It Really Helps with the Whole Guilty Conscience Thing When You Don’t Consider Babies Human

Filed under politicking

I don’t remember when I decided I was pro-choice, but I remember distinctly that I was still calling myself a Christian when I did. (Realizing that God and I basically didn’t share any common viewpoints is one of the reasons I’m not a Christian today.) I understand that abortion is an extremely polarizing issue and that you can never argue your side well enough to convince someone who doesn’t already agree with you, which is why I like to talk about it so much. I find it unfortunate that the conservative argument is simply “because the church says not to”, because that precludes the need for careful thoughtfulness about the subject on the part of the believer. I also find it unfortunate that the liberal argument is simply “because I should have control over my own body”, because we rarely have control over own bodies when it comes to other kinds of protective legislature (i.e. seatbelt laws, drug laws).

I bring this up because this week’s New York magazine has an infinitely interesting article about modern views on abortion and how they’ve changed since the 70s, when women won the fight for the right to choose. I think the article does a great job of balancing the two sides (though, again, it’s not going to convince anyone of anything), but here are the two most interesting points from my side:

1) Until the mid-nineties, the political debate over abortion remained mostly in the theoretical realm, with the role of government at its center. Had it stayed there, it’s possible we’d be in a different place today. But in late 1995, a Florida Republican congressman named Charles Canady had a stroke of insight that would shift it to the realm of both the metaphysical and brutally physical, which is precisely where the pro-life movement wanted it all along. On the floor of the House, he introduced a bill that would ban so-called “partial-birth abortions,” a second-trimester surgical method previously known as intact dilation and extraction. The procedure was extremely upsetting to behold. In it, the fetus—or is it a baby?—is removed from the uterus and stabbed in the back of the head with surgical scissors. It’s a revolting image, one to which the public was ritualistically subjected on the evening news as the debate raged on the House and Senate floors. Defending it was a pro-choice person’s nightmare. Pat Moynihan compared it to infanticide. Clinton still vetoed the ban in 1996, but it was eventually signed into law in 2003 and withstood a Supreme Court challenge in 2007. More important, women were spooked. “A lot of our patients started asking whether or not the fetus felt pain after that, even if they were early along in their pregnancy,” says Albert George Thomas, who until two years ago had spent eighteen years as the head of the family-planning clinic at Mount Sinai. He adds that many women also came into his clinic expressing confusion about the size of the fetus they were aborting. Some were terrified that it was huge, even those who were coming in at six weeks. At that stage, it’s the size of a lentil.

2) Abortion counselors will also tell you that the stigma attached to the procedure is worse than it’s been in years. “When I started as a patient advocate in Ohio in 1996,” says Jeannie Ludlow, a professor at Eastern Illinois University who has written a great deal about abortion, “what I mostly saw were women who were thinking about abortion in individual ways—this is what’s going on in my life, this is what I’m thinking I should do. But by the time I left in 2008, our patients would be saying all that and ‘Oh, and I know I’m going to feel bad for the rest of my life,’ even if they seemed perfectly sure of their choice.”

I remember the truck that drove around my college campus with pictures of aborted babies plastered all over it, and I hated that I was supposed to be won over by emotional imagery in lieu of actual consideration of how a baby–and even a pregnancy–would entirely change my life in ways that I neither wanted nor was prepared for.

I know that it involves killing (what has the potential to become) human life, but I just can’t imagine myself regretting an abortion for the rest of my life like everyone wants me to think I will. I sort of want to have one, actually, just to make myself a t-shirt that says, “I aborted my baby, and I feel GRRRRREAT!” I don’t want to rub it in anyone’s face or anything, but I want some support for women who made the right choice for themselves and won’t be made to feel guilty.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the article and subject in general, as always.


  1. Mike Lowrey says:

    As long as society isn’t willing to help those women with babies in every way.
    I say every woman should be able to choose for herself.

    Pro life folks complain about having to pay more taxes for programs like welfare and medicaid but don’t want abortions. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    But where does the pro life insanity end?
    Just humans or are animals entitled?

    What’s next no Veal? No Milk? We get cows preggers just for that sweet meat and milk is that right?

    I draw the line at No scrambled eggs!
    Hell No, my Large Grade A eggs aren’t hatching unless it’s in my belly folks, with a side of Swine.

  2. Serial says:

    I’ve been lucky enough not to have had one, but so, so many people do, and will continue to, that to make it illegal or inaccessible is, I think, unconscionable. And I think there are buttons you can get that say “Ask me about my abortion,” in an attempt to reduce the stigma. This piece ran in the newspaper in my small town, and I was so fucking proud of the woman who wrote it, in one of the red parts of Oregon (a very blue town because of Portland and Eugene), that I wanted to hi-five her.

    Health care bill’s restrictions on abortion need to go
    By Janet Stevens / The Bulletin
    Published: November 13. 2009

    I doubt that the strong restrictions on abortion included in a health care reform bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last weekend will make it through to the final product, whatever that is. At least I hope they won’t. And it’s not that I favor abortion — almost nobody I know actually favors the procedure. Rather, having grown up in a family of women, and living today in a family of women, puts the issue in a different light for me.

    While a majority of us in this country still favor a woman’s right to end a pregnancy, should she choose to do so, that favor has been slipping for years, according to statistics from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Today, the country is nearly evenly divided on the topic, and most of us think the fewer women who obtain abortions, the better.

    The decline is widespread, across age, religious and ethnic groups, the most recent Pew poll, conducted late this summer, finds. More and more of us favor requiring teens to obtain parents’ consent for the procedure, the poll found, while fewer and fewer of us see the abortion question as a critical one.

    I don’t doubt the numbers. Most Americans find the idea of opting to end a pregnancy an appalling one, at least in the abstract. Problem is, the abstract and reality aren’t always in step with one another. I wonder if, when we put such questions as abortion in personal terms, our views change. I suspect that for many of us they do.

    Consider this notion, put forth by Third Way, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Third Way argues that no matter what Americans say about abortion, there are enough of them performed in this country that most of us most likely are related to or know someone who has had one. Fully a third of middle-aged adults, Third Way says, has either had an abortion or impregnated a woman whose pregnancy ended in abortion.

    Nor is abortion the birth control of choice for teens, another popular misconception. As the Alan Guttmacher Institute reports, while over half of abortions in this country are obtained by women 25 or younger, most of those are older than 20 and already have children at home. And most used some form of birth control in the month they got pregnant. Moreover, parental notification for teens may already be a reality, law or no. Some experts suggest that most girls under the age of 18 have abortions at their parents’ insistence.

    Again, those are numbers. Attach them to a face and they become something far more personal.

    I know one young woman who fits the statistics perfectly. The divorced mother of two, she found herself pregnant some time ago and when she told her boyfriend, he split. Already struggling to make ends meet, she couldn’t see a way to support a third child and she terminated the pregnancy. Her decision was not made lightly — far from it — and she agonized about it for months afterward, if not years. I find it impossible to condemn her decision, and I can’t say I wouldn’t have made the same one under similar circumstances.

    I would never suggest that a woman undergo an abortion unless she chooses to do so. At the same time, the House health reform bill would prevent my health insurance provider from covering my abortion if that provider received federal subsidy money for any of its clients, even if I were not among the subsidized group.

    If Americans already worry about a health care system that gives the advantage to those who can afford it, shouldn’t we worry even more when that economic difference actually is written into law? I think so. Abortion remains a legal procedure in this country, and for Congress to decide to make it available only to the wealthy is just wrong.

  3. Tracey says:

    I can’t wait to read the whole article, but I have to weigh in on the whole “partial birth” abortion thing, since it completely horrifies me that the legislation violates Roe v. Wade by having zero exception for the life or health of the mother. Especially since the procedure was typically only done in those rare cases where the mother’s health was in danger. And prosecuting doctors for performing procedures means that we can be denied potentially lifesaving medical treatment.

    And don’t even get me started on parental consent laws. As “common sense” as that sounds to people, parents forcing their daughter to endure a pregnancy against her will is one wretched form of child abuse.

    We live in scary, scary times.

    Oh, and here’s the “I’m Not Sorry” campaign I was telling you about:

  4. I’ve been reading Newsweek as long as I’ve been reading Vogue. Conservative though they are, my parents have subscribed to Newsweek all my life.

    One day, when I was about 9 or 10, I saw a word in an article that I didn’t recognize: “abortion.” Naturally, I asked my parents (at the dinner table, no less) what it meant.

    To their great credit, they told me exactly what it was and the bare bones of Roe v. Wade. They also told me that as Catholic Christians, they believed that abortion was a very grave sin, and that should I ever get pregnant, ANY OTHER OPTION was preferable to an abortion.

    However, they also told me the horror stories of women who were killed or rendered infertile by back-alley abortions, and they emphasized to me that even though they don’t believe abortion is moral, they nevertheless believed that the right to a safe, legal one must always exist.

    I think the pro-life activists’ time would be much better spent on sex education and rape prevention programs than picketing abortion clinics.

    Personally, I support complete reproductive freedom. The ability to control fertility is the linchpin of women’s rights.

  5. Ryan Cordle says:

    As someone who is “Pro-Life,” I want to leave a comment.

    Christians, in general, make the mistake of talking about abortion in terms of “rights.” I think the correct way for Christians to dialogue about abortion is to stop talking about “rights” and talk about responsibilities. Unfortunately, for many evangelical Christians this talk can go no further than “you got pregnant, you deal with the consequences.” This, however, is contrary to what we believe about Jesus, who believed that women and children must come first. Any honest reading of the Bible will lead one to believe that God cares about “outsiders” more than self-righteous types, which most evangelicals tend to be.

    Therefore, I think the correct question for the Church to ask at this point is not, “How can we end abortion” but “how can we take responsibility for pregnant women and their (unborn) and born children?” The church must start legitimately letting women know that their health care and their children will be financially and emotionally supported. Until that becomes a reality, then I think we should consider ourselves hypocrites.

    Sorry for the sermonizing, I’m not making an attempt to proselytize, just to communicate why as a Christian, I am frustrated with the “abortion conversation” as well. We could talk about “life beginning” issues and such, but as we all know that goes no where…

    • Serial says:

      Ryan, I appreciate that your perspective, but I’m curious. You’re pro-life, so that means you’re anti-war and anti-capital punishment, right?

      • Ryan Cordle says:

        Yes. I am anti-war, and consider that a necessary aspect to the Christian faith is consistent pacificism. Jesus was pretty damn clear that his disciples should not be violent. I am also anti-capital punishment, though, I do not necessarily think that it is mutually exclusive to be anti-abortion, and pro-death penalty.

        I don’t want to come across as saying something like “all life is sacred,” a sentiment that Mike, above, mocks with a proper amount of snark! In fact, as a follower of Jesus, I believe there are much worse things than death. Nevertheless, my “pro-life” position is founded on the idea that (1) all life is a gift from God, and therefore deserving of respect, dignity and consideration (so in the abortion debate, both mother and unborn child) and (2) a hope that life human life does indeed begin before birth.

        • Serial says:

          Well I think that you have much firmer ground to stand on in your argument than the “life is precious except if it’s not a fetus and then I don’t really give a shit” folks.

          I think the thing a lot of people forget, too, is that no one, not anyone reasonable, likes abortion. I’m fervently pro-choice, but I think the best way to combat abortion isn’t with laws, but with sex education and birth control.

  6. Tina says:

    The reason I started reading your blog was because I came across some post years ago that talked about a t-shirt that said “I Love Abortions”. Things have come full circle!

  7. Friend says:

    Fun fact: 40% of American girls will become pregnant by the age of 20.

    Think about that for a second. Look at 5 Sophomores in college and chances are 2 of them have been pregnant in their lives.

    Another fun fact: After abortion was made legal, the birth rate fell furthest among females below the poverty line, but remained steady among females of the upper classes. Wonder why?

    Say what you will, but to paraphrase Ryan Cordle above: if you want to consider yourself pro-life, you must remember that your responsibilities for these children does not stop at birth. It’s only just begun.

    Don’t complain about welfare, health care, education, etc., if you want to cosider yourself pro-life.

  8. Sandy says:

    I’m absolutely terrible at political discourse, because when it comes right down to it, I slam doors and cry and call people idiots, which isn’t exactly productive. But once upon a time I dated a Republican who was anti-abortion because it went along with the conservative blanket he cloaked himself in, and also because he was a misogynist (which I didn’t realize at the time – or maybe I did. I don’t know). But he asked me why I was pro-choice, and the best answer I came up with was that if either of my nieces, who were 16 and 10 at the time, came to me and said, “I am pregnant, will you help me?”, I would help them. My sister had given them each a speech that basically amounted too “If you get pregnant before you get married, good fucking luck.” I read her the riot act for it, and told her that if she couldn’t help her children, then I would. Whether they chose to go full term and keep the baby, go full term and give it up for adoption, or terminate the pregnancy, I would help them. Because sometimes in life you make mistakes, or you have accidents, and no, I don’t think you should have to spend the rest of your life paying for them.

  9. spaghedeity says:

    i think one of the main issues affecting, or soon to affect, abortion rights is the decline in the age at which a fetus can be kept alive outside the womb. like, the legal definition of life that is viable—which restricts the administration of late-term abortions, etc.—is rapidly changing.

    i don’t like to think about it from a moral perspective, because i think there are convincing arguments on both sides of the issue. so i’d say i’m a pragmatic abortionist, in the sense that, uh, there are too many people in the world.

  10. karinya says:

    I was pro-choice before I had a baby, and I’m even more pro-choice BECAUSE I’ve had a baby. (I mean, obviously I love baby K beyond all reason and would be infinitely grateful to be even tangentially involved in her life, let alone be HER MOTHER — but)

    Man, babies are tough. Really tough. Even when you really, really want them. God forbid a new mother have a baby with colic, because it’s pretty much what I imagine Hell to be like.

    That said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I don’t think anyone should be forced into having a child they hadn’t planned for.

    On the other hand, I recently played the “unplanned pregnancy or stomach flu?” game, and while the unplanned pregnancy option was scary, I wouldn’t have even considered option B…

    Whatever, I’m rambling now, but you can put me in the “not for me, but should be safe & legal” category.

  11. June says:

    As a nurse, I can’t think of anything more private and personal than a woman’s choice to have a child or not…I personally would not have an abortion, after all I have the means to give a baby a very comfortable life, i have the support i need to make it possible, but i also know that there are so many women out there who don’t have the means or support required to raise a child…The people who rail against these women should shut up and let the woman make proper choices for herself. It’s private, it personal and it’s simply none of your damn business.