I didn’t read it until a little while ago, but Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, has written an op-ed piece for Salon entitled “Can we ever say a woman can’t choose?”, which appeared online yesterday. I read it eagerly, since I do feel that Kissling’s work with CFC was valuable, but was deeply troubled by her current perspective, which, in my opinion, betrays women. My general loathing of the commenting atmosphere at Salon made me think we might have a more productive discussion over here, in our nest.
My first response to her titular question is “yes, we can–hell, we do–but perhaps we shouldn’t.” But I want to wade through her essay–which is at least thoughtful–a little more slowly, just to be sure.
Kissling refers to a Planned Parenthood conference she attended more than a decade ago, and describes her growing discomfort with the moral/ethical aspect of “abortion-on-demand.” At the conference, she took part in an ethical discussion built around a number of scenarios in which a hypothetical woman’s reason for seeking an abortion could be considered “shallow” or otherwise dubious: the family wanted a girl, not a boy; the fetus is developing a minor, non-life threatening physical deformity, etc. This conference caused her to rethink her previous “AOD” stand. In her article, Kissling writes that she now believes that under certain circumstances, women should be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy. Good thing she changed jobs, or we might have to rename her previous institution “Catholics for a Free Choice, Unless I’m Personally Uncomfortable With that Choice, In Which Case You Can No Longer Choose It,” and that just isn’t as catchy.
The myth that women are just looking for any ol’ reason–or not even bothering with reason–to terminate their pregnancies has been used against the pro-choice perspective since Roe was passed in 1972, and is based solely on the idea that women are a) frivolous bitches and/or b) stupid, irresponsible cunts, who therefore cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. I’m deeply disappointed that Kissling seems to be buying into it.
While some women certainly turn to abortion for reasons that other women might disagree with (oh no! disagreement! there oughta be a law against that!), examples like those Kissling mentions mostly serve to obscure the fact that the vast majority of women approach abortion like they would any other serious medical procedure–and one that often runs far greater social than health risks: with care and no small amount of forethought. This is not to say that abortion is necessarily a grueling ordeal, but that because it is rather invasive, and because there are already hoops, both legal and extra-legal, to obtaining one, I would stake my life on the fact that a vanishingly small percentage of women get abortions “flippantly.” (And even if they do: not my business.) Given that 88% of abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy, long before viability, and only 1.4% happen after 20 weeks gestation, when viability is still uncertain, her concerns for the “rights” of a fetus over those of it’s parent-host seems seriously misplaced.
Kissling is Catholic, and her concern for ”life” in the abstract seems to be crowding out her concern for women’s lives in reality. Her ultimate point is that we should reject “single value ethics”–which, for choice advocates, is the women’s legally protected right to choose abortion–as an “extremist” postition, and freely “[express] our views about controversial issues.” I would argue that thinking people on all sides of the debate have had or are continuing to have difficult, often exhausting discussions in which we express/ed our views. We can “say” all we want to about the issue. Kissling certainly has taken her turn. What she seems to forget is that in these discussions, people who fully value and respect women must, at the end of the day, argue that putting up more barriers (be they legal, cultural, or “moral”) to abortion, even if we find ourselves occasionally uncomfortable with the reasons or outcomes, is not the answer to the debate.
You are free to disagree, and say as much in comments. Please, though, let’s keep whatever discussion ensues respectful and on-topic.