The Abortion Debate: How to Defend the Right to Choose
It's not exactly a secret that abortion is a very polarizing issue. Statements made in this essay will undoubtedly offend many people. However, I encourage you to read the essay in full before you pass judgment on any one statement. No matter who you are, I doubt you will finish this essay and think that it is just another typical argument in favor of abortion rights.
I am perpetually disgusted by the way in which abortion rights are attacked in this country and almost equally annoyed by the way in which they are defended. Those who do both with equal amounts of ineptitude are worthy only of contempt. Those who attack the right to choose don't understand the issue and those who defend it incorrectly undermine their own position and their own arguments.
In a nutshell, the moral elitists claim that abortion is the murder of a child and must therefore be outlawed. Leftists claim that women have a right to choose what to do with their bodies and therefore have a right to terminate a pregnancy at any time. Some people stand somewhere in the middle, claiming that abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape and incest.
None of these are legitimate attacks on nor defenses of abortion rights.
The moral question of abortion is irrelevant and has nothing to do with its practical application for U.S. society. The question of whether abortion is murder or killing or whatever is irrelevant. It is only relevant if you live in a fantasy world where abortion is impossible. The moral question is only relevant if you are arguing about an idealized world where every child is loved and every medical procedure is safe and everybody is equal and everything is perfect. That is not our world, unfortunately.
There is only one relevant argument for keeping abortion safe and legal in this country and it is this: outlawing abortion in this country will not prevent abortion. It may reduce them somewhat, but it will certainly not prevent them. Outlawing abortion in this country will only create an undue burden on our legal system and, most importantly of all, condemn poor women to unsafe medical procedures.
If we outlaw abortion in the United States, women with enough money who need an abortion will get a safe abortion from a medical provider in another country. Women who don't have enough money will seek out an unsafe abortion from a back alley specialist in this country or from a medical provider who performs abortions illegally. The bottom line - the absolute bottom line - is that the fight to outlaw abortion is class warfare. It means that poor women who might seek out an abortion will be forced to undergo unsafe medical procedures. How do we know this? Because that's how it was before abortion was legalized. That's why abortion was legalized, so all women could have access to the same standard of medical care. Abortion rights are about access to medical care and to make some other argument is irrelevant.
For argument's sake though, let's carry the anti-abortionist's argument through to its logical and necessary conclusion. The argument of the anti-abortionist is this: abortion is murder. The fetus is a human being and abortion involves killing that fetus. Therefore, abortion is murder. If you are an anti-abortionist, there is simply no way around this conclusion.
Do You Believe Abortion Should be Legal?
What then, are we to do with abortion providers and women who get abortions against the law, be it in this country or another? What do we do with murderers in this country? Simple, they either get life in prison or we give them the death penalty. Therefore, imagine a country where abortion is illegal and the penalty for abortion is death or life in prison? That would be the penalty for any mother who made the choice to have an abortion. We'd either be electrocuting those women or have prisons full of women who chose to have an abortion or attempted to have one. Abortionists would be convicted of second degree murder. Fathers would have to be accessories in some way. After all, they caused the condition that resulted in the abortion (this is my least cogent point, probably). What would happen to fathers who left after impregnating the mother? Would they not be subject to some serious criminal penalty?
Imagine that world, if you will, because it's the world that anti-abortionists argue for every day. They just don't play out their fantasy all the way.
So how do we get rid of abortion? Easy, educate everyone about birth control and make free birth control readily available. Any abortion opponent who opposes sex education and easy access to, not to mention use of, birth control, is a hypocrite of the highest order. This is a simple fact: the use of birth control reduces abortion. Ironic then, that most people who oppose abortion rights also do not support the use of birth control or the teaching of sex education. Both of these things reduce unwanted pregnancies. What does not reduce unwanted pregnancies is abstinence education. Again, a fact backed up by data. Therefore, most people who oppose abortion do not do so on any practical ground. They oppose abortion because it bothers them. That's it. If anti-abortionists truly wanted to reduce abortions, they'd be following a different path. The problem is that opposing abortion with the argument that "my morals are better than your morals" doesn't sway anyone.
Pro-choicers in this country haven't figured out the above argument and usually argue against outlawing abortion with the contention that women should have the choice to do with their bodies anything they want. This has to mean that abortion should be legal right up until the day the baby is born, which is ludicrous. The problem pro-choicers have when they engage in this argument is that they get pulled into an argument about when a fetus is a human being and when it is not. By even entertaining this argument, they weaken their own pro-choice defense and make it far more difficult on themselves than it has to be. Qualifying the status of the fetus as a human being is irrelevant to a defense of abortion rights. However, it does bring up a good question. Should abortion be allowed under any circumstance?
The answer is no, absolutely not. It is not unreasonable for somebody who opposes abortion (or anybody for that matter) to pose the question: "How is a woman who kills her baby one second after it's born a murderer and another woman who aborts her baby one second before it is born not a murderer?" This is a reasonable question whose only answer is this: they are both murderers. We pro-choicers then get pulled into a debate about when human life begins or have to explain at what point a human fetus is a human being and isn't a human being.
These are hard questions and difficult, emotional arguments, and they have to carry some weight if we are to determine as a society how to regulate abortion, because there does need to be some degree of regulation. The problem is that the two sides won't ever come together or give any ground. There has to be a practical solution.
- Study Casts Doubt on Abstinence-Only Programs - washingtonpost.com
A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration's social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex.
The solution I propose is that viability be the key to solving the argument (this is obviously not new). Essentially, if a fetus is viable, abortion shouldn't be an option unless the fetus is damaged in some way (disease, retardation, malformation; etc.) or the health of the mother is at risk. Abortion should always be legal during the first trimester. During the second trimester, things get a little trickier. And during the third trimester, abortion would only be allowed under extreme circumstances. Abortion should never be used as a form of birth control either and such action should be criminalized. These, to me, seem like reasonable solutions to a very complex problem.
No matter who you are in the debate, an axiom is worth remembering: complex problems usually have complex solutions. If you think that there is a simple solution to abortion, then you probably haven't thought through the issue. And if there's no middle ground, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Note: I have two children. My views on abortion have not changed. Had either of our children been tested early and it was revealed they had a birth defect or Downs Syndrome, we would have elected to terminate the pregnancy.