Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Looking for common ground on the issue of abortion

For many, there simply is no middle ground on this issue. I get that. Though I am ardently pro-choice, I understand that for some people, the issue of abortion is like the issue of the death penalty to me. I am completely against it, period. Between that lack of gray area and the heated passions often raised by the subject, a major schism has developed in our society over this one thing: should the woman have ultimate say over what happens to her body, or should outside interests? When does life begin, and when does a human life begin to reap the benefit of the law?

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:

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."

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.

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)


Scott said...

The obvious common ground is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Curiously, though, few pro-choicers are ever seen championing the things which actually accomplish this (contraception, sex ed, etc.) My belief is that pro-choicers aren't really about what they say they are about. They say they are about abortion, but when given a chance to reduce unwanted pregnancies they do nothing. What they're really about is preserving the negative consequences of sexual behavior outside married procreation. In other words, they're more interested in keeping sex as dangerous and consequence-rich as possible so people will be frightened into adhering to their own puritanical views of human sexuality. Those who have sex without intending to procreate in a marriage should be saddled with consequences like disease and unwanted pregnancies. And those unwanted pregnancies should not be terminable.

Emily said...

Scott - Do you mean "anti-abortion/pro-lifers"? Because otherwise your point confuses the heck outta me.

Anonymous said...

There needs no common ground, why would you try to pasify a plausing demographic? The pro-life conservative folks are themselves a minority of lost folks several generations behind planet earth, and dying off faster then the general population largely due to years of frustrated ignorance. And this is where you find common ground? Where have you been hiding the past 8 years. Pro-choice is the law, it is the right of every female, and leave it alone, it works.

Emily said...

Anon - You missed my point. I conceded that it's unlikely those of us on the pro-choice side of the fence will ever convince the ardent anti-abortion crowd to come over to our side. Where I believe we could find common ground, if everyone was willing to try, is on the issue of reducing the number of abortions needed in the first place.

That would mean people would need to change their minds on the subject of sex ed and contraception, which is a whole other issue, but this option may well be more possible than the former.

illusory tenant said...

It's a deeply personal and painful choice.

That's all I ever needed to know.

Scott said...

Yes, I did mean pro-lifers. They say they're against abortion, but won't promote the things which reduce unwanted pregnancies. The truth is, they're more interested in controlling people's sexual behavior through coercion than they are in anything else.

I once explored this idea on my blog, asking the question: if there were a magic button which would make it so that no couple anywhere could possibly conceive unless they explicitly wanted to, would you push it? Just think! One push and there are zero unwanted pregnancies. Some abortions are performed on wanted pregnancies, but still. The rates would go lower than they have ever been in history by far. Pro-lifers almost universally said that they would NOT push such a button. Why not? "Behavior has consequences" one of them said to me. Presumably, "bad" behavior should continue to have negative consequences, otherwise people would, I don't know, live in ways contrary to their personal view of sexual behavior. Can't have that. Even if it means forgoing an opportunity to prevent millions of abortions.

Emily said...

Scott - Now that is fascinating. I can't say I'm entirely surprised, but certainly disappointed. I'd be very curious to see the results of the same poll conducted nationally. Maybe, if it came up with similar numbers to yours, it would be the wake-up call people need to really realize that there is a decidedly messed up attitude toward sex and sexual education/contraception in this country.


Scott said...

Here's an example of magic button discussions:


I believe this question--and the responses to it--go a very long way toward explaining the pro-lifers' antipathy toward abortion coupled with their dithering over sex ed and contraception. As far as I know, no other theory explains both of these phenomena and no other question validates the theory so quickly.

It must be said, however, that there are pro-lifers who would push the button. But they are a minority in my estimation. If the pro-life movement was limited to these people alone it would probably disappear from the national stage overnight.

Anon said...

About your update and the WSJ article:

It states there were approximately 8267 abortions performed in WI. Out of the 8267 abortions 1488 of them were after 13 weeks (over 3 months or in the second trimester), and out of those 1488 744 were performed after 16 weeks (4 months) and 248 of them were after 20 weeks (5 months) if I am doing my math correctly.

I don't know about you Emily, but I don't consider those numbers (or statistics) low.

The Lost Albatross