Call for Discussion of Abortion, How About a Call for Data First?
Tasha Kheiriddin over at the National Post just posted a generally pretty reasonable call for discussion on abortion in Canada. I don’t disagree with her general conclusions, that a law, crafted properly in a civilized manner, would be better than no law. But she makes the mistake of assuming one is needed based on hypothetical misuses. Getting a civilized discussion going on this issue is very difficult, part of the reason it is difficult is comments like the following from her very own article:
A 30-year-old woman knocked up after a night of unprotected casual sex is placed on the same footing as a 14-year-old girl who is raped by her uncle. A woman who at 20 weeks’ gestation learns that her fetus has a severe birth defect is treated the same as a woman who decides that she wants a late-term abortion because she has split up with the baby’s father.
I don’t think one can really debate the correctness of what she’s saying here. However, its the implication within it that is the problem. This is the kind of argument raised a lot by people who have moved past the ‘when does life begin’ debate but want reasonable laws governing abortion. There is an implicit assumption that a fair number, or even a lot, of abortions are by women casually coming in off the street to compensate for not using contraceptives or to get rid of a baby because it will be awkward or difficult due to health or social issues. I’ve never seen any numbers on it but I’d bet these cases don’t make up a lot of the actual abortions taking place, if any. Its a red herring. Women do not use abortion as a contraceptive and the decision to abort a child due to birth defects is incredibly difficult and probably only happens in very severe cases, where the child is nearly certain to live nothing but a short and very painful life.
Making these kinds of claims about the reasons for having an abortion is not the right way to start a rational and mutually respectful discussion of the issue. It must begin with respecting the decisions made by women and how difficult they are. To be sure, we can imagine hypothetical reasons for an abortion that we would all disagree with. But rather than assuming these happen and that they must be restricted, perhaps we should first gather some data on all the reasons we can find that actually do happen. Then we can talk about how many are objectionable to this or that group of people and whether our unregulated status-quo is a good idea or not. By not knowing numbers we don’t know if your hypothetical “30-year-old-knocked-up-women” is a real concern or a figment of your imagination.