Abortion is a Woman’s Parachute
When I was a boy and my father and I were avid followers of NASA and the space agency’s progress to the moon, I learned that in every command capsule there was a rather conspicuous red button to push if the mission should need to be aborted on the launch pad. Less than a decade after this, the Supreme court majority decision in Roe versus Wade established a woman’s legal right to have an abortion, although no red button was forthcoming.
In the seventies we had too many discussions and not enough argument about a woman’s right to choose an abortion, a right I did not oppose, a right she had always had in spite of legislation to the contrary. We must remember that the law does not give to us our basic human rights; they protect them, support them, sponsor them, but they are rights we have by virtue of our humanity.
Now, to choose to end a pregnancy was a dilemma. If a woman had come to the point where she had to make a choice, at least after Roe versus Wade, she was not a criminal for choosing one way, and was expressing free-will if she should choose the other. The Right to choose also frees the woman who wants to have a baby. In fact, all women choose between having a child and aborting the pregnancy, although not quite as easily or safely as missions to space. There have always been ways to induce miscarriage, some of them frightening and almost concentration camp like in manner, others just dangerous, some, when mediated by the folk wisdom of a folk informed midwife, herbal; but choice is always elemental. In fact, the Pro-Life movement falls under a carefully framed and articulated rubric. If their movement is Pro-Life, then the op-poisitional Pro-Choice must be Pro-Death. Pro-Choice includes those who want to have a baby. It makes choosing to carry to term a pregnancy or inducing miscarriage a choice; and I am not entering the argument of flippancy because if a woman or a thousand women or a hundred thousand women enter the choice of an abortion flippantly; that is not an argument against the Law getting behind her right to choose, anymore than the frequency of deaths by drunk drivers should lead us to not selling cars or chanting that John Barleycorn Must Die.
The idea that an induced “miscarriage” has not always been an option is a mistake. The difference in a legally sanctioned abortion is the matter of safety; it is the difference between having a parachute and not having a parachute when the plane is going down in flames. Hyperbole intended. Getting to the point where we imagine the only way to support life is to force women top have children even when the result of rape is misogynist because it is punitive and excessive and if the woman were a prisoner, she would qualify for Amnesty International aid, Red Cross intervention, or support legally under the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.
Presumably, under sanction of the law, a woman now has the option to safely end her pregnancy, where before she did not. Nonetheless, our medal establishment assures us of the safety involved, yet more women die annually from medical malpractice than from breast cancer. But this is another essay, perhaps soon to follow. If we ever turn our eye from facing the history of women and the treatment of woman, we lose vigilance, which our founders reminded us in the cause of Liberty must be constant.
Hamlet’s dilemma is to be or not to be, which is also any woman’s who has to decide if she is going to carry her pregnancy to term or not and thus choose to terminate it. Hamlet did not raise the issue of having a parachute or not having a parachute because there were no parachutes. There were the equivalents of life boats in the sailing of the time, but we also have historical references concerning the absence or limitations of lifeboats when the ship is going under the waves. Does anyone remember the Titanic? Well, how is woman not a steerage passenger on the Titanic, where there were not enough lifeboats to carry them, nor were there any lifeboats available to them when they were finally unlocked from steerage (or in some cases not at all) because they were poor or mostly Catholic. Is woman not still the Second Sex?
Moreover, when a woman wants to have a baby, tries to have a baby, gets pregnant and has no dilemma before her, she has chosen not to abort. To bail out or not to bail out; the plane’s going down in flames, a parachute should be available. It’s sensible; it’s rational; it’s reasonable. But when politics are concerned, maybe rational and reasonable to the People loses to the more economically feasible, which means profitable. Yes, around the world, it still must be easier to get Soccer Stadiums built than children’s hospitals.
There was an argument we put forward in college and it went as follows: You can’t tell me that a fifteen year old girl is ready, emotionally or psychologically to have a baby; that it might not be a stress in these ways too much for her to handle. I understood this argument, I too felt the emotion behind it. I was sensitive to it. A pregnancy for a fifteen year old girl in any middle class home or community would be traumatic, perhaps as much, if not more, for her parents. I am not so sure it would be equally devastating for girls in other communities, but let us assume that bourgeois mentality and morality have pervaded, which is not to say that ethics and morality (and they are not synonyms) only exist among those of the American middle class.
If there were no boy to marry, this would pose a problem for a girl who was of any religious or cultural tradition, or economic or educational status, but if there were a boy to marry and marriage ensued, I presume the parents would suffer less shock. I am not herein considering the psychopathic, whereby a woman’s, or a girl’s life or limb is in jeopardy from those who say they love her when she becomes pregnant without marriage. Emotional trauma correspondent to the level of ostracizing a girl would endure in her community would have to be measured separately. I make no assumptions for how progressive all of us are; history is anything but progressive. History is an ocean, not a river.
Now assuming the girl is of a bourgeois family–and by this I mean an upper or mid level middle class family, university educated–the expectations would be for her to go to college. A pregnancy, even if there were a boy to marry–and marriage here at this age would be as devastating for any bourgeois family as would the pregnancy–is an impediment (in their minds) to her going to college and then to graduate school. Of course, the economic aspirations of the girl’s family would be stunted, cut off, even (or so they imagine thus think, especially if their future economic advancement is placed on the girl advancing educationally); yes, this might be especially frightening to a family with bourgeois aspirations who are not yet bourgeois, or bourgeois by proxy through the social advancement of the daughter, who is now “with child,” except if we are in favor of her honoring her choice, giving her the freedom to do so, we cannot say the latter, no embryo can be called a child if the argument sides with pro against con. Under these circumstances, medically induced miscarriage would certainly be less traumatic in the long run, or so the middle class argument would go. The availability of safe medical procedure would go a long way in making this choice viable. We do hear so much nowadays about Post-abortion syndrome, which had always been a syndrome under another category; it just was not categorized as a syndrome; but that was post miscarriage. Women have always been saddened by the loss of a “baby,” whether it was a fetus or an embryo–one of my mother’s friends had had one, a miscarriage, although for a pregnancy she had wanted to carry to term, and talked to my mother about waking up each night in the middle of the night crying. I do not imagine that abortion can be easy; I cannot imagine that any woman does flippantly, at least not so that the woman who does do so in such a way becomes indicative.
I am not arguing for or against a woman’s legal right to choose. Again the right precedes the law; the law gives the guarantee that the right of the woman is protected and supported by the legal justice system. This seems the only sane solution to me for what some see as dilemma and others who see the choice as lacking in predicament, whether they are on the side of pro or con. But my question is this, and I feel that it is most important to present–do we think that a girl who might not be emotionally and psychologically fit to endure a pregnancy is able to an abortion. If I am not mistaken, a pregnancy and a birth are both natural. I have not yet assumed that an abortion is also natural, unless that’s what we are saying, that the natural flip-side of pregnancy and birth is abortion. I don’t know. In the ways that biology and psychology are connected, mutually influential, I’m not so sure. But I’m still a bit puzzled by anyone who can claim that abortion must be made available to a girl because we would be saving this girl emotional distress by doing so.
And again, I do not use this latest point as a way to argue against a woman’s right to choose, or against legislation to sanction abortion so that if it is chosen, it can be safe. It is not a rebuttal for abortion, but one against what others see as a crucial point in their argument. The best argument, though, is for legislation ensuring a woman has a safe choice and not a horrible dilemma. The choice is between safe and unsafe abortion because abortion has been and will always remain an option for anyone so inclined.
Dilemmas will always exist; problems can ensue. However, with the legal right to choose, abortion presumably won’t be the nightmare it was before Roe versus Wade. And before Roe versus Wade, the options before a woman, likely a girl, were nightmarish. But then there were not enough lifeboats on the Titanic, and the dearth was felt by steerage. Social parachutes and lifeboats have always been available for the rich, Democrats and Republicans both.
Now if the Supreme Court case were a docu-drama, I ask you, would the argument presented in the majority decision be weaker? Is the decision invalidated by certain facts that point to the case not worthy of Supreme Court consideration. Would the truth contained within it become false? Whether true or not in the most pedantic sense of trueness we can hold, the argument in Roe vs. Wade is just as strong whether the case was justified in being brought to trial based on its factual merits or not. I am not arguing for or against the factual merits; I am not presenting a case in either defense. I am merely pointing out that even if it were a fictionally contrived philosophical dialogue, Platonic or not in its Socratic rhetorical edge, it would have presented a valid opinion and defense of a woman’s right to choose. The Puritanical fervor that reanimates itself and Salem for us now and again must always be met face to face, stood up to with intelligence, reason, rationality, passion and a literacy that can defend human rights.
If every woman is macrocosmic to the universe of being as I hold to be a priori true, then every galaxy of argument for or against the legal right becomes irrelevant. She is. Her choice is. What happens, happens for her and to her and to no one else. Is the embryo a someone? The fetus is what? Where does personhood begin is going to be a matter of faith for a while, so we are going to have clashing metaphysics for a while.
All the women on either side do not countermand her, do not outweigh her. No other woman has a hotline to the simple separate woman faced with this dilemma, as it remains for her for the time-being.
If we could prove there was or was not a personhood present in the fetus, then what would we have to say, either side of this issue? But aren’t there more than just two sides here. And just what do we mean by personhood at this historical moment? But if we remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, we again will realize that the working poor, the immigrant poor, minority poor, the everyday-everyone-anywhere poor are not worthy of parachutes; parachutes are expensive, they cost a lot of money to make. Lock the doors on those immigrant girls, Jews and Italians, lazy shiftless oversexed women. Nylon stockings became the thing when silk was used to make parachutes in the Second World War.
She is everything in this fixation, this determination, this decision, this conundrum, this whatever we have in words to attempt to say what she is going through. She is every thought, every choice, every fear, every emotional pang, every anything else she might feel. No one can feel for her; embryos cannot feel. What can the fetus feel? Does medicine tell us? All the arguments for or of the psychological effects are mute before her singular solitary irreducible voice. Only she faces this; only she can choose. This seems simple enough to say, but remains difficult for us to believe. But actions do speak louder than words.
Abortion is a woman’s parachute.