I want to respond to part of what Kavita said: “Finally, the women’s movement needs to show the political will and courage to refuse to cede the moral high ground by showing itself able and willing to speak to the moral ambiguities around the issue of abortion.” This is so important, but it has proved incredibly tricky, because if we paint abortion as a “tragedy,” a la Hillary Clinton several months ago, we buttress the anti-abortion movement in its creation of “post-abortion syndrome” as something women need to be protected from.
This is one of those areas where I really wish we could bring the international to bear more on the domestic debate. I want to scream every time some pundit, in contemplating her own ambivalence about choice, relegates back-alley abortion to the realm of ancient history. I wish politicians would say, loudly and repeatedly, that if you look around the world, there is no connection between abortion’s legality and its incidence. I wish the staggering toll of unsafe abortion in the developing world was part of the conversation. Outside the world of public health and the global women’s movement, very, very few people know that, for example, there are countries in East Africa where botched abortions are responsible for a third of maternal deaths. I don’t even know how many people realize that the lowest abortion rate in the world is in the Netherlands.
Ross Douthat, an up-and-coming young conservative thinker, has sketched an utterly fantastical vision of what he sees a post-Roe America looking like. It’s maddening for all kinds of reasons, but mostly for its utter ignorance of what’s happening in countries where abortion is illegal. (Hint: the truth doesn’t bear out his “assumption” that “a ban on abortion, by changing the incentives of sexual behavior and family formation, would actually end up reducing out-of-wedlock births, welfare spending, and all the rest of it.”) Obviously we’re never going to convince people like him, but I think if there was some kind of basic knowledge of how this issue plays out in other countries, it could possibly change some of the faulty assumptions underlying the abortion debate here, and help people understand the connection between pro-choice policies and fewer abortions.