Why Are All the Essays on Abortion So Sad?
Jessica Grose, a writer who I like very much, says that pro-choicers shouldn’t just publish essays about “good abortions”–those had by people who are very young, or clearly too financially and personally unstable to raise a child, or carrying a fetus that will not live long past birth. They’re leaving out the majority of abortions, which are not had by frightened teenagers or heartbroken mothers terminating an unviable pregnancy.
The question, of course, is whether you want to comfort the women having the abortions, or the people considering how many restrictions we want to place on abortion. Most Americans don’t approve of having an abortion because you’re really hoping for a promotion next month, unless (maybe) that promotion is out of a minimum wage job. They don’t care if you want to travel for a few years before you settle down to raising kids. If you write essays defending choices like that, you are going to repulse some number of people who currently weakly support legal abortion.
I’d say that on average, the American public is tacitly okay with “good abortions”. They’re even willing to tolerate some “bad abortions”–those had for convenience, or by women who are careless with birth control–because they understand that it is impossible to completely separate the good from the bad. But they are not okay with abortion as the pro-choice movement sees it, which is that right up to the point where the baby is born, you ought to be able to terminate the pregnancy for any reason. They do not believe that this is a decision which only involves a woman and her doctor. They also care about the fetus.
In other words, they recognize that there is a tradeoff between the welfare of the woman, and the fetus she is carrying. The less the harm to the woman, the more apt they are to say that the welfare of the fetus should win out. And so the more we emphasize the majority of abortions which do not involve fetuses with fatal genetic defects or teenage victims of rape, the more we compromise support for keeping abortion legal. Pro-choicers, too, face a tradeoff. Even many good, pro-choice liberals are not prepared to mount a full-throated defense of “bad” abortion–in part because they’re aware of how it will sound to the rest of the country.
As you can probably tell by reading this post, I’m not ready to mount it either. Make no mistake: I’m pro-choice. There is a tragic incompatibility between the good of the mother and the good of the child, and while that child can’t survive outside the mother’s body, I resolve that in favor of the living woman instead of the future child. But that doesn’t mean I view abortion as having the same moral weight as a haircut or a nose-piercing–just another personal choice about what you do with your body. So if I were an editor, I probably wouldn’t publish an essay that presented it that way.