Life vs. Life: Why The Abortion Issue Rules Us All

A Potential Life at Two Days Old

A Potential Life at Two Days Old

In this charged election year, no matter who claims the White House in 2009, we will be electing at least one person with restrictive views on abortion to the White House.

John McCain proclaims that he is “proudly pro-life” (although in the 2000 election, he stated just the opposite). His running mate, Sarah Palin, is far more credible and consistent in her stance against abortion, and even belongs to a group called “Feminists for Life.” As for Barack Obama, he has veered away from the traditional Democratic framing of “safe, legal and rare,” and has been talking about how women shouldn’t get third-trimester abortions just because we’re feeling blue; indeed, we gals are such frivolous creatures that we, as a matter of course, must consult a committee before making such a momentous decision. At least Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s running mate, is unwavering in his pro-choice stance, and drafted the Violence Against Women Act in 1994; however, many of us will never forget his role in casting doubt upon Anita Hill’s story, which helped confirm the arch-conservative Clarence Thomas – another anti-choice Justice – to the Supreme Court.

35 years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America, why is that decision such a controversial and emotional one in our political and personal lives? I believe it is because the choice to terminate a pregnancy is perceived as a choice of one life over another. And how can one make such a choice without agony and conflict? How can a just and lawful nation allow the murder of a child by its mother?

Except that’s not really what happens, is it? What happens in an abortion is that a mother trades a potential life for an actual life. But that simple idea has become lost in a fog of pseudo-science, emotional manipulation by both parties, religious interference and deep-seated societal misogyny.

The pseudo-scientific trap.

Technically, one could claim that life begins at conception. But what type of life is it at that point? It is potential life. One cannot argue that a zygote thinks, breathes, eats, or does any of the things that would make it a person. The potential human cannot do any of those things by itself, reliably, until it has reached the age of about 30 weeks. Until that time, it is not a life that can survive without its mother’s body.

Consider the life of a woman, who has been thinking, breathing, eating, and loving her family and friends for many years. Then, consider the small clump of cells living inside this woman. In a real scientific sense, how can those “lives” be remotely equivalent? Using the term “life” to equate the two, as is a regular practice of the anti-abortion movement, is acutely dishonest, and there is nothing scientific about it. As for an abortion of a baby that can live outside its mother’s body, that should also be the woman’s decision. (More on that later.)

Democratic and Republican manipulation.

Every election year, we ladies trot obediently to the voting booths and cast our ballots for the party we think represents our interests. Since abortion was legalized, those of us who believe in reproductive freedom and other feminist issues have often voted Democratic, whereas those of us who believe that abortion should be illegal at the federal and/or state level have often voted Republican.

But this year, the lines are getting blurred. Barack Obama showed a breathtaking disregard for Hillary Clinton’s voters, who were mostly pro-choice feminists, by spending far too much time denigrating women, fuzzing the traditional Democratic position on abortion, and reaching out to anti-choice evangelicals. After a nomination fight in which neither candidate had reached the magic number of pledged delegates – a fight in which, at one point, Senator Clinton was behind by a mere 17 of those delegates – Senator Obama unthinkably did not choose Senator Clinton as his VP nominee. Nothing could have proved his hatred of Hillary’s voters more clearly. In addition, he voted “present” on reproductive issues far too often in the Illinois state legislature.

Meanwhile, we found out that John McCain pays his female staffers more than his male ones (Obama pays his less!), had taken the time to meet with high-profile Clinton supporters and promise that their concerns would be addressed if he became President, and had the foresight and vision to pick a woman as his VP. Yet he, and especially Governor Palin, are strongly anti-abortion and feel Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

At the same time, a Democratic-controlled Congress has largely failed to fight Bush’s latest assault on reproductive rights, which would be the worst blow in years to womens’ access to birth control and the anti-pregnancy “morning after” pill.

So who is on our side – Democrats or Republicans? And why should we believe them on reproductive issues like abortion, when neither side has kept its promises to us?

Religious interference.

I really don’t think I need to say much about this topic. But I do find it utterly reprehensible that our elected officials have ceded so much terrority to the religious right in the area of the feminine reproductive system. Abortion is a personal choice, and no religious institution should use the government to impose its idea of morality on my body. This type of church/state meddling is expressly forbidden by the Constitution, and should not be allowed to continue.

Deep-seated misogyny.

Florynce Kennedy, feminist and civil rights activist, famously said, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” Why does that statement ring so true, even today?

Well, just imagine a universe where religious institutions sternly advised men that they cannot control their own reproductive systems. Imagine if access to condoms and vasectomies were strictly regulated by the government. After all, if “life begins at conception,” wouldn’t it be logical to control mens’ bodies as well? And of course, in this mythical universe, a man would be expected to accept the idea that his actual life was less important than a potential life – even one that could survive outside of his body. (I am having a hard time even typing that sentence with a straight face.)

Of course, none of this would ever happen, because men do not have scary, mysterious ladyparts, but happily possess those scraps of flesh hanging off their pelvises that allow them to be in charge of their own destinies. And on a less snarky note, men still run the goverment, and would hardly pass laws which constrain their own reproductive freedom.

It seems clear that neither Party will take womens’ concerns seriously until we stop voting based on what we think the parties will do about Roe v. Wade, and start voting the 30% Solution. Enough of letting them push our buttons, sisters and brothers. Equal representation is the only thing that has been proven to guarantee that womens’ issues are addressed in any society. Until we have it, we are doomed to keep running in circles while both parties, dominated by men, continue to undermine our rights to choose our own lives over the potential lives of our babies.

And that’s an outcome that no woman, or sympathetic man, should enable.

Cross-posted at Partizane and The Confluence

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2 responses to “Life vs. Life: Why The Abortion Issue Rules Us All

  1. The Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003 which outlawed, (serious implications,) intact dilation and extraction except for in very limited circumstances is the crux of the issue here. In the interest of accuracy, Wiki states that this procedure usually occurs in the second trimester. Is it performed after 26 weeks in certain circumstances?

    Obama seems to be very carefully coming down on the strictest interpretation of this law, (i.e. that emotional or psychological issues are not legitimate exceptions.)

    Palin, presumably favors an outright ban on abortion, with certain exceptions.

    McCain probably wishes it was not a hot-button issue.

    And Biden comes out swinging.

    What do you wish to see happen? Would you like to see this law overturned?

    What do you think of parental consent or notification laws, such as Proposition 4 in California, which would require parental notification?

  2. Excellent questions, FJ. Thanks for bringing these issues up.

    I agree that the Partial Birth Abortion Act was a major blow to the pro-choice movement. I have long felt that Roe v. Wade would never be overturned, but that the rights of women to control their own bodies would slowly be eroded until they are functionally non-existent. This has process has been slowly taking place for decades, and has been speeded up during the Bush Administration. Abstinence-only sex education, which causes young women to be misinformed about safe sexual practices. The paucity of clinics that will perform abortions in certain states. The attempt by Bush and the HHS to elevate the so-called “conscience” of health professionals over the woman who pays them to take care of her.

    The short answer (too late!) is this: No government should ever be able to legislate whether or not a woman should be able to control her own body. I do not favor parental consent laws either, for that very same reason.

    This matter should never have come before a judge. Religious leaders should have stayed out of it. It is a private decision that women must make for themselves. The fact that men are so obsessed with controlling that decision reflects rather poorly on our development as a society, in my view.