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Common Sense About Choice

Jan
23
2006

One of the real tragedies of the debate over whether a woman can legally end her pregnancy – as Josh Trevino points out – is that we don’t use clear language; we don’t say what we mean. We resort to pretty euphemisms and appeals to emotion that, increasingly, have little basis in reality.
The signs that appeared over the weekend at protest rallies marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade – my eye-rolling favorite was “Keep Your Laws Of My Body and I’ll Keep My Hands Off Your Throat” – provide fine examples. This sort of nonsense only helps make Josh’s point: For the Left, abortion is a call to arms that’s become less about choice and more about the rhetoric of being superficial and, as a result, irresponsible.
But I don’t think that’s the sort of Lefty knee-jerk argument that Sarah – who is facing down the wrath of her family as I type this – was trying to make in her Sunday post. And I think Josh misses her points in being so harshly dismissive of her eloquence and by ignoring a key part of her argument. So let me take a stab at defending her.
First, no one is suggesting that the freedom to choose to end a pregnancy is a “surpassing good.” What is being suggested is that decision should be made by the individual most intimately involved – the woman bearing the child – and that decision, once made, should not result in further harm, medical or otherwise. This is not, intrinsically, a statement in favor of one course of action or another; it is a statement – and a legal position – that gives full respect to the person who will be in charge of this child’s health, safety and upbringing. In addition, Josh fails to address one of Sarah’s most important points: The need for better sex education and education about how contraception actually works. That the Right continues to insist that ignorance about sexual practices means the ignorant won’t have sex is stupid false. And this can, for most of us, be demonstrated emprically, practically and personally.
No one I know – and I know plenty of women who have ended their pregnancies with medical procedures – denies that abortion goes to the very heart of their beliefs about life, when and how it starts, and where and how you feel you can interject yourself in the process of bringing another human into the world. That may strike some – Josh – as arrogant and possibly immoral. But I don’t think that’s correct.


A life unloved, particularly a young life, is perhaps the saddest fate to wish on any of us and many babies born to women unprepared to raise them are, in fact, unloved, unwanted and, yes, resented. And let me go s step further and answer Josh directly: I do not believe a fetus is a “child.” Without tremendous medical intervention, a premature baby – one born more than six weeks before its due date – cannot survive outside the womb. Until very recently, those premies died. Nor, do I believe that a group of cells that has just been fertilized are in fact human life. It has the potential to be a human life but its very existence is owed to the woman in whose body it is yet-to-be embedded and she may well feel – emotional, physically or otherwise – that she is not up to the task of carry for this potential person for the next several years. We are learning a lot about how we live and die as our medical practices and procedures become more sophisticated. The more we learn, the more ambitious we become for certainty. It may well be that we do have – in the beginning and in the end of our lives – have to live with enormous and profound ambiguity and each of us may well have to make our own decisions.
Demanding that the choice to end a pregnancy remain legal is not an de facto endorsement of that practice. Nor is it an insistence that all children be born into loving and wonderful homes with above-poverty-line median income, two hybrid Toyota Prius in the driveway and a legacy admit to Yale. It is something much more profound. It’s an admission that life isn’t fair and that sometimes people – in this case women – must make tough, horrible, difficult choices based on a bizarre combination of faith, hope, trust and self-confidence. Many people don’t have those skills; they are the ones most hurt by laws that restrict their decisions and they are the women of whom Sarah was speaking.
Josh is thoroughly and completely correct about the power of motherhood. He states it in the negative, of course, but his point that bringing life into the world is a wonder should not be lost on any of us. But he blurs an important line in making his case.
All women are not mothers; many may never be, by choice or otherwise. Others may be particularly ill-suited to the job. Some may long to have children and be unable to do so. Life, as Sarah said so eloquently is just not fair. And even women who are mothers do not claim that as their only sort of social prestige or status. That is more true today than it ever has been at any point in our history; we have separated the act of procreation from the process of bearing children and bringing them into the world. We did that when we learned to prevent pregnancy and again when we learned how to jump-start the process of conception. We did not do this when we made abortion legal; we made abortion legal as part of the process of understanding that a woman is more than a womb. That is why teaching people how not to have children – and, as a consequence reducing the number of unplanned children and abortions – isn’t just a good idea, it should be made part and parcel of this debate right here, right now.
Instructing people in how to handle that responsibility – one they owe themselves and one another – goes directly to Josh’s point about how abortion allows mothers to selfishly forego what should be their main responsibility, a favorite trope of the Right, when it comes to the rights of the “unborn.”
There is only one thing to say to in response: Allowing someone to make their own decisions about their life – which is truly what we’re talking about when we talk about making it legal to let a woman end a pregnancy – is to grant them the full and complete measure of responsibility; it is to give them power to steer a course and do what they think is best not because you are selfish or egotistical but because you know best what you can do and how you can balance the immense social and personal obligations of rearing a child. It is to say that I trust you – as a woman and as a potential mother – to do what you believe best for yourself and your family.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:45 PM | Permalink

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