This is a post on abortion as requested by a reader. The reader who requested this is a conservative woman who reached out to me after my blog was linked to by the Federalist. We had a little chat about politics, and the assumptions made about what “liberals” and “conservatives” believe, which are much more nuanced than they are often presented. Then she asked me what I thought of sex-selective abortion in India.
It will not surprise anyone to find out that I am firmly pro-choice. I never write about abortion on this blog because I consider the matter settled. Years ago, when I first started talking about politics online, I got into lots of heated abortion debates, and this solidified what my beliefs are. Here is a summary of my position.
Feminists are not pro-choice because we like “killing babies,” as some of the weirder parts of the Right like to claim. We actually are pro-choice because we want reproductive decisions to be made by women and we want women in control over our own bodies and our lives. We recognize that in a patriarchy, women don’t always have control over when we have sex and when we reproduce, because women are often either subtly coerced or outright forced into sex by men. We also recognize that women are the primary caregivers of children and that when a woman gets pregnant she is often solely responsible for raising the child, since men often take off as soon as they’ve impregnated her. Feminists want women to be able to decide when and how to have sex and to reproduce, and that includes having the option not to give birth, so that we can be fully in control over what we do with our lives. Without the ability to control our fertility, women can be easily made dependent on the men who get us pregnant, something that puts us at risk.
The majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester when the fetus is less than two inches long. Although a small fetus is human and is alive, I don’t believe that at such an early stage of development it should have rights that take precedence over the rights of the fully-formed adult woman who is carrying it. The appropriate time to confer full personhood rights on a human being is at birth, when it is no longer dependent on another person’s body for survival.
Third trimester abortions are very different because the fetus is almost fully-formed, and thankfully these procedures are rare and usually only performed because of a major medical problem. Women aren’t just waiting until their third trimester and casually deciding they’d rather not be pregnant anymore. In the case of a serious medical problem during the third trimester, it should still be her choice whether she wants to terminate, and not the choice of politicians or doctors who believe they have moral authority over her.
People who are against abortion are being disingenuous about what their real motivations are. If people actually want to save babies, then their activism should focus on ending poverty, ending war, making sure everyone has access to food, housing, and health care, and making sure single mothers have access to welfare. People who call themselves “pro-life” are generally against anything that would actually save a person’s life. They are focused entirely on legally forcing pregnant women to give birth, even though they may not be in a position to care for the child once it’s born, and punishing women who attempt to control their own fertility.
The following text was written by a friend of mine who gave her permission to share it. This reflects my views exactly:
“A fetus/zygote/etc is the only situation where you have one living being trapped inside the body of another living being. The fetus is completely dependent on the mother’s body for everything. I mean, a born baby is also dependent on a caregiver (since they can’t take care of themselves), but at least they can breathe, remove waste from their body (pee, etc) without it directly affecting the mother’s body [and anyone can care for the baby, not just the mother].
A fetus is dependent on the mother in a very unique way. If a decision is made to keep/give birth to the fetus, the mother has to go through all of the life- and body-changing aspects of pregnancy – and pregnancy and childbirth are potentially life-threatening, even in developed countries with excellent healthcare. So the question becomes: does a woman have the right to bodily autonomy? Or can/should she be forced to carry and give birth to a child against her will? That is what is at stake in this debate; and not some silly issue about “choice.” The whole “choice” rhetoric is both liberal and actually inadequate for expressing what is really at stake here (women’s bodily autonomy and lives).
If someone is against abortion, they are pro-forced childbirth. Most anti-abortion people will deny this, because “no one forced the woman to have sex in the first place.” (sic) Which brings us to the issue of rape. Most anti-abortion people claim to make an exception for rape, which brings up (at least) 2 problems:
1) If you believe abortion is murder, exception in cases of rape, then you don’t believe abortion is murder in the first place. If killing a fetus is just as bad as killing a born human, then why would the circumstances of conception change that? Killing is killing, murder is murder. Either it’s always murder, or you’re being inconsistent.
2) If we banned abortion except for cases of rape, how would a woman prove that she was raped in order to be allowed to get an abortion? Even if our justice system was fair to sexual assault victims, trials still often take months to years. By the time a woman could prove in court that she was raped, it would be too late for an abortion anyway.
And there’s still the potential health problem(s) of pregnancy, which are always possible, even in a healthy woman. If you’re against abortion on demand, you necessarily believe that women should be (potentially) forced to risk their lives because their contraception failed or some such thing.
To sum up, the “pro-life” pseudo-concerns that people pretend to have only make sense if you see fetuses as independent beings and women as empty incubators for babies. Which really is how some people see things, but they should at least be honest about it.
As for the India thing – yes, I’m against selective abortion of female fetuses, but even then I wouldn’t ban or restrict abortion because there are many women who legitimately need it. If I were in a position of power in India, I might try to ban doctors from telling pregnant women the sex of their baby (that info isn’t medically necessary) and I would otherwise work to raise the status of women and girls so that hopefully people would be less inclined to abort female fetuses. But I wouldn’t touch abortion, for the reasons explained above.”
End quote. I will repeat in my own words essentially what my friend wrote here. Sex selective abortion happens because of the low status of women. The way to combat this is to raise the status of women. When women are in control of our bodies and fertility, we only have sex when we want to, we only have babies when the timing is appropriate and we know we can care for them, and if we have to abort, we usually do it in the first trimester, not after finding out the sex. The fact of abortion being legal doesn’t cause doctors or husbands to abort female fetuses, the fact that they hate women does. It should be women, and only women, in charge of deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, because we are the ones carrying it. And for heaven’s sake, men need to stop hating women.