Real life demolishes absolutist stances on abortion
I FIND the debate on abortion in this newspaper fascinating, not least for the personal reasons that I outlined in a previous column.
In line with a basic human inclination, both sides to the argument are guilty of trying to reduce an extremely complex issue to black-and-white absolutes, where principles seem to be of more importance than the people affected.
Yet each decision on whether to terminate a pregnancy is taken in isolation from all others, and is predicated on a human tragedy that has arisen from a particular set of circumstances. Most people on the “pro-life” side argue that abortion is always wrong, irrespective of extenuating circumstances: that such an act may even be on a par with murder.
Within this stricture, one can only presume, fall rape victims (including girls barely out of childhood and victims of incest); women and girls whose mental and/or physical health could be irreparably damaged by giving birth; foetuses so malformed that the baby’s chances of survival outside the womb would be negligible; and children who might survive but have only a short lifespan with little or no quality of life.
I sometimes wonder how a typical fundamentalist’s pro-life position would fare in a head-on collision with personal experience. Would it remain intact even if, for instance, instead of abstract woman it was oneself or a wife, daughter, mother or sister left pregnant by rape, or found to be carrying a hopelessly malformed foetus?
On the other side of the debate is the equally trenchantly held view that a woman alone should have the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy, regardless of the wishes of the prospective father. So vocal on this point are some pro-choice advocates, one might easily imagine that if they had their way the first question every just-informed father-to-be would be compelled to ask is, “Are you going to keep it, my love?”
It is worth bearing in mind that, even in countries where abortion is readily available, for the overwhelming majority of pregnant women the issue never arises. Abortion is only ever a last resort. Despite what many anti- campaigners like to suggest, no woman regards abortion as a means of birth control. And no one who has ever been privy to the traumatic after-effects of the termination of a pregnancy could possibly believe otherwise.
Should it be for a woman alone to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy? I would argue that, all things being equal, it shouldn’t be. But that position is rendered meaningless – merely rhetorical – by life’s realities. No woman in a loving, stable relationship would consider not consulting her partner before having an abortion. For those not in a stable relationship the decision falls by default upon the woman alone.