Friday, January 28, 2011

Why I'm pro-choice

Having recently tackled gun control, I thought I'd turn to something less controversial: abortion.

Two women basically inform my opinion on abortion.

The first is my my spouse, H. When H's mother, K, was pregnant, her father wanted K to get an abortion. He insisted on it, in fact. K refused, and H was born.

I've always found that story rather frightening. What if K hadn't stood up to H's father and had gotten the abortion? H would never have been born. She wouldn't be my spouse. My children would not exist.

So I learned something from that. An embryo isn't a person. And it wasn't H that would have been aborted. But it was sort of H. It wasn't nothing. So that story taught me to take the human potential of an embryo very seriously.

The other woman who taught me something about abortion was a Filipina woman named Francisca. H and I met her in the Tokyo OB/GYN hospital where we were having our first baby. It was a happy time for us, but not for Francisca.

She was in the hospital because she was suffering complications from a botched abortion. She told us she was in Japan to work at a foreign embassy. She had been raped and impregnated by one of her employers.

She'd gone home to the Philippines and got an abortion. Since abortion is illegal there, she'd gone to see a folk healer rather than a doctor. It was botched somehow, and a couple of months later she ended up with a serious infection in the same hospital as my wife.

I'm not sure why Francisca had decided to go home to get an abortion. It's legal and safe (though not inexpensive) in Japan. Maybe it was the cost; maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe she just felt more comfortable going home.

Anyway, she went home to a country where abortion is illegal. But women there have abortions anyway. According to Wikipedia,
One study estimated that, despite legal restrictions, in 1994 there were 400,000 abortions performed illegally in the Philippines and 80,000 hospitalizations of women for abortion-related complications. 12% of all maternal deaths in 1994 were due to unsafe abortion according to the Department of Health of the Philippines. Two-thirds of Filipino women who have abortions attempt to self-induce or seek solutions from those who practice folk medicine.
So Francisca taught me something important too. She taught me what it can be like when abortion is illegal and desperate women get them anyway. She brought home to me the meaning of "back-alley" abortions.

As a result of what H and Francisca have taught me, I'm conflicted. I'm caught between two important ideas. I can't be dismissive of the human potential of a human embryo. It's not a person, but.... I can't leave off the "but." I can't be wholly comfortable with the idea of abortion.

However, there's another "but": but women are people in a way that embryos are not. They're not potential humans, they're living, breathing human beings with all that entails. And sometimes they are going to need, or at least desperately want, abortions. So I have to support the rights of women over the putative rights of embryos. If the needs of a woman and the needs of an embryo conflict, I must side with the woman.

And that's why I'm pro-choice.

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