Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In a perfect world, there are no abortions

There are few debates that make me as uncomfortable as the one over abortion. Perhaps it is because I saw Citizen Ruth when I was thirteen; perhaps it was because I grew up in the UU church, and was told to question everything and make up my own mind, rather than being told what I must believe.

Perhaps it's simply because I am willing to discuss any topic with anybody, and so I've come to learn that abortion lies in a very grey area: In a perfect world, there are no abortions. Why? Because there are no unwanted pregnancies, no medical complications, and so no demand for abortions. Depending on which camp you belong to, either people aren't having sex that isn't intended for reproduction, or they're using contraception that works all the time when they don't want to reproduce.

But contraception does fail. Accidents happen. Worse, rape happens. All sorts of conditions in the real world create pregnancies that aren't desired, and it's here in the real world that the abortion debate lives. And it's conditions in the real world that can render the debate a moot point; invest in medical technology and reproductive infrastructure enough, and abortion could become obsolete or nearly so.

Until you do, we have a very real conflict between rights and values, with a philosophical open question thrown into the mix for good measure, to keep everybody at loggerheads.

One right is the right to control what happens to your body. When this right is violated, it's terrifying; fundamentally, we see our bodies as ourselves, and our very identity is threatened when that control is taken away. The other right is the right of every human to live. And here's the fundamental question: When do we stop being the potential to become human and actually become human? Because at that moment, the two rights can conflict.

How you answer the question of when life starts usually fixes you on the pro-life/pro-choice map. Myself, I don't know; I suspect I can't know. Conception - at which point there exists only a glob of undifferentiated cells? At quickening? At birth? One's naming day? Eighteen months later? I think birth is a convenient marking-post, but it's a fairly arbitrary one. Viable outside the womb? That's a moving one, depending on medical technology and financial investment.

Personally, I see the pro-choice position as practical. I don't know if I'm right, but if abortion is murder, miscarriage is manslaughter - and that is a terrifying idea to me, having watched a couple I lived with go through a miscarriage. I can only imagine what effect a criminal investigation would have had on them.

I know, firstly, that abortions will happen whether they are legal or not, and if they are not legal, they will be likely frightful and dangerous;l that most people are not inclined towards looking at this issue coldly or rationally, and that most people don't see the technological route to circumventing the entire problem that I see with such clarity.

I know, secondly, with certainty, that if we do not allow a woman to choose to stop being pregnant, that we will violate her right to control what happens to her own body. I am not so certain if exercising her right to sovereignity over her own body conflicts with another imperative, but that question I am in no position to judge. And that is why I will leave it to each and every woman to grapple with the choice of whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.

I know, thirdly, that if someone wants to stop abortion, it is their logical duty to fight for improvements in contraception, for comprehensive sexual education, and to fight against rape culture, all of which will help reduce the number of abortions performed. If you do not so fight, do not tell me that eliminating abortion is your number one priority, because you aren't doing all that you could do.

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