Saturday, October 18, 2008

When the Personal Is All Too Political

Thanks to the world credit markets going boom, abortion hasn't been central to this presidential campaign. Yet when it does come up, the lets-talk-about-real-stuff style of the race evaporates, and we're back in the land of pure slogan. For instance, McCain air quotes the phrase "health of a mother," and everyone instantly knows his opinion on a whole range of issues -- all from four words and a hand gesture. When this sort of telegraphing happens, you can be sure that whoever McCain had in mind while uttering those words, it wasn't a real woman or real babies. Because just as you won't compress a 1-megabyte image to 10 kilobytes without losing the essential picture, you cannot discuss abortion in bumper-sticker phrases without major degradation of the story.

So I'm saying up front that when candidates talk about abortion, I listen on the small scale. I think of myself, of my medical termination for trisomy 18, and of all that I went through almost three years ago. Then I try to relate whatever they said to me.

I'm having a really frustrating time this fall. A lot of extra stomach bile and swearing. Too much teeth grinding, too.

Just once, I want to hear a candidate -- any candidate -- acknowledge that not every abortion is for an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. Each year thousands of people terminate beloved, sought-after pregnancies for fatal or extremely serious problems. But since most people seem unable to imagine these sorts of problems until they touch their own life, the stories must be pointed out. They must be proven true, lest they be shrugged off as fictitious, or as an excuse for something else. (Hellooo, McCain, hellooo? I'm talking to YOU here, mister.)

I would also like anyone who utters the phrase "late term abortion" to immediately add, "of course, the vast majority of these are done for very serious medical problems I know nothing about, so I won't presume to try to moralize or legislate about that." Oh, and before anyone laughs at the idea of mental distress being a genuine reason for abortion, how about having them live through clinical depression for a day and then decide afterwards? (Hey, a woman can dream.)

And Palin -- I've got a huge list of disappointments and issues for Palin. But for starters, it would have been so nice to hear her say, "Regardless of my personal choice when it came to carrying my youngest son to term, I want women to know that I understand the anguish of receiving hard news after amniocentesis. A lot of women go through that, and it's just heart breaking."

Maybe that's slim common ground with Palin ... but it's something. And it would be the start of a genuine conversation that otherwise isn't happening today.


Mama Marathon said...

I feel that so much political energy has been wasted on trying to legislate the morality of rare situations that politicians and legislators simply don't understand either from a moral, medical, or personal perspective. All this focus on abortion being such a key issue has distracted our government from doing the kinds of things it is supposed to do - like regulate banking and lending so that we don't end up with a corrupt and bankrupt derivatives market.

I've always wondered how on earth there could never be a health of the mother clause. Even when the pregnancy is ectopic, unviable, and will cause fatal internal bleeding when not terminated? What is WRONG with these people? I don't ask my doctors to legislate, and I don't want my legislators making health care decisions for me.

And thank you for your comments about Palin. So often, children like her youngest son are held up as shining examples of why abortion is so wrong. I doubt that any parent receiving a serious prenatal diagnosis such as Down Syndrome greets the situation with serenity and joy, even if they are able to get to that place eventually.

Lori said...

If it helps at all, stories like yours have helped to open my eyes to the much larger picture of abortion. My understanding of this emotional issue is much broader than it used to be. It pains me to think how personal these discussions are for you. It reminds me a little of my own angst every time discussions turn to prematurity, viability, and the ethics of using/not using heroic measures. It just hits way too close to home and statistics just don't tell the whole story.

You know, in almost all instances, I prefer when I hear people who can acknowledge and give credence to both sides of an issue. That is of course lacking on virtually every issue that makes its way into the political arena.

I am a Monkey's Mama said...

Thank you for writing this. Truly. It scares the bejezus out of me to think that in less than four short years a woman's ability to have control over her own body could be at stake. My husband keeps joking that if McCain were to win, we're moving to Canada. And I think I would.

Blessings to you and your family.

Which Box said...

Ireally like this post a lot. I do wish the political world allowed for nuanced, serious discussions beyond talking points, but of course it doesn't.

I left you a little award on my site, along with an accompanying meme. And this post pretty much sums up why I heart your blog.