Thursday, July 21, 2005

Moving Past Stalemate on Abortion

Last night I called into Chris Lydon's new call-in show Open Source. The topic was the abortion debate. How can we move past Roe v. Wade and think about the issue in terms of a new morality? How do we put that morality into law? Can we even do that?

I phoned up and told my story. I was born in 1968, before Roe. My mother was utterly unprepared to be a mother. My dad wasn't around. We were really poor. Mom had a lot of emotional and physical challenges, and it was often a traumatic experience for me growing up. My experience makes me think that the whole debate around the rights of fetuses seemed misplaced to me. During the show I said "I guess I just don’t see the morality of concentrating on the rights of a fetus, but then not giving a damn about whether an eight-year-old kid gets a good education or can go to the doctor."

There is so much more to say about this issue, and I feel as though I was pretty inarticulate, particularly when Chris was asking me about morality and the law. I said that I thought we should have constitutional amendments guaranteeing equal access to health care and quality education through college for all citizens. So what does this have to do with the abortion debate?

Well, I think that there is room for compromise and real understanding for people on both sides of the issue. I can respect it if someone’s moral code says that life begins at conception and that, therefore, they can’t suppoprt abortion. It’s not my view, but I understand it.

What drives me crazy is logical inconsistency. How can a “culture of life” come down so hard on women, often poor and single, for wanting to abort a fetus, but be so silent on the tens of thousands of civilians - including women and children - dead in Iraq? How can they so often be silent on the death penalty? I imagine that people on the other side of the issue ask the same questions. How can someone support the right to kill an unborn child, but oppose the execution of a mass murderer?

So, fine. Why can’t we iron out some of the inconsistencies? If abortion opponents want a consitutional right to life amendment, then no more death penalty, and no more treating innocent civilians like the eggs we have to break in order to make an omelette in the Middle East. Life means ALL LIFE.

Moreover, I’d say that if we’re going to have a right to life amendment, we should also have a right to LIVING amendment. This is where the health care and education came in. If abortion becomes illegal, or even much more restrictive, poor folks and people who are ill prepared to be parents will be forced to have children. Rich folks will be able to get an abortion someplace from someone. So if we’re serious about caring for the welfare of children and families, then we should guarantee some of the basics that people need to be healthy and successful. Everyone gets to go to the doctor. Everyone gets a good education. That’s a Federal guarantee, no dependent on whether you live in a town with a rich property tax base.

Ultimately, I think that by the time the decision comes down to whether or not to abort, there are no good decisions. No woman WANTS her choices to come down to abortion or an unwanted child. Abortion is a flashpoint for a huge suite of issues: poverty, sex education, sexual freedom, the lack of support for kids and families in the country. Unfortunately, progressives have allowed the religious right to bash them around the head with the issue, the way they have with race and other social issues. So we all end up arguing about abortion, rather than the conditions that make abortions more likely and make having and raising a healthy child more difficult.


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