Sunday, May 07, 2006

Abortion, Law, and Real Choice

Cross-posted to Adam's Blog.

An interested prochoice person once asked me: "How does prohibiting abortion encourage women's choice??"

The question springs from my frequent assertion that legalizing abortion actually reduced women's choices by funneling them into the one option that's easiest for everybody but her: abortion.

As abortion advocates are so fond of pointing out, women who really want abortions will get their fetuses killed one way or another. They're not helpless or stupid, all mythology to the contrary. So making abortion illegal isn't going to stop the gung-ho woman who really wants that fetus dead. She's going to pursue her own self-interest and find somebody to do the job for her, or she'll consult herbalists and find a way to snuff the fetus herself. The rare woman who really wants her fetus dead will make sure that her fetus gets killed, no matter what the law says.

It's the women who are distressed and ambivalent that I'm worried about. They don't want to have their fetuses killed so much as they want a way out of their bad situations. By keeping abortion illegal, society puts pressure on the people around the ambivalent woman to offer her real help. It's not a simple, risk-free, easy thing to point her to the nearest abortion mill.

So the woman who really wants abortion gets her dead fetus regardless. The woman who just wants a way out gets an abortion if abortion is legal, and gets real help if abortion isn't readily available.

Next question: "How does legalized abortion encourage pro-choice advocates to browbeat pregnant women into choices that they don't want?"

It's not so much pro-choice advocates as two groups:

  • People who make money from abortion as a practice
  • People who don't want to be bothered helping a frightened woman to find a better way out of her bad situation.

First, there are the abortion profiteers. Since the early days of legalization, any investigators who cared to look closely have found the abortion industry to be rife with corruption. They've found "counselors" who were actually salespersons, who were paid on a commission basis for each abortion sold. They've found marketing consultants brought in to teach abortion staff how to take advantage of the pregnant woman's vulnerability during her period of intense crisis. They've even found abortions being sold to women who only thought that they were pregnant. After all, what does the legal abortionist really have to lose? It's not like he's going to be sent to jail for any of this. There will be some bad publicity, perhaps a few legal fees and some glib words of contrition to the medical board, and then it's back to business as usual.

What of the people around the pregnant woman? A lazy person is going to be lazy, regardless of the law. But if the lazy person has no abortion clinic down the street, no Medicaid abortion, no referral network set up to protect the lazy person's option of shoving the woman off to be vacuumed out, then the lazy person can't just say to her, "Go fill out a form and get an abortion." The lazy person has to point the pregnant woman to somebody, and if there's nobody obviously doing abortions, they'll point her to somebody providing real help.

The easier abortion is to sell, and to hold up as an "option," the more likely those who benefit from the woman getting an abortion (the profiteers, deadbeat boyfriends, et cetera) are to shove her into the nearest abortion mill. If it's going to cost the boyfriend personally -- if he's risking going to jail, if it's not just her body on the line -- he's not going to be so adamant about "getting rid of it." We have to put some of the risk back on the people around the pregnant woman. Before legalization, everybody who took part in an abortion was taking a risk. They all could go to jail if something went wrong and the woman got hurt. Now the only person taking a risk is the woman. If she gets hurt or killed, everybody else is in the clear. I don't see how asking her to bear all the risk alone is an improvement.

The last question: "Why would you encourage an indecisive, easily influenced, easily brow-beaten pregnant woman to have a child, and try to cope with all the decisions involved in parenting?"

There are several issues buried in this question.

First of all, we're not talking about pregnant women being "indecisive, easily influenced, easily brow-beaten." We're talking about the normal human reaction to intense stress. A woman who gets pregnant at a difficult time is in crisis mode, and her problem-solving skills are compromosed. This is not a phenomenon unique to pregnant women. Counselors advise bereaved persons to put off major life decisions, such as quitting a job or selling a house, until a year or more after the loved one's death. This is because the bereaved person is in a state of crisis and shock, and therefore his or her problem-solving skills are not operating at peak performance. And you surely know this to be true in your own life: How sound have the decisions been that you've made when you were in a crisis, emotionally overwrought, frightened, confused, and despairing? The first days and weeks after discovering an unintended pregnancy are not going to be a woman's best time for making major, life-altering decisions.

Second of all, to be influenced into making a purchase based on faulty information given by salespersons disguised as disinterested third-parties doesn't make one "indecisive, easily influenced, easily brow-beaten." If you were considering buying a car, and you called an organization that presented itself as a consumers' organization, and you bought a car based on their assessment, would that mean you were "indecisive, easily influenced, easily brow-beaten?" The pregnant woman who calls a "family planning" facility is duped by their advertising, and by abortion advocacy rhetoric, into thinking that she is consulting with a dissinterested third party who only wants to help her make an informed choice. The most important fact of all -- that she is actually talking to a trained abortion salesperson -- is kept from her. Does falling prey to slick consumer fraud make the pregnant woman "indecisive, easily influenced, easily brow-beaten?" I don't think so.

But there's one more important point: I'm not asking anybody to have a child. Overall, I encourage chastity and practice it myself. It's a healthy lifestyle and I wish it didn't get the bad press it gets. I also support the availability of life-affirming, healthy methods of fertility control. But once a woman is pregnant, the baby already exists. She's already a mother. Then all I can do is encourage her to be the best mother she can be. And since, as even abortion fanatics point out, "nobody wants to have an abortion," it's clear that the vast majority of women really do want to nurture and care for their unborn children. What's wrong with demanding that society conform to the woman's needs, rather than insist that she conform to society's preference that she get rid of the problem and not bother anybody else about it?

Legalization has been a boon to abortionists, abortion profiteers, politicians, and lazy people who don't want to be bothered with pregnant women's real needs. But it has not been a boon to the pregnant women themselves.

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