President Clinton caught an awful lot of flak in the '90s for his summation that abortion in America should be "safe, legal, and rare." I was in high school at the time, and I liked
the phrase. I liked it so much I took to repeating it in debates with friends. It's taken me many moons to realize why it needed criticism.
The first two conditions are interconnected, at least as far as conventional wisdom goes. Without legal
protection, abortion would happen anyway, the theory goes, but in back alleys with coat hangers or car antennaes. Hence, "legal" means
"safe." For the most part, I can accept this as true, if not in a literal sense. (Basically, I believe it much more likely that illegal abortions of days past were performed by rogue doctors rather than back alley wire encounters.)
But "rare?" How does one go about forming public policy to ensure that abortion in America remains a rare
phenomenom after you've made it legal
? Answer: You can't. Not with government meddling. The only power I know of that ensures rarity is the societal force of stigma
. America currently has a kind of invisible stain
with which we paint abortionists and women who've had abortions. Not every country has this. Read this item
in the Wall Street Journal's opinion page, for example:
Like most Soviet-era fetuses conceived in Russia by couples who were already parents, I was scheduled for abortion as a matter of course. In a society where abortion was the only form of birth control, it wasn't uncommon to meet women who had double-digit abortion counts. Often a couple would schedule the appointment before they even stopped to remember that they wanted a second child.
Seconded by Karol Sheinin
Julia and I are both from the former Soviet Union and I've written before about the general acceptability of abortion in Russian culture. I blame the lack of stigma for the astounding fact that Russia has more abortions than live births.
I know of no reasonable American who doesn't agree with this statement: "It is better to die of old age having never aborted a child." And while I am not an anti-abortion absolutist under any stretch of the imagination (I can think of a thousand tragic scenarios in which circumstances dictate an abortion be performed) to call me pro-choice is only half
right. I am
pro-choice... but I'm also pro-stigma
. I see no other way to keep abortion safe, legal, and, most importantly, rare