I put debate in quotation marks, because as far as I can see, there isn’t much debate actually going on. There is conversation of a sort, but it mostly falls into the category of “My way or the highway”. You would expect me to be for abortion rights without reservation, given that I have no religion and that being for abortion rights is generally considered a liberal position. Well, you would almost be right. The part that would be wrong is “without reservation”.
I have tried to have many conversations with myself about the issue, and a surprising thing happens. My mind just skips ahead to some other subject. I find it a painful topic to contemplate. I bring it up now because of two recent developments: one, Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, which was protested by, among others, Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade. Second, the results of a recent Gallup poll on Americans’ attitudes toward abortion. Both CNN and the NY Times, in conjunction with CBS, have also done recent polls, and the results of all three are close. Of course, listening to polls is about as accurate as throwing a bucket of paint on the wall and trying to read meaning into the drip pattern. I’ve participated in a number of polls and I generally find they aren’t asking the right question, haven’t defined their terms, or don’t give you enough choices–forcing you to choose an answer that doesn’t really reflect your opinion.
But for the sake of the discussion, the Gallup poll asked this question: Do you believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal under all circumstances? 22% said always legal, 23% said always illegal, 53% said legal under certain cirumstances. And that is the heart of the problem, isn’t it? What circumstances? If there is any debate going on, it’s between the people in the 53% as to what the circumstances should be. You most often hear rape, incest, and situations where giving birth would be harmful to the health of or even fatal to the mother. The 23 percenters say that rape and incest are despicable, but it isn’t the child’s fault. Why kill it for the actions of others? As for the life of the mother argument, they say that doesn’t even rate a discussion. That isn’t our place to decide. It’s in the hands of God.
The issue that stops my heart is the question of whether abortion is murder or not, which leads to the question When does life begin? I’ve always held to the belief that until a fetus can survive on its own outside the womb, it is not a viable being, so you can’t “murder” it. But as a recent article I read pointed out, medical technology has advanced to the point where fetuses can be kept alive outside the womb at earlier and earlier stages. So what if ten years from now, a fetus can be kept alive at 3 months instead of 5? What then? Of course there is a limiting factor there. It does take a certain amount of time for fetuses to develop structures like brains, hearts, and lungs which are arguably important for independent survival.
Now for Ms. McCorvey. I feel very sorry for her. I get that she regrets her decision. But I find it weird that she now would deny others an option that she herself has already taken.
In a sense, I’m no closer today to answering the question in my own mind about when life begins. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had to make the decision about whether or not to have an abortion, but of course I know women who have. More of them have opted for abortion than not. I cannot give any serious weight to the “circumstances” under which abortion should be legal. Is “not being wanted” not reason enough? Better yet, today’s NY Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof concerns malnutrition in Africa, which was the tipping point for me. If I knew that my baby would be likely to starve, and that I would have to watch it starve and suffer for two years, what would I do? Answer: I would prevent that through abortion. Before it became a conscious being, capable of suffering.
And if I were the father of a fetus that was likely to kill the woman I loved in childbirth, I would have no hesitation. We could maybe have other children, or maybe not. But to take the chance of sacrificing a person I love for a being I’ve never even met? That makes about as much sense to me as the extremist environmental people who commit suicide in order to rid the world of overpopulation.
I’ve been speaking of the personal struggle to decide whether abortion is a “moral” choice or not, but the question of whether it should be legal or not is a completely different matter. Even if I had concluded that abortion was “murder”, I reluctantly conclude that I could do it. But whether or not it should be legal is not something that is up to us to decide. The results of repealing Roe v. Wade are too terrible to contemplate, but beyond that, we are a nation which respects individual freedom. Which means we have to respect the choices of others even when we disagree. Count me among the 22% “always legal”. Nobody is a good enough judge of whether your circumstances count or not.