liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
So a brave and much-admired gynaecologist was murdered in America, and lots of people are upset and frightened by this attack. May Dr Tiller rest in peace, and may all of you who are grieving or in shock find the best comfort you can.

The internet being what it is, several people are responding to Dr Tiller's death by rehashing the abortion debate. Some of it is the absolute usual stuff, with people parotting the same old talking points from the two camps (though the "pro-life" side are perhaps slightly more embarrassed and subdued than usual after the atrocity perpetrated in their name). And feminists getting into long, passionate arguments with people basically on their side about whether any desire to reduce unwanted pregnancy is an attack on women's autonomy and right to choose.

But because the late Dr Tiller specialized in "late-term" abortions, the pro-choice voices are focusing more than usual on the reasons why abortions of fully developed foetuses are sometimes necessary. There's a desire to put a human face on the debate by retelling stories of women who had to have late-term abortions. And, well, these stories follow a certain format or even style, which is not surprising due to the way that the internet magnifies and reflects things back. The model is that we have a couple who are joyfully waiting for the birth of a beloved and wanted child, and go for a scan at the six month point and suddenly find out that something has gone horribly wrong, so the only possible option is to have an abortion, and everybody is devastated, but deeply grateful for the existence of doctors like Tiller for averting an even greater tragedy.

I can see that the point is to present cases where the mother who chooses abortion is as sympathetic as she could possibly be, and counteract the pro-life propaganda against selfish, promiscuous, careless women who kill their babies on a whim. Fair enough as a rhetorical tactic, but I'm a little worried about what traits are needed to make a woman sympathetic. She has to be married, she has to be a potentially ideal mother, and it helps a lot if she's middle class and respectable. I'd like to hear some stories about women who are in unconventional relationships or none, or who have perhaps at some stage expressed the slightest possible doubt about whether they really truly want a baby, or who maybe do have some worries about whether they can afford to raise a child. After all, if the point of the rhetoric is that these late term abortions are necessary to save women's lives, then surely it shouldn't matter how saintly the women in question are. Medical necessity is necessity, emergency treatment in a life-threatening situation shouldn't be a reward for living up to the romanticized ideal of Motherhood.

The other thing that's really, really bugging me is the "something has gone horribly wrong" part of this style of story. The much loved and wanted baby turns out to have a congenital defect, so all of a sudden it's no longer a loved and wanted baby, it's a terrible tragedy. The only possibly humane thing to do is to kill it as quickly as possible so that it doesn't have to suffer. In some of the stories, the baby is already dead or obviously non-viable. In others, the baby has spina bifida or a hole in the heart or bone problems or an unspecified "genetic condition". There are heart-string tugging descriptions of how the baby if brought to term would need massive surgery, or be in terrible pain, or be born with cancer, or have a learning disability, or would never learn to walk, or would be... (and this is an actual example from one of the "my heartbreaking late term abortion" stories I've read) incontinent. And all these things are considered to be equivalent to the baby developing without lungs or a brain.

The thing is, there are people I love who are in a lot of pain, or needed significant surgery at some point in their life, or have cancer, or need expensive medical treatment or long-term care. And I'm basically too upset to even talk about how a baby which is predicted to be unable to walk or toilet herself absolutely must be killed right now, otherwise the parents and doctors are evil cruel monsters for bringing such a tragedy into the world. And yes, I understand that the pro-choice movement puts a lot of weight on arguing that a foetus is not a person. But this kind of rhetoric about the kind of babies that absolutely must be aborted no matter what hurts real people who are currently alive.

Note I'm not proposing that anyone should be forced to carry to term a baby she doesn't want. Please don't accuse me of taking that position! I'm saying that the people who are arguing so passionately in favour of abortion rights should select their arguments with care. Sometimes the pro-life side are accused of only caring about the life of pure innocent little unborn babies, but not actual living humans (and that accusation is certainly true in the case of the evil man who murdered Dr Tiller, and those extremists who encouraged him and are celebrating his action.) But at this stage in the debate, it's coming across as if some of the pro-choice side only care about the rights and autonomy of women who are young and healthy and able-bodied and neurotypical and preferably pretty and socially valued (and I have this sinking feeling that pretty is really a figleaf for "white, middle-class and sexually conservative").

Pretty much the only people I've seen addressing this issue are the wonderful Kay Olson and Wheelchair dancer. And that only in comments buried deep in a blog discussion. I want to add my voice to theirs, with a top level post, not that I have all that much traffic or prominence.

PS: I'm going to be pretty harsh about deleting comments that don't acknowledge people with disabilities as people. If you can't talk about people, not "tragedies" or "burdens" or "medical costs", please don't talk to me about this topic at all. And I don't particularly want to hear your personal views on the abortion debate in general either, because that's strongly missing the point of what I'm trying to say.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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