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The Abortion Distortion


At this, the girl’s mother shoots straight up in her chair. “Three days?” You can almost read her thought: I will never be able to take that kind of time off.

“You have dilators inserted one day. The next you have more. And the third day is the procedure itself.” Keyes adds that it would save her and her daughter time if they hang around the clinic until the doctor is free, so that he can read aloud the statement they’re required by Ohio state law to hear. The mother nods and asks Keyes to go get him. “So anything after 24 weeks,” she asks, “and she can’t get an abortion?”

Keyes shakes her head. “There’s someone in Colorado, but other than that, no. Doctor Tiller is gone.”

This girl could have given up her baby for adoption. For all I know, that’s the path she chose, though it didn’t look like she was headed in that direction. It was certainly an easier option for me to stomach, if I were to be honest about this. This girl was halfway through her pregnancy. She was in her fifth month.

But the truth is, there were no good outcomes in this situation. Carrying the baby to term during her sophomore year would have been horribly difficult, nothing like the movie Juno would have you believe. Terminating at five months tests the moral limits of even the most obdurately pro-choice. And yet that’s still not what’s most depressing here. What’s most depressing is to think that in the coming years, this girl may effectively have no choice at all.

NARAL’s Nancy Keenan likes to say that abortion’s biggest defenders right now are a “menopausal militia”—a rueful, inspired little joke. These baby-boomers, whose young adulthoods were defined by the fight over the right to choose, will soon be numerically overtaken by a generation of twentysomethings who is more pro-life than any but our senior citizens. As GOP strategists Christopher Blunt and Fred Steeper have pointed out, this group came of age during the partial-birth debate and was the first to grow up with pictures of sonograms on their refrigerators. The major development in reproductive technology during their lifetimes wasn’t something that prevented pregnancies but something that created them: IVF. These kids have no idea—none—what it was like to live in a world without abortion rights. (“This generation’s knowledge of Roe is like, ‘Roe vs. what?’ ” says Keenan.) And they feel much more strongly about personal responsibility than the generations preceding them: Didn’t use birth control? The burden’s on you.

Given this demographic shift, plus the Stupak Amendment, plus the unavoidable fact that abortion’s essential nature is unchanging—it will always involve some brutal nexus of the heart and the mind—it’s hard for a pro-choice person like myself to see how the ball rolls forward. Perhaps Obama will help. This is, after all, a president who went to Notre Dame, a school with a 167-year history of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, and dared to give a speech about abortion. But what he said was hardly his usual optimistic, paradigm-shifting oratory. All it was was a sober recitation of the problem, one that all-too-painfully explained why public opinion on the subject hasn’t budged in 36 years. “I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” he told his audience. “No matter how much we may want to fudge it—indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory—the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.”


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