Yesterday at salon.com Cary Tennis, whom I usually love dearly, weighed in on a reader’s question about what to do with a pregnancy she wants – just not right now. Basically, she took Plan B but found herself in the 10% or so for whom it’s not effective. She’s happily married and wants to have kids, but yet.
Normally I’m inclined to think, whether it’s fair or not, that men don’t have much of a right to weigh in on abortion, unless to say that what a woman wants to do with her own body is her own business – but the reader did ask for his advice. After suggesting that she have the baby, he goes on to ask about the appropriateness of abortion to this situation:
Let us ask why this option of abortion even exists. Does it exist mainly for the purpose you are considering — to time the pregnancy? And if that were its main purpose, would it even be legal? Is it not legal because it provides much more fundamental freedoms?
To be fair, he then tempers these comments by saying, “That is not to say that it would not be philosophically correct that it be legal under any circumstances — as has been argued, a woman ought to control her own body.” But still. The damage is done, the issue of “abortion of convenience” has been raised – and that’s a variety of guilt that I imagine Tennis, being a man, doesn’t feel in the same visceral way a woman might. I hesitate to speculate about the feelings of the woman who wrote to Tennis, but it seems unfair that in asking for advice about the choice to undergo a safe and legal medical procedure, she’s instead subjected to moralizing advice about the proper use of this procedure. Moreover, he stops just short of suggesting that she is in fact betraying all those who work to make and keep abortion legal by considering its use in this “off-label” way – “So as you weigh these things, you may come to feel that the most appropriate use of abortion is the one whose gravity and urgency match the conditions under which the right is seen as most just.” Or you might decide to kill your baby because you’d rather fritter away a few more years before becoming a mother. You know, whatever.
Am I being unfair? My sense is that Tennis does his reader a grave disservice by responding to a question of his own asking – if abortion is equally legal in a certain set of situations, is it also equally morally acceptable? – rather than responding to her question. His question is an interesting one in another context, but not this one. Given the charged nature of the abortion debate and the guilt that women are so often made to feel, the implicit response – abortion is the selfish choice, not always, but here, for you in particular – seems damaging and cruel. And a large part of me still thinks that until someone can grow that man a womb, he needs to shut his mouth.