Oh, the Humanity

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abortion, Feminism, Women's Issues

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.

See also: Amanda M., Echidne and the Wege.

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18 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Ivan Raikov  •  Mar 4, 2006 @10:34 pm

    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.

    I would even go as far as to say that the the right-wingers are incapable of relating to other human beings, period. I’ve never heard any of these self-identified Christians to be concerned about “the least of their brethren” or anyone else beside themselves.

  2. lurker  •  Mar 5, 2006 @12:01 am

    Agreed with Ivan.

    Also, I’m sure all those of us who are parents, and probably most people who aren’t, at least see how an abortion could be a moral conflict even if it isn’t for us. Yes, it really does stop a beating heart. That is tragic for me; it’s sad when any life ends. But–it’s also sad when a life (more than one, in many cases) is damaged, even ruined, by carrying to term a pregnancy that was unplanned. As a woman, I can barely contemplate the horror of being raped, let alone having to bear the child of that encounter. There just aren’t words for that situation. Obviously I’ve never been in that situation–precisely the reason why I would not have the nerve to tell someone who is what they should do. Why is there no compassion for the mother? Do they really think most women go into the clinic going “Yay! I get to have an abortion!”?

  3. janinsanfran  •  Mar 5, 2006 @12:09 am

    It seems that we’ll have to lose the right of women to have abortions for women to get our heads around the fact that these people really don’t think we are fully human. Of course it is hard, since we bear, raise and cohabit with folks in that camp.

  4. Orlando  •  Mar 5, 2006 @3:30 am

    First they came for rape and incest; then, they came for “woman choice”; after, they came for the SUV, the new house and the new dog everybody should be entitled to; and finally, they came for abortion as a mere anti-conception method.
    Clever business marketing.

  5. Rick  •  Mar 5, 2006 @8:51 am

    Oh the hypocrisy…

    Lets do what Ahnold did in that movie where HE had a baby, shift the fetus into the body of male prolifers and let them give birth….
    thats about as realife as the scenarios these people envision for justifiably aborting…

  6. Britwit  •  Mar 5, 2006 @12:15 pm

    Digby is a fuck-head big time.

    Yes, let’s blame the woman and punish her.

  7. Neil  •  Mar 5, 2006 @12:18 pm

    First, as a male I state for the record my opinion that no male should have majority policy determining power about the outcomes for women’s reproductive health. There is no basis for male dominance here, and there can be no competence in same. Women should have the dominant voice in these matters.

    Second I think that underneath the religious right’s fervor and fanaticism about abortion is their frantic anxiety about how to keep premodern dogma relevant in this era where the center of gravity for western society is modern – postmodern. Underlying their outrage and righteous indignation is the fear of being discarded, diminished and degraded in terms of their socio-political presence and power on the world’s stage.

    Third, Ken Wilber talks about moral-valuing in terms of depth vs. span. Span refers to the greatest number being a determiner of importance, value and ultimately, priority. There are more viruses than anything else in the biosphere, so shouldn’t we set our moral compass in terms of the “good” of the many?

    Depth refers to level of development and sophistication of the organism. He asks, “Isn’t one Mother Teresa more important than seven Hell’s Angels? So if we construct a moral value hierarchy based on depth then wouldn’t it be logical to assume that in an ascending order of value we would protect and value first trimester embryo, six months old infant, 2 year old child, etc.?

    So do the guilt and shame mongers, holier-than-thou protesters and MD murders ply their tirades and media covered protests in the service of sick and hungry children, in the U.S. and the world? Do they use their internal and external resources to protect and defend children who have actually been held, fed, protected and nurtured? Do they value morally and spiritually based on relational contact skin-to-skin, eye- to-eye and soul-to-soul, one live organism to another?

    No, and why? I think because it is into aborted pregnancy they can project their fears about not having control over their existence in the postmodern world, they can revel and wallow in their highly invested victim identity (never can tell when that nasty emperor is going to feed them to the lions again) and they can create the illusion of being morally superior–which surely those who are guaranteed salvation on judgment day are and ever more shall be, AMEN.

    And fourth, from a systems view, don’t forget that religion is male dominated, and when was it that a male dominated system ever equally valued women as peers, co-equals, or betters? If the premodern religionists ever started giving that kind of status to women then what might happen to the Holy Roman Church, Fundamentalist and Evangelical church pulpits and congregations and a theology based on male spiritual leadership (PUKE)?

    Get Thee behind Me Satan!

  8. Swami  •  Mar 5, 2006 @12:35 pm

    Comment # 6…Huh? please elaborate, you lost me with that comment.

  9. maha  •  Mar 5, 2006 @1:00 pm

    Britwit — you are misreading Digby. He’s on our side.

  10. renate  •  Mar 5, 2006 @1:26 pm

    lets stay on message:

    It is NOT about LIFE, it IS ALL about SEX.

  11. elohimus  •  Mar 5, 2006 @1:40 pm

    maybe we should start thinking about how we as a collective society put so much pressure on young people (who are the ones having the most abortions) to not have that baby. If we think abortion is so bad, why do we make socially, financially, and morally unacceptable for babies to be born to young people?

  12. maha  •  Mar 5, 2006 @2:25 pm

    elohimus — I’m not sure what you mean by “young people.” According to Alan Guttmacher 56 percent of American women who obtain abortions are in their 20s. Only 19 percent are teenagers.

    Other facts: A majority of women who have abortions have at least one child already.

    Pregnancy and childbirth are medically dangerous for younger teens.

  13. Britwit  •  Mar 5, 2006 @4:16 pm

    comment 9 – maha – oh, so he is tongue-in-cheek. Thanks for correcting me. Sorry-I don’t want to shoot the messenger!!

    That explains why comment no 8.

    My husband buys on eBay and I hop on computer when he is off and I must have read too quickly.

  14. Cass  •  Mar 5, 2006 @5:07 pm

    To force them to put all the cards on the table – next time you talk with an anti-abortion person ask them (very sweetly, with wide eyes if you can manage it) what is the appropriate punishment for a woman who has an abortion. If abortion is murder, it is certainly pre-meditated. If they support the death penalty, shouldn’t women who have abortions be executed? If not, how many years should they spend in prison? Isn’t murder usually 20+ years?
    Try not to laugh aloud while they squirm and ooze out their inevitably misogynistic answer.
    Nothing invigorates like making a person who thinks they have all the answers notice, if only in their reptilian brain, that they really don’t.

  15. sb_gypsy  •  Mar 7, 2006 @11:59 am

    It’s not about sex, or life – It’s about PRIVACY. If they can drown Roe v Wade, they can do whatever they want in our homes, our bedrooms, our workplace, our doctor’s offices.

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