Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Time to Fix an Old Problem

It seems like abortion has been getting a lot of attention lately. And it hasn't just been the usual "it's good/it's bad" discussion. Instead the conversation has been more of the tenor of "it's bad, so what do we do about it?" And this is coming from both pro-life and pro-choice positions. There's been significant attention to the idea that we should do everything we can to reduce the number of abortions. Among plenty of other examples, Hillary Clinton recently acknowledged the tragedy of abortion. And Ben Stark posted this blog about crisis pregnancy centers, and the type of efforts they make. Then there was the rather disingenuous article by a pro-choice advocate who was arguing that the best way to protect abortion rights was to reduce the number of abortions. Suffice it to say, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately.

Even more importantly, I think the general tone of the country in recent years has been towards acknowledging the importance of life. Congress has passed significant regulations on abortion. Bush was re-elected. Roberts and Alito have been confirmed to the Court. And while this in no way means that Roe and Casey will be overturned in the near future, I think we can be hopeful that the nation is heading that way. I think we can be hopeful that in the long term abortion will again be illegal. And I think we can expect that in the shorter term there will be significantly more regulations restricting abortion.

Which means it's time for us all - both pro-life and pro-choice - to be worried about a new problem. Or rather, it's time to be worried about an old problem: the causes that give rise to abortion.

In a society where abortion is illegal abortions still happen. Sadly, they happen in horrible conditions, which frequently put considerable risk on the life of the mother. When abortions are illegal people who have and provide them are effectively coerced into secrecy, which causes even more problems. The simple fact is, making abortions illegal provides new problems.

Of course, these problems do not mean that abortion should be legal. These problems in no way justify taking a person's life. But they do mean that we have some gaping holes in society that need to be fixed.

The problems come in two forms. The first is the problems that cause people to choose abortion. These can be things as concrete and social as poverty, or as nebulous and individual as "having a child doesn't fit into my plans". So this means we'll need a wide variety of measures to help people with these problems. Educating people and preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place is a great way to start. Providing greater aid - and greater awareness of aid - to mothers and infants through programs like WIC is another excellent strategy. Creating channels of communication between pregnant teens and their parents, requiring both parents to provide some form of support for their children, increasing access to day care and health services, etc. All of these are things which need more attention and further discussion.

The second type of problem is what to do with unwanted children. Liberalizing and streamlining the adoption laws is a great way to start. We need to reward adoption, and we need to support the mother through the adoption process, which can be a very lonely and difficult time. We also need to invest more in programs which care for orphans and provide significant state-assistance to those who decide to keep their children. Essentially, we need to do all we can to make the children wanted and welcome in our society, and we need to help single-parents feel that same sense of community and care. Again, these are just a couple of the many ideas which need to be explored and implemented.

But why talk about these things now? After all, abortion is still legal. There are two reasons I can see that we should get the ball rolling now. First, these are simply good ideas. These things will help reduce the number of abortions, whether they're legal or not. And, if there's less need for abortion, then arguably there's less reason to have it be legal. There are those who would disagree with this point, but it's not really essential. What is essential, however, is the fact that these are good and important programs which address serious social problems.

The second reason is that it'll take some time for these to build up steam. I want to make sure these types of protective measures are put into place before abortion is outlawed (if and when that happens). If we're going to stop abortions we need to make sure the safety net is already in place.

Sure, I think it would be a good thing if abortion was illegal tomorrow. But that wouldn't be nearly good enough. It would be exponentially better if, in addition to abortion being illegal, the problems which give rise to abortion were also eliminated. These are both part of the same fight. We need to keep one eye on continuing the "make abortion illegal" front. But we also need to start paying more attention to the "causes of abortion" front.

When abortion is illegal we've only taken the first step. We will only be victorious when the social problems surrounding and causing abortion have been dealt with. We cannot stop fighting until all of those evils have been eliminated.

That is why it is time to start thinking about these problems now.

Get on your dancing shoes
There's one thing on your mind


Anonymous said...

You are coming at your analysis entirely backwards. Alito or no Alito, Roe or no Roe, it is unlikely that the pro-life movement will sweep the legislatures of every state in the union. But if you were successful in eliminating the list of social ills you have described, you would render much of the legality debate moot. If the circumstances that lead to a woman's difficult choice are mitigated, so is the demand for the procedure altogether.

Matthew B. Novak said...

First off, I think there are people who would disagree, and would argue that no matter what the cause, abortion shouldn't be illegal. So in that sense, there's always a battle to be waged over trying to get abortion illegal.

Secondly, I'm advocating a focus on the whole problem, not just one branch. So I don't think "backwards" is quite accurate. You can argue that maybe the emphasis should be only on one track or the other, but I feel very strongly that we need to address the entire problem.

Anonymous said...

Except that, as you point out, reasonable people are always going to disagree as to whether the legality of abortion is actually problem. Whereas everybody could get together and agree that crippling poverty and terrible parenting are social ills that should be addressed. The world would be a better place if the anti-abortion movement addressed one tenth of their energy on the "new problems" you have identified.

Jeff said...

Many people on the pro-choice side view abortion as a fundamental part of care for pregnant women. The idea is to change the perception of abortion among caregivers from a necessity to a luxury, since moderates will be more likely to go along with outlawing a luxury. (Marijuana is a good example of this.)

So really, by attacking the social ills underlying abortion they would be eroding the foundation on which legal abortion is built. And no self-respecting liberal would speak out against increased aid for mothers and liberalized adoption laws. Putting the focus on changing the laws on the back burner for a while and concentrating on solving the underlying social problems seems like a win-win situation for the pro-lifers.

Ben said...

While I find Jeff's analysis compelling, I can also see why it's not likely that the pro-life movement will take that approach. 2 related problems.

First - single-issue voters. Most pro-life voters see nothing but the aborted fetus and the Supreme Court case denying that fetus's humanity and right to life. That's an emotionally charged image/issue. It gets people's attention. These voters don't give thought to the underlying issues that lead the woman to have an abortion.

Second - the conservatism of the pro-life movement. Many people who are pro-life are also anti-government and/or anti-welfare. It makes no sense to me. My pro-life beliefs are deeply related to my liberalism, which in turn is inspired by my Christianity. But the reality on the ground is that many people who want to make abortion illegal do not want to extend this needed aid to poor mothers. (I have no idea why people don't want to liberalize adoption laws.)

So, whether I'm looking at Matt's "approaching both problems" or Jeff's idea of a "win-win situation" for pro-lifers....I don't think it's likely to happen.

But it should happen. (That is, pro-lifers should passionately advocate for all the things Matt mentions in his blog post.) And that's reason enough to fight for it, whether or not it's a winning fight.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I've gotta say that I think there are actually a ton of people out there who are pro-life and not conservative, they just feel compelled to vote conservative because that happens to be the pro-life party. I also think there are a lot of people who vote Democrat but wish their party wasn't pro-choice. So I think this could be a winning battle.

Second, I think it's important to not put the "make abortion illegal" track "on the back burner" as Jeff suggests. The fact remains that there is a very compelling argument to be made against abortion, i.e. that it is wrong to kill. I don't want pro-lifers to drop this banner to take up the other one. I want them to be fighting both battles silmutaneously.

I really see them as part and parcel. Human beings have inherent worth and dignity, such that we should protect life (i.e. make abortion illegal). Furthermore, we need to recognize that inherent worth and dignity in all we do, (i.e. eliminating poverty which is an affront to that idea of worth and dignity). We need to protect life in all it's forms - in the womb and outside the womb. And protecting goes much farther than stopping immediate physical threats.

I don't know too many people who would vehemently disagree with this. I know plenty who don't stop to think about the issue beyond the womb. And that's too bad. So what I'm really calling for here is for all pro-life people to really start considering more than abortion. And that means we need to do everything we can to help eliminate the causes of abortion.

the marvelous patric said...

so, wait, if abortion was somehow made illegal tomorrow, you think no one would be having them anymore? i mean, that's a little naieve, isn't it? i think as long as the procedure is legal, it's safe for the mother, lethal to the fetus. once it's illegal, i think it'll be far more dangerous for both, which doesn't seem all that pro-life if we endanger two lives.

i agree that it's much better to attack the causes of abortion. i think in fact that's the best solution in the long run... then who will care if it's legal, considering all the birth control and adoption options easily available to couples.

however, i must state that i think roe v. wade should remain upheld because, so it is claimed, it was not about abortion per se, but the right to privacy a patient and doctor have. granted, it was applied to abortion, but i think that is an important issue. of course, if roe v. wade is overturned, which i doubt, it would simply make the issue a states rights issue, instead of a federal issue, much like gay marriage currently is. that would probably open up a much larger can of worms. i think leaving roe v. wade the way it is and trying to better fund and make the alternatives to abortion is a better way to go, if not more economical in the long run. Imagine the simple cost of each state having to legislate either pro or anti-abortion laws, enforcing them, as well as the alternatives. I'd much rather have health care and alternative fuel research for my tax money, especially since i think those things affect far more people than whether or not someone who i don't know having an abortion.

Ben said...

Patric, I get that you're pro-choice. Fine. That's your belief and I respect that.

But could you try actually reading what Matt is saying? He specifically says that abortions would still happen if abortion were illegal, and that they would be more dangerous. That's why he says (and I agree) that the causes of abortion (poverty, lack of education, difficult adoption) should - no, must - also be addressed.

As for talk about the costs of enforcement and figuring out state-by-state legislation....that reminds me of an argument Jeff once made to me once that the legal and administrative difficulties of recognizing fetuses as human beings were reason enough not to do so. That argument is utterly incomprehensible to me. It places far too little value on the worth of human beings. Police cost a lot...but we think it's worth it to enforce laws and save lives from lawlessness. You can't just focus on the costs and not the benefits...if saving millions of lives can be reduced to such a coarse term as "benefits."

It all comes down - it must come down - to whether you beleive a fetus is a human being. If not, then who cares whether another person makes a private decision to end a pregnancy? But if so...then how can you not care whether another person chooses to kill someone?

Given that there's no common ground on that problem, I'm thankful that there is at least common ground on what Matt calls the other prong of the problem. Nobody likes the things that cause abortion. So let's get people to care enough to address them.

Ok.....that was one heck of a rant. My apologies

the marvelous patric said...

actually, i'm pro-life, but also just in favor of it being a private decision vs legislation. my whole ill-concieved point was about roe v. wade being overturned and what it would mean, which i reckon i wasn't very clear on.
sorry about that.