For pro-choicers: Is there anything "tragic" about an abortion?

Back in December I asked pro-lifers to justify the rape/incest exception to the abortion issue (Justify the rape/incest exception for the abortion issue ). Now I would like to examine the “flip side” of that issue.

I was recently reminded of a comment that Hillary Clinton made in a speech in Albany back in January, 2005 in which she said 'We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women."

I don’t mean to pick on Hillary Clinton, since I hear comments like this all the time. Hers was just more citable.

It seems to me that most people’s position on the abortion debate is determined to a large degree with their position on when human life begins. If you believe that life begins at conception, then you are most likely pro-life, otherwise you are most likely pro-choice. (I realize this is grossly over simplifying things especially when it comes to the debate over late term abortions, still…)

So here is the question/debate. If you believe that a three week old fetus is *not *a human being yet but something more like a mass of cells, then why would you (or anyone who thinks that way) see aborting it as a “tragedy”? If you do, in fact, see it as a tragedy then aren’t you actually thinking of the fetus as a human or something darn close to it? If that’s what’s going on inside your head, then how can you justify abortion?

Because it seems to me that the risk and unpleasantness of many/most abortions constitute an avoidable consequence.

I suspect that many abortions are the result of not using reliable birth control. (No doubt there are many anecdotes to the contrary.) It is a “tragedy” to the extent that a condom would have been easier, cheaper, and less traumatic.

Is that what you mean?


El Zagna,

I am very interested in seeing the responses to your question, and I hope you won’t consider it a hijack if I add a similar question that has been on my mind since the early 90’s. Back then, I heard a prominent politician (I think it was Bill Clinton, but I’m not sure) express the desire that abortion be “safe, affordable and rare.” My question is “why rare?” I’m not asking this from an argumentative position, just curiousity.

It is also, of course, more politic to say “O tragic, tragic…but unavoidable!” than “Fry that puppy!” And, particularly if you’re trying to convince people on the fence over to your side, speaking in such a manner is more effective.


“Tragic” is a little strong, but I think it’s sad.

Incidentally, I’m in the “safe, accessible, affordable, and rare” camp.

I view abortion as an invasive, serious procedure, and an unfortunate one. It’s the result of something going wrong. A lack (or failure) of planning and preparation. A rape. An unhealthy fetus.

An unwanted pregnancy is a difficult thing emotionally and physically, and to undergo surgery to change that state is an additional burden.

It’s also sad in the sense that it’s such a waste–so many women would be overjoyed to be pregnant, and yet that pregnancy happened to someone else, a someone else who wasn’t happy about it and wasn’t ready, willing, or able to continue that state. I’m sorry the pregnancy didn’t happen at a better stage in life, or to an entirely different person.

I think that as much as people love repeating the “mass of cells” and “it’s not human life” talking points over and over again, real people realize that an abortion is substantially more. No honest person truly believes that a fetus is just a mass of cells. In fact, despite the talking points, most people realize that an abortion is actually ending a human life. For a mother that has to go through with one, it could mean a lifetime of remorse. It’s not as simple, emotionally, as having a benign growth or tattoo removed. Hillary and Bill, being the good politicians that they are, subtly communicate this point without pissing off a large portion of their voting base.

IMO it is a tregedy because (at the very least, and by pro-choice definitions) it is the termination of the potential human life. It is (should be) a tragedy in that the potential mother must now make a difficult decision, possibly one that will effect her for life.

Cranky: Agreed.

More detailed views than maybe you want in this thread:

Personally, I am pro-choice and anti-abortion. I don’t feel that I have a right to impose my will on a strange woman (and, yes, I know this means imposing her will on a strange fetus, but I feel that is the lesser of two evils), but all things being equal, I would rather her carry the fetus to term and place same in adoption. Yeah, I know this probably doesn’t make sense. I’m not trying to start a new thread, I just thought I’d qualify my views.

I’m not a real person? :dubious:

I know this is a debate with heated emotions on both sides, but I’m sure I exist. :rolleyes:

I went through years of infertility. The loss of potential life is, to many infertile couples, as tragic as any miscarriage. (Personally, I think people who mourn each “ovum” are a little over the deep end, but infertility is certainly tragic to a lot of people).

Its tragic to have to make any choice regarding an unwanted pregnancy. As an adoptive parent, its tragic that my son’s birthmother felt the need to reliquish her son. As a relative of a woman who chose to parent before she would have chosen, its a tragedy that my cousin has given up so much (and, of course, received much as well). Its tragic when a woman aborts. She may not want this child now, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t grieve for the potential. It doesn’t mean she may not regret the choice - even while admitting it was the best choice for the moment. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t lie in bed and think “if things were different, if my boyfriend was ready for a commitment,” “if I was in my senior year instead of my sophmore year,” “if the amneocentisis hadn’t said Down’s Syndrome,” “if we weren’t already financially stressed and unable to handle another child,” “if I had the courage for adoption.”

I’ve met a lot of women who have had abortions. The majority feel it was a life changing event they would have rather not gone through. That’s why rare. In some ways, abortion is like divorce. Sometimes necessary, but no one does it for the fun of it. I’m divorced, but I would love it if divorce were much rarer than it is - it was a painful, difficult process that I’m glad I did, and I hope no one goes through unnecessarily. I’m pro-choice, but it would be great if abortion were rare.

I think it’s tragic that something that should be between a woman, her doctor, and where appropriate her family/minister/whomever, has been so sordidly politicized by religious zealots.

Because, in my perfect world, there would be no rape or incest, no unwanted pregnancies, and no birth defects; therefore, abortion would not be needed. If we make progress toward that ideal situation, abortion will become less common.

I think all unwanted pregnancies or fetuses that turn out to have birth defects are tragic, no matter what the outcome. Abortion is sometimes the least bad option of several bad choices in such a situation.

Your second sentence in your first post shows that you too realize that an abortion is much more than simply removing a mass of cells. So, yeah, you’re a real person.

To a currently pregnant woman, the death of the life inside of her may range anywhere from tragic to a blessed relief. It may occupy any point in that range even for women who have decided that abortion is necessary in this case.

It’s a life and death decision. And hers to make. It’s certainly not always, or intrinsically tragic.

I know some women who say that the concerns of pro-life people have made a difference in how they feel about it. That getting an abortion would upset so many people who feel so strongly about it. That if so many people feel that way, they’d like to see abortions become less necessary. Better, more reliable birth control and sex education and so forth.

(To be sure, I know more women who say that the pushy involvement of pro-life people in what they regard as their personal lives and their personal decision mostly just pisses them off and that they really don’t care what those people think, etc.)

“Tragic” in the sense that pro-life folks see abortion as “tragic”, i.e., that it is universally horrid and sinful to kill life? As in, “the moment spermatozoa fuses with ova, zip zingo, you’ve got a capital-P Person and you’re committing murder”, etc etc? No. It is life, it is human, it isn’t all that yet, and it’s no more of a tragedy than the death and bodily reabsorbtion of zillions of currently-viable sperm in some guy’s tubules. No more of a tragedy than when a woman has her period.

What makes it tragic, when it is tragic, is if there are hopes, dreams, an emotional sense of the “what-could’ve-been” that, perhaps, includes a family relationship with the father (or someone else for that matter). The woman who would like to be a mother and raise a kid with this guy (if only he were not descending into alcoholism and abusiveness and therefore not a person with whom she can partner) may experience the abortion she chooses as tragic. The childless middle-aged couple that always wanted a kid (if only we were a little younger and she didn’t have diabetes) may experience the abortion they deem necessary as tragic. The 16 year old girl who thought she was truly in love and it was going to be like a fairy tale (but I didn’t want a baby now and I never thought he’d just run off on me and no I am not going to be a teenaged mom, not happening) may experience it all as tragic.

The pro-choice movement should never have sold it as some kind of consumer-level casual shopping experience. The Kleenex perspective, I call it. No issue, just tissue, blow your nose and throw it away in the Handi-Dandy disposal chute.

The real point is that it’s a major decision. The making of a major decision necessarily involves the possession of power. Women own that power. It’s nature’s way of making up for PMS and red leaky stains on white shorts and urinary tract infections and stretch marks and rotten teeth from developing babies stealing all your calcium. Or, if that’s too cavalier for you: there exists no other authority better ethically positioned, with more total at stake, and therefore less instrusively installed as the decision-maker, than the pregnant person herself.

If she says this life living inside of her is special and needs to be protected and nurtured, we…respect that and we expect that, even as we stand in awe of it, do we not? Exceptions to every rule exist, but mostly even when no one else will see the value of a baby yet to even be born, if you need to guess who will give a damn, guess that it’s gonna be her. So if and when she says “nope, not happening”, stand back and respect that, or you denigrate every woman’s making of the more conventional, expected choice and you reduce females to incubators. And that is a sin.

In the life-and-death decision that Woman makes is beauty (sometimes), tragedy (sometimes), joy (sometimes), and always a certain human gravity.

Being pro-choice is about the difference between saying to women “Wow, this is what you can do” instead of “this is all you are”.

may be women who make the decision to terminate a pregnancy in haste, and without much thought, or regret, but this certainly does not apply to the women I know who have made the decision.

To the women I know who have contemplated abortion, it has been one of the most difficult decisions they’ve ever made. It is for this reason that I too wish it to be “safe, accessible, affordable, and rare.” I consider my self to be anti-abortion, but pro -choice. I don’t want any to *have * to have an abortion, but for those who decide it’s the right thing to do, I want them to be able to have that choice.

On preview…what **AHunter3 ** said

Well, I really do think abortion is a horrible thing. I could never, ever do it. Ever. But, I know there are people who can and they have the right to choose that. We all have varying opinions on whether or not it is murder. I don’t really think it is, but I know I couldn’t live with the decision if I had to do it myself.

Does that make any sense?


I had a great prof in college who (in/at an apropriate place/time) one day said some thing like:

Not to start a debate, not to take sides, and certainly not to trivialize, but if you think about it, the abortion debate is the biggest, most emotionally-heated, political semantics problem in history. If you define life one way you believe X, if the other, you believe Y. Regardless of how you feel about the opposite side, it is their definition that makes their actions reasonable (to them).
I think this says something about humans in general, and how we perceive the world.


To me, it’s tragic if the woman believes it’s tragic.

It’s about as tragic as a 12 year-old burglar getting blown away by a home-owner. The circumstances that brought the kid into this circumstance may be regrettable and probably avoidable, but the home-owner’s right to perform the defensive act is still justified.

IMO, an abortion is no more tragic than flushing a used Trojan. It might be shame that one would have to go through the procedure instead of using a condom (time and money), but not tragic.

I think it’s tragic that a woman has to be in a situation where she needs an abortion to terminate a pregnancy she doesn’t want/can’t have. But the morality of the choice is between her and her family, not meddling busybodies.