Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Abortion Rarity Redux

I want to bump up a brief exchange from comments about an earlier post frothing at the mainstream pro-choice movement, for two reasons.

1) The interlocutor, though rhetorically clever, not so much with the link-clicking; he posted his argument in the comments of an entirely unrelated post.

2) It's a great example of just the kind of thing I was looking to do with a post like that: engage in sharp critical discussion with others on the left who don't quite agree with me. It makes me think through my arguments better, and hopefully can ultimately contribute something to dialogue on the left about how to move forward aggressively. We're terribly embattled in the States at the moment. The forces of anti-choice are virulently on the move, as amply evidenced by the number of people who've read that post of mine since it was linked on an anti-choice website a few days ago. The pro-life harpies swarm and shriek, but of course there's not the slightest percentage in arguing with them.

I don't believe we have the luxury of giving one inch of ground to the moral agenda of the right on this, not now. Choice in America is more direly threatened than it has ever been in my lifetime, and we should be fucking pulling down the rafters, not forming coalitions with 'liberal' pro-lifers.

Max's comment:
'Hm. Well. While you are of course correct in your analysis of the rhetoric of the terrified liberals in Amerika, your response that we *shouldn't* want abortion to be rare may be a bit of a rhetorical extremity.

Of course, this comes down to what you mean by 'rare'. But it's perfectly possible to think that medical advances are A Good Thing and *also* fervently to hope that they won't be needed all that often. We can approve of the procedure and still think it's society's responsibility to help people avoid needing it.

In the UK, 44% of pregnancies in girls aged 15 to 17 end in abortion. That's ludicrous. It means half of the teenagers who get pregnant really, really don't want to be -- and presumably significantly more than half don't *intend* to be. Although the procedure they ended up undergoing won't have been traumatic, it also shouldn't have been necessary for the vast majority. And of course people who get pregnant by accident have probably risked exposure to a whole range of other nasties, from chlamydia (like teen pregnancy, escalating wildly here compared to Western Europe) to HIV infection (not as easily fixed as pregnancy). The *proportion* of pregnancies that are unwanted is a result of hopelessly ineffective sex education.

It's not a capitulation to the right to say teenagers should be using condoms more -- and that, therefore, abortions should be rarer. One can express a similar hope for HIV treatment, but not for, say, chemotherapy (except perhaps in the case of smokers and their victims ...)'

My response:
'You make good points, of course, but you've got it backwards. What should be rare are unwanted pregnancies, which of course number boatloads more than abortions of same.

Calling for abortions to be rare is a bit like calling for use of the Jaws of Life to be rare; it makes a kind of tortuous sense if what you really mean is 'horrible car smashups should be rare', but it's a lot clearer to just come out and say the latter. It confuses things mightily to problematize the remedy instead of the ill.

Of course we should be calling for improved sex education, access to contraception, of course of course of course, but it's too condensed to try to pack all that into the inclusion of 'rare' in the slogan. Even if all that genuinely is what you mean by 'rare', you have to reckon with the unintended effects of its inclusion, which I maintain constitute a perceived, even if not intended, capitulation to the pro-life moral framework.

What it comes down to, I think, is that we may, for all the reasons you outline, believe that abortion should be rare, but we should not call for it. Calling for a thing is, if you'll pardon the usage, a speech-act, and it behooves us to be canny and hardheaded about the repercussions of same. Slogans can't simply be about wearing our hearts on our sleeves, they're about communicating a strategic message, and to be strategic we have to reckon with not only what we actually mean but what we may be perceived to mean, by the people we're trying to communicate with.'

This is the kind of argument I want to be having about abortion. If it's going on somewhere I don't know about (I don't doubt it's purely my own ignorance at work here), please someone point me the way. There's not a moment to lose.

Update May 5th: Want to comment? Great. Pro-life? Please read this Public Service Announcement first.

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