Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Is Anyone "Pro-Abortion?"

A few days ago, after his conservative guest referred to the pro-choice community as “pro-abortion, Thom Hartmann said, “nobody is ‘pro-abortion.’”

This was in keeping with the way liberals frame the issue of abortion by insisting we want to keep it “safe and rare,” a frame that gives credence to the opinion that abortion, as the word implies in its essential ugliness, is an evil, though a necessary one sometimes. This is the key to liberal framing of the issue itself; I’m guessing Thom Hartmann corrected his conservative guest in this way to support the more palatable and politically correct frame, “pro-choice.”

Still, I wish he had expanded on the subject. I wish he had defined what he meant by “nobody is pro-abortion.” Did he mean to imply, “nobody loves ‘killing babies?’” And if so, didn’t he confirm, by implication, right-wing Christianity’s belief about abortion as being evil, by his squeamishness toward the idea of being “pro-abortion?” Can we safely assume he too defines abortion as “killing babies?” Otherwise, if he had a more positive, ethically based, and reasonable definition of abortion, would he be able to make the comment, “nobody is ‘pro-abortion?’”

While I realize Thom Hartmann’s thinking on the subject is probably nuanced and more complex than that, on its face I have to say I disagree with the statement, “nobody is pro-abortion.” In fact, many of us count ourselves as being pro-abortion. That’s because we do not define abortion as “killing babies,” especially since abortion is illegal after viability, except to save the life and health of the mother.* Instead, the meaning of the word, for us, is as a surgical procedure deemed necessary by a woman and her surgeon for the life, health —mental or physical— and well-being of an adult person, a woman, where a non-viable embryo is removed from the woman’s uterus, her body. In fact, the connotations of legal abortion abound with positives —self-determination, responsibility for our lives and choices, freedom, liberty, opportunity, equality, relief, joy, expansion, and the possibility of having wanted children when it makes sense to have them, when they can be loved and supported as they deserve to be— thus, the frame, “Pro-choice.”

To this writer, not to be “pro-abortion” is not instead to be “pro-life,” but it is to be anti-life in all the ways that the absence of choice, freedom, liberty, opportunity, and equality would mean; not to be “pro-abortion” would mean being pro-oppression, pro-inequality, pro-tyranny, pro-forced-maternity and all the suppressions of the human spirit that bring depression, implosion of life’s possibilities, trauma, poverty, child abuse, and a whole world of ugly realities. Sure, for the woman who carries a pregnancy to term and has a happy experience, such ugly realities may never come true—her child is a beautiful reality, and nobody can deny it. But for many, many others, those who are coerced into completing an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy by guilt or by wrong-headed authority figures, by poverty or non-access to health services, the result can be ruinous to their lives and tragic for the lives of their unfortunate children. (Especially since conservatives thwart legislation that would be pro-the actual-lives of these children in any practical sense.) Furthermore, where a woman has no power to control her reproductive destiny, it cannot be said she has equal status in society with men, or she has equal opportunity. As it has been said, to underscore the absolute undesirability of being a slave to one’s biology, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a holy sacrament.

If we are not willing to own abortion, ugly as the word may be, don’t we corroborate the right-wing connotation of abortion as “baby-killing?” If we are unable to testify, give witness, as to the positive values derived from abortion, we avoid the discussion and avoid spreading the good word.

Finally, not all women suffer from guilt over their abortions, either before, during, or after the abortion. And the women who do not suffer mental distress are not uncaring, low-class people with messy, irresponsible lives.

I remember the day I accompanied a professional woman I know to her abortion appointment. I remember how she emerged from the surgical room into the waiting room with a big smile on her face, how she proudly strode through the clinic doors to the car, happy and free as all women have a right to be. She never cried. She never had a moment’s regret over her decision. And the children she eventually had were wanted; they were chosen.** If you believe in God, and you believe God is in charge of everything, that God works in mysterious ways, perhaps abortion is one of those mysterious ways. Who is to say what and who God wants? Without abortion, this woman’s chosen children would never have been born. Can anyone say it was wrong for them to be born?


* from Wikipedia: “The Court ruled that the state cannot restrict a woman's right to an abortion during the first trimester, the state can regulate the abortion procedure during the second trimester ‘in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health,’ and the state can choose to restrict or proscribe abortion as it sees fit during the third trimester when the fetus is viable (‘except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.’”) Dictionary definition: Termination of pregnancy and expulsion of an embryo or of a fetus that is incapable of survival.” The etymology of the word has it as “disappear, miscarry.”

** This in no way means I think the children who result from unplanned pregnancies are necessarily unwanted, nor are they any less precious than the children who result from planned pregnancies. This is a paradox the anti-choicers have difficulty comprehending. To them, the issue is a simple, black and white one, without paradox, without complicated nuance, without layers and shades of gray.

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