I don’t like the term ‘abortion’. Given the nature of what it refers to, I find the word insufficiently reverential, serious, dramatic.
Alas, alternatives are hard to come by. “Pregnancy termination” bases itself on pro-choice logic by making the mere fact of pregnancy, the symptomatic experience of the mother, the sole consideration, and not the developing life that creates our emotion and dissent. Abbreviations like ‘termination’ are also worthless; like ‘abortion’ they make something hotly unpleasant appear coldly practical, or even worse, lukewarmly everyday.
Abortion should not be called simple ‘murder’, either, even though it is, in practice, a kind of murder – the robbing of a living being of its future and potential, usually for no justifiable reason. However accurate, the word is regarded in this context as hyperbolic and manipulative; and we must be careful of using terms which allow for the cartoonification of a very serious argument.
So what to call it then? I really don’t know, and it is worthwhile reflecting on why.
We struggle to name a procedure like this, to integrate it into language to everyone’s satisfaction, primarily because the practice is so thoroughly unusual; a surreal cooperation of barbarism and modernity, riddled with all the contradictions that entails – messy but hygienic; brutal but honed to an art-form; horrific but anaesthetisingly common.
Still, we will call it here ‘abortion’, as technical and emotionless as that term is, for that is what most people know it by.
With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday evening, America’s abortion debate, overshadowed in recent years by the extravaganza of race politics, is set for a dramatic revival. This is no bad thing, for America, for children – and also for Donald Trump, who stands to benefit from it significantly, I believe, provided he stands by his guns.
Trump’s performance over the last four years has left a lot to be desired, at least in this Ausländer’s irrelevant opinion; but on abortion, perhaps more than anything else, the president has been admirably solid, even coherent. The so-called “heartbeat bill” which prompted widespread un-righteous panic and handsome business for Handmaid’s Tale costume manufacturers, was a bold gesture in favour of the unborn, quite unlike any proposal in recent times (a period, don’t forget, that includes the allegedly ‘theocratic’ or Christian Nationalist regime of George W. Bush). The bill proposed – and still proposes – to contract the window in which an abortion can be performed, making it unlawful beyond the moment a developing child shows a pulse. (Though this precise point was chosen for symbolic reasons, it is a powerful and appropriate point at which to grant human rights.)
My late father, an Anglican rector, was rarely positive about Donald Trump, being embarrassed by the president’s sleaze, the accusations of past infidelities, involvement with a porn star, repeated marriages, and so forth. But I recall him praising the then Republican nominee for arguing powerfully against late-term abortions, so important was this principle to him and his interpretation of Christianity. I do not echo him now out of filial loyalty. My pro-life instincts are the result of private reflection, as well as the amazing weakness of the pro-‘choice’ argument.
The reader will know what I mean. Whenever the Roe v. Wade ruling is up for debate in the United States, or when, more rarely, the issue makes an appearance in British and European politics, a section of the left mobilises to deploy some of the worst arguments that can possibly be thought of.
“No uterus,” begins a popular meme pulled from the sitcom Friends, “no opinion!”
“Keep government out of my vagina!” screeches another.
“My body, my choice!”
And so on.
None of them can withstand even the slightest interrogative pressure, and are typically shared in the cause of mere female self-interest, rootless ideological conformity, or else male sexual strategy (“What a terrific point, m’lady. Those conservatives, unlike myself, are pathetic virgins”).
Of the cited examples, undoubtedly the most popular is the slogan “My body, my choice”; a petulant tantrum that adorns t-shirts, mugs and handbags across the United States. Very briefly, the problem with this phrase is that hardly anyone in the pro-life movement cares what a woman does with her body, as long as there isn’t another body to consider inside of it. When that second factor is absent, we care little if she bakes her temple of flesh into a birthday cake or bends it into a party balloon.
When the talking-points mentioned fail, as they are sure to fail, defenders of abortion then resort to a tried-and-tested false dichotomy: abortion is a contest between religion and secularism.
This works well enough in America, where advocates of faith and atheism are happy to make sport of any cause. But this is unfortunate, and destructive to the spirit of the debate as it exists separately from them. The author is not religious, and nor are the thousands if not millions of people who oppose abortion on purely moral grounds. Yes, the vastest horde of the pro-life movement still takes as its symbol the Cross of Jesus. But that says nothing of whether the practice can be justified under any other symbol or under none at all.
In the opinion of this author, abortion, as we must describe the ghastly procedure, has only two proper indications. When a woman becomes pregnant through rape, a termination requires no other justification and must remain legal and safe. Secondly, when the health of the mother is gravely at risk, it is rightfully her choice whether she risks it further.
But outside of these circumstances, I see no excuse for it; at least no morally satisfying excuse.
Good luck to whoever is nominated to take up this noble struggle. It is important beyond itself.