I've addressed the subject several times before on this blog, as it comes up time and time again. My stance has been and continues to be that both sides have both irreconcilable differences and mutual interests.
Currently, debate is raging about whether or not UW Health and Meriter Hospital should begin providing second trimester abortions at one of their clinics in Madison. The idea was proposed when the only doctor providing the procedure retired. Since then, there has been a great deal of outcry from both sides.
Over the weekend, a large group of anti-abortion protesters gathered on Library Mall and marched to the Madison Surgery Center, where the procedures would be performed. They were met by counter, pro-choice protesters and heated words were exchanged.
In the Capital Times' coverage of the rally, there was one quote that really struck me:
"This is the human rights issue in America," said Steve Karlen, founder of Madison Vigil of Life. He invoked Martin Luther King Jr. as he shouted at the crowd to stand fast in their determination to end legal abortion. "We have a dream today," he cried out to applause.Karlen is apparently content to forget and/or ignore the several other human rights issues that still exist in our country: the exploitation of immigrant workers, equal marriage laws, discrimination against those of different races or classes, etc. Hell, we should perhaps be more concerned that slavery still exists in this day and age.
One of the biggest problems I've had in coming to relate to anti-abortion activists is their seemingly blind insistence on focusing only on those people who haven't even been born yet, as opposed to working to better the lives of those already living and breathing in our overcrowded world.
That combined with my firm belief in the ultimate right of the individual person to make decisions about their own bodies--not the government or church--makes it difficult for me to see and understand the other side of the debate.
But there must be middle ground.
Later in that same Capital Times article, there's an interesting exchange between two of the protesters:
Abortion is not a pleasant topic for anyone. For the vast majority of women who even consider having one--I'd hazard something like 99.8% of them--it's a deeply personal and painful choice. The circumstances leading up to being faced with such a decision are almost never good. They range from incest, rape, and massive in-utero defects to stupid mistakes and poor education.
In the midst of it all, two women on either side of the debate talked to one another, quietly, face-to-face.
"I don't like the idea of men sitting somewhere saying 'you can have an abortion. You can't.' I think I am the best one to determine what happens," UW student Olive Oyama said.
Dee McCoy of Sheboygan County said she was 18 when she had an abortion, and it took years until she understood she had been coerced into it.
"I can understand where she's coming from," Oyama said. "The reason women feel so much guilt afterward is because there isn't a space to talk about it."
"I love to meet more people like her who are willing to talk," McCoy said of Oyama. "I would like to find the middle ground."
I strongly suspect that one side will never totally convince the other to come over to their way of thinking. It's just too polarizing and complicated an issue. What we should be focusing on, I think, is reducing the overall need for and number of abortions. This can be achieved through stronger, comprehensive, and more affordable health care for everyone, regardless of race, social status, or gender. No more of this abstinence-only, contraceptive-phobic approach that's proving to be so harmful. It can be achieved through being honest with ourselves about sexuality, and about the major and serious hurdles faced by those living in poverty.
Because pro-choice and pro-life may never see eye-to-eye on the right to abortion, we should at least work together toward improving the situation for everyone so that the instances in which the procedure becomes a possibility are reduced significantly. To reach that point, we're going to need to put down the signs of mutilated babies, stow the personal insults, stop the threats to personal safety, and really talk with one another. It'll take a lot of hard work and a new level of honesty, but I think it's possible.
UPDATE: The Wisconsin State Journal has an interesting article up detailing the current debate up, including statistics on the number of second trimester abortions performed (which is extremely low).
(photo courtesy UW Digital Collections)