Are All Abortions Created Equal?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader calls the story of the woman who had three abortions “incredibly moving”:

She is amazingly resilient and should be commended for sharing with us; we need to hear tales like hers. Thank you for this project.

Another reader, on the other hand, fiercely dissents:

These stories are among the sickest, cruelest examples of people rationalizing their abortions. The female lawyer wrote: “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.” Career before life? If your career goals are high enough, then you should have an abortion? If not?

Another woman wrote that she had an abortion because she didn’t want to risk her child growing up knowing their father. The way this article talks—“look what it did for us”—everyone should have an abortion. Is this really the face abortionists want to put on abortion? Self-serving rationalization?

A less heated dissent from a reader:

In reducing abortion to (selected) anecdotes, Americans rely on the unwillingness of nice Americans to make serious challenges to the moral argumentation of individuals. It would be churlish, for example, to suggest sexual prudence to the end of obtaining one’s paramount goals of education and career. Surely “but getting an abortion allowed me to continue living as I pleased” must rank somewhat low on the scale of moral arguments.

It ought to be possible to set up abortion laws that deal with the most widely repugnant cases while leaving abortion mostly available—the sort of laws that prevail in most of those more enlightened Western European countries. The problem, it seems to me, is that we keep coming down to cases that are either easy to deal with as exceptional (the rape cases) or which are easy to criticize as (a) defending irresponsibility and (b) too dismissive of the weight of fetal life. Both of these enable an absolutist right-to-life response: the first because it trivializes its own cause, and the second because it surely must be the case that an argument against such a right-to-life needs real moral substance.

What do you think? Email Update from the second dissenter:

I should add that my wife and I were put up to the abortion decision. The AFP test for our third child came up low, showing a risk for Down’s. The test is not conclusive, and we would have had to do amniocentesis to confirm, which we declined, since the procedure has a significant miscarriage risk. (Abortions of Down’s pregnancies range from 60 percent up to 90 percent, depending on the study.)

Our son was born and, after some months of substandard growth, was diagnosed with Down’s. While we are fortunate he has no substantial health issues, our lives have to be planned around the requirement that someone be with him and that there are many places we cannot take him. But we simply could not contemplate destroying him because he was going to be deeply imperfect or because his birth would make our lives difficult.