Wading Through Roe V. Wade
Happy 42 year anniversary abortion rights…
Now, why do I support Abortion Rights?
Because I am female.
Okay, as much as I would like to end it there, I am sure the topic requires a bit more explanation. To begin with, I personally don’t want to become pregnant. I feel it would be pretty horrific to become pregnant and then be forced to give birth. It is hard to imagine. While on a panel regarding this topic, I related it to Romania. In 1965, Romania outlawed abortion in most cases. A woman could only obtain an abortion if she had 4-5 children (depending on the decade) and was over 45 (or 40 depending on the decade)…or was disabled. The country stopped importing contraceptives and did not teach sex ed. So, in a very real way, pregnancy was mandatory. More than this, women were subjected to mandatory gynecological exams. This occurred every 1-3 months at work places. If a woman wanted any medical service…she had an exam. High school girls also were subjected to these exams as well as college applicants. Now, if a woman wanted to obtain an illegal abortion, she may obtain one at 2-4 months wages from a black market provider. Worse- by 1989 one out of three people were informants for the secret police. So, if a woman wanted to obtain an abortion, she was well…unsure who to trust as anyone could potentially turn her in to the police. Yikes.
Call me crazy, but this does not sound like a society I want to live in. What was the result? Women sought abortions, but over 9,000 died from botched illegal abortions between 1965-1989. They developed home methods of abortion, but generally lived in fear of health institutions. Even a miscarriage caused fear, as they feared they would get into trouble for what might appear like a botched abortion. But, as awful as it was for women, it was terrible for children. Obviously, a lot of unwanted children were born. Where did they end up? Oh, in the 700 underfunded understaffed orphanages where children lingered in their own urine, were put in strait jackets, locked in white rooms, and left undernourished and neglected. About 170,000 orphans lived in such conditions by 1989. 10,000 of them had AIDs from blood transfusions. Some babies were simply killed. Infanticide was so rampant that new births weren’t registered for two weeks. Premature babies or under weight babies were left to die. The birth rate increased during these years, but the quality of life went down. So, this is what illegal abortion looks like…at least in its extreme.
Perhaps this seems too extreme to relate to us here. I think that the elements of the hellish tale are certainly possible. Illegal abortion requires punishment. The U.S. already has the highest prison rate in the world. 25% of the world’s prison population live here. I don’t think we should add doctors and women who seek abortion. Illegal abortion also requires surveillance. In the Romanian case, women were subjected to the exams. However, if we are to enforce illegality, women must be monitored to some degree. Then there is the issue of unwanted children. Over half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Obviously, to deal with the influx of new children, we would need a lot more institutions for those unwanted children…unless we are content to let them linger in their waste and waste away without attention. But, even in Romania, women found a way to have abortions. Illegality did not stop it, even in the most repressive conditions. Here, women would find a way. The women who find a way would be those who can travel or those who are connected to doctors. So, illegal abortion is war against poor women.
So, I support legal abortion because I don’t want to be forced to be pregnant. This brings in the issue of fetal rights or the value of fetuses. This is a sticky issue. What is the value of a fetus? To me, I don’t see much value in them. Early on, embryos, zygotes, blastocysts, and fetuses look like inhuman masses of nothing. They are tiny, parasitic blobs. I hardly envision them as human. What value do they have? By what criteria should we bestow value upon life? Any criterion that I develop, or anyone develops, is always a matter of opinion. I might argue, life has value if has lived a long time, is rare, causes no harm, and is intelligent. Okay, following this, human lives have little value…but some monkeys have value. How about age? This would give value to tortoises, corals, clams, and trees. How about rarity? This gives value to endangered animals. To begin, as a human…it follows that I should value human life. I do, as a value human life enough to want all people to have food, housing, medicine, leisure, equality, and freedom. Is all human life equal in value? Well, I would say that not all humans are equal inasmuch as some deserve special rights/accomodations. Most people agree that children should not be forced to work. Most people also agree that children should not engage in sexual relations with adults. We grant some special protections to children. Children also lack some rights. They can’t vote or drive…have credit cards….run for public office…join the military…etc. So, by virtue of their age, children are denied and granted some rights. At what “age” do humans have a right to life? How is this determined? Doctors base this on viability, but this is variable and a medical construct. I would argue that humans have a right to life when they are born. However, this value statement comes from a utilitarian sense of what is good for society. If abortion was illegal at say…the second or third trimester (really, 9 states do outlaw abortion after 20 weeks and most don’t do it after 24ish) there is the case that women could become ill or not be aware of their pregnancy. I believe that no one should be forced to be pregnant…certainly so if the fetus will harm her or prevent her from obtaining medical care. I believe that an adult woman (or a pregnant teen) has more value than an unborn fetus. That is my value hierarchy and why I have no qualms with abortion. The loss of the unborn has less social impact than the oppression or subjugation of adult women.
Everyone has a life value hierarchy…at least if they stop to think about it. Let’s think about it. Does a human embryo have more value than a coral reef? A coral reef isn’t intelligent, but it is old. You have a choice, save an embryo or save the Great Barrier Reef. What do you choose? Well, this is absurd. Personally, I think a WHOLE reef is worth more than an embryo. How about the Brazilian Rainforest? Abortion can end tomorrow, but we have to destroy the rainforest. Again, it is silly. How about something that isn’t even alive? One two month old fetus will survive…but the Vatican will burn to the ground. We value many things…and we value them inconsistently.
If this is the case, should we make laws on values? For instance, although I think that people should eat less meat and that animal life has “value”…I really don’t want laws that make eating meat illegal. At the end of the day, I think people should have choice. I may not agree with the choice, but it is up to me to educate and argue my position. Yet, at the same time, some meats should be outlawed…such as eating tiger meat. Why? Well, it is a value judgment…but generally, tigers should not go extinct. The extinction of an animal has an impact on the environment…plus it is lost forever. The rarity of the tiger gives it more value in my book of values.
Some may argue that fetal life has value based upon its potential to become an adult human. I think it is interesting. Does the future give things value? Food would have no value because it turns to poop. OR, maybe poop has value because it could fertilize the soil, thereby creating more food. I step on a lot of acorns. I don’t quite value them the same way as a full grown oak. The sun will one day expand to consume the earth. In this sense, should the sun be hated for its future destruction of the earth?
In any event, the value arguments only make me go in circles. There are no easy answers. I only know that my values are different. In a pluralistic society, how to we deal with different values? Those who value the lives of women…want legal abortion. Those who value privacy want legal abortion. Those who don’t want more punishment and control of women or doctors, support legal abortion. I certainly can’t imagine life being better with illegal abortion. I am not sure how any woman can imagine that this would improve society.
It really seems that life has sucked for women for a long time. Women couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t work outside of the home. Women couldn’t get divorced, even if they were being abused. Women are abused-but there is more awareness about it…and shelters….women are sexually assaulted… but there is a growing awareness of rape culture. Women couldn’t pursue higher education. Women couldn’t wear pants! I see these increased rights for women as gains. Not being forced to be pregnant is also a gain. Maybe some fetuses have perished along the way. Yeah, it’s flippant, but what is the point of bringing a child into the world when half the world is oppressed?
This brings me back to the example. We have a pretty good idea that society wherein abortion is illegal tends to be a bad experience for women. Well, and to children too. The Romanian orphans had permanent disabilities from the neglect they faced. Those from pre-1973 also don’t often look at it fondly. Remember the good old days of back alley abortions, wife beating, and illegal contraceptives?…said no one ever. Well, some people have said it…but those people are assholes. So I fight. I fight for this issue. I fight because I have been sexually harassed while picketing for this issue! Even last night (after speaking on the panel and walking back to my car) I was asked by a man in a truck, “Hey baby, want a ride?” In a world where women are meat and consent is a distant concept-yeah- abortion is needed.