an After abortion

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Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Mary Ann Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard. In the June/July 2003 issue of First Things, she writes in "The Women of Roe v. Wade" (not online) that:

"Many women have understood all along that Roe v. Wade would not, as Friedan once predicted, 'make women whole'. For the past thirty years, all three leading polling organizations have consistently told us that a large majority of Americans, women een more than men, disapprove of the majority of abortions that are performed in this country...The strongest supporters of abortion rights in the United States, as any nineteenth-century feminist could have predicted, are not women--but men in the age group of eighteen to twenty-five. Nevertheless, the most pro-life part of the population is people under thirty.

Why, then, a curious person might ask, has that widely shared sentiment not tempered the extremism of American abortion law? In part it's probably because the Supreme Court has left so little room for expression of popular will through legislation. In part it's probably because so much confusion exists about what the law really says. But there may be other, deeper reasons. With almost a million-and-a-half abortions a year for thirty years, we have become a society where nearly everyone has been touched by abortion, if not personally, then through friends and family members. When we speak about abortion today, we are speaking to women who have had abortions; to men who have asked women to have abortions; to young people who have lost brothers and sisters to abortion; and to the mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors of those women and men. That knowledge often leaves us tongue-tied, at a loss for words, for what to say and how to say it."

Prof. Glendon is right that nearly everyone has been touched by abortion. She is right that this knowledge often leaves us tongue-tied.

She implies that this occurs because we don't want to offer a general moral judgment when that judgment applies to a relative or friend; someone whose table we share from time to time (maybe every night), watch football with--someone whose company we often enjoy and someone we may admire in other respects.

Is that really why our tongues are tied within our circle of family and friends? It is surely part of the answer. But over and above that, people hesitate to make moral pronouncements about abortion because they may also feel responsible for abortions that occurred. There's an ill-defined guilt that many people feel around this subject...they wonder if they could have, should have, done more to be part of a family that made it possible for those kids to be welcomed.

You wouldn't want to go to your cousin and say, "Hey, remember that abortion you got in college? How ya doing with that?" Perhaps she would welcome this expression of concern, or perhaps she would view the question as an insensitive affront, either because it brings up unpleasant memories or vaguely implies that she ought to feel bad.

It's a bind.

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