The remarkable comeback by leftist political parties in Latin America in recent years has been accompanied by moves to roll back the region’s abortion laws, widely considered some of the world’s most restrictive. Mexico City’s leftist-dominated legislature legalized first-trimester abortions earlier this year, while Chile’s socialist President, Michele Bachelet, allows government-run hospitals to dispense the “morning-after” emergency contraception pill.
Elsewhere, however, it might seem as if a paradox was being played out: Instead of benefiting from the advance of the left, pro-choice advocates appear to be facing more setbacks. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose Sandinista Front was once an icon of the hemispheric left, backed a 2006 law that outlaws all abortions, even where a doctor would recommend the procedure to save a mother’s life. In Venezuela â€” led by the self-styled commandante of “21st-century socialism,” President Hugo Chavez â€” efforts to decriminalize abortion have stalled. And, perhaps as early as this fall, Bolivia’s new constitution, which is being drafted largely by those aligned with Chavez’s ally, President Evo Morales, may well proclaim “the right to life from the moment of conception,” rendering all abortions illegal without exception. (Abortion in the case of rape or to save a mother’s
life has been legal in Bolivia since 1973.) Far from advancing abortion rights, “the goal right now,” says Paul Bustillos, political
director for Catholics For the Right to Choose (CDD) in Bolivia, “is just to maintain the status quo. . .
This article does a good of highlighting the lack of unanimity among the left (even the Socialist Left) on the issue of abortion, and I think illustrates well my own difficulty at arriving at a clear idea on what is the best answer to the issue of abortion.
There are enormous social, political economic and moral issues at play here, and think folks on the Left can arrive at different conclusions.
As I see it, I find the following propositions to be true on the issue of abortion . . .
1. My #1 guiding principle is that of valuing human life. Any ideology that devalues human life is flawed.
2. Women should have the right to control their own bodies and to be free to take control of their own destinies. Women have the right to the best information available so that they can make informed decisions. No decision is more sacred than the right ton control one’s own medical decisions.
3. The beginning of human life is a mystery. I think that a person becomes a “person” long before birth, but I’m not convinced that it becomes a “person” at conception either.
4. I believe that every human life is sacred and should be protected. No one should be seen as “disposable,” whether be poor, disabled, or not yet born.
5. I believe that any economic system that leaves mothers in poverty if they choose to not have an abortion is immoral. “Choice” within such an economic system is a fiction.
So where does that leave me… definitely not on the extreme of the pro-life side of the argument. I do not feel it is right to interfere in the most basic of decisions about one’s own body and autonomy, and I certainly don’t think a woman should be forced to have a child which is the result of rape or that might endanger her own life. I also think that a woman should not be doomed to a life of poverty if they choose to have a child, yet that is the reality for many women, both here and in other countries.
I also can’t embrace the extreme of the pro-choice side of the argument. I cannot embrace the idea that there are no ethical concerns over the question of abortion. No one except God knows when human life truly begins (in the sense of the existence of a soul and spirit), but I do know that at some point it does begin and at that point, a person’s life is at stake and should be protected.
I guess in the end this leave me with the view that early-term abortions should be rare, safe and legal, and that later-term
abortions should be illegal unless a mother’s health is in danger or in cases of rape. I know that this sounds rather mushy, but I think most Americans are in agreement with me, and that the extreme polarities of both camps is not an accurate way of seeing the issue. Is it possible to believe that a woman should have the right to an abortion, and yet believe that we as a society should do all we can to support her and encourage her if she chooses not to have an abortion?
As for the early-term versus late-term debate, I think there is a difference between the two forms of abortion (where you draw the line of course is a big mess but refusing to attempt to draw lines seems like a cop out) because there is genuine ambiguity over whether a human life has truly begun at the early stages, while I believe there is no ambiguity after a fetus has reached the point of viability (i.e. the child has a chance of being able to live outside its mother’s womb).
But back to the Latin American left issue . . . thus far the Left in Latin America is failing to act in any kind of intelligent way on
these issues. I hope that they will rethink the situation. I can’t help but believe that the best thing in Bolivia is to build up the economy and remove inequity so that all can make it (and so that women won’t feel they must get abortions), while at the same time legalizing abortion so that those women that still choose an abortion can do so safely. And I think this is frankly the answer in the rest of Latin America and the USA too. Address the economic and social issues behind abortion (lack of birth control, lack of financial resources, elevation of the status of women in society, etc.) and abortion rates will go down.
Ignoring the economic issues or outlawing abortion will only result in more abortions (and more suffering and poverty).