Janet Harris had a piece run in The Washington Post this week. Entitled “Stop calling abortion a ‘difficult decision,’” she expresses her frustration that pro-choice persons and organizations, including Hillary Clinton and NARAL, call abortions a “difficult decision.” Why does this upset her? Because doing so implies some level of concern or thought for the unborn child:
But there’s a more pernicious result when pro-choice advocates use such language: It is a tacit acknowledgment that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue requiring an ethical debate. To say that deciding to have an abortion is a “hard choice” implies a debate about whether the fetus should live, thereby endowing it with a status of being. It puts the focus on the fetus rather than the woman. As a result, the question “What kind of future would the woman have as a result of an unwanted pregnancy?” gets sacrificed. By implying that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue, pro-choice advocates forfeit control of the discussion to anti-choice conservatives.
I have a number of issues with this opinion piece.
The author cares so much about language (does this language fit into our camp’s or theirs?) that the humanity of the unborn gets summarily dismissed. Or perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps she has no concern in general for these guys and girls:
She acknowledges, with stats from the Guttmacher Institute, that the vast majority of abortions are for reasons other than concerns for fetal or maternal health, or pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest.
The far more common situation, accounting for 51 percent of all pregnancies among American women, is an unintended pregnancy, either mistimed (31 percent) or unwanted (20 percent). A 2008 study found that 40 percent of unintended pregnancies, excluding miscarriages, ended in abortion. It is in these cases that the portrayal of hand-wringing and soul-searching is more likely to be at odds with the day-to-day reality.
She then concludes that since the vast majority of these abortions occur because the pregnancies are simply “unwanted” or “mistimed,” that the women must make the decision to abort their children as a matter of fact. That women in these situations don’t struggle with a “difficult decision.” This conclusion seems like a huge leap to me. I think our friends at Silent No More may have some thoughts on that.
She also assumes that since most women state they had their abortions fairly quickly after discovering they were pregnant, that they did not face the harrowing “difficult decision.”
Another survey suggested that “once women suspect pregnancy, most of them who seek an abortion act fairly quickly.” In fact, most women — even those who obtained abortions within the first six weeks of pregnancy — would have preferred to have their abortions earlier than they did.
Could it be perhaps that they felt they had no other choice? They were pressured? They didn’t realize there were resources available to them? That they were coerced? That they believed that once the abortion procedure was over, they would no longer struggle with whatever they were feeling about being pregnant?
This brings to me a few words from the article I posted yesterday, How I lost faith in the pro-choice movement. When we are dishonest with ourselves and each other about the realities of sex, there is reason for an emotional response and confusion. From Jennifer Fulwiler, the author of that piece:
I was looking through a Time magazine article whose infograph cited data from the Guttmacher Institute about the most common reasons women have abortions. It immediately struck me that none of the factors on the list were conditions that we tell women to consider before engaging in sexual activity. Don’t have the money to raise a child? Don’t think your boyfriend would be a good father? Don’t feel ready to be a mother? Women were never encouraged to consider these factors before they had sex; only before they had a baby.
The fundamental truth of the pro-choice movement, from which all of its tenets flow, is that sex does not have to have life-altering consequences. I suddenly saw that it was the struggle to uphold this “truth” that led to all the shady dealings, all the fear of information, all the mental gymnastics that I’d observed.
Sex has life-altering consequences. As a result of sex, you may get a disease and you may get pregnant. If a couple gets pregnant and deems that this pregnancy is “mistimed,” they may rush headlong into an abortion in hopes of simply getting back to their regularly scheduled life. They may not have given themselves the time to research the abortion procedure and its consequences, learn about fetal development or seek out resources and help.
Harris then moves on to the pro-choice movement’s new strategy: collapse in economic concerns to appeal to a broader demographic:
Abortion rights groups are struggling to expand their message from “pro-choice” — which they say no longer resonates with voters as it once did — to more broadly encompass women’s health and economic concerns. The movement needs such recalibration precisely because it was drawn into a moral debate about the fetus’s hypothetical future rather than the woman’s immediate and tangible future. Once these groups locked themselves into a discussion of “choice,” terminating a pregnancy became an option rather than a necessity. Pro-choice groups would be a lot stronger, more effective and more in sync with the women they represent if they backed away from the defensive “difficult decision” posture.
I don’t understand her use of “future.” The fetal child is alive and growing. As far as I’m concerned, something that is alive, kicking and hiccuping and will be born in a matter of months has a “tangible future.” Right? Or is a future only “tangible” if it includes interrupted college studies? Or the fast track at a Bay Street firm? Does not living and being and growing require some kind of “tangible” future? Or do only certain humans, with certain capabilities and a certain quality of life have a “tangible future”?
She then goes on to explain that abortion is
a difficult decision “not something any woman wants to go through.” But she explains that this is not due to the fact that most women struggle with the idea of ending the life within them, but because they will feel judgement from others or that abortions cost too much.
I don’t know. I feel more judged now for being pro-life than I ever did being pro-choice. What about you?
There are other aspects of this article that demand comment, but I have to go live out my five month old son’s intangible future with him. I leave you to the comments section. As always, I appreciate your thoughts.
photo credit: drake lelane via photopin cc