Sunday, February 5, 2012

Abortion, Planned Parenthood and a Big Bucket of Reality

Every now and then some event happens that brings the Great American Abortion Argument to the forefront, forcing all manner of news and opinion outlets to spill billions of pixels and gallons of ink rehashing not just the event, but the argument itself.  One side claims to be all about women's health, and their rights to privacy and choice.  The other side claims the mantle of morality, closing their eyes to any other consideration and demanding that an abortion be treated no differently than an armed convenience store robbery that ends in bloodshed and tragedy.  Despite the fact that the realities surrounding abortion are obvious, the elephant in the room that ensures that those opposed to legal abortion will never win the argument, we never actually see those realities discussed in the open.

Sure, women have a right to make their own decisions about their bodies and their health care.  They have the right to make private decisions with their physician and have those medical treatments and procedures deemed proper and necessary by them, without the interference of a government agency or private organization.  But these are all second-order arguments.  They completely bypass, even ignore, the extant realities surrounding abortion in America.  Similarly, those opposed to legal abortion couch their arguments in morality and legalese.  But that's not what they mean - not by a long shot.  These people who call themselves "Right to Life" are very often the same people out cheering in support of the Death Penalty - a distinction they can only meet with a child's hand-waving "it's not the same thing".  The perfectly transparent truth, however, is that these are religious fundamentalists, what we used to call religious fanatics before we discovered that, suitably exercised, these extremists could suddenly take lives in industrial quantities. And like all religions fundamentalists, it is not enough for them to follow their ridiculous teachings, but they will always try to impose the same dogma on everyone, regardless of how inappropriate it might be.

So what are these 'Realities' I keep speaking of?  Well, there are several of them.  We know them all, just as we know who all the players in this endless contest really are, but we don't see them printed nor hear them spoken anywhere near as often as we should.

1. Abortion is legal
You might have heard about it.  Roe v. Wade.  It is legal for women to seek an abortion, and it is legal for doctors to perform the procedure.  It is, in that sense, no different from plastic surgery or a hip replacement.  If a woman, in consultation with her doctor, chooses to abort her pregnancy, it is the unequivocal law of the land that she may.  So there is no reason why there should be any limitation on insurance coverage or clinical operations.  We have done a dreadful job of separating the secular LAW from the religious doctrine - there should be no discussion in a nation of laws, not men.  If they can pass laws to limit access to abortion that are constitutional, I won't like it, but I'll live with it.  Because that's how our system works.  This is the reason it is especially egregious when Democratic lawmakers and political leaders accept these entirely artificial limitations.  They only need one argument - "I've sworn to uphold the law, and legal abortions are the law.  Come back and see me when you change that".  To do otherwise is putting politics before the law, and although we've come to see that happen regularly, it continues to be fundamentally wrong.

2.  Abortion is good for society
This is the key point, and it's the one you simply NEVER hear.  When a young woman is forced to carry her unwanted child to term, she to a large extent defines her life in terms of limits and constraints.  She probably won't finish her education, she probably won't rise up the corporate ladder to a position of authority, she probably won't create or invent or lead.  We as a society simply lose the benefits we might have otherwise accrued.  Economists call this Opportunity Costs - the things you won't have because of a decision made to do something else.  The Iraq war, above all else, represented an opportunity cost - a trillion dollars that could have done so much good here at home.  Why are there so many educated, successful, powerful women in business, academia and government today?  There are many reasons, but you can bet that a significant number of them are where they are because they had access to an abortion when they needed it.

3.  Any alternative to legal abortion is barbaric.
And here, of course, is the pragmatic concern.  You'll occasionally hear mention, usually in the context of sloganeering, of "Coat Hangers".  But this is an area worth considering as part of the public debate.  First, there can be no doubt that, given some amount of wealth, the law would never be an actual impediment to an abortion.  So we're really only talking about women of more limited resources, who may not have access not only to safe abortion services, but good advice and healthy guidance.  The net outcome is that there are still a very large number of abortions, but in a much larger number of cases the woman dies too.  Explain this Right to Life to me again?  I think I'm missing something.

But a conversation about alternatives has to go deeper than that.  It has to speak to methodology.  How is this ban on legal abortion enforced?  Do we send doctors to prison?  Or if we believe that might needlessly deplete our pool of physicians, do we send young women to prison?  For how long?  So now society pays to incarcerate a woman for making a decision about her own reproductive health?  It's interesting that the "Small Government Conservatives" seem to be on board with this plan.

Once again, this is another deeply frustrating issue to me, because it masquerades as so many things it is not.  All it is, simply and transparently, is yet another intrusion of "Big God" into our lives.  Where the law should be secular, it is prevented from being so by the equivalent of a rabble of sixteenth century peasants, threatening our system of governance with torches and pitchforks.  Just as the Marriage Equality argument should be entirely secular - it's only about marriage licenses issued by government and the laws governing the rights of married couples, and churches would not ever be required to participate if they chose not to - the abortion argument should be strictly limited to legal and economic rights and restrictions.  And to the extent that we would be expected to follow a law banning abortion, so should the Christianists be expected to live under a legal construct where abortion is the law of the land...


  1. Where the law should be secular, it is prevented from being so by the equivalent of a rabble of sixteenth century peasants, threatening our system of governance with torches and pitchforks.

    There's big money being made in keeping these culture wars going, mikey.

    "I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half." - Jay Gould

  2. You can't play the suckers in an election unless there are a whole lotta suckers to play. Removing the cynics won't get rid of the suckers.

  3. Right on. And your elephant picture is marvelous. I did a painting of it in it's original setting: a tight, slanting concrete building against which both the elephant's forehead and hind-quarters are pressed, like it's all that's keeping the creature standing. Found it in McGill library, no link, sorry.