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Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us Paperback – January 4, 2011
"Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande
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Few people on either side make very good arguments either way about what to do about abortion. In my opinion, there are three issues, moral, legal, practical. There have been about 50 million legal abortions in this country since 1973; there are now over 1 million per year, the rate has been falling. There are about 45 million abortions every year worldwide. Millions of women become pregnant who do not want to have a baby or can't afford to. The moral question -- is abortion the taking of a human life. Yes, it is preventing human life, that is what makes the issue difficult. The legal question is should it be illegal. Given how many women want to have abortions, making it illegal is simply not an option unless there are realistic alternatives. It doesn't make sense to make millions of women criminals because of their personal moral choices or to risk their health getting illegal abortions. The practical question is -- what is the alternative. Our best bet would be a massive program providing contraception and education and well organized adoption. Is there any reason to believe that can happen or that it would work? We need to try or we will be fighting this forever. Anti abortion people who are also against contraception are idiots and should be treated as idiots. It took the Catholic church 350 years to forgive Galileo for saying the earth moved around the sun so don't hold your breath about their policy on contraception.
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As the title indicates, Carole is focused on the toll that anti-choice activity has taken on the pro-choice movement. "Activity" is too polite a word, actually, when you're talking about arson, anthrax threats, and punitive legislation - and, of course, the murder of Dr. Tiller, which occurred as this book was in its final stages. I defy anyone to read about the trials and tribulations of a clinic which suffered an arson attack and not choke up, both at the bravery of the staff and the generous nature of the community, which turned out in force to support the rebuilding. Acts like this pepper the book, though not all are as dramatic; but they all speak to one of the ideas running through the pages, that individual connections mean so much more than rhetoric and sound bites.
That idea has particular resonance for me, and is what inspired my book, Generation Roe. I haven't spent as much time in the trenches of the abortion wars as Carole, but my experience in direct patient services has shown me that individuals relate much more strongly to personal experience than anything else. There is such a stigma attached to abortion, far more so than should be attached to any medical procedure, but when the actual reasons that women choose abortion are made clear, it's that much harder to dismiss the procedure as one done out of convenience or on a whim. As one of the founding members of the D.C. Abortion Fund pointed out to me when I interviewed her, "Women's stories will always carry the day." And she's right, but the stories of the people who choose to undertake this work need to be told, too. These stories help us all understand the larger context in which abortion rights reside: the contexts of healthy families, economic stability, attaining educational goals, and safeguarding personal health.
There's another reason I'm so fond of story-telling: because almost forty years after Roe, states are still introducing restrictive legislation, doctors and clinicians are threatened, and the issue is just as divisive as ever. So why not try and shift the public discourse from the political to the personal? As a member of Medical Students of Choice who grew up in a conservative community observed, while the pro-choice community is talking about choices, the anti-choices forces are talking about murder. Which is a brilliant P.R. stroke, if nothing else, and evidence of the pro-choice movement's failure to truly recognize the emotional component of this issue. I'm not suggesting that we pander to their side and bring out the violins and tissue and only tell the "right" stories of abortion, the rape victims and fetal anomalies and married women. There is no right story, just as there is no wrong story, and we need to tell and share them all.
Okay, enough of my soapbox. Bottom line is, go read Dispatches from the Abortion Wars. Get angry, and get inspired, and tell the world why you're pro-choice, too.