One reason why abortion is such an intensely polarizing issue is that the people on both sides refuse to acknowledge the truth and validity of the opposing arguments.  Each camp demonizes the other, when in fact most people involved in the debate, like most people everywhere, are decent folks who believe they are doing the right thing.


The anti-abortion contingent makes a single, powerful statement.  The fetus/embryo/zygote (depending on the stage of development), by virtue of being a HUMAN fetus/embryo/zygote, has the same right to protection (moral and legal) as a fully formed individual.  It matters.  To discard it is not inconsequential.


On the pro-choice side, the discussion is startlingly similar.  A girl/woman’s life matters.  By virtue of being human, and, for the purposes of this essay, an American, she is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Gone are the days when women were the possessions of their husbands without the rights of citizenship.  A woman cannot be held hostage, forced into servitude, or denied opportunities.  To deny a woman freedom is not inconsequential.  It matters.


When an unwanted pregnancy occurs, there is a unique and tragic conundrum.  The needs of the fetus (I’ll use that for short) directly conflict with the needs of the woman.  All abortion law attempts to answer the question: whose needs take precedence?


The state of South Dakota, in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, has passed a law banning all abortions at any stage, with one single exception: abortion is allowed to save the life of the mother.


That lone exception speaks volumes.  When the chips are down, all the way down, and either the fetus is going to die or the woman is going to die, the woman takes precedence. 


Once you’ve concluded that, it all becomes a balancing act.  What circumstances justify exercising the woman’s precedence? 


If the law in South Dakota takes effect, a 12-year-old girl raped by her own father would be forced to carry the pregnancy.  A woman whose fetus has been diagnosed with anencephaly (literally “no brain”) would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, only to watch the baby die immediately after birth.  Indeed, it takes very little imagination to come up with all sorts of horrifying examples in which demanding that a woman continue a pregnancy constitutes the most unfeeling cruelty.


And what of the more commonplace situation, in which a woman is simply unprepared to give over her body and her life to continue an unwanted pregnancy? 


A note on reality for those who have not had this experience: even in the best of worlds, pregnancy is really, really difficult.  It is wonderful and miraculous, yes, but it can also be miserably painful, often incapacitating (especially in the first and third trimesters), and sometimes does permanent damage to the mother’s body.  And all that refers to normal, healthy pregnancies.


There is a gender issue that must be discussed.  Women are raised from infancy onward with the knowledge that they will be expected to put the needs of others ahead of their own.  The vast majority of the time, it is women who put their careers on hold to nurture their children.  It is women who stay home when their kids are sick.  It is women who spend their evenings sewing costumes for school plays.  It is women who eventually care for aging parents.  Some religious groups explicitly require women to be subservient to their husbands. 


It seems natural, then, to demand that a woman set aside her own needs and tend to the needs of the fetus, even if she does not wish to have a baby, even if carrying a pregnancy will cause her severe physical, psychological, or economic harm.  That’s what women do.


But is that reasonable?   There’s that pesky business of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Can a state deny to women the freedom that men take for granted all their lives?  Don’t brush the question aside.  Women matter.  It is not inconsequential.


Somewhere, there is a reasonable balance between the needs and rights of a female citizen of the United States, and the needs of a fetus/embryo/zygote. South Dakota missed it by a long, long way.   




42 thoughts on “

  1. I agree with you 400%. I personally saw a lot of examples of females (not even women yet) giving up college or family or money or potential happiness etc all for a child they didn’t want, but didn’t have the strength to give up for adoption. Abortion is not good, but it only becomes an option when the whole situation is already pretty bad. I would never have an abortion myself, but I will defend to the death the right of other women to have safe, sanitary access to it. If we don’t let them have it legally, they’ll still seek it in silence and pay much more (physically and emotionally) for it. It’s kind of like the line “if we make outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns”. Abortions will happen – either legally and regulated or illegally and unregulated. I choose the former!

  2. This is beautiful as well as well written.  Also, I agree.  I don’t identify myself as either camp, because I think they both have valid arguments.  Each case is individual and should be treated that way.  You cannot solve one math equation with the same method as you solved a completely different one.  I always tell people when they ask that I am pro-life AND pro-choice.  I believe that EVERYONE has the right to live, and every woman has the right to decide what is best for her, considering her own special circumstances.  She also though, must deal with the consequences of her choice.  If a woman is pregnant, that child is under her jurisdiction and subject to her “law”.  I would not terminate a pregnancy, even if I were raped or my life was threatened by the pregnancy.  That is MY choice.  Am I happy when a woman aborts for ANY reason?  No.  Some reasons for abortion make me less happy than others.  (Birth control, for one.)  But am I going to judge a woman who makes the choice to abort for ANY reason…that choice that should be HERS and HERS alone?  No, I am not.  This is turning into a blog so I’ll stop.  But thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this.  Well done.

  3. It’s simple. The SD girl goes to ND. This is all academic anyway. I don’t think there is a doctor or facility in the entire state that does this anyway. I mean, it’s SD. They don’t even clean the interstates when it snows.  Sheez.

  4. I hope you send this to as many media outlets as you can find.  You have written one of the more comprehensive–yet concise–and well-thought out essays on this subject I’ve ever seen. 

  5. I am very proud of you!  What “right to lifers” refuse to understand is that there has always been abortion, and there will always be abortion.  The difference is, since 1974, the mother didn’t have to die along with the fetus. My grandmother told me stories of women using button hooks, long metal rods that were used to close high button shoes, to self abort.  Needless to say, more than a few of them killed themselves along with the fetus.  The back alley abortion has ALWAYS existed in places where abortion wasn’t allowed.   Banning Roe vsWade will mainly affect the poor..  Most middle class women and girls who cannot, for whatever reason continue their pregnancy,  will simply hop on a plane and go to some nice, modern country with good health care, and legal abortion.  The poor will have dirty back alley abortions, or have the unwanted baby, abuse it or toss it in the nearest dumpster.  You can’t force a woman to love and care for a child she is not giving birth to willingly.

  6. We have become a society that doesn’t want to be reasonable, that doesn’t want to listen to, let alone understand differing points of view.  It is so much easier to dismiss those who disagree with us.  You have done a really good job with this issue. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

  7. “Gone are the days when women were the possessions of their husbands without the rights…”  Interesting you should say this, for I posted a little blog yesterday entitled “What Was Her Name?” I wrote it because I still see many cases where women give up their very identities and take on those of their husband’s. We’re not as far removed as we think we are from those days when women were simply their husband’s possessions. Any step backwards moves us towards those days. Voluntary oppression is still oppression, and usually the hardest to overcome.

  8. To say South Dakota missed is to assume its legislature was aiming for either reasonableness or balance.  Not so.  They wanted the most restrictive, repressive law they could come up with.  Something so heinous that abortion rights forces would have to respond… and, the legislators hope, take to the Supreme Court, where at least two shiny-new Bush appointees are waiting. 
    South Dakota hit its target dead center.

  9. I am pro-life…always have been but then I was faced with one of the situations you described.  My son and his wife found out that the skull did not close properly and the brain was floating separate to the body.  The child would not have lived more than a couple of hours had it been carried to term as well as the mother was not in good health.  They had a desperate choice to make, finally after much thought and much prayer the pregnancy was terminated and we still almost lost the mother.  In an instance such as this and those that you described I can’t hold it against the woman or the man.  But carelessness in birth control ?  Yet just as you said, you can’t force someone to love its young and then you put the child in even more danger, possible years of abuse.  I just thank God that I did not have to make such a choice and sympathize with those that do.  You write well. ~ mom

  10. Oh I got so interested in your blog I forgot why I came here.  Yes no washer or dryer would be the pits.  But my grandmother had a washer, wringer though it was.  And believe it or not, her whites were whiter than anything I have been able to accomplish since no matter what soap, no matter what bleach.  Go figure….two steps forward, one step back. ~ mom

  11. Good post although I think that most people who are pro-choice have tried to see the other side even to the point of letting pro-lifers pick away at abortions. Pro-lifers will NOT dialogue with pro-choicers and once they get into a church they shut down all discussion. They’ve labeled the whole Democratic party as evil. There will be a backlash because of this.

  12. And just to add on to Rockinbear05‘s comment, my mother had TWO illegal abortions before I was born (and I was born in 1960).  She could easily have been butchered to the point that I wouldn’t be here.  Making abortions illegal doesn’t eliminate them any more than Prohibition eliminated alcoholism.

  13. That was probably the most concise, together, and generally…hmm…accurate? is that the word I want?…essay on the topic that I have seen. I love how you put your words together and make your case so solidly without accusation or invective.

  14. An excellent and well thought out post. 
    On a related note:  I see in the news that a man’s group has finally found a case to rally behind, and is supporting a gentleman *snort* who is suing to discontinue child support.  His argument, and that of the group ?  Men shouldn’t have to pay child support on unplanned pregnancies.
    Scary times, we live in.

  15. I can tell you had a friend who was sexually abused from her father, for years!!!!!! She got pregnant and aborted it. That scared her forever, but having to carry and give bith to her porbably deformed child/sibling would have been so horrifing I think she would be dead now by suicide. I think in gray not black in white, I can see both sides of an issure pretty well. I empathise that they feel abortion is really killing a baby, and they don’t bend. I know someone who would not do invitro because what a bout all he fertalized eggs ( which she actually called babies ) they would be frozen and maybe thrown away. No grey for this person. Like I said I can empathize, but it’s not logical thinking, they can’t think out of the box. And that annoys me.I understand some woman use abortion as a means to birth control, and that disgusts me, but the law has to be clear and can’t pick and choose on a case by case basis. And sure we can go back to illegal abortions, and when we have a bunch of dead women, or women in jail, or teens that can’t a family ever, they will say they desrved it as a punishment from G-d.

  16. Bad Dogma said: “and, the legislators hope, take to the Supreme Court, where at least two shiny-new Bush appointees are waiting.  South Dakota hit its target dead center.”
    This is what scares me.  Excellent, excellent essay btw.  Very even and fair and concise.

  17. I don’t know if your a Simpsons fan or not, but during the election year with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, space aliens took over their bodies (it was a halloween episode). They were having a public debate and said “No abortions for anyone” and everyone booed. Then they said “Abortions for everyone” and once again everyone booed. Then they said “Abortions for some, little american flags for everyone else” and everyone cheered.
    There is no right answer.

  18. The truth of the matter is that the majority of Americans DO want some middle ground–and neither side wants to give. I’m pro-choice, but I can see giving in on a few details in order to keep it legal. I don’t believe in parental or spousal notification, though. There are some parents who would practically kill the girl or toss her into the streets. And spousal approval makes the woman a possession of her husband. Not acceptable.Lynn

  19. When the debate involves premises stemming from such deeply different belief systems, it seems the goal of each side is to verbally outmanuever the other. Semantics becomes everything. There is no end in sight to this debate, even when put in terms as clear and well-reasoned as yours. I shudder and sigh and steer clear when I shouldn’t. Kudos to you. . .

  20. The horror, the horror… because I actually MOVED here to South Dakota. I feel like such a lonely voice in the dark. But there are more and more women beginning to gather here, becoming more and more political by the moment. I hope we’re not to little, too late. It’s really frightening. I apologize to the rest of the world for the state of this state. Peace. ~Paloma

  21. Good post getting down to the crux of the matter. Life, not matter how sucky, is the goal? I would thought the afterlife was more important to them so why bother saving the woman’s life for any reason? Martydom would seem more appropriate.

  22. A most excellent and poignant exposition Jodi. As a male member of the ruling patriarch, I for one willingly and humbly step aside and fall in behind women such as you. We (men) have not acknowledged women’s views or accomplishments in the world. I wonder who the main authors of the legislation on banning abortion are? Could they be … men?? Will our (men’s) hubris never end?

  23. Do people ever disagree with you here? The horrific cases that you and others point to for justification are an infinitely small fraction of what’s going on today consequent to Roe. You write well, I grant. But  you’re defending murder because you find it  a convenience.

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