I’m with Amanda on this one – abortion is, in fact, a moral good.
I’ll clarify a little bit. I don’t think that the people who make the “abortion is a tragedy” argument are always trying to undermine women’s rights. But there does seem to be a huge difference in how we discuss abortion and how we discuss all other medical procedures.
The “I think abortion should be legal but I would never have one” argument grates on my nerves. You don’t know what you would do if faced with an unwanted pregnancy. You don’t know how the circumstances of your life will change, and what will influence your future decisions. Saying that you think the little ladies should have the right but you are morally superior enough to never terminate a pregnancy is condescending and completely unhelpful to the abortion rights movement. It feeds into positioning the conversation around fetal rights rather than women’s rights. It supports the idea that abortion is more an issue of personal morality than one of medical access.
There’s a difference between the circumstances under which a woman goes in for an abortion and the abortion itself. The circumstances that lead to abortion are almost always bad ones. Unwanted pregnancy. Fetal abnormality. A wanted pregnancy gone wrong. Economic status. Rape. Incest. Intimate partner violence.
Abortion itself, though, can be a savior for women, and a positive choice. Abortion is a medical procedure and, like most medical procedures, is preempted by some sort of negative event. And yet the discourse around abortion is focused on how “tragic” it is. Is open-heart surgery “tragic”? Is an appendectomy “tragic”? Obviously the circumstances leading up to open-heart surgery and appendectomy are bad. But the procedures themselves, I would argue, are good responses to bad situations. As is abortion.
Some on the Pandagon thread argue that procedures like heart surgery are morally neutral. I don’t think so. Having access to that surgery in the first place is a moral good. Deciding to take the course of action that is best for you is a moral good. That’s true whether the issue is terminating a pregnancy or fighting cancer.
Choosing to have a baby is just as much of moral good. In contrast, I’m not so sure that being legally forced to carry a pregnancy to term is morally good at all (just as being legally forced to terminate a pregnancy would not be a moral good). We can’t evaluate the morality of an individual’s choices if they don’t have agency. Abortion rights offer individual autonomy to give birth or to not give birth. The right of an individual to make their own choice about whether or not they will offer their body in the support of another organism is a moral good. The individual making a choice which will be most beneficial to them is a moral good, whether that choice is abortion or birth or both (and most women who have abortions, it should be noted, make different choices at different times in their lives). The abortion procedure itself, like most other medical procedures, is a moral good. And like most other medical procedures, it is bad when done without consent, or when coercive. As is childbirth.
- If you love seeing babies in the park, punish rape survivors by Jill October 10, 2006
- Can You Be a Feminist for Life? by Jill August 15, 2005
- Shocker: Sam Brownback supports forced pregnancy for rape and incest survivors by Jill June 11, 2007
- “Progressive” McCain by Jill November 20, 2006
- Amnesty International supports human rights; conservative groups shocked. by Jill August 19, 2007