Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to tell if you love fetuses or just hate women

The other day I was listening to NPR in the car while I was going to lunch. The subject of the show was "What's Next For The Anti-Abortion Movement?" (transcript here). Abortion is a subject that I'm reluctant to get into, but after listening to the guests on that program, I feel compelled to make a couple of observations. Besides,today is the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, so it seems like as good of a time as any to talk about the issue—or rather, talk about how we talk about the issue.

I understand the anti-abortion rights movement's argument: abortion is murder, and fetuses deserve protection from the State. I can respect that belief, even if I don't hold it myself. What's more, I think that I can have a productive dialogue with this person. But I don't think I can have a similarly productive dialogue with someone who is against abortion because women who have sex should be punished. This belief is diametrically opposed to life; a child is not a blessing, it is a divine punishment. I really don't have any common ground with anyone who believes this. The problem is that anti-woman people use pro-life rhetoric to sell their agenda. So, to all of you who are wondering whether you or someone you know is pro-life or anti-woman, here's a test:

1. Do you support the availability of birth control and comprehensive sex education?

The number one way that we can reduce abortions is to curb unwanted pregnancies. The way to do that is to make sure that women who have sex have protection and know how to use it. The argument that if you teach kids how to use protection, you're giving them permission to have sex is about as logical as saying that buying insurance for your child's car is giving them permission to get in an accident. Abstinence-only education has been shown over and over again to have no effect on the sexual activity of minors. It does, however, have a huge effect on whether they use protection. If you know all of this and are still against birth control and/or sex education, there's a good chance that you aren't pro-life so much as anti-woman.

2. Do you support demand-side measures to reduce the number of abortions?

Researchers have shown that there is little to no correlation between the legality of abortion and the incidence of abortion. However, there is a strong correlation between poverty and the incidence of abortion. I understand that it matters little to committed pro-lifers whether abortion being illegal would reduce the number of abortion. Their view is that society should send a clear message that abortion is murder, and so it should be a subject of criminal law. That's all fine and good. However, if you are interested in symbolic gestures only, and are not interested in actually stopping abortions from taking place by putting programs into place that make it easier for women to support and raise their children, it is difficult to imagine that you are actually pro-life in any way that is not darkly ironic.

3. Are you willing to admit that the pregnant woman is a life as well?

The thing that struck me about the program on NPR is that there was so little invocation of the word woman or mother. For those that believe that life begins at conception, the fetus is a life. It is odd that they frequently gloss over the other life that is in the equation: the mother's life. When we talk about a fetus being alive, it's important to recognize that this life is one that cannot exist outside of a woman. Having a pregnancy is hard: medically speaking, the woman and the fetus have a parasite-host relationship. The stress on the body from dealing with carrying a fetus to term is intense. Therefore, it seems a decision of some gravity to say to a woman even though she does not want to and it is medically possible for her not to, that she has to carry a parasite in her body for nine months. I understand that to pro-life people, the comparison between the life of a fetus and the suffering of a woman will usually fall in the fetus's favor, but it seems like there's a trade-off that should be acknowledged there. If you treat women as baby-carrying vessels in your arguments about abortion rather than acknowledging that women have interests in this equation that should be taken into account, you are probably anti-woman.

Now, I'm sure that some of you can come up with bad-faith arguments made by pro-choice people. We can get into that in the comments if you wish. I will even engage arguments about how my questions paint with too broad of a brush. I just that you be respectful—I have a delete key and I know how to use it.


Randy Row said...

Are there really people who are anti-abortion because they hate women? Seems like the wrong cause to latch onto if that's your niche.

micah e. said...

My main gripe with the "pro-life" movement concerns the secondary policies that pro-life-ers tend to favor. Generally, it seems, that those who take a pro-life stance are the ones that support abstinence-only education, which as you mention in your post is problematic.

Also, many of those who take a pro-life stance don't support extensive welfare policies. Again as you mention, there's a strong correlation between abortions and poverty. The unavoidable consequence of denying a right to choose (and not providing comprehensive sex education) is that thousands of children are born into poverty each year.

I guess what I'm saying is, be pro-life if you want. But be smart about it. You're not a moral champion in my book if you can't make people capable of functioning within your system or recognize/deal with the actual outcomes of your policy choice.