With great thanks to my secret Santa, who sent me a really cool notebook for me to record blog post ideas for nudging me to finish this post, I do want to dedicate it to one of my dear online friends who recently had to jump through hoops and suffer excessive trauma to procure an abortion.
Hopefully I make a little sense. It’s been a while.
Those who know me will know that I am passionately pro-choice. The idea that a woman can be forced to carry a baby to term against her will is simply abhorrent to me. The idea that a person can be prevented from making their own reproductive and sexual health choices is utterly appalling.
But despite this I sometimes have some mis-givings about certain aspects of abortion.
Before reading further, please know that these are just my thoughts on the matter – I make no judgments, I do not pretend to know anything about what it is like to face such decisions, they are just a viewpoint at this moment in time. And that, in my opinion, there are certain absolutes where abortion must be available to women:
where the pregnancy is due to rape
where continuing the pregnancy is a risk to the mother’s mental or physical health
where the consequences faced by the baby in being born make it kinder to terminate.
When I try and think about this, I think of the two extremes: contraception (including Emergency Contraception Pill and the prevention of a fertilised egg from implanting) , and the idea of aborting a full-term foetus. I cannot believe that any rational person could disagree with the former, or agree with the latter. So, there must be a point at which everything changes. Where is it? What are the reasons for and against abortion?
At the centre of the abortion debate seems to be whether or not the foetus (or even potential foetus) is a “person”. One side might argue that a fertilised (or even unfertilised) egg is a “person” while another side might say that this thing does not become a person until it is born. But there is one element of the “not a person” argument for abortion that troubles me.
It wasn’t so long ago that certain groups of people were not considered “persons”. Women, people of colour, have all at some point been considered “not people” and therefore are not protected by any law. By claiming that “an unborn child” is not a person, you are applying some very scary principles. And yes, I know the difference between the two scenarios is that the “unborn child” is, well, unborn, but the idea remains the same.
I mean, if we have a pregnant woman who wishes to keep the child, and someone else deliberately causes harm to the foetus, do we say that they have done nothing wrong because, well, the thing they harmed is not a person?
Please let me make this clear, I do not question a woman’s right to choose. Just that I personally have difficulty with the “not a person” argument.
Part of the problem we face, as a society, with regard to abortion is an archaic attitude toward death. We still seem to prefer to force a person to live a life of agony, misery and horror rather than allowing them to die. True, nobody knows what happens after we die, and euthanasia is a risk: is dying really better than living? Sometimes, yes.
So, many people see the termination of a pregnancy as something morally outrageous when in reality it can be a kindness.
There are those who argue that allowing abortion will simply lead to eugenics – aborting “undesirable” traits. But that is presuming that someone else knows better than the woman who otherwise would have to carry the child and bear the medical risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth.
Others in the anti-abortion lobby argue that allowing abortion will lead to a lack of care of children as women line up to repeatedly dispose of their unwanted cargo. Now, I know I am a man and will never know what it is like, but I can guess that the people who say this have never had to go through an abortion themselves, and probably are so lacking in empathy that they choose not to understand what a woman goes through in having an abortion.
I do know it is a terrible, traumatic experience. Generally it is not something they want to do, but need to. In a much earlier post on this subject, I found a brilliant quote.
No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.
As for “personhood”, where do you begin with this? If life and “personhood” begins at conception, what does this mean for our concept of age? If a person has been alive for 18 years, how old are they? Eighteen or 17 years and 3 months? What impact does this have on driving rules, age of consent, voting, drinking, etc. Does a living person who has not yet been born require a passport? If not why not? It raises so many questions in my mind.
It strikes me that the people who blather on about “personhood” – not only do they not give a shit about the personhood of the mother, they have no clue what it means to confer personhood on a bunch of cells.
It is a hideously complex issue.