It’s a real shame that religion and abortion have become so closely entwined. Like many things that religion gets involved with, the effect tends to be an upping of the rhetoric and a muting of the sane. This is true particularly in America.
I wish we could cut through the rhetoric and debate abortion on its truly philosophical and moral foundations as opposed to fogging things up with religion and faith. While it is a religious subject for many believers, it is not by nature a religious debate. It is an ethical one. It can be discussed in a less emotional and more productive way if we look at it strictly from that perspective.
I don’t believe that anyone can truly argue that life does not begin at conception. I think pro-choicers have been forced to argue this because they don’t know how to nicely put that they recognize it as life but do not want to treat it as such. I think what needs to be debated is not whether a fetus is alive but whether it is a person. The real question is whether the fetus is equally deserving, under the law, of protection and whose rights are more valuable – those of the mother or those of the fetus. Pro-lifers try to argue that the fetus, regardless of its stage of development, is as entitled to protection as any other human walking the planet. While that may be true, one has to at least admit that culturally we do NOT treat fetuses like babies. As someone who went through three miscarriages I can tell you that not a single person, doctor, friend or even family member treated my miscarriage as a true death. At some level we recognize that there is a difference.
The issue requires a balancing of rights and protection which is obviously very difficult. I think it is a sad and sensitive issue and despite what many crazy pro-lifers will tell you, women are not walking into abortion clinics laughing at the baby they are about to kill and planning their next big unprotected sexual heist. It is a traumatic, sensitive and tender subject that needs to be treated as such. I completely understand that people feel bad for the babies and feel that they need to stand up for those who cannot protect themselves. I get that the idea of killing an unwanted baby is a horrible thing to imagine, let alone witness or endure. I also understand the utter terror many women and girls must feel when they find out they are unexpectedly pregnant. The life they had imagined suddenly becomes threatened and they are often alone. I understand the desire to have it all just go away.
I think the first goal should be to decrease the number of abortions that happen. I think we can all agree that they are not a good thing – it is not an easy choice to make. I would like to see less women have to make it. The other thing that needs to be considered is where personal beliefs should make their way into law (if at all). The desire to inflict your own personal views on the rest of the population by making them law is the hallmark of the conservative right. What’s wrong with making sure YOU never do it and leaving it at that? Why is it that in order to feel satisfied and morally righteous, you must force your views on others? That is not freedom – something I’m pretty sure democracy is founded on.
I personally would not have an abortion at this point in my life. Having said that, I do not feel that removing that choice from others is the right thing to do. I think the right thing to do is support comprehensive sex-education classes and access to birth control. To support adoption programs and facilities that help young mothers who do decide to keep their babies. I don’t believe that for those women who absolutely cannot carry that baby (for whatever reason) that I should have the right to refuse them help.
Criminalizing abortion will not make it stop. It will drive it underground and into back alleys. It will mean abandoned newborns and sick young mothers who are trapped. It will mean mental illness and poverty and lives unlived which can sometimes be just as bad as death.
Before we condemn those who choose to abort we must work to prevent unwanted pregnancies and support women who do end up unexpectedly pregnant. And to get there we are going to have to cool down the rhetoric, tone down the religious fervour and find a common ground in humanity and compassion.