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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Not "what choice?" but "whose choice?" 

With all of the discussion now about abortion and whether US democrats should be for it or against it, I wanted to do a post about what 'pro-choice" actually means.
I think a lot of people have forgotten -- the basic question is "whose choice is it?" not "what choice should be made?"
In Canada after 1969 it wasn't illegal to HAVE an abortion; rather, it was illegal for a doctor to PERFORM an abortion outside a hospital, without permission of a committee of doctors. In other words, it was the doctors' choice whether an abortion procedure was permitted or not. In 1988, our Supreme Court found this abortion law unconstitutional because it violated women's civil rights.
Ever since, it has been the woman's choice whether to have an abortion or not. Here, as in the United States, the Christian Right can disagree with a woman's decision to have an abortion, but its her choice to have it, not theirs. Even countries which still outlaw abortion usually have a "life or health of the mother" exception, which again makes the question "whose choice" rather than "what choice".
And that is still the issue. The so-called abortion issue is not whether abortion is moral or immoral. The issue is whether a woman has the right to make HER OWN DECISION, based on her own morality, about having an abortion, or whether a committee of doctors makes the decision for her.
Now in the United States, people keep saying that an anti-abortion Supreme Court would someday "make abortion illegal" again. But the Supreme Court cannot do this -- it can overturn Roe V Wade only by waiting for a state to pass an anti-abortion law, then supporting that law when it is appealed to them. I think it is unlikely that even an anti-abortion Supreme Court would support a draconian state law which simply bans abortion completely, thereby denying life-saving medical care to a woman whose pregnancy is killing her -- the Christian Right wouldn't like it, but chances are no state legislature would be able to pass such a restrictive law anyway. More likely, the Supremes would overturn Roe V Wade by supporting a law that restricted abortions unless a committee of doctors thought abortion was necessary to protect the life and/or health of the mother, or when the pregnancy resulted from rape.
So once again, we would be back to the committee decision, back to the "whose choice is it?" issue. Women who decided to seek an abortion would again be in a situation where a committee of doctors would be making the choice for her, evaluating whether her case to have an abortion was good enough.
Planned Parenthood defines pro-choice this way: "To be pro-choice is to believe that a woman has the right to decide for herself when and whether to have a child. It means believing that a woman can make that decision on her own, based on her personal beliefs, health, and life-circumstances, without government interference."
I agree.

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