Today I want to talk about Abortion, but not in the way I typically do. In this essay I want to address my comments to those who consider themselves Pro-Life, and to them I make this challenge: If you will thoughtfully read and consider the contents of this essay, you will be pro-choice by the end.
I know that seems like a boastful claim, but I earnestly believe the pro-choice stance is so secure, so consistent, and so sound that anyone of normal moral and ethical faculties must eventually arrive at the pro-choice stance. If, by the time you are done reading this, you have not reconciled yourself with the pro-choice position, then I ask you to please email me, comment, or otherwise reply in some fashion and tell me why you still think abortion is wrong and how my case did not address those concerns. If you will do me that favor, then in return I will not speak to you as the enemy, I will not speak to you as some conservative whack-job. I will speak to you at eye-level with mutual respect and an understanding for the reasons you may feel the way you do.
I have listened to many people argue against the right of a woman to choose abortion. Those arguments often drip with colorful language, but when you strip them down to their core essence, there are generally only four different reasons for opposing the right to terminate a pregnancy.
1: Religious Reasons
2: It’s Murder
2: Emotional Disgust
3: Slut Shaming
Let me start with Religion: I do not believe the Bible actually forbids Abortion, in fact I think a case can be made that the Bible tacitly endorses Abortion. I will get to that in a moment, but first I want to make sure something is clear: Let’s just pretend that Bible did explicitly forbid Abortion. It would not matter one bit. Your own religious convictions are great for running your own life. If you believe that God forbids Abortion, then you are welcome to never have one. But to take your private religious belief, and force others to follow it is a wicked and evil thing to do. So, I am going to explain why I think the Bible is not against Abortion, but I want you to understand that even if it was, you are not granted the right to run other people’s lives by the rules of your religion. That much should be clear.
This idea, that the Christian faith somehow forbids the practice of Abortion is a rather bizarre one. The Bible makes no reference to Abortion. There are no direct references, no indirect references, no references to similar and comparable practices, no vague references that can be loosely interpreted as being about Abortion. Nothing. In fact, the Bible is not very kind to children in general. There are few child characters even mentioned in the Bible, but when they are mentioned, 9 times out of 10 it is when God is telling the Jews to do something terrible to them. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Pharaoh’s son, along with all of Egypt’s first born, were struck down in a plague. After the army of Joshua sacked the city of Jericho they were ordered to kill the infants, boys, and non-virgin girls, but to keep the virgin girls as sex slaves. When a gaggle of children mocked Elijah for his bald head he had them torn limb-from-limb by bears. In Leviticus the Jews are ordered to stone rebellious children to death. The daughter of Gyrus was ordered by God to be sacrificed as tribute for blessing her father with victory in battle. Unlike in the Abraham/Isaac story the girl was actually sacrificed.
So, looking to the Bible for advice on how to treat children is probably a bad idea. Yet even beyond that, I think there is a case to be made for the Books of Moses silently approving the practice of Abortion. As we all know, the Levites were big on writing down lists of things they disapproved of. There are so many ridiculous and detailed Jewish laws about what was and was not forbidden, that it’s almost a joke even among Jews. There are 615 Old Testament laws that address everything from the Big 10 commandments we all know, all the way down to what kinds of fabric you can wear, what kind of blade you can use to shave with, and how much distance to keep between yourself and a menstruating woman. You can bet that if the Levites disapproved of something, they wrote it down. Archeological evidence indicates that the practice of both abortion and infant exposure (leaving a newborn out in the woods to die on its first night) was known and practiced in the ancient near-east, as it has been in many cultures throughout history. These practices were never views as popular, always seen as kind of a necessary evil, but it was done and the Levites surely knew it. If Moses and his Priests knew about something as dramatic as Abortion and Infant exposure, but did not add it to their exhaustive list of dos and don’ts, then I think there is a strong implication that they were tolerant of the practice.
It is true that the Bible contains a general admonition against killing. Can’t that be used to justify forbidding Abortion? Well it is important to note that the Bible does not actually forbid killing, it forbids Murder, unjustified killing. Even the Bible acknowledges that there are certain circumstances under which killing may be a mercy, may be an unfortunate necessity, or may even be righteous and justified. So is Abortion murder? That brings us to…
2: It’s Murder! The funny thing about morality and ethics is that real life is complex, and often two good things come in direct conflict with each other, and we must prioritize our values. The most classic example is the starving man who steals a loaf of bread. The Baker has the right to his bread, and taking it is immoral. However the starving man has the right to live. Does his right to live override the Baker’s right to keep his bread? Does the Baker’s right to his bread outweigh the starving man’s right to life? This is not a black and white question where you can simple say, “Stealing is always wrong!” and end the conversation there. I, for one, would happily make slight transgressions against the property rights of one man to preserve the life of another, and most people would do the same thing.
So, if we agree that sometimes two rights can come into conflict, and we are left with the difficult moral task of deciding how to prioritize those rights, then how should we look at Abortion? On the simplest level we have those pregnancies which are a direct threat to the health or well-being of the mother. If another person, either deliberately or not, is risking your life or greatly harming you, then you have the right to stop them by whatever means necessary. If a woman was in a bus that crashed into a river, and while trying to swim back to shore a weaker swimmer grabbed a hold of her, dragging her down, the woman would have every right to kick that person off and let them drown in order to save her own life. In the case of terminating a pregnancy, even though it is sad and unfortunate that the unborn must be lost, most people of normal ethical understanding agree that this kind of abortion should be allowed.
But what about optional Abortions? What about those Abortions that are not medically necessary to save the life of the mother? Does anyone have the right to kill another person so that they can finish school, avoid scandal, maintain their single lifestyle, or avoid financial burden. The answer is, of course, no. However, does anyone have the right to force an unwilling woman to become a mother? Does anyone have the right to force an unwilling woman to host another human inside of her for 9 months? Does anyone have the right to force an unwilling woman to go through the pain and physical damage of pregnancy and giving birth? Does anyone have the right to force a woman into a financial, legal, and emotional relationship against her will? Of course not.
So then how do we balance those two conflicting set of right? How should we prioritize the right of the unborn to live, versus the rights of a woman not to be forced into a drawn out, painful, expensive, damaging, life altering, and binding situation against her will. It is helpful to consider how we would ethically judge an identical situation that involved a person already born. Let us suppose that a 16 year old contracted a rare illness, and would certainly die unless one of their parents volunteered to be hooked up, and to serve as sort of human dialysis machine for their child. Would the parent have the right to refuse? I think most of us agree that the parent would have the right to say no. Perhaps the parent would be more admirable if they allowed the procedure, but they should not be legally required to, especially if doing so was threatening to their own life. We do not demand that parents provide organ or bone marrow transplants for their children. We do not demand by law that parents allow their body to be used in any way for the preservation of their offspring. What if the child was 5 instead of 16? Would they suddenly have more of a right to use their parent’s body? I think we can agree that no, making the child younger does not give it new rights over its parent’s body parts. Now what if the child is unborn? What about being unborn suddenly reverses all of those standards? What about being unborn suddenly gives a child utter and complete rights to the mother’s body? If we reverse the clock back even further, to the first few trimesters following impregnation, what on earth grants a small semi-formed embryo a complete right to the mother’s body?
It is best to consider exactly what right the Mother is expressing. The Mother is not expressing the right to kill another person. The mother is expressing the right to kick another person out of her body, by whatever means necessary. An Abortion is not a termination of a life, it is a termination of a pregnancy, and whatever loss of life that entails is a justifiable consequence. I, for one, am not OK with a moral system that allows an accident to grant another person more right to your body than you have.
Some people will say that this all may be well and good, but isn’t it still heartbreaking to think of the life that could have been? Isn’t it disgusting to think of such a fate befalling something totally innocent? Even if the mother is completely within her rights don’t we still have to deal with…
#3: Emotional Disgust- If you have followed along with me so far, and you have tried to carefully and fairly consider what I am saying, then this is probably where you are right now. Ok so maybe Religion is iffy on this at best. Maybe I don’t have the right to force others to follow my religion. Maybe women do have the right to control the use of their bodies. Even though all of that makes sense, you just can’t get over my emotional discomfort of it. You just can’t be ok with Abortion.
I hear you. I really do. This is by far the hardest part to overcome, because you cannot possible think or reason it away, and maybe you shouldn’t. After all, Abortion is a bad thing. It is an undesirable and unpleasant way of dealing with an unhappy accident. Nobody is glad to have an Abortion. Nobody eagerly awaits the procedure or looks back on it with fond memories.
It is important to keep in mind that nobody in this country, and I mean nobody, is pro-Abortion. Even Abortionists are not pro-Abortion, in the same way that Oncologists are not pro-Cancer. Those organizations that are most commonly associated with Abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, want to see as few Abortions performed as possible. They conduct passionate and effective Sex-Ed and contraception campaigns to try and prevent unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place. We all recognize that a high rate of unwanted pregnancy is a sign of societal and sexual unhealth, and it is precisely those organizations that most passionately defend the right to Abortion who do the very best job at making those Abortions as rare as possible.
So I am not asking you to be emotionally ok with Abortion. Some people are, and some people are not, and we all agree that we would like to see fewer of them. What you should be careful of is that you do not allow your distaste for terminating a pregnancy to feed into, or be fed by, a sinister desire to control the sexuality of others or shame and vilify women who exert sexual independence. Which leads to the final type of Abortion Objection…
#4: Slut Shaming- This final reason for objecting to Abortion is the most sinister, and unfortunately also the most common. There are people out there who strongly object to the very concept of a sexually independent woman, able to engage in the sexual practices of her choice without fear of consequences. The entire notion that such women not only exist, but are protect and empowered by law, whips some people into a frothing sexist frenzy. I have tried, thus far, to speak kindly and understandingly to those who are opposed to Abortion, trying to gently show them a better way to think of the issue, but with this last group, I will not be kind.
Why is it that a person would be so opposed to the idea of a sexually permissive woman? Why is that the English language has lots of words for a sexually permissive woman, but they are almost all derogatory(slut, whore, easy, loose, hoe, floozy, homewrecker, bimbo), while plenty of terms exist for sexually permissive men which are complimentary (Stud, Player, Lady’s Man, Stallion, Casanova)? Why is it that when boys are maybe a bit more forceful with a girl than they should be, we say “boys will be boys” while calling the woman who refused their advances a “tease”? Why is it that when a woman reports a rape the very first thing we look for is any possible excuse to say it was her fault; Is there alcohol on her breath? Was she wearing a short skirt? Did she lead him on? What was she doing at that kind of party anyway? Why do we have such an utter cultural obsession with controlling a woman’s sex life and being immediately suspicious or belittling of any attempt at sexual independance?
The answer to that question is for a whole different article, but I think what we can agree on here is that our culture, in general, is unfairly controlling, judgmental, and critical of female sexuality, and that unfair cultural bias is at the root of much of the opposition to Abortion. Abortion is the ultimate tool of female sexual liberty. At the end of the day, if other measures fail and a woman finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, Abortion allows her to eliminate all consequences. I do not know exactly why the fact that Sex can be consequence free pisses so many people off. There are lots and lots of things that used to be dangerous and risky which have been made much safer and more enjoyable by modern advances. I don’t see people getting furious over those things, but for some reason sex is different. I have my theories about why this is, mostly regarding deeply engrained Patriarchy, but again that is for another article. What I want those of use of normal, sane, and fair minded ethical principles to agree on here is that such sexual repression is not a righteous or good thing, and certainly is not valid grounds to oppose Abortion.
So, if you are still with me, and you have read this far, I want to thank you for your time. I have tried to honestly and fairly address what I see to be the four main sources for opposition to Abortion, and to offer a more ethical and consistent way to look at things. First I tried to make it clear that the Bible is iffy on Abortion at best, and that even if it were clear, nobody has the right to force others to follow their Religion. Second I argued that Abortion is a justified form of killing, both to preserve the saftey of the mother, and in to maintain the Mother’s right to refuse a painful, expensive, and custodial relationship she did not desire and does not want. Third, I tried to explain that I understand how emotional unsettling Abortion can be, and tried to reassure you that Abortion, like many medical procedures, is something that nobody likes having to do, but that does not make it wrong. Lastly I briefly outlined the absolutely brutal and obvious sexual double-standard that exists in our culture, hinting at how sinister the desire to control the sex lives of others is, and I encouraged you not to side with those people.
I hope this has addressed whatever concerns you may have, and I have attempted to do so without even getting into the whole “it a fetus a person” debate. If you still oppose Abortion, then I ask you to please try and write down in words WHY you still disagree, and I would certainly love to hear it.