In America, it's almost impossible to talk about abortion without talking about morality. Unfortunately, even among pro-choice advocates, it's quite difficult to extricate Christian morality from this discussion. This, I believe, is a serious problem, and one which requires some serious soul searching by those of us on the left. To begin to break this issue down and see the truth of it, we need to first understand why we must reject Christian "abortion morality." Next, we need to recognize where we are clinging to remnants of this framework. Finally, it is critical that we see the positive impact of rejecting these ideas and replacing them with more progressive ones.
Why should we reject Christianity's abortion ethics? To begin with, they're hypocritical. Ask a hundred Christians, and 90 of them will give you one of two answers: (1) It's murder, and we cannot permit mass murder in our society; or (2) Human life is sacred, and we must protect it at all costs. The first objection is one in which Christians look truly evil if we think it through. Some time ago, I wrote an article on this subject which is worth a full read. Go ahead and read it now. I'll wait...
Okay. Now that you've got a good grasp on that, we can move on. If you're trying to keep your word count down and didn't read it, there are a couple of broad points. Here's the first: Christians say it's about murder, but they are mostly happy to provide exceptions for rape or incest, and Christians account for the vast majority of abortions in America. So either Christians are willingly committing what they believe is mass murder on an enormous scale, or they're being dishonest about believing it's really murder.
Are Christian women mass murderers, and are the men who support them accessories, or is this really not about murder after all? The only reasonable conclusion is that it's not about murder. Intuitively, we all know this. Abortion is not murder. Ask a thousand Americans to choose between a woman having an abortion or a woman killing her ten year old child, and virtually all will say it's better to have an abortion. The remaining two or three need mental help, and we all know it. Abortion is not equal to murder.
The second reason Christians are hypocritical about abortion becomes clear when we look at how they pursue legislation. They're not (for the most part) suggesting putting women to death for abortions. They're making abortions hard to get, but letting women off Scot free if they manage to get one. They're trying to keep women from getting contraceptives. That makes no sense if they're trying to prevent abortion. They're trying to teach abstinence only, which makes no sense if they're trying to prevent abortion. The bottom line is this: they're not trying to prevent abortion. They're trying to control women's sexual activity, and punish them for having sex.
What can we say about the "sanctity of life" argument? Well, not much, except that it's as blatantly hypocritical as the "murder" canard. If they want to preserve life, why do so many of the same people support the death penalty? Why do they vote to cut funding for medical research, for child welfare, for nutrition programs, and why do they consistently vote for the party that has kept us in perpetual war, and killed hundreds of thousands of people, no doubt including pregnant women?
This is not about the sanctity of life, and it's not about murdering children. If they believed either of these things, abortion opponents would be the loudest anti-war voices, and the staunchest proponents of widely distributed contraception.
When we take these two arguments out of the question, what are we left with? The answer is "very little." The only thing left is a vague and somewhat disconcerting feeling that it's still wrong, somehow. Because... something. This is the remnant of Christianity of which I spoke in the opening. Many of us feel like abortion ought to be used very judiciously, or that a woman who's had three or four abortions is worse than a woman who's had none. Or that women who need abortions are "loose" or "careless." All of these value judgments imply that some abortions are worse than others.
Why would we believe that? Possibly, we believe it because we've bought into the misinformation. For many years, it's been said that abortion has negative consequences, mentally and physically. The thing is, it's not true. The hack science behind these claims was perpetrated by a handful of scientists (who happen to be Christians) with a clear political agenda. They outright fabricated some claims and used bad science to back others. In fact, the good science clearly shows that negative experiences from abortion are mostly caused by... wait for it... people judging women for having abortions, or women judging themselves for having them.
This last point is really important. We can flip it around, and state it more positively: When women believe abortion is morally acceptable, they generally have positive or at least neutral feelings about having abortions. Putting it this way will likely raise the ire of many people. They will say women ought to feel bad about them, or that the decision is so serious that feeling good about an abortion seems wrong somehow. And that is precisely the remnant of Christian morality we must dispense with.
Returning to the Christian arguments against abortion, we must remember that they're both incorrect and hypocritical. We cannot use them as a basis for declaring abortions to be wrong. So, what are we left with? Just this vague feeling that it's kind of wrong? Well, that's a real problem. If we can't think of a good reason, or are just spouting platitudes, then it means our moral position is not defensible. To say, "Well, it should just be something we do as a last resort" is to invite the follow up: "Why?" (To the inevitable objection that sometimes abortions do cause health problems, one need only observe that pregnancy causes far more.)
The fact is, unwanted children suffer mightily. Children born into poverty, particularly unwanted ones, are grist for the mill of crime, incarceration, and disenfranchisement. When we look at each individual situation, we find that most women who want abortions have very good reasons: They aren't ready financially. They don't have a stable family in which to bring a child. They aren't finished with their education. They have as many children as they can handle. And yet... there's this itching desire to add a caveat that women should try not to have abortions.
Recently, I had a round-table discussion with several women who've had abortions, and their comments are really enlightening:
I wonder how many women have emotional distress after abortion simply because society is screaming that they are supposed to. I felt nothing but relief after mine and I consider myself a rather emotive person. 9 years later, still: nothing but the knowledge that I did the right thing. My husband was with me the whole time.
I didn't feel bad when I had mine. I do wish I could find a doctor who would just sterilize me, but that's an ongoing argument... Every single doctor has told me, in case the apocalypse happens and I need to help repopulate. The other excuses were - too young, need "permission" from my husband (not married), and I'll change my mind. One said it would go against God's plan.
41 years since my abortion. I was given a questionnaire to fill out and return. One question was " how did you feel after the procedure?" I wrote, " Euphoric". Still no regrets!
I felt nothing but relief after my abortions. No joy, no sorrow, just satisfaction that I had taken care of a bad situation. I let people make me feel guilty the second time I got pregnant (between the abortions), and I kept the baby, but ended up giving her up for adoption because, as it turned out, me and my ex having a baby was STILL a bad idea.
My abortion was attended by my husband-to-be and was a precious event for us. It allowed me to go to graduate school and for us to marry at the right time for us. And to have a child at the right time.
Each of these women is expressing something quite normal. They didn't want to have a baby, so they had an abortion, and then they felt good about it. Still, there are many in the non-Christian community who find this unacceptable. They want women to feel bad about abortions, and they feel like something is wrong with them if they don't. The thing is, the root of this notion is the belief that even though we're pro-choice, abortion is still wrong.
We need to get over that. Perhaps it will help to turn things around. If we can imagine that some abortions are not only a reasonable thing but the best thing for the situation, we can admit that abortion is sometimes a good thing. If it is sometimes a good thing, why not all the time? There are enough humans on earth. Too many, in fact. We've discredited the Christian arguments. We know that fetuses are not self-aware in any meaningful sense, and we know that most don't even have nerves with which to feel pain when well over 90% of abortions are performed, and regardless, they're all anesthetized -- just in case. We know that as a rule, women only feel bad about abortions when people shame them for having them.
So... why not make a new rule? If a woman wants an abortion, then by definition, an abortion is the good decision. Let's stop parsing the bits and pieces to try to find some way to blame them for some moral deficiency. Let's recognize that this is a remnant of our Christian culture, and for most of us, our indoctrination into religion as children. Let's take the time to really examine our beliefs and ask ourselves the hardest of questions: If we cannot give a solid justification, backed up with scientific evidence and clear moral reasoning, are we contributing to the suffering of women by perpetuating the myth that some abortions are bad? It's my contention that we are, and until someone can provide me with a solid moral argument against abortion, I refuse to pick and choose which to condone and which to condemn. Abortion is legal, it is moral, and that is the end of the story.