In the letters page of the National Post this morning is a summary of letters received after the Morgentaler retrospective last week. There is an excerpt containing the old chestnut that most anti-abortion activists are men, that it’s about controlling women, that if men got pregnant this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s to put this to rest that I think PWPL is so timely and necessary.
While noting that I don’t think the taxpayer should fund medically unnecessary surgery in general, and that Canada’s lack of abortion law puts us well to the left of all of Europe in terms of access to abortion at any stage in pregnancy, for any reason, I’m not in favour of trying to legislate abortion out of existence. For one thing, the problem isn’t just that abortions are readily available; if we somehow shut down all abortion providers in Canada, there would still be demand, which could be satisfied by clinics in the USA, among others. On the other hand, if we can reduce demand by changing how people think about abortion, the number of abortions will fall whether or not willing doctors are easy to find. For another, the strenuous efforts of abolitionists have yielded very little in terms of measurable progress in reducing abortion, so it’s time to try a more fruitful strategy.
I have my own beliefs about the sanctity and rights of an unborn baby, but I don’t think we’ll change many minds by arguing about that. The proliferation of 3D ultrasound machines, new research about fetal awareness and pain, and the increasing viability of extremely premature babies will continue to make an impression on some people, but for those who are heavily invested in the moral neutrality of abortion on demand, and who see the concession of any status to the fetus as in direct conflict with the rights of the mother, this won’t make a lot of difference.
We need more discussion, then, of abortion as a women’s issue. Abortion damages women. It does them physical and psychological harm, which is multiplied by the fact that very few women seeking abortions give their informed consent (meaning consent even after being advised of the risks.) Those of us who take such things seriously tend to agree that it does them spiritual harm. More broadly, a culture in which abortion is seen as essentially harmless wreaks profound changes to our collective understanding of motherhood, sexuality, the obligations of mothers and fathers to each other and their children, and adulthood. These changes aren’t good for anyone, but they’re especially pernicious to young women.
An obstetrician I met several years ago told me that in his experience, “women want an abortion like an animal in a trap wants to chew its leg off.” Making it easier and less painful to chew off a leg isn’t how I want to make a difference. We need to talk about why women choose abortion, how that choice affects them and those close to them in the short- and long-term, and what we can do to help women, after they’ve had an abortion and especially before they make that choice.by