On Abortion II: The Act In Context
I do not wish to appeal to palatability, because that gives more credence to solely aesthetic, emotive politics like the politics of disgust, which are in fact relevant to the very issue I am talking about. However, it is unavoidable for the purpose of providing a more satisfactory justification than just ontological argument and I wish to delve into the real reasons some women get abortions. I wish to make the point that they seek them for reasons other than the God-complex and selfishness of which they are accused. To this matter as well, even in a case that I may not like that does not grant me the privilege to take their rights away as many circumstances are multilayered. I will go in the direction of what are perceived as more palatable cases to less palatable as I think they are viewed in society. I am also not saying that people do not have far more complex experiences than these cases seem to indicate that lead to them deciding to have an abortion or that they universally experience abortion during and after the fact the same way.
Life of the Mother
This one appears to go without saying that this is okay. If the choice really does come down to the life of the mother or the child then making abortion impermissible is the same as forcing an abortion. In either case, a life is being systematically chosen over the other (if you perceive a fetus as a life). It would be equally valid to say that one would be killing the mother for the child if abortion is killing the child for the mother. (Also, if a pregnancy could be lethal to a person, the fetus surviving through the point of birth is also far short of a guarantee.)
Here comes the appeal to mental health and bodily autonomy:
1) If someone is pregnant due to rape, she may not feel she is mentally fit to handle a pregnancy. Pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a child or an adoption search can be stressful and, given the damaging mental health effects some rape victims experience, an abortion might very well seem overwhelming to the pregnant woman and her healthcare providers.
2) How the pregnancy in itself is perceived matters to the pregnant woman. If she perceives the fetus as just another part of the rapist rather than neutrally as “any other fetus”, the prospects to the pregnant woman of giving birth to the legacy of her rape very justifiably might be terrifying to her.
3) The pregnancy can be perceived as the extension of the rape itself. Rape is about taking control of a body and a person and if the pregnancy is forced to continue without the option of terminating it, there is quite literally bodily control occurring as well as continued circumstances under which other people may feel extra-justified in judging one’s personal choices, such as nutrition, whether or not to drink alcohol, whether or not to drive, etc, possibly reminiscent to some of the explaining away of rape through victim blaming. One’s social and bodily autonomy is hindered by pregnancy so the effect of rape was not only the loss of one’s self-ownership, sense of mattering to another human being, possible loss of social trust, sense of existing that many rape victims feel during and immediately after the fact but the continued feeling of these losses. The bodily extension of the rape stays. Bodily self-ownership, getting to decide what is and is not within one’s own body, is eliminated by not getting to choose whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. The sense of existing may be lost because in some circles her existence is only about her pregnancy. The loss of social trust may continue because a victim may feel judged for considering an abortion or not wanting to continue the pregnancy, a reality many rape victims who seek abortion face today given people’s views on abortion.
4) Some rapists have sought custody of children conceived through rape and some of those have even succeeded. To many rape victims, the thought of having to face their rapist again in a court of law even in a rape trial where they may see them found guilty and punished is too much to bear. The thought of being sued and losing the case to one’s rapist might be a horrifying thought, let alone having to relinquish one’s own child to someone who’s done such a severe crime against one is also rightfully so the thought of which might be too much to bear.
5)If abortion rights even in the case of rape are removed then this may open the door to targeted forced pregnancies through rape as is a known war crime throughout the world.
For many rape victims who become pregnant due to their rape, they seek an abortion and, for many, they carry through with the pregnancy. Neither one of these choices needs to be judged, as they are both clearly reasonable. For many, not having to worry about a pregnancy is an incredible sense of relief in the midst of circumstances that relief is not common to use for some. For others, a pregnancy and raising a child may be something they feel might help continue with their life after a traumatic event. In either case, the choice offers some control over circumstances to which they have been unwittingly subjected.
An Abusive Relationship
To head this criticism off, being abused by a sexual or romantic partner is not the fault of the victim. “Just leaving the relationship” is not as easy of an option as one might think from both psychological and economic perspectives. I will just leave that as an axiom, because I just do not want to indulge anyone as heartless as to lay blame on a victim. (And yes, marriage celebrators, spouses can be abusers too making the process of leaving even harder, partly due to you.) Issues at hand:
1)Control of contraception: some women are in sexual relationships in which they may not control contraception. This can be for a few reasons. A) The man does not like condoms therefore will not use any barrier method or is not responsible for even low effectiveness birth control like coitus interruptus (e.g. the Blue Valentine example). B) Though not related to abuse, high effective birth control like the pill or IUDs may not be feasible due to medical or financial circumstances. C) Moral opposition by the male partner. Yes, seeking sex while unilaterally not permitting contraceptive use for your partner is abusive.
2)Control of timing or frequency of sexual intercourse: many abusive partners have very strong control over when and how often sexual intercourse occurs. The ability to not have sex without facing physical violence or emotional abuse may not be an option. In this sense, some circumstances of abuse might be very similar to rape or might even be rape even if one or both partners don’t recognize it as such. (As such, the pregnancy might be similar to the rape case.)
3)Raising a child or going through a pregnancy while in the relationship: this may be dangerous or damaging to the abused partner or potential child for a number of reasons. A) many who abuse their spouse or partner also abuse their children. B) if the partner does not want the child, he may become angry and even more abusive or blame abused partner. (Yes, this also, faces the danger of coerced and forced abortions. From a safety perspective, if the partner might try to beat the partner into terminating a pregnancy, it would be much safer to have an abortion, an incredibly safe procedure. Also, if the abused partner knows she will be forced to get an abortion, as exploitative and abusive as that is, it may be safer or more palatable to her to just get the abortion without the pregnancy ever being known.)
4)Mental health: even in the case of an nonviolent but abusive partner who would be willing to go through with the pregnancy, it might be too much to bear to go through with a pregnancy in the perspective of the abused partner.
Pregnancy for abuse victims can be a very complex and sometimes dangerous thing. Some very well might use the prospect of raising a child or going through a pregnancy as a motivation to leave the relationship but this is unfortunately not an option for some. Is an abortion selfish if one did not have the control over the circumstances of becoming pregnant? Is an abortion selfish if it’s to survive or not face greater abuse? Is an abortion selfish if it’s to avoid one’s possible child facing abuse? I would say no.
Undue Suffering to the Child‡
(Okay, this is pretty controversial so I reaaaaaaallly ask that you read my footnote on this.)
Now in the pantheon of the wonderful medical technologies and techniques we have today is amniocentesis. Through this we can determine the possibility of medical conditions that a child may have postnatal. In a few rare instances, a condition will be found in the fetus that means an incredibly painful, short life will be lead. This is about the case of considering abortion in that instance.
Seeking an abortion to prevent incredible suffering, even if it is misguided in the eyes of some, is not done for selfish reasons. I’ll be ad hominem on this one: if you have an inkling of compassion you should at least be mildly sympathetic choice. Furthermore, if the suffering is to be considered undue, meaning there is no reasonable justification to cause it, then having the child, maybe, perhaps…though I am sympathetic to wanting to have the child…if it’s to keep one’s hands clean of the supposed immorality of abortion…this might be selfish. Now obviously undue is an unclear word, but if undue applies, an abortion might be justified out of mercy for the possible child.
1)Issues of teen sexuality: Teen pregnancy does not have to be traumatic and nor does it have to be the end of the world unto itself. However, for some, it is due to social circumstances. Bullying and shaming are common surrounding issues of sexuality in teenage years as we have all known to be the case. Teen sexuality amongst fellow age cohorts in a consensual, non-exploitative fashion does not have to be some horrible thing that moralists suggest as it is a part of the life-course most people experience. However, given between judgmental parents who might think otherwise, who feel they have a right to control over their daughter’s sexuality, and classmates might shame them for “being a slut” or for being “so stupid as to get pregnant”, it only makes sense that covering up the evidence of sexuality, i.e. the pregnancy, through an abortion would be a preferred option. Some parents even want to force their daughter to marry the father over the result of, possibly, a one-time thing or a dysfunctional relationship or a “youthful indiscretion”. This is not to say that all teen pregnancy is experienced in such a way (there are a lot of more understanding parents, more understanding classmates, more understanding friends fortunately for some, more understanding boyfriends) or even that some who do might wish to continue with their pregnancies, but it is to say that it does make sense that some who face unfair circumstances like this might wish to not continue a pregnancy under such circumstances.
2)Issues of realizing some circumstances with a pregnancy or a child: Going to school can be a difficult thing to do when in high school or college and one has a child. The very things that might determine one’s own financial trajectory that might in the future make it easier to be a parent are heavily affect Having a child also, obviously, costs money. At an age that is often a financially vulnerable time, putting the money together to take care of a child can be very difficult if one does not have the support of family or even in families that might have difficult financial circumstances. Responding to the financial circumstances of one’s own family isn’t a selfish thing to do even though people may perceive abortion as a selfish choice. The reason for doing so in such a circumstance is not a selfish one.
Many teens are loving parents. I am not shaming “teen moms” or an “overly permissive culture” or “teen pregnancy glorifying MTV”. It is okay to be a teen mom or teen dad and they deserve all the social support the world over just as everyone else does, but unfortunately we fall short. My generation is not uniquely “depraved” or immoral because we don’t shout down every instance of teen sexuality we know of as horrid. In fact, we are less so because of it. But in a society that might not be socially conducive to healthful pregnancies and parenting experiences for teenage women, maybe an “out” such as abortion is so dismissively referred by some, might in fact be a more than reasonable option. So, to those who think teen pregnancy is immoral and comprehensive sex education is immoral and should be prevented and that abortions are immoral, you might want to look in the mirror as to your complicity in participating in what you like to call “the culture of death” and the circumstances that lead to some abortions.
Pregnancy can be expensive. Having children is expensive. This is the crux of this case. In a context where getting regular checkups is expensive, pregnancy, though it may not be perceived as justifying abortion for many, is a burden. For those who would not consider an adoption, providing childcare can be incredibly expensive. In the context of obviously needing a job to provide financially when in poverty, being a stay-at-home parent is not an option, therefore indicating the need for childcare.
Furthermore, for those who might be willing to have a child, they also do not feel they should because they have other children for whom they need to provide. So, it might be difficult to provide for their children financially with another child in the home. Even, if they are willing to seek adoption, the pregnancy itself, given children, might be difficult because of time off work that might make financial circumstances temporarily even harder as well as the additional cost of medical pregnancy care.
“I Just Can’t Have Another Child”
For some women who already have children, even if financially well-off enough to not be considered about providing another child, another child is a devastating thought. Some prolife people have a very rosy picture of motherhood, but let’s say that, though in a different time, The Feminine Mystique, The Second Sex, and Sylvia Plath were not complete aberrations. Given some women live in circumstances where they may feel pressured to continue to have more children, despite motherhood not being very fulfilling or hard on some women even though they love their children, abortion might be something that is sought because of this context. Also, it, again, might be done out of love for her children and out of a sense of responsibility, as in a society still where mothers are given disproportionate parenting duty (a really, truly heartbreaking and maddening reality), it might become too hard to emotionally care for all of her children and would undercut the care she wishes to provide for her children. As much as we like to vainly talk about “the hardest job in the world” as a celebration of motherhood, if it is in fact “the hardest job in the world” (which is not true and ultimately insulting to victims of child labor and other circumstances) it might be too hard in some circumstances
“I Can’t Have a Child Right Now”
The age at which women are most fertile, pregnancy is safest, and when they’re most likely to get married is also when they are shaping their careers. Pregnancy and again undue cultural burden directed at mothers instead of fathers can really provide a roadblock to the period of time that might direct the financial trajectory of middle class and upper class women in the US. (Unfortunately, many poor women can’t even worry about their “career trajectory” but again they face even more extreme burdens than middle and upper class women who have careers to worry about.) Also, in the US paid parental leave is not required by law. Some employers provide it, but many do not. So in the months after the birth, period of time, when mothers and fathers are most likely to stay at home with their child, they very well might have reduced financial means or, possibly, no means at all.
“I Just Don’t Want Children”
Let’s lay this part out. It IS okay to not want children. I can’t really justify this to prolife people, in the case of seeking an abortion, but it is okay to not want children. Let’s make this clear, if there is an offense it is the abortion (which obviously I do not feel this is either) but not wanting children is not also an offense. It is not selfish to not want children, because you’re not sharing your life with someone who does not exist and for parents who want to pressure their children into have their own children, this does seem selfish to me.
Covering up an Affair
My point here is not to dismiss cheating in expressly understood monogamous relationships. However, given there are many circumstances around cheating seeking an abortion for yourself because you cheated, because you wish to save a marriage or a relationship because you slipped up one time is a situation for which I have to be sympathetic if I believe compassion and forgiveness should be meaningful in our lives. If it happened once, and you realize your transgression and don’t want to cause undue stress to your spouse or partner because you re-learned your steadfast commitment to and love for your spouse or partner in the process I can’t say this is a bad justification. Life is hard and people screw up. Saving meaningful people in your life undue stress is not a selfish reason even if you did something selfish and screwed up.
*Remember: most rape is not stranger rape in the US. I am not giving a pass to people who might be compassionate to the rich white woman violently beaten and raped by the strange black man and let her have an abortion but will not feel the same towards the teenage girl raped by a supposed friend when she was too drunk to say no or the woman who said yes under threatening circumstances when she didn’t know she could say no. I am also including all sex abuse like parent-on-child incest.
†I also don’t want to say this should be a justification for coercing women who were raped into getting an abortion either as a mental fitness issue or because of the “shame” of getting raped and wishing to cover it up for convenience or for hiding a rape as has happened before.
‡I do not want to make this as construed as having a child who is disabled mentally or physically as a fair justification for abortion under most circumstances. I will write a post on how disability and disability discrimination complicates circumstances regarding pregnancy, end-of-life issues, and other circumstances where undue suffering might lead to a unique action that otherwise might not be justifiable. Just because the parent thinks disability might not be worth living through “because they’d rather die than not have legs” or that they’d be ashamed they have a child who has an IQ of 64. This would be as discriminatory as sex-selective abortion. I am talking about undue suffering to the child such as extreme, debilitating regular pain and a short life.
In conclusion, above all, I believe in the right to abortion out of compassion, not in a paternalistic sense, but because people have many life circumstances that lead to different needs and choices. It is not because of some empty to appeal to liberty! Civil liberties are only realized in context and the right to control pregnancy requires a more healthful sexual lifecourse under which social coercion of all kinds are not present, full access to the knowledge and materials of contraception, and, yes, abortion. Abortion is a resort that for some is desperate and others is not, but it is necessary towards trying to achieve a more autonomous and equitable sexual lifestyle. Furthermore, I have to say, within the US we do a very poor job economically, politically, socially, and culturally of providing a context under which people who might not otherwise wish to have an abortion won’t feel like they need to. Poverty persists. Lack of education about contraception persists. Rape persists. Stigma about being a pregnant teens persists. These are things which contribute to people deciding to get an abortion among those who otherwise might not consider it. As a prochoice person, I am really pro choice and know that it is a hard decision between having an abortion and having a child for some. I do not find abortions in themselves as a bad, but necessary evil. They are a choice that can be made and should be able to be made without stigma and should not be something anyone who feels they don’t want should feel they need. But as long as certain conditions persists Under the context of Rowe v Wade remaining the law of the land as it likely will, prolifers might want to listen to the occasional liberals within their ranks when they talk about changing the circumstances under which people might feel the need for an abortion such as poverty, stigma about sexuality, etc. as well as the hypocrisy of the same political block who wants to stop abortions in the name of saving life being the population from which many people support for cutting antipoverty programs, free markets at all costs, supporting wars uncritically as their patriotic duty, supporting the right of the state to execute people, ignoring or denying climate change, fighting expanding Medicaid, and other things that not only affect lived experience of people but whether or not they live.