I’ve been thinking about this whole terrifying fucked-up South Dakota anti-abortion law, which completely outlaws abortion in the state, without even the usual exceptions for rape or incest. And I’ve been thinking about the pro-choice response to it… much of which has been to focus on the horror of rape, and why rape survivors should be allowed to get abortions.
I may get drummed out of the club for saying this. So I want to say first: I am absolutely 100% pro-choice, and 100% against this God-awful law.
But I’ve always thought that the “rape/incest” exception idea is bullshit. If you believe that a six-week-old embryo is a human being, what possible difference could it make how that human being was conceived? If you’re deciding whether it should be legal to terminate its life, why would that question be relevant? After all, you wouldn’t say it was okay to kill a two-year-old child (or a twenty-year-old adult) because he/she was conceived by rape or incest. If it’s a person, it’s a person.
The “rape/incest” exception that most anti-abortion activists make has always struck me as unimpeachable proof that anti-abortionists are actually not concerned about “life.” They’re concerned about sex. They think women who have sex outside marriage should be “punished” by having to have babies. (What a great life for that baby, huh?) That’s the only reason for a rape/incest exception — that rape/incest survivors didn’t have sex on purpose, and therefore shouldn’t be punished for it. (Other unimpeachable proof of this includes the fact that most anti-abortionists are also against easily accessible birth control and sex education.)
Anyway. My point is this: I actually think that refusing to make an exception for rape/incest is a more morally consistent position on abortion. As enormously as I disagree with it, if people really believe a
fertilized embryo is a human being with full civil rights, there’s no reason they should make a distinction between embryos conceived by women who wanted sex and women who didn’t.
The best and most consistent piece of anti-abortion writing I ever read (not a wide field, to be sure) was from a priest/minister (I forget which), who believed abortion was immoral… but also believed it should be legal. He said that if people wanted to stop abortion, they should be fighting to make birth control cheap and easily accessible to anyone who wanted it, including teenagers; to get good, realistic sex education in the schools; to make day care cheap and widely available; to improve funding for public schools; to make family leave a legal requirement; to make national health care a reality; etc. etc. etc. In other words, his position was that the best way to stop abortion was to make it unnecessary — to make sure that nobody got pregnant who didn’t want to, and to make sure that anybody who wanted a child could have one without it ruining their life.
And I don’t entirely disagree with him. I absolutely don’t agree that abortion is immoral — but I do think it’s usually sad. And I sure agree with his vision for a world in which it didn’t have to happen very often.
I actually feel some understanding for the more thoughtful, rational anti-abortion people (again, not a wide field). I sometimes think the pro-choice movement gives short shrift to the real ethical question at the heart of the abortion debate: namely, at what point does a fertilized embryo become a human being? I don’t actually think that’s an easy question to answer. In fact, the foundation of my pro-choice position is that it’s a damn near impossible question to answer — and that it therefore should be up to each woman to answer it for herself. But if I didn’t believe that — if I believed that an embryo was a human being — I’d be appalled by abortion too, and trying like hell to stop it.
But once again, for all their “baby-killing” rhetoric, I don’t think that’s really the issue for most anti-abortionists. I think the issue is that they hate the idea of women having sex without consequences.