Pour yourself a stiff drink. Today’s post is going to be a long one. And it’s going to be about abortion.
I enjoy writing about abortion, because I like it when pro-life and pro-choice people come together in large groups to spam my combox, call me names, and loudly speculate about how many abortions I’ve gotten and what embarrassing perversions I have. Sometimes they spam my friends-only facebook page as well. The Pavone devotees are my absolute favorites. They are off the wall.
All sarcasm aside, I don’t like this topic. But I can’t very well not say a few words at this point.
As a Catholic, and as a person who strives to be ethical in general, I believe that all life has value and human life in particular has great value. The lives of the most helpless deserve special consideration, which means that killing babies at any stage of their development is gravely wrong. The number of abortions I would be happy to see in the world is zero. That is also the number of deaths I would like to see caused by nuclear bombs, or school shootings, or race-based violence, or poverty, or climate change. Death is inevitable but it is still the enemy, and doing something to cause or hasten a person’s death is not something I ought to ever take part in. The same with neglecting some good that could save a life. I ought never to do that.
I believe that both the fetus and his or her mother have personhood and dignity. I also believe that pregnancy is a completely unique relation between two people, and that comparing it to any other situation is foolish. It isn’t like caring for a child who’s already born. It isn’t like a person’s relationship to their next door neighbor or immigrants at the Southern border. It’s its own thing. And that means it’s also useless to compare abortion to any other form of killing, because abortion is to do with pregnancy. It’s not the same as slavery or the Shoah. It’s nothing but itself. And it’s gravely wrong.
Another thing we have to remember is that abortion did not begin with Roe Versus Wade. For as long as humans have realized where babies come from, there have been methods to get that baby flushed out of the womb before they’re born alive. Hippocrates mentioned them a few hundred years before the birth of Christ. There have always been herbs and folk remedies that bring on bleeding and contractions; there have always been knitting needles or other objects of that size and shape. There’s always been scalding water. Abortions are things that pregnant women sometimes turn to or are forced into, with varying effectiveness and effects on the mother, when the pregnancy isn’t wanted or is dangerous. I believe they ought not to happen, but they always have.
Abortion existed in this country as well, before Roe Versus Wade. It was always available, for the right price. A woman who could afford it could get a dose of medication “to bring on a late period” from her gynecologist. Gynecologists performed surgeries to “remove abnormal tissue,” and nobody commented when the “tissue” was shaped like a fetus. And for women who couldn’t afford to pay a doctor to make it go away and not tell anyone, there were knitting needles and scalding water. That never should have been the case. I’m sick just writing those words. But it did happen, whether it was legal or not, if there was demand for it. And that is tragic.
It is my belief that abortions will always be obtained, if there’s a demand for them. Therefore, the best way to prevent as many abortions as possible is to reduce the demand. And I would far rather save actual lives than score ideological victories, whenever I have the choice.
Some things only happen at one point in history and then go away– cocaine in soft drinks, for example, or radium-infused watch dials. A legal ban on something like this makes perfect sense. A legal ban on something that’s been demonstrated to go on happening whether it’s illegal or not as long as there’s a demand may or may not make sense. It makes sense if it will do good anyway. It doesn’t make sense if it is likely to make matters worse in the way that it’s worded or enforced. Breaking into somebody’s house and shooting them is illegal, and even though it still happens from time to time, it’s good that it’s illegal, because that makes it happen much less often. But abortion isn’t like breaking into houses and shooting people, because pregnancy isn’t like anything else. The same types of laws aren’t necessarily going to work to reduce abortions. You can’t just say “you may not” and expect it to work.
In that light, let’s take a look at these abortion bans that are cropping up in red states all over the country. Let’s pretend they’re not actually playing chicken with the Supreme Court; let’s say all the laws are going to go into effect as is.
Alabama is not going to prosecute women who obtain abortions but only their abortionists, last I checked. Doctors will not be allowed to perform abortions in Alabama after six weeks starting next year. But they haven’t done anything about the reasons why women and girls would seek abortions in the first place. The demand hasn’t gone away, but the local supply will be drummed out of the state when the law goes into effect. Alabama was recently ranked 46th out of 50 states for healthcare overall, for example, and that’s in the United States, which is notorious among developed nations for bad healthcare in the first place. Poverty is often cited as a reason for getting an abortion, and Alabama is one of the poorest states. Domestic violence plays a role in abortion, and Alabama has often been in the top ten states for domestic violence (though not this past year). It was ranked as the second worst state for working moms, which is surely an issue that can lead a woman to consider abortion. Any of those factors could have been addressed in the abortion law– there could have been a paragraph in there declaring every pregnant woman gets medicaid and stiffening the penalties for domestic violence, for example. But there wasn’t. There was only a ban on the procedure itself.
To me, that doesn’t read like a way to reduce the overall number of abortions. It reads like a way to encourage poorly regulated Gosnell-style abortion clinics in border states.
On Friday, the State of Missouri apparently thought equality with Alabama was something to be grasped. Their legislature passed a law banning abortion after 8 weeks for any reason except an emergency that endangers the mother’s life.