Non-economic musings on abortion from The Atlantic’s economics editor

15 Feb

Okay, serious hat on for one minute and then I promise I will leave it off for another month or so.

The business and economics editor of the The Atlantic, Megan McArdle, decided to weigh in about abortion on the occasion of the media finding out about the inane South Dakota bill that would include people committing murder to protect fetuses from harm under the umbrella of justifiable homicide.

She doesn’t discuss the bill in the post, but rather decides to muse on why the two sides constantly hate each other. Pro-choicers, she says, like to accuse anti-choicers of glossing over the real, physically difficult and sometimes dangerous process of pregnancy when they assert that women should be legally obligated to carry all pregnancies to term.

She is responding to her colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates’ column about the South Dakota bill. Towards the end of his column, Coates reflects on how easy it is to make it seem like all women should just not mind being pregnant when in fact it’s such a physically demanding process. He follows a long line of pro-choice feminists who point this out (and acknowledges Amanda Marcotte) — pregnancy doesn’t happen in a void, where a woman carries a pregnancy to term without any kinds of repercussions for herself.

But instead of addressing those repercussions or discussing the fundamental issue that all anti-choice people fundamentally love to avoid when it comes to concrete legislation (how to prevent abortions by funding contraception and sex education and by making pregnancy and parenting financially possible for struggling families or single parents who want to keep children), she goes ahead and points out that anti-choice women have also had babies, so automatically they aren’t romanticizing pregnancy like the pro-choicers insist they are.

Most women over 50 have given birth, and they are split about evenly on the question of legalized abortion.  The women I know who have given birth, whether pro-life or pro-choice, do not romanticize it.  They speak, of course, of the miracle that it is.  But they also speak, often rather too frankly, of how difficult and often disgusting the process is.  If a substantial number of pro-lifers are women who have given birth–and they are–then we pro-choicers can’t simply tell ourselves that it’s because they haven’t really thought about what birth entails.

It would be a disservice on the part of a bright intellectual to this already profoundly clouded debate to argue that pro-choicers sincerely believe anti-choicers have never had children themselves and don’t understand pregnancy. What there is is a sense that legislators involved in anti-choice lawmaking are often male and have not themselves ever had to deal with pregnancy, which is true. And there is a sense among pro-choicers that anti-choice people care more about unborn people than they do about the woman they are expecting to sacrifice enormously for an as-yet nonexistent person, which denies the fundamental personhood of the mother. Frankly, it feels insulting to be told that a mass of congregated cells automatically trumps whatever you may have sought to build with your life and hope to achieve in the future. Anti-choicers would have us view unplanned pregnancy like any other random incident that has the possibility to alter the course of life and cause hardship, when in fact it is the opposite: there is a choice, it is not random, and they would like to make that choice for you.

With our current social nets and supports (or rather lack thereof), it is a bygone conclusion that yes, the personhood of a mother and the personhood of an unwanted fetus are going to be in opposition to one another if she is not a woman of means or has a career that won’t allow her time off for pregnancy or childcare (assuming she is deciding whether to keep the baby based on economic factors). It is this dichotomy that anti-choicers can certainly acknowledge when they accuse feminists of being family-haters, and yet it is this dichotomy that they so fastidiously avoid when it comes to creating public policies that could help to weaken it.

McArdle of course gets to write in the Atlantic from a non-economics-related perspective about whatever she wants, but I see a lost opportunity on this occasion to push for the too-infrequent actual discussion of how pro-choice forces and people who want to see fewer abortions could actually create an economic policy climate that isn’t hostile to unplanned pregnancy and parenthood.


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