I Don’t Care About Safe Legal Rare

How’s that for a culture war chant?*

So, here is an interview with the anti-Nat Hentoff, a Christian obstetrician who began performing abortions. It’s fairly unremarkable stuff, but this exchage caught me.

Q. You say women in their second trimester often have the most compelling need for an abortion. Why?

 A. They lack access to health care or don’t have an understanding of their body changes, and often figure out later that they’re pregnant. Or they find out early enough that they’re pregnant, but their lack of access to health care or volatile, dysfunctional relationships delay seeking help.

This kind of hedging and excusing is standard for the “safe, legal, and rare” crowd, and it’s always driven me a bit mad:  this need to explain how these women don’t really deserve to be pregnant, that they wouldn’t have waited so long to seek an abortion had they known, never would have put us in this unpleasant position of ending the life of something that looks just a little bit more like us than it did five weeks ago. Because that really is the only reason to make a moral distinction about viability or repeat abortions once we’ve decided that the person growing in the womb lacks moral standing due to its inhabitance of a woman’s body–our own comfort. The comfort of telling ourselves that we would never be like those skanky women who don’t use condoms, that we would never be in that position, that good heavens, our support for abortion rights does not encompass such gross if undefined “irresponsibility;” the comfort of stroking our reasonable, nuanced, moderate respectability.

Here’s the thing: pregnancy isn’t a punishment for the bad girls, and abortion isn’t a gold-star for women who use their vaginas in the ways we find appropriate . Opposition to abortion does not rest on the premise that women must be punished, so it baffles me when its supporters go down that route.  The only compelling argument for abortion I’ve ever encountered is that no creature has the right to life when that life exists at the expense of the bodily integrity and autonomy of another–I don’t find it that compelling, obviously, but I can see the point.  And the point is not one that brooks a lot of sniffy moderation: either women must exercise full and unquestioned control over the fetus as resident of their bodies, or the fetus must be granted all the rights and protections of personhood from the first moment of its existence as a human organism.

But for the love of all that’s holy, people,  pick which side you’re on. Stop trying to pretend that your death-grip on a tidy world is the same as moral seriousness, or that taking a stand means that nobody gets hurt.


*This may be why no one pays me to write these things.


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