I have a confession.
I’m a liberal who isn’t comfortable with abortion.
I have to concede that, at some point in in-utero development, I think it crosses the line from “removing a blastocyst” to ending the life of a being capable of feeling pain and fear. It may not yet be a human life that’s being ended, but once there’s a functional nervous system and brain then at the very least it’s something akin to cruelty to animals.
And at some point – I don’t claim to be able to say what point – but at some point, it is a human life that is being ended. That may sometimes be a necessary thing to do, but it should make us uncomfortable. We should at least acknowledge that even if we don’t believe it’s murder, it’s still a very serious thing to do, an ethically questionable thing to do, and that a moral society should try to address the root causes to make sure it happens as seldom as possible.
That’s a position that will probably upset some of my liberal friends. But it is my position nonetheless.
So when I see conservatives posting outrage about liberals not wanting to change a law that allows a failed abortion to be completed after birth (if that is indeed an accurate description of what the law allows): I get it. I was at church the night they showed the movie “The Silent Scream”, just like many people who were raised in conservative Evangelical churches. I was 9 at the time, so my parents had me stay outside the sanctuary to do my math homework… but the P.A. system was really loud, so I heard everything. It’s pretty awful to contemplate chopping up or chemically burning a living being, even if it’s not yet a being we consider human. And if we DO consider it human, it’s even more awful to think about how often it happens.
I get it, I even agree that we should be trying to prevent it from happening (though I disagree with the idea that making it illegal would achieve that. That strategy has already been tried and failed.)
Nevertheless, pro-life friends: You haven’t thought through the ethical or practical ramifications of stopping people from having abortions, even if you could.
You believe that parents who have an abortion are murdering a baby. You feel that if the baby is born despite an attempt at abortion, the doctors should save her. Granting all that:
Give her BACK to the parents who tried to kill her, given that you believe the parents are guilty of the attempted murder of their child? You think that kid’s safe with those parents?
If not, then what?
Send him on to our broken foster system instead? Is that an ethical thing to do, when the kids already in the system are often living in hotels for years waiting for a placement?
If not, then what?
Set up orphanages for them? I can tell you from long experience of working with institutionalized kids about the irreparable damage that can do to a developing child, especially a baby. They will never heal from what it does to their developing brains. There’s a high probability that they will never be functional adults. There’s a high probability that they will spend their childhood in locked-down group homes, and spend their adulthood in and out of jails and hospitals.
What would you like to see happen AFTER the birth? I actually agree with you that abortion is a bad thing, but what exactly is the ethical alternative in cases like this? We don’t get to just demand that they be born and then pretend that all the problems are solved after that point. All the things that were so wrong in the parents’ lives that abortion seemed like the only possible solution, will still be wrong. The parents still won’t want to be parents, still will lack the finances or the skills or the stability or the desire or the support or SOMETHING that they would need in order to take care of a child.
So what do we do for those kids after they’ve been born? And are pro-life conservatives willing to pay the price of taking care of them?
A large percentage of the couples who would be willing to adopt the kid are gay – are conservative Evangelicals okay with letting them?
Every child who is adopted or fostered has trauma issues to deal with – are conservatives willing to pay for the therapy necessary to help kids heal from that?
What if the single teenage mother wanted an abortion because she knew she can’t afford to feed a child – will conservatives pay for food stamps and healthcare for that kid? Will they pay for college or vocational training for the mom so she can get a job that will support a kid? Will they pay for childcare so the mom can go to school and then go to work? Will they demand that employers pay entry-level employees enough for a single mom with minimal education to raise a kid on?
What if the mom wanted an abortion because she has disabilities and can’t take care of a kid – will conservatives pay for that kid to get adopted or placed in foster care? Will they pay to fix the foster care system so there will actually be a placement for the kid?
What if the kid has disabilities because of the botched abortion, or was being aborted because they have a genetic syndrome such as Down’s, or because the mom knew she’d been drinking and drugging during pregnancy and expected Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Drug Effect?
Will conservatives pay for that kid’s special education needs, and in-home behavior support needs, and respite for the family?
If that isn’t enough, will conservatives pay for that kid’s group home (paid for by Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and ACA and all the things conservatives hate paying for)?
If that isn’t enough, will conservatives pay for that kid’s psychiatric hospitalization?
If that isn’t enough and the kid is so violent and impulsive due to trauma and bad brain wiring that he ends up committing a terrible crime and going to jail: Will conservatives still believe his life has value and look for ways to support him?
As that kid becomes an adult – if she’s unable to function independently, and yet is impulsive and prone to risk-taking due to her brain wiring, and is sexually active and becomes pregnant with a child she can’t take care of… are conservatives willing to take care of THAT baby in turn? And the next five babies she has after that? And the babies that will be made by those babies when they become adults? For how many generations?
These are not theoretical questions. These are the real-world situations I see in my work with kids and adults who have cognitive disabilities, mental health challenges, and addiction (and the most violent and dangerous of them are usually the children of people who likewise had cognitive disabilities, mental health challenges, and addiction. The kind of people who shouldn’t have kids because of their impulsivity, but are continually having kids because of their impulsivity.)
I know that conservatives are good people with good intentions who want those kids to be okay after they’re born. But I have yet to hear any conservative talk about their plan for HOW to ensure those kids will be okay after they’re born. IS there a plan? In 20 years as a Behavior Specialist, I’ve learned over and over that the secret to behavior change is this: If you want to stop an undesired behavior, you have to be able to offer people a better option. How would we offer a better option than abortion to people who are desperate enough to seek one? *
And if you don’t have a better option: Why keep pretending that changing the law will magically make people who aren't prepared for parenthood stop having unprotected sex? Why keep pretending that changing the law will magically make all those millions of extra kids that nobody wanted suddenly have the loving and supportive homes they would need in order to have a shot at becoming functional adults someday? Why keep congratulating yourselves on working so hard to “save all those innocent babies” if you haven’t ALSO worked to save them from the unbearable lives that many of them would be born into?
BE pro-life, by all means. But if so, be prepared to pay the price.
* Before you say "Adoption needs to be more affordable": You're not wrong. But foster parents are PAID to be foster parents, and STILL the system can't get enough of them to take care of the kids already needing it. So even if adoption was free, you can't tell me that there will suddenly be over a million extra homes available every year that are willing and able to take on an extra child, especially one with attachment issues and the behavior challenges that come with that. It's a nice idea, but in practice it won't resolve the issue.