Thursday, April 21, 2005

Michael: Can Democrats Be Anti-Abortion and Pro-Choice?

I am against abortion, but I am not in favor of criminalizing it. I steadfastly believe that women must have ultimate control over their own reproduction, not just as a matter of civil rights, but also for the good of society as a whole. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people are so politically simple-minded as to think that criminalization will eliminate abortion, any more than criminalization has eliminated drug use. To eliminate abortion as a contraceptive technology will require much more than moral outrage or a misguided attempt to legislate sectarian religious doctrine into our criminal law; it will require a comprehensive reformation of the way America deals with reproductive rights, sex education, and the provision of health care. Abortion won’t be eliminated because we make it illegal, it will be eliminated only if it is made unnecessary.

I don’t approach the abortion issue from a position of pre-conceived beliefs. I don’t claim to know when a human life begins. Certainly, I think the Catholic doctrine of ‘ensoulment’ is not the proper basis for public policy – I think that to use such a doctrine in policy would constitute an establishment of religion. There are many landmarks upon the developmental path of the human animal that could demarcate the arrival of the human being with attendant ethical rights and obligations, but I don’t think there is any scientific basis upon which to judge the matter. The simple fact is that our society has not, and likely will not, be able to agree on what landmarks to choose. Any attempt to choose an arbitrary legal marker, after which an abortion cannot be performed, is likely to run afoul of the constitution.

Rather than dicker over the number of angels on the head of the proverbial pin, it is better to directly reduce the incidence of abortions by making sex education realistic and useful (instead of the current ‘abstinence only’ double-bind), providing contraceptives widely and cheaply (rather than pretending that sex isn’t happening among our youth), and to stop restricting access to abortifacients such as RU-486 and large dose progestin pills. Preventing unwanted pregnancies, and ending them earlier will serve to reduce the incidence of objectionable and invasive dilation and extraction procedures, and should be the common goal of both ‘pro-lifers’ and ‘pro-choicers’. One wonders why so many in the ‘pro-life’ community are on the wrong side of each of these issues if they truly want to reduce or eliminate abortions, as opposed to just running political campaigns against the issue. And one wonders why so few in the ‘pro-choice’ community will speak out about reducing abortions.

Rather than legally coerce women into carrying unwanted children to term, often under difficult or unacceptable conditions, we should make the natural impulse to “choose life” as easy and painless as possible. We should invest in a support system for young, unprepared mothers providing education, excellent health care, financial and housing assistance, counseling, and adoption services if we have a real ethical commitment to reducing and eliminating abortions.

Finally, what sort of life will the child lead if the mother decides to raise it? Recent studies revealing the causal relationship between the ‘legalization’ of abortion in 1973 and the large drop in the crime rate in the 1990s (almost exactly 18 years later), tells us what that outcome has too often been in the past. We must provide health care and an excellent education to every child. We must ensure a living wage for even the poorest among us and equal pay and opportunity for women. We must learn to accommodate work and child rearing with only one parent in a household. If we as a society are prepared to make this sort of complete and practical commitment to all of our children, even those unexpected or unwanted ones, only then can abortion will pass away as the barbaric tool of a less-enlightened age, without criminalization or coercion, and without placing the burden of our ethics upon the backs of the women and neglected children of our nation.

Of course, all of this can only reduce or eliminate optional abortions undertaken to avoid having an unwanted child. There will always be areas of medical necessity when an abortion is required to save the life or health of the mother in the opinion of a medical doctor. There can be no elimination of such a tragedy; sometimes we must simply choose one life over another. In such cases, the state has no business dictating to the mother or her family what choice must be made. A true ‘culture of life’ includes respecting the autonomy of every life, even as to the time and manner of its end.

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