When it comes to abortion, people draw the line in different places – conception, viability, birth. The most conservative among us not only oppose terminating a pregnancy, they also oppose preventing it in the first place. That’s an unrealistic and untenable position. The expectation that a woman will only conceive when she intends to is as naive and unrealistic as expecting young people not to have sex until they marry.
One problem with the abortion debate is that the sides are completely polarized. Pro-life advocates tend to oppose abortion for any reason. Pro-choice advocates tend to oppose any limitations on abortion. Both sides see compromise as a slippery slope.
Last week I attended a fundraiser for Maine Family Planning, which, along with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, provides a great deal of reproductive health care services to Maine women. I attended at the invitation of an old friend who helps raise money to guarantee that any woman in need of an abortion can get one regardless of ability to pay.
I am solidly pro-choice. I believe a woman has an absolute right to make decisions about her own body. Abortion presents a conundrum in that two people create the situation, but only one of them pays the consequences. The difficult decision about whether to end an unwanted pregnancy ultimately belongs to the woman.
A slim majority of Americans favor legal abortions. I certainly understand why others oppose abortion. I wish it were not necessary, but it is. I’m afraid, however, I take a dim view of abortion protesters. For one thing, they rarely strike me as loving and compassionate, but rather angry and self-righteous. And I’d give them more credit for their militant defense of the sanctity of life if I thought they also opposed war and the death penalty.
In Portland, I occasionally pass the protesters on Congress Street, some of whom holler up at the windows of the clinic while others carry signs depicting baby body parts. These gruesome images obviously incense the protesters, but what is not so obvious is what these graphic pictures depict, the wanton dismemberment of a living being or the surgical removal of a stillborn baby.
Even though they are statistically rare, late-term and partial-birth abortions seem to be the flash points of the anti-abortion movement. Late-term abortions constitute only about 1 percent of all procedures, and partial-birth abortions only about 2/10th of 1 percent. That’s because partial-birth abortions are already illegal, despite what anti-abortion activists seem to believe.
Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003. Senators Collins and Snowe and Rep. Tom Allen voted against the ban. Rep. Mike Michaud voted for it. In 2007, the Supreme Court declared the ban constitutional in one of its narrow 5-4 decisions.
Fortunately, there are exceptions to the ban on partial-birth abortions when they are deemed necessary to protect the health or life of the mother. Partial-birth abortions are usually performed for medical reasons such as removing a dead baby from the mother’s womb.
It’s pretty clear to me that abortion protesters do not care at all about the women inside the clinic nor about the general public. They are on a mission from God to save those babies, and anyone who opposes them be damned. At least that’s the impression I get. A buffer zone around family planning clinics would seem to be in order, but the Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom struck down Massachusetts’ 35-foot buffer zone in 2014.
Some of the most virulent abortion foes will say that people who are pro-choice hate children. That is just hateful nonsense. It’s also often hypocritical. Show me a religious fundamentalist and I’ll show you someone who very likely treats women and children as chattel.
It seems to me that people who oppose abortion really should be promoting sex education and contraception rather than standing out in the street making a show of their moral indignation or pontificating about the sex lives of others. Frankly, if you’re opposed to contraception as well as abortion, you’re one of the reasons we have so many unwanted pregnancies. You’re the problem.
When sex education is universal, contraceptive care is easily accessible, and doing what comes naturally is no longer seen as sinful, we will have fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions. But abortions are legal and must remain so as long as we remain imperfect beings.
Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.