abomination you commit with your body, it's your body and your conscience alone.
Update: I recently reported the trial of Wendsler Nosie, a San Carlos Apache who was charged with criminal trespass after climbing Mount Graham to pray. As well as being a sacred site to the Apache, the mountain is also the site of the University of Arizona's observatory.
Because Nosie didn't deny that he was walking down a road that he wasn't allowed to walk on, it seemed certain that he'd be found guilty. Even his lawyers believed there was no chance of winning the case. So instead of trying to convice Judge Linda Norton that their client hadn't broken the law, they decided to use the trial as a political platform at which to discuss the issue of the Indians' right of access to sacred ground. After the trial, Bill Foreman, one of the lawyers who worked pro bono for the Indians because of his belief in the importance of the issue, explained to me that this was the strategy Nosie had wanted him to take, and that the chance to state their case could be cathartic for the Indians.
It turned out better than anyone had hoped. Judge Norton didn't hand down a verdict at the trial's conclusion, saying instead that she'd think it over and deliver her verdict by minute.
And she's found Nosie not guilty. According to the law, the prosecution had to prove that Nosie knowingly committed trespass. And, since he was walking down the road, and the "No Trespassing" signs face downhill, he said he couldn't see them. In the eyes of the judge, the state failed to prove that he could.
Contact Barry Graham at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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