[Somewhat rushed piece…overwhelmed with work, but trying to stay in the habit of writing, and it’s been a long time. I’m sure it’s full of typos and other problems, but at this point, it will have to do]
I’ve spent a bit of time talking about abortion and abortion rights since Hitting Bregma started (notably here and here). I’m fascinated by it as a topic because it’s so meaningful to so many people, that I honestly see it as the number one guiding issue in our politics today. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this at all, and I would enjoy being shown that it’s not true, but I think the abortion question actually drives many people in one direction or another, and then the other partisan issues take hold. It’s easy for me to imagine somebody being appalled by abortion, leaning toward a particular political identity because of that, and then slowing assimilating with all the other beliefs of that political party. It seems like a key reason, for instance, why a deeply religious Christian would so predictably care about small government, about maintaining strong borders, about a super powerful national defense, about implementing the death penalty, about low taxes (especially for the wealthy). On the flip side, it’s puzzling to me that advocacy of abortion rights does such a good job at predicting where somebody stands on raising taxes on the wealthy, on being against the death penalty, about working hard for minority rights and environmentalism, and about government services for the poor. Of course, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t fall into those more predictable positions. I know plenty who are deeply religious, and guided by this to be sickened by abortion, but put this aside to otherwise favor liberal politicians who are anti-death penalty, pro-helping the poor, pro-helping immigrants, and willing to tax people to make that possible. It would be a silly straw man fallacy to say that I’m implying that this applies to everybody equally, but I find it interesting to see how many people seem to find their political identity by following the pro-choice or anti-abortion trail to the rest of the stuff.
I’m moved to think about this today because of a little fight that’s erupted in the democratic party. The first couple of paragraphs from this Rolling Stone article sums it up nicely, and it’s been interesting to watch where others have fallen on this, and to think about what it means. Personally, I find myself falling into the litmus test category. I favor a democratic party platform that says women should have the right to terminate their pregnancies without any interference from the government (other than licensing regulations that make sure the provider is performing the procedure using the things we all expect from practitioners; sterility, training, etc). If there are people who say that they support all parts of the platform except that, they’re willing to vote for the democrat anyway, but if there are people who are running for office and disagree with that cornerstone of the democratic party, then I stutter a bit. How many elected members of the democratic party does it take to change that platform position? How sad would it make me to feel that my party no longer represents my views on a key issue, and which party would be left to represent that key view if both republicans and democrats were against abortion rights?
I got into this with my wife a bit, who takes another view: if democrats aren’t open to anti-abortion candidates, then we basically make it impossible to win in vast swaths of the country. I see that point, but I think I’d rather lose those parts, than change what the party platform means. What’s the use of electing a democrat if s/he is just going to help put an anti-Roe Justice on the Supreme Court?
It’s surely complicated, and my guess is that we’ll be fighting this fight for quite some time. There are, however, things that could change the dynamics of the discussion though. More efforts to reduce the need for abortion would certainly help make this a less prominent issue. Some on the pro-life side seem to be more open to those possibilities than they used to be. If we want to dream big, outside the realm of what’s currently possible (and outside the realm of what will likely ever be possible — mostly because the likelihood that people will try to get it working is slim), I think embryo/fetus transplants could make a big difference. Moving the embryo/fetus to another carrier for the gestation could have a huge impact on the discussion. For many of us, the issue of abortion rights is almost entirely about the right of the woman to determine how her body is used. The right of the woman to decide if she is willing to gestate or not. I wrote about this before, but it comes down to body autonomy. Here’s what I said earlier when I outlined a number of issues that go into a pro-choice or anti-abortion stance:
Body autonomy. This is a really important one for me. The woman’s body belongs to her. Period. There is no other circumstance when we force somebody to do something with their bodies, against their will, to benefit another individual. Even if we use the earliest definition of life, conception, and consider that embryo/fetus to be a unique life, with all of the rights given to a newborn baby, I do not think we can force the mother to care for that embryo/fetus. We do, however, require parents to care for their children, and we charge them with neglect if they do not. I recognize that counter argument, but we don’t require the parents to violate their body autonomy to do so. We don’t force breast feeding, and we certainly allow mothers to bottle feed without considering them criminally negligent. If a child needs a transplant and the parent is a suitable donor, we don’t charge the parent with criminal negligence if they refuse to give up an organ, violating their body autonomy, to keep the child alive. I think most of us would give that organ to a child of ours, but failing to do so isn’t criminal. So I am left with the strong sense that the State cannot require a woman to carry a pregnancy that she does not want, just as the state cannot require a woman to donate a kidney or even give blood, if she does not want to. The State should not be in the business of forcing people to do things with their bodies.
But what if the choice is this: carry the pregnancy to term, or terminate the pregnancy while others do what they can to save the embryo/fetus? Aside from the gigantic technical hurdle, there are plenty of other issues that need to be resolved (who pays for it? what is the impact on the population? who raises the child after gestation?), but it changes the discussion completely. We could even use this technology to take away what I see as sex discrimination entering into the debate (anti-abortion laws mandating the only instance of violating body autonomy, and it only applying to women). There are folks who think that the biological father should have a say in whether or not the woman terminates the pregnancy…now he can have that say, as long as he’s willing to carry the pregnancy to term (and consents to the implantation of the artificial womb and surgical removal of it and the baby when ready). These are things that could become technically feasible in the future. Again, I somewhat doubt they will, because I don’t see much real motivation for it, but my crystal ball hasn’t worked very well for years (or ever).
What I can say is this: I would love it if abortion wasn’t an issue anymore. I would love it if we all picked political parties based on other issues (like the relative size and roles of government, like who should pay more or less in taxes, like what kind of foreign policy we should have). On the other hand, I would hate it if the reason it wasn’t an issue was because candidates and elected officials universally opposed abortion…I’m sure that would make others very happy though, so we’re back where we started.