The XX Factor

I’m Pro-Life, But I’d Never Want an Abortion Ban Without Exceptions

I’ve been thinking a lot since yesterday when Ayelet Waldman, in her dialogue here on Double X with Elizabeth Weill, asked , “Is there room to reach out to the less crazy part of the right wing and say, ‘OK, that woman in your imaginings, the one who goes to Wichita to have her third 36th-week abortion just because she keeps hysterically shrieking she has a migraine? Okay, we’ll give you that. We’ll accept limitations of abortions under certain strictest of circumstances.’ ” Granted, “less crazy” is not exactly how I normally think of myself, but close enough for the sake of conversation.

I’ve been reading the accounts here and elsewhere, in the wake of George Tiller’s murder, from women who’ve had late-term abortions because their unborn children were diagnosed with fatal or life-threatening conditions. The stories are heartbreaking, and I find it hard to get through them without weeping. But the accounts create the perception that women with doomed pregnancies are the only ones seeking late-term abortions, and that it’s only in our imagination that healthy women with healthy babies seek them out.

However, Peggy Jarman, a spokeswoman for Tiller, was quoted years ago in the Kansas City Star (referenced here and other anti-abortion sites, though the original article is not freely available online) as saying that “About three-fourths of Tiller’s late-term patients … are teen-agers who have denied to themselves or their families they were pregnant until it was too late to hide it.” Even though the numbers are small, elective late-term abortions are real, and they are a tragedy, too. I admit my judgment is clouded by the fact that I spend a good chunk of my days right now cuddling my newborn, but I look at him and imagine the fate of those children, and that makes me weep, too.

So to answer Waldman’s question: I’d take that trade in a heartbeat. In his excellent article in Slate on Tiller, Will Saletan wrote :

You think you’re pro-life. You tell yourself that abortion is murder. Maybe you even say that when a pollster calls. But like most of the other people who say such things in polls, you don’t mean it literally. There’s you, and then there are the people who lock arms outside the clinics. And then there are the people who bomb them. And at the end of the line, there’s the guy who killed George Tiller.

Yes, I’ve always considered myself pro-life, and considered abortion to be, well, if not murder, then at least ending a life. But Saletan is right, I probably don’t mean it literally. I would never want a ban on abortion that DIDN’T have exceptions for rape and incest, and to save the mother’s life. Having had my heart broken by enough stories this week of women terminating pregnancies that they desperately wanted, I can support an exception for pregnancies in which the child wouldn’t survive outside the womb. Though, like Weill and Waldman , I don’t know where I would draw the line. If I may borrow Ayelet’s phrasing, it would probably be less restrictive than many conservatives would tolerate and far more restrictive than some liberals would accept.

To answer Ayelet’s question from earlier today , about abortion opponents who support exceptions, as I do. I can’t speak for others, just myself. I’m not anti-abortion for religious reasons, or because it’s part of the Republican Party platform. I’m against abortion because I value the unborn, and because I don’t know where or how to draw a line between a fertilized egg and a baby. (Though I do agree with Ayelet that passing out condoms to teenagers is a better way to reduce abortions than chaining myself to a clinic.) Yes, it’s a contradiction to be against abortion but support exceptions. Still, it’s a contradiction that would leave us with a lot fewer aborted babies.