A Summary of Pro-Choice Arguments

by Jay Johansen

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As only women can get pregnant, and therefore only women have abortions, a male legislator has no right to vote on an abortion-related law.

Legislators are routinely expected to vote on issues that do not affect them personally. No one would dream of saying, for example, that only legislators who have stock in companies in a certain industry should be allowed to vote on laws regulating that industry. (Quite the contrary, people would be likely to say that his personal stake made him biased and maybe he should not vote for precisely that reason.)

A legislator is supposed to represent all the people in his district, not just those who happen to resemble him in some way. Candidates who win hard-fought races routinely find it necessary to say in their victory speeches that they intend to represent all the people in their district, and not just those who voted for them or are members of their party. If a politician were to announce that, now that he has been elected, he intends to represent only the views and interests of, say, white male Christian Republicans earning over $50,000 per year, he would surely be widely denounced for such as exclusive, divisive, and partisan attitude.

Okay, maybe legislators are a special case because they're supposed to represent other people. But in general, a man does not have a right to take a position on abortion, as it affects only women.

For starters, abortion does not affect only women. Every aborted child has a father as well as a mother. If a women chooses not to have an abortion, the father can be required to provide child support for 18 years. Why should he have legal responsibilities but no legal rights?

Furthermore, almost half the children aborted are males. Every male is a former fetus; every male born since 1973 is a former fetus who could have been legally aborted.

It is difficult to think of any other situation where someone has seriously suggested that only those who might commit a certain act have a right to an opinion on whether or not it should be legal. Would you say that only white people have a right to an opinion on racism, because only white people owned slaves or lynched blacks?

If only women have a right to an opinion about abortion, then only plantation owners have a right to an opinion about slavery.

If abortion is made illegal, some women will still try to obtain abortions illegally, and many are likely to end up at back-alley butchers or attempt to perform abortions on themselves and suffer serious injury.

One could debate this point statistically. When abortion was illegal in this country, most illegal abortions were done by licensed doctors. (Secretly, of course.) Relatively few women were really injured or killed. In 1972, the last year before abortion was legalized, 39 women died from illegal abortions. That's 39 tragedies, of course. But with legal abortion today, many women are still injured and some die in botched abortions. If abortion was illegal, fewer women would have abortions, so the total number of injuries and deaths might well go down.

But all this is really beside the point. It does not follow that an act should be made legal because some people might suffer harm while breaking the law. No doubt some bank robbers are injured or killed in automobile accidents while fleeing the scene of the crime. Does this mean that we should make bank robbery legal?

A rational society does not make laws for the convenience of law-breakers.

Opposition to abortion is based on religious beliefs. A fundamental principle of American democracy is that no one can impose their religious beliefs on others. Therefore, there should not be any laws against abortion.

By this reasoning, almost all of our laws would have to be thrown out. The Bible clearly says, "Thou shalt not steal". Does this mean that all laws against theft are attempts to impose a religious view on others, and should not be permitted? American Indian religion is said to include great respect for the natural environment. Does this make all anti-pollution laws an attempt to impose Indian religious beliefs on others? Almost every law embodies principles that are consistent with some religious or ethical teaching.

If laws against abortion are imposing someone's religious beliefs on others, what about laws against murder, rape, and robbery?

People have many different ideas and theories about when human life begins. Laws against abortion are an attempt to impose one particular theory, the theory that life begins at conception. But what about people who believe other ideas? Why should they be forced to forced to abide by this one theory?

When the Supreme Court declared that all laws protecting babies in the womb were unconstitutional, they imposed their own theory of when life begins: the theory that life begins at birth. There are some issues on which it is not possible to be neutral. In some countries it is illegal to kill an unborn baby after the first trimester: they have imposed the theory that life begins at thirteen weeks gestation. In other countries it is illegal to kill any unborn baby: they have imposed the theory that life begins at conception. In the U.S. it is illegal to kill someone once they have been born: our country has imposed the theory that life begins at birth. Perhaps if a country had no laws at all against killing anyone, you could say that they were truly "neutral" on this subject.

Legal abortion imposes the theory that life does not begin until birth.

No one can be sure when human life really begins. As long as there is doubt, as long as we cannot be sure that abortion is killing a human being, it is a morally acceptable option.

For the sake of argument, let's grant that there is really doubt about when human life begins. Let's accept for the moment the idea that we don't know for sure whether abortion is killing a person or not. How should we respond in cases of such uncertainty?

Suppose a hunter in the woods sees a rustling in the bushes, but he can't see what's there. He doesn't know if it's the deer he's hunting for, or another hunter. Should he go ahead and shoot? After all, he can't be sure it's a person, so if he does shoot and kill someone, it's unintentional. Surely we would say that anyone who did such a thing was grossly irresponsible if not guilty of a criminal act.

When in doubt, a concerned person prefers to err on the side of protecting human life.

The question is not whether abortion is right or wrong, but, Who decides? The individual woman, or the government? If you're opposed to abortion, don't have one, but don't try to impose your morality on others. Abortion is a personal choice between a woman and her doctor.

Let's try this thinking out on other issues:

Supppose someone in 1850 said, "The question is not whether slavery is right or wrong, but, Who decides? The individual plantation owner, or the government? If you're opposed to slavery, then don't buy any slaves, but don't try to impose your morality on others. Slavery is a personal choice between a man and his slave-dealer." (By the way, this is exactly the argument that some supporters of slavery made.)

Or how about this: "The question is not whether rape is right or wrong, but, Who decides? The individual man, or the government? If you're opposed to rape, than don't rape anybody, but don't try to impose your morality on others. Rape is a personal choice between a man and his sex therapist."

Americans have a great tradition of individual freedom. But there's an old saying: "You have the freedom to swing your arm back and forth all you like, but your freedom ends where my nose begins." Freedom does not include the right to deliberately harm innocent people. We do not allow each man to decide for himself whether he thinks rape is acceptable, because the woman he might choose to rape has rights too. Likewise, we should not allow each woman to decide for herself whether abortion is acceptable, because the child she might choose to abort has rights too.

No one has a right to oppose abortion unless they are prepared to provide pre-natal care and other forms of support needed by woman with unwanted pregancies, including providing homes for pregnant teens who are thrown out by their parents.

Would you apply this same standard to others who would fight social evils? For example, would you say that no one has a right to oppose industrial pollution unless he is prepared to personally pay for non-polluting industrial machines to replace that which he would ban? Would you say that someone in the 1850's had no right to oppose slavery unless he was prepared to personally compensate slave owners for the lost income when their slaves were freed?

But that said, the truly absurd thing about this objection is that pro-lifers are meeting this demand. Pro-lifers run many crisis pregnancy centers across the country, which offer a variety of assistance to women with unplanned pregnancies, ranging from diapers and formula to pre-natal care to counseling to providing homes for girls or women who have been kicked out by parents or boyfriends. (The present writer has taken in a number of girls in such a situation.) Here in Ohio, for example, there are many more crisis pregnancy centers than there are Right to Life offices, and a typical CPC involves many more people and a much bigger budget than a typical RTL office. While there are no good statistics on this available, I estimate that pro-lifers in Ohio spend about six times as much time and money on helping women with unplanned pregnancies as we do on political action. Other states are probably similar.

And by the way, crisis pregnancy centers offer all their services free of charge. They are staffed mostly by volunteers and are supported by contributions. If abortionists are so concerned about "helping women", why don't they offer their "services" for free? (Providing services at no cost to the "patient" because you are being paid by the government doesn't count.)

Pro-lifers are hypocritical: They say they oppose abortion because they believe life is sacred, but then they support capital punishment.

Not all pro-lifers support capital punishment, but many do, so let's take this objection at face value. Abortion is killing of an innocent baby because his existence causes social problems to someone else. Capital punishment is killing a person who has been convicted of a serious crime, usually murder. There is a vast difference between killing an innocent person because this somehow benefits you, and killing a guilty person as punishment for his crimes, or to deter others who might consider committing similar crimes.

Surely the far more puzzling case is those who support abortion but oppose capital punishment. Apparently they believe that it is acceptable to kill innocent babies, but murderers should be protected.

The position of people who are both pro-life and pro-capital punishment can be summed up as: The innocent should live, and the guilty should die.

If abortion is outlawed, more unwanted children will be born, and these children are likely to be abused or neglected. It is better for such children to never be born than to live such a miserable existence.

Child abuse is certainly a terrible thing. I have seen cases where children were attacked with knives, doused with caustic chemicals, crushed, starved, even literally had their arms or legs ripped off.

All the forms of abuse I described in the preceding paragraph are methods of abortion. To say that we should subject a child to abuse so severe that he dies a horrible, painful death, in order to "protect" him from the possibility of suffering uncertain, unspecified, potential abuse in the future, is bizarre logic and even more bizare morality.

Suppose someone pointed out to you that with the increasing crime rate, there is a growing chance that someday you might be mugged, kidnapped, murdered, or otherwise victimized. Would you think that a good solution to this danger would be to be tortured to death today to avoid the possibility of being the victim of such a crime in the future?

And in any case, it is not at all clear that abortion has reduced the number of abused children. Would anyone seriously argue that the rate of child abuse has gone down in the past twenty years since abortion was legalized? Quite the contrary, child abuse has skyrocketed. There is absolutely no statistical or scientific evidence to indicate that ending abortion would increase child abuse. If there is any connection between the two at all, it is that abortion increases child abuse -- perhaps because it encourages an attitude of viewing children as property to be disposed of as one pleases.

Abortion is the ultimate child abuse.

Even if abortion is not justified in most situations, it is justified in cases of rape.

Rape is certainly a terrible crime. I'm sure most pro-lifers support harsh penalties for rape: long prison terms, castration, I suspect most would even support execution as an appropriate penalty. But execution of whom? The rapist? Or of his innocent child?

If someone suggested that the son of a thief should pay a fine, or that the daughter of a kidnapper should go to jail, we would surely reply that this is absolutely ridiculous. The person who committed the crime should pay the penalty.

Abortion for rape is killing an innocent child because of the crimes of her father.

What about girls who are victims of incest? How can you force such a girl to go through the ordeal of carrying such a pregnancy to term?

The solution that the pro-abortionists offer to the problem of incest is to allow the man who made this girl pregnant to take her down to the nearest abortion center for a secret abortion. They then pat her on the head and say, "See, honey, problem's all taken care of". He can then drive her home and continue the abuse, with the incriminating evidence neatly disposed of.

Let me offer an alternative solution. First, we give this man a little counseling session. When the counseling session is complete, and he has regained consciousness and gotten out of the hospital, we explain to him that if he ever touches this girl like that again, we will cut off whatever part of his body he touched her with. Then we turn to the girl and tell her, yes, we understand you've had a terrible experience. But it's over now. And look, some good has come out of it: here is this beautiful baby. We will do all we can to help you and your baby.

You will not end incest by allowing the abuser to destroy the evidence.

Posted 4 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 1996 by Jay Johansen
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