Once upon a time — early 1970s, pre-Roe, I believe — I remember reading a newspaper column written by a fellow who had been opposed to legal abortion. I say had, because he had changed his mind. What changed his mind was a tragedy — his beloved granddaughter, a college student, had been raped.
The young woman didn’t become pregnant. But the episode had made the man think — what if she had. Before Roe, several states banned abortions even for rape victims. For the first time, he reflected on what a pregnancy from rape might do not only to his granddaughter, but to his entire family. Could the family accept such a child? Could he? How would it feel to give a grandchild away? Not just a hypothetical grandchild, but his real, breathing, flesh-and-blood grandchild?
And he considered, for the first, time, how such a pregnancy would prolong and deepen the trauma his granddaughter had already suffered. All his hopes for her — that she would finish college, that she would marry happily and have children — depended on her recovery from the trauma. How could a compassionate and just society not do whatever it took to help her? Yes, babies are precious, but so was his granddaughter!
As I remember it, the man remained uncomfortable with abortion. But he thought on, and he thought about teenagers with poor impulse control, and couples with as many children as they could afford already, and a thousand other circumstances in which people — real people — might choose to seek abortion. Suddenly, for him a woman who sought an abortion was no longer just a hypothesis or an archetype — Careless Woman, Selfish Woman, Woman in a Vacuum. Now he understood these women were real individuals with parents, siblings, husbands, children, and grandparents who loved them.
Today I thought about the man who cared about his granddaughter when I read two posts by Digby — “The Sodomized Virgin Exception” and, um, this other post. What comes through loudly and clearly in both posts is that the anti-abortion rights position is based on an assumption that women aren’t real people — especially women who get abortions. Oh, they’re human in a scientific sense, but they aren’t people. They are archetypes who live in the heads of the anti-abortion righters — Careless Woman, Selfish Woman, Woman in a Vacuum. The same people who imagine embryos can think and feel emotions — and therefore deserve protection — must believe a pregnant woman is just a major appliance.
There are copious anecdotes from abortion providers who say that often the same people protesting outside the clinic one week are patients (or parents of patients) the next week. These people assume that their situations are unique and should be the one exception. They often want the abortion staff to know they aren’t like those other women who get abortions. This inspired the bitter joke that the legitimate reasons for abortion are “rape, incest, and me.” Such people recognize their own humanity (or their daughter’s), but those other women who get abortions are just archetypes who don’t deserve respect or considertion.
I’ve long believed that whether one is pro-choice or anti-choice does not depend on whether one thinks embryos are human beings. It depends on whether one recognizes that women are human beings. Not archetypes, but real, individual human beings. Including women who get abortions.