Linda Hirshman has her conflicts with feminists of all stripes, all the time. But I think we can all give her a fist pump for this great essay on the moral argument for abortion.
In the absence of a robust description of the value of women’s lives—their ability to develop their capacities through education, to use them to achieve economic independence and political citizenship, to take on only the relationships they can manage—there is no moral argument for their “choice” to have an abortion. Set against the sound of nothing, the smallest moral claim of the potential human life looms large. Such an immoral act, moral thinkers conclude, must always be a mistake, the product of incomplete information or logic, and, in time, must produce regret, depression, and loss of self-esteem.
The wrong question will always lead to the wrong answer. Not coincidentally, the founding text of the Post-Abortion Syndrome movement is called “Making Abortion Rare.” The Democratic platform of 2008 offers an opportunity to put an end to this self-destructive cycle of Safe, Legal, and Rare, otherwise known as regret, depression, and self-denigration. In its place, it can finally argue for the value of women’s lives. Above rubies sounds about right to me.
Why is it so hard to argue that women’s lives are valuable in just this way? I can’t help but think a lot of people who are out there swinging on reproductive rights find ourselves fearful of making impassioned arguments about the value of women’s lives, our relationships, our careers, our happiness, our contributions to society (outside of making babies). It’s plain old sexism—most feminist activists and writers are women, and women know that the sort of assertive belief in your own self worth that is the birthright of many men is considered selfish of us, enough to make us braggarts. To say the right not just to abortion but contraception is important because I need it to be the full person that I can be, and I am a person of value is to cause palpitations of anxiety, and probably guffaws of contempt from the right. But I think by starting from that place of assurance that our own lives are valuable, it’s the best place to make that moral argument. It’s why having daughters can be such a major influence on politicians’ views on these things—to have a daughter whose value is immediate and unquestionable to you clarifies why the rights of women who actually exist trump the mythical rights of those who don’t.