The Abortion Debate

Copyright (c) 2001 by Kenny Felder

This was written as a radio commentary, back when I was doing those on WUNC. The ideas that I start here are more fully developed in my later essay on health care.

I'd like to talk to you for a moment about the abortion debate.

Hah! Got your attention, didn't I? Your mind snaps back from traffic and to-do lists, and you suddenly remember you're listening to the radio. Are you hoping I will offer some new insights, perhaps change your mind about the issue? Nah. You realized years ago—despite some emotional difficulty with the decision—which side was right, and I have about as much chance of changing your mind about abortion as I have of converting you to a new religion.

So you're not really listening to learn something. You're listening primarily—let's be honest—to find out what side I'm on. Am I, like you, one of the hard-fighting minority who is desperately trying to save the country? Or am I one of those other people who seem to have somehow dominated the debate with their expensive marketing and emotional propaganda? Now, you may not realize it, but the woman in the next car over is asking the exact same question—except she's on the other side. She feels just as impassioned, and as embattled, as you do.

So, since you can't talk to each other about it, let me save you the trouble. The debate goes something like this.

Mr. Pro-Life: <Stuffy Sam-the-Eagle voice> "Abortion is murder. It is morally and religiously wrong."

Ms. Pro-Choice: <Huffy female voice> "If that's what you think, don't have one. But this is my body, so don't try to impose your morals on me."

Mr. Pro-Life: <Growing more frantic and preachy> "If you only knew the suffering you are causing to a poor baby, just because it happens to be unborn!"

Ms. Pro-Choice: <Screaching> "If you only knew the suffering you are causing to a young girl who has no other choices, and she can't afford the baby, so she winds up going into a back alley with a coat hangar!"

...and so on. Neither one of them is listening to a word the other one is saying. For some reason, when people argue about NAFTA, they bring up facts and debate intelligent points. But when people argue about abortion, they are reduced to screaming children.

Not sure what I mean? Then let me play that discussion a little differently, starting in the middle. This is the sort of conversation I would like to hear more often.

<During the following dialogue, the different voices are used to indicate who is talking, so I don't have to keep saying "Pro-Life" and "Pro-Choice.">

"But this is my body, so don't try to impose your morals on me."

"If a woman tries to murder her children, we all agree that society should stop her, right? We shouldn't just say 'it's up to her'; we should impose our collective belief that child-murder is wrong on her, even though she disagrees, right?"

"Of course."

"So, why is it different just because the child is still in the womb?"

"Hmmm...Good point." <Aside, my voice> When was the last time you heard anyone say that in an abortion discussion? <Back to female voice> "But when you talk about a two-week-old fetus, you're not talking about a person, it's just a collection of cells at that point."

"It feels pain just like a human."

"What if it's two days old? Or what if we put the mother and baby to sleep and then did it painlessly? Come on, you know this isn't really about pain."

"You're right. What this is really about is preventing a potential human from coming to life."

"Doesn't a couple prevent a potential human from coming to life every time they choose celibacy?"

"Hmmm…Good point."

You see how different this is? These are two people who are listening to each other, responding to each other's points, and actually having a discussion. It's a discussion you have probably never heard, certainly not in any public forum.

And why not? Because if we continue this discussion, the issues get sticky. Now we have to agree on exactly when a bunch of cells (which are undoubtedly alive, but not really human) becomes a human being. We have to dissect the wonderful-sounding phrase "the sacredness of life" and figure out exactly what we mean. And both sides are going to have to concede, at some point, that they just aren't sure. And where would that leave them? Today at least they have the thrill of desperately fighting for justice, doing the right thing against all odds. It's much more exciting than thinking through sticky issues.


From: Janice Nelson
July 23, 2008

I read your Abortion Essay, and it was one of the best essays that I have read in a long time, because it attempted to reveal the real truth behind all sides of the issue, and just teased us with how deep the issue can really get when pursued further. I had tears in my eyes as I read it, because I remember when I was just getting divorced and attended an intensive class in Boston. I roomed with a beautiful girl with red ringlet flowing hair that was going for an abortion during the several weeks we were there. She had the abortion then proceeded to have an affair with the handsome guy next door, but at night I would hear her crying. I was pretty damaged myself during those horrific times, but I just can't forget the sound of her soft crying into her pillow.

I am getting very soft these days, probably because I am breaking down the wall I built around me so that no one could get in, but then I was shocked to find that I couldn't get out either. I lived that way for nearly 50 years.

From: Laura-Elena Zarandona
August 22, 2010

Abortion is one of my pet peeves because I've been in both sides of the spectrum and finally I've decided that I'm neither pro-life nor pro-choice. I'm pro-education.

Let me just start with the way I approach life. I don't see issues as right or wrong. I just see them as different. Now, as I mentioned before, we are trained to see different as less, inferior or below us. I believe this is the greatest lesson the cosmos is trying to teach me. Different is just that—different. Not better, that worse, just different.

Now, back to abortion. The reason this is such an emotional issue is because people are defending something more than an unborn fetus. When a woman talks about defending her freedom of choice and her body, she's really protecting herself from all the historical pain and abuse we have suffered for centuries in this man dominant world. On the other hand, the people that argue against abortion are protecting their sense of self, their humanity. I'm always amazed how many of these people change their mind when they're presented with the "brutally-raped-innocent 12 year-old" scenario. Then abortion is ok. They have a tangible "victim" to "protect."

We all know that abortion would be a very small concern if women and men were better educated in the use of birth control. Parents can't fathom the idea of their teenage children having sex, but they are! They feel that offering birth control is giving them permission to sleep around. It's all a catch 22, isn't it? - Mind you, I have a 12 year-old I struggle with this very issue all the time. We've already discover the accessibility of porn on internet.

I once heard this young pregnant girl tell some one that the reason she didn't use birth control was because she knew it was a sin. And bringing an unwanted child to this world isn't?

This is what I would do different. First of all, we have to rid ourselves from this puritan way of looking at things and really talk to our kids about the beauty of sex, allow them to explore their sexuality on a safe environment (I'm huge on encouraging female masturbation for instance, but that's a whole other topic). This is not a government responsibility, this is a parental obligation. We all had to teach our kids about fire when they were little. There's nothing wrong with fire. Heat is wonderful, but it could do nasty things to our bodies if we don't know how to handle it. Sex is exactly the same. There's parenting classes for new parents. Why not have parenting classes and support for the teenage years? A classmate told me the other day "Everything I know about sex I learned it on spring break. My parents never talk to me about it." - She's 23.

You're probably saying, What about abortion now? Here's the deal. Say a young woman walks into a planned parenthood clinic, she wants to have an abortion. In some places she just does and she goes home. There's no psychological preparation, there's no follow up counseling. Abortion has to be a well thought out decision. Let's have women come into these clinics and have information available and counselors to talk about all the options and consequences of these choices, from carrying to term—keeping or giving up the baby—to terminating the pregnancy and the physical and emotional repercussions of doing so.

If the procedures are really painful for the fetus, let's develop more humane ways of dealing with this and stop using the current barbaric ones.

Finally, above all, let's provide post abortion counseling to these women, keep track of their sexual activity, provide the proper follow up to make sure they don't have to be in this situation again.

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