The Supreme Court is currently deliberating over the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the consequences of which will have a profound impact on the reproductive rights of women across the country. The case is a challenge to recent Texas laws that have put, what pro-choice advocates believe to be, strenuous regulations on abortion clinics throughout the state. If the Supreme Court decides these Texas laws are constitutional, the decision will serve as a green-light for other states sympathetic to the pro-life cause to put forth similar laws.
After the death of conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, the court is now split right down the middle on this case, 4-4. But of course it is. The abortion debate has always been polarizing. How can it not be?
For one side of the argument, abortion is murder. You can’t find middle-ground with murder. Or at least that’s what you’d think. Strangely, there are a surprising number of people in the United States who still manage to position themselves in the middle of this culture war.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I am pro-choice; I believe a woman has the right to do what she pleases with her own body. That being said, I respect the other side of the debate. Where I see a blastocyst, pro-life advocates see a full-fledged human being. And while I fundamentally disagree with them on that point, I can at least understand where they’re coming from. To them, life is a sacred right, and abortion is a violation of that right. Fair enough.
No, those are not the people who infuriate me. Instead, I bristle at the individuals who place themselves in the middle of the controversy. You know, the people who say, “Well, abortion is okay, but only in cases of rape and incest.” Moreover, I’m shocked that certain liberal voices seem to find this position comparatively progressive to those who oppose abortion on any ground—because it isn’t. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Recently, comedian John Oliver dedicated an entire segment of his show Last Week Tonight to exploring the abortion debate. I say “explore,” but the segment was really just a standard, albeit impassioned, defense of the pro-choice movement. What I found interesting about Oliver’s diatribe was one particular condemnation he made. Referring to the 19 percent of Americans across the U.S. who completely oppose abortion, he exclaimed, “What the F*** is wrong with you!” While I’m predisposed to nod my head at such a comment, I was disappointed he had nothing to say about the millions of Americans caught in the middle of the debate.
I’m not trying to pick on John Oliver. He is a gifted satirist and one of the most important voices on television. But Oliver and similar liberal voices are misdirecting their indignation. Think about the classic middle-of-the-road statement, “I only support abortions in cases of rape and incest.” Of course, this implies whoever says this doesn’t believe in abortion in any other case.
But, wait. Hold on. Pro-life advocates rage against abortion because, in their eyes, it is akin to murdering a human being. So, if termination is acceptable in these specific cases, does that mean children born of rape and incest are not human beings? Are they not worthy of the same protection these questionable pro-life crusaders heap on children born from accidental pregnancies? Of course they are, but for whatever reason, they’ve been put out to pasture. Why?
The obvious answer, at least in the case of rape, is, “Well, the woman didn’t have a choice.” The logic goes, because a victim of rape was forcefully impregnated, she shouldn’t have to give birth to a child she had no absolutely no say in conceiving. But in the case of accidental pregnancy, a woman knowingly put herself in a position where she could have gotten pregnant. Should that unborn child have to stay unborn just because his mother couldn’t contain her libido?
And now we’re getting to it. For many of these people in the middle, their issue with abortion has less to do with the life of the fetus, and more to do with the agency of the mother. Specifically, their issue is a question of culpability. Was it the woman’s fault? Did she dare, God forbid, have sex for any reason other than procreation?
We all hopefully see the problem here, right? What some call a progressive alternative to absolute abstention is in reality, the far more regressive mindset. While I and many others see it as a misplaced and misguided effort, there is something noble in trying to protect all life no matter the circumstance. But there is nothing noble in denying women reproductive autonomy as some screwy punishment for their sexual promiscuity.
And I can hear some shouting, “What about me!? I only believe in abortion when the life of the mother is at risk! Are you going to tar me with the same brush?” Yes, yes I am. I’m certainly more sympathetic to this position, but it runs into the same problems. If you truly cared about the life of the unborn child, you wouldn’t make exceptions. And if you’re so concerned about the lives of women, how do you justify saddling millions of them with a lifestyle they do not want? How do you justify depriving them of a fundamental human right?
Ohio Governor Scott Walker caught a lot of flack in one of last year’s presidential debates when he refused to support abortions, even in cases where the mother is at risk. He said, “I’m pro-life … I’ve said many times that that unborn child can be protected and there are many alternatives that would protect the life of the mother.” Is that an ignorant and backwards statement? I would say so. But you know what? At the very least, it is an ideologically consistent statement–more than I can say for those in the middle.
Listen, compromise is important. Sometimes the only way to solve a contentious issue is by swallowing one’s pride and making concessions. But this is, on both sides of the debate, an issue of civil rights. You can’t compromise with civil rights without severely leveraging your own closely held values.
And while this is purely conjecture on my part, I think this large contingent of (perhaps well-meaning) Americans who only support these special abortions are the real fuel keeping this debate alive: neither pro-life nor pro-choice, but anti-woman.