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No matter which side of the abortion debate you're on, you must agree: As a society, we can do better

A few weeks back, an enraged woman wrote a letter to the editor stating that I didn't have the right to call myself a Catholic, because I'm also a Democrat, and therefore (she assumed), I support abortion.

I am a Catholic and a Democrat, but I'm not a big fan of abortion. (But then, who among us would claim to be a fan?) Nevertheless, it is the law of the land, and I understand how it got to be that way. Abortion rights were folded into the women's movement's fight for overall reproductive rights. The biggest problem I have is that we as a society--and not just in this area--have somehow divorced rights from responsibilities. If people spent as much time and energy exercising their personal responsibilities as they do demanding their rights, the number of abortions performed in this country each year could drop considerably.

Of course, the greatest such responsibility is determining whom a woman allows into her body and under what circumstances. This remains the most important choice of all and, if done properly, could render most, if not all, of the subsequent potential choices moot. I've always wondered why, if a woman doesn't want to get pregnant, she'll have sex with a guy who doesn't respect her or her wishes enough to take equal responsibility for contraception. And will men ever take this responsibility upon themselves?

But people don't want to hear that. "Freedom" is now represented by Sex and the City, in which equality means that women can be just as cavalier and promiscuous as men, and any talk of responsibility is left to the moralists and the party-poopers.

When I originally wrote this column, I received in my e-mail an impassioned response from Laurel Allen, our copy editor. It was a spectacular letter. She took me to task over a number of things and made several good points. I disagree with her assertion that women are somehow uniquely (and therefore exclusively?) qualified to make decisions concerning family, but she was quite persuasive in the matters of contraception and the gravity of the abortion decision.

In reality, the abortion "debate" isn't one; rather, it's a matter of all or nothing. Suggesting that working toward decreasing the number of abortions performed each year is met with derision from both sides. If one tries to straddle the line between religion and the real world, accepting that abortions are a fact of life, there will be the inevitable criticism of rendering too much unto Caesar at the expense of one's very soul.

At the same time, any suggestion that a few basic, common-sense steps could be taken to cut down the number of abortions performed each year causes the Planned Parentoids to go all NRA on you, claiming that any such thought is a veiled attempt at placing America on a slippery slope toward legislative and/or judicial abolition of the practice.

The other day, I read an op-ed piece in The New York Times. Amy from Manhattan had been living with her boyfriend for a while when she decided that she was tired of being on the pill. Not long afterward, she became pregnant. She and her Stud-Man (who very easily could have done his part to avoid the situation) decided they would keep the baby.

But then she found out she was carrying triplets. Wrote Amy: "My immediate response was, I cannot have triplets. I was not married."

Did she not know that she wasn't married before she got pregnant?

Amy continued, "Now I'm going to have to move to Staten Island. I'll never leave my house, because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise."

She decided to get rid of two of the triplets in a procedure that requires a shot of potassium chloride right into the heart of the fetus. She eventually had a son, but now worries about what she'll do if (when) she gets pregnant again.

Do I really want to align myself politically and socially with a person such as this, one for whom two potential lives are balanced against the prospect of warehouse shopping, and found to be lacking? For that matter, do proponents of abortion rights look upon Amy as one of their sisters-in-arms, boldly carrying the banner for those women who want to assert control over every aspect of their lives? (Except that one particular aforementioned aspect, of course.)

Then again, do I want to align myself religiously with a woman who would deny me the sacraments of my faith because I plan on voting for John Kerry in November? Heck, do I even want to aspire to going to the same Heaven as that woman?

The issue is indeed thorny. There are truly dreadful people on both sides, and the nature of the matter is such that there is no good way to stake out a position in the middle. I don't want to side with either one of these women, so I'll go along with Laurel. But I hope that she and I agree that we, as a society, could do much better.

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