I started my End of the Month Controversy series so that I could talk about issues that are important to me, as a person, a woman, and a parent, regardless of whether they came up naturally in the course of writing about my family. As a general rule, I try to keep politics out of this blog, but the fact of the matter is that parenting and politics go together. So much of what you what you want for your children is tied to what you want for your country. Or at least, I've found that to be true for myself.
You knew it was coming. So here it is. This month, I'm going to talk about abortion.
I am, as you have probably guessed if you follow me on Twitter or like me on Facebook, pro-Choice.
I don't believe that an embryo is a person. I don't believe that a fertilized egg is a person. I don't believe that zygote is a person. I believe that life starts in the womb, but "life" means a lot of things. A bacteria is "alive." A tulip is "alive." Yogurt cultures are "alive." Cows and pigs and sheep and deer and chickens (all of which the majority of Americans eat, pro-"life" or not) are "alive."
I don't think that life is sacred- to the extent that some opponents of abortion do. Yes, I'm a vegetarian. But I'm also a pragmatist. I don't oppose killing animals to eat them, I oppose the business of killing animals to eat them. I believe that life should be dignified, and the lives of animals being raised for slaughter are pretty much never dignified. They're awful. And so many go to waste- the number of animals raised for slaughter in this country that live in conditions that render them totally inedible... it's horrific. Undignified.
And it's my outrage in a lack of dignity in life that makes me pro-Choice. I'll get back to that.
Let's talk about that word- choice. Women have been choosing whether or not to maintain pregnancies since time immemorial. 150 years ago, most women knew which herbs were abortifacients. Not just women out in the sticks either- city folk. Women with book learnin'. Upper class women in tiny hats who played the flute and painted with watercolors. But also country women. Women who had to sew all their children's clothing, who had to work in fields with their babies strapped to their backs. They knew how to avoid getting pregnant in the first place. And they knew ways to naturally terminate a pregnancy.
Men didn't talk about it much, but they knew that women knew. Men just didn't think it was their place to be involved. They weren't involved in childbirth, they weren't involved with "women's work," and they sure weren't involved in discussions about women's reproductive health or autonomy. There's a reason that abortion isn't mentioned in the Bible too directly- it was totally accepted. Sometimes, women did what they needed to do. And that continued for a long, long time. Shortly after Charlotte Bronte died from hyperemesis gravidarum- a not entirely uncommon pregnancy complication, a friend of hers wrote that had she known the "cause" of Charlotte's illness, she herself would have administered the herbs to end the pregnancy. That was 150 years ago. But as the science of medicine grew both in effectiveness and in the public esteem, "old wives tales" and folk knowledge were replaced- midwives found themselves evicted from delivery rooms. Slowly, the universality of the knowledge of controlling women's fertility dwindled.
And then the pill came along. So much easier. And then the D and C- our modern day abortion.
Now women have the ability to abort a pregnancy more safely than every before, but they can't do it on their own. They can't go into their gardens, cut the right herb, make a tea that makes them horribly ill and induces a miscarriage. They don't know how. Instead, they can go to a doctor who can cleanly remove an embryo without the illness or medical risks. And that really freaks people out. It's so clinical, so cold. People picture an abortionist as their worst childhood nightmares of the doctor- a man who cuts mommies so he can kill babies.
Now abortion is safer, but so much more public.
I'm not saying that it was ever an easy choice for a woman to make- it wasn't. But we live in a different time. 150 years ago, life was so much HARDER. You could be essentially married off against your will, you had no protection against a husband who beat you, you had no property of your own, the law didn't protect you at all. You couldn't vote. You had to have child after child, regardless of whether any of them had food to eat. And you had to work, in the fields or in a sweat shop. There was no middle class. Not until the 20th century.
So yes, that's all history. But it's important to understand how new the public outcry against abortion really is.
It's not just new, it's confused and misguided. So much of it is religiously based- the idea that abortion is murder and, "Thou Shalt Not Kill."
I don't think abortion is murder. And neither does the Bible. The Bible mentions abortion one time- and not by name. Exodus 21-22: "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no mischief follows: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." Incidentally, it's the same punishment as if a man cuts off the woman's arm. Causing a woman to miscarry- that is, inducing an abortion- the husband gets to beat him up, and he owes the husband a fine.
I believe Genesis 9:6 covers that punishment for murder- "Whoso sheddeth a man's blood, by man shall his blood by shed."
God and I are firmly on the same side of the personhood issue. If anything, I'm more pro-life than He is. I believe that at some point, a fetus IS a human being. I think that time comes around the same time that you can measure brain activity- about 20 weeks gestational age. If the thing dreams, it's pretty close to human. And most hospitals with good NICUs in this country have extremely good odds (over 90%) of keeping a 26 week preemie alive. They even have 10% odds of keeping a 22 week micropreemie alive. Micropreemies can have a whole host of lifetime disorders and medical problems as a result of not developing fully, but I would definitely call that fetus a person. The Bible doesn't.
Keep in mind, nearly all abortions occur well before that point. The vast majority of abortions occur within six weeks of conception. At six weeks, we're still talking about embryos. We haven't even reached the fetus discussion. Let alone the argument of whether or not it's a child.
I often I hear people say things like, "It's a child, not a choice," and, "If the CHILD could choose, it would choose to live!"
The idea of the child choosing seems pretty loaded to me. You see, an embryo isn't a child- it's a potential child. The same way that an unfertilized egg isn't a child- it's a potential child. They are no more capable of making a choice about their lives than a potato. They simply are not sentient.
If we're going to say that every embryo would "choose" life, then we should also posit that every egg would "choose" life, which would mean that a woman who didn't get pregnant at every single opportunity was denying her "children" a right to life.
But let's avoid that for now... let's just say that we're only talking embryos. What if every single embryo was grown into a human child? First of all, it would be a miracle to women who want to have babies everywhere- one in three pregnancies end in early miscarriage. Making many abortions pretty much a non-issue, as most women who have them get them within the fist six weeks- the time most likely to miscarry and also the fastest time frame possible. And most of those women, the vast majority of them, are poor. As a few notorious anti-Choice groups keep reminding us Chicagoans, poor black women in particular are the most likely to seek an abortion.
The strain on society of providing for those children is massive. There's their educational costs, their childcare costs, their medical costs... and if a woman is already poor? I got advice from a teacher once- he recommended all his students marry rich people. He said, "You don't need any help being poor." Well, nobody will help you be poor more than a child. And we as a society have an obligation (particularly as a self-proclaimed Christian society- but that's an entirely different controversy) to take care of the poor. One that we utterly fail at.
Then there are the more complicated choice issues. What if the woman already made a choice NOT to get pregnant? Let's say that she was already taking birth control. Birth control is only 99% effective. People still get pregnant when they're taking it. What if she was raped? What if she's mentally ill, or addicted to drugs? What if she is in some way completely incapable of caring for a child? What if she's in some way incapable of MAKING a choice? Many of those children (and remember, mentally ill women, poor women, and minority women are at higher risk for rape as well), if not most, go into the foster care system.
It's sad to say, but most children that go into foster care never come out. Most families looking to adopt are looking to adopt healthy, NORMAL babies. Not the babies of crack addicts, not babies with serious health problems, not babies born addicted to heroin. Those children go into the foster system, and they rot there. They get involved in crime, they go to jail, they get killed. It's horrible.
And people who want to adopt babies? They mostly adopt abroad- for good reasons. The US laws regarding adoption put so many protections in place for the birth parents that at almost any time, a family can simply loose their adopted child. After years. Did the mom clean up and get a job? Did a grandparent come forward? And so on. International adoptions are much safer for adoptive parents, and so more and more frequently they pick children from other countries. Countries that have made a business out of adoption, ruining families in the process.
And it's not just that, it's the cost. A domestic adoption frequently costs eight to ten times what it takes for adoptive parents to fly to another country, adopt a child there, and return home. A domestic adoption can often cost upwards of $40,000, most of which is the fees involved in making sure that the birth mother gives up all of her legal rights to the child.
Perhaps most importantly, people want to adopt children as young as possible. Most domestic adoptions occur through agencies that deal with pregnant women- not with children already in need. Most families looking to adopt are looking to go to the hospital when the baby is born, and leave with it. They're not looking to rescue a child who's already been through years of potential abuse or neglect. They don't want a child that might have "issues." They want to be there from day one, not seventeen months or six years later.
There are lots of other reason that people don't want to adopt via foster care. Half of the kids in foster care have siblings in foster care. Nobody wants to split them apart, and the most adoptive parents aren't looking to take a bunch of kids at once. More than half of the children in foster care have their parents come to retrieve them- at least once. This is a huge fear of any parent looking to adopt. And a large and growing proportion of children in foster care were actually placed there by their parents to help them get care for mental illnesses.
In short, we have a problem taking care of children in this country.
People do still adopt out of foster care. And my hat is off to those people. Truly. There are people who make a gigantic difference in those kids' lives. And if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that it's in our plans to adopt. Someday. But that's not what I'm talking about today.
I say, until we as a society actually take care of the children- ALL of the children- that we already have... until all of the breathing, needy children who go hungry every day, who suffer violence every day, who commit crimes and live entire childhoods without once hearing the words "I love you..." Until we as a society do our part to care for those children, we have absolutely no business telling anybody that they MUST bring another child into the world.
Last of all, I firmly believe that being pregnant just isn't for everyone. Some women like being pregnant, but for some women it is awful. Spending nine months being sick and miserable can actually ruin your life. Only about half of the women in this country work jobs where they can take maternity leave. What happens to you if you can't work because you haven't stopped puking in three days? Or if you can't work because your SPD is so bad that you can't stand up? Or if you can't work because you're just too damn tired to be awake more than four or five hours at a stretch? Pregnancy is like that for a lot of women. A lot of women don't have the opportunity to have both a pregnancy and a productive economic life. Should a woman have to lose her job, her livelihood, her security, so she can make another person dependent on her? How much should she have to give up because she's gotten pregnant?
Pregnancy doesn't just create a baby. It hijacks a woman's body- literally makes it not her own. Women who have been pregnant, whether intended or not, whether desired or not, know this. Every move that you make, every thought in your head, every physical sensation you experience, somehow these are effected, altered. Sometimes drastically so. I could not have been a chef and pregnant simultaneously. Not when chocolate tasted like fish food.
There are women who simply cannot be pregnant and healthy at the same time. I think here of a friend of mine with a degenerative back condition. If she were to become (and stay) pregnant, she would need to spend her entire pregnancy in bed. She would be unable to carry a child to term, or have a natural delivery. And after the baby was born, she would be facing years of physical therapy and probably surgery to try to undo the damage to her spine.
I think about women who become preeclampsic, or who have hyperemesis gravidarum. Women who, whether or not they want to have a baby, suffer through a pregnancy.
I think about women like me, who's first symptom of pregnancy- even before a missed period- is cancer.
Should women for whom pregnancy might not prove fatal, but would certainly prove dangerous or permanently life altering in the matters of their own health, be expected to get or stay pregnant?
Included in the number of women who could afford to have a baby, who might become good parents, but who would probably choose to terminate rather than remain pregnant are also women for whom their career is both high pressured and quickly rising. The fact remains that women receive fewer promotions, fewer raises, less money for any given job than a man. Part of this is the fear that the company will "lose her" to a baby at some point in time. If a man arrives at work and tells his boss that he's going to be a father, he gets a pat on the back, congratulations, a great deal of joy is shared. But if a woman goes into work and announces to her boss that she's going to be a mother, she loses much of her opportunity. Exciting or important jobs, cases, and assignments pass her by. Promotions pass her by. She is suddenly seen as a liability. This isn't only true in business, it is true in academia as well. Imagine working on your Ph.D. and being pregnant. Imagine working in a lab where you deal with diseases, or doing fieldwork in a country without adequate prenatal care, or in a hospital where you are constantly on call and exposed to sick people day in and day out. Is that a safe environment in which to be pregnant? And should you give it all up in order to have a baby?
And if a woman is working so hard at her job in order to reach a point where she can provide for a child in the manner she sees fit? Where she makes enough to pay for good childcare, for good health care, for a home in which her children can be safe and comfortable? Should she have to have a baby that could derail her hopes and plans for a future family life?
A lot of people say that if you don't want to have a baby, you shouldn't have sex. But that is nonsense. Sex is a fundamental, basic need of most adults. A need to be physically close to another person, a need for the emotional release, a need for the connection between the partners- whether committed in marriage or otherwise- to to express their love for each other.
I think abortion sucks, quite simply. I think it's sad, but mostly, for the women who must make that incredibly painful decision. But I don't think it's the worst thing that can happen.
I don't think it's nearly as bad as what I've seen happen to the children living in urban poverty. Pregnant 11 year olds who were raped by foster brothers, seven year old boys running drugs for a gang that provides the only sense of family they've ever known, malnourished kids who can't concentrate on getting their reading skills up to grade level because they're too hungry to focus on learning to conjugate their verbs.
I don't think it's nearly as bad as women leaving the sciences, the corner offices, and the board rooms of the country because they must cede their own ambitions.
I say, if you're going to fight against abortion, start by fighting for the kids who really need you. And the sooner that having an unwanted baby doesn't carry the risks that its life will be like the lives of the unwanted children among us today, the sooner women will make the choice to have the baby instead of aborting it.
And fight for gender equality. When a pregnancy doesn't mean losing your financial independence, losing your upward momentum, losing hope for the life you wanted to build, more of those women will chose to have the baby rather than aborting it as well.
You can't start by eradicating the effect. You have to go to the causes. And the cause of abortion isn't women who, like me, just don't believe that an embryo is a person. The causes of abortion are a society where it is extremely damaging to let that embryo become a person. Give pregnant women the support they need, give children the care they need, give women the equality they deserve, and you will find fewer and fewer abortions performed.