June 1, 2009

George Tiller

I'm a lot angrier about George Tiller's death than I would have expected, and I think it has to do with the way my thinking about abortion has changed over the last few years.

I don't think abortion should be legally restricted. Pretty much at all, with the exception of the same kinds of ordinary, minor restrictions we have on all medical procedures. I don't really understand how people can argue that a woman should be legally compelled to donate her uterus to another human being when they wouldn't argue that she should be legally compelled to donate her kidney once that child is born. I mostly have minimal respect for the arguments for criminalization, or rather for the people who make those arguments, because they're so tremendously unwilling to support measures that actually reduce the number of abortions, like contraceptive access and a social welfare net. I heard a woman on Radio Times recently describing her experience bearing a disabled child while she was a member of a very active evangelical church - she and her husband felt completely abandoned by her church, which in her view had a commitment to children which ended at birth. She was furious that the same politicians who vote to restrict abortion also vote to gut funding for health and education of already born children. That's par for the course with anti-choice politicians. (I'm especially disgusted by anyone who thinks it's relevant how someone got pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth are the ways another human being is created, and human beings shouldn't be turned into punishments or consequences for having sex. It'd be a terrible way to treat a child. See m. leblanc's comments in this thread for more.)

But what I really don't understand is the particular discomfort with third-trimester abortions. No one wants to have a third-trimester abortion. There are about 100 third-trimester abortions a year in the US, and I would be astonished if any of them are elective. The second trimester is different. Women end up getting pushed into the second trimester because they're having trouble coming up with the money for an abortion, or because they're trying to work out a way to raise the child that falls through, or because they don't realize they're pregnant. But very few women don't realize they're pregnant for 6 months (those who do are often children - 9, 10, 11 - who had been raped, had never menstruated, and learned they had ovulated for the first time when they suddenly realize they are very pregnant). Third trimester abortions are so difficult and expensive to arrange that it takes something pretty serious for a woman to make that particular decision. Something like finding out that her child is developing with no face, and will die shortly after birth regardless. That she is carrying conjoined twins, one of whom might be saved for a short life of surgery and organ transplants. Something like learning that her pregnancy has a good chance of killing both her and the baby, or that giving birth to a doomed child would jeopardize her ability to ever have another child. There are problems that develop or show for the first time late in pregnancy, and George Tiller's willingness to perform late-term abortions at a risk to his safety and his life helped these women in desperate situations. Not only that, but it sounds like he did so with tremendous care and kindness to each woman helped: one person says, "I remember he spent over six hours in one-on-one care with my wife when there was concern she had an infection. We're talking about a physician here. Six hours." (That link, by the way, is really worth following if you want a sense of what kind of doctor he was.)

There are a few people - mostly the sort of "consistent ethic of life" Catholics who also work very hard against the death penalty, war, and poverty, and routinely get themselves arrested protesting on military bases - who oppose intervening in such cases because they believe it devalues human life, and that in such cases a woman's moral responsibility is still to do her best to allow that life to continue. It's not my own moral view, but I can respect it, especially since the people I've known who espouse it vigorously tend to have turned over their own lives to fighting injustice and violence. But I bet that most people who read the stories of Tiller's late-term abortion patients will think that these are people who did the best they could in terrible situations; that Tiller really, truly, helped them; and that should they ever find themselves in a similar situation, they would want to have that option. I would hope that even people who oppose abortion - even "consistent ethic of life" Catholics - could have sympathy for the women who have late-term abortions, and see that actually these are the absolute last situations we should try to make more difficult. Protesting Tiller's clinic, harassing his staff, and murdering him look to me like pretty low-yield ways to end exactly the kinds of abortions that, when you really know the stories in question, seem like some of the hardest to really be angry about.

This is without even mentioning the fact that if all obstetricians knew how to perform late-term abortions, women whose fetuses die in utero would not have to spend days risking hemorrhage while they carry around a dead fetus because no one within a distance they can travel knows how to safely remove the fetus.

I think my anger about Tiller's death, like my increasing anger that women constantly find their own reproductive decisions (from contraception to pregnancy to childbirth) interfered with and denied, has to do with my increasing realization that this is the kind of thing that could affect me. I know that six women I know - in my and my parents' generation - have had abortions; I'm sure there are many more. I'm not likely these days to get pregnant accidentally, but if I do want to have kids I don't want to find that, thanks to a bunch of white men desperate to hold on to their own power, I can't get health care in an emergency.

If you're in Philadelphia, come to the Love Park rally even though it's raining.

p.s. go read everything at Bitch, Ph.D., and Obsidian Wings about Tiller and abortion. I'll put together some abortion-related links soon, too.

1 comment:

THE FIRE BOSS (aka EFF BEE) said...

fyi, new working link for partial birth abortion ban signing photo: