On October 13, Slate published a piece by Hannah Rosin called “Abortion is Great,” in which Rosin discusses the views of pro-choice author Katha Pollitt and explains why more pro-choicers should embrace abortion as a social good. My blog post here is my initial reactions as I read Rosin’s piece.
Rosin points out that 6 out of 10 American women who have abortions are already mothers. In my experience, many pro-lifers don’t seem to realize this, as I’ve heard so many of us talk as if pro-choice people inherently dislike kids and would be incapable of parenting. Something to think about.
“…any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and [tell their story], until there are so many accounts that the statement ['I had an abortion'] loses its shock value.”
She seems to neglect the many post-abortive women and men who became pro-life because of their abortion experiences.
“…we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion…”
Most of the pro-lifers I know, including many pro-life activists, don’t believe abortion should be totally banned. For example, nearly every pro-lifer I’ve ever interacted with agrees abortion should be legal to save the life of the mother, and a majority of self-described pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. It’s a misconception to suggest that pro-life activists are only those who think all abortions in every circumstance should be illegal.
Pro-lifers may disagree on the legality of abortion in the harsher cases: when a woman’s physical health is endangered, when she was raped, when the fetus has a severe, possibly life-threatening condition, etc. But if I had to describe the common thread that pulls together most people who call themselves “pro-life,” I’d say it’s the agreement that abortion is immoral and should be illegal at minimum when it is done on healthy fetuses resulting from consensual sex and carried by healthy mothers. And the great majority of abortions today are done in such cases. Rosin alludes to as much herself:
“Three in 10 American women have abortions by the time they hit menopause. They are not generally victims of rape or incest, or in any pitiable situation from which they need to be rescued.”
“They are making a reasonable and even admirable decision that they can’t raise a child at the moment. Is that so hard to say? As Pollitt puts it, ‘This is not the right time for me’ should be reason enough. And saying that aloud would help push back against the lingering notion that it’s unnatural for a woman to choose herself over others.”
Rosin is asking people to be more direct about abortion, yet she describes a woman’s choice to abort as merely “choosing herself over others.” That description is not direct at all. Abortion kills a human. That’s direct. Many people don’t consider that human worth much moral consideration, and so some of them are pro-abortion, as Rosin clearly is. Fine. But pretending that a death isn’t happening means ignoring why the entire subject continues to divide Americans. Rosin wants to believe this is about being aghast that a woman would choose herself over others, but it’s not about that at all.
Consider this: if a woman feels it’s not the right time for her to have children, she can choose not to have sex, or choose to only participate in non-procreative sex, or choose to use contraception, or choose to give a child up for adoption. She could also choose to abort. All of these choices may reflect her position that she isn’t prepared to or doesn’t want to raise children, yet one of these choices is far, far more controversial and contentious than the others.
If this were really about us being upset that a woman would want to choose herself over others, we’d be against any decision that puts her education, career, or other aspects of her life above procreation. Yet, for example, the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of pro-lifers, believe contraception is morally acceptable. Rosin says there is a "fog of regret" surrounding abortion, but we simply don't see that same "fog" surrounding these other decisions. There’s a clear distinction between abortion and other choices not to raise children, and Rosin, and so many pro-choice activists, skip this distinction entirely. Abortion is not simply about reproductive freedom, healthcare decisions, or a woman choosing herself over others. Abortion is about having a very young, less developed human killed. That’s the difference.
Rosin digs in with her gender-based theory by saying we don’t apply the same standard to men. “We would never expect a man to drop everything and accept a life of ‘dimmed hope’ because of a single ejaculation.” I expect the many men who (rightfully) have to pay child support for single ejaculations would beg to differ.
Rosin also elaborates on some of Pollitt’s explanations of alleged pro-life contradictions:
“[Pollitt] cites one poll for example showing that 38 percent of people say abortion is as ‘bad as killing a person already born.’ But in the same poll 84 percent say it’s fine to save the life of a mother. If you really think about it, this position is untenable. No one would say it was fine to kill a toddler if the mother needed its heart.”
What a strange comparison. When is abortion about the mother needing the fetus's heart? The proper analogy would be if somehow a toddler’s very presence was actively killing the mother (akin to an embryo in an ectopic pregnancy) and the only way for the mother to save her own life was to remove the toddler, and the only way to remove the toddler resulted in the toddler’s death.
I can’t think of a scenario where that would be true – which goes to a point Rosin and I agree on: the fetus and the mother have a complicated relationship. But if there was an analogous situation with a born human, I think many people would defend the right to kill as self-defense. This isn’t about killing someone else to use their heart (when would a mother ever be able to use a toddler’s heart anyway?) This is about killing someone else to prevent them from actively killing you. Most people, and our own history of self-defense laws, see the two scenarios entirely differently.
Rosin goes on to discuss how the left and pro-choicers should advocate for abortion, especially for poor women, as part of an effort to urge women to wait to have children until they are in stable relationships. She believes promoting abortion as an extension of birth control is part of “a new era of family values.” She agrees with Pollitt, who believes “the moral high ground is in reclaiming the right to have an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.”
But I’m not sure “reclaiming” is the correct verb here. Was there ever a time when people who promote abortion regardless of circumstances had the moral high ground?
Rosin seems to think her side has descended to defensiveness by saying abortion should be safe, legal, and rare and by focusing on abortion in the extreme cases of maternal health and life or of incest and rape. But (to my knowledge) this isn’t a descent – it’s where many abortion defenders have been from the beginning. Perhaps they focus on the extreme cases and act defensive about abortion in general because polls suggest most Americans think abortion as birth control – the kind of remorseless abortion culture Rosin promotes – should be illegal.