Letter: "On Abortion/Atheism"
In response to the Katha Pollitt article I posted below, Philip writes:
I disagree that trying to infuse a moral grey-zone into the abortion issue is somehow wrong. Trying to narrow the topic of abortion down to a litmus test of government power over individual rights simplifies the issue too much. Few things in this world are purely good or bad, yes or no.
I am opposed to the practice of abortion; even if it is not murder of a life, it is undeniably a denial of potential. But I have no desire to see Roe vs. Wade overturned by the Supreme Court or even in a public election. It is a necessary evil, allowing women intent on having abortions to see qualified doctors in properly equipped facilities. Making abortion illegal will not put an end to the practice, I fully acknowledge that, and so the deciding factor for me is whether or not the life of the mother-not-to-be should be endangered along with the fetus.
I will not support anybody's decision to have an abortion, but I will not try to prevent them from following up on that decision. It is their life.
I think the best thing to work towards, no matter how unlikely, is a world where abortions are not necessary. Zero abortions. Even if there never will be a world like that (which I expect to be true), at least we should still be working to educate teens about sexuality and sexual awareness, to make people accepting of discussing sex/birth control in reasoned debate, to provide proper medical care to people that cannot afford it themselves. A lot of this involves issues of health care, education, and other social issues as well. Abortion is not some island-issue, unrelated to everything else.
And (maybe I am opening myself up here for a verbal lashing, but what the hell), is it too difficult to just expect women to abstain from sex around the time that their period may be coming? It is my understanding that the menstruation cycle is normal (every four weeks or so), not random. So would it be that hard to just go a couple days each month without? I mean, if women want to say that abortion is their issue alone, is it not their responsbility to avoid unwanted pregnancy to begin with?
Feel free to chew me out for that.
And just a question (if you're still reading): when you say you are an atheist, do you mean that you are completely closed to the idea of there being anything beyond what can be experienced by your senses?
I think I've made my views clear elsewhere that I totally disagree--like Katha, I of course want comprehensive sex education and easily available contraception, but I also think abortion needs to be safe, legal, and neither dangerous nor stigmatized. Aiming for zero abortions is just not possible. There is no perfect contraceptive method, and I think you're somewhat confused if you think that women abstaining from sex around the time of ovulation (which is NOT the same time as the period, that's generally one of the LEAST fertile times--see explanation here from Planned Parenthood) in addition to the use of condoms or pills should be expected or would ever be practical in any way. This totally puts the burden on women, and that I somehow doubt either women or male partners would be all that enthusiastic.
It's about as practical as abstinence education in general, which is to say, not at all. It involves a ridiculous amount of mathematics and calculations and basal thermometer use and requires a serious amount of time and commitment that just isn't warranted by the addition protection it might provide. And guess what? It's still not reliable. Far better to make sure every woman has easy over-the-counter access to emergency contraception.
As for saying that birth control is women's responsibility alone, it takes two to have sex, sir. Obviously women generally bear the burden of birth control methods such as the Pill or shots or IUDs or diaphragms, but that doesn't mean a male partner shouldn't help buy condoms or help pay for those other methods.
And regarding the atheism thing, when I say I'm an atheist I mean just what it says in the dictionary--I don't personally believe in God (though maybe I contradict myself, since I love the Jewish holidays and say prayers with my family at Passover and Chanukah and the like, but hey, life is full of contradictions). Now, scientifically speaking, I'm sure there could be something out there I can't detect with my senses, but since my senses are all I've got, I'm not likely to notice if I bump into it.
Really, it's more an absence of strong personal faith than anything, but I like to think I am respectful of other people's religious beliefs. Part of what really bothers me is that most religions are mutually contradictory--each is the "right one", and if you believe in one, everyone else's beliefs are wrong. So I'd really rather not get involved in all that. I've been told by many people that this actually makes me agnostic rather than atheist, but I like the word atheist better.
If you want to get into an argument with someone who will strongly argue against faith in general and who is a much more committed atheist than I, Matt Bors is your man.