Matt Barnum’s article in favor of being an “anti-abortion extremist” (“The Upside of Being an Anti-Choice Extremist,” 1/30/07) argued that pro-lifers are more optimistic than those on the other side of the spectrum. To support this claim, he argues that a pro-lifer’s ideal law—one that “doesn’t trust women”—would only be rooted in the idea that not all of society’s members are trustworthy.
First of all, saying abortion should be made illegal because of a lack of trust is far from optimistic. Optimists think people are inherently good and do what’s best regardless of personal consequences. More importantly, a no-choice worldview is too rigorously black-and-white to be optimistic. (N.B. From here on, I’ll refer to pro-life as no-choice; I think the term pro-life is a misnomer because a pro-choicer can be personally pro-life too.)
Optimism allows for possibility, not simply fantasy. In the pro-choice view, a pregnant woman or girl has the chance to do “what’s best” given and despite varying circumstances. Under the no-choice view, every kept pregnancy stems from a moral imperative without due consideration of context.
Barnum says “even the ultimate optimist” wouldn’t trust women not to have abortions. The point is not to say women should be “trusted to not have abortions”—the point is that we need to trust women to decide what’s best for their bodies given the circumstances within their lives and surrounding the pregnancy, be they rape, incest, malfunctioning contraception, the wrong time and place, or the risk of serious health consequences. Does a ball of cells necessarily have priority over a grown adult when the woman’s life is at stake? A no-choicer would say yes. Any acknowledgment of gray areas and you’re definitively a pro-choicer.
If Barnum opened his mind beyond the impossibility of his ever becoming pregnant, perhaps he would remember the sacrifices it takes to carry and birth a child, let alone raise one. With this “optimistic” no-choice worldview, perhaps one can also be “optimistic” that either all unwillingly impregnated women will have the resources and means to care for children, or at least that most children at adoption agencies and foster facilities will be adopted into decent homes. He thinks that it will always work out for the best as long as the pregnancy is brought to term.
Granted, he says, “the optimistic [no-choice] position, on the other hand, admits that some children who otherwise would have been aborted are brought into very difficult lives,” but that does not logically justify the insertion of “optimistic” in that sentence. Nowhere in his article does he make the case for just why that adjective belongs there. He only shows that even no-choicers see the negative side of some pie-in-the-sky “moral duty” to keep all pregnancies. Barnum purports that the no-choicers have “the truth” on their side, but ignoring varying contexts surrounding different women’s pregnancies is not siding with the truth. Nor is it optimistic—the glass is only half full so long as a rule is stringently obeyed.
Since situations surrounding pregnancies vary, legislation cannot design guidelines that are acceptable for everyone. This is why only the woman can decide what exactly her situation is and requires. The Constitution—the supreme law of the land—supports a woman’s right to choose. The Ninth Amendment arguably implies a right to privacy, and having a baby is a personal matter. The Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut elaborated on this, establishing that the government needs to keep its nose out of the bedroom. The Eighth Amendment protects citizens against “cruel and unusual punishment”—forcing a woman against her will to have a baby can fall in this category. After all, who ever said having a baby was a simple, breezy process? The 14th Amendment states that “all persons born” are protected under the Constitution: Therefore, a fetus is not legally a person. Lastly, the First Amendment prevents establishment of a national religion. Thus, government cannot recognize one religion as being superior over others. While some religions side with a pro-life stance, this view cannot be imposed onto every citizen.
Finally, Barnum adds that it’s “not easy being [no-choice] on this campus,” but in an institution where nuance and intellectual rigor are emphasized over black-and-white moral worldviews, this should come as no surprise. In other words, in response to the fact that there are only five members of the no-choice group on campus, all I have to say is: duh. The same goes for the fact that, as Barnum puts it, no-choicers are “perpetually outmanned” on the Supreme Court: double duh. When it comes down to it, the pro-choice view allows for intellectual debate and, yes, optimism that individuals can decide what’s best in a given situation, whether or not it’s keeping the zygote. Being no-choice dictates from a proverbial high horse that the existence of a sperm-penetrated ovum must preside over all other considerations, bar none. Maybe you believe that, but if you do, you’re not optimistic—just delusional.