The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

aborting abortion

DPF's post on the legal challenge around NZ's abortion laws has resulted in the predictable pro-choice vs pro-life scrap in comments.

We all know what happened when abortion was illegal - women still had abortions, just in incredibly unsafe environments that threatened their lives and no doubt led to infertility in many cases. A woman had an abortion alone then - for fear of disapproval, or being forced to bear a child she could not support, or even to marry a man against her (and/or his) will.

Abortions will happen, whether it is illegal or not - in an ideal world there would be few, but even so there would still need to be some. For goodness sake, nature is estimated to abort up to 80% of all pregnancies - many women miscarry before they even know they are pregnant, and never know they were.

I attended a Catholic school for some years, and during that time I was vehemently pro-life. I didn't have a lot of arguments for it, but I was surrounded by girls and women who felt the same way (despite many of them being reasonably feminist). I was not at all religious but I remember believing passionately that abortion, in any case except rape, was murder.

Then I changed schools, mid-term, and in my first week at the new school I overhead some girls talking casually about abortion (it was something we only ever discussed with the Ultimate Seriousness at my old school) and my teen mind whirled - how could they say such things? how could they think them? this is outrageous!

Then my rational brain kicked in - I started to ask myself hard questions that I had never considered before - why was abortion so evil? No answer. Why was it so bad to abort a fetus that some people would kill abortion doctors? The only answer I could come up with was that that seemed pretty hypocritical. What about all those children who are brought into the world to live in misery, with parents who are unable to care for them for particular reasons, but who the Church says are more important than their mothers?

I remember quite distinctly the moment when those scales fell from my eyes. From that day I was pro-choice, but I always said "I support the right to choose, but I don't think it's a choice I could make." I still didn't feel quite comfortable with it - it was hard to overcome my conditioning. I did not judge other women for making that choice, but I would judge myself very harshly indeed.

That was until my first pregnancy scare - I was with a partner who was too young to be a father, our relationship was not strong enough to survive parenthood, and I was certainly in no way mature enough to be any kind of mother, even a bad one.

At the moment I realised I could actually be pregnant, that the possibility was real and not hypothetical anymore, the last tiny little scale, which had clung on despite everything, fell away - if I had to have an abortion I would, not lightly or as contraception, but as an adult decision (possibly my first truly adult choice) made in recognition that I was not enough of an adult to be a mother.

Luckily I was not pregnant (we were taking sensible precautions) and I did not ultimately have to decide. But I know that I could have made that choice. And that doesn't make me feel bad about myself.

The irony that those who are pro-life are often also anti-sex education makes me angry. You can't have it both ways. You can't leave people (historically usually women) in ignorance and then punish them for the consequences of decisions made without vital information.

If you are serious about bringing the abortion rate down then you have to be more enlightened about contraception - throughout human history we can see that people will have sex (thank goodness or there would be no human future). And we know that most times people have sex it is not to create a child.

Let's recognise this and celebrate it - creating a healthier attitude towards sex, on both the physical and emotional levels, is the only way to bring down the abortion rate.


Swimming said...

DPFs comments may have been about abortion but his post - and mine too - was about abortion laws.
If we have the law and the law is not folowed , then the law is an ass and needs to be challenged.

Span said...

the thing that sparked off my post about actual abortion, rather than the legal situation that DPF posted about, is the way that people rather quickly got into the pro-life vs pro-choice arguments, not looking at the legal bit. I've been meaning to post on abortion for some time, and that thread poked me in the ribs.

Amanda said...

I think we were separated at birth, or something Span. It's scary!

I was also very anti abortion as a Catholic school girl but I gradually modifed my views...and then came the first pregnancy scare when I was with somone I was constantly having huge fights with. We were both far too immature to have coped with parenthood and thank goodness it turned out I wasn't pregnant or who knows what would have happened. Maybe I would have terminated the pregnancy or I could have ended up a solo mother at 19 with a violent, possessive ex- constantly harrassing me.

And actually now in my 30s & I have had a child I am even more pro- choice. Pregnancy was physically grueling for me, childbirth wasn't fun, and parenting is very hard work though also rewarding. I don't think anyone should do it unless they really want to and are committed to being a good parent and able to provide the child with a good start in life.

Anonymous said...

Hey there to Spanner and make Tea Not War, I want to say how I found both your posts hit the mark with me. It is absolutely essential to have the facts on contraception freely available to all to see any drop in the abortion rate. As a former workier with S.O.s in the 80's it is amazing to me that a conservative number who exhibit a moralistic attitude to sexual education and health seem to prefer the reality of families in crisis, teen mothers with no support and the resultant ongoing misery for many. I find it depressing so many old attitudes prevail. And it is absolutely true that becoming a parent is one of the most profound things an individual can undertake, with the complete commitment to that child and their emotional and physical needs being uppermost. While I completely respect the right of others to disagree with me, I hope people can consider the true and long-lasting realities of this debate. I have been involved in this issue from both sides, closely. No woman ever skips off happily to the abortion clinic- it's terribly hard and often heartbreaking. I just want to say to the really militant people who judge on often purely religious grounds, drop the moral grandstanding on sexual health and education,- people must have the right information to choose the path that is right for them and it is a HUMAN right that such information is available to them.

Craig Ranapia said...

I do have to wonder, though, if Julie Birchill had a point when she acidly observed that the great "feminist" advances of abortion rights and contraception on demand merely served to make life a hell of a lot easier for men.

After all, it's not men who who have to undergo the physical risk and psychological trauma of abortion; or risk the long-term effects of disrupting their fertility with powerful synthetic hormones.

Perhaps the real way to get abortion rates down is changing social attitudes so that MEN take real responsibility for their sexuality, rather than dumping it all on women.

Sarah said...

I'm another of the lucky one's whose "scares" turned out to be false alarms (phew) but even as a teenager I subscribed to the belief that if you're willingly having sex then you need to be aware of the consequences. It's tragic that we need abortion, and the bad old days of forced adoption etc can stay in the history books but I think we need to replant the idea that sex about reproduction and you have to be incredibly careful if you ONLY want to have the fun bit.

Anonymous said...

For goodness sake, how incredibly selfish.

Pregnancy and the subsequent child(ren) are nothing to be 'scared' of.

Today's sex education bundles pregnancy along up with all the nasty sexually transmitted diseases; this is wrong, dangerous, and entirely removed from the truth.

As far as I can see it (and you can call me narrow-minded if you wish - it won't be the first time), people get scared about pregnancy because they realise their life may be about to change, bringing with it increased responsibility and a perceived loss of freedom.

However, I can assure you that these preconceived shortcomings are far outweighed by the joy and pride one feels when they watch this new person come into the world and learn and grow and love.

Too many women have no idea how having an abortion can seriously mess with your head.
And to think that risking 'the mental health of the mother' is the primary reason for abortions. Don't be duped.

Of course I'm biased, I have a seven-month-old child. But you're hearing it from the horse's mouth, not from some child-less, family-less Ministry Of Health-backed social engineer.

The reason sex is so powerful (and hence so enjoyable or otherwise) is beacuse it can be used for the greatest good (procreation, growing families, the continuation and strengthening of society) or the greatest worst(rape, abortion, disease and the moral decline of a society).

Anonymous said...

Very good post spanner
I can see the reasons for both points of view but what annoys me is that it tends to be men imposing their wishes on women for idological reasons but mostly are not prepared to give the support that mothers need

Span said...

MTNW - gee i never would have guessed you were ex-Catholic school girl too ;-) i think you are right about the level of commitment required - i haven't had any children yet and i find the thought of it daunting now that it is actually on the horizon instead of a long way away. but boy am i going to be a much better parent when it happens than i would have been back then!

Span said...

anon - thank you for your comment - i like your idea of making honest and freely available information about sex (etc) a human right - even those who do not share my political colours, but push the free market model, state that perfect information is required for good decision-making.

it just makes me so angry how starved of the facts many people are - has anyone considered how many people might decide NOT to have an abortion if they had more information about the processes (both pregnancy and abortion) and were less scared of it all?? Or if they could have honest and open conversations with their families about it all, without fear?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Span for the feedback. knowledge is definitely power- the realities of termination are hard and non-negotiable. I would think people would rather not be faced with making that decision and ideally information can hopefuly reach most people. But not everyone. In the contact i had with young women years ago, fear was a very real reason behind making a decision alone, for social, cultural or other valid and pertinent reasons. It brings me to an opinion on Proud Parent's Post. Being a proud parent and being pro-choice are not mutually exclusive. Yes people will feel trepidation at impending parenthood, but not for such simplistic reasons in many cases. That must be acknowledged. This is too complex a subject in anyone's view to generalise in such a manner. No offense Proud parent but that's a fact. To reduce the abortion rate is a goal both of us would like to see reached I am sure. But let's be realistic, as humans live and breath, sex will not be viewed as a means to procreation only. The abortion issue can be debated in a positive and forward moving manner if we address the truths here, good and bad.

Matt said...

As a 'reasonably' strong Catholic I feel like I could offer something here - being a guy too?? It's very easy for me to have views re: pro and anti: as a guy it is less likely to affect me as I'll never really have to make that choice. The difficult thing that I feel would be an issue is whether allowing the baby to live (for example, a non-transferable ectopic pregnancy) would kill the mother. That is an incredible dilemma I hope never to face. I don't know how I'd deal with it, and it places the life issue squarely on the block: by allowing the baby to live I kill the mother, or I kill the baby. How awful that decision must be.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to the level of value that one places on human life, and where one regards human life to have started or be present. In some ways, this parallels the debate on euthanasia. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of abortion full stop, but I realise that the horror of forced adoption is devastating. All I can offer there is a trite desire to reform adoption protocols and procedures so that such times can be avoided in future.

The issue about contraception extends (or introduces) the debate around abortion. Specifically, the Church views barrier and chemical contraception as 'playing God' as it were. This leaves the archaic 'rhythm method' (those awful 80s sex education books) as I think the only accepted form of natural contraception (ie. abstinence). Preventing the fertilisation of the egg is 'playing God' and I think the induced destruction of a fertilised egg is viewed as akin to murder (interesting visual images, aren't they? - think stopping of life instead). The problem that Catholics face is that 'playing God' ranks down there with leaving the seat up and is perhaps the lesser of the two: of course people have differing views about the stage of pregnancy a foetus [normatively] can be terminated and it is a lot easier to see the life of a foetus at 3 months rather than 3 days.

To finish off (and stop hogging the space), I do wonder about contraception v. AIDS in the African case. The Church alienates itself by the refusal to endorse condoms in the face of AIDS-induced necessity and I think it needs to revise its teaching. Sure, the attitude engineering is entirely the Church's prerogative but I think that can wait until AIDS is effectively wiped out (if it ever is). Who's to say that in 2000 odd years, the Church's teachings can't change? They have changed enough already...

Span said...

anon, I think you hit the nail right on the head - no one actually wants a high abortion rate, be they pro-life or pro-choice.

Proud Parent (PP), I don't think it's "selfish" to consider all the consequences, for everyone involved, of having a child, especially one that is a surprise. Yes there is a lot of fear involved in finding out you are pregnant - but it isn't just about your life changing, it's also about the little life that could soon be dependent on you.

I think awareness that you are in no way able to be a good parent is a valid reason to have an abortion.

As to the comments regarding men, the church, etc, I think that calls for another blog in response, hopefully a bit later this week.

Thank you all for your comments - I welcome any more thoughts or ideas too. And give yourselves a pat on the back for avoiding the nastiness that these discussions sometimes descend into.

Anonymous said...

Well, I know I'm coming into the conversation about a year too late (only just stumbled across it), so I don't know if anyone will actually read this, but it's worth a try.
1. I thought I was too immature to be a mum too, and on top of that I didn't even like kids, but as I was only 15, I needed my parents permission for an abortion-which they didn't give. 8 years later I am a proud and doting mother to an amazing boy, who is fit, healthy, bright and surprisingly well adjusted. It was complete love at first sight and I never regretted it for a second.
2. I know that for some people that is not the case-that's still no excuse for abortion. If you are going to have sex, you have to accept the responsibiuilies that come along with it and one of them is the possibility of getting pregnant. You created this child-you owe it at least to carry it to term, after that there is always adoption. A lot of people don't realise how hard it is to adopt a child in nz-international adoptions are full of red-tape and in NZ there are just no babies to adopt-they all get aborted. If you don't want your baby that's fine-there are lots of loving couples that do!
3. Just because I am anti-abortion, doesn't mean I am anti-sex ed. What I am against is the current version of sex ed. that students are getting, which is-'use a condom and you'll be fine'. Condoms don't always stop you getting pregnant-I have a child who is proof of that. They don't stop you from getting STD's either, they simply reduce the likelyhood. You want to reduce unwanted pregnancies?-start telling guys that even using a condom there is still a 40% chance of contracting Syphillus and having their dick fall off-that's worse odds than russian roulette! And worse still is the fact that condoms do nothing at all to prevent HPV, which has a proven link to Cervical cancer (how do our statistics on that compare with the rest of the world BTW?). You claim that even pro-choice'ers want to reduce the abortion rate? Start by reducing unwanted pregnancies, and this can be done in part by telling our young people the truth.
4. And last but not least, actually there are women who skip off happily to the abortion clinic (very rarely I admit). I happen to have known one girl who quite nonchalantly trotted off to have her 6th abortion.