Pro-choice is often referred to as if it were synonymous with pro-abortion. It isn’t. Being pro-choice says nothing whatsoever about your own personal views on your own abortion, your best friend’s abortion, or a complete stranger’s abortion; being pro-choice means you believe that the pregnant woman ought to be the one to decide whether, and when, to terminate her pregnancy.
That’s because it’s thoroughly immoral to force a woman to use her body – at potential risk to her life, and likely risk to her health – to make a baby out of a fertilised egg, when she has decided she does not want to make use of her body in this way, and/or she does not want the baby.
If you want the complicated details, read on.
I go back and forth on how I feel about abortion, but as I’m not pregnant and never likely to be, how I feel about abortion is always completely hypothetical. I’ve never changed my mind about being pro-choice, and I don’t go back and forth on how I feel about people who support forced pregnancy: they always arouse a mixture of distaste and rage. In response to a question posed by Mark at A Deo Lumen, here’s the basics:
1. Why do you keep talking about forcing women when it’s all about saving fetuses?
The only means known of making a baby from a fertilised egg takes nine months (approximately) of a woman providing the use of her body and her blood in a tremendously draining, effortful process that may kill her, that will change her body permanently, and that can permanently damage her health. (You can google on maternal morbidity mortality statistics for your own country if you want to find out how dangerous this is for women in your country.) Pregnancy and childbirth involve major hormonal changes which are known to present a high risk of danger to a woman’s mental health. Motherhood entails 18 years of caring for another human being – a major emotional, financial, and life-changing decision.
The same people who argue that once a woman is pregnant, she can’t be allowed to decide to have an abortion, in general avoid talking about the pregnant woman and in general ignore the responsibility of motherhood, and pro-lifers as a movement do not support preventing abortions by providing free contraception, freely available: indeed, as discussed earlier on this blog, the pro-life movement has a history of actively opposing women’s access to contraception. There is, in fact, no record and no tradition among pro-lifers for preventing pregnancy, supporting pregnant women (American pro-life organisations are not active in any campaign for mandatory paid maternity leave in the United States), nor for supporting women who have children (as discussed earlier on this blog, pro-life politicians tend to have a solid record of opposing legislation to help children and mothers).
What pro-lifers do is argue and campaign – legally and illegally – that abortion should be less available and less legal to women who want to terminate their pregnancy. This they tend to refer to as “saving babies”, apparently in the belief that a woman who isn’t allowed to have a safe legal early abortion will be forced to continue her pregnancy until she gives birth. Pro-lifers are a forced pregnancy movement.
2. Abortion is not murder
A woman who has an abortion is – in the vast majority of abortions, those carried out early in the first trimester – not actually killing the fetus: in those instances, no one is killing the fetus. The fetus is removed from the uterus, that’s all: the woman ceases to provide her bodily resources to keep the fetus alive and developing. To cease to provide bodily resources is not murder.
You may refuse to donate a kidney, and the person who could have received a kidney and lived, dies. That isn’t murder: it’s your kidney. A woman may refuse to donate her uterus, and the potential baby that could have existed if she had wanted to provide the use of her body for nine months… never exists. That isn’t murder: it’s her body.
[Pro-lifers tend to be in agreement that forced use of organs is immoral: they just make an exception for using the uterus (using the organs of a pregnant woman) without her consent. As the essay The Only Moral Abortion Is My Abortion has already demonstrated, the anti-choicers are themselves unwilling for their own bodies to be used against their will: men can’t get pregnant,and pro-life women have abortions as often as pro-choice women. ]
3. Most people who use the rhetoric of abortion=murder don’t mean it.
People who wish to assert that they do believe that abortion is murder are invited to let me know if that means they approve of sentencing to death (or imprisoning for life) both the woman who asked to have her pregnancy terminated and the doctor who performed the abortion: and if they believe every miscarriage ought to be treated as a homicide investigation: and then they can tell me what their position is on abstinence-only education (proven to increase the abortion rate) and what their position is on denial of contraception (absolutely certain to increase the abortion rate) and what their position is on free provision of contraception to all (proven to decrease the abortion rate), free provision of health care to all pregnant woman and children and mandatory paid maternity leave for all. After all, if abortion is murder, shouldn’t these people be taking prevention of abortion and support of pregnant woman and mothers much more seriously than they do?
(Update (via BitchPhD): a Youtube video which cannot find a single pro-life demonstrator who believes abortion is murder – a succession of pro-life activists who repeat “”oh yes, it should be illegal, it’s killing” but who, asked to commit themselves to the proposition that as abortion is murder, the woman who has an abortion is a murderer… “don’t have an answer to that”, “never really thought about that”. And these are pro-lifers who care enough about the issue to stand outside a health clinic with photos of late-term fetuses aborted via dilation and evacuation.)
3b. But anyone who does sincerely believe that abortion is murder is potentially very dangerous.
Pro-lifers who sincerely believed that abortion=murder have, in the past 30 years, murdered 7 doctors, tried to murder 17 more, and committed acts of terrorism including bombing and arson. Pro-life terrorism has scaled back, largely because the pro-life movement is achieving its goals legally through the legislature and because an important goal has been achieved through most of the US: ensuring abortion is not provided as a normal part of health care for women at all general hospitals, as this would be an unacceptable risk to hospital staff and patients. Pro-life terrorists still carry out several attacks per year. Anyone who convincingly maintains the position that both a woman who requests an abortion and the doctor who carries it out are guilty of premeditated murder, ought to be regarded at least as potentially dangerous, and certainly as strongly associated with the US’s most active homegrown terrorist movement.
4. Late term abortions
Arguments about late-term abortion are by nature arguments about who gets to decide what the best treatment is for a patient in an emergency medical situation. Pro-lifers/anti-choicers take the position that it’s best if political representatives make sweeping decisions for all such patients without any regard for the specifics of any individual case – to remove the legal right of the patient to make an informed decision based on medical advice, and to remove the legal obligation of the doctor to fully inform the patient so that the patient can make the best decision.
The pro-choice position is that in an emergency medical situation it’s always best if the patient and her doctor make the decision, based on the best information available about this specific emergency: and if the pregnant patient and her doctor decide that the best possible resolution is for her pregnancy to be terminated even if that means the fetus will die on delivery, or must be killed before it can be delivered for the health or the life of the woman. When pro-lifers begin to discuss situations like this, they invariably start misusing or omitting pronouns, and sentences start being cast in the passive voice, and often (as with Sebastian Holsclaw in this thread manages to propose the notion of chaining a hysterically suicidal woman to a maternity bed while she gives birth – or anaesthetizing her and performing a damaging operation on her against her will) without ever quite verbally acknowledging the enormity of the crimes proposed.
What people who talk about legally banning or restricting late-term abortions without regard for individual circumstances are saying is: doctors and pregnant woman can’t be trusted to make good decisions about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Politicians and judges ought to get to make those decisions for them, and to enforce those decisions on the pregnant woman’s body against her will.
(Memorably, in that same thread linked to above, Sebastian Holsclaw argued that as a lawyer who had been several thousand miles away from a suicidally distraught pregnant woman – on another continent – he was himself better able to decide what should have been done to her than any of the doctors who had actually examined her. This kind of arrogance is far from unusual among pro-lifers, and I almost feel apologetic about using Sebastian as a specific bad example, but the other example I remember is Mabus on Slacktivist, and Slacktivist uses Typepad, which means you can’t just link to a discussion thread on that blog and invite people to read it any more – Six Apart changed the blogging software to make that impossible.)
5. Adoption is not a ‘solution’ or an ‘alternative’ to abortion
“Adoption” is usually cried up as if it were an alternative to abortion – as if all problems are resolved by forcing a woman to take nine months of her life and a huge amount of effort and make a baby out of a fertilised egg, and then take the baby away from her at birth and give it up to strangers in the hope that they will find parents to care for the baby as if it were their own.
Adoption is properly a last alternative to find parents for a child whose biological parents can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t care for their own child. There are always more children in need of adoptive parents than there are adoptive parents able and willing to care for them. This pro-life argument is that a woman should have a baby she doesn’t want and can’t care for because (it’s assumed) it will be easier to find adoptive parents for that baby than it would be to find adoptive parents for any of the thousands of older children who desperately need them.
6. If a woman chose to have sex, that means she chose to get pregnant
The argument that a woman who has chosen to have sex has chosen pregnancy is almost perfectly illogical. Plainly, if choosing to have sex were identical with choosing to be pregnant, there would be no need for contraception, and no need for abortion except if the woman were raped or if the fetus were malformed or if the pregnancy threatened her health or her life or her wellbeing. So it’s a ridiculous argument from the very first premise: clearly, women do choose to have sex without also choosing pregnancy.
What this is about is regarding pregnancy and babies as an appropriate punishment for women who have sex with men for enjoyment and/or intimacy. Pro-lifers who talk about pregnancy as “consequences” and argue that women who terminate an unwanted/accidental pregnancy are being “irresponsible” are not even thinking about “saving babies”: they’re thinking about pregnancy and childbirth as punishment for sex, and women who have abortions (and sometimes, women who use contraception) as irresponsible malefactors.
To state the remarkably obvious: except for instances where a woman made use of fertility treatment to get pregnant, a woman chooses pregnancy when she finds out she is pregnant and decides not to have an abortion. In the ordinary way of things, a woman’s egg isn’t fertilised as an act of choice. A woman who isn’t allowed to decide not to have an abortion isn’t allowed to choose to become pregnant: she’s forced. If she can’t get an abortion (and of course, women who don’t want to be pregnant get abortions, regardless of whether it’s legal or illegal to do so) then she is being forced through pregnancy and childbirth against her will – she isn’t allowed to take responsibility for her own pregnancy,
The distinction is: a woman who chooses to be pregnant, or who chooses not to be by having an abortion, is being responsible. A woman who is forced is not being allowed to be responsible.
A woman may decide that abortion is a morally wrong option for her. No one can decide on behalf of any other person that abortion is the morally wrong option.
7. Exceptions: when someone else may decide
An adult may rightly decide on behalf of a young child or a mentally disabled person that abortion is the morally correct option – for example, an 11-year-old girl doesn’t physically have the ability to carry a baby to term or to care for the baby after birth, and ought not to be presented with the option of being allowed to do so – just as she ought not to be presented with the option of being drafted into the army or allowed to manufacture biological weapons or drive a bus. It’s dangerous for her to do so, and her parent or guardian therefore rightly doesn’t permit it.
There are no circumstances under which it would be morally correct for an adult to decide on behalf of a minor child asking for an abortion, that instead the minor child ought to be forced through pregnancy and childbirth against her will. Making use of a minor child’s body by force, for whatever purpose, is a despicable act.
This exception may also apply to an adult who is more absolutely incapable than a young child – who never possessed the mental equipment to consent to sex, let alone the ability to choose pregnancy, nor to care for a baby. The parents or legal guardians of a woman who is physically adult and mentally incapable may have to decide on her behalf that she should have an abortion. This is clearly not a decision that should be taken lightly, but yes: I think it could morally be taken in some instances, and should be taken if the situation is simply that the woman will give birth without understanding what is happening and then have the baby removed from her because she lacks the capacity to care for a baby even under close supervision.
8. I insist that you tell me whether or not you think the fetus is human!
The right to choose abortion is not based on any discussion of the human rights of the fetus, but on the human rights of a pregnant woman – of all women. Whether or not a fetus can be regarded as fully human, the woman who is carrying the fetus in pregnancy is always fully human, and therefore, it’s always her decision when or if to terminate the pregnancy. The right to make use of another person’s body against her will is not among the basic rights of a human being: it is therefore not a right that can be claimed on behalf of a fetus. Debate about whether or not a fetus is fully human is irrelevant.