Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Class and Abortion

Sunday night I watched my tivoed Frontline episode, "The Last Abortion Clinic." I was a seething ball of anger the entire time. I don't think it was good for my health. Mr. Geeky kept patting my leg and saying, "I'm sorry I made you watch this." Of course, it was my idea to watch it.

The episode profiles the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. Yep, that's right, there's only one clinic left in Mississippi. As I watched people singing and praying outside of the clinic and shouting things to the women who were walking in, I literally wanted to do them harm. It angers me that they care more about the fetuses, the group of cells residing in those women's bodies than they do about the women themselves. One woman they interviewed at another clinic across state lines explained that her boyfriend, the father of her first child and the one she was carrying had died in a car wreck. She didn't have a job. She felt like she couldn't handle having a second child. That seems like a good reason to terminate a pregnancy, and I'm glad they showed it, but to me, it doesn't matter what the reason is because it's her decision. What you do with your life and your body is your decision and I want the praying, singing idiots to leave those people alone and let them live their lives.

The single biggest conclusion I took away from the episode (aside from the anger) was that restrictions being placed on abortion harm the poor much more than they harm the middle class. As the clinic director explained, transportation, child care and time off work all tend to prevent women from being able to visit the clinic. They might be able to arrange all three for one visit but because there is a law requiring a 24 hour waiting period, they have to return a second time and sometimes it's difficult to arrange all three again. For those of us in the middle class, not a problem. The episode also highlight the high incident of teen pregnancy in the area, which, because of restrictions on abortion leads to more teen mothers who don't finish high school, can't get jobs and thus, live on welfare, a vicious cycle indeed.

Like many pro-choice advocates, I do not want there to be more abortions. I want there to be less. But unlike the pro-life contingent, I don't think the way to decrease abortions is by getting rid of the clinics or putting increasingly heavy restrictions on abortion. What we need is better sex education, easy access to birth control (including Plan B), and better education more generally so that many of the poor teenagers who see pregnancy as their only option can see a future for themselves.

At the end of the episode, the clinic director said of the pro-life movement: "They're only pro life while the life is in utereo. After that, they really don't care." When I was reading Jody's response to the NY Times article on children in restaurants, I thought of this. At the end of her post she says:
The real problem, as I see it, is a society that sees child-rearing as an individual pursuit. I'll raise my children, and you raise yours, and those folks over there will have nothing to do with children whatsoever. The kind old woman on the bus who tries to calm my rambunctious four-year old is just an interfering old biddy, and the young man who tries to divert my impatient six-year old with a story while we wait for our tables at the restaurant is just a pervert in the making. Families are on their own in this dog-eat-dog world, and you can only rely on yourselves.
I agree with what she says, which is why I'm so baffled by the pro-life's unusual interest in preventing abortions when they have no desire to deal with the children that result from their own policy. They don't really think there should be more children in the world, just less "murder." There's a disconnect for them between cause and effect and that disconnect drives me crazy.