The conservative UK columnist Melanie Phillips, who I don’t think is pro life, (not sure about that), makes some provocative points about abortion that are worth pondering. She is appalled that UK doctors have been instructed to tell pregnant women contemplating termination that abortion is safer than childbirth.
That’s not what I want to focus on. Instead, let’s contemplate some important points she made about how abortion rights have had a pronounced and deleterious impact on the wider culture. From her column:
Nevertheless, there is widespread and increasing disquiet about abortion — on account of both the rate at which it is occurring and the coarsening of values that it has brought in its wake. For like so many other liberalising measures, what started as a humane response — in this case to the dangerous back-street butchery of desperate women — has turned into something quite different. The framers of the original legislation never foresaw that abortion would turn into a routine form of contraception. But that’s what has happened.
Same thing here in the States. Roe v. Wade, which was based on a lie that Norma McCorvey had been raped, was, I think, partially predicated in the Justices’ minds on the idea that women would only rarely abort, and then only for very serious reasons.
But the law doesn’t just reflect our values. It tells us, in this day of moral relativism, what is right and wrong. And Roe was heard as stating that abortion was very right. The numbers of terminations soared way past what was expected. We see some women now with multiple abortions–in an age of effective birth control. And I think a certain pro abortion culture has been created in the process–certainly not universal among pro choicers–which is why some get so angry when pro lifers pass laws that seek to demonstrate the humanity of gestating babies as a means of dissuading women from exercising the abortion choice.
Phillips believes that the casual attitude that has developed around abortion requires disregarding the moral status of fetuses as developing human lives:
Experts have said that although some progress has been made in reducing Britain’s world-beating rate of teenage pregnancies, abortion is increasingly being seen as the major method of contraception for many young women. These figures are horrifying. Abortion should be a last resort. The law was framed as a balancing act between different levels of harm. The destruction of the foetus could be undertaken only if the harm to the mother of having the baby was considered too great.
This was because what was produced at conception was considered an early form of human life. And even though it was not considered to have the same status as a developed baby, it was once deemed vital to treat it with respect. To do otherwise was to devalue life itself and our common humanity.
Well, this is precisely what has taken place. That sense of balance went out of the window long ago under the pressure of ideologues screaming about ‘a woman’s right to choose’, which reframed abortion solely as concerning the interests of the mother. It is dismaying indeed — even if not altogether surprising — that even doctors specialising in bringing babies into the world have succumbed to this savage reductionism.
Reductionism. Yes, that’s a good way to put it. And that cultural virus has spread, undermining the importance of other “inconvenient” human lives generally, in my view. It has even opened the door to treating fetuses as natural resources. Thus, the bioethicist Jacob Appel has urged that women who wanted to abort be paid to gestate pregnancies into later term so the fetuses could be used instrumentally, and that we even clone fetuses as crops in organ farms.
Phillips also believes that abortion is part of the ongoing sexualization of the the young:
The result of this profound cultural shift has been not only that a solemn and even tragic dilemma has been turned into an unthinking extension of ‘lifestyle choice’ which has all but destroyed the intrinsic respect for human life which defines a civilised society, it has also helped undermine childhood and exposed ever younger girls to both psychological and physical harm and exploitation. The belief that the only harm arising from the sexual activity of young teenagers is the unfortunate consequence of a live baby has helped promote not just the normalisation of abortion, but the premature sexualisation of even very young children.
I recall being in the UK and there was much hand wringing about a supposedly 13-year-old father. (He wasn’t. the real father was 15, both were just two of the several boys with whom the 15-year-old mother was having sex .) This, at the same time that the government advised parents not to teach their children moral views on sex! PP has also been so accused.
I also think abortion helped promote an expediency culture–which has many parents–that often eschews principle but accepts whatever might make us feel good in the moment.
So, the question in this post isn’t legality of abortion, per se, but the general cultural impact that the wide open abortion license has had generally on society. I agree with Phillips: I think it has been deleterious. Whether that had to happen, is I think, also an interesting question.