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How About Everyone Agree With Me Instead?


In light of the anniversary of Roe, you’ll be excited to know that William Saletan has an exciting idea for advancing the abortion debate. The solution is: everyone should just concede that William Saletan is right about everything!

To pro-choicers: Talk about abortion the way you’ve been talking about teen sex, embracing an ideal number of zero. To pro-lifers: Accept that the best way to advance toward zero is through voluntary prevention.

On the latter point, I suppose it would be nice if American “pro-lifers” were more concerned about protecting fetal life than regulating female sexuality, but alas you go to war with the reactionaries you have. While we wait for the forced pregnancy lobby to abandon criminalization and focus instead on contraception access and health care I’ll take a pony and an ice cream castle in the air. Saletan’s advice to pro-choicers, similarly, fails to explain how arguing that abortion is icky will help advance an argument for its legalization, and also fails to explain why people who don’t already should agree with Saletan’s moral intuitions.

In a new moralistic twist, however, pro-choicers are supposed not only to claim that the ideal number of abortions is zero, but that the ideal amount of teen sex is zero! The former is at least narrowly true; I guess it would be nice if the number of abortions was zero in the sense that it would be nice if the number of appendectomies was zero. But in the real world unwanted pregnancies will happen just as burst appendixes will happen, so talking about an ideal abortion rate of 0% can do nothing except undermine the case for keeping it safe and legal. Why I’m supposed to be outraged that 17 year-olds are having sex, on the other hand, is beyond me, and Saletan doesn’t help by providing, say, an argument for this position apart from citing Nancy Keenan’s unfounded assertions. I might agree that the ideal rate of teen pregnancy — and, for that matter, unwanted pregnancy — is zero, and while we’re at it I’ll take three ponies and the next four winning Powerball tickets.

For bonus wankery, Saletan praises what was perhaps last year’s most disingenuous argument for forced pregnancy:

Last year, in a New York Times op-ed, journalist Melinda Henneberger (now a Slate contributor) argued that public sentiment against abortion was hurting Democrats. “Most people differentiate between a fetus in the early weeks of development and at nearly full term,” she wrote, citing the party’s defense of partial-birth abortions.

It’s remarkably how much wrongness can be packed into so little space. First of all, “partial birth” abortions do no just occur “at nearly full term,” and in fact bans on the procedure proscribe even the ones that are preformed before viability, which is why pro-choicers who actually know what they’re talking about opposed the bans. Secondly, neither Saletan nor Henneberger have any argument for their claim a D&X is more morally problematic than a D&E performed at the same time of gestation, most likely because such a distinction is transparently irrational. And finally, neither Saletan nor Henneberger provide any evidence that being pro-choice causes a net loss of votes for the Democratic Party. But when you remember that Saletan actually argued that the Democratic Party’s position must be unpopular unless they win pretty much every single election — they’re all, apparently,referenda on abortion, even the ones held during wartime! — bare assertion is probably the better approach.

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  • brent

    You’ll never stop teenagers having sex though. But brent, “maybe there is some abstract conversation about general parental attitudes with regards to sex”? WTF? Yeah, just maybe there are conversations you should have with her about sex, and “I don’t care what you do”, which is the message you convey here, probably isn’t the best position for you to take when you do have them.
    I don’t know how anything that I said could be construed as not caring about my own child’s sexual conduct. Indeed, I am not sure how someone, even being incredibly uncharitable could read my remarks that way. It seems to me that I stated almost the exact opposite but whatever, I will clarify.
    The point I thought I was making is that my own or any parent’s attitudes towards their own child’s conduct are an entirely separate issue from how anyone ought to talk about sexual conduct of teenagers in general. We can have a very general discussion about how one ought to approach the issue of teenage sex with their own children but I would not be particularly interested in a conversation that takes as agiven that any teenager, regardless of circumstance, who is participating in sex is doing something fundamentally “wrong.”
    It seems to me that to start from the principle that the perfect amount of teenage sex ought to be zero is remarkably absurd and I frankly have no idea where Saletan is coming from with that.

  • lt

    Here’s an example of why saying ‘teenage sex is bad’ is not a good general principle to base policies on: When I was in high school, a fairly well-known writer came to lecture us about teh sex. He had us repeat, outloud, “girls give sex to get love; boys give love to get sex.” That boys are incapable of love and girls incapable of enjoying sex went without saying, I guess. We had a test on it- we had to repeat that verbatim, as if it were a fact. And this was before the hayday of absitenance.
    Which is anther way of saying that Brent, your perspective seems entirely reasonable and humane. Which is perhaps why it’s confusing to some, resonable and humane not often being the traits most often associated with the topic, alas.

  • lt

    Er, that should have been the hayday of abstinance-only education. The heyday of abstiance will, thankfully, probably never come

  • Schooner

    I probably fall into the icky crowd but I fully support education,birth control (free is fine with me) and the morning after pill. I don’t know that I’d want my daughter having sex when she reaches 17 but that’s a conversation my wife and I will have with her. If other parents think differently, that’s fine with me.
    Here is where it gets “icky” for me. I have a hard time reconciling hospitals going to great lengths to save a 25 week preemie while in another wing a 25 week fetus is being aborted.(Not counting for health reasons, mom’s health always comes first)
    For many, the difficulty is deciding when the cut-off should be and the advances in medicine have pushed that back alot farther than it used to be
    I suspect there are a great many who think the same, which is why I wouldn’t have a problem with limiting abortion to first trimester (again with health exceptions). Let’s face it, you know you’re pregnant pretty quickly. If you don’t want to have a baby get to the clinic (and medicaid should pay if you can’t afford it.)

  • Check our these abortion facts from the Guttmacher Institute:(http://www.guttmacher.org/media/presskits/2005/06/28/abortionoverview.html)
    Nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended; four in 10 of these end in abortion.
    About half of American women have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and at current rates more than one-third (35%) will have had an abortion by age 45.
    Overall unintended pregnancy rates have stagnated over the past decade, yet unintended pregnancy increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women.
    In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million abortions in 2000.
    Nine in 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
    A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions:
    56% of women having abortions are in their 20s;
    61% have one or more children;
    67% have never married;
    57% are economically disadvantaged;
    88% live in a metropolitan area; and
    78% report a religious affiliation.
    More than half of the women having abortions in this country are over age 20. I saw another reference that said 48 percent of all women having abortions are over age 25.
    Abortion……it’s not just for slutty 17-year-olds any more!
    This is also why Republicans bitch and moan about abortion but so far failed to go “nuclear”, i.e. overturn Roe v. Wade. Because they’ve seen this statistics and they know damn well that the push-back from banning abortions would be massive. It would mean the end of the Republican party for a helluva long time. (Which doesn’t mean they don’t have enough crazies who would do it anyways.

  • datadave

    Miscarriages are also “abortions” in medical lingo. Found that one out the hard way.
    Criminalizing voluntary abortion would entail overseeing that involuntary abortions are indeed “legal”, whereas many pregnancies naturally end in ‘abortion’ naturally. The ‘forced pregnancy’ fanatics would have to police every gynecologist in the land and frighten grieving would be mothers who had a loss of a wanted pregnancy. And the procedure of a physician in dealing with involuntary abortion is ‘D and C’.
    Will the abortion police be visiting every bed that a ‘d and c’ (dilation and curettage) is performed to make sure it is not done on a ‘viable’ fetus? Products of conception have to be removed after miscarriage similarly as done in abortions on demand. The whole farce and viciousness of the antiAbortion fanatics comes clearer when one thinks about their police methods.

  • janet

    Will the abortion police be visiting every bed that a ‘d and c’ (dilation and curettage) is performed to make sure it is not done on a ‘viable’ fetus? Products of conception have to be removed after miscarriage similarly as done in abortions on demand. The whole farce and viciousness of the antiAbortion fanatics comes clearer when one thinks about their police methods.
    Indeed. Before abortion was legalized, a woman who had a miscarriage — especially a young and/or unmarried woman — could expect to be treated as a criminal by hospital staff.
    My grandmother told me that her mother had two abortions — this would have been about 1920 or thereabouts. I wish I had asked my grandmother to tell me more about it before she died. And after I had an abortion, my aunt told me that she had one around 1962; she was married and had four children and thought that was enough.

  • Jake

    Didn’t we learn not to take anything Will Saletan says seriously after his first 8132 stupid arguments?

  • I’ve got to come back to point out that the argument that dr. zen advances that he just “knows” abortion is a wrenching decision for all women and therefore not like removing an appendix is a load of crap. Here’s some other “wrenching” decisions people have to make, sometimes–limb amputation, mastectomy, kidney donation, chemotherapy, electric shock, brain surgery to prevent epileptic fits (yeah, I’ve known people who had to decide to have their brains tinkered with)…sometimes you have to make difficult and painful choices for your own health or the h ealth of your family. Sometimes these are even against your religion’s notions of what is appropriate for your body–and yet people do it. Instead of trying to prevent them with false compassion for their “wrenching choices” we try to help them get through the difficulty and *go on with their lives.* The mass confusion between popular cultural attitudes about (someone else’s sex life) and real world attitudes about the privacy and significance of family creation is really somthing to see. Its actually kind of horrific, if you ask me. As the poster above pointed out 17 year old sex *is not the issue* but *all adult female lives* are.

  • Here is where it gets “icky” for me. I have a hard time reconciling hospitals going to great lengths to save a 25 week preemie while in another wing a 25 week fetus is being aborted.(Not counting for health reasons, mom’s health always comes first)
    As others have said, most late-term abortions are for medical reasons. That exception you carve out in your parenthetical is so big, it seems to eliminate the need for the rule.
    In the general topic of 17-year-olds having sex, I want to disagree with Karen. Many 17-year-olds are as ready as they’ll ever be, I think. I don’t know, maybe I’ll feel differently when I have kids of my own, but I’ve known a few people at 25 I might not consider “ready,” and several people who did seem able to handle a sexual relationship at 17. If 17-year-olds also don’t have a legal right to drink or whatever, I’m not sure the status quo is correct about it, but that’s a separate argument in any case. (But I also agree with aimai et al. that teen sex shouldn’t be a matter of public policy, so anyway…)

  • pbg

    It all comes down to magic.
    The earliest magic worked byhumans is women making new humans out of nothing. Lightning, winter, and the journey of the Sun could not compare to it.
    It was and is greeted with awe and fear by al–and resentment by men who could not do it.
    It was tremendously important that that magic be devalued–and so pregnancy had to be redefined as the creative act of the male god, and the woman , who didn’t even have a soul, had absolutely nothing to do with it: just aclay pot to wrk the male magic in.
    That’s why the woman can NEVER decide. That’s why, even in a compromise, the decision must always be managed by MEN referring to determinations of when God made His miracle. A woman deciding is the same as anarchy.

  • This is so weird, I could swear that there were tons of posts after mine and before cyrus’s?

  • Aren’t 18 and 19-year-olds teenagers? Does hating all teen sex mean that the vast majority of us adults have to hate ourselves for doing it, or put on a big phony show of regretting it? Because I won’t. My major regret over sex is that I didn’t start younger.

  • Cliffy

    Re: the public interest in (late) teen sex, while I agree with brent, aimai, et al. about the best social policy re: this issue (namely, it’s fine), I don’t think it’s quite as absurd that it **is** a matter of social policy as they do. After all, if it’s within society’s ambit to decide that 8-year-olds shouldn’t be having sex (which I think is perfectly legitimate), then it’s not outside the realm of rationality that society should have a public policy opinion on 17-yr-olds.

  • Mike

    Can we skip the disingenuous literal-mindedness? “Teen” in “teen sex” and “teen pregnancy” means “minor”, and does not refer to 18 and 19-year-olds.

  • Cliffy

    I was about to make the same comment, Mike, and I do tend to agree, but part of the point of this debate is that the other side is using the fuzziness of the word “teen” to conflate policies about young adults, people who are almost adults, and children.

  • Mike, what is the evidence that the “teen” in teen sex means minor teens and not teens up to twenty? IIRC the right wing is pushing abstinence only education on unmarried women of all ages if they can with faith based marriage counseling aimed at never married adult women in their twenties (and even thirties).
    Teens get married and have sex (its legal for kids as young as twelve to get married, still, in some states) and teens don’t get married and have sex. Its considered a problem by one part of the argument when it leads to abortion–which reminds me of the old joke about baptists that they are “against sex because it leads to dancing”–perhaps abortion is wrong but sex isn’t? Or perhaps sex is good and abortion is ok too? The point is one side of the debate pushes both these propositions (sex bad, teen sex worse, and abortion still worse) while the other side simply isn’t required to opt into it.

  • strategichamlet

    Can someone explain all this “emotionally prepared” business? What constitutes “emotional preparation”? Foreplay?
    I’m not sure I was totally “emotionally prepared” for sex my first time but I doubt spending a few more years not having sex would have done anything to prepare me for it. And I ended up a hell of a lot more “emotionally prepared” for the sex that came later.

  • MJ

    I’m usually a lurker…
    I had sex as a 17 year old. It was mutually pleasurable, emotionally satisfying, and within a monogamous relationship. It did not interfere with getting good grades, participating in extracurricular activities, or working a part time job to pay for my future college education. I did not get pregnant or contract any STIs. My relationships with my parents and my partner were not ruined, and I look back on those memories fondly.
    I do not believe that I am the exception that proves ‘the rule’. IIRC, many people start having sex before they’re in their twenties, the average age is less than 18, depending on the population you look at. Comprehensive sex ed (including information on navigating relationships) and affordable birth control would probably help teens be better prepared for sex. Treating sex as though it is something other than a mysterious activity, reserved for ‘wise’ adults and forbidden to everyone else would probably make it less appealing to teens.
    I’m still trying to figure out where the ’emotional baggage’ that was supposed to surround the sex I had when I was younger went. Do I get a matched set now: a little carry-on for the teen years and something more substantial for my twenties?
    By emotionally prepared- some people think that having sex changes a relationship. I’m of the opinion that if a couple can talk about birth control, the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy (heterosexist of me here, sorry), jealousy/possible breakups/cheating, STI testing, what they enjoy physically, and/or sleeping arrangements…then the relationship is probably solid enough to handle having sex. I doubt that sex harms a good relationship any more than it could make a bad relationship good.

  • Mike

    Mike, what is the evidence that the “teen” in teen sex means minor teens and not teens up to twenty? IIRC the right wing is pushing abstinence only education on unmarried women of all ages if they can with faith based marriage counseling aimed at never married adult women in their twenties (and even thirties).
    True, so “teen” (or any age distinction) is, for that discussion, irrelevant. In any other discussion, there’s no difference between 19 and 20, since both are full adults.

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