At Respect Life Sunday at the beginning of the month, the priest at the Mass I attended referred to the two “darkest times” in American history. One was the blemish of slavery on our past. The other was the passage of Roe vs. Wade. (Incidentally, our history of atrocities against Native Americans and disregard of women as people before 1919 didn’t make the list.) Not surprisingly, the full-spectrum of life issues was not addressed; the death penalty and euthanasia didn’t get a mention (I think because “criminals” and “sick people” are less cuddly than babies.) The fixation on abortion whittled its focus down to an even finer point, squarely blaming irresponsible sex “just for pleasure” as being the source of this social ill. And aside from the cuddle factor, I think this is at the root of the Catholic fixation with abortion: it’s inextricably linked with our fixation on sex.
A couple years ago, I wrote a post about how arguments about abstinence and condoms in AIDS prevention in Africa sorely missed the point: there’s a lot of sex happening in Africa, and around the world, that is not consensual. This includes a lot of sex that results in pregnancy, here and the world over. To think that all unplanned pregnancies result from pleasure-seeking libertine behavior simplifies the issue in a way that is both insulting and dangerous. Because if we don’t accept that non-consensual sex can result in pregnancy (which can result in abortion), then we’re focused on the wrong end of the spectrum, the unwanted symptom rather than the (I hope) equally unwanted cause.
Some “moderates” acknowledge this reality in their wish to end abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life. I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with insisting that anti-abortion morals must apply across the board; if you believe life begins at conception, then the way that life began is irrelevant. I get that. But if that’s where you’re coming from, at the very least, please, please acknowledge the many nuanced, painful elements that figure into every unwanted pregnancy. Yes, it’s easier to point the finger and cite “irresponsible sex” as the cause — but that’s really just an irresponsible simplification.
I’ll be upfront about where I stand. I’m politically pro-choice, meaning that I don’t want abortion to be illegal. But I want to end abortion, too. I want to end abortion by ending the rape of nine-year-old girls by their stepfathers; I want to end abortion by ending the sneers and judgment we heap upon single mothers when they have trouble controlling their child in the supermarket or on the city bus, sneers and judgments these women never would have had to endure if they’d just quietly “taken care of” it. I want to end abortion by offering help to families in crisis throughout the full span of the child’s life, not just the cute baby stage. Yes, it’s wonderful for churches to collect diapers and little sleepers, but it’s equally important that they collect school supplies, feminine hygiene products, resources about financial aid for college. Because no baby who is born stays a baby forever, and too often, we turn away within the first two years — as long as the baby got itself good and born, our consciences can rest easy.
But they can’t, not when we still live in a world where there’s a one in four chance that that baby, if she’s a girl, will be sexually molested at some point in her life (one in six if he’s a boy). Not when we still live in a world where a Catholic school will fire a teacher for being pregnant and unmarried. Not when we live in a world where our best solution to poverty is incarceration or moralizing about how the poor shouldn’t be having sex in the first place (which is what the “only have as many children as you can afford” argument basically boils down to.)
I want to end abortion. But first, I want to end rape, poverty, judgment, and lack of education and resources. That’s an overwhelmingly tall order, even a pipe dream. But ending abortion won’t make any of these other issues disappear. And I have a feeling that if we could address some of these underlying issues, abortion would diminish without much additional effort devoted to it. I would love to create a world where we can find out.