Thursday, August 23, 2012

In a kinder, gentler America, we might perhaps have a rational discussion about abortion

We might even be able, in such a Nirvana, to calmly and rationally explain why some would want to deny abortion even to victims of rape.

(And, no, Rep. Todd Akin, it has nothing to do with whether or not the rape was "legitimate." Keep your dunce hat on and stay in the corner.)

The woman raped is a crime victim, plain and simple. What is not so simple is when rape involves another victim, one brought into being by the crime.

This does not always happen -- (No, Todd, not because the woman's body 'shuts that whole thing down.' I'm not going to tell you again. Sit in the corner and be quiet!) -- this does not always happen because, as anyone who's ever intentionally tried to conceive a child will tell you, not every instance of intercourse produces a child. But, potentially, possibly -- and rarely -- the violent crime of rape will result in the victim becoming pregnant.

It sure as hell is not her fault. (Todd! Last time! Sit!) It sure as hell is not her choice.

But neither is it the fault of the unborn child.

Now many -- I dare say most -- people would not consider the few cells that could result within a few days of a rape to be an "unborn child." The ardent anti-abortionists do.

The zygote becomes a blastocyst about five days after conception. It is a little ball of cells, with no discernably human characteristics whatsoever. But this tiny ball of cells, unlike every other tiny ball of cells in a woman's body, can divide and grow and grow and divide into a baby. In this sense, the anti-abortionists have a point. And Older Daughter, in the throes of irrational exuberance before her first IVF failure, proudly emailed pictures of her blastocysts, taken at the time of their implantation, so that we could "see our grandchildren."

It hurt me deeply just to write that sentence.

In a kinder, gentler America we could see that, in the very rare case where pregnancy results from a rape, the needs of both victims should be considered. However, in any world I know from experience, the thought of saddling the rape victim with the obligation to carry, each and every day, for nine months, a swelling reminder of a violent assault seems cruel in the extreme. Perhaps in a kinder and gentler America the rape victim would receive adequate support from friends and family and society in general so that she could heal from her crime even while carrying the product of that crime to term. But not today. A contemporary woman who could make the choice to carry a baby conceived in the course of a rape to term, would be uncommonly brave. Her choice should be celebrated -- but the obligation to carry that child should not be imposed. And certainly not imposed in the unkind, angry America of the present day.

Since his nomination to the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan, who has been identified with the ardent anti-abortion crowd, has already moderated his stance to acknowledge that abortion should be available to victims of rape or incest or when medically necessary to save the mother's life (and that may be, from the standpoint of apolitical medicine, almost never -- see, this 2009 post in which a doctor explains why).

Americans support or oppose a right to abortion depending on the questions asked. When the question is posed whether abortion should be available to rape or incest victims or when medically necessary to save the life of the mother, strong majorities say yes, absolutely. On the other hand, when persons are asked whether abortion should be available "on demand" or used as a means of (or substitute for) birth control, strong majorities say no, no way.

I am a practicing Catholic. But I'm also a practicing cynic. And, as a good, practicing cynic I believe that most Americans, if pressed, would oppose abortion except in cases of (1) rape, (2) incest, (3) to save the mother's life, and (4) when a 'nice girl' gets 'in trouble.'

It is that last category that gets the ardent anti-abortionists up and out to the abortion mills, fingering their Rosaries and loudly praying and holding up horrifying pictures of aborted fetuses.

But I have news for them: They can not end abortion by making it illegal, or nearly so, any more than the temperance movement could end the scourge of drunkenness by enacting Prohibition and the Volstead Act. We haven't stopped idiots from texting while driving simply by passing laws banning the practice. We can't make gay marriage advocates go away by legislatively defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, nor can we make gay marriage universally accepted by judicial decisions striking down those statutes. We didn't stop drug abuse by declaring a War on Drugs either.

At some point it should become obvious to even the densest among us that constantly hurling imprecations across a cultural divide, or banning practices that a bare majority opposes, or litigating to strike down practices that a strong and determined minority opposes -- that all of this is futile. And I say this as a politically aware citizen and, more, as a lawyer: The law has its limits.

Instead, we must build consensus. Persuasion, not compulsion. Slowly, surely... rationally. We gotta at least try. Maybe someday we can have our kinder, gentler American, can't we?

Can't we?


Rob said...

In a more sensible, caring America, we would spend the vast majority of our time promoting the positive, family-building aspects of offering up an unwanted child for adoption rather than fixating on the negative, morale-crushing, perpetually-losing argument against abortion.

But instead of having domestic adoption as a common, viable option, many (most?) parents seek international adoption instead. This is in part because of the availability of adoptable children, but far more due to the unimaginable legal quagmire that is domestic adoption. Long before (but certainly at the moment that) the jet doors closed in Moscow, our son was irreversibly, forever ours - no judge was going to change his mind and rip our child back out of our arms because a crack-addled Mom suddenly got clean and found religion.

The Curmudgeon said...

I know people who've had a domestically adopted baby snatched from their arms. I can't know how awful that was -- but my imagination is bad enough.

And there was the infamous Baby Richard case in Illinois, concerning a private adoption that was voided because the birth mother lied to the child's father, telling him that the baby was dead -- ultimately resulting in the child being torn from the only family he'd ever known.

Even the rich and powerful can have problems trying to adopt, as a Chicago alderman and his wife (now an Illinois Supreme Court justice). The white couple adopted a black baby, born with cocaine in his system to an addicted mother. She later tried to void the adoption -- and the case dragged through the courts for years.

The problem is that many childless couples are so desperate to start a child that they are easy prey for unscrupulous pirates.

Yes, I have something in mind, but it doesn't concern adoption.

Thanks for a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, comment.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

good post and good comment from rob...

sarge and i differed (a lot) on this subject, i was around when girls used coat hangers on themselves. i never want to go back there again. the fact is there will be abortions whether legal or not.

i always say i am fiscally conservative and socially liberal. is there such a thing?

and i pray your children have their baby that they so want, i cannot know their pain but am sorry.

smiles, bee

Laura said...

Encouraging and thought provoking post. The angry mud slinging doesn't work. Rational, thoughtful conversation combined with listening might.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with what Bee said. There will be abortions regardless of them being legal.

The Curmudgeon said...

Well, I can't disagree. For abortions to stop, attitudes must change, not laws. Those who consider themselves anti-abortion should remember that.

Years ago, when Clinton was in the White House, the official Clinton line was that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Pro-life people can work with that, build from that -- but outright bans will only drive scared girls into back alleys.

The reason abortion is such a wedge issue today is that it was made legal by judicial fiat -- Roe v. Wade. Some states already had very permissive abortion laws before Roe; who knows how what might have evolved?

But prohibition (like Prohibition) will not work -- and (gay marriage advocates, take note) judicial fiat is not so hot either.

Rob said...

It will never cease to amaze me that people will stand around picketing in a feeble and, frankly, simpleminded attempt to sway others against abortion, yet those same folks have never done a single thing to promote adoption. Rather than trying to enforce your moral views - or worse yet legislature - upon others, wouldn't the time be much more productive and positively spent doing whatever you can to promote family-building?

On a different tangent, perhaps we need to get serious medieval on rapists within our legal system. No more dilly-dallying around - let's make it a crime that bears such swift and coarse punishment that the very thought of getting caught is, well, a deterrent.