A right to life or a right to choose? The perpetually debated abortion issue is almost always framed as a fundamental battle between the right of an unborn foetus to have life and the right of a woman to decide what happens with her body. Both sides try to claim the moral high ground, but both sides fail to recognize the roles that society and technology play in this whole ethical conundrum.
I am going to attempt an objective discussion of both sides of this issue, but as all of us with at least moderately lubricated brains are aware, true unbiasedness doesn’t exist when humans play a part. So I will tell you up front: I am pro-choice even as I believe that abortion destroys a life. Let me try to explain to you why my beliefs fall on the side that they do.
First, and before we talk about any of the science or the moral philosophy behind what is a life and what is a right, let us acknowledge the elephant in the room: abortion battles are not about mother versus baby, they are about father versus woman, and children become the collateral. At its very core, anti abortionists and the rules they pass are about holding a woman hostage to the sexual, economic and social demands of men by tying her fate to that of an innocent spark of life that men can create and women must bear. On the one hand, men have a truly microscopic contribution to the creation of new life. Once conceived, the entire future of a child depends on the actions and choices of its mother; it’s father’s input is at most indirect. Which brings us to the other hand: unlike women, men can choose to keep their contribution to a child’s new life at a microscopic level, or they can choose to be fully committed to the child and, by extension, its mother as it grows and develops. Restricting a woman’s ability to abort an unwanted pregnancy places the responsibility for all of the consequences of sex and reproduction squarely on the shoulders of women while still giving men the benefits of fatherhood and all that those consequences entail. Abortion is not about a child’s life versus a mother’s life, it is about holding a child hostage in order to control a woman.
Therefore, when we acknowledge the humanity of unborn children and claim that we are attempting to preserve life by preventing abortions, we are also morally obliged to acknowledge that we are pitting the life of the child against the life of the mother by failing to ensure that fathers play their just role in supporting that life. Prevention of abortion without a corresponding prevention of the abdication of the duties of fatherhood is akin to negotiating a terrorist situation by saying, “we won’t give you anything, unless of course you’re going to try to kill someone, in which case we’ll do anything you want because no cost is too high to pay if it means avoiding an action that can be linked directly to killing someone” and then being surprised by the rise in terrorism. It completely changes the power balance between what ought to be, at the very least, a joint decision between man and woman, into a situation where the choice is made by the side with the least investment in the outcome.
I spent the last two years of my life in the reddest of the American South — deep, rural, central Louisiana and parts of Arkansas. I spoke with many men who thought that abortion was killing babies. When I said to them that preventing abortions meant ruining the lives of women while their boyfriends disappeared into the night, they regaled me with stories of men they knew who had to pay hundreds of dollars in child support to women who just kept getting pregnant and spent the money on themselves. It’s hard to talk to men like this because to them, ironically, any discussion of the rights of women to, for example, not have their lives destroyed by men who fuck and run, is an attack on their rights as men. I found it ironic that to them it was all about the poor innocent babies until you brought up the reality that those babies required things like food and shelter and care and that men were not providing it. Men, it seems, are supposed to have the right to fuck without consequence.
Are unborn babies people that deserve to protected from “murder”? I don’t know. I know that for most of human existence, when mothers could not properly care for their babies they did not survive. When you hear the statistic that “cavemen only lived to the ripe old age of 30” it belies the reality that many humans didn’t survive childhood. Today we have technology that virtually guarantees that babies live to adulthood, at least in the developed world, but it doesn’t guarantee that parents have the resources to properly care for those children any more than they did thousands of years ago. We also have the technology to terminate a pregnancy before it becomes a child doomed to neglect. So essentially the question of whether or not abortion is moral is one of our own creation. Is it better to birth a child that you cannot care for and let time and neglect kill it for you than it is to take the initiative and end that life before it suffers?
In a way, the heart of the entire debate about abortion is really about our interconnectedness as people to each other. A mother’s life cannot be disconnected from her child’s life and a father’s life cannot be disconnected from the mother because every decision we make affects all of us to a greater or lesser, direct or indirect extent. The science that has grown up around sex, conception, gestation, birth and development has given us the power to consciously manipulate the ways in which we are connected to each other, but it cannot fully sever those connections. I believe that men seek to prevent women from being able to independently obtain abortions both as an effort to increase their control over the reproductive process which they have biologically very little actual input as well as to excuse themselves from the requirement of seeing women as whole and complete beings with equal agency to themselves.
Should abortions be illegal because they kill children? No. I think that abortions do end life, but I do not think that that life, dependent as it is on the life of those who have come before it, should be elevated to the same or greater level than the lives of women whose bodies provide the shelter and nourishment that it needs to become a whole and complete person. Do I think that abortions should be a substitute for safer sex practices and intentional decision making about reproduction? Absolutely not! A mother feels the loss of life within her when she loses her baby regardless of how far along its development was. This is a tragedy that should be mourned with appropriate ritual and care for all of those who experience loss. But the experience of tragedy is part of life and avoiding one type of pain will inevitably lead to other types. This is a truth that cannot be escaped. And so I say that abortion should be legal and it should be wholly the decision of the mother to make and to anyone who claims that they oppose abortion because they value the lives of unborn children, I say that do you also seek to guarantee the fair and equal contribution of fathers in the lives of their children? And do you do so with the same vigor that you seek to bind the hands of women? If not, you are only hiding behind the innocent in an effort to rain violence down on women. You have no moral authority in this debate.