Are all choices equal? Does it matter?

There’s a fascinating article in Elle from July, in which Bettina Paige recounts her decision to undergo a “selective reduction” when she found out she was carrying twins after going through fertility treatment.  She already had a toddler, felt the family couldn’t afford to take care of two new babies, and her husband was strongly opposed to twins.  So she chose to have one of the fetuses terminated, and then she chose to tell her story publicly– a brave choice, I think, considering the judgment she would inevitably encounter.

On DoubleX yesterday, KJ Dell’Antonia described her own reaction to the story: while she’s fervently in favor of the right to choose in all circumstances, she also felt pretty strongly that Paige’s choice was the wrong one.

This comes after, earlier in the summer, the Times of London published a story about a supposed (and supposedly troublesome) trend toward women aborting after conceiving through IVF.  Even some pro-choicers seemed to think this was a problematic situation.  As Dell’Antonia puts it, “having taken the action to create those two potential infants, I think your moral and ethical obligations toward even their hypothetical lives should loom larger than your similarly hypothetical fears for your own short-term well-being.”

All this gets to what I think is the core of the abortion debate.  It’s impossible to withhold judgment in all cases, and there are plenty of abortion scenarios that most people would find unpalatable (choosing to abort based on the race or sex of the baby is an obvious example).  But the point of being pro-choice is that our judgment shouldn’t stand in place of the woman’s.  Regardless of what we would do in a similar circumstance, we support women’s autonomy and privacy and trust that women make the best decisions they can for themselves.

Dell’Antonia makes a distinction between her own moral judgment and the question of legality: she thinks Paige was wrong to abort, but she also thinks it should be legal for her and all others to do so.  I agree, and I’d add that this is why restrictions on abortion are such a slippery slope.  It’s easy to claim moral high ground and say you oppose “abortion on demand” but the truth is that abortion is a tough choice in all cases, and it shouldn’t be up to us to determine what constitutes a morally defensible choice.

I worry that even the pro-choice side tends to talk up “good abortions”– those when the woman’s health is threatened or where there’s a serious fetal anomaly– in order to drum up sympathy in opposition to new restrictions.  But that implies that choosing abortion for other reasons is less okay, less deserving of sympathy or protection.  Those of us who support choice need to be vocal in our support for ALL women who choose abortion, even if they do so under circumstances and for reasons that we personally disagree with.


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