Saturday, 11 January 2014

UPDATED: Caitlin Moran: "I assure you that 40 million women a year don't have abortions recklessly"

The title of this post contains the strapline to Caitlin Moran's column in The Times Magazine for today. Caitlin's statistics are taken from a World Health Organisation publication Unsafe Abortion: Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2008. WHO, and Caitlin following WHO, suggest that some 20 million abortions worldwide fall in to the unsafe categorisation.

Two sections of Caitlin Moran's piece caught my attention.
The society we live in is shaped by abortion - how can it not be, with a third of women now having an abortion in their lifetime? That is a gigantic force in the way we live - it informs every aspect of our economy, industry and sexuality - but the merciful, positive, real aspects of it are never seen, or discussed. Squeamish and frightened, we only ever discuss abortion - it only ever makes headlines - when someone seeks to curtail safe, legal access to it.
Caitlin has, bless her, rather overstated just how much abortion informs our economy and industry - it certainly does not inform every aspect of economic and industrial life. But I do think she is right to identify that, though we rarely talk about it, abortion is now a part of the fabric of the life of our country. A factor in this situation is that the law of the land makes it legal for an abortion to take place in certain very-loosely-interpreted circumstances. This legal availability of abortion has a cultural impact, not just on the women and their partners who are most closely involved, but on all of us. Without legal availability, abortion would not be the (albeit largely silent) presence that it is in our culture.

The second part that caught my attention was this:
The simplicity of why women seek an abortion is devastating: they feel they cannot look after a child. Cannot. I assure any anti-abortionist that they may disregard the sneaking feeling that 40 million women a year have abortions recklessly ...
It is a long time now since I last spoke in public on the subject of abortion. I would still preface my remarks in the same way that I did then. Abortion is a very difficult subject to speak on, and particularly for a man. There will be people who read this post who have an experience of abortion, either directly themselves or because people they know have been involved in a decision for or against an abortion. Whilst not agreeing that an abortion is a morally right choice, I would nevertheless insist that I should respect the decisions made by others, and say that what I was saying was not a criticism or attack on the decisions made by others in the particular circumstances of their lives.

Now, whether one is a supporter or an opponent of legal availability of abortion, it does appear strongly to me that there is no one, single "narrative"  into which a decision for abortion fits; and it would not occur to me to characterise any such decision as "reckless". Each woman finds herself in a situation which is to a greater or lesser extent unique; it is their own situation. Caitlin's assertion of "the simplicity of why women seek an abortion" seems to me quite insensitive to the huge variety of different circumstances which can be present in a decision with regard to an abortion, and which are apparent in published materials and in my own experience. Both supporters and opponents of legal abortion can fail to see this, and yet it seems to me an essential part of the conversation about abortion now that experience of abortion in our society is common.

By all means one can make the case against abortion in public debate (and in evangelisation and catechesis if one is working in an ecclesial context). But if that case is made simply in the form of dogmatic proclamation, insensitive to the unique situation of the individual facing a decision about abortion, it will fail both in persuading and in the order of charity.

I do not agree with the sense of Caitlin's observation at the end of her piece that women will always have abortions, the question being one of whether or not they can access those abortions legally (which is the equivalent, for Caitlin, of safely). Where abortion is legal, a cultural openness to a decision in favour of an abortion merges over time into a cultural preference in favour of abortion, and this becomes part of the different narratives that women experience as they make decisions for or against an abortion. Inevitably, for some women, the legal availability of abortion means that they can experience a range of pressures in favour of such a choice that would not be there if abortion was not legal.

1 comment:

Joe said...

A comment received suggests that Caitlin Moran has spoken/written of having two abortions herself.