Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers wrote a post linking to a Jesus and Mo cartoon. The strip took the point of view that pro-lifers were all about controlling women, and while that subject got comments, it naturally turned into a debate about abortion. I wanted to leave a comment, but I just couldn’t stop writing, so here’s my take on it:
There are over 600,000 children in the US who are awaiting adoption.
There are tens of thousands of kids in many of our states who are in foster care – most will age out rather than being adopted or returned to their parents.
There are a half million fertilized eggs in frozen storage that will end up being discarded after they become inviable or after their parents elect to have them destroyed
Youth/Family services across the country are overwhelmed with cases; children everywhere are being brought up in dangerous environments where they are ignored, at best, or abused, sometimes even killed.
Do we need to insist that every baby conceived be born? Aren’t there enough unwanted children already?
Women can die from many pregnancy-related illnesses, and may existing conditions can have deadly complications caused by pregnancy.
Many of these illnesses and complications can also kill the fetus, or cause stillbirth.
It is now possible to detect, fairly early on, conditions in a fetus that will lead to death, permanent disabilities, a life of constant pain. While some people can live a fulfilling life despite them, many will not be able to function at all or live without debilitating pain.
Do we need to insist that each of these pregnancies be carried to term? Should husbands be left without their wives, children be left without their mothers, because it’s so much better, morally, than abortion? Should children live a few hours, days, or months, kept alive only by extreme medical intervention, because dying after birth is better than abortion? Should we force parents to give birth to a child that they will have to suffer for – losing time, wages, and emotional fortitude – and watch suffer, because his or her condition excludes freedom of movement or freedom from pain or ability to think?
Young women in poor areas will engage in unprotected sex because of societal pressures in their peer groups. If they become pregnant, they will be just as pressured to give birth, regardless of their age or ability to parent. Young men will insist on it because there is a culture that measures them by their fertility. Being a “baby daddy” lifts them up a rung, but there’s little pressure to actually be a Father.
Women and men who try to be responsible about potential pregnancy and use contraceptives as directed often find that their chosen method has failed. Not only are they pregnant with a child who was definitely planned against, but depending on the method used, they risk having a child who might have problems caused by the birth control.
Women who are raped are most assuredly not guilty of irresponsible sex. While there are a handful who can go through this pregnancy and perhaps even nurture the child who results from rape, they are rare. For most, this is a reminder of the most personal of violations, something that sears the pain even deeper.
Do we need to insist that these pregnancies – unwelcome, unwanted – which put children into the hands of parents who resent them, or into the already enormous pool of adoptable children, be completed? Do we want more children being raised by people who aren’t mature enough to parent, who took pains to avoid parenthood, or who had parenthood forced on them in the most unwilling way?
The problem I see is that the people who oppose abortion, at least the most vocal ones who are petitioning for legal change, see this as a completely black-and-white issue. Some of them sound completely heartless – I know I’ve heard more than one say in the case of pregnancies that threaten a woman’s life that it’s “god’s will” that she die, and that “god will provide for the family” afterwards. Not one of the situations I mentioned above cannot be countered with some religious “solution” or justification that immorality is being punished. It makes me feel sick to my stomach when I hear or read some of the absolute pronouncements made by people who refuse to believe any truth but their own exists.
From where I stand, quality of life is a major issue. It should be a deciding factor. We go around only once, so we need to make the most of it. “Punishing” people for getting pregnant (and “punishing” people who have sex by getting them pregnant!) is repugnant. A baby should never be a “punishment”. It makes so many people unhappy – the parents, the people who have to step in with money, supervision, fundraising for medical care, and so much more. . .but mostly, it punishes the child. A life not lived is better than a live lived in misery, pain, or self-loathing. While this kind of life sometimes happens even under ideal circumstances, it’s not a goal we should aim for.
Abortion is not a goal to aim for, either, but it should be an available choice when the alternative is worse. The opponents wish to see it abolished under any circumstances, and that’s why so many people fight them so vehemently. If I were to make any changes to existing laws, they would have nothing to do with the argument of “when life begins”, which is so nebulous that it should be a non-issue. For me, it would be “when pain begins.” An embryo may be alive, but it feels nothing because it hasn’t developed a nervous system. A fetus feels pain – for that, I would say that anesthesia should be given in utero, even a dose that would cause death prior to the procedure, to minimize or eliminate potential suffering. When the first two trimesters have passed, there would have to be a medical issue involved with either the mother or the child in order to have an abortion, because at that point a woman should have been well aware she was pregnant. (Sensational TV stories about women who didn’t know make the news because they’re so incredibly rare.) At no point would it be prohibited, but the fetus would have to be treated with attention to its ability to feel.
In other words, what abortion laws need is not restriction or elimination, but compassion. First, let’s understand that the mother, father, or both, have lives that will be impacted by the birth of a child, and have compassion for their individual situation. Let them make the choice that’s best for them. Second, let’s have compassion for a society that’s already overburdened with unwanted children, paying for them in so many ways, financially and otherwise. Let us help as many as we can, without imagining that our hearts and our pockets are so bottomless that they can stand constantly increasing demands. Third, and most important, let’s have compassion for the children. There are known quantities that will negatively affect the quality of their lives, we should do what we can to make sure that each child starts off with the best chances for a good life. Don’t force them to be born to parents who don’t want them. Don’t force them to be born to live as “burdens on the system”. Don’t force them to be born only to live briefly or miserably. Don’t force them to kill their mothers. And don’t assume that you know what’s best for everyone and try to force an entire nation to do things exactly as you want them to.