The main trigger was lavendersparkle's excellent polemic. I really like her argument, and it's one I don't really see being made in all the mountains of pointless aggro that makes up most of the abortion debate. She argues that
The majority of abortions in the US and UK are caused by patriarchy, and gives a very closely reasoned and compelling explanation for this position, because:
Abortion doesn't solve [...] problems; it simply makes them less visible. It pushes the burden of 'dealing' with them onto women who are then expected to be thankful that had the 'choice' to have an abortion. And her conclusion is the triumphant:
I get so annoyed when I see pro choice feminist schmucks kidding themselves that they've achieved some kind of feminist utopia by being allowed to use their money, their bodies and their offspring to cover up the huge injustices of our society.
Then I found myself discussing abortion with ploni_bat_ploni, and ended up being quite vehement about certain aspects of the issue. I think I'd probably like to set my thoughts down here.
The last thing which really convinced me I should overcome my trepidation and post about this is the aftermath to this incident at Den of the Biting Beaver. (In case you haven't seen this, I'll summarize the background: Biting Beaver is a fairly strident American feminist blogger. She experienced a contraceptive failure and posted about having to go through hell to get the morning after pill. Her post was very widely linked, primarily by lefties outraged at the way the ill named "moral right" have all but closed off access to emergency contraception in the US. But this prominence brought the post to the attention of the pro-life crowd, some of whom proceeded to troll her (see the first link). Eventually, Biting Beaver was able to obtain her morning after pill. However it didn't work, and Biting Beaver was brave enough to post publically that she is pregnant and intends to have an abortion.)
This conjunction of people talking about abortion served to remind me why I potentially alienate everybody by being neither pro choice nor pro life. Essentially, I think the pro choice movement is generally well-meaning, but in their fervour to keep abortion legal, lose sight of the fact that abortion is not a good thing. However, I think much of the pro life movement is actively evil, even though I am broadly in agreement with the basic tenet that abortion is wrong.
What I think about abortion actually isn't terribly relevant here; I want to talk about the debate and politics around abortion, not rehash the debate. But FWIW, I believe abortion is wrong, but not murder. I don't believe that making sure all pregnancies are carried to term is the greatest moral imperative that could ever exist. There are some circumstances where abortion is the least worst of several bad options.
Anyway, my beef here is with the kinds of arguments and behaviours that exist on both sides of the debate. When it comes to the pro life movement, it's not even a case of the ends justifying the means; most of the methods and arguments are not only cruel and unjust, but actively counterproductive. The people who called Biting Beaver the vilest of names and sent her death, rape and torture threats when she was in the middle of a personal crisis are surpassed in evil only by the people who sent her apparently helpful, sympathetic emails with recipes for lethal poisons they claimed were herbal abortefacents. And that kind of thing is all too common in the pro life movement. A prolifer would argue that it's not fair to judge the whole movement by a few fringe extremists, but the fact of the matter is that even the supposedly moderate sectors of the pro life campaign do a lot of harm, and don't save any babies in the process.
Good sex education would prevent a large number of abortions, yet pro life politics seems to support leaving sex education as late as possible and as incomplete as possible. Teaching teenagers (and vulnerable adults) that having sex is evil, but using protection is really, really unforgivably evil can only lead to unwanted pregnancies. Lying about the effectiveness of protection and the biological reality of pregnancy might change a few minds on the abortion issue, but only for as long as the victim remains ignorant; once they find out they've been deceived they're almost certainly going to reject the central part of the message too. That is to say, if your argument against abortion is based on an Aristotelian view that a zygote contains a little tiny human being, fully formed from the moment of conception and therefore having full human rights, it's a pretty weak argument given that an early embryo is not in fact a miniature human being. And arguing from cuteness is very dubious indeed; there are plenty of non cute creatures and people who need protection and if a foetus' rights depend on the fact that it's (supposedly, though actually not) cute, they are not real rights.
Attacking women who are sexually active (and if someone's pregnant there's no way for her to be in the closet about it) is only going to encourage abortion. In general, promoting rigid gender roles is likely to leave more women vulnerable to being pressured into sex or unsafe sex or, in fact, abortion. Arguing as if having a baby were a punishment for being "irresponsible" or worse, slutty is certainly not an encouragement for keeping the baby if an unwanted pregnancy occurs. Restricting adoption to white, middle class, monogamous, straight, married couples (and then slandering even those who do adopt because it's so important for children to be brought up by their biological parents) means that it's harder to find adoptive parents and more women will choose abortion than otherwise. In Biting Beaver's case, the actions of the pro life movement led directly to her being in the situation of needing an abortion; the lie that pro life propaganda has promulgated that the morning after pill is an abortefacent means that more and more medical institutions are reluctant to prescribe it, and the length of time it took Beaver to obtain her pill would undoubtedly have reduced its effectiveness.
As for withdrawing funding from charities that provide medical care and education to the world's most vulnerable, on the grounds that such charities have "links" (defined extremely vaguely) with abortion providers, that is absolutely morally despicable and is certainly going to lead to more, not fewer, babies dying. And there's a whole bunch of stuff on these lines, where abortion is so broadly defined that various gynecological medical procedures are subject to the same opprobium, and again, worse healthcare for women and mothers is going to lead to more pre-natal deaths. So this is wrong even if you somehow believe that the mother's welfare is entirely irrelevant and only the unborn child matters.
I can only conclude that the real motive of the pro life movement is not, in fact, preventing abortions. I think part of it is in fact simple misogyny. As a side note, I don't believe that "the patriarchy" is trying to make lots of women have unwanted babies, any more than I believe that there is a worldwide conspiracy of men to make lots of women have abortions. This is primarily because I don't find it plausible that there is a worldwide conspiracy of men full stop. But "the patriarchy" can be a useful shorthand for all the ways that society is systematically unfair to women. I do think that some of the pro life attitude is based on assumptions which boil down to women being inferior and sex being evil and so on, and that some of that has the largely incidental consequence of putting lots of women in situations where they need abortions while also attacking them for being in that situation and for having abortions.
A major part of it is this weird political thing where you somehow convince the electorate to vote against their interests by using abortion as an emotional lever. If voting for a right wing party, no matter how racist, authoritarian and even incompetent it may be, is seen as supporting the baby savers over the baby killers, that's a very strong card for the right wing party. I have also seen the extremely cynical argument, I think probably from tnh, that people who don't have good access to birth control are likely to be more politically compliant. Some of the best people, the ones who would otherwise be at the barricades, are neutralized because they are precisely the ones who will step up to their responsibilities and take care of more children than they can really afford.
Now to the pro choice movement. I think because they are fighting such a dreadful beast, many pro choicers are inclined to get quite fanatical about their cause. Anyone who expresses the slightest doubt that abortion is great, the pinnacle of human achievement, and people should have as many abortions as possible because yay abortion, is suspected of helping the pro life enemy.
I think there is an important difference between the US and Europe. Certainly, it is American politics which dominates online debates, and the issues are not always applicable over here. I know that some people react to stories like Biting Beaver's relatively smugly, sure that that kind of religious fundamentalism claiming to be pro life in order to push a particular religious agenda, could never happen here. I'm not so complacent about that; I think a lot of American political ideas do contaminate the meme pool over here. Still, while the evil pro life movement has less traction in Europe than the States, there are important differences in the respective pro choice movements.
American pro choice arguments are often based on rights and feminism. Women have the "right" to choose, the "right" to self-determination, the "right" to decide what happens with their bodies, the "right" not to be pregnant and not to give birth and not to be mothers. AIUI, the original laws permitting abortion were based on considerations of privacy, so it makes sense that this is the argument that pro choice campaigners rely on. The problem is it makes little sense to talk about the right to do something which is not a desirable thing to do in the first place. Pro lifers would counter that the unborn child has a right to life which trumps the right of the woman to these issues of autonomy and privacy. And my problem here, as very well expressed by lavendersparkle, is that by loudly proclaiming the right of women to minimize the effects of injustice by having abortions, it is easy to forget about fighting the injustices which led to women being a situation to want to have an abortion in the first place.
European pro choice arguments tend to be much more medical. In the UK, which is the situation I know best, the law and many of the arguments are framed in terms of permitting abortion where carrying the pregnancy to term would harm the health of the mother. At the moment, a situation where having a child would totally ruin the mother's life is, and I think justly, regarded as a real harm. But there's this other aspect, which is about the health of the potential child. Foetuses with congenital defects can be aborted right up to full term; there is no time limit as is the case for healthy foetuses. This political reality is, I think, extremely harmful to the cause of disability rights. If one frames the argument in the American terms, one can say that a woman has the right to refuse the responsibility of caring for a disabled child. That's perhaps distasteful, but my opinion is that it should be distasteful. That's what the whole idea of the right to choose is based on, that women are entitled to kill a foetus if they don't want to be responsible for the baby it will become. But in Europe, you often hear people arguing that abortion is morally best for the baby, because it would be "cruel" to bring into the world a child that would have such terrible quality of life. That is an argument I have a huge problem with, because it very quickly shades into the meme that it is better to be dead than disabled.
I happen to believe that the issue, like many moral questions, is extremely complicated and good people can come to different conclusions from me, and still be good people. But if you want to take exception to this, go ahead.