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March 30, 2006

Stand by for inappropriate comparisons

In yesterday's Guardian, Cristina Odone presented an intriguing premise, namely, that the rise in infertility is causing a surge of pro-life sentiment in the UK:

For the 45,000 British couples who seek fertility treatment annually, the 200,000 terminations that take place each year are a personal insult: how dare anyone discard something that you yearn for so greatly?

Her argument is no great shakes — it repeats itself, insults infertile Brits on a couple of fronts, and ends right back up where it started in Nowheresville. I quite agree that it's tremendously wasteful to abort a fetus in the face of interminable adoption wait lists, but Odone somehow manages not even to bring adoption into it. The emotion she's ascribing to these infertile people isn't sorrow, or even outrage, but nonsensical bitterness:

Feminism, as has often been the case, becomes a casualty of fertility. It is horrible to think of the poor, ignorant or oppressed woman having to visit a backstreet abortionist because of new, stricter limits on termination. But if you've spent four years obsessed with having a baby, the horror of a seedy illegal abortionist seems bearable in comparison to the tragedy of not conceiving.

But the one thing has nothing to do with the other unless you consider adoption. Let's say I want to have a eucalyptus tree in my front garden, but I cannot on account of my not living in Australia. If I read about a man in Australia who's going to chop down his eucalyptus tree I might feel some kind of jealousy pang, but mostly I'm just going to have to call it none of my business. If I lived right down the street, mind you, and was willing to pay for the eucalyptus tree to be moved to my property, then the tree's owner would have to be some kind of bloody-minded to refuse. (Before you ask — yes, I am comparing a woman carrying and delivering a baby to tree ownership.)

So I think Odone has oversimplified in the interests of her own pro-life beliefs, but the agonizing difficulty of adopting a child is certainly a legitimate driver for pro-life sentiment, and increasing infertility is going to put more and more people on those wait lists. Whether or not it can legitimately be linked to infertility, Odone claims that

…the climate of opinion has changed so much that 42% of Britons today would like the abortion law to be tightened from 24 to 22 weeks. You can't ignore them: they're probably your neighbours.

So then, we just need Odone to explain how insisting that fetuses be terminated more expeditiously will help out infertile couples — say, by putting an adopted baby in their arms. Indeed, I'm still unconvinced that term limits make any sense at all, and it's arguments like Odone's that lead to my grudging admiration of Canada's abortion status quo, in spite of the legal wrangling that precipitated it and the fear of honest debate that keeps us there.

Posted by Chris Selley at March 30, 2006 08:31 PM

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