L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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26 February 2007 Blog Home : February 2007 : Permalink

The Moral Good of Abortion

Over at feministe there is an interesting essay - inspired by something at pandragon - entited Abortion is a Moral Good. It is actually very good and I agree with a lot of it. This is why I am, in general, pro-choice, and in favour of legal abortion. Hence I am going to quote with some approval what Amanda Marcotte wrote in her piece:

The “I’m pro-choice but I think abortion is wrong” thing crops up a lot in these discussions, and while I understand the urge to feel like a complex person that lays behind it, I seriously don’t get why people think that it helps anything to hand wring about how terrible abortion is if you’re supporting the right to have one. Suggesting that abortion is immoral just reinforces the anti-choice claims that abortion should be banned and it strongly reinforces the anti-choice notion that women who get abortions are moral children who are too stupid to know what they’re doing. The belief that women are too stupid to really understand what they’re doing is evident in anti-choice measures like requiring sonograms and requiring that women spend a day to think it over before they get an abortion.

This is actually a topic where I agree with Bill Clinton too as he said he wanted abortions to be safe legal and rare. I agree completely. There are many cases: health of mother, rape, etc. etc. where abortion is the least bad option left and in those cases I want it available without stigma. As Jill at feministe writes:

There’s a difference between the circumstances under which a woman goes in for an abortion and the abortion itself. The circumstances that lead to abortion are almost always bad ones. Unwanted pregnancy. Fetal abnormality. A wanted pregnancy gone wrong. Economic status. Rape. Incest. Intimate partner violence.

Abortion itself, though, can be a savior for women, and a positive choice. Abortion is a medical procedure and, like most medical procedures, is preempted by some sort of negative event. And yet the discourse around abortion is focused on how “tragic” it is. Is open-heart surgery “tragic”? Is an appendectomy “tragic”? Obviously the circumstances leading up to open-heart surgery and appendectomy are bad. But the procedures themselves, I would argue, are good responses to bad situations. As is abortion.

I also agree with her when she starts pointing out that the "pro-life" enforcement approach is frequently morally repugnant. Unfortunately the more extreme "pro-lifers" - not all those who oppose abortion but many of the more strident 'conservative' ones - start to move over to the sort of control of person that they, in other cases, generally criticise their liberal opponents for wanting. Generally speaking it is the 'conservative' who believes that people should be allowed to choose and to have responsibility for their actions, whether it is driving, gun-owning or whatever. Unfortunately when it comes to sex they then get all hung up about it and want to ban not just abortions but contraception, sex toys and so on.

However, while I think the ability to have a legal abortion is fine and dandy, I think it is something that needs to be taken as seriously as any other major medical procedure, such as the afore-mentioned open-heart surgery. I think that treating abortion merely as a form of emergency contraception is morally repugnant and in my opinion if a woman has an abortion after consensual sex then except for certain mitigating factors, which I'll get to in a bit, she probably should feel very bad about it. As should the partner she had sex with. To put it bluntly having sex is nature's way of making babies so if you have sex, even with contraception and the availability of plan B, sometimes nature is going to win. Assuming the couple can afford to bring up the child (and that doesn't mean merely afford and not see a drop in a standard of living, it means afford as in not fall below the poverty line) then it is, in my opinion, immoral to have an abortion.

Now there are a number of cases where that is not the case. For example I have seen the results of banning contraception and banning abortion in a poor country (Ceaucescu's Romania) and it is ugly. I do, on occasion, get nightmares about the orphanages I saw in 1990 where unwanted babies had been dumped by families who could not support another baby and where these babies were growing up in conditions that would have PETA throwing a wobbly if they applied to any domesticated animal. In cases where other forms of contraception are unavailable abortion really is better than the alternative. Trust me. That is the worst case but there are other sorts of mitigating circumstances such as where the condom breaks and plan B is unavailable. Furthermore I'm going to trust the lady/couple in question. If she(they) wants an abortion then she should be able to have it because, even if she is behaving immorally, it is way better to err on the side of trust than on the other side.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin