Moral gray areas and abortion
Rebecca Traister at Salon has a really fantastic round-up today of the various debates in the pro-choice community on how best to acknowledge that people have moral questions about abortion so as to better get the message of free choice across to ordinary Americans. Most people aren't hardline against abortion--they don't think it's murder or anything, but they are still comfortable with the morality of it.
For instance, most people really don't think that an embryo is the same thing as a three-year-old. It's later term abortions that make people uncomfortable, and I have to admit that they make me uncomfortable, too. The closer to the due date a fetus gets, the more baby-like it is, and I'm not so foolish as to say that a late-term fetus isn't pretty much the same thing as a baby. That's common sense. It's also common sense not to get all riled up because a woman forces a termination at 2 months, as we don't get all freaked out with a woman miscarries at 2 months. It wasn't a baby. Again, common sense.
I think that the pro-choice side has the best answers to most people's worries about late-term abortions, which this article deals with well.
Hill also attacked the antiabortion movement's focus on late-term abortions, pointing out that when she began providing services, there were very few second-term abortions. That changed in 1977, when the Hyde Amendment restricted Medicaid-funded abortions to poor women, who were then forced to save money and schedule later terminations. "The same people create a need for later abortions, and then they attack it! I think our community has lost sight of who we are fighting for. We have got to redefine it and give it a face again."
Focus on how choice and freedom means more contraception to prevent pregnancy in the first place and how access is important in order to get abortions done in the time period that most people acknowledge that the fetus is not a baby. I don't really think that most Americans are confused about what they want to see, which is safe, accessible contraception and abortions in the first trimester.
For those women that "deserve" abortions, that is. The real gray area that has always been a huge gray area is where the idea of pregnancy as punishment for naughty girls comes into play. The anti-abortion side gets a lot of people over to their side by telling stories of abortion as "birth control", a phrase that while technically true is one that most people associate with convienence. Tie the ideas of convienence and youth and sex and girls together and what you get is a bona fide stereotype--sluts running around having sex all over the place as if it were their right and then avoiding the consequences by scheduling their abortions in between their manicures and hair-dressing appointments. Or, to put it less boldly, anti-abortion forces sell their side by selling the Madonna vs. whore image, full well confident that most people, brought up on a steady diet of discomfort with female sexuality, when given the choice between a beatific mother with her small child holding a sign that says, "Why do you want to kill me?" and a young single woman weaseling out of her obligation to be a mother and a wife....
Well, we're getting the results right now. This article discusses how Frances Kissling wants to repackage abortion and remind people it's a moral choice. And she's right--in reality, women who get abortions are doing so because they are doing the best that they can, making the choice that seems right to them.
But people like to focus on the act that created the need for the abortion--sexual intercourse, usually consensual. (Yes, rape victims avail themselves of legal abortion, too, but many people would give them an exemption if abortion were to be made illegal.) And so the question for people is not really, "Is abortion moral?" but "Should girls having 'immoral' sex be allowed to get away with it?" And I don't know what it's going to take to convince people that the stereotypical abortion patient--someone who is accidentally pregnant after engaging in premarital sex--was making a moral choice to begin with.
I think premarital sex is a moral choice. Yep, you don't hear those words very often, do you? But it's true. I think hanging pictures on the wall is a moral choice. I think reading books is a moral choice. I think going to parties, listening to music, hanging out with friends, watching favorite TV programs, gardening, eating tasty cheeses and all the other myriad of things that we do to squeeze pleasure and love out of life are moral choices. These are the things that make life worth living.
I don't buy that the moral choice is always the hard one. It's easy to spread pleasure and joy in life if you start believing that it's your right and even your duty. And I think it is. There's enough misery and suffering just as a fact of nature, and we don't have to invent reasons to bring more stress and strife into our lives. Happy people with pleasure in their lives spread joy around them--seems like morality to me.
We can reduce the number of abortions by increasing sex education and making contraception more available. But let's be realistic--just as there will be a certain number of car accidents every year no matter how many safety precautions we take, there will be a certain number of accidental pregnancies. And as car accidents do not inflict themselves on the immoral, neither to accidental pregnancies. And if moral women are taking stock of their circumstances and beliefs after becoming pregnant on accident and deciding that they want an abortion, who is anyone else to judge?