A two sided look at abortion


In light of the congressional testimonies concerning abortion, and because abortion has been a popular topic on our blog, I thought I would try and look at the issue from both sides. As with all debates there is a lot of complexity and I don’t see an easy answer. To me, the differences between the pill, the day after pill, and an early abortion seem tenuous and somewhat arbitrary—the location of a few cells. No matter how you do it, birth control is unnatural and stops somethings natural. And yes, I am including abstinence in the list of unnatural acts, particularly among a married couple. But there are many unnatural things that have improved the world, and I think birth control is one of them. And here I can sympathize with some of the pro-choice arguments.

Woman’s liberation has been more than a political movement; it has also been a technological feat. Birth control has liberated women from the dictates of their own bodies—not just so that they can run around having sex all the time, but so they are able to function in society more conveniently. They can have a job, plan a family, and protect their bodies, all while having a healthy sexual relationship with their husband. These are all things Sarah and I have taken advantage of. Birth control has given Sarah the confidence to pursue a master’s degree. And so here I am, trying to support my wife through school. This is nearly unimaginable a hundred years ago.

The world is forever changed because of birth control. While there are still many who will argue against birth control, it is hard to imagine our modern world without it. As with all technology, there is something lost and something gained. And while I don’t see much use in trying to resurrect the past in this case, it may be appropriate to note what has been lost.

We have lost the primal womanhood, where a woman’s identity was inextricably connected to her procreative ability. A woman was not a “birthing machine” because of an exclusively male centric society alone, but because nature had made her that way. Her age and seasons kept time with a menstrual metronome. While her sexuality was much more complicated and less stagnant than people seem to believe, the reality of procreation was far more barefaced than it is now.

We have entered a new world. A world where what has been true of woman for thousands of years is no longer the case. A technological breakthrough as significant, perhaps, as the internet. And now we look back at the old forms of birth control and see how unsatisfactory they were. Abortion, in a way, is just old technology. Like seeing the computers that guided Apollo 11 to the moon. Our new technology is much nicer, cleaner, and safer. Perhaps it is time to do away with abortion. But it seems to me that the larger issue is defining the new woman.

What do we want the word to mean—“woman”—now that we have gained some control over it. It has entered a cocoon and we reshape it daily. And this is where I am most persuaded by pro-life arguments that try to draw a line and say where a woman’s dominion ends. It is a way of relinquishing control, surrendering choice. And it does not seem to be as backwards looking as many believe. To me, it says that the modern woman is okay. She does not need to spend all her time and energy thinking of procreation and the children that have been procreated. This is not the entirety of femininity. But, it also says with equal vehemence, femininity is still connected to birthing, to nurturing, to motherhood. That to some degree a woman is master of her body, but not in every degree. There is a line, they say, that must be drawn. And we must draw it. But when does a woman give up her individuation and allow the dominion of her body? When do cells reach a point that a woman has lost her right to define them? In some way, something that was entirely her own, a product of her body, is no longer so. And instead she becomes the product of her body. Yes, she becomes defined by the maternal dictates of a woman’s body.

But where is that line to be drawn? That is a good question.

8 thoughts on “A two sided look at abortion

  1. Hmmmmm. I’m still musing. This article makes three relevant points, that women are experiencing a revolutionary transition of personal power, that birth control is the impetus, and that woman is in morphosis. I write on the cautionary genesis of that process.

    I counter the idea that society’s convenience is reason enough to justify birth decisions or the end of birth–the death of life? Women are still subject to what some think of as an arbitrary nature, subject to age, infertility and happenstance and to assume that we have gained some control over that merely because we have come into our own “womanhood” may be a fallacy. Like a child who begins to recognize that he rules the world, then fears that he rules the world we must recognize that with increased freedom of choice comes natural, and irrevocable consequence. I myself had to come to that untidy conclusion with the risks of some birth control that modify the body to reject future pregnancy.

    Presuming that we can circumvent nature’s reality with impunity is naive. It is a contradiction to ignore the mind/body connection that ultimately requires humble supplication of self at every point–to nature, or to a God, to a world, a opinion, in relationships, or to nature, to illness through medicine and all the other ways to which we as human beings involuntarily relinquish control and are acted upon. Even to the consequence of the humanity of the anguish of abortion.

    We’ve come to believe–no to expect–that we have control and expecting that we exercise a sense of power over nature without consequence is at the core of this new womanhood question. Continuing to further that argument leads us to believe that life is trivial and can be had at our own behest and on demand–further leading to the cavalier idea of humanity as a fungible and resulting in the devastation we are new experiencing.

    That being said, my pro-life stance is that while women’s domination by man is coming to an end, nature’s control cannot be relinquished. As we become free from being acted upon by men, we must more fully be willing to accept the ramifications of our own actions. It is an enlightened woman who recognizes her place in the world universe and her eternal responsibility to the freedom of childbearing. This responsibility is greater than surrendering choice, it is cautiously and carefully considering how to submit to a natural, more powerful version of nature’s intent.

    A responsible for life. When we are considerate and adequately reverent of that, the lines are more easily drawn.

    1. When I want a man’s opinion of what it means to be a woman, I’ll let you know. This post is belittling to women at best, completely dehumanizing at some of it’s worst points. Perhaps instead of trying to sound eloquent you should consider exactly what you are saying. Which I think boils down to, we need to define when an embryo, stops being part of a woman and starts being a separate life form. Which is what the debate has been about all along. Not whether or not being capable of bearing children defines you as a woman, which is what you made it into.

      1. Well M, there is certainly a limit to my credibility seeing that I am indeed a male. I would disagree over the thrust of my argument. I was not trying to come down anywhere but simply suggest different places where I can agree and sympathize with different perspectives on the issue. In someways it is a classic question we all encounter (but perhaps more poetically in this case): how free are we and how much are we defined by nature and our context. I am sorry if I offended you.

    2. Thank you for your thoughtful response Terina. I think you distilled the question quite nicely. How much liberation have woman gained and what does it mean? I can sympathize with both perspectives on abortion and appreciate your elaboration on some of the fallacies of assuming we have control or assuming that “society’s convenience is reason enough to justify birth decisions or the end of birth.” Thanks again!

  2. I don’t think that our “primal womanhood” has been lost because I don’t think it ever existed. I think that’s a made-up concept. I don’t see any value in it, but I think it can be really harmful and offensive. And I flat out disagree with defining femininity with a connection to birthing and motherhood. Women that don’t have children, whether by choice or circumstance, are still whole women, and they have every capability to be as feminine as they desire to be.

    I suppose I also agree with M’s comment above. It is exhausting hearing men talk about laws that affect women’s bodies and not their own. I’d be much more interested in hearing your take on preventing unwanted pregnancies by legislating men’s bodies.

    Idea 1: Let’s make a law that all males are given a vasectomy at the onset of puberty. Then, when they have a partner and are ready to have a baby, the vasectomy can be reversed. Vasectomies have a high rate of reversal success, and compared to a 9-month pregnancy and birth, they are not invasive at all, with no negative psychological effects.

    Idea 2: If a male is convicted of getting someone pregnant and they don’t want to be pregnant, the male would be castrated. Harsh, I know. But I’ll bet you’d only need to castrate a handful of men (it could even be those convicted of serial rape — cause they should totally be castrated anyway), and unwanted pregnancies would simply stop existing as a phenomenon. Males could have sex as much as they pleased, they would just need to take responsibility for their actions and wear a condom. Would having slightly more pleasure during sex (by not wearing a condom) be worth the risk of castration? Of course not. Ta da! No more unwanted pregnancies. No more abortions.

    I’ve never met a woman who dreamt of growing up to get an abortion. As a rule, woman don’t seek out unwanted pregnancies or look forward to abortions. So let’s stop legislating women’s bodies, and start preventing unwanted pregnancies by legislating men’s bodies. If someone tells me they are anti-abortion, I hope they will also tell me what actions they take to punish men for not wearing condoms.

    1. Thanks Gabby for your reply. I actually find your second idea interesting. It sounds a bit gruesome (almost like cutting off someone’s hand for stealing) but I have not doubt it would be effective. I’m not positive, but the first idea seems economically unfeasible. And perhaps I will someday write an article about men’s role as “gatekeepers.” I certainly believe men share responsibility.

      As far as males talking about abortion, I think it seems unproductive to say that men can’t talk about it. I think it’s more productive to encourage people to think and talk respectfully and openly. It is true what I told M, “there is certainly a limit to my credibility seeing that I am indeed a male” but I don’t believe my limited ethos makes our contributions worthless. I would also like to suggest that you may be assuming a perspective that is not expressed in my article. I don’t mean to come down on a particular side of the issue, but to show places where I sympathies with both sides. What I discuss is someways simply the classic question we all encounter (but perhaps more poetically in this case): how free are we and how much are we defined by nature and our context.

      The “primal woman” I mention is simply a term I use to discuss a past perception of womanhood. Past cultures had diverse and complicate ideas of womanhood which is why I say that this primal woman’s “sexuality was much more complicated and less stagnant than people seem to believe, [however] the reality of procreation was far more barefaced than it is now.”

      All I mean to suggest by this article is that birth-control has changed our perception of womanhood, and I believe that is true. As technology gains greater control over woman’s contingencies we naturally begin to re-consider things. And to me that seems like the source of much of the current discussions concerning abortion. I think it’s worthwhile to step back and see the issue as a natural effect of technology. And I see great value in reconsidering womanhood, and asking questions about past assumptions. I also see value in looking back and understanding the past rather than condemning it. That’s what I was trying to do with this article. I think you may have thought I was just bemoaning what was lost. And that’s fair, particularly considering the way most blogs are structured as polemics. But this was not a polemic against abortion. It was a discussion of how we have gotten to this discussion. And trying to take a new look at what the discussion is.

      I assume you may still disagree with things I say, but I just wanted to make sure you understood what I was trying to say.

      Thanks for taking an interest.

  3. Such a good response, Josh! Four thoughts come to mind:

    1) I’m glad you restated, because I definitely thought you were “just bemoaning what was lost”. I think I have a better understanding of what you’re expressing now. So that’s awesome.

    2) I agree it’s unproductive to say that men can’t talk about it. It’s unproductive and unrealistic. I know that, I promise. And obviously, I’m engaging in the conversation with you. So it’s not like I’ve drawn some strict line that no men can or should ever talk about abortion.

    That said, it’s still really exhausting to hear mostly men discuss this. And since most of our lawmakers are men, it’s mostly men making these decisions. That’s pretty troubling to me. Maybe if the essay had acknowledged this in very direct ways it would have been easier for me to receive.

    I truly meant it when I said I would be more interested in hearing men talk about how men can be more responsible for unwanted pregnancies. And I’m glad to hear you’ll write something up about that at some point. We’ve been hearing from men on how women should do things since Eve arrived. No one can be surprised that I’m rolling my eyes at yet another man telling me about womanhood.

    If the roles were reversed I’m quite confident, you would find it as tiring as I do.

    3) Related, I don’t mind talking about “how we have gotten to this discussion”. I actually find it really helpful. And I hope I also value looking back and understanding the past. But if I had descended from American slaves, I don’t know that I would love hearing a white person who had descended from slave owners, talking about the value of the former slave system. Even if they had really good thoughts on the subject. I can’t imagine I would want to hear it.

    So when I hear a man looking back at a system that has benefitted men over women to a major degree for all of written history, and trying to appreciate the value of that system, it’s hard to listen to. Perhaps if Sarah had presented the same ideas I would have heard them differently. Who knows!

    4) When you say, “All I mean to suggest by this article is that birth-control has changed our perception of womanhood,” that was a super helpful summary. I want to say in response, “Maybe. But if that’s true, then our perception of womanhood was far from correct, so I hope it was going to change with or without technology.”

    Instead, I would state it more like “birth-control has expanded the possibilities of womanhood.” (But I haven’t thought about that statement long enough to know if I stand by it yet.)

    I guess I’m really not okay trying to tie womanhood to pregnancy and childbirth as its main definition. Even historically. There have always been women who couldn’t conceive, for all sorts of reasons. And they were still women. Would we ever make fatherhood the main definition of manhood? You’re not a father, but you’re a man, right?

    I’m more interested in talking about abortion and technology in terms of fetus viability. Just a few years ago, a fetus wasn’t viable until it reached 24 weeks. With new medical advances, it’s creeping closer to 20 weeks. Amazing! How will that change the adoption market? Instead of abortions, will women be able to deliver at 20 weeks, with the half-pound baby being available for adoption? Will technology be the answer to abortion? Will we create artificial wombs and be able to transfer a fetus at 8 weeks along?

    I find that sort of thing endlessly interesting, but it doesn’t change the way I think about womanhood. Because I don’t tie womanhood to childbirth. Which is maybe the only real point that you and I differ on.

    My conclusion: I’m loving The Brothers Sabey blog! Always good stuff to think about. And I hope I can make time to be a regular commenter. Keep the posts coming!

    1. Thanks Gabby.Thanks for taking so much time to think through these issues and respond. I am sorry I have been so long in response. I was giving a talk in church today, so all my writing energy last night was funneled in that direction.

      We would of course love to have you as a regular commenter. This blog, in some ways, is thanks to your encouragement.

      In response:

      I think I agree with most of what you said, except for perhaps saying that I “tie womanhood to pregnancy and childbirth as its main definition.” In the article I only suggest that woman are becoming increasingly independent from biological contingencies and yet there are still contingencies. At some point we must admit that we are, to some degree, determined by our sex and biology. But where that line is, I leave wide open and unanswered.

      I also don’t totally buy into the black and white depiction of past societies as stagnant or detrimental to woman. But I could imagine it would be very hard for someone who feels personally and painfully impacted by past societies to every see them as anything but evil. And the past is anything but perfect. I, however, believe that some of our modern “progress” is more of a natural adjustment to new realities than essential progress as such. By which I mean, the modern woman makes sense now but may have been absurd and unrealistic in times past. That is also not to say that past cultures were homogeneous. Some past cultures have had very strong woman, some very weak. Some cultures viewed woman as the sexually aggressive sex. Lewis Hyde wrote a fascinating book “the Gift” that recolors the concept of woman being used as “property” by men. Past cultures were vibrant, complex, and very real. This of course does not mean they did not have their faults or should not have been changed. It only means that the history we use to corroborate certain paradigms is always necessarily simplified.

      I think of Marx who made all of history the battle of classes. That’s an interesting perspective, but it also becomes a lens that obscures some fact and brings out others.

      I hope that helped to clarify my perspective if nothing else.

      Thanks again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s