Sunday, February 1, 2009

The "Pro" in "Pro-Choice"

Yesterday we learned that the proud mother of octuplets, born last Monday in California, is an unmarried mother who receives public assistance and already has six children under the age of eight. From the welfare of each of her 14 children to concerns about a planet plagued with overpopulation, the ethical questions surrounding this event boggle the mind.

But let’s pull one strand of thought out of this fiasco and see where it leads us—the question of abortion.

In discussions about abortion, most Americans tend to think of certain common scenarios: for example, a teenager afraid to tell her parents about a pregnancy or a woman unwilling to interrupt her career to have a baby. Many think of abortion as a selfish act by a woman who was irresponsible in getting pregnant in the first place.

The reality—and the megabirth in California is a prime of example of this—is that questions of whether pregnancy should be brought to term can be much, much more complicated than that.

As a counselor, I have been privy to the agonies of two women who had to choose whether to abort a child. One of these women was dying of cancer and had, at best, a few months to live; the other had just learned that she was HIV positive. The woman with cancer had three choices: she could take drugs that would likely damage her fetus but allow her a few more months with her two young sons; she could abort the fetus and take the drugs; or she could let the cancer run its course without treatment, unsure of what that might do to the unborn child. As to the woman who was HIV positive (due to her partner’s infidelity), doctors could only tell her that her child, if born, would have a 50-50 chance of being born with HIV.

Who among us would choose for either of those women? I think most of us would agree the burden of choice should be theirs and theirs alone.

You see, the question of abortion is not really a question of whether pregnancies should be terminated or not—it’s about who should make the choices. It’s not about whether abortion is right or wrong—it’s never “right” but, at best, the lesser of two evils. Rather, it’s about whether the blunt hatchet of legislation is the best tool for dealing with delicate and very personal moral dilemmas. And it’s also about the fact that legislation—like prohibition—has been tried in this country and failed.

Those of us who are pro-choice are pro-choice, not “pro-abortion.” Most of us support the work of family planning organizations at home and abroad—in part, because they make alternatives available to women before conception (thus helping to reduce the number of abortions).

No one is happier than I am to see a healthy baby born to a healthy mother who is able and willing to care for it. But let’s face it—not every birth is cause for celebration. This is especially true in underdeveloped countries where, without family planning information and services, entire families may be in jeopardy from starvation. It’s true in disease-ravaged areas, where babies born to dying mothers may be doomed to a slow, agonizing death from unintentional neglect.

In affluent nations, advances in technology have made it possible for infants to be born who, without medical intervention, would have been naturally aborted. This includes multiple pregnancies involving unnatural numbers of children (all of whom, if they survive, have much higher-than-normal risk of lifelong illness), as well as babies who are severely deformed and disabled.

I once knew a family with several children, the youngest of whom was hardly recognizable as a human being. This female child, who died after a decade of misery, was grotesquely deformed and entirely unable to communicate. She was constantly being hospitalized for a wide range of problems, causing untold stress and anxiety for her entire family. The financial, psychological, and physical toll on everyone concerned was enormous, and keeping the child alive as long as possible (the only morally right course of action once she had been born) required the resources of an entire community.

The implications of medical intervention to create, preserve, or terminate pregnancies are very broad indeed. It’s time we got over the ridiculous obsession many people have with Roe v. Wade and take a broader, more informed look at the wide range of public policies that affect children and families, both in the U.S. and abroad.


Idna said...

I believe the main question that should be addressed concerning the woman who birthed the 8 babies, is what doctor or medical facility thought it was a GOOD IDEA to provide fertility treatments to this (unmarried) woman, who already had 6 kids? And implanting that many embryos at once?

This case should never have progressed to a point where the question of abortion even had to be raised!

This is a quote from an AP article: "The woman who gave birth to octuplets this week conceived ALL 14 of her children through in vitro fertilization, is not married and has been obsessed with having children since she was a teenager, her mother said."

So if this information from the grandmother of the babies is accurate, 14 viable embyos have been implanted into this woman by SOMEONE? Who is this clueless?

This is really unethical and medical malpractice in my mind. No one should do something like this just because they CAN with modern science.

I have friends who had to use the in vitro method to become pregnant and it is NOT cheap. How did this woman pay for these procedures? Were taxpayer funds used for any of this? These are questions I'd also like some reporter to follow up on.

Hope said...

Choice is important. A woman and man's choice comes before they have sex, the responsibility for their actions comes after. The woman with in vitro made a clear choice to get pregnant, and someone paid a lot of money to make it happen. She's totally responsible for the outcome. Victims of rape or incest do not have a choice and they should be able to end their pregnancy if need be, though the emotional burden of that decision might be more damaging in the long run. Choice: It's what's important. I choose life.

Citizen Jane said...

Idna, I agree 100 percent. Many questions should be asked about the irresponsible decisions that resulted in the conception and birth of those babies. I think "Clueless" will have some answering to do.

Anonymous said...

Exactly the point, Hope. You choose.

Hope said...

The choice comes BEFORE sex, the responsibility after. Our laws should protect unborn life and mandate accountability.

The only time abortion should be a legal option is when the mother did not have a choice. Is that more clear?

Citizen Jane said...

Hope, our disagreement is not about whether abortion, in general, is morally right or wrong. It's about whether "our laws" should legislate morality. (And by "our," I suppose you mean the laws of the United States, thus limiting the discussion of an essentially global problem.) Moral problems need to be addressed through education, communication, and persuasion.

For example, I happen to believe that smoking is immoral. It kills people, causes addiction in casual bystanders, and supports an industry that produces nothing but poison. (Although, in reference to our other topic of discussion, it does create jobs!)

Smoking in the United States has declined steadily since the mid-1980s. Why? Not because we made it illegal to smoke. (How well do you think that might have worked?) No--because countless people have worked at a grass roots level to educate others about the dangers of smoking: doctors, school-based police officers, and S.H.O.U.T. members (Students Helping Others Understand Tobacco), among others.

In China, the government decided a generation ago that the country couldn't sustain its rate of population growth and made abortion mandatory for many of its women who conceive more than one child. There are sound moral reasons for not overpopulating a region and fowling the planet. But if you support one kind of government intervention, you have to admit to the government's right to legislate morality. (Or is it just YOUR moral convictions that should become law?)