Question for the day: Can/should someone who is pro-reproductive rights/pro-choice say “there are too many abortions”?
Well, here’s an argument (from Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, the UK charity providing abortion and contraceptive care) that such a claim is incompatible with being truly pro-choice:
“There are many positive reasons why abortion numbers can increase – because women are more easily able to access the services they need, because more abortion care is funded by the NHS, and because more women now believe abortion is an acceptable option if they are faced with an unintended pregnancy.”If you are opposed to abortion in principle, these changes will be unwelcome, but if you believe that women should be able to make decisions about their reproductive future, then these are positive changes.”Of course its better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to end one in abortion. I’ve never met a woman in a BPAS abortion clinic who didn’t want to not be there. No woman aspires to have an abortion.”But abortion is not in itself the problem. The problem is the unwanted pregnancy and abortion can be the solution to that for many women. There’s no right or wrong number; we need as many abortions as are necessary to solve the problem pregnancies that women face.”
Everything Furedi says seems right. But if it’s true that it’s better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to have an abortion, and also true (as I’m sure Furedi would agree) that we could do a better job of preventing unwanted pregnancies through increased knowledge about and access to contraception, then it also seems true that there are too many abortions. Surely we’d be better off with fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions.
I think this apparent puzzle hinges on what possibilities we’re comparing with the real world when deciding whether “there are too many abortions” is true. Here are two options:
(1) To evaluate the truth of “There are too many abortions”, we should compare the actual world with one in which everything is the same but fewer women get abortions. If that world is better, then there are too many abortions. No pro-choice person should agree that there are too many abortions on this reading– because that would mean it would be better to have just as many unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions.
(2) To evaluate the truth of “There are too many abortions”, we should compare the actual world with all of the other options that include fewer abortions. If some of those are better, then “there are too many abortions” is true. Plenty of pro-choice people could agree with “there are too many abortions” on this reading. A world with fewer unwanted pregnancies due to better contraceptive access is better than the actual world, for example.
The problem is that when a pro-choice person says “there are too many abortions”, it’s far too easy to be misinterpreted, quoted out of context, and interpreted as wanting to restrict access to abortions. So can a pro-choice person agree that there are too many abortions? Yes, on the right understanding of the claim. Should they do so, strategically speaking? Maybe not, unless explain themselves very well, and they’re very confident that all their reasons will be properly quoted. With an ambiguity this big and important, one needs to be careful.