Wednesday, November 15
Politically, it would be disastrous for progressives to adopt the abortion stance Julian Sanchez recently advocated on Campus Progress. Most people respond somewhat emotionally when it comes to this fraught topic, so to argue for reproductive rights from the black and white philosophical terrain of Julian’s libertarianism would be to cede important political ground in the debate. Julian argues for a pro-choice position based on affirming the non-personhood of fetuses and rejecting the supposed immorality of abortion. Abortion can be a deeply moral choice. It is an option that allows a woman to fulfill her own ambitions and ensure greater stability for herself and her family. But progressives must speak with humanity and nuance on this most sensitive of topics. Julian is right that we must not adopt “middle ground” policies when it comes to choice, but he is wrong that we cannot, or should not, convince Americans to support abortion rights by occupying a rhetorical “middle ground” in speaking about reproductive freedom.
For starters, you don’t have to believe abortion is immoral to admit that having one is difficult for many women. Abortion should never be treated as just another form of birth control; there is no good reason why one-third of American women should have abortions in their lifetime when we can do so much better at providing access to contraceptives. Low-income women are four times more likely to have an abortion, which demonstrates that quality education and health care are the best preventive measures. In terms of effective public health policy, progressives must embrace this approach and talk about it, even as we fully support access to abortion.
To speak about abortion is to speak about sex and parenthood, and we can’t obscure or avoid such discussions. Part of being female is grappling constantly with your body’s magnificent ability to create human life: Research shows that the average American woman will spend just five years of her life pregnant, trying to conceive, and postpartum, but 30 years actively avoiding pregnancy through the use of abstinence, contraceptives, or abortion. The choice to abort in particular cannot be separated from women’s identities as mothers or potential mothers: 60 percent of women who choose abortion are already parents, and half say they plan to have more children in the future. What this shows is that for most women, abortion is not a necessarily a dismissal of the personhood of unborn fetuses, but rather a way to become better mothers to existing and/or future children.