(Cross posted at The Hand Mirror)
I have read a couple of pieces recently, written by women who have made the abortion decision, one in the Adelaide Mail, with a follow-up blog post, and one by Stef, the Ex-expat , cross-posted at The Hand Mirror. Neither of the women had the abortion light-heartedly, both of them took responsible decisions, and both of them say something very interesting about shame.
Audrey and the Bad Apples says:
It makes me incredibly sad that the point of my article has been proven – that women won’t speak out without guilt or remorse over something like abortion because the reactions she can expect to get are ones of hate, ignorance, judgmental assumptions and sanctimonious bullshit. I’m especially offended by the suggestions of some that I am ‘bragging’ in the column; that I’m boasting about what I’ve done, that I’m flippant, that I’m ‘wearing the abortions like a badge of honour’ – when what I’m ultimately doing is refusing to wear them as a badge of shame.
And Stef says:
I feel the need to write about abortion from a slightly different perspective, someone who has had one. I do so not because I am proud of having one nor because I want to encourage others to follow my decision but because I refuse to be ashamed when I admit that I have had one
Don’t read the comments thread on Audrey’s Adelaide Mail piece – it’s pretty vile, but there is some amazing support for her decision. There are no negative comments on Stef’s thread, possibly because some of us leapt in straight away with support, possibly because what she wrote was just so damn sensible.
So perhaps the determination of these women not to feel pressured into feeling ashamed, not to buy into some self-disapproval reflecting what they took to be society’s disapproval, was not really necessary, given all the support they got.
That would be the positive way to look at it, to think that society really doesn’t condemn abortion any more, but I think it’s not just positive, it could even be seen as positively pollyanna-ish. Aside from the anti-abortion crowd, even people who say that they support a woman’s right to choose often tag it with saying that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare”, a tag that I think is inherently contradictory. And that exposes those who use the phrase as not really accepting abortion, as being deeply ambivalent about it. Sure, women should be able to access abortion, but really, they shouldn’t use it at all. The unspoken justification is that abortion is wrong, that it shouldn’t happen, but they will accept it as an evil necessity.
I also suspect that people who use the phrase haven’t given thought to what making something legal, safe and rare actually entails. When it comes to minimising abortion, then we need easy access to effective contraceptives, and good education about contraceptives. Abstinence won’t work; the genie of sexual freedom is long out of the bottle, and it won’t be going back. In any case, who really wants to return to the repressed and repressive world on the 1950s?
Even then, contraceptives do fail. So we need easy, reliable access to the emergency contraceptive pill. But that’s not failsafe – I have friends who ended up pregnant despite using both condoms and the ECP. They had twins.
My friends were lucky – they were in a position to continue the pregnancy. But many women aren’t. If the “legal safe and rare” crowd really want to make abortion rare, then they need to ensure that women are not penalised for continuing the pregnancy. And that will entail ensuring that mothers have adequate financial support, that young children can be well fed, clothed, housed and educated. A woman faced with an unexpected pregnancy should not need to engage in feverish calculation about whether or not she can actually support a child, if people really want abortion to be rare. Alternatively, mothers need access to high quality child care, and flexible work, so that they can continue to work, and support their children themselves. Even then, they would need to have social supports available too, so that they can get a break from the demands of parenting and working, and juggling, juggling, juggling all the time.
“Legal safe and rare” entails a huge cost, and a significant re-organisation of the way society works. I suspect that many of the “legal safe and rare” crowd don’t want to pay that cost. Instead, the tag is, I think, a quiet dogwhistle. Those who oppose abortion can at least feel that the utterer really does oppose abortion too, but accepts it as an evil necessity, while those who support abortion can feel that at least they will not be on the barricades again, defending a woman’s right to choose. And those who are ambivalent can hear their ambivalence reflected right back at them.
None of what I have written deals with the morality of abortion. It’s just about the way that we regard abortion. The morality of abortion is a different matter, and it’s an issue that has been well rehearsed, over and over again. I don’t propose to go there now. Maybe another day, maybe not, depending on what is happening in the countries where I live, maybe nothing until next year’s blog for choice day. If you do want to argue the toss on it, have the decency to read some of the considerable philosophical literature on it first – start with Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics, and then try Rosalind Hursthouse’s Beginning Lives.