I don’t have a catchy title for this one. Who knows; maybe one will occur to me by the end of writing it, and I’ll delete this paragraph. Or not.
This morning, I encountered this article via Twitter. It’s a story about how Down Syndrome rates are declining worldwide, but specifically in Iceland, where, most years, there are about two (yes, two) babies with Down Syndrome born each year. This is due to abortion after prenatal testing.
I thought the article did an unusually good job of presenting the topic in a nonjudgemental and balanced way – specifically of presenting the way abortion is mostly regarded in Iceland. To quote from the article,
We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.
This is so very different from the usual framing in the U.S. that the comments on the article (and the Twitter feed where the article was posted) are…well, they’re about what you’d expect. Combine that with the people who are really offended by the idea of eliminating Down Syndrome, and it’s a real mess.
This got me thinking about abortion on a bunch of levels, and so I’m going to chat at you for a while about it. Cool? Great.
To start with, my attitude about abortion is much more Icelandic than the usual American attitude. The U.S. is a very Puritanical, and, in my opinion, overly-religious society, and the anti-abortion religious right have succeeded in framing abortion as a moral choice – the killing of a person. Whether you agree or not, odds are good that this view has gotten to you, a bit. Odds are good that, if you are a woman choosing abortion, you’ll feel guilty.
Well, in my opinion, you shouldn’t. Yes, abortion ends a human life. I have never argued that it doesn’t. But my argument, the one that gets me occasionally labeled as a baby-killing monster, is that not all life has equivalent value, and that the value of the life of a fetus is set entirely by the woman who is incubating that life.
Yes. I just said “not all life has equivalent value”. And somehow I manage to still be a functioning member of society. How is that possible? [/sarcasm]
It’s possible because NOBODY really believes all human life has equivalent value. We all have our moral lines, and we should all own up to it. If you think abortion is wrong because all life is sacred, I really hope you oppose the death penalty. Oh, and the army. And armed police.
Because the fact is, if you are okay with sending people to war to kill other people in the name of…whatever this week’s reason is…then you should bloody well shut up about abortion. Because if you’re okay with a soldier killing another soldier, but not a woman who is pregnant choosing not to be pregnant anymore, you’re not judging the act: you’re judging the motive.
And you’re allowed to do that, if that’s your line. But you need to admit that NOT ALL HUMAN LIFE HAS EQUIVALENT VALUE to you, then. Because you clearly value a fetus more than a soldier. I don’t really care what your reasoning for that line is. The fact is, you have one.
Mine is different. To me, fetuses have little to no intrinsic value. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is, for me. If a person who is pregnant is thrilled about it, and really wants to be a parent – yay! Then, for me, that fetus is really valuable. On the other hand, if the person who is pregnant does not want to be…then that fetus has no intrinsic value to me.
To me, a fetus is not a person. It’s a potential person. One that, given the chance to develop its own personality, interests, etc., would likely have great value. But as a fetus – it’s just potential.
To me. Your mileage may vary.
So, abortion, then. I view abortion as healthcare. I view abortion as a solution to a problem. Let’s be clear – in the words of Leah Torres, an OB/GYN I follow on Twitter: adoption is not a solution to pregnancy. Adoption is a solution to parenting. Abortion is the only solution to pregnancy when a pregnant person does not want to be pregnant.
“But why is pregnancy a problem? Just have the baby and give it up for adoption. You should have been more careful anyway, now you have to pay for your mistake.”
Nope. Nope, nope, and nope. First off: birth control isn’t magic. It’s not perfect. People get pregnant anyway, even when they’re being responsible. Second, it’s none of my business why another person wants an abortion. It’s not my job to judge their level of responsibility or motivations before they get access to healthcare. We don’t tell smokers who have lung cancer that they should have been more responsible – sorry, no healthcare for you. Similarly, you shouldn’t view pregnancy as “punishment” for a bad choice.
And third: pregnancy IS a problem, or can be. Pregnancy is not safe. Especially in the U.S., where we have the worst rate of maternal death in the developed world. People die of being pregnant. I know people who have died of being pregnant. And even if you don’t die, even if you have a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy – it’s not fun. I’ve done this twice – and mine were “easy” as far as pregnancies go. But nonetheless: I threw up (or wanted to) for 4 months each time. Both times, all of the ligaments in my right foot just gave out and I wound up limping and/or on crutches for a chunk of my pregnancy. I had SPD both times, mild enough to live with, but bad enough to make every step I walked between weeks 9 and 42 (yes, he was late) of my second pregnancy painful. It was only the third trimester the first time. And it’s not a problem that ever completely goes away, just so you know. Kid 2 is almost six, and I still have sleep positions I can’t use anymore.
Not everybody hates being pregnant. I know. You don’t need to tell me. But I did. Believe you me, I only did it because I really wanted both of those babies. I would NOT remain pregnant if I didn’t intend to parent the resulting child. And nobody has any business asking me to. It’s my body; I have to live in it. I choose whether someone else gets to use it, and I retain the right of refusal at pretty much any point.
Next, abortion is a social justice issue. Others who are more versed than me have written a lot about this, but it comes to this: equal access to opportunity is only possible when all people in a society have the ability to choose when and whether they become pregnant. Again, yes, birth control is the ideal solution to this problem. However, it’s fascinating, don’t you think, that the people most vehemently against abortion are also usually those who most strenuously resist proper sex education for our children, want to close down Planned Parenthood, the world’s leading provider of birth control, and who oppose some of the most effective forms of birth control on the basis of the false notion that they are “abortifacients”. And don’t even get me started on the ones who oppose all birth control.
And, again, birth control isn’t 100% effective. Not even the best birth control. Which means we will ALWAYS need abortion as a medical option. The best, most progressive society would provide universal health care, including comprehensive sex education, birth control, prenatal care, and abortion. All. Not just some of these, but all.
Okay, finally: abortion as a way of reducing the rate of birth defects, including Down Syndrome. My take: prenatal testing is a social good. It is ethical to provide a person with all of the available information about their pregnancy and their family’s likely future. The availability of abortion as an option in the case of trisomies and other fetal abnormalities is also a social good, IMO.
NOT because I think we should eliminate Down Syndrome. But because I believe everyone should have the choice about whether they want to remain pregnant, and under what circumstances. Again, for ME, a fetus is potential value, but little actual value. So, for me, odds are high that, faced with a fetal trisomy, I would have chosen abortion.
Here’s the thing: I don’t require that others think or feel the same way. If a family chooses to raise a child with Down Syndrome, I think they are amazing. If your child has Down Syndrome, my saying I think that abortion should be an option for people who find out their fetus is trisomic for Chromosome 21 does not mean I think your child has no value, nor does it mean that I think we should abort all pregnancies with fetal abnormalities.
It means that this is a choice each individual pregnant person should have. Most of the time, as it turns out, people choose to abort when they know a fetus has Down Syndrome. I can see how that fact might hurt if you are a person with Down Syndrome, or the parent of a person with Down Syndrome. I get it.
But, nonetheless, for me, abortion is health care. It is an important aspect of the fight for equality. Whatever the reason – if a pregnant person doesn’t want to be pregnant anymore, I support that choice.
Okay, I think I’m done here.