Coda to: This woman’s work

15 09 2008

I noted in the previous post my, mm, strong opinions on the legality of abortion. But I didn’t say anything about the morality of abortion.

Is abortion moral? Yeah, I think it is. But I also have a lot more sympathy for the position that it is not moral than I do for the position that it shouldn’t be legal.

I think it’s moral because of the status of the woman. When unexpectedly pregnant, a woman has to decide whether to end or to continue the pregnancy (and if she continues with it, to keep the baby or give her up for adoption). It is a real dilemma, one which requires some hard thinking about her own life, her relationship to the man involved, her relationships to other people in her life, and her understanding of the fetus. Is it a baby? A person? Or just a conceptus, a potential person, but not one yet? It requires moral work to make one’s way through these questions, and to consider how to act amidst uncertainty.

Yeah, I know, there are girls and women who act unthinkingly in terminating their pregnancies, but arguably just as many act unthinkingly in continuing them. That some women (and the people around them) don’t do the moral work doesn’t mean it’s not there to be done.

But what of the fetus? Absent a miscarriage or abortion, it will someday push itself out of the woman to enter the world as a baby. Even in its embryonic stage it is arguably human—if only human tissue rather than human being. What about its. . . rights isn’t the right word. . . what about its status? What of the possibility that it is already a human being?

Judith Thompson had one reply to this question, in her famous example of the violinist whose life would end were he not attached to another person. (It’s been a long time since I read the piece—sorry I can’t remember the particulars. And I’ll see if I can find a link to the piece online.) She concluded that even if the violinist would die if you detached him from you, you still had the right to do so.

It’s an interesting piece, but I don’t know that it gets at all the complexities of abortion. Hm. What I mean is, I don’t think that all those who talk about a ‘right to life’ are really into rights talk. I think it’s about something deeper, or at least other, than rights. I think, for many, it is about a protectiveness toward the fetus/baby, and about a belief that one ought to sacrifice oneself on behalf of another vulnerable being.

These are not unworthy sentiments (and I’ll skip for the moment any legislative ramifications—we’re talking about morality, not politics—as well as those worms who are afraid of and want to control or punish women’s sexuality), and ought not be dismissed without deeper consideration.

Abortion is a moral issue. Those of us who believe such a choice ought to be left to the woman need to do a better job of articulating that morality.





This woman’s work

15 09 2008

A 23-year-old woman has been blogging about her decision to get an abortion at myabortion.tumblr.com. Her site, titled ‘What to Expect When You’re Aborting’, includes a line near the top that says ‘I’m 23. I’m knocked up. And I don’t want to keep it. You can fuck yourself, Judd Apatow.’

She notes in her first posting, from August 20,

I’m trying to get some advice and info that isn’t off a bulletin board style fact sheet. When I google “abortion blog” —because we all know blogs are a great repository for facts and rationality— i get these terrifying pro-life, abortion regret websites. One is called ” silent rain”. UGHHHHH.

WHERE IS THE JUNO OF THE ABORTION WORLD?!?

Precious, silver-tongued, knocked up 16 year olds where are you??

I found this site through either Broadsheet or Feministing, and have been reading it for the past few weeks or so. Like the commentators and the blogger herself has noted, it seems really odd that there isn’t more out there in the cyberworld about the experience.

What do I think about the blog? First, the requisite disclaimer: I am totally-utterly-completely-militantly pro-choice. I don’t like parental notification laws, I don’t like waiting periods, I don’t like legislatively-mandated ‘informational lectures’ (that’s you, South Dakota)—I don’t like any more legislative or regulatory conditions attached to abortion than would be attached to any other medical procedure. This is nobody else’s damned business, legally speaking.

And I really do believe all that. I’ve been pro-choice for as long as I’ve been menstruating, have argued on behalf of a woman’s right since I was a teenaged feminist, and have heard the stories of more than one friend who’s undergone the procedure.

I, however, have never had an abortion, never been pregnant. And while I think that I probably would have terminated the pregnancy had I ever gotten knocked up, I don’t know, for sure. I think it’s one thing to have an opinion about an issue, and quite another to have lived through it.

So I’m surprised by my ambivalence toward this blog. I truly don’t know what it’s like to be 23 and unhappily pregnant, and am glad that she’s willing to talk about the issue. (How many women have had abortions? How many talk about their abortions? Not nearly as many as have had them.) But, I don’t know, the tone seems off. Glib. Narcissistic?

AAARRRGH! What the hell’s up with that reaction? She’s 23! Her body is being taken over by an unwanted intruder and she wants it out! But the process of evacuating her uterus is not an easy one. She considered taking RU-486 before deciding on a surgical abortion, but even though this is a generally safe procedure, it’s still surgery. It’s still a big deal.

So maybe this is less about glibness than bravado. When you’re in the middle of the rapids, you just try to paddle yourself out of them; you don’t have time to wonder about the beauty of the canyon or profundity of a waterway which has been carving its way through the earth for millenia. Nope, you’re just trying not to drown.

And I’m on the bank. Who am I to critique her on her technique or disapprove of her brand of kayak? If I don’t like what I’m seeing/reading, I can leave. This is what she’s going through, and how she’s going through it. It’s not about some PR campaign about the Perfect Candidate for the Perfect Abortion Experience. Because what woman could live up to that?

And why should we have to? We shouldn’t have to be perfect (or, shudder, the Perfect Victim) to ‘deserve’ to make decisions about our bodies. It ought to be enough that we live these bodies.