In my last column, I invited abortion opponents to respond to nine questions. I tried to frame these in a respectful, open-ended, non-sarcastic way, because I was genuinely curious about the answers and was hoping to get people away from talking points and gotchas and insults (how would you feel if your mother had aborted you?). What I got was hardly a random sample—I reached out to some bloggers and writers, and they sent others to me. But I thought it was pretty interesting all the same.
Herewith, a summary of responses, organized according to the original questions.
1. Illegal abortion. Making abortion illegal will not end it, but will greatly reduce it. Never mind Brazil’s high illegal abortion rate, says online commenter Casandra, who describes herself as a secular pro-lifer, you have to compare like with like: Mississippi has a small fraction of the abortion rate of New York, and for her, “that sure is progress.” (Abortion is legal in Mississippi.) No one—not one person—mentioned the injuries and deaths that criminalizing abortion entails, except for Dominic Pedulla, who says legal abortions are just as dangerous.
2. Compromise. Not much interest. Rey Flores: “All human life must be protected.” Jennifer Hartline: “There is no amount of abortion that is morally acceptable.” GentillyLace: “If one believes that abortion is homicide, then compromise is ultimately impossible.” An exception was National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, who thought that “if the courts withdrew,” a stable compromise might be reached that would be more restrictive than current law, but he declined to say what it might look like.
3. Birth control. This question is of particular interest, because birth control is the one thing proven to lower abortion rates. Ponnuru is willing to put the pill over the counter, and secular Casandra favors “wide access to birth control.” (However, Casandra also favors not having sex when you don’t want to have a baby. “This policy is actually GREAT for women, and spares them the whole ‘sitting on the bathroom floor moment wondering what they are going to do.’”) Most, however, were skeptical: “the 100% form of birth control is to practice SELF-CONTROL,” said Flores. Birth control is “bad for women,” says Lexie, who describes hormonal contraception as both carcinogenic and abortifacient. That contraception is physically dangerous was a claim that came up repeatedly. Birth control is also bad because it promotes a “contraception mentality,” i.e., you think you can, and deserve, to have sex without childbearing. More sex equals more birth control failure. So, far from preventing abortion, contraception causes abortion. Curiously, no one opposed to hormonal contraception or IUDs took up my query about promoting barrier methods, which are completely safe, user-controlled and harmless to fertilized eggs—which makes me suspect that something besides health concerns lies at the root of these objections to birth control.
4. Poverty. Everyone wants to help women and children, but how? “The best protection women have against poverty is to graduate from high school, wait until marriage to have sex, and then be faithfully married,” says Hartline. Much praise for Catholic Charities and the Catholic bishops’ efforts on behalf of low-income people. Ponnuru had some ideas on facilitating economic growth, including a “much larger tax credit for children” (but how would that help the poor, who don’t earn enough to pay income taxes?). Why, if the pro-life movement cares about helping the poor, is it so closely tied to the Republican Party? It’s the only game in town for those who want to ban abortion. (Still, several respondents say they’re Democrats.)
5. Men. They should keep it in their pants and pay child support if they don’t. But male irresponsibility is partly pro-choicers’ fault—they have “shoved men to the curb,” says Hartline: “Why should a man’s fatherhood depend entirely on a woman’s choice?” And “the availability of abortion has made it easier for some men to rationalize away [their] responsibilities,” says Ponnuru.
6. Equality. Women don’t need abortion, because they are already equal in God’s eyes, said GentillyLace. But equality doesn’t mean being like men. Women value motherhood and family more than careers. But they can have both. “It seems like you think pro-lifers have some tenet that women should be breeding machines who stay home to raise kids,” writes Stacy Trasancos. “My friends…speak in terms of freedom and choices.” Like other respondents who describe combining busy lives and careers with motherhood, including unplanned motherhood, Trasancos doesn’t see “women as weak, but as empowered. I’m living it!”
7. Personhood. Miscarriages are very common natural events, nothing like abortion, so there is no danger that women will be investigated or prosecuted for having them. (In fact, women in several states have been charged with serious crimes for miscarrying or producing a stillbirth.) IVF was not popular: Hartline thinks it should be banned, which is the Catholic Church’s position; Ponnuru wants to see both IVF and stem-cell research restricted.
8. Murder. Women should not be prosecuted for abortion, but doctors should be. But maybe they should just be fined. These people need to talk to National Review correspondent Kevin Williamson, who has suggested on Twitter that women who end pregnancies should be hanged, and doctors too.
9. Pro-choice arguments that resonated with pro-lifers. Only two people answered this question. Lexie mentioned pro-choice concern for women and poverty. Flores essentially denied pro-choicers had ever made any good points, ever.
Many thanks to all who shared their thoughts. I wonder what answers pro-lifers would get if they asked similar questions of pro-choicers.