What Both Sides Completely Miss In The Abortion Discussion

The abortion discussion is one of the most polarizing discussions one can have. In fact, I usually avoid it for that reason– the conversations are often so filled with strife that they don’t accomplish anything or remotely move the conversation forward.

Yesterday my friend John Shore had a great piece– 5 e-z steps to calming down fights over abortion, which got me re-thinking about why discussions on this issue are often so impossible. In the end, I think this disconnect is because both sides are failing to realize or acknowledge some critical information. With critical information missing from both ends of the discussion, the conversation is often stuck in a hopeless cycle that doesn’t lead to anywhere. So, here’s what I think both sides are completely missing, and why it matters:

What the Pro-Choice Movement is Missing in the Discussion

The crucial piece I feel the pro-choice movement has overlooked, is that abortion is not simply an issue that affects a woman and “her body”. Framing the conversation in this way makes it appear that someone on the opposition wants to control what a woman does with her own body, placing it in the same category as trying to tell a woman she can’t go out and get a tattoo on her own body.

This is an unfair, perhaps borderline dishonest way to paint the opposition, because abortion isn’t that simple.

What the pro-choice side is missing in the discussion is that we’re not simply talking about a woman’s body, and we’re not even talking about a “fetus”, we’re actually talking about miniature people here.

For many of us, it is easy to disconnect from the reality of it for a few reasons. First, most of us have never seen a “fetus” other than in artist renditions in pregnancy books, as seen here to the right. Second, the term fetus itself, although a technical term, doesn’t fully humanize the reality of a child in the womb.

You see, I can speak from a different level of experience in this area than probably the average Joe, because I am intimately familiar with what a “fetus” is like. Based on my personal experience there is 100% no doubt in my mind that “fetus” is a term which fails to completely humanize an actual baby who hasn’t been born yet.

When I was still making a living as a photographer, I decided to become an affiliate with a nonprofit to give back to the community. This organization I still deeply respect is called  Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS), and is a collection of professional, volunteer photographers who serve families who experience the loss of a child. Through NILMDTS, families receive free, professional portraits of their child who has passed– the gift of “remembrance photography”.

For a long, and ultimately emotionally draining year, I’d often get woken out of bed with a phone call that would say, “This is Maine Medical Center. We are having a ‘fetal demise’ and the family would like to have your services”. I still remember the first time I arrived to meet a grieving family who had just lost a baby at around 28 weeks gestation. As I positioned the baby to take the portraits, I remember thinking to myself, “there’s no effing way anyone could ever convince me that what I’m holding is just a fetus“.

This, was an actual person.

Fingers. Toes. Ears. Feet….

All the parts that a person has.

It wasn’t just a fetus.

During my time as a volunteer with NILMDTS I took portraits of children as young as 18 weeks gestation (twins) to children who died in the womb close to their due date. Yet, whether it was 18 weeks (before the age of viability) or a fully formed baby who died just before natural birth, nothing will ever convince me that one was a “fetus” and one was a “baby”. They were both HUMAN. Some babies were more formed than others, yet no matter which “fetal demise” (a term I’ve grown to hate) I was taking portraits of, it was clear to me that these were real people.

If I wasn’t truly pro-life prior to that experience, I was after.

So, what I think the pro-choice side of the debate is missing is that this isn’t simply an issue of a “woman and her body”. It is far greater than that, and while it might sound noble to frame it as protecting the rights of a “woman and her body” this approach is a dehumanizing way to frame the discussion. This is NOT the same thing as putting a tattoo on your body, or any other activity that would appropriately be categorized as a “woman and her body”.

What I’d love to see would be a more sober approach to the discussion by my pro-choice friends– one that recognizes this is a very serious issue with huge ethical considerations, and something that cannot be reduced to talking points or a shouting match.

What the Pro-Life Movement is Missing in the Discussion

Pro-lifers are also missing some crucial aspects of this issue, and are often radically inconsistent in their professed values, as I’ve said both here on the blog (see 10 Things You Can’t Do and Still Call Yourself Pro-life), and on Huffpost Live (program embedded at the bottom of this piece).

The key item the pro-life side of the discussion is completely missing is that simply passing a law against something doesn’t make it go away. Yet, overturning Roe v. Wade seems to be the go-to solution for the pro-life movement. I believe this approach is short sighted, naive, and not much of a practical solution at all.

In fact, to test how much they actually believe in this logical sequence, one only need to try it in the context of a gun discussion with a pro-lifer (feels ironic to say that). I’ll bet dimes to dollars they immediately reject your logic, and tell you that outlawing guns won’t stop gun violence. Instead, they will argue that we must work to eradicate the reason gun violence occurs in the first place. I often find it strange that the same group of people will simultaneously accept and reject the exact same logical argument. The pro-life movement is seriously missing something.

And here’s what they’re missing: finding a solution to unwanted pregnancies will be a messier, more complex, and more expensive solution than they appear willing to go to. In order to end a practice, one cannot simply outlaw the practice– one must instead undercut the reasons why a practice occurs in the first place. However, it is much easier to pass a law that requires little to no sacrifice on our own part– it allows us to go to sleep with a faux peace that we actually eradicated something. It is such a sad and flawed approach to a very complex issue that involves real people.

That means if the pro-life movement really wants to end abortion they need to stop focusing on winning a legal victory and calling it good. Instead, they need to be willing to look at hard things like poverty, access to affordable healthcare, livable minimum wages, education inequality, etc. As of today, the position is often one where they want women to be forced to give birth to a child, but are completely unwilling to make sure that child and the mother have the things they need to survive. In the current discussion, if one defends the pre-born they’re “pro-life” but if one defends the post-born, they’re a socialist.

What they’re missing is that they seem to care more about the pre-born than the post-born, and this makes them pro-birth, without actually being pro-life. It’s time to be honest that the movement as it has been passed onto us is one that seems to value only one kind of life, and at only one stage of life. It is not, by any stretch, holistically or legitimately “pro-life”.

Why It All Matters

This matters because we’ve been having this discussion for what, over thirty years now? The more important question becomes: has this discussion the way it is currently framed, gotten us anywhere?

No, no it hasn’t.

We’re still as polarized as when this discussion began, and I blame both sides. The pro-choice movement has failed to fully humanize and value the pre-born, and the pro-life movement has failed to fully humanize and care for the post-born. I’m done with both sides.

If we want to make any headway on this, we’re going to need to have a new discussion entirely– one that fully humanizes all life, and one that radically values the life of the unborn as well as the life of the post-born. Anything short of this new discussion of what it looks like to value life at all stages, will leave us spinning our wheels like the last generation has done.

I believe this next generation can do better.

I believe they’re ready for a new discussion.

And I believe that together, we can find a third way to approach this.

 

For more of my take on this, see last year’s interview with HuffPost Live:

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    FAN FRIGGIN TASTIC article, my brother.

  • bobbyscott

    What Robert said…

  • Pamela Patterson Lake

    Excellent article – very thoughtful. Thank you.

  • Chris Crawford

    Very well said.

  • Rachel

    well said Mr. Corey. I tried to say the same thing to a friend of mine and it didn’t go over very well. She is very active in the pro-life movement and she thought that my approach (which is nearly identical to yours) was sounding too much like someone who was not pro-life. I said that there was no political solution to the problem. Abortion did not begin in 1973. Its been around for many, many centuries. The key is tackling the reasons why women have abortions. I don’t think it helps that some of the pro-life rhetoric claims that the reason why women have abortions is because they are shallow materialists who don’t want to be “burdened” with a baby. That kind of rhetoric must stop. The tactics both sides use are terrible and need to be addressed.

  • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

    I don’t disagree with anything you said. As I get older, and crystalize my opinions on things, I grow less and less certain regarding abortion. After watching the fantastic documentary “Lake of Fire”, made over 20 years by the guy who directed American History X, I came away feeling that it’s nearly impossible to fully consider all the issues involved and still have a dogmatic opinion, one way or the other.
    Still, one has to consider the issue when we vote. And for me, it’s far too complicated for me to be willing to send anyone to jail over it. Therefore, I vote pro-choice. But I’m very hesitant about it, and quite concerned I may be wrong. To bastardize Pascal’s wager, if I’m wrong about this, horrendous atrocities are being committed. We should all take that seriously.

  • Anthony

    I always find it to be disconcerting that the further down the pro-choice road you go the less people are willing to discuss what an abortion actually is and does, but the further down the pro-life road you go the less people are willing to discuss the quality of life issues at hand for those considering abortions (and, importantly, the eventual quality of life for the unborn child). Reminds me of something I heard on a podcast – that Americans are too often more concerned with how things die than how they live (in reference to all living things, from human beings to livestock).

    I don’t think anyone with an opinion on the subject wouldn’t prefer dramatic reductions in the number of abortions that are performed (what is it – a million and a half a year in the US?). It’s too bad pro-life and pro-choice people can’t find some common ground to achieve that.

  • Tracy

    It seems with every issue band-aids are never enough. We need to get into the wound and dig around and get dirty to really fix it in the long term. You have hit the nail on the head. We need to look at the harder, deeper issues around this topic. The value of life is one of them. Thanks for writing this article. :)

  • Theo

    I think it’s terribly disingenuous to think that the pro-choice movement doesn’t humanise foetuses. And I think it’s just as bad to say that said foetuses are all little babies. There are a few points that I see regularly discussed in the pro-choice movement. 1) There is a difference between something being human and something being ‘a human being’. Stem cells are human. The dandruff from your scalp is human. Being human doesn’t automatically make it a human being. Where the line is is a matter of debate, sure, but at some point a foetus, while human, is not yet a human being, else we run into a slippery slope fallacy. 2) The pro-choice movement is full of people who love children, have and/or want children, or who have lost children that they wanted, who still think abortion is moral. These people’s experiences get dismissed and ridiculed within the anti-choice community. 3) The anti-choice community seems to not humanise the pregnant people, mostly women, very well. Once a woman gets pregnant, she cannot do anything that might even possibly harm the foetus, or she faces backlash. Women have been jailed because they’ve done something to endanger a foetus. When the anti-choice movement claims directly or indirectly that the pro-choice movement is disregarding the rights of the foetus, it rings hollow when these people disregard the rights of the mother. 4) Along similar lines of not humanising pregnant people well is the inability to recognise that pregnancy is not a walk in the park. Pregnancy and childbirth are ridiculously dangerous and are routinely less safe than abortion.

  • Melinda Gray

    I completely agree.

    While offering a great deal of insight on what the pro-life movement fails to consider, the blog posts makes it obvious there is a lot of misinformation about pro-choice thinking.

    I am pro-choice.
    I’m a woman of faith, a mother of 4 who delights in babies & toddlers & even teenagers. I am, as you say ‘intimately familiar with what a fetus is like’.

    Pro-choice folks are not pro-abortion. We don’t hate babies. We are well aware of what goes on during prenatal development and would love to converse about pregnancy/birth/abortion in appropriate language with defined terms.

    Pro-choice people tend to be pro-accurate information as well.

    So we use terms like embryo, fetus, implementation, fertilization…. not to dehumanize developing life, but because these terms have actual defined medical meaning. Women are often more familiar with the lingo because we use this language in discussions with our drs about our health.

    It is frustrating when using language appropriate for accurate discussion creates this false impression that the is no value for life, no understanding of the miracle at work in fetal development.

    Your talk of 12 & 18 week babies focus on a very small percentage of abortions. The vast majority of abortions happen before 9 weeks. In fact, all the abortion restrictions & waiting times & required tests make early abortions harder to obtain & contribute to more 2nd trimester abortions than would occur if women had better access to care.

    The majority of women who get abortions are in a relationship & already have at least one child. The top reasons they choose to terminate a pregnancy demonstrate a desire to consider the needs of the children already born – financial, concerned about job loss & instability within the relationship.

    Any productive discussion of abortion needs to primarily focus on what is happening with the majority of abortions, not the unusual cases.

    Pro-choice folks do actually comprehend that abortion is not all about the woman. We also understand that there are abortions that happen that the woman isn’t choosing but happen because her very wanted baby has died or is suffering. And sometimes men have to painfully choose between wife & child.

    When abortion discussions talk of 2nd trimester abortions, these are the waters you are entering. As a person of faith, I feel people faced with heartbreaking decisions should be granted the dignity to make those decisions.

    There are many situations where an abortion is the morally right choice – this is why abortion needs to be legal.

    There are many situations where abortion feels like the best pick of some lousy options. And THIS is where we can make a difference. We can do all those related social justice things & it really does help.

    And Pro-choice folks would really like to work together with pro-life folks on all those social justice things & will rejoice with you over the declining abortion rate.

  • Theo

    Thank you very much for your insight. You are much more eloquent than I.

  • Anthony

    “Any productive discussion of abortion needs to primarily focus on what is happening with the majority of abortions, not the unusual cases.”

    Okay, so then what is happening with a non-unusual abortion and how do you think that description undermines the pro-life position?

    (note that I don’t actually expect you to describe an abortion – I’m just making a point)

  • Melinda Gray

    I’ve already said several times that the majority (approximately 59%) of abortions happen before 9 weeks. 1/3 before 7 weeks, & 89% before 12 weeks.

    Some 55% of women experience unwanted delays obtaining an abortion primarily attributed to finances & access.

    The majority of women seeking abortions already have at least one child & were using some form of contraceptive.

    The majority of women having an abortion are in their 20s & caucasian.

    The primary reasons given for having an abortion are financial, concerns about the ability to care for the child because of existing children or unwell family & reluctance to have a child in an unstable relationship.

    These things don’t necessarily undermine the pro-life stance, but when the pro-life information pairs abortion discussions with talk of fetuses & focuses the ethics of abortions done after 12 weeks, it ignores that the discussion is now talking of abot 10% of all abortions.

    Those 2nd trimester abortions are often the ones done for painful, personal & very complicated reasons & my denomination treads very lightly here. We recognize there are situations where abortion is the moral choice & feel laws regulating abortion in these situations are not beneficial to maintaining the dignity of all parties involved.

    Discussions involving the other 89% of abortions that are done prior to 12 weeks often deteriorate into stereotypes & assumptions about why they are done that are not based in fact.

    My church teaches that rather than focus on legal regulations, it is better to work on reducing abortions in effective ways.

    Supporting comprehensive sex education & access to contraception. Working to build & strengthen relationships & families so children are raised in secure & safe homes. Working to reduce poverty, improve education & healthcare. These actions are what my denomination focuses on rather than working for legal restrictions which we recognize as often counterproductive.

    If you are interested in a more detailed theology stance, you can read what my denomination (& I personally) believe in the ELCA social statement on abortion:

    http://www.elca.org/en/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Abortion

  • Melinda Gray

    I wanted to add that I certainly do not dispute that abortions involve the ending of a human life. That is of course why it is an issue.

  • Anthony

    I think others have addressed much of what I would say in response to this comment and others above, so I won’t pile on.

    I did want to point out, though, that when I used the term “fetus,” I was using it in the generic sense, to mean “unborn child,” just as many use the term “democracy” to describe the United States even though the US is not technically a democracy.

    Having said that, correct usage of the term “fetus” was not central to my argument, which was about whether or not abortions take human life. Clearly they do and clearly you agree. You don’t have to point to the most obscure abortion scenarios for that to be true, either.

    Part of the point Mr. Corey tried to make in this post (I think) is that pro-choice people tend to minimize the reality that abortion takes human life, while pro-life people tend to minimize the complexities of the causes of and solutions to abortion, etc. I was simply challenging Theo’s attempt to minimize the reality that abortion takes human life.

  • Anthony

    I don’t normally call out other blog comments, but there are two blatantly false claims in this that I can’t let go unchallenged. See my comment below, by the way, to see where I stand on this issue.

    First, to your first point above, biological science disagrees with you. Dandruff is not a human. A zygote is a human. A fetus is a human. There is debate about when personhood might begin, but the fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of abortions happen long after a fetus is irrefutably and fully human.

    Second, as to your fourth point that pregnancy and childbirth are more dangerous than abortion, that is absolute nonsense. There are real risks in pregnancy and childbirth, don’t get me wrong, but to suggest abortion is safer is false.

  • Melinda Gray

    You are misinformed. And this illustrates the heart of the problem with abortion discussions – the widespread misinformation.

    Here is a good source of information:
    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

    The embryonic stage starts with conception & continues till 9 weeks. After that, the fetal stage begins & continues till birth.

    Well more than half of all abortions are performed before 9 weeks, during the embryonic stage. 89% of all abortions are done before 12 weeks.

    The earlier an abortion, the safer it is, but first trimester abortions are one of the safest medical procedures & do not have long term effects.

    Pregnancy, even the easiest uncomplicated ones have HUGE longterm consequences on a woman’s health & body & carry vastly greater risks than abortion.

  • Jakeithus

    Melinda, before you simply accuse others of being misinformed, you should make sure to understand their arguments.

    When most abortions take place, or what the medical terms for the stage of development is, absolutely do not change the fact that what is being aborted is a human. Stem cells or dandruff are not “human” in the same way we might say that a fetus or yourself are “human’, and to overlook that fact is nothing more than error.

    I do agree that factual information about the risks of abortion and pregnancy are often used to make a political point, but I have to disagree vehemently with your assertion that “pro-choice is pro-accurate information”. I’ve been told flat out that having no information is better than having information that might be used to argue for a pro-life position.

    (And this is not related to you, but since it struck me in the post from Theo; the debate would go better if labelling others as “anti-choice” or “pro-death” would be done away with. My guess is that I’m no more anti-choice than you are pro-death, and to use such terms is nothing more than an attempt to demonize and delegitimize)

  • Melinda Gray

    I understand the argument – but it comes with faulty framework. The information is relevant because talking about fetuses & showing drawings depicting 12 week & photos of 18 weeks is not focusing on the majority of abortions.

    Google pictures of pregnancy at 7,8 & 9 weeks – this is the stage most abortions take place during, learn appropriate terminology & THEN the discussion of life can perhaps lead to understanding.

  • myintx

    Even at 7, 8 or 9 weeks an unborn child is a human being.

  • Melinda Gray

    I never said otherwise did I?

    However an 8week embryo is a significantly less developed human being than a 12 week fetus. And to many people, that matters. And because it does matter the discussion should use language that helps us all understand specifically what a person is referring to when they present their perspective.

    Call me crazy, but I think honesty is important for both sides.

  • myintx

    Your “is not accurate” comment above sure did imply that you didnt think an unborn child at an early stage was a human being.

    A newborn is ‘significantly less developed’ than a teenager. Doesn’t mean we should approve of killing newborns, does it?

    If we are going to look at it ‘honestly’, people need to understand that a human being is a human being from the moment it is created – at fertilization. And having an abortion at 8 weeks or 18 weeks denies a human being a chance at a full and productive lifetime.

  • Melinda Gray

    I apologize for not being more clear about what I was disputing the accuracy of.

    I hear your postion on your views of unborn life.

    I also understand that people having many different opinions on the point where life or soul or humanness occurs – I seriously doubt there will ever be societal agreement on where that occurs.

    And is discussing that actually useful outside of hypothetical philosophical debates? I don’t really think so.

    I would rather focus on examining how people of faith can work to reduce abortions through practical means rather than through legal regulations.

  • myintx

    The only way I see to reduce abortions through practical means is to discourage it… Not call it a ‘choice’, but say it’s legal, like smoking, but wrong (because someone will pay the price). Oh, and also for society in general (teachers, parents, and everyone else (including abortion supporters)) to encourage young people to take responsibility for their actions. Encourage them to wait until they are in a committed relationship to have sex and tell them when they are in a committed relationship to discuss pregnancy with their partner. If they aren’t ready for kids then they should either wait some more or use multiple forms of contraception to reduce the risk of getting pregnant to less than 1% per woman per year – but realize that with that risk comes the responsibility of taking care of a new human being should the birth control fail. Just like the commercial says: “Responsibility. Pass it on.”

  • Jakeithus

    I’m not quite sure where the framework is faulty. If only the most common situations can be referred to in the debate, it might change the pictures the pro-life side uses, but it also removes the ability for the pro-choice side to bring up the “rape or incest” argument, since it also does not relate to the majority of abortions.

    Who gets to determine appropriate terminology? I understand that fetus is the scientific term used to describe the stage of development that the human is in, but what makes that a better term to use than “child”, which is also 100% accurate. If we’re insisting on scientific terms, why is appropriate to talk about abortion affecting women, rather than the more scientific term: progenitrix? (Probably because it makes for a better soundbyte to talk about the “War on Women” rather than the “War on Progenetrices”.

    I get the feeling that you think the debate would go better if only the pro-life side would “learn the facts”. The problem is, even knowing the facts doesn’t stop the conclusion that what is being killed in an abortion is a human being that should be valued and protected in our society. From my perspective, the only honest thing to do is call the fetus a child and a full human being, anything else is being dishonest for the sake of sparing the feelings of others who find the thought of killing a child uncomfortable, but killing a fetus or embryo more acceptable.

  • Kirk Janowiak

    I am a biologist & educator and will step in to add precision to the numbers. I am sitting here looking at my developmental biology texts and human reproduction materials and seeing a bit of a disconnect in the logic by virtue of timing errors. All the body systems of a fetus are constructed and beginning to function as systems and as the entire organism by the end of 49 days of gestation past conception. (on average) That’s 7 weeks. Allow another week for those that develop more slowly. At 7-8 weeks you have a functional organism, certainly still needing support, that merely needs to grow (add more cells) and develop (do some conversion of cartilage to bone, create and re-route synaptic connections, adapt to hormonal influences, and so on). Therefore, if the majority of abortions are performed on women & fetuses in their 7th week (considered “early” in the arguments here), then the fetus is already well past the stage of being merely cells or lacking what we think of when we think of as a whole organism; vis. a human being.

  • Anthony

    I don’t think I’m misinformed. You’re not addressing my arguments and the statistics you shared are irrelevant to the points I made.

    My first point was in response to Theo’s implication that what is being aborted is not yet a human being (e.g., his comparison of an unborn fetus to dandruff). Even using Guttmacher’s numbers, Theo is clearly false in that regard. One can debate when exactly a human being becomes a human being, but I know of few people who would argue that happens after 8 weeks and the majority of abortions happen after 8 weeks. Am I misinformed, or is Theo?

    My second point was in response to Theo’s contention that pregnancy and childbirth are “ridiculously dangerous.” I’ll give you that first-trimester abortion is safe (for the mother, at least, right?), but, at least in the US, pregnancy and childbirth are not “ridiculously dangerous.” Again, am I misinformed, or is Theo?

    One last point, the heart of the problem with abortion discussions is not “misinformation,” as you claim. The heart of the problem is that pro-life and pro-choice people are not arguing about the same things, they are deaf to what the other is saying, and they will not grant any validity to the other’s perspective.

  • Melinda Gray

    You said:

    “the overwhelming majority of abortions happen long after a fetus is irrefutably and fully human.”

    Which is not accurate because most abortions take place while the baby is an embryo, not a fetus.

    And many of the 10-12 week abortions were later than desired due to cost & transportation, distance from facility. So with more accessible care, the % of under 9 week abortions would rise & the % of 10-12 week abortions would decline.

    I was not debating life or not.

    As to your second point, you said in your original post:

    “Second, as to your fourth point that pregnancy and childbirth are more dangerous than abortion, that is absolute nonsense. There are real risks in pregnancy and childbirth, don’t get me wrong, but to suggest abortion is safer is false”

    My response remains the same. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures & pregnancy and childbirth are not. The earlier the abortion, the safer it is.

  • myintx

    Abortion is never safe for one of the human beings involved.
    Also, not all states report abortion statistics and not all hospitals report complications from abortions actual complications from abortions. They may just say a woman came in with an infection and not report it as a complication from abortion.

  • Melinda Gray

    Having miscarried at 7 & 8 weeks pregnant and possessing an understanding what happens during the termination of a pregnancy before 9 weeks, and being extensively familiar with the female reprodutive system, I have no reason to doubt the reported safety of abortions.

  • Robert Mark Wade

    It seems both sides are too concerned with being right than they are with doing right.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Agreed.

  • natsera

    You bring up some well-thought-out points, but it’s STILL oversimplified. It may not be possible for it NOT to be oversimplified.
    First, at what point does a fetus become this perfect little thing that you photographed? Certainly not at conception, and somehow it gradually becomes human looking, even when its organs are totally unprepared for life on the outside of the womb. So it’s very hard to draw a line at when you’re aborting a “clump of cells” vs. when you’re aborting “a perfectly formed little human (even though it’s not yet perfectly formed)”. If abortion were outlawed, you’d probably find a lot more women asking for a D+C when they miss a period, because that’s not technically abortion. And there would be doctors who would do it.
    Second, what about fetuses that are NOT perfectly formed, especially those who would never be anything but a body to be taken care of, with no hope of mental development at all? Or fetuses that have horrible diseases which would cause them to degenerate and die at an early age, like those with Tay Sachs disease?
    And third, as you say, it is important to take care of children who are born, but a poverty level life, with a mother who has to work and delegate child care to others who may or may not be attuned to the needs of this particular child is really not a very good solution. I know, because I lived that life, because I couldn’t accept the idea of aborting my pregnancy, and it was unreasonably hard on both me and my son, and I had to watch the social deterioration of my son because I couldn’t give him the nurturing he needed. I don’t think we as a society are really prepared to give single mothers what they need to do a good job of mothering.
    So, as I said, it’s complicated and there are no easy or cheap solutions.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I agree– it is simplified, but such is the case with a blog post. Also, I am purposely trying to avoid drawing lines– I am not a fan of the pro-life movement, yet, I also don’t find myself identifying with the pro-choice movement. My hope with this piece is simply to say, can’t we have a better discussion? As with any ethical consideration, there’s many things to consider– some of which, you correctly bring up.

  • AJ

    Yes! I’ve been saying this again and again but MAKING ABORTIONS ILLEGAL WILL NOT STOP PEOPLE FROM GETTING ABORTIONS. It’s the same reason why the “war on drugs” is such a mess.

  • Battynurse

    Very well said. I’ve always wondered what people think are going to happen to all the babies they save. Realistically we can’t assume that instead of abortion the women will give them up for adoption.

  • Jen Flanders Dadek

    My thoughts on abortion really hasn’t changed at all over the years. When I found out I was pregnant at 6 weeks…guess what. It was a baby. I truly honestly believe it’s a baby, and there were only a few things that would have made me turn to an abortion (like the diseases mentioned by others). However, it is my feeling. My belief. I have no place, no right, to enforce my belief on anyone else. I believe it should be legal, safe, and rare. But in order to make it rare…we do need this discussion on how do we make it rare (better healthcare, wide accessibility to contraception, poverty prevention, education, etc, etc). George Carlin did describe it best.

  • Chip

    Benjamin, respectfully, there are assumptions you make here about the pro-life side that are just misinformed:

    1. Overturning Roe v. Wade has not been the movement’s goal for a very long time. Been a member of National Right to Life for the past 15 years or more? My wife and I have most years. The approach has been to foster broader agreement on controversies such as partial-birth abortion. Been with pro-life groups at your local grassroots level? My wife and I have supported one major one here in the DC area, mostly with financial donations and my wife occasionally with participation. The major approach has been to help crisis pregnancy centers offer alternatives to abortion. There might be some who still primarily aim to overturn Roe v. Wade, and pro-lifers do, of course, want to see want to see what we believe is an unjust law overturned. But the grassroots efforts are smaller and more localized (not surprising for conservatives — see my next point), and this is where the energy’s been going for ages. Even older, still, is the movement’s common conclusion that changing hearts and minds rather than winning legislation is the primary route to take. It seems to me (I might be wrong) that you’ve assumed a typical progressive approach of focusing on legislation is the approach being taken by a much more conservative movement.

    2. You seem to agree with the common progressive stereotype that pro-lifers only care about the unborn (although you thankfully temper your statement with the qualifier that pro-lifers “seem” to do this). I think that progressives often believe this because progressive and conservative approaches to charitable actions often are worlds apart from each other. While progressives frequently work to resolve issues systemically, conservatives instead tend to respond quietly, personally, and locally. One major surprise for me after I committed my life to Christ decades back was to find pro-life families taking in foster children as part of their Christian and pro-life convictions –something you’d never know unless you got to know them. Over the years, I’ve been humbled to see families and individuals donating time and energy at crisis pregnancy centers, gathering supplies for pro-life ministries (as well as homeless ministries, etc.) at churches, etc. It’s ill-informed to think that because conservatives might not support a higher minimum wage, they only care about people at one stage of life. That assumption superimposes progressive expectations over conservative actions, and the two worldviews might well never meet in their approaches to social issues.

    I could say a lot more, but that’s enough for one post!

  • gimpi1

    The problem that I see with the “quietly, personally and locally” approach to charity is that it doesn’t help enough people. You, as an individual can do wonderful things for a few people, but you can’t address the needs of the many. The need is simply too great for individual or small voluntary programs to make much of a dent. The evidence of that is clear all over the world. Societies that have a decent safety-net are much healthier places to have and raise a child.

    Also, wether or not people are aware of it, we all suffer from unconscious biases. Many people are much more likely to offer their personal help to someone like them. Race, religion, physical appearance and general likability all affect the way people perceive those that are in need of help. One reason I favor governmental assistance is that it’s “blind.” More or less help isn’t offered based on how sympathetic someone comes off. I think that’s more fair. I’m also uncomfortable with some faith-groups that make aid dependent on conversion.

  • Chip

    My main point here was to correct stereotypes, gimpi1. Agree or disagree with the effectiveness of the conservative responses I described, it’s simply not accurate to say that conservatives don’t care about people outside of the womb. I could have cited a myriad of other responses: the large number of adoptions by pro-life evangelicals, the popularity of child sponsorship (all of the progressive laments concerning the World Vision situation tragically ignored the fact that evangelicals have been sponsoring children for decades under several organizational umbrellas), the individual work with many other practical ministries, et al.

    The effectiveness angle you present is debatable; from a Christian perspective (I gather you are not one, and that’s OK), personal acts of charity are inestimable in their value. Christians do disagree over how much government involvement is good or bad, and not just along the progressive/conservative divide. But along that divide, there are differences in approach that are probably very unlikely to change, being part of larger, deeply-rooted worldviews on both sides of the spectrum. Conservatives mostly major in the personal response and sometimes do not believe in larger-scale approaches. Progressives often-to-usually place the greater emphasis on systemic actions. My question is whether both progressives and conservatives can ditch the stereotypes of each other even amidst very serious differences. (And Benjamin, your linked post about 10 requirements to be pro-life seems to in the end require conservative, pro-life evangelicals to become progressive in their orientation and activism — and I just don’t see that happening.)

  • gimpi1

    I know you’re right about the passionate concern many conservatives have regarding care of people in distress. I think we can have a much more productive discussion if we don’t accuse each other of not caring (baby-killer! war-monger!) and instead discuss how the most people can be helped. I try to do that. Of course I don’t always succeed, but I try. Ditching stereotypes is always valuable.

    One question, what matters more to you, providing aid to the greatest number of suffering people or being true to your conservative principles?

    I feel strongly that results matter most. I want to see far fewer kids going hungry. I want to see much less preventable disease in the world. I want to see more opportunity, greater social mobility and stronger education for everyone. If I’m convinced that conservative ideas will achieve those goal, I back them. If I’m convinced that progressive ideas will achieve those goals, I back them.

    I make my assessments by looking around the world to see what societies have had success in reducing suffering, and how they have done it. Then I try to apply their solutions to our problems. From where I sit, the more progressive countries have had better luck feeding their populations, treating disease, preventing disability, encouraging social-mobility and education. But I’m open to new information.

    Actually, I have one more question: How do decide what’s likely to work to solve the problems you feel strongly about. What is the best tactic to reduce abortions?

  • Julie

    I believe in legal abortion. I have had friends who have had very sick babies that they have had to watch die and friends whose own health was threatened by a pregnancy; I would never have questioned any choice they might have made. I know there are women who are victims of incest and rape. I know there are women who are just terribly afraid and feel they can’t afford the possibility of losing a job or getting stuck with the guy that got them pregnant for a variety of reasons.

    Having said that, I got pregnant in my early twenties and never thought once about aborting the baby as I didn’t feel that was an ethical choice. The baby’s father and I married (and we are still together 25 years later.) But I don’t want to make these choices for anyone else. I would do whatever I could for any pregnant woman who wanted to keep her child or for the baby when it was born. I really try to acknowledge that my ethical decisions and the law do not have to reflect each other in every case. Or that what seems ethical to me is the right moral decision for every person in every case.

  • http://www.susanirenefox.com/ Susan Irene Fox

    As always, Benjamin, a thought-provoking post. While individuals on both sides may have chosen to find offense in how the movements have been portrayed here, I think you have presented a fair mirror into which each group must look. It is time we all stop seeking blame and start seeking common solutions.

  • Nick

    “if one defends the pre-born they’re “pro-life” but if one defends the post-born, they’re a socialist” Pure Genius!

  • Andrew Dowling

    Ben, it sounds like you and I are probably near the same page on this issue. I’m “pro-life” to the extent that I wish abortion to become a very rare occurrence in our society and believe a growing baby inside the womb is more than just a glob of cells and tissue, but think outlawing abortion would be an absolutely terrible idea.

    I’m not a woman, so for starters, men (who often are the most vocal and sanctimonious pro-lifers, at least on the Internet) need to take a huge humility pill. None of us can ever BEGIN to understand what it’s like go through the experience of pregnancy. Secondly, the thought of forcing a woman who down to her bones does not want to go through the pregnancy, which could be for a multitude of very difficult and (I would argue) ethically legitimate reasons (personal health reasons, fetal deformity, still-birth, rape, abusive situation in the home etc.) to go through it strikes me as such a moral horror I cannot fathom the most ardent pro-lifers have really considered the ramifications of what a complete ban would do.

    Babies in the womb are more than a clump of cells, but you cannot go against centuries of precedent and declare them individual human persons with individual rights; a person literally inside another person is not, nor ever has been, considered a ‘member’ of the human community and been counted as a person separate from the mother . . by any honest legal or ethical/moral standard, they represent a middle area of gray, and policies surrounding the issue need to recognize that reality.

  • gimpi1

    I think a look around the world shows us that laws prohibiting abortion don’t really effect the abortion rate. Countries with total bans have fairly high abortion rates. What does lower rates appears to be good access to health care, support for mothers in the form of paid time-off from work, governmental sponsored or supported day-care and general assistance. That lowers abortion-rates.

    If someone is serious about lowering abortion rates, I feel they would examine the countries with the lowest abortion rates, and try to develop similar programs. If they don’t want to look at what has been known to work, I would have to question if they care as much about abortion as they do about other things such as punishing “sinners” or political identity.

    I, personally, would prefer to offer support for women facing crisis pregnancies, but I wouldn’t want to see abortion banned. I’ve seen too many health-crises related to pregnancy. For myself, for instance. I have to take a drug (methotrexate) in order to control my rheumatoid arthritis. This drug causes birth-defects. I had a tubal-ligation to prevent pregnancy. (This is very strongly medically recommended) I have had (admittedly extreme) right-to-life folks claim I should have not had that choice. One fellow (and these folks are most always fellows) said, “No one has to have sex. If you shouldn’t get pregnant, just don’t have sex. If your husband loves you, he’ll be content to abstain. Your surgery was anti-life and a sin.”

    If more pro-life people were enthusiastic supporters of birth-control, and willing to provide real aid to women with crisis pregnancies, I think they would win over more people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.hawkins.7509 Christopher Hawkins

    You echo my own sentiment of frustration and refusal to neatly “fit in” with both sides on this issue, roe v. wade, as well as numerous issues that the powers-that-be want the public to fit in to either red vs. blue, a bicameral political party system, etc.