Sunday, January 25, 2009

Boys, Guns, and Abortion

My boyfriend is pro-choice. He's said, "I don't think abortion is a good thing, but I don't think you can make it illegal. If it were up to me, though, there wouldn't ever be a single abortion."

That was the most recent time we argued about this subject. The first time, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Scarlett: What would you want to do if we got pregnant before we got married?
Rhett: Whatever you want to do.
Scarlett: But what would you want to do?
Rhett: I'd support whatever your decision was.
Scarlett: But what you want to do?
Rhett: I'd be okay with whatever you wanted to do.
Scarlett: But what would your preference be?
Rhett: I don't have a preference. It's up to you.
Scarlett: Okay, pretend I'm in a temporary coma and can't have or make known an opinion, so the decision is entirely up to you and you have to make it before I wake up because afterwards it will be too late?
Rhett: I guess I might have a slight preference that maybe we keep it.

Why is that so hard to say? If you can say, "If it was up to me, there wouldn't be any abortions," why won't you express an opinion when I'm trying to leave it up to you?* Why has society beaten it into men that not only is this not their decision, but they're not even allowed to have an opinion? How on earth did we get to a point where even "I'd prefer we have and raise this child, but I'll support whatever decision you make" is considered coercion? Why do otherwise strong-willed, opinionated, caring men in communicative, involved, equitable relationships suddenly start acting like these most important of decisions are to be made unilaterally, and I'd better just leave the room while you think about it and decide. Why can't they say what they think, even in a hypothetical situation?**

Because society has apparently told them, time and time again, that to express an opinion is coercion, will force a girl into doing what her boyfriend wants. But imagine a girl who is honestly trying to decide whether or not she'd be able to bring a baby into a loving family to raise it well, despite being a young, un-wed mother. If what her boyfriend communicates to her is "I don't care whether this child lives or dies" - which is pretty much what "It's your choice. I don't have an opinion." communicates - the prospects of the kid having a loving family suddenly seem quite dim. The father could very well be open the idea of raising and caring for his child, but since he's not allowed to say so, she won't ever know - especially if he wouldn't even say so earlier in the relationship, when it was only a hypothetical discussion.

During this most recent argument we had about abortion, I asked a question that seems to be a pretty standard pro-life tactic. "Oh, so you don't think abortion is a good thing, but don't think it should be illegal? Name one other thing that you think there should be less of that you don't bother to make illegal." He named two.

Guns and cigarettes.

Good answers.

At first blush, they work well for you, pro-choicers. You don't get rid of the Second Amendment, even if you want to reduce gun violence. And of course you don't outlaw smoking, even though it's bad for you and we all wish no one smoked. That wouldn't be consistent with a smoker's personal autonomy.

But let's take these analogies a little further, shall we?

A plan for effective gun control and reducing gun violence would not include the government paying for guns for poor people. It would not include federal funding, to the tune of 336.7 million dollars a year to the nation's largest gun manufacturer. It would not include a bill designed to eliminate all current restrictions on gun ownership and use.***

We reduce smoking by telling kids in school not to smoke. No public school would ever tell kids not to have an abortion. Phillip Morris has to put warnings on cigarettes. Planned Parenthood doesn't have to start appointments with warnings about how bad abortions are. It's a good thing, an act of concern and compassion, to try to convince a friend to stop smoking. It's oppressive and coercive to try to convince a friend not to have an abortion. A girl can tell her boyfriend to quit smoking or they're through - now that's coercion! - but a guy can't tell his girlfriend - or even his wife - that he'd like them to raise their child, even if he doesn't issue an ultimatum, doesn't speak in absolutes.

I could maybe accept the "aim for fewer abortions without making it illegal" line of thinking if we actually treated abortion the way we treat other negatives that we don't make illegal, by actively discouraging it. As it is, we make it a special case, no one offers advice or makes suggestions for fear of "oppression," "coercion," or limiting "women's rights," doing nothing but paying lip service to the idea of reducing the number of abortions.

*Not that it would actually be up to him, because I abortion's simply not on the table for me, nor is there any likelihood of our getting pregnant before we're married.
**Is asking many rhetorical questions in a row poor blogging technique?
***I generally only use Wikipedia as a source for topics that are too controversial for me to find accurate, unbiased data by googling.

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