Everyone should read the following articles, taken from the Guardian’s special on abortion last Friday.
The first is a wake up call to those of us, such as myself, who have assumed that the right to an abortion is a given; that no-one could seriously call into question the fact that a woman could choose to have an abortion. Whilst this may be the case in the UK and much of secular Europe, in other countries it is far from being the case. The most worrying country that seems to be questioning the right to abortion is the US. Living in a mostly secular democracy, it’s easy to forget that the US is, especially in the so-called Bible Belt states, on its way to becoming a de-facto theocracy.
The second is an example of how the right to abortion is being steadily removed in the state of South Dakota in the US — and there is a referendum in prospect on a bill to disallow abortion entirely. The leader of this states her desire is to make sure — by dis-allowing the possibility by law — that no-one suffers how she did: she had an abortion and has apparently regretted it for the rest of her life. She now wishes to “save” others from this fate by mandating abortion is not allowed under any circumstances. This is despite a large amount of evidence that her prolonged guilt is an anomaly rather than a norm; the third article features interviews with women who have had abortions and have no regrets about it.
The final article is interesting mostly for the comments, which I’d recommending skimming over.
The media all-to-often portray abortion as something that is a necessary evil rather than a choice that women are able to make in order to do what they believe is right for them. To take this path, the second belief, is not often portrayed in the media. Whilst an abortion is undoubtedly not something to be taken lightly — and I don’t believe that legal abortions make the decision any more “light” — it should not be seen as something to be ashamed about.
The main thrust of my current argument, however, is the notion that abortion is not as safe and inviolable a right as it should be. This argument, I admit, is one on which the some of the opposing viewpoints are sometimes so alien to me as to be almost incomprehensible. I can see arguments, not ones I agree with I hasten to add, that could be put forward as to why so-called social abortions (that is, a child that is not in the best interests of the parents at that time) is immoral. This I could accept a debate about, and will discuss later.
Firstly, however, I would like to talk a little about what I consider to be completely out-and-out disgusting: the idea of a complete ban of abortion under any circumstances. This would include instances of rape, where the child significantly threatens the health of the mother or is horrifically disabled. To me this seems utterly immoral, a violation of human rights in the most basic form. This is the possibility on offer, you’ll recall, in the referendum in South Dakota.
The argument often made by anti-abortion campaigners that the alleged sanctity of the fetus, no matter how early in pregnancy, should be valued over and above the life and well being of a mother — a fully functioning human rather than an embryo — does not and cannot carry any serious weight. I am saddened to see the well being of a cluster of cells being placed above the mother’s. An early term fetus is not a person and does not have a conscious existence.
If a pregnant person decides to end their pregnancy then so be it; it is not like there will not be another potential for a person around in her womb in a couple of months time. Let me repeat, as this is possibly the most controversial thing I will say: a fetus is not an actual person. It does not have thoughts, emotions or any of the traits of person hood. Of course, this is not true as the pregnancy progresses to late term and I am not advocating abortion at any time during pregnancy. In the early stages, however, the desires of the woman take complete precedence over the developing embryo developing within her.
A side note. The fact that the most vocal adherents of the anti-abortion cause in this most extreme manner in the US tend to be fundamentalist Christians does not help their cause. All too often the argument descends to the Christians quoting passages from the Bible to back up their bigoted views. This strikes me as beyond, no pun intended, belief. It seems all to often that these people are hiding behind their chosen holy book and taking their moral beliefs from a text rather than being willing to take responsibility for their own moral standpoints. I see this as avoiding the need to take time to think through these necessarily complex issues and instead resorting to the easy black-and-white “it’s written here and I am going to believe without question” mentality of a pre-school child.
[To take this point further, imagine living in this manner; are we to take all our moral standpoints from a book written in a very different world to the one we now live in? Technological and social change be damned, my blind unquestioning faith leads me to believe homosexuals and people who choose abortions are evil. People having sex before marriage are evil. How do we judge these people? I know, by referring to a book that was written two thousand years ago — seems logical to me! But I digress, back to the main conversation.]
The other strand to the debate is the view that abortions should be banned where a woman makes a decision that having a child is wrong for her at that time. This portion is, of course, also often obscured by the supposed “right to life of a fetus” argument given above. How can, anti-abortionists say, a woman’s desire to not have a child override a fetus’s “right to life”? To oppose this, there are two levels one can take. The most obvious, following from my arguments above, is that this argument is spurious and the senseless bundle of cells that an early fetus is has no more has a right to life than any other bundle of cells. The fact that in a number of weeks or months it will have this right is neither here nor there — in this case the potential is not important. The bundle of cells is not the same as the child it has the potential to become. This point cannot be stressed enough.
A different tack is to take the possibility of the fetus’s “right to life” on-board, accept it and tackle it head on. What does this right to life entail? To place the fetus’s right to life as sacrosanct sounds like the goal is to force a woman to give birth to an unwanted child. We need to think about how the rights of the potential-person relate to the actual-person, i.e., the pregnant woman. The placement of right to life of fetus above the decisions of the actual person gets very close to suggesting that a woman’s entire purpose is to produce the child — her life in itself is devalued when compared to the fetus inside her. This strikes me as a very dubious stance: devalue the woman in deference to the child. (Is this harking back to a male desire to retain control over the female? Should you carry a child, your desires matter naught if they relate to aborting the fetus. I don’t believe this myself, though the self-evident male-bias of many organised religions and civilizations in history makes me willing to think about this possibility, especially as it may contribute to an innate, if “unconscious”, bias in society.) In essence, I don’t believe that the fetus’s level of right to life — presuming the right should even exist — should be taken above the woman’s choices. No woman will take the decision to have an abortion lightly: taking the view that a woman should be prevented from making this choice implies the opinion that women are incapable of making this decision for themselves. Such a view is so self-evidently untenable that I hope I don’t have to continue to hammer it home.
Taking this strand to it’s conclusion, it seems obvious that giving a woman the choice and means to have an abortion safely and within her means is a right that needs to be protected. To take this right away is not only to deny the right of the woman to choose, but to promote the view that an adult female is unable to make a valid judgement herself as to whether she should have an abortion.
It is not immoral to choose not to have a child for reasons other than danger to a woman. Pregnancy should not be viewed as such an inviolable event that people find discussing its voluntary termination to be somehow unsavory. Pregnancy is a natural biological state and should be treated as such; it should not be elevated on its own special pedestal. A fetus in early development is not a person, it is a bundle of cells. Abortion is not killing a person, it is doing what the woman feels is right for her.
Following this discussion, it should be taken I firmly believe in both the right of a woman to have an abortion whether she is in danger or she doesn’t feel that a child is right for her at that point. It seems that this right is possibly in jeopardy and I don’t think that it is right to remain silent.