"I'm a liberal and proud to call myself that, and I'm also pro-life." Readers respond to Rebecca Traiser's article about abortion.

By Salon Staff

Published February 14, 2005 6:37PM (EST)

[Read "Morality Play," by Rebecca Traister.]

Thanks for an interesting, thorough take on the abortion issue and the way it's changing. I found it to be informative and challenging, neither too willing to ideologically cave nor too stridently certain.

On Page 3, Kate Michelman suggests that there may be few conservatives attempting to bridge the divide. I think that's true for the most part. But there's an interesting new take on the issue, where people with strong anti-abortion views are arguing for abortion to be legal as a way of minimizing abortions. Here, William Stuntz actually argues that keeping abortion legal will reduce abortions, and therefore is a better way to meet conservatives' goals.

Additionally, on the issue of pharmacists being allowed to refuse contraception, I fail to see a difference here between the pharmacist being allowed to act (or not act) based on his beliefs and the pacifist, antiwar individual who refuses to enter the military. Without arguing the validity of either, it seems necessary to me that both be allowed to act based on what they feel to be true rather than forced to act in a way the government allows but their morality doesn't.

Again, I very much enjoyed the piece.

-- Peter Suderman

While Amy Richards may now believe that you can be a feminist and be "conflicted" about abortion, there is still an oppressive orthodoxy on the left that demands you be pro-choice if you are to call yourself liberal. I have always found this incredibly offensive -- evidence that many supposed liberals are just as horrible zealots as the right-wing nuts they say they oppose. I've never met more intolerant people than some of the people who call themselves defenders of tolerance.

You know what? It is perfectly possible to be liberal and still think abortion is bad. Calling yourself pro-life does not immediately mean you are suddenly having drinks with Rick Santorum or watching Fox News because you really do believe it is "fair and balanced."

The similarities I see between even the "mainstream" pro-choice camp and extreme right-wing groups are rather frightening. Let's see, if we pass informed-consent laws, the next logical step is coat hangers in a back alley. That sounds to me like the exact same asinine, slippery slope argument the NRA uses to oppose limiting the sale of assault rifles. First you ban the assault rifles and next thing you know we're out hunting deer with pointy sticks.

I'm tired of having to say my pro-life stance is my one "conservative" view. It isn't a conservative view. I'm a liberal and proud to call myself that, and I'm also pro-life. And I know for a fact that I'm not alone.

-- D. Ohnemus

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then the two images chosen to illustrate Rebecca Traister's article are a perfect visual summa of the problems at the heart of the abortion debate. One is a strong picture of female empowerment -- woman as mistress of birth. The other is an equally compelling image of those whom the pro-abortion wing have silenced -- men and the children who will never live.

I personally believe that abortion is, indeed, murder. It is a form of triage -- one person decides whether another will live or die. It's that simple. Who among us could make such a choice without anguish? However, I also believe that abortion must be legal -- the state has no right whatsoever to force any woman to bear a child or endanger her own life via a botched abortion. Is this a paradoxical position? You bet. It cannot be otherwise.

The increasingly sterile "pro-choice/pro-life" debate is trapped in an intellectual cul-de-sac because neither is abortion totally justifiable on moral grounds nor can it be banned by the same reasoning. Abortion is a paradox because a pregnant woman is a paradox. Viewed without sentiment, a pregnant woman is in fact a strange and uncanny being -- more than one person and yet not quite two. A close friend of mine is now in her fourth month of her first pregnancy. She tells me that her fetus has taken over her body and her life. She cannot work, her hormones unbalance her moods and her eating habits are now dictated by the developing child instead of her own will. Describing her fetus to me sardonically as "the little s**t," my friend told me that she knows that for the immediate future, her body no longer belongs to her -- it is now also a support system for an evolving being with its own tyrannical needs and demands. What man can ever fully comprehend this fact of reproduction, and how many women are brave enough to confront such a truth?

During pregnancy, woman and fetus are a single, indissoluble biological entity. This paradox -- one imposed neither by the religious nor by men, but built into the female reproductive system by nature -- is the ultimate problem unaddressed by either the "pro-choice" or the "pro-life" stance. It seems to me that the ongoing refusal to face unpalatable truths about the physical facts of human reproduction is a far greater problem than abortion itself. Abortion will always be morally ambiguous, and women in desperate straits will always find ways to terminate a pregnancy. Neither side is right and neither is wrong. Our problem is not adequate definition of women's rights or the rights of the unborn, but how to live with the paradox of our own nature as physical beings.

-- Bragan Thomas

It's interesting that Frances Kissling refuses to utter the word "baby" when referring to an unborn child. It reminds me of an old propaganda technique used when promoting genocide: Dehumanize the enemy. It worked for Hitler, it worked for Stalin and it works for Kissling.

-- Mike D.

I am one of the conflicted people in the middle of the abortion debate. When I was young, I was very pro-life; in my 20s, I was very pro-choice. Now, as a mother of two in my late 30s, I am swinging uneasily in the middle. I've experienced the true fear of unwanted pregnancies (which luckily turned out to be false alarms) and the true joy of wanted ones. Neither side recognizes my concerns.

The pro-choice movement, as Frances Kissling noted, has avoided any talk of the value of fetal life. The rights of the mother over the fetus are considered to be absolute, and there is no recognition of the interests of the potential child. Pro-choicers sometimes trivialize the difficult decision to have an abortion. Many women have conflicted feelings of guilt, grief and relief over having an abortion, but the pro-choice movement seems unwilling to acknowledge the complexity of their feelings. It doesn't want to admit that the belief that life begins at conception is a legitimate moral position. It also is in denial about the visceral horror that people feel about attacks on pregnant women. Many otherwise firmly pro-choice people support laws that add extra penalties to crimes that harm a pregnant woman or fetus.

The pro-life movement, on the other hand, trivializes the difficulty of pregnancy and exalts the rights of the fetus over those of the mother. It is a lot to ask someone to carry a pregnancy for nine months, endure its many complications (some potentially life-threatening) and go through painful labor and childbirth. And that's just the beginning! Yet quite a few pro-lifers act as if giving birth to a child is a minor inconvenience, on a par with having outpatient surgery. They glibly talk about adoption, but don't seem to recognize that this is a wrenching and emotionally difficult decision. To the pro-life movement, the rights of a fetus overwhelm any rights that its mother has to control her own body, health and well-being. There is no recognition that ending a pregnancy may be the least bad moral choice in some circumstances. Finally, pro-life leaders have been lax about condemning terrorism against abortion providers and clinics; some indulge in rhetoric that positively encourages their followers to commit violence.

In short, both sides of the abortion issue treat it as a simple decision when in reality it is complex and morally ambiguous. Neither side seems willing to admit that the other side has valid points or, until recently, seek common ground.

As a country, we are long overdue for a real discussion of this issue. If the pro-choice and pro-life movements engaged in an actual debate about the competing interests of the fetus and mother, the morality of abortion in different circumstances and our obligations as a society to children both born and unborn, our nation would be the better for it. Sadly, though, I think that we are in for yet another round of shouted slogans and cheap emotional appeals. It may be that we cannot have an objective discussion about abortion in the United States. And as usual, women will be the ones who will suffer, regardless of how they feel about this issue.

-- Nancy Ott

As a faithful reader of Salon, I have to say I am not surprised to see the recent article on "abortion rights" turn out the way it did, but I'm still disappointed. Even disregarding the content of the article, the language was personally offensive and demeaning to me and others who believe in the right all people have to life and in the value of every human being. It's nothing new to observe the bias in the terms "pro-choice" (positive) vs. "anti-abortion" (negative), but I was appalled when the church was declared the "moral enemy" and Kissling was called "beloved" and a "church leader." How can you write that with a straight face? Believe me, she may lead something, but it has no relation at all to the church. Anyone who actually takes the time to understand the Catholic Church's teachings finds that it has a profound respect for women in all their capacities -- daughters, sisters, friends, mothers -- a respect not found anywhere else in society, where women are objectified or given so little guidance and teaching about their self-worth that they treat themselves horribly.

Like all Catholics, I am pro-choice: pro all the choices you make before you get pregnant. Once a person is made inside you, how can you possibly claim it is your body? Yes, unplanned pregnancies are a hardship, but except in the rare cases of rape and incest, they are not a surprise. Nowhere in our society is it ever important to take responsibility for mistakes you make, and having abortion as an option is just more proof of that. We as women, we as children, we as parents, we as a society deserve so much better than what we have. In the words of Switchfoot, "We were meant to live for so much more than this."

-- Rebecca Howley

The weak part of the pro-choice argument has always been the fetus. Most pro-choice groups made the woman's decision paramount over all other considerations. It may be clear that a fetus is not a person until the law says it is. However, a fetus is not just another object.

It would be a tragedy if Roe vs. Wade were reversed. It may be too late to expect that not to happen, but a more rounded and thoughtful argument would be very helpful in the political battles over this issue that will follow a reversal of Roe.

-- Daniel A. Greenbaum

The problem or dilemma feminists and pro-choicers find themselves facing is a very simple truth that they have been ignoring and running from for the past 30-plus years: A fetus is a baby. Period. There is just no getting around it. Science and technology, especially in the form of a sonogram, make a liar out of pro-choicers every time. The tide of public opinion is turning against them, and they know it. Abortion takes a life. They need to acknowledge that. We can argue forever over whether or not that life has value, but it is a life. A life separate from the mother.

These are hard truths that will haunt and torment and never give the pro-choicers a moment of peace.

-- Marie B. O'Leary

I have a suggestion for how to end the abortion debate. If abortion is to be illegal, why not make the father of the aborted fetus criminally liable? It is, after all, his responsibility as much as the mother's. My experience is, admittedly, limited, but every woman I've ever known who has had an abortion did so because of economic and emotional pressure and threats from the child's cowardly father. If those fathers were held criminally responsible, you'd see the abortion "debate" disappear without a trace.

-- Mark O'Connell

Rebecca Traister's article was fantastic! I thank her for so eloquently framing the issue. Being pro-choice does not mean I want to rush out and abort as many fetuses as possible. It's a very tough choice for some women (and another thank you for pointing out that, in fact, it's not a tough choice for others!) and should not be taken lightly. This is one of the first articles I've read that has managed to discuss the issue without diving into one side so completely that the issue itself is lost. Thanks again!

-- Sabrina

Kate Michelman, Eleanor Smeal and Amy Richards continue to fall back on the self-satisfied self-assurance that women who consider themselves feminists and refuse to jump on their bandwagons are just "conflicted." Thanks for your concern, ladies, but I'm not conflicted. Abortion is not only a failed social policy but genocide. The end product of the work of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Feminist Majority has been to strip the most vulnerable members of American society of any semblance of rights. One million fetuses lose their lives every single year with no recourse in the courts and few people to speak for them. We are finally getting to a point at which Michelman, Smeal and their colleagues are forced to participate in the real abortion debate -- whether whatever "benefits" women can claim from the abortion are worth the destruction of 1 million innocent lives every year. I believe that at the end of it all, Americans will come down on the side of life.

Abortion is a failure and it's time to start addressing the real problems. Women do not suffer because of fertility -- they suffer because of ignorant policy, the removal of social safety nets and dismal lack of resources. Pregnancy is not a medical disorder to be cured by abortion when it is unplanned and a blessing when it is -- it is a fact of female biology. And our social policy should reflect that reality, not treat it like a disability to be medically controlled. The "pro-choice" movement has created a stunning piece of rhetoric, to be sure; but that rhetoric is finally being stripped down and exposed for what it really is -- a carefully perpetrated fraud.

The unborn lost a great advocate when Pennsylvania's Bob Casey passed away. He believed as I do that the real mission of the Democratic Party is the protection of society's most vulnerable population -- and in this age, that population is undoubtedly the unborn. The great tragedy of the Democratic Party has been the 180-degree turn executed by most of its top members on the issue of abortion over the past three decades. Michelman and her ilk would have us believe that abortion has always been a cornerstone of the Democratic National Committee's platform, but they are wrong. Democrats like myself long for more heroes like Gov. Casey, who demand both a better life for women and life itself for those who can't fight on their own behalf.

And so I say here to Kate Michelman, Eleanor Smeal and Amy Richards: You do not speak for me and I am not conflicted. Abortion is hurting American women and terminating the next generation of Americans. It is a symptom of our failure to protect the vulnerable. Put that on a T-shirt.

-- Kate Leahy

It is unfortunate that Traister's article does not clearly distinguish between the moral debate about abortion and the legal issue of whether a government may forbid it.

On the latter question, it is pretty clear that Americans feel the burden of proof is on those who advocate government control. If an embryo or fetus is a person in the meaning of the 14th Amendment, Congress may legislate to protect its rights. But it is significant that, in many decades of debate about abortion, I have never heard anyone claim that. Oh, they say that the fetus is a human being, but that is not a perfect match with the 14th Amendment's "person." AT&T is not a human being, but it is a person under the 14th Amendment. Some of its authors told the Supreme Court that they intended to include corporations as persons. But not one ever said they intended to include the unborn. If the unborn are not entitled to the protection of the government, we are left with the first issue: the morality of abortion.

Now some will claim that the government must ban abortion purely because it is immoral, but the Constitution bars the passage of a law solely in order to carry out the moral teachings of a church. The church has to sell its teachings in the marketplace of ideas, and free men -- and free women -- are free to buy or reject them.

In other words, women are free to choose.

End of story.

And when women are choosing, they ought to weigh the morality of their choice. They ought to consider the value of the embryo/fetus, as well as their own rights and value and their ability to perform the duty of motherhood. And they ought, in considering the moral teachings of any church about abortion, ask whether that moral teaching arises purely from concern for the unborn, or originally and primarily from a deep prejudice against sexual pleasure and/or a persistent desire to keep women in subjugation.

-- Gordon E. Parks

Salon Staff

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