Monday, July 18, 2011

Choices, Choices

Tablet Magazine has an interesting story up about abortion politics in Israel. Historically, abortion has not been the hot-button topic in Israel that it has been in the United States, but the issue is slowly rising in prominence, as conservative groups in the country argue that abortion conflicts with both classical and post-Holocaust Jewish mandates to bring more children into the world.

The story centers around Efrat, which appears to be a cross between a Crisis Pregnancy Center and what a Crisis Pregnancy Center would be if it wasn't purely evil. Like CPCs, Efrat is quite high on manipulative imagery and purported pleas from the fetus to "let me live". Though they purport to be about "education" and present themselves as pro-"choice", they are deeply tied to movements in Israel which seek to make abortion significantly more difficult to obtain.

On the other hand, Efrat's officially stated mission is in fact deeply tied to issues of "choice": it is "founded on the belief that no Jewish woman should have to abort a child because of money troubles." That, of course is quite true (and true of any woman) -- while I absolutely believe in a woman's right to choose, a women who would rather carry her child to term but feels compelled to abort because of financial insecurity should not be presented with that choice.* And Efrat does appear to put its money where its mouth is, providing needy mothers with cribs, strollers, baby food, diapers, and a cash stipend.

Of course, there is a question how much the tail is wagging the dog here. As noted, like American CPCs (which also sometimes provide similar financial assistance to pregnant mothers), Efrat appears to mostly operate as an adjunct to a broader anti-choice movement in Israel that is not about giving women choices, but rather about channeling them into their preferred outcomes. But that notwithstanding, it is undoubtedly true that the long-term goal of the pro-choice movement should be (and, as best as I can tell, is) to create a world in which every reproductive decision a woman makes is their first-best choice.

* I think a fundamental misunderstanding of the pro-choice movement promulgated by their opponents is that pro-choice woman are totally psyched about abortion -- because, you know, invasive surgical procedures are how kids these days cap off a night of clubbing. Nobody wants to have an abortion, in the sense that it is their first best choice -- something they dream about from the time they were a little girl. They'd rather that their contraception didn't fail, or that they were in position to access contraception in the first place, or that they weren't raped, or that the fetus didn't have health problems, or that they felt financially secure enough to carry their child to term. Abortion is often a welcome relief as an important second-choice option; a fall-back because the best-case scenario didn't happen. And thus, it is wrong to assert that abortion represents some sort of "tragedy"; though it can often be precipitated by one, abortion is no more tragic than surgery is (nobody wants to be in a situation where they need an operation, but if they do need one, it is far better that surgery be available to them). But by necessity, an abortion implies that something happened that one did not want to happen.

So in the case of a woman who would like a child, but does not feel financially secure enough to have one now, the first-best solution is to shift to a world where one's financial wherewithal does not materially impede one's ability to have and effectively raise children. In a world where that is not the case, however, the right to an abortion is an important fallback.


Mark said...

Your pro-choice footnote holds only in your parochial corner of the word ... in most of the world that choice is made because the child might be a girl. Which makes that choice an odd one for a putative feminist to support, eh?

David Schraub said...

It is indeed true that this blog does not typically focus on Maltese, Namibian, Malaysian, or Azerbaijani law and policy, instead focusing primarily on the US and Israel. Like 99.9% of all bloggers, I'm parochial like that.

Still, it may shock you to learn that the topic of sex-selective abortion in India indeed is often discussed in Feminist circles (including in the Feminist Philosophy course I took last term), and it is well-recognized as an important and difficult issue.

Of course, the first-best way of addressing it is to remedy misogynistic attitudes and social structures that render women less valuable than men (including those which only value women as baby-making machines).

PG said...


If you're actually familiar with sex-selective abortion, particularly that in India, you're of course aware that the women having abortions generally DON'T have a substantive choice in the matter. They are severely pressured by husbands and in-laws not to "burden" the family with a daughter, and they don't have the meaningful choice to leave the coercing husband/in-laws because of economic and social necessities. There are quite famous cases of better-educated women with more resources (families who will take them back in, ability to earn reasonable income on their own) who have opted to put these husbands and in-laws before the courts: sex-selective abortion is illegal in India.

I'd love to see conservatives getting excited about ending patriarchal norms as they are about erasing women's access to abortion, but then I suppose they'd scarce be conservatives anymore.