Tuesday, April 02, 2013

"God setteth the solitary in families"

The acknowledgement of homosexuals among us has led, almost overnight, to the acceptance of gay marriage; which, of course, will lead more firmly to the acceptance of homosexuals among us.

This is a good thing.  What's odd is that there has been, since 1973, no similar acknowledgment of the women among us who seek, or need, abortions. 

I've met those women, and just knowing them briefly was as eye-opening as knowing openly homosexual couples.  Meeting them, I realized they were human beings:  not whores or sluts or party girls or strumpets, or even sorority vixens with rich daddies.  They were just ordinary people with ordinary lives.  Real life, my pastoral care professor in seminary never tired of telling us, is messy.  The women having abortions have messy lives, just like the rest of us; and their decisions to have abortions are not for the convenience of more free, hot hot hot sex!  Nor is it simply to unburden themselves of the weight of another child, or to keep their current boyfriend, or their figure, or whatever other demeaning idea you have in your head.  Their decisions and choices were as individual as their lives; and they are just as messy.

It is the great problem of generalizing, the great danger of systematizing (and why, on a complete tangent, I am, along with Kierkegaard, so against systems of thought of any kind), that we turn individual human beings into things, the better to fit them into our concepts, our ideas, our ideals.  Women are human beings.  Pregnant women are human beings.  Demanding, under force of law, that they continue any and all pregnancies to term, is little more than slavery.  I would gladly argue it violates the 13th Amendment directly.  You may disapprove, you may morally condemn; but if you do, I'd ask you who are without sin to cast the first stone.

I also don't think you should have the full weight of the State behind you.  Not even a little of that weight.  Kate Michelman is right:

By and large, our policymakers have never viewed abortion as a medical procedure - instead placing it under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code -- and therefore have not nurtured a system of abortion care that is woman-focused, readily accessible, and responsive to their medical needs. The Commonwealth's focus has been on denying access, not protecting the health and safety of women who need this medical care. If the charges against [Kermit] Gosnell prove true, Gosnell was an outlaw who repeatedly violated numerous laws and should have been shut down years ago, but the state did not hold him accountable to its own laws and policies.
To the State, abortion is a medical procedure, just as marriage is a civil arrangement to determine who is directly responsible for any children of the marriage, and who owns any property acquired during the marriage.  (I recall that Loving v. Virginia went to the Supreme Court on a violation of Virginia criminal law.  Can anyone today defend interracial marriage as a criminal offense?)  The morality of the marriage, its fecundity or lack thereof, its adherence or lacking to any religious standards, is not the state's concern.  Neither is abortion, within the framework of Roe and Casey.  And why should the state be neutral in this way?

 During a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing on proposed abortion regulation bills, Tyhisha Hudson, a woman who had obtained an abortion at Gosnell's clinic, was asked why she went to him. She testified that women in her neighborhood knew that Gosnell was the man you saw for the cheapest abortion.

Another Gosnell patient, Davida Johnson, noted in an Associated Press article that she intended to go to Planned Parenthood for an abortion procedure, but was scared away by anti-abortion protesters picketing outside the clinic. An acquaintance suggested she go to Gosnell, where protesters (ironically) were not an issue.

Evidence suggests that a number of factors influenced a woman's decision to seek care at Gosnell's clinic: Medicaid's refusal to provide insurance coverage for most abortions; the scarcity of abortion providers in Pennsylvania (and across the nation); the fear of violence perpetrated by protestors at clinics, and the right-wing culture that has so stigmatized abortion that many think it is still illegal 40 years after Roe v. Wade.
If people were injured by the criminal acts of Kermit Gosnell, the state had an obligation to protect them from those acts, not just to punish Gosnell after the fact.  The State, after all, licensed Gosnell as a doctor; it had a legal obligation to be sure that licensure was sound.  If the women were behaving immorally by seeking abortions, that is between them and their moral community, whoever or whatever that is.  I have met these women, and while I do not know them well, or know everyone of them, I know that their decisions are their own, and the state is no more entitled to interfere than to decide what neighborhood they should live in, or what stores they should shop at.


  1. I do not hope to change anyone's mind on this contentious issue, but I can hope that we at least understand each other's differences.

    So far as I know, no mainstream opposition to abortion is based on a desire to shame "whores or sluts or party girls or strumpets, or...sorority vixens with rich daddies." All agree that pregnant women are human beings. The question, of course, is whether another human being is involved. Until Roe v. Wade transformed those persons, in law, from persons to things, the question looked quite different.

    Of course every situation is wrenching, and I have known a number of young women who have had abortions. Many of the circumstances have increased my scepticism about its liberating potential--"If anything goes wrong, I'll pay for the abortion" seems to have become standard in the rhetoric of exploitation.

    There are also the real faces of those who have defied the odds. I know one young woman, adopted, whose mother was turned away from a clinic by the intervention of protestors. Another child I know was born in the face of extreme pressure from his (very wealthy) father to abort him. It is real people like this who keep me from analogizing the decision to abort to decisions about what neighborhood one should live in, or what stores one should shop at. I don't expect you, or most people, will agree. But I hope you can at least see that, for some few of us, involving as it does direct killing, it is as grave a matter as the needless mass deaths from the reckless wars our country has ignited in Iraq and Afganistan.

  2. I understand the "death" argument, Rick. As I say, it's a moral problem, one balanced in law by the demand of the state, in a truly anti-abortion stance, that the pregnancy be carried to term no matter the consequences to the mother.

    I don't see how that doesn't run afoul of the 13th Amendment, though I know no legal argument is ever made on that ground. But to force someone to do something against their will is, it seems to me, slavery: pure and simple.

    To compel, the strength and only authority of morality, is another matter. Is abortion moral? That is a separate question from: should it be legal?

    As for the "Mainstream opposition to abortion," my comment was meant to be illustrative of the apparent attitude of lawmakers around the country who seem hellbent on banning abortions and who usually speak in terms of the "convenience" of abortions. Even the Clintonian "safe, legal, and rare" presumes a certain moral laxity on the part of women seeking abortions. You must agree the general tone of the discussions seldom regards women as human beings, but rather as either victims of society's lax moral standards, or as evil snuffers of life. There is a great deal of emotion generated around this subject, and it has done little to refute the "Madonna/whore" image still too often attributed to women in general.

    I don't, on the other hand, want an emotional argument about this subject. I've tried teaching argument in classrooms, and while it helps to bring up topics that are controversial just to get the students to pay attention, I always avoid abortion because it is so inflammatory. I hesitated a long time before posting this.

    We can all draw different conclusions from personal experiences, and my conclusion is that, while abortion may raise important moral questions, those questions do no override the important legal questions. I may not counsel an abortion in a situation, if asked my opinion of its propriety; but neither do I think the law should forbid it outright, if only because the rich will continue to get abortions, and the poor will resort to back alleys.

    In this matter, the law is very much a blunt instrument, and I prefer to see it stay out of the issue.