Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and reading William Saletan's good essay on the New York Times Op-Ed page, I see that it is time to write the long-deferred third part of my rant. Because of my circumstances, it may be an abbreviated Part III for now, but that's good. I'm too long-winded anyway. (Here are links to Part I and Part II.)
I. Abortion is Bad.
To sum up Parts I and II, my own experience has convinced me that abortion is bad. It is bad not only when you regret it, but when you don't, because it destroys something -- someone -- that objectively exists whether you want him/her to or not, just as you once existed in the bud. It's bad not only on religious grounds, but on the grounds of our civic religion, individualism, and simply on the grounds of the state of our souls, our level of awareness, our appreciation of the life we have been given.
I don't know whether a very early embryo has a conscious soul. I am inclined toward the view that it doesn't suffer the way we understand suffering, and that it is not self-aware of the existence it's being deprived of by abortion. (Fetuses are another story. They smile in the womb.) In a way I think we do more harm to ourselves, and to the fabric of reality, than we do to the individual who will never be. How desensitized do we have to be to destroy this astounding, tiny thing, a complete human being rapidly spinning itself out of next to nothing? If you're not ready to keel over in awe of that, for Godsake get yourself a shot of Depo-Provera. One of my young relatives did, and I admire her for it.
The most liberal among us hold our persons and our rights to be sacred. All too often, that means assuming that the Big Bang that gave rise to me was sacred, but now my right to enjoy Big Bangs of my own is more sacred than any life they may give rise to. That is just hypocritical, and it is degrading to us and to our culture. It's devolutionary. Accepting abortion as no big deal requires regressing rather than advancing in our higher qualities, awareness and gratitude. It is definitely a part of the Darwinist culture that takes pride in our being nothing more than fancy animals driven by brute self-interest. (I wrote here that the right doesn't escape tarring with the Darwinist brush; they believe in economic Darwinism while the left believes in biological Darwinism.)
At the same time, I agree with Saletan that criminalizing abortion does not solve the problem. For one thing, it reenergizes an equal and opposite reaction, a "pro-choice" movement that necessarily focuses on protecting all women's legal right to choose abortion, for whatever reason, and overlooks the deeper question of how women can educate and elevate ourselves and our daughters to make wiser choices sooner -- sexual, emotional, and reproductive, for all three are inextricably linked.
For another thing, as has been said over and over, criminalization does not eliminate abortion but drives it underground. Poor women will go to illegal abortionists of questionable safety and ethics (Frank Sinatra's mother, "Hatpin Dolly," was one); rich women will fly to another state or another country. Conservatives may believe that these are the rightful consequences of an evil act (while the doctors and other providers are prosecuted), but they are unjustly distributed consequences, falling hardest on the most helpless, and they don't save many fetal lives. Fear as a deterrent? In the heat of sexual passion, emotional need, and/or male importunity -- the immediate (female) circumstances of most unwanted conceptions -- fear of a hypothetical pregnancy and its consequences is often the farthest thing from a woman's mind, and even when it's there, it may be a twig in a flood. Fear of shotgun weddings used to scare guys, which is why I often say if you're going to outlaw all abortion, and hold every woman responsible for the unintended results of her sexual acts, then by all means bring back shotgun weddings, too.
Looking for a moment strictly at the legal issue, a majority of Americans reject "abortion on demand," at any time, for any reason, and think that first-trimester abortion should remain legal with restrictions. This is an example of "the wisdom of crowds." People intuitively recognize the hierarchy of lesser evils, the shading from black to white that William Saletan describes here:
In the moral arc of history, 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.
The goal, in other words, is "to help women exercise choice before, not after, fetal development." Choice whether to have sex; whether to conscientiously use a reliable form of birth control; whether to passively allow an impulsive or accidental act of unprotected sex to run its roulette-like course (playing "Roe-lette"?). What percentage of unwanted pregnancies, and abortions, could be prevented just by a powerful emphasis on those three concentric perimeters of defense? Especially when accompanied by an emphatic education in the seriousness, the momentousness, of what it means to start -- and end -- a new human life? (This is an application of the Golden Rule, I think.) I have said over and over that the law could not have stopped me from having my abortion. The culture could have.
TO BE CONTINUED