Abortion is topic rife with strong convictions- one that is worthy of much more discussion than the “pro-choice” or “pro-life” banners we tend to like to rally behind. I say that, because in most cases, abortion is neither the crime against humanity, nor the mere claim to the rights of one’s body that fuel the dichotomy of many pro-life and pro-choice arguments.
I should probably get this out of the way right now- I am “pro-choice,” for what the label is worth. I think there are arguments to be made both ethically and pragmatically on this basis, and regardless of what side of the issue you personally find yourself on, I encourage you to hear me out. I have my doubts about whether I will change your mind per se, but I think there will likely be some areas of agreement nonetheless.
I don’t think it’s possible to have a responsible discussion about this topic without addressing the fact that there are weak arguments on either side of this debate. Personally, I have never found myself convinced by the argument that women have the right to do what they please with their bodies. It’s not because I don’t believe that women should have control over their bodies in principle, but because it fails to address some of the fundamental claims of pro-lifers- namely that human life has intrinsic worth that is beyond the scope of a woman’s choice, and that the fetus constitutes a separate body from the mother’s.
I also don’t agree with the argument commonly made about cases of rape and incest being used as a justification for the practice of abortion on the whole. This is not because I am some callous monster who doesn’t care about the horrendous position this would put any person in, it is because in total these cases account for less than 1% of all abortions performed. Many pro-lifers have pointed out that they would happily concede the 1% of these cases if we could simply address the 99%- I think that is a fair argument.
However, pro-life arguments have their pitfalls too. Many pro-life arguments have traditionally taken their roots in religious justification, something that parallels many other ongoing conflicts between religious and secular thinking. The soul entering the zygote at the moment of conception is an excellent example of this. To that end, it has been pointed out that an “estimated 50 percent of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, usually without a woman even realizing that she was pregnant.”
Furthermore, 10-25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages. That’s not even to mention that biology plays all sorts of weird games when it comes to reproduction, including the fusing and splitting of embryos. The “arithmetic of souls” clearly has no place in the abortion debate, and could just as easily lead one to the popular atheist retort that “God is the biggest abortionist of all.”
There are also a handful of other contradictions from the generally religious, Republican political right that should be taken into consideration. I am not trying to lump all pro-lifers together, it’s just that according to PEW, the overwhelming number of pro-lifers are both deeply religious, and Republican.
I find it strange that the party that has often tried to block access to contraception in various forms, is also the party that is the least okay with abortion. You can’t advocate against safe sex and then be surprised by unwanted pregnancies. Perhaps you can if you are devoutly religious, but thankfully that matters very little in fact-based debate.
I also don’t fully understand the GOP’s seemingly universal hatred of Planned Parenthood. We can argue about how much of their revenue comes from abortions, but it seems like there are quite a few measures on the books to make sure that federal money is spent on abortions “only when medically necessary.”
The argument that Planned Parenthood is profiting off of abortions is also one that has enraged many pro-life advocates, and one that I don’t fully understand either. Again, prominent conservatives are the ones currently arguing the right to “access” healthcare versus the right to healthcare generally, so they can’t really argue that profit in health care is a bad thing. It seems to me that if PP were to absorb 100% of the costs of abortions they could sidestep this problem.
Also, anyone who suggests that PP is only in it for the money must think awful things about the rest of the medical professionals in the country- I wonder why they got into the health care business?
But I digress.
Why am I pro-choice? The reasons are part ethical, part pragmatic. Let me start with the ethical.
I believe that the ethical argument to made about abortion lies in a view that developmental personhood falls on a continuum, and that an ability to feel suffering factors into this greatly. Because of this, I am not an absolutist when it comes to abortion, my ethical cutoff is somewhere around the 26 week mark. This is the fetal stage when the nervous system and brain develop, it is also when a fetus is medically viable- this overlap is not a coincidence.
I don’t think there is a cogent argue for personhood that doesn’t involve the presence of a brain and nervous system. Our brains are all we are.
It has been argued that the fetus’ unaided potential to become a human being gives it unique status in the determination of personhood. However, we are interested in the here and now- I don’t think either side should be in the business of trying to predict the future. A fetus is not capable of suffering in the time frame we are talking about. It is also not capable of sustaining life without direct help from the mother’s body- so viability is again an important factor.
Nonetheless, if you are pro-life you should be able to explain to me why it is morally wrong to terminate a life that is biologically incapable of suffering, and indeed incapable of all other tasks one would generally associate with human behavior. You should also be able to explain to me how assigning equal agency to a fetus and grown female’s body makes sense given the biology as we know it prior to 26 weeks.
So that’s the ethical. Now let’s move on to the pragmatic considerations.
There are many good reasons to believe that access to abortion has had noticeably positive effects on society. Contrary to those that argue access to abortion makes the rates of utilization go up, abortions have been steadily declining in the U.S. since 1980. Before you go thinking this has something to do with people feeling more negatively about abortion than before, you should know that opinions have remained more or less static.
In addition to that, increased levels of education correspond to people’s approval of the legality of abortion- and education seems to be key. Not only are people overwhelmingly accessing abortion early (92% are reportedly carried out before 13 weeks of gestation), they are providing sober reasons for doing so. Inadequate finances, relationship problems, and perceived lack of parental ability to provide care cumulatively account for 54% of reasons given for getting abortions.
Basically, if you can’t take care of a baby you shouldn’t have one. Crazy, right?
I understand that this may not dissuade many pro-life activists though, who like to tout adoption as a viable alternative to abortion. However, currently there are over 400,000 children in state custody, only half of whom have permanent plans for placement. Assuming that even half of the women who received abortions last year successfully carried their children to term for adoption, it would mean placing at least another 500,000 children in state care.
Please enlighten me as to how this is sustainable.
Oh, and if you are one of the between 20,000-30,000 children who age out of foster care services every year, you’re even more fucked. Statistics say you have a 2% likelihood of attending college, and are more likely to find yourself in prison. In fact, “80% of the prison population comprises adults who were in the foster care system at some point in their childhood.”
Contrast this with studies that have shown that abortion has arguably had a strong correlation with decreases in crime.
Look. I get it. Abortion is an ugly idea. In a perfect world, people would get pregnant only when they wanted to, and children would be born exclusively to warm and loving families. But we have to be honest with ourselves, and people have to realize what they’re arguing for when they say that abortion isn’t justified.
To say that all life is sacred is to live in a world of absolutes- a world that sadly does not exist.
That is why I am still pro-choice.