A few days ago Bond of Dear Diaspora published her responses to this pro-choice values survey. The questions were thought-provoking enough that I decided to follow suit. I’d be interested in any dissenting opinions, so please drop them in the comments – or include a link to your own blog if you want to respond in detail.
My own responses are actually a little more restrictive than Bond’s, since I do see moral and philosophical reasons for state regulation in the final stages of pregnancy. The fundamental reason I support abortion rights is that unwanted pregnancy severely compromises women’s bodily autonomy – and thus our access to full legal and moral personhood. If the fetus is clearly able to survive outside the woman, then her right to autonomy can be honored without destroying the fetus.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
1. Every woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy. Actually, I think Roe was correct in asserting that the state has a legitimate interest in regulating abortion beyond the point of fetal viability. “Viability” is somewhat spongy, since advances in technology may push it back beyond the current limit of 22-23 weeks, and I’m torn on the wisdom of trying to save the lives of such early preemies, who almost always have grave health problems in the unlikely event that they survive at all. I believe abortion should be universally and inexpensively available up to the point of viability. But I’ve got moral qualms about permitting termination on demand at a point when the fetus could survive outside the womb. I wouldn’t impute full legal “personhood” to that fetus, but if it’s able to survive outside the womb, then the argument for women’s autonomy is pretty weak. At that stage of pregnancy, I’d prefer induction of labor over abortion, though I realize most doctors wouldn’t oblige. If a woman wants an abortion at 27 weeks without any medical or psychiatric grounds, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect her to see the pregnancy to term, or alternatively to look for a physician who’s willing to induce early.
2. Abortion should be allowed even beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy. Well, 24 weeks is a reasonable proxy for viability, and so I support some legal restrictions on third-trimester abortions. However, there need to be broad provisions cases of medical necessity, including serious fetal deformity, fetal demise, and a serious threat to maternal health. I’d define that last category fairly broadly. As far as I can see, George Tiller’s practice served women who had compelling reasons for needing late abortions, and I’d have no problem seeing his practice guidelines enshrined in laws.
3. Parental consent should be required for any teen under the age of 18 requesting an abortion. Parental consent laws ought to be viewed as a crime, themselves, because they amplify the harms of sexual abuse. I’m not suggesting that every underaged pregnant girl has been abused, but if she was impregnated by a family members, these laws often force her to obtain consent from her abuser. Judicial bypass is terribly inadequate, because the more immature the girl, the less likely she’ll feel able to make her case in court.
4. Women who have more than 5 abortions are irresponsible. If they are irresponsible, is that a positive qualification for motherhood? Yipes!
5. Women who have more than 10 abortions are irresponsible. I do agree that a woman who has five or ten abortions probably has issues, but moral outrage – while it may feel satisfying – won’t help her avoid another unplanned pregnancy. Assuming she’s of at least average intelligence, she’s unlikely to be clueless about birth control. The question then becomes, why doesn’t she consistently use birth control? Those reasons can more complicated than simple ignorance or financial and practical barriers to access. Does she feel that she has no hope – no control over her future – and thus sees no point in trying to steer her fate? Is she re-enacting earlier traumas? Is she torn between a desire for motherhood and the reality of a life where she can’t care for a child? Does she have a controlling or uncooperative partner? Does she actively eroticize the risk of pregnancy? Is she embroiled in any sort of addiction? There are lots of reasons people fail to use birth control. Shaming women won’t help reduce the need for abortion. Understanding why women and their partners don’t consistently use effective contraception just might help.
6. Women should not use abortion as a form of birth control. Not as a primary means of birth control – of course not. Abortion must be available as a back-up, though. And I’m very wary of the “abortion as birth control” trope, because I hear it constantly when I teach about abortion. It quickly devolves into woman-blaming and a good-for-me-but-not-thee condemnation of women who’ve had more than one abortion.
7. I think reproductive health advocacy organizations should promote the use of emergency contraception in order to decrease the number of abortions in the US each year. This is a no-brainer. Every heterosexually active woman at risk of unwanted pregnancy should have Plan B in her drawer. Its side effects are no fun – much like early pregnancy, though mercifully shorter! But its costs – financial, physical, and emotional – are much lower than the costs of abortion and unplanned pregnancy. Community clinics and college health centers should give Plan B away for free. Then again, I think all forms of birth control should be free! Even a cold-hearted cost/benefit calculation would show that prevented unwanted pregnancies will lead to net savings in public expenditures – which is why anti-choice politicians’ opposition to family planning subsidies is so revealing. They’d rather limit women’s options, sexual and otherwise, than pursue a fiscally conservative policy that would ultimately reduce government spending.
8. I feel uncomfortable if a woman has an abortion because of the gender of the pregnancy. Yes. I tend to think that if you’re having a baby, you need to accept that you cannot mold it into your imaginary ideal child. Apart from the potential for misogyny (or even misandry, as women in the U.S. tilt toward preferring girl children), it’s just lunacy to have a baby if you’ve got rigid ideas about who and what your child must become. You’re setting yourself up for bigger surprises and disappointments. Even worse, you’re setting the stage for your child to feel loved conditionally, only if she or he meets your arbitrary standards.
9. Male partners should have the right to be a part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy. The right to bodily autonomy can’t hinge on a partner’s whim. In a healthy relationship, women will weigh his desires and preferences, but the final decision still has to be hers. If the relationship is dysfunctional, then it’s even less appropriate for the law to barge in and give the male partner any “rights.”
10. I think a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is an absolute and inalienable right no matter what. Up to the point where the fetus can survive outside of her body – yes, absolutely.
Finish the sentence:
1. Abortions are: an essential aspect of women’s bodily autonomy, and thus our full moral and legal personhood.
2. Women who have abortions are: your next-door-neighbor, your friend, your sister – a pretty ordinary cross-section of those who are fertile and female.
3. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy needs to: search her heart for her own best path, although in an ideal world she’d also be able to turn to her loved ones for counsel and support.
4. In this country, abortion should be: not only legal but affordable and accessible – even (especially!) in places like Mississippi and North Dakota, where the closest clinic may require a full day of travel.
5. People working to restrict abortion should: stop trying to violate the Constitution by imposing Christianist laws on the rest of us; we’re a democracy, not a theocracy.
6. People working on behalf of women’s right to choose should: be celebrated as heroes, because lots of them are putting their lives on the line.