Many opinionated bytes were thrown around about ‘Monster’ Grosnell and his abortion clinic and, now that it has taken me so long to get this post whipped into shape, he’s been convicted. Much has already been said about the root problem being lack of access to abortion, so I’ll just say I agree and won’t flog that horse any more.
The argument that has always grated on me, and seems forever tethered with anti-abortion rhetoric, is the idea that abortion sprung up suddenly in the 1960s after a decline in American morals. One side effect from taking forever with this post is that it coincides nicely with Libby Anne’s dissection of an anti-abortion blog post. Kae Am implies that something has changed for the worse when she writes
…in a culture in which women are considered things for use, the results of such use are likewise considered things to use or to throw away. In other words, when women are regarded as things for sexual use and then as things for disposal afterward, then natural result of this use (the conception of children) are likewise regards as things for disposal.
To challenge that narrative here are two stories gleaned from books I recently read tied together with one I read some time ago.
From The Wild Place by Kathryn Hulme, a heartbreaking story that shows how much grey area there is in this discussion.
An almost parenthetical bit of the plot in The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins reveals that abortions weren’t at all uncommon for women over a century ago.
If we can’t completely eliminate abortions, the story found in This Common Secret by Susan Wicklund gives an ideal that abortion doctors can strive to emulate.
In The Wild Place, Kathryn Hulme describes a Polish woman in postwar Germany’s Wildflecken Displaced Persons (D.P.) camp. The woman had become attached to an American soldier who told her he would take her home with him when his service ended. Then he was transferred to another location in Germany she never heard from him again.
Some months later Hulme writes that the body of a baby was found in a dumpster, having been strangled after birth. Some investigation found that the same Polish woman left stranded was responsible, having been impregnated by the American soldier before they parted.
After consulting with the presiding military officer, and at his suggestion, Hulme declares in the official report that the woman killed her baby as a result of post-birth insanity.
Keep in mind that Hulme was a devout, lifelong Catholic and expressed absolutely no reservations in the book about letting this woman go unpunished for what was not even an abortion, but the killing of a newborn. Why did she let it go? I believe it was because Hulme new the woman was already struggling and would have kept the baby had she been able to stay with the father and if there wasn’t a stigma attached to being an unwed mother. She didn’t ruin the rest of the woman’s life because this circumstance led her to make the unconscionable decision to kill her child. Likewise, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to make a woman ‘pay’ for a mistake by requiring her to keep a baby or carry it to term for adoption and I don’t think society should stigmatize those who do elect to have an abortion.
In The Murder of the Century, Collins writes about a killing and dismemberment that captivated New York City and its tabloid newspapers in 1897. Augusta Nack was in the middle of a love triangle that turned deadly, but her profession is the pertinent part. She was a German immigrant and performed abortions around the neighborhood in her capacity as a ‘Licensed Midwife’ – even though there was no licensing body at that time.
Although it’s but a tangential subject to the book, the brief explanation seems to make it clear that abortions were outlawed at least as much because it was as likely to kill the woman as much as end a pregnancy. Nack’s work was used against her in court as the prosecution wondered why she would have any compunction about killing a man if she already killed babies for a living.
It was a bit amazing to learn that women were struggling to control their reproduction even prior to 1900, dispelling the myth that women suddenly became selfish with the advent of feminism, the Pill and legalized abortion. And they weren’t accepting constant pregnancy meekly but willing to attempt risky procedures by questionably-qualified people.
Finally, in her book, This Common Secret, Susan Wicklund details the harassment that anti-abortion groups are willing to put abortion doctors through. She also outlines her philosophy and methods as an abortion provider.
Granted, the overwhelming majority of her procedures was routine, but I was surprised as Wicklund described counseling a young woman against having an abortion since she wasn’t ready to make the decision. Wicklund went out of her way to keep from coercing the girl into making a premature, regrettable decision. The descriptions of the circumstances that women come to her with are some of the most impressive parts of the book. If for no one else, I want abortion to remain legal for those who are trying to keep from being tied to an abusive relationship by a child or for those whose birth control has failed and they can’t afford a pregnancy much less a child.
An explanation of my general view of abortion didn’t seem to fit earlier in the post, but I’ll lay it out for those keeping score at home.
I am pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean I like abortion. If I could snap my fingers and make all abortions disappear then I would do so. The difference between me and most on the pro-life side is that I wish to solve the problem – unwanted pregnancies – rather than addressing symptoms – outlawing abortion and even extramarital sex.
I cannot in good conscience look a woman in the eye and declare that she must carry a baby to term if she otherwise does not want or cannot afford to do so. I am willing to call a fetus a baby because I know, and everybody else knows, that if allowed to come to term and birthed, it will be a baby.
I agree that the ban on late-term abortions should remain, but I don’t believe a baby should be afforded legal status until it leaves the womb. I am perfectly aware that pre-term babies survive and I’m also aware that there is no physical difference between a baby on the day before birth compared to the day after. So is it arbitrary to fix birth as a human’s legal designation as personhood? Certainly, it is arbitrary, but no more so than designating legal adulthood at age 18.
I will celebrate as loudly as anyone when there are no more abortions, but outlawing abortions will not solve the root problem. If the pro-life side wants to work with pro-choice side to eliminate the need for abortion then we should be working to reduce unwanted pregnancies to the greatest degree possible.