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Abortion Is Great? For Whom?

The Pro-Choice movement is unhappy.  Those who support abortion “rights” feel the game slipping away from them.  They fought so hard and accomplished so much.  Now they see the other side winning.  And it just eats them up inside.  How, they wonder, could we let this happen?  How did we lose this unlosable fight?  How is it that this generation is more skeptical of abortion than was the last, which was more skeptical than the one before it?

To hear the hardcore Pro-Choicers tell the story, the problem is that the political Left abandoned the idea that abortion is a moral good, settling instead on the notion that it is a mere necessary evil, an essential choice, to be sure, but a bad one nonetheless.  “Legal, Safe, and Rare,” the Pro-Choice side’s mantra since at least the Clinton era, has been a disaster, they insist, and an abdication of righteousness that has led the women of this nation to a terrible place, where they stand to lose all that matters to them.  It is time, therefore, to fight back.  It is time, they believe, to take back the abortion issue.

Katha Pollitt, the longtime feminist essayist for the Left-wing political journal The Nation, has a new book out this month that serves as the call to arms for the Pro-Choice side in this battle to reclaim the “high ground” in the abortion war.  Entitled Pro, Pollitt’s tome purports to explain how the Pro-Choice movement ended up back on its heels and, more importantly, how it can regain its balance and win the all-important arguments against the morally-confused and self-contradictory Pro-Lifers who stand in the way of “rational” acceptance of abortion utopia.

Frankly, we find the whole thing tiresome.  Pollitt’s charge that the Pro-Life movement is self-contradictory, while not necessarily untrue, doesn’t mean what she thinks it does.  Just because some people think that life begins at conception while at the same believe that life may be taken in cases of rape and incest, doesn’t mean that the moral argument is lost or that it favors the Pro-Choice side.  It means merely that the matter is complicated, painful and perilous, hardly the routine medical procedure Pollitt would rather it be.  Moreover, in order to explain how and why her side is losing the argument, she is forced to resort to the hoariest and most insulting of Marxist clichés, the “false consciousness” bit in which the bad Pro-Lifers “brainwash” the good and decent masses into believing something contrary to their own interests.  Pardon us while we doze off. . . .

What interests us most today, though, is not Pollitt’s book per se, but some of the admiration it has engendered among her fellow feminists.  Specifically, we were taken by a review of Pro, written by Hanna Rosin for Slate, and titled “Abortion is Great.”  The review is not only brutal in its moral tone-deafness, but does a much better job of explaining how the Pro-Choice side lost the argument than Pollitt herself does.

Rosin begins and ends her piece by recounting her own experience with abortion.  She writes:

I had an abortion.  I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business.  I was already a mother of two, which puts me in the majority of American women who have abortions.  Six out of 10 are mothers, which makes sense, because a mother could not fool herself into believing that having another baby was no big deal. . . .

Several years after I had the abortion, I had a third child.  Part of me thinks the shadow aborted child stayed with me and created a space for the last one to be born.  Does this mean I was plagued by abortion “regret,” as pro-life activists claim, or haunted by my decision?  Of course not.  I never felt like I had done something awful.  The truth is, I hardly thought about it after I did it, because I was too busy working and raising two small children. . . .  Having an abortion left me with a sense of what a great power it is to be able to give life but also a sense that I can trust myself to use it carefully.

What stands out here, we think, is the callousness of Rosin’s declaration, the sense of pride that she takes in the deliberate termination of a human life.  I did, she says, and so do lots of other mothers.  So what?

Well. . . . Here’s what.

The fact of the matter – the undeniable fact, whether Pollitt or Rosin or anyone else wants to admit it – is that abortion affects people psychologically.  It affects mothers.  It affects fathers (or erstwhile fathers, as the case may be), and it affects children.  Rosin proudly proclaims that six-out-of-ten women having abortions in this country are mothers.  But does she even consider what that means, what that does to families?

Here are a few things we know, given the longtime research in the field:  women who have had abortions have a statistically-greater incidence of mental health issues, including – or especially – depression and anxiety; they have a greater incidence of substance abuse; and they have a greater incidence of physical abuse of their children.  In a 2009 article for Current Women’s Health Reviews, Dr. Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, noted that the sense of loss is far greater with abortion than with other forms of prenatal death.  And that tends to result in significant issues for many women.  Coleman wrote that “the best evidence regarding negative effects of abortion indicates that 20-30 percent will experience serious psychological problems.  With 1.3 million U.S. abortions performed annually, a minimum of 130,000 new cases of abortion-related mental health problems appear each year.”  That’s a lot of harm to a lot of women – and a lot of families.

Rosin happily trumpets the fact that sixty percent of women having abortion are mothers.  What she fails to mention is that some 85% are also not married, which is to say that the existing children of those mothers are expected to traverse the post-abortion emotional trauma without two loving parents at home but with one parent at home who may well be grieving.  This is trauma enough for children.  But it gets worse.  In an interview with “Priests for Life,” Dr. Philip Ney, a psychiatrist and the head of the Psychology Department at Mount Joy College, noted the following:

Well the other thing of course, since I am a child psychiatrist, I talk to children.  And it soon comes to my attention in interviewing children that they begin to suspect or frankly they know that one of their siblings was aborted.  So what is it like now to grow up in a home where you suspect or you know that one of your little unborn siblings was aborted?  It creates a whole range of very, very deep conflicts.  And we now call that post-abortion survivor syndrome.

They have in common many of the conflicts that were found in those people who survived the Holocaust.  For instance they have survivor guilt.  They feel it is not right for them to be alive.  And they wonder why they should be selected when their little siblings were selected to die . . . which is precisely what happened to the people from the Holocaust.  Why were they selected to live and some of their friends, relatives, and family were selected to die?  And it leaves this deep sense of guilt.  And that is a difficult, difficult thing to treat, because it is so deeply embedded.  And of course with that is how can you trust your parents?  Are they capable of killing you too?  They killed one of your little siblings….

That this is tragic goes without saying.  But it is also, we think, explanatory.  Katha Pollitt wonders how it is that the abortion fight was lost by the Pro-Choice side.  Part of the answer, we think, can be found in the “Roe Effect,” first labeled as such by the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto.  In brief, the Roe Effect works as follows:

It is a statement of fact, not a moral judgment, to observe that every pregnancy aborted today results in one fewer eligible voter 18 years from now.  More than 40 million legal abortions have occurred in the United States since 1973, and these are not randomly distributed across the population.  Black women, for example, have a higher abortion ratio (percentage of pregnancies aborted) than Hispanic women, whose abortion ratio in turn is higher than that of non-Hispanic whites.  Since blacks vote Democratic in far greater proportions than Hispanics, and whites are more Republican than Hispanics or blacks, ethnic disparities in abortion ratios would be sufficient to give the GOP a significant boost — surely enough to account for George W. Bush’s razor-thin Florida victory in 2000.

The Roe Effect, however, refers specifically to the nexus between the practice of abortion and the politics of abortion.  It seems self-evident that pro-choice women are more likely to have abortions than pro-life ones, and common sense suggests that children tend to gravitate toward their parents’ values.  This would seem to ensure that Americans born after Roe v. Wade have a greater propensity to vote for the pro-life party — that is, Republican — than they otherwise would have.

Another part of the answer to Pollitt’s question, though, lies in the effect of abortion on families.  Pollitt and Rosin wonder how the women of Generation X and Millennial Generation can fail to grasp the “normalcy” of abortion.  It is worth noting, we think, that both women were born before 1973, which is to say before abortion-on-demand became the law of the land and thus before their mothers could legally have aborted them.  Pre-Roe women don’t have to wonder if they have a sibling who was aborted, or if under different circumstances, could it have been them their mothers chose to “terminate?”  Post-Roe women do.  This can hardly be a consoling collection of thoughts.  And certainly, it would tend to make post-Roe women a little more aware of the consequences of abortion and more cognizant of the moral choices involved.

Abortion is a serious and complicated moral issue that can and often does destroy families.  That we should have to reiterate this now, some 41-plus years after Roe is shocking.  It’s also quite sad and explains a great deal about the state of the family in this country.