In 1973 the Supreme Court in Roe v Wade short-circuited the legislative process and, more importantly, the national conversation, and legalized Abortion on Demand. I believe the Court was acting out of a changing cultural milieu that encouraged just such a decision at the same time as it created conditions which have left the decision as a source of powerful passions unencumbered by reason. Abortion on Demand is one of the critical divides between the left and the right, between religious and non-religious, traditional and non-traditional; we may well be closing in on the time when the original decision will be re-examined and I thought it would be worthwhile to explore some of the Psychological issues that are inextricably involved in Abortion, consider how these issues have been expressed within our culture and society, and how a re-examination of Abortion may help or hinder the reconciliation of our cultural "split" psyche.
A cursory search of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association via the Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing site (available by subscription only) which covers the premier Journal of American Psychoanalysis from 1953 -2003, revealed only 48 citations for "Psychoanalysis AND Abortion". In contrast, there were ~450 citations for "Pregnancy OR Pregnant AND Psychoanalysis" and a search for "Children AND Psychoanalysis" led to too many citations to list. It is no surprise that Psychoanalysis would be so concerned with Childhood and with Pregnancy, after all these are critical developmental milestones in people's lives, but the relative dearth of articles exploring the meaning of Abortion, despite the very high percentage of patients who have been touched by abortion in one way or another, is quite striking. I believe that, among other reasons, this reflects a probably unconscious decision among Psychoanalysts to avoid the topic for reasons that I will suggest as this series develops. Prominent among the reasons would be a sense that discussing Abortion has always been extremely likely to evoke and provoke extreme reactions. Abortion is such a charged issue that reason is rarely a part of the discussion. In some ways this would make it an ideal subject for Psychoanalytic exploration, but in reality, for political reasons, most Psychoanalysts have avoided the issue.
In my work with patients who have had abortions, or whose mothers have had abortions, as well as in the psychoanalytic literature, several important themes emerge, which are germane to any discussion of abortion and will be the subject of future posts on this subject. In this disquisition, I would like to start with some of the societal trends, especially medical trends, which made the legalization of Abortion of such urgency in 1974.
Please note that I am not taking a moral stand for or against abortion. I fully understand the view of those who believe, for religious or moral reasons, that life begins at conception. I also appreciate the views of those who believe that an unwanted pregnancy in certain circumstances, due to bad luck or irresponsibility, can be a personal disaster for the parent(s) and the child(ren). I would like to set those questions aside for the moment and concentrate on what abortion means to those who have been affected by it; perhaps through such a discussion, the moral and ethical arguments can become clearer.
As I have described elsewhere, the discovery of Penicillin, followed by the second World War, led to a unique situation in which the post-war baby boomers were born into a world where, for the first time in human knowledge, there was the reasonable expectation that every child would be able to survive into adulthood. Furthermore, the all too human desire to procreate, which always is intensified by survival of a life-threatening ordeal, was a shared experience for the "Greatest Generation." The offspring of "the Greatest Generation", the "Greatest Offspring", were raised in ways that inadvertently led to enhanced narcissism among the baby boomer cohort. I will not repeat my arguments here but suggest taking a look at Demographics & Narcissism or my series on Narcissism (on the side bar) for further elucidation.
As the baby boomers reached child bearing age, having been encouraged by their often left wing enablers to believe that the expression of their own instinctual desires, the idealization of the self, was the apotheosis of civilization up until this time (a great part of what fueled the anti-Vietnam war protests was the rage that anything could be more important than the self; ie the draft threatened the precious darling from whom little had ever been demanded int he manner of sacrifice), a problem arose. The free expression of the instincts, "free love", all too often led to unintended consequences. During the brief moment between the anti-biotic cure for STDs and the appearance of HIV, disease was considered a nuisance rather than a reason to modify one's behavior. Pregnancy however, could be less conveniently ignored. Not everyone wanted to take the pill and the idea of responsible sex was a contradiction to the governing rubric of "do your own thing." Thus, the pressure for legal abortion, so that the newly liberated young women of the baby boom cohort would be spared the disastrous effects of their new found freedom, was compelling and powerful. Children raised to believe that their desires are primary could not tolerate the idea of being sentenced to a life in chains (ie, parenthood) before they were ready. The child had to be turned into a choice.
To be continued...