On one of the mailing lists to which I subscribe, the (semi-annual) abortion debate reared its head, and one participant asked, rather aggressively, why people wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare”. Why “rare”, he wondered. If it’s not immoral…. This pushed a button for me, and I replied as follows:
Because not all issues are simple dichotomies: yes/no, black/white, good/bad. One of the main causes of conflict around social issues, issues of conscience, moral issues in general is that there are some people (often the loudest) who refuse to recognize this.
Everybody except for the sociopath or the simpleton has personal opinions that conflict with one another. Aggregate people into a community, into a society, and the same will be true. People make trade-offs, choose the lesser of two evils, try to split the difference, whatever. Sometimes it’s obvious, a zero-sum game, or a mutually-exclusive choice. Sometimes it’s a question of log-rolling: I need your help on X, so I’ll give up some of my Y. In all of these cases, reasonable people (i.e. not sociopaths, not simpletons) will recognize and feel regret for the fact that their choices are less than ideal.
All of these considerations play out in the case of abortion. The first person I ever knew who’d had an abortion was a fellow student at Essex, back in 1970. Abusive father, impoverished background, she’d performed miracles to get to university, to get away from home. Condom broke. (No, it wasn’t me. I was just a neighbour and friend in need.) Her choice was simple: get a first trimester abortion, or (almost certainly) drop out of school. (Even carrying the kid to term and getting it adopted would have been too much – she was on the edge.) She chose to have the abortion, toughed it out. A few months later, a group of us dropped acid for the first time. I had a great trip, but she spent the whole 8 hours sobbing, mourning her lost baby. She got through school, got a good degree, married, raised a family, everything worked out. But OF COURSE I wish she hadn’t had to go through the abortion. Contraception should be so ubiquitous and reliable that nobody has to face the problem of an unwanted pregnancy.
Anyway, I wanted to share that.