The Unattractive Truth About “Heart-wrenching Decisions”

A guest post at the League or Ordinary Gentlemen provides an interesting critique of pro-choice rhetoric from a doctor who is himself pro-choice:

[quoting a pro-choice advocate covering Obama’s Notre Dame address]

Good, I thought. It will be from the parent of the mentally retarded high school student who was gang raped, the doctor of an 11 year old incest victim, or possibly a woman with four kids already whose husband has just lost his job and medical benefits along with it.
Boy, was I wrong.”

The above desired examples of women (or girls) seeking abortion are precisely the kind of examples that do nothing whatsoever to further the purpose of honest debate about abortion in this country. Women (or girls) in such circumstances are chosen as examples because theirs are the stories most likely to evoke sympathy from most people (even if they do not sway the edicts of the Holy See). That Ms. Burk would cherry-pick them is not surprising, but nor does it speak to her desire to see abortion honestly discussed.

My trouble with her examples stems from my own experience as a doctor in New York City. For a few years, I worked in a clinic that provided free care to adolescents and young adults. I saw many, many young women who had become pregnant unintentionally. Many of them went on to deliver and parent their babies. Many opted to abort. (Before moving forward, I should clarify that our clinic did not provide abortions, but did serve as a point of referral.)

It would be so very much tidier to assert that the decisions were invariably hard for the young women in question. Indeed, both President Obama in his speech and Ms. Burk in her response describe abortion as a “heart-wrenching decision.” It would make things much easier to accept if abortion were not used by some as a form of contraception. If all women evinced signs of struggle or sorrow over the profundity of their decision, I would have had little cause to write at all.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

The facts of abortion occupy a muddy moral space. Do the examples Ms. Burk mentions exist in reality? Of course they do. But they do not tell anything like the entire story. The strident pro-choice left would have it that no women choose abortion blithely, and that all weigh it carefully. They would have us focus on the cases at the edges, where the circumstances are most extreme and least likely to cause dissent. They would have us ignore the difficult truth that for some, abortion is not a heart-wrenching decision.

Much of my experience would make for a harder rhetorical fight for the pro-choice side. Many of my patients, all of whom (by nature of being in the clinic in the first place) had access to free contraception, made the decision to abort with no apparent hesitation at all. The option was exercised by some several times. Adoption planning was chosen so infrequently as to have been all but eliminated from the conversation. While I would not like to create the impression that I would wish the young women in question to have been tormented by their decision, I was genuinely disheartened by how blithely it was made by many.

Did my experience harden me to the arguments for legalized abortion? No. I remain pro-choice, if ambivalently. The young women I saw, profoundly unready to be parents, are the ones most likely to die of illegal abortions if they are no longer sanctioned and safe. I cannot countenance that possibility. (Yes, it would be best if the pregnancies had been avoided in the first place. I also wish my asthmatic patients wouldn’t smoke. With freedom comes the disappointing fact of poor decision-making.) If I have to choose between legal abortion and back-alley abortion, I will choose the former with a heavy heart.

Obvioulsy, I don’t agree with this author’s conclusions, but I think this underlines a key dynamic of the abortion discussion as it takes place in this country: even most people who are pro-choice are morally uncomfortable with the realities of the majority of the abortions that happen in this country. The low cost and ready availability of abortion makes it an “easy out” as often as a “heart-wrenching” decision, yet political pro-choice advocates are committed (by the absolutism of their position) to defending both.

Somewhere in this must lie a way forward that could draw broad support.

8 Responses to The Unattractive Truth About “Heart-wrenching Decisions”

  1. Gerard E. says:

    Please- stop this Third Way stuff. Discussing compromise on these matters. Not. Going. To. Happen. The above physician lists very real issues that the pro-aborts in their Rhetorical and Suppositional Wonderland fail to address. As though it’s a Third Rail issue- along with Social Security. The fact that this physician any states some very harsh truths about a real-live medical office shows that he is moving, gently but firmly… the pro-life side. If Bernard Nathanson could repent and jump the fence, many more medical professionals may follow. We can anticipate mass migration just from the horrorshow that is Planned Parenthood. We are not Europe. Our collective consciences have not been completely numb. Watch and pray over the next two years. A regular prayer request in my daily Rosary is the reversion of public feminists such as Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. Time to add pro-abort medical pros to the list. Without them, no baby-killing.

  2. I wasn’t intending my brief remarks at the end to suggest some sort of “third way” policy, so much as to observe that since even many who consider themselves pro-choice are revolted by abortion as it often exists in this country (when they actually come face to face with the realities involved) we should as pro-lifers be able to achieve a great deal in the way of restricting abortion before we find ourselves pushing against the tide of public opinion.

  3. Gabriel Austin says:

    The doctor writes in a fantasy world. How many “back-alley” abortions has he come across? Or is he depending in the rhetoric of the abortion movement.

    I note the condescension of his “The young women I saw, profoundly unready to be parents”. So he will recommend a procedure which will affect them for the rest of their lives.

    I have ever found it particularly bizarre that a man would be “pro-choice”. It is like asking a man if he would vote for brothels. No skin off his nose.

  4. ron chandonia says:

    This doctor does not seem to recognize his own moral responsibility for his patients’ indifference to the destruction of human life. True, his clinic does not actually perform abortions, but it apparently dispenses contraceptives to sexually active young women, and it points them in the direction of the nearest clinic if they choose to abort. It thereby legitimizes recreational sex and treats the creation of new life as an undesirable side effect. In that way, it makes concrete for these young women the amoral theories expressed in the Roe and Casey decisions.

  5. Matt McDonald says:

    I think it’s important to note that MOST Americans believe abortion should be banned except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. This represents roughly 1% of the cases. So, if the political interests and activist judges would step aside for the democratic process, 99% of abortion could be banned.

    Now, that doesn’t mean we as pro-lifers would be willing to compromise, we would continue to fight until all abortion is banned, but Lord would it be a glorious day when 99% were. The graces that could flow from such a change would be enormous.

  6. M.Z. says:

    I think it’s important to note that MOST Americans believe abortion should be banned except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

    That isn’t the case.

  7. Matt says:

    Yes, in point of fact it is.

  8. Micha Elyi says:

    Well, Matt, the ones on the pro-obortion side act as if they believe most Americans believe abortion should be banned in all but rare, icky cases; why else would the pro-aborts distrust the voters so much and run to the courthouses for their abortion-on-demand legislation?

    I too have long been suspicious of all that rhetorical boilerplate about “heart-wrenching decisions” coming from pro-abortion politicians and activists. Such words don’t fit in with their efforts to make abortion acceptable and no big deal.

    As for those cases that supposedly make choosing life soooo hard, let’s ask the pro-aborts to identify just how many there really are and why abortion-on-demand should be the law of the land in order to deal with a miniscule number of tear-jerker cases.

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