ABORTION: A HUMAN RIGHT
New York City
In “Prochoice Puritans” [“Subject to Debate,” Feb. 13] Katha Pollitt quotes my New York Times Magazine article in which I explained why my father, an OB-GYN, grew increasingly committed to serving as an abortion provider even as he and his patients were subjected to harassment in the late 1980s. I noted that my father’s reaction might have been different had the women who came to him seeking abortions been “free love advocates for whom the procedure seemed a mere matter of convenience,” language that prompts Katha to insinuate that I (and implicitly my father) am unwittingly doing the work of antichoicers. Would Katha prefer that I re-invent my father?
She goes on to suggest that his perspective implies that a “sexy single woman” having an abortion should be made to suffer–indeed, subjected to a “walk of shame.” In fact, what it reflects is the belief that abortion should ideally be a last resort rather than a form of casual contraception and that unintended pregnancies are something all parties–women, men, counselors, physicians–should seek to minimize. If this is heretical to Katha, so be it, though I’m glad that her litmus test for what doctors who perform abortions must believe will never be applied, for if it were the field would likely be wiped out.
I was surprised to see myself quoted (from a letter I wrote to the Times) in Katha Pollitt’s column. But I was not surprised to see that I had struck a nerve. For a middle-aged feminist like Pollitt, my seemingly magical ability to avoid an abortion through the diligent use of contraceptives is an infuriating fact. But no, Ms. Pollitt, I am not perfect; I’m an adult. Getting pregnant is not the same thing as getting, say, lymphoma. In many cases, it–and the subsequent abortion–is a fairly simple thing to avoid. I would hope that more so-called feminists would urge young women to attempt to do so. Why is that so wrong?
I am not sure how we can conceptualize abortion except as a remedial procedure undertaken in response to something that “went wrong” or something “unwanted” that occurred. So it only makes sense that we formulate programs of public education and policy with the goal of reducing the frequency of things going wrong. Working toward a goal of zero frequency is not contradictory to the realization that zero frequency is never going to be achieved, and this goal must be accompanied by policies supporting available, accessible, affordable, safe remedies. There must be room for saying this aloud among those who hold prochoice moral convictions. Pollitt is absolutely correct, however, in raising the cautionary note that as we embrace this zero frequency goal, we never do it in a way that stigmatizes those seeking remedies.