A Moderate Take on Abortion

The abortion debate has long seemed like craziness to me, or at least the polar positions of “pro-choice” and “pro-life”. While traveling through the midwest recently, I got to see billboards from the pro-life side that persuade me to write.

Nobody plans an abortion

If I interpret the signs correctly, pro-lifers interpret (or at least frame) abortion as something people are doing for fun. Like I might make plans for Friday to go out, have a nice dinner with one of my girlfriends, then go out and find a couple of guys to take home and knock us up so we can go abort some fetuses next Wednesday.

Let’s be clear: nobody is doing that. Nobody plans to have an abortion, nobody wants to have an abortion. And if somehow you did find some nutjob doing something like that, I think you’ll have plenty of pro-choice people agreeing with you that said person is not a good person.

If that was what was happening, then perhaps trying to make abortion illegal would be a reasonable solution. But that isn’t the case.

Abortions happen because somebody is in a bad situation involving an unwanted pregnancy, and abortion is a solution.

But the cure is to eliminate unwanted pregnancies. It’s like the flu: you can just take cold & flu medication when you get sick, but they just temper the symptoms; you’re still sick and still a vector. It’s a lot better to get the vaccine and not contract influenza in the first place. As I see it, if you want to stop abortion, fix the preconditions that lead to unwanted pregnancies.

Making abortion illegal won’t stop it

Before I go onto how we should address this, I want to point out the serious flaw in making abortion illegal: it won’t stop abortions. They’ll just move to back alleys, performed by hacks in unsanitary conditions.

If you haven’t divined it yet, I’ll say it explicitly: I’m not keen on abortion. It’s not a wonderful thing. But I’ve read literature that predates Roe v Wade, and returning to those dark times is not a good thing either. I suggest Michael Crichton’s A Case of Need, written in the late 1960s while he was an intern in Boston, MA, as an intro to the problematic world of illegal abortion.

Stopping unwanted pregnancies

Unfortunately, the pro-life movement touts a perfectly reliable but totally unrealistic solution to unwanted pregnancies: don’t fuck. In the face of all our biological programming, peer pressure, sex in TV and movies and all that, just don’t do it. It’s like telling an overweight person to simply stop eating less: sounds great, looks fabulous on paper, but fails in reality.

So instead of just thinking “because people are having sex”, let’s break it down to reasons why people are having irresponsible sex:

When I was 16, I had my first 2 girlfriends. And with both of them, there was sexual exploration. I knew we should talk about it, but I had no idea how to start the conversation: it was already terribly awkward, and sex was a topic I’d never seen talked about seriously. So in both cases, we blundered into things and fooled around.

Over the next few years, that pattern continued. It wasn’t until I was much older, after years of hanging with the Rocky Horror pervs, Pagans, Kinky and Polyamorous folks that I became comfortable having a serious conversation that involved negotiating sex.

And as a side note, you’ve got to wonder how much the sex taboo leads to unclear consent, one side believing they had it implicitly because the other never denied it explicitly. And before you decide that’s totally inappropriate, consider that it’s basically the model we’ve seen in the hundreds of seduction scenes we’ve seen played out in film and on the tube.

Back on point, there’s the issue that we make it hassleful to get condoms. During a summer break in my college years, I worked in a grocery store. I remember some teenagers coming in one day to buy condoms. The condoms were kept at the service desk, not something you could grab privately off a shelf, then pad out the purchase with some lettuce and toilet paper to avoid the stigma. You had to go ask, indicating what you were up to. These kids got up the courage to ask, trying to do the right thing to avoid diseases and unwanted pregnancies. What did they get for their trouble? A lecture from one of the managers and denial their purchases. No wonder we end up with teen pregnancies!

The issues of alcohol and drug use and abuse are complicated, and more than I can take on in this little essay. There’s issue of nature, nurture, social and peer pressure, culture. I’d like to see our country improve on this matter, but prohibition didn’t work. There are no perfect solutions to alcohol and drugs.

I’m sure there are other influences that I’ve missed. There are also other factors to consider, such as crime statistics that change 15–20 years after abortion is made legal or illegal in various countries (see the book Freakonomics).

Let’s not be hypocrites

I find it hypocritical that those advocating for making abortion illegal are often the same folk who wish to do away with social programs to help the mother take care of a child after birth.

The person most suited to make a decision about an unwanted pregnancy is the pregnant person. I hope she would be responsible enough to consult with the father, but given she’s the one who will carry the child to term, in the end it is her decision. It’s not an easy decision for anyone faced with it, and part of that decision is the ability to care for a child—a factor influenced the availability of social services.

If anti-abortion advocates were coherent about their values, they’d be in favor of the social services to ensure children have adequate food, shelter, clothing and other life essentials. While I respect the position those anti-abortion folks who are in favor of social services, those in favor of forcing births only to allow children live in poverty and squalor strike me two-faced hypocrites.

Some will suggest adoption as a way for forced-birth children to have a chance in life. While I think that’s a nice idea on paper, in practice, carrying a child to term only to give it up has to be heart-wrenching. Those of us who have never faced this dilemma are not qualified to impose it on another.

Let’s not be disingenuous either

On the flip side, I find it disingenuous that some pro-choice advocates treat abortion like it’s inconsequential or unimportant. I think this comes from a rhetorical stance: by devaluing a cluster of reproducing cells, the actions taken on those cells are irrelevant, and therefore there is no reason to legislate around them.

It’s one thing to grow E. coli in a petri dish, or hatch some chickens from eggs. Destroying the sample or eating the eggs isn’t a big deal (although even there, vegans may argue about the rights of the embryonic chicken).

But making a decision about some cells that have potential to grow into a human being—well, there is extra regard imbued by their being human cells. Using abortion as a primary form of birth control seems antisocial to me.

Abortion is a decision that should be given its due consideration, not made lightly. Nevertheless, the ugly gray areas, the ugly realities that color the decision, are an area for potential parents, not government. Personally, I am glad I have never had to confront such a decision.


There’s also rape. I’m writing this as a separate case because a raped woman isn’t irresponsible; her consent was violated.

And actually, my attitude on this is different too. If a woman is pregnant from rape, she should have every right to terminate the spawn of the fucker who raped her. I recognize I’m less moderate on this point: I totally think she’s justified to abort the fucker. Call it control of her own body, justified revenge or an eye-for-an-eye, but I do not believe a woman should be expected to carry a rapist’s child to term.


Abortion is a symptom of unwanted pregnancies, so making abortion illegal is fixing symptoms. If we address, with real intent and solutions, the issues that cause sex to lead to unwanted pregnancies, then we’ll be addressing the problem, avoiding new and different unpleasant side-effects, and the symptom—and the unpleasant ethical dilemmas that go with it—will be alleviated.