The national debate raised by the admitted pregnancy of sixteen-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears has yet again opened a national discussion on teen pregnancy and abortion. Ms. Spears, much to the delight of Focus on the Family and other conservative groups, has chosen to keep the child. I can't help thinking about what hollow victories we claim in this debate. The decision Spears made does not disguise the fact getting pregnant at such a young age is a product of irresponsibility and of making poor choices. Had she instead chosen to terminate her pregnancy, Planned Parenthood or a related group might consider refraining from sounding joyous. Another young teenage girl knocked up should not be a cause for celebration.
Due to Jamie Lynn's relative youth, commentators of all stripes have largely given her the benefit of the doubt, instead focusing more of the blame onto her mother or lifting this up as an example of the failings of abstinence-only education. I do not disagree, as certainly these are valid points. However, I would be far more willing to cut Ms. Spears a break if she wasn't wealthy beyond belief and privileged beyond the scope of most Americans. The girl from a working class or impoverished family who ends up pregnant is far more likely to simply not know any better or to have an utterly insufficient role model for a parent. Wealth does not always correlate to knowledge but it certainly makes it a great deal easier to obtain. Neither does wealth correlate to good parenting, but it certainly makes it more difficult to excuse.
Some have taken this a step further and decided to make this into yet another opportunity to have a widespread dialogue on abortion. Perhaps we need to evaluate where we stand on this every now and again, but I have to say I regret it when little more than celebrity gossip is the impetus. But while we're at it, I have a few words to say on the matter.
We on the left often justify our position by taking great pains to separate fetus from child. My personal beliefs reflect this line of thinking as well. Through manipulation of language, we soften the impact. Fetuses are terminated, not killed. The movement's chosen nomenclature is "Pro-Choice", an emphasis made to switch the focus onto the decision rather than the nature of what it entails.
The reality is that hormones and body chemistry create a strong bond between mother and child, even fetus and child. Abortion, although often the only viable alternative, is a brutal, painful procedure. This ought not to limit its scope, but rather we ought to refuse to present any false pretenses to a woman in the awful situation of deciding whether or not she ought to terminate her pregnancy. It's no easy choice and so long as abortion is an option on the table we should respect the inevitable decision made by any woman, even if we may not agree with it. I see abortion as a necessary evil but as such it must always remain available.
In this instance, I'm reminded of a poem that powerfully discusses the sort of ambivalent desperation and utter agony involved in making a decision like this.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Those of us who are pro-choice need to use care to not transform a woman's right to choose into a kind of arid, sterile argument that doesn't take into account the biological reality. The traditional feminist viewpoint which states that terminating a pregnancy destroys only a group of congregated cells and not a baby does not take into account that the cellular life inside a womb is just that--life. Lest we come across as cold and inhumane, we must not concede the facts of the matter to the pro-life crowd. Doing so provides them with additional ammunition and gives rise to accusations of "baby-killer" or worse. The three oft-cited precepts are still applicable: safe, legal, and rare.