Understanding Abortion: From Mixed Feelings to Rational Thought by Stephen D. Schwarz, with Kiki Latimer, is framed as a fair and balanced discussion of the pro-life and pro-choice views in regards to abortion. One might question the possibility of being completely objective in any situation, and the same is true here. Although they might be trying, it is quite clear that the authors are in fact pro-life, and that notion permeates the entire book. The pro-life stance is noticeable in the language used, the framing of the issues, and in the tactics used to illicit emotions from the readers.
The introduction, written by Kiki Latimer, makes pro-choice women appear cruel, emotionless and frames abortion as an easy issue for any pro-choice woman. In the fictional introduction titled "Oh My God, I'm Pregnant", Lisa finds out that she is pregnant and discusses her options with her two friends Jen and Diana. Diana is clearly pro-choice and her character is described as less than supportive and almost eager to convince Lisa to go through with an abortion, which is noticeable in the language she uses: "Go grab the phonebook Jen; we'll call right now and make the appointment and get this over with right away" (p. 2). When Lisa displays reluctance, Diana pushes further: "Have you lost your mind? It's still just a tiny blob of cells. It's nothing yet! Nothing! For God's sake, now is the time to get rid of it!" (p. 3). Even though it seems doubtful that friends would speak to one another using such language, in the introduction, Diana keeps pushing for an abortion: "Something? Oh yeah, it's something all right! Something horrible, and the sooner Lisa makes the appointment the sooner the terrible something will be nothing and she can put this behind her" (p. 3).
Even though it is noticeable that the authors are biased in their stance towards abortion, they try to engage in a conversation displaying arguments from both sides, framing the pro-choice stance as identifying with the woman, and the pro-life stance as identifying with the child. When doing so, pro-choice is described as engaging with the rights of the woman to decide whether or not she would like to keep the child, and pro-life is described as focusing of the rights of the baby (namely the right not to be killed or harmed, and the right to life). Schwarz engages the questions from a philosophical standpoint, while including views from both perspectives. When doing so there are however some aspects of the abortion discussion that could be elaborated further.
When discussing both the legal and moral question of abortion, it is interesting that Schwarz does not engage in a discussion of whether or not it is morally right for men to impose their moral or legal stance towards abortion on women. If abortion is a women-only issue, do pro-life men have a say in the legal notion of abortion even if they morally oppose it? When discussing the different ways to abort, it would be interesting to know whether or not pro-lifers deem the morning after pill to be equivalent to an abortion. It would also be interesting to know how pro-lifers frame miscarriage (especially when coupled with religious beliefs – even though the authors do not want to include religion in their discussion).
Adoption is framed as a better option than abortion, and is one option that pro-lifers feel is suitable. When discussing the notion of adoption, Schwarz digs himself in a hole as he states that adoption is a viable option to abortion, yet stresses the biological connection between parents and child and states that this connection is what creates the obligation to care for a child. "It is the biological bond that creates the obligation of parents to take care of their children, and also the rights that accompany this obligation. In bringing the child into existence they also brought into existence, by the same act, their obligation to nourish and protect him" (p. 70). If the parents are obligated to care for the child, then would not adoption be the same as relinquishing that right and not nourish and protect that child? Schwarz does not believe so: "The woman can give her child for adoption because it is her child: her responsibility to sustain" (p. 71). When giving her child for adoption, it is not the woman's responsibility to sustain, but the new parent or parents. Therefore, the woman does not really follow through on her obligation to sustain, one that is biologically motivated if we are to follow Schwarz's claim.
Similar claims create confusion in other arguments, such as the notion of rape and abortion, where the pro-life claim is that the child is innocent and should not suffer because of the act of rape. As much as the child is innocent, so is the woman who was raped. Maintaining that an innocent woman does not have the right to abortion seems to either defy the notion that the act of rape is wrong, and that the woman is indeed innocent. Forcing the same woman to be a single parent seems equally wrong, since she did not consent to intercourse, or to become pregnant. When discussing the pro-life take on the relationship between a woman and child, the reality of rape is not taken serious: "Abortion is a double evil: the killing of a helpless small child, in a most cruel way; and the denial of the special, profound relationship of entrustment. The woman who has an abortion destroys a child who is especially entrusted to her" (p.72). One might question the validity of such an argument when pregnancy is the result of rape.
There are other arguments that are important to engage in, but in order to keep the review at an appropriate length; I will only discuss some briefly. Schwarz feels that it is necessary to include and recommend the readers to visit the website 100abortionpictures.com before making a decision of whether or not abortion is appropriate. In fact, Schwarz gives the same website three times throughout the book, while including data on women who have died from abortions, comparing abortion to war, and including David Boonin's controversial argument that newborns can be killed up to three months after birth, an argument that is irrelevant to the pro-choice belief in abortion, since abortion indicates that the child has yet to be born.
At the same time, Schwarz does not engage in both arguments using the same techniques. When discussing the notion that only 1.1 % of abortions occur after 21 weeks, Schwarz feels it necessary to mention that 1.1 % is in fact 13.000 abortions. "If we hear of the terribly painful death of thirteen thousand people, or even animals, we would be shocked" (p. 77). At the same time, when discussing rape and incest Schwarz does not give us the actual number of cases; "Fortunately, cases of pregnancy resulting from rape are rare; the usual figure given is 1 percent or less of rape cases result in pregnancy" (p.149).
As Understanding Abortion tries to discuss both sides of the abortion argument, it is difficult not to react to the inconsistencies when comparing the ways that the authors engage the questions. As confusing as the arguments might be at times, Understanding Abortion is a fairly easy read. From a comparative standpoint the book can be used in the classroom as a learning tool even though it should be noted that the book is rather biased in its approach. As discussions of abortion, incest and rape can be triggering for individuals it should be used with caution and an accompanied trigger warning. It should also be noted that the website (100abortionpictures.com) Schwarz recommends can be equally triggering.
© 2012 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.