Monday, February 26, 2007

Thoughts about abortion

After reading a post by Russell Arben Fox about his views on abortion, I was challenged to take a closer look at my own. Unlike Russell, I do think the revulsion we often feel at abortion stems from something inherently important about an unborn life. Maybe an embryo isn’t a person per say, but it certainly is full of potential (more than a sperm or egg alone), and I think that potential should be considered as a strong reason to not have an abortion. I’m not na├»ve enough to assume that a young embryo is on par with an 8 month old baby in the womb, and I will humbly admit that I can’t draw any definite lines. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that the only way to deter abortion is to make it illegal (except in cases of rape and incest), end of story. Recently, however, I’ve begun to realize that my ultimate goal (less frequent or even rare abortions) will not be accomplished by making it illegal. Abortion is the symptom, not the disease.

That being said, if abortion is only a sign of some deeper problem, then what exactly is it that I’m fighting against? It could be the objectification of women in our society, the debasing of sex in general (both for men and women), or maybe it’s something beyond sex entirely. My enemy is not the poor women who have been abandoned and have no way of supporting a child (in fact, they are the ones I’m worried the most about). My enemy is the individualistic ethos of our society. We want choices, and we want to be protected from the consequences of our choices. We want to feed kids crap and then sue the company that made the crap when the kids become morbidly obese. We want immediate gratification and not long term satisfaction. Abortion merely represents (in most cases) a society that wants to insure itself against its own decisions. That being said, the solution will not come by amending the laws. We need a cultural revolution, and that’s a tall order to come by.

So what happens with abortion if changing the laws won’t fix the real problem? Well, I think that there are some definite things that can be done to improve the situation. These suggestions would be best taken up by the tireless pro-lifers who seem to have more than enough resources and energy. I have zero respect (and even condemnation) for the militant pro-lifers, those who harm the lives of others in pursuit of their own ends (i.e. clinic bombers). They are full of contradictions and unreasonableness. I have more respect for those that peacefully combat abortion, though I feel these pro-lifers would be best advised to change their tactics. The women that go in to have an abortion should not be deterred by fear. They are the victims (of the greater enemy, our society), not the culprits. What they need most are people who love them, listen to them, and support them (both emotionally and financially). A woman who is supported by a loving community is less apt to choose abortion, because she knows that she and her child will be taken care of. This support should come from pro-choicers too, for that matter. If you really support the ability of the woman to choose what she really wants, you should make sure she isn’t being forced into a decision she’d rather not make. A women who chooses abortion for financial reasons (but who would much rather be able to have the child), is not making a free choice. So if you really want the women to be free to make decisions, then you should consider that keeping the option of abortion open is not the only choice that needs protection.

I’m a realist in that I recognize that women were having abortions long before they were legal, and those abortions were far more dangerous to the women than they are today. If we make abortion illegal, then we will be seriously jeopardizing the health and safety of a lot of women (not intentionally, but it will happen). That’s not something to be ignored. So again, it’s about tackling the mechanism that drives women to feel then need to (or even want to) have an abortion. We could start with the earliest possible prevention, better sex education and wider availability of contraception. That’s a good start (one that most of the pro-life proponents are unwillingly to support, unfortunately). But we should also make sure that the women who are pregnant are being taken care of in every sense of the word. No woman should feel alone and helpless, let alone a women carrying a child.

This doesn’t mean that I think society’s attitude towards sex should stay the same; it just means that I realize it’s not about to change anytime soon. So in the mean time, we ought to make every effort to prevent women from having to make the choice in the first place. But again, if a woman is forced to make the decision, we should do more to support her along the way. The psychological harms of abortion are real, and no one seems to want to address those. The least helpful thing to do would be to make her feel ashamed and unloved. If you are a pro-life Christian, then you should seriously consider what Jesus would have done. Would he have made the woman feel afraid or ostracized? Certainly not. He would be the first person to go give her a hug and bring her over for dinner. He would have worried first about her heart, second about her pregnancy. That’s something to keep in mind next time you go demonstrate in front of a clinic.

So what about sex… Society has demeaned sex, and it most certainly has demeaned the women who have it. Sex should be an intimate act that is shared between two people who are deeply in love. For me that means marriage, but I realize for others that’s not the case (which is fine for them). I think that when people wait until it’s meaningful, then they show that they not only value sex, but they value their own bodies and the intimacy of their relationship. One night stands or going home with someone from a party marginalizes sex. It takes away its intimacy, its importance. If you think sex is a good thing, then you should want to protect it from its own demise (which it is certainly on the road to). Today, sex is more of an immediate gratification than the sign of a deep relationship with long term satisfaction. So what needs to change? Not the laws…but our attitudes.

Russell said in his post (in relation to the debate as a whole): Far better to address the thing itself, rather than the context within which the thing arises, is quite often the underlying, unconscious thinking here, I suspect.

He compared fighting abortion to fighting slavery. In other words, too many of us want to fight the thing itself (which is noble, to an extent), without realizing the deeper issues. In the case of slavery, that was a predominately racist society (even among the abolitionists). Here, it’s our own self-indulgence.

I guess my feelings towards abortion may parallel my feelings (and that of some I know) about divorce. Some people may really need it, but our society shouldn’t endorse it as a solution. Marriage is valuable enough that it we should not be quick to divorce at the first sign of trouble. Some people need that extra motivation from society to stick it out, and in the same way society could do more to help those women who would really rather have the child be able to have it.


Russell Arben Fox said...


This is a fine post. I appreciate the time and effort that went into thinking through your views and putting them down for all to see.

A couple of thoughts...

"Unlike Russell, I do think the revulsion we often feel at abortion stems from something inherently important about an unborn life."

I agree; I didn't mean to say in my post--and I hope I didn't say--that I don't think there is anything important about unborn life. If I didn't believe there was, I wouldn't feel revulsion towards the practice. In fact, I wrote that "the facts about the real viability of unborn babies" is fully relevant "to legislation on abortion." It's just that I'm no longer confident, as I once was, in the possibility of constructing a good, reasoned argument in favor of deterring abortion which is premised entirely upon questions of life and/or viability. As you note in agreement with me, we've got to address the context within which people choose abortion, not just the act itself.

I agree fully with what you say about our society's individualistic ethos, the objectification and casualness of sex, and the loss of intimacy. And I think we all need to consider the possibility that fighting those trends will lead us into confronting the problem you confronted in an earlier post, the one on moral authority. For what, after all, will help society regain a sense of the need for certain experiences--like sex--to sometimes wait on and respect nature and custom, except an argument or transformation that allows us to see the moral force attached to those things?

Yes, I think we can make some good progress by pointing out the psychological and even physical benefits of sex--and much else as well--being viewed in terms of relationships and human development, rather than in terms of personal gratification. But ultimately, utilitarian calculations--"you will be better off if you go slowly and respectfully into sexual activity"--are limited; there will always be plenty of reasons for people to want to choose otherwise. So I think the transformation of our attitudes will require something more than an education in the value of limiting oneself; I think we actually have to start recognizing real--both natural and social--moral limits to what we ought to be able to choose. And this, I would suggest, means somehow bringing a sense of authority and order back into our lives.

Daena said...

Linds - I just read this one after posting on your entry about social justice, and I'm amazed at how similar our thoughts were. We are definitely on the same wave length. Again, I don't know what's going on with you, but I could not agree more. You nailed it.

It's almost like if we did pass a law, what good would it do? People would still try to get abortions, and their mindsets, lifestyles, and approach to marriage, sex etc. would all be the same. I think that is the part that saddens God. We can't make everything better by artificially forcing people to follow God's will. There's a reason that God gave us the opportunity to sin - He wanted us to actually choose for OURSELVES to follow him. So by outlawing abortion, a) we're not actually solving the problem, and b) we're not actually getting rid of the sin in the sense of the lifestyle and mindset that people are living.

Again, amazing, thoughtful post. Keep doing this and I will vote for you any day for my next President....