Is Abortion Bad?

Over on Slate, there was recently a debate between William Saletan and Katha Pollitt about whether abortion is “bad.”

I won’t do any sort of thorough analysis or dissect the argument, but I will say that William Saletan’s arguments about abortion continue to piss me off (despite the fact he’s pro-choice, he still has some moral hang-ups that irk me — he looks at the issue as the ends, not the means, which may be wise politically but I’m not sure it’s the best/only way of maintaining legalized abortion).

What the debate reminded me of, more than anything, is that I don’t necessarily think abortion is bad. It seems that most people who are pro-choice still think abortion is bad and make some sort of moral judgment about people who have them. Numerous times I’ve heard pro-choice people say, “I think it’s a woman’s right, but I wouldn’t personally have one.” What is missing is the next clause in the phrase, which probably goes something like, “Because I’m not one of those people” (or something less obvious and more concealed).

The way I see it, abortion should pretty much be considered a medical procedure like surgery. People don’t get all morally worked up over the removal of a tumor, and at the time of an abortion, whatever is inside the woman is basically similar to that. I know people consider this type of talk to be crass or whatever, but a tumor is an unwanted growth. Language-wise, they are the same thing.

Instead, though, we create this complicated and unnecessarily stressful drama around the idea of an abortion and imply that it should be a tough and grueling decision and that after the procedure the woman should feel sad for her loss and maybe throughout her life cry when she sees a baby and always have a lingering “what if” in the back of her head. A long time ago I read a great article on Salon about this “abortion narrative” (but I cannot find it now, unfortunately).

I hate the political atmosphere where pro-choicers are having to turn into anti-abortionists just to ensure that people have the right to decide what they want to with their bodies/lives. In the short term, we may maintain the necessary rights, but I fear what we sacrifice by continuing to moralize the situation and increasing the amount of guilt a woman feels with implicit language and assumptions. This is yet another case where I worry about the ends justifying the means.

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