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2/04/2006

This isn't that hard, people

Why is it that "how progressives should talk about abortion" is always presented as some intractable dilemma? It's not that complicated.
What I'm talking about is this. As you may know, over at Slate Katha Pollitt and William Saletan are debating abortion under the banner of "Is Abortion Bad?" A great exchange and worth reading. What got my goat was a posting in response this morning by Sam Rosenfeld over at Tapped in which he favorably quotes Barbara Ehrenreich -- she of Nickeled and Dimed fame -- saying that the only thing that she regretted about her abortions was how much they cost. Rosenfeld says: "intellectually, Ehrenreich's position made sense" (emphasis in the original) and praised Ehrenreich for not being "squishy" on the issue like some Democrats. While I do appreciate the nice rhetorical touch in "intellectually," that statement still managed to make the skin crawl up on the back of my neck. Rosenfeld's implication is that abortion is entirely neutral -- morally, ethically, emotionally a wash -- except sometimes you get a bill when it's all over. It's telling that that he wonders how Saleten can believe that abortion is "morally wrong" and yet still distinguish it from murder.

To my mind, Rosenfeld gets at the crux of the issue for many Democrats -- if we don't think that abortion is a neutral, neither here nor there, how can we be so damn supportive of something that we believe to be a bad thing? It's a great question, I think. I'll answer for myself. As I see it now, the choice to terminate a pregnancies is a right endowed upon us by our creator (nature, higher power, whatever) to determine our own destinies. It's a survival mechanism that carries both great power and, as the ending of a potential life, a great responsibility.
All right, once and for all:

Abortion is a good thing.

Being in a position where you need/want to have an abortion is not.

(Sarah Silverman: "I want to get an abortion. But my boyfriend and I are having trouble conceiving.")

Why is this such a brain teaser for some people? Think of it as analogous to open heart surgery. Heart disease sucks; the fact that you can have surgery to help with heart disease is good. Unwanted pregnancy sucks; the fact that you can choose not to be pregnant any longer is good. Ideally, there would be no heart surgeries/abortions, because there would be no heart disease/unwanted pregnancy. Given that there is heart disease/unwanted pregnancy, we want people to be able to have heart surgery/abortions.

The question, "wouldn't you rather there be fewer abortions?" doesn't have an unqualified answer. Yes, if a decrease in abortions were the result of a decrease in unwanted pregnancies. If it were the result of something else, like increasing expense, criminalization of the procedure, etc., then the answer is no.

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