Monday, January 23, 2006

The simplest thing

William Saletan writes: "I know many women who decided, in the face of unintended pregnancy, that abortion was less bad than the alternatives. But I've never met a woman who wouldn't rather have avoided the pregnancy in the first place."

From this he infers that abortion is murder. Something is very wrong with this jump. There are reasons to want the number of abortions to be low rather than high that have nothing whatsoever to do with believing that "the simplest thing" is that "[i]t's bad to kill a fetus." It's also bad to have a potentially expensive and painful medical procedure, to have weeks or months of unwanted pregnancy. Let's say you don't floss your teeth often enough and then discover you have a cavity. You can go to the dentist and have this fixed, you won't be happy about it, you'll regret your carelessness, but you will not be tortured by this incident for the rest of your life.

To those who are pro-choice, the "simplest thing" is that abortion is not murder, that nobody is "killed" by the procedure. Abortion is an undesireable outcome, and even pro-choice activists are right to advocate better sex education and access to birth control, so that this outcome can be avoided wherever possible.

Saletan concludes, "What we need is an explicit pro-choice war on the abortion rate, coupled with a political message that anyone who stands in the way, yammering about chastity or a 'culture of life,' is not just anti-choice, but pro-abortion." I agree with him that preventing abortion is a worthy goal of the pro-choice and pro-life alike, and that if pro-lifers believe abortion is murder (that's their take, I've heard), then they should look for strategies that will keep rates down, not just paths that otherwise fit a social-conservative agenda but in fact keep the abortion rate up.

But Saletan's suggestion for a "pro-choice war on the abortion rate" is not so much pro-choice as pro-life but with birth control as an acceptable option. It's a middle-ground, but it's still on the pro-life end of things. If you believe that abortion is when you "kill" another human being, and you believe that this--and nothing else--is the reason the rate needs to be kept down, then it's simple: you're pro-life, even if you believe that there are certain situations where abortion may be legal.


Petey said...

Abortion has joined a long list of topics in which actual reality is divorced from the reality of electoral politics.

It is a situation much like marijuana, which in reality should be legalized, but in terms of electoral politics should not be touched.

It is currently beyond the pale to say that it really doesn't matter if the number of abortions performed is high or low. C'est la vie. In terms of politics, the best we can hope for is the Clintonian formula of "safe, legal, and rare".

The fact that the "rare" part of the formula is irrelevant doesn't change the politics of the matter. Saletan in entirely correct on the politics, even if what he is saying is nonsensical in a universe divorced from politics.

What all this means is that the abortion debate has become numbingly boring, even though the stakes are quite real, because the politics mean we can no longer discuss the situation in any kind of real way while remaining relevant.

codone said...

As a pro-choicer, i think the only thing that should be discussed, and it should be discussed in these exact terms, is:

When does a fetus change from tissue to citizen?

Then we can happily pat ourselves on the back and call one thing "choice" and the other "murder"

PS - Phoebe, when are you going to write about the the Canadian Election, as a true francophile surely you must have some reason to weigh in... ;)

GalvestonLawyer said...

What kills me is the same people who are against choice are the same people who are against reasonable efforts to educate people on how to prevent these pregnancies. In fact, they're not the least bit interested in what happens to the poor until they're old enough to incarcerate--which in their worldview merits plenty of government funding. Hypocritical bastards.

Joe said...

Though I don't really agree with the final statement, the last comment has a point. The problem is that the Catholic/Fundamentalist approach is quite wary with realistic sex policy, since it contrasts with their unrealistic doctrine.

I do think there is a significant middle quite wary about abortion that are more sane about such matters. Some of them probably are among us, so to speak, and are wary of coming out.

The "wary about abortion, but totally against removing the choice to have one" brigade is the sort Saletan seems to be talking to in his usual cockeyed fashion (so tiring, especially upon close analysis) is a useful group to appeal to. Unlike the more fundamentalist pro-life brigade, they are more firmly in the reality based community.