A blogfriend sent me the link to a Chicago Sun-Times column by Neil Steinberg, titled “What’s Behind the Anti-Abortion Frenzy?”, which revives the old canard that pro-lifers are really anti-sex. More interestingly, it links to Beliefnet editor Steven Waldman’s essay “Safe, Legal, and Early,” which maintains that the legal question about abortion shouldn’t be “Yes or no?” but “When?” This was my response.
Obviously, Waldman’s position (I read through the link) is the one the great majority of people hold, myself included. I’d like people to be a lot more conscious of the real stakes when they consider having an abortion at any stage (or, a significant step back, having unprotected sex risking an unintended pregnancy), but most traditions (the Jewish tradition certainly) have long recognized a continuum on which the woman’s (or family’s) decision prevails early in pregnancy and that shifts as the fetus develops.
I don’t know that it matters whether the abortion debate is a proxy for a desire to make sex safe, legal, and rare (LOL). I used to think that, but second-guessing and psychoanalyzing pro-lifers’ moral convictions has come to seem condescending and insulting to me. What matters is whether they can impose their own choices, noble as they may be, on everyone else, and whether, if they can’t, they view it as an utter defeat by a satanic society. (The rhetoric around Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama — from some of my own blogfriends, I might add — was so overblown, it was really depressing to me.)
Maybe no change happens without absolutist fervor (as a commenter says here, “Seriously, it’s nice to be civil, but Obama has to realize that it took a wild-eyed extremist (John Brown) and the death of 600,000 Americans to end slavery and make it possible for him to be President”), and without the feminist push for “abortion on demand” all abortion would have remained illegal and dangerous, and without the pro-life movement people would have blown off the moral momentousness of the decision and settled down in a very degraded place. To the extent that I’m getting my wish of people being more conscious of the stakes, the push-back by pro-lifers is largely — no, almost solely — responsible. Thanks to free speech they’ve done a beautiful job of dragging our attention back to the gravity of wishing away a unique human being. Thanks to that, we are within reach of finally getting the legal balance right. If the absolutists on both sides will let it happen. Which requires the vast middle to finally speak up.
Thanks, maybe I’ll even post this, although the whole topic hits me on my broken heart. I will repeat that I’m grateful for the change in the culture the pro-life movement has wrought, and that it is culture, not law, that could have tipped my own decision the other way. Just living in today’s culture, instead of on the condom-littered beach where the tide of the ’70s had just begun to creep out, would have been enough. I want us to continue moving, voluntarily, in that direction.
P.S. Steinberg coins a rather chilling term for abortion: “murder lite.” Here is what I think is the most literal and accurate description of what early abortion is and what it does: nipping a human life in the bud.