Sunday, January 22, 2006

Finally, Someone Talks Sense About Abortion

An article in the New York Times (“Three Decades After Roe, a War We Can All Support” by William Saletan) gets at the heart of the issue. The problem for the pro-choice crowd, he says, is that “It’s bad to kill a fetus.” Abortion is so terrible a solution, in fact, that not one pro-choice group will even use the word in its name. And as Saletan says, there isn’t a woman in the world who has had an abortion who wouldn’t have rather avoided the pregnancy in the first place. And that’s the war the pro-choice folks need to fight: Campaigning for the use of contraception. And for those who feel they cannot use contraception, then abstinence. In another NYT article this morning (“States of Confusion”), William Baude contends that if the Roe v. Wade battle is lost and the right to have an abortion goes to state level, the conflict will only have begun all over again. States that don’t allow abortion could conceivably prosecute their citizens who go to other states for the procedure by using the so-called long-arm jurisdiction. The point is that whether Roe v. Wade is retained or overturned, abortion has not solved and will not solve the main problem of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Saletan writes that, “Nearly half of the unintended pregnancies in this country result in abortions, and at least half of our unintended pregnancies are attributable to women who didn't use contraception. The pregnancy rate among these women astronomically exceeds the pregnancy rate among women who use contraception. The No. 1 threat to the unborn isn't the unchurched. It's the unprotected.” “In the moral arc of history,” Saletan says, “abortion was a step forward from infanticide. Abortion pills that act early in pregnancy are the next step, followed by morning-after pills, which prevent implantation. The ultimate destination is contraception or abstinence.” By me, the big hurdle is the ignorance and bigotry of pro-lifers who are vehemently against contraception. I applaud their belief in abstinence for themselves as the only way to avoid pregnancy. But to insist on it for others is the height of intolerance and fanaticism. Preventing conception violates no code of ethics. It is a tenet of some religions that a woman and man must be willing to beget a child every time they have sex. Fine for them. But it makes no moral or social sense to the rest of us. Contraception cannot be legislated against and it has no place in politics. And for people who have no strong moral objection to contraception not to use some form of protection when they aren’t seeking to get pregnant is ignorant and irresponsible. Abortion is another matter altogether. Aborting a fetus is repugnant, grisly, and heartbreaking. There is no one who will say otherwise. The campaign that must be waged is for contraception and against religious fanaticism. As Saletan says, “A year ago, Senator Hillary Clinton marked Roe's anniversary by reminding family planning advocates that abortion ‘represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.’ Some people in the audience are reported to have gasped or shaken their heads during her speech. Perhaps they thought she had said too much. “The truth is, she didn't say enough. What we need is an explicit pro-choice war on the abortion rate, coupled with a political message that anyone who stands in the way, yammering about chastity or a "culture of life," is not just anti-choice, but pro-abortion. If the pro-choice movement won't lead the way, politicians just might.”


Barry Schwartz said...

Whoa, there! I'll need to know how far this fetus is developed before agreeing it is 'repugnant' to kill it.

If aborting fetuses were so repugnant in general, it would be wrong to do it even if making it legal reduced the rate; ethically, one would have to find another solution and go with it. Isn't that an argument anti-abortionists use? They've got a point (besides the one on the tops of their heads). But my response is that it isn't necessarily all that repugnant. Undesirable, sure--it's a serious medical procedure.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you may have missed out on the whole Dr. Stephen (or Steven?) Levitt controversy that legalized abortion culled would be criminals.

I personally believe his critics won the day, but the one thing that the good professor (author of "Freakonomics") and all his detractors were able to prove was that legalized abortion had a causal effect, a HUGE causal effect on unwanted pregnancies: the pregnancy rate shot up 30% but births only went down 6%.

The controversy was over who was killed and who lived. That it led to a lot of "waste" was agreed upon.