A Liberal Objection to Abortion

ROE v. Wade is in danger. Nothing else could be more encouraging to abortion's opponents. At the same time, nothing should be more disheartening to opponents than the stark realization that the pro-choice movement is winning the long-term battle for public opinion, especially among our generation--a battle which will ultimately determine how long a reversal of Roe v. Wade would survive.

This need not be the case and is no doubt attributable to the co-optation of the anti-abortion position by a fundamentalist fringe. Their wellintentioned arguments--couched in terms of Jesus and the Bible--do more harm than good when it comes to persuading Americans why abortion is the unjust policy, which it really is. As the prominent social theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno argued, even the best-intentioned reformer who uses anachronistic arguments--and the fundamentalist language is surely anachronistic and non-persuasive for most Americans--"strengthens the very power of the established order he is trying to break."

If the anti-abortion movement is ever to reverse the trend in the battle for people's hearts and minds on this emotional issue, it must use the arguments which are most meaningful to most Americans. Increasingly, this means adding secular and liberal arguments to the pro-life message.

"AT stake is a woman's right to control her own body, a woman's right to privacy"--this powerful argument forms the moral and legal plank of the pro-choice platform. Indeed, given the way that pro-choicers have been able to frame the debate, to oppose abortion, for many people, means that one is thus anti-liberty and privacy and for the imposition of others' views on women.

This is a chimera and liberals with a consistent philosophy realize it. The liberal notion of individual liberty and right to privacy, as we all know, holds only insofar as one person's actions do not adversely affect other people in society. It is impossible to argue that an abortionist's actions do not adversely affect at least one important person in addition to the woman: her child.

For as much as pro-choice advocates emphasize the position of the woman in defending abortion, what is really at stake is whether the child will continue to live or not--or at the very least be born. Even if one holds that the fetus is not alive, it definitely will be, and thus abortion clearly ends a life: the one that would be.

If this were not the case, there would be no liberal objection to abortion. It would genuinely only be a question of a woman's right to privacy and to control over her own body. However, it is much more than this.

"WHAT if the child is unwanted? The mother might be poor and unable to care for the child properly. She might be a student or may not be ready to have a child, perhaps being only a teenager. Abortion should be an option in these instances."

This set of arguments presents the social grounding of the pro-choice movement. And understandably so. Despite the talk about cases in which women are physically endangered by their pregnancy or are impregnated due to rape (these cases account for less than 1 percent of all abortions), it is single, young, poor or career women who are most likely to see abortion as the best solution, however traumatic, to a big dilemma--pregnancy.

To the extent that these women are overwhelmingly the ones who opt for abortion, it becomes evident that deeprooted social problems often lead women--with a great deal of anguish--to the abortion clinic.

However, the cards need not be stacked against women in our society so that abortion (whether legal or not) is the option which seems most appealing to many pregnant women. Modern society need not be what it is now: a place in which young, single and poor women understandably fear that they will be left all alone, as mothers, to fend for both themselves and a child in the modern jungle.

A society more favorably disposed to women would involve the promotion of policies which would address the unique pressures which women face in our day and age--namely, comprehensive public-sector and corporate childcare programs, extended maternity leaves, just palimony rulings and enforcement, affordable housing, minimum wages in accordance with the costs of living and greater aid to struggling parents with dependent children. In short, a society in which economic survival, work, school, career, life expectations and motherhood are not mutually exclusive, as they often are now for single, young and poor women.

It is not enough simply to stress the moral objections to abortion or to call for its end, a lesson which the knownothing, think-nothing, care-nothing fundamentalist opponents of abortion have failed to learn. For opponents to make a viable case against abortion, we must also address the larger social problems which are leading women to seek this lamentable option in the first place. If abortion can be termed an evil--indeed a "necessary evil" by its supporters--it is time to make it an unnecessary one.

Recommended Articles