Saturday, 29 June 2013

Exercising Moral Tolerance for Women's Rights

Amid all the excitement over the abortion debates currently going on in the US, a tribute to a child born too soon was posted on the blogosphere.  Please note that this is not an easy post to read, and the photographs (posted after the story) might disturb you. The author went into preterm labour at 19 weeks and 3 days, which gave her son no chance at survival. Had she gone into labour 4 days later, she still would have lost her baby, but she would have received a very different level of treatment, all because of hospital policy.

While the author of the post, Lexi, is open that she is against abortion and that's why she shared her story, that's not what this is about for me. In philosophy, I am also pro-life, but politically I am pro-choice, and that is because I cannot, in all conscience, push my morals on another person when it can have such potentially devastating consequences for their lives. I have posted on this before, relating to IVF and our freedom of choice within that procedure.

I could not imagine choosing to abort a pregnancy after implantation.  But I also can't imagine enduring the physical, emotional and financial burden of pregnancy, when I have good reason not to do so and when my ethics don't conflict with ending it.  And so I am happy, eager, for abortions to remain legal, although I wish there was as much attention paid to ways of reducing unwanted pregnancies from ever occurring (including education of the male sex) and of providing physical, emotional and financial support to women who need it through pregnancy and beyond.

That said, I urge everybody who is clamouring that abortions are a women's rights issue to remember that women's rights go further than one law can uphold, and Lexi's story is a good example of that. Forcing a woman through pregnancy is infringing on her rights. Denying that her child was alive, and denying her the proper consolation is also infringing on her rights.

Everybody has different beliefs about when life begins. If you believe it begins at conception, you might need to grieve for a lost embryo during IVF.  A woman who has experienced joy after a positive pregnancy test will experience bereavement with a miscarriage, however brief her pregnancy may have been. Women who deliver a stillborn child or one that dies shortly after birth are encouraged to hold their baby's body and have pictures, handprints and footprints taken, so that they have mementos of their son or daughter's existence, something to mark them always as part of their family.

Denying any of these women (and their families) these options to grieve is inhumane. Impairing their medical care (and with respect to the linked blog, we obviously don't know the full details or the hospital's side in that case) is unforgivable.

I don't know if we can really pass enough laws to cover every aspect of pregnancy ethics. However, as people, and especially as an internet (where it is so easy to charge our statements with politics), we can strive to be more aware. It's not as simple as cheering for the politically correct option or damning those who argue against our beliefs. If you're pro-life, bear in mind that pro-choicers love their unborn children too. If you're pro-choice, remember that abortion isn't the only way in which wombs get regulated. Blindly mandating that life doesn't begin until birth/viability is also going to cause trauma and ethical issues.

No woman should be left waiting in an ER because the child in danger is not yet at 20 weeks gestation; no woman should feel that the child she carried, dreamed of and lost is not a person to be remembered.

In an ideal world, laws would give us the freedom to follow our own moral standards. That might not be possible in reality, but we have the power to exercise that moral tolerance on an individual level. Let's remember to do so.

1 comment:

  1. I think moral tolerance is absolutely something to strive for. I struggle with it. Like you, I have a hard time imagining having an abortion, but am pro choice. So many dimensions of the abortion debate make me fume--like the fact that some of the same people who oppose abortion also deny women access to sex ed and birth control--but ultimately, the worst part is the pain and misery of real, individual women and their families. How can we not be doing better as a society?