Sometimes, when I’m in the mood for choir-preaching or having mental arguments with imaginary opponents, I like to think about some serious logical gaps in how we, as a culture, think about abortion. More rarely, I like to blog about it.
I’ve been “pro-choice,” as they say, since I found out that abortion existed. First, it was a vague idea that came with the knowledge that my parents voted for Bill Clinton, and therefore I was a Democrat, too, and Democrats, I understood, were pro-choice. By high school, I’d begun to form my own political views, and I thought the standard “it’s a woman’s choice” rhetoric made sense. I mean, who else’s choice was it gonna be? Later, the “A fetus is not a person” justification seemed most salient. At some point, when the idea of actual sperm making contact with my own personal ova became more than abstract, my pro-choice feelings intensified rather alarmingly. But at the bottom of it all was that same bumper-sticker conviction: It’s a woman’s choice.
Along the way, I developed my own logical reasons why abortion was not immoral and absolutely had to remain legal. Much of this happened in conversation with a non-imaginary opponent a few years ago, one of my closest friends, who I’ll call June. June is a very intelligent, well-spoken, argumentative woman, and at the time, she was the only woman I knew who was anti-abortion and willing to talk—and, even more amazingly, listen—to me about it.
(More common—outside my feminist circles—are the people like roommate M, who once commented, over two MSNBC talking heads blathering about Stupak, “I’m so tired of people talking about abortion. I mean, can’t we just agree to disagree and move on?” He apologized, five minutes later, after I’d finished shouting [my contention, in brief: “NO!”]. In retrospect, that’s probably the sort of behavior that leads to people being tired of people talking about abortion.)
June is a logical person, so I appealed to logic. First, theology: June (who was not actively religious and, though spiritually curious, definitely not Christian) said she was convinced that life, including ensoulment, began at conception. Fresh from a genetics class, I argued that thirty percent of pregnancies ended in miscarriage. So, what, God (or the Force, or whatever) snuffed out thirty percent of souls before they’d even had a chance to peek outside the uterus? That wasn’t any kind of God whose world I was willing to live in. Therefore, abortion is okay.
Second: fetal personhood. I argued that there had to be a bright line. Any developmental markers like “heartbeat” or “fingerprints” were inadmissibly subjective. Viability was a moving target and varied with individuals and historical periods. A hundred years ago, babies born three months premature would die; today, they sometimes live: so was a six-months-along fetus not a person in 1900? It was either conception or birth (this was my most dubiously-supported contention, I think), and either God was really mean or conception was out. Therefore, life begins at birth. Therefore, abortion is okay.
Third: legal. I was reading Susan Bordo’s excellent (excellent! I cannot emphasize this enough: excellent) Unbearable Weight and was halfway through the chapter on legal precedent and bodily integrity, so I felt qualified to preach. In this country, we cannot legally force a man to give blood or a kidney or marrow to save his dying brother’s inarguably real life—or his dying child’s: it’s a violation of his bodily integrity. So how could we legally force a woman to do anything with her body, such as, you know, carry a pregnancy to term with it, to preserve something that may or may not be life? Therefore, abortion is okay.
We talked for a long time. June agreed that I’d gone a long way toward convincing her, and that she would think about what I’d said. We haven’t talked about abortion in a while, but maybe logic changed her mind. That’s how it should work, right? Argument A, Argument B, Argument C: therefore, abortion is okay. Did I mention that June and I met in high school debate?
But lately, I’ve been thinking about logic in even plainer terms. Like, seriously: if abortion were illegal in this country, what would that look like?
Most people I’ve ever talked to about abortion are ambivalently pro-choice. Like: “I wouldn’t ever have one, and I think it’s very sad, but, um, I do think it should be legal?” At the very least, even most anti-choice people will make an exception for medical emergencies, rape, and incest.
So imagine this: it’s a five-minutes-into-the-future dystopia, and abortion is illegal except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest. We know very well that whether abortion is legal or illegal has very little bearing on the number of abortions taking place. So aside from women traveling to Mexico and Canada and Mandy’s (hey, she goes to med school!), we would surely have women obtaining abortions in the usual medical settings. It’s allowed for cases of rape and incest, right? Like the sympathetic back-alley doctors in days of yore, like modern heroes like the late Dr. George Tiller, we’d surely have dedicated physicians willing to operate on or prescribe RU-486 for women who needed it (and had the resources to pay out of pocket):
Doctor: “Rape or incest, right?”
Of course, in our sucky dystopia, this would be an abuse of the system, and lawmakers would surely try to eliminate it. Proof would be required to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the twenty-first-century United States.
Oh yeah, proof of rape, days or weeks or months after the fact. Not like, you know, that’s gonna be difficult. Or causes any trouble for anyone now.
And this is just the inconsistency on my mind this week. It also reminded me of an old Anna Quindlen column on what, in Anti-Choice Dystopia, would actually be done with women who had abortions anyway. Hint: anti-abortion protesters have not, apparently, ever thought about this.
Then there’s the “men’s rights” argument that men should have an equal say in what happens to the fetus they helped make. In a non-patriarchal world where everyone is equal and no one coerces anyone else and everyone has access to safe, legal, and affordable birth control and, oh yeah, men bear an equal share of the pregnancy burden (maybe they get joint custody and carry the fetus every other day?), then sure, men can have an equal say. Until that day, when the non-pregnant partner disagrees with the pregnant partner, the tie’s gotta go to somebody.
Because at the bottom of this whole issue, when an unwanted pregnancy happens, someone has to decide what to do about it. Should it be the U.S. Senate? The Supreme Court? The church? The state? The patriarchy? The Man? The man?
Or... the woman?
Trust women. It’s just plain logic.