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Jewish World Review August 2, 2004 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5764

Julia Gorin

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Consumer Reports

Pro-choice and pro-life, unite | Over the past two weeks, decent people who consider themselves pro-choice became intimately acquainted with those heading the movement. To be sure, they didn't know this was whom they were meeting as they read what was to become the most talked-about New York Times Magazine article in years. Neither did the Times, claim editors, who last week admitted to the New York Sun that the protagonist of the recent "Lives" column was a New York Planned Parenthood advocate and consultant to Gloria Steinem--and not the Everyman for whom the space is normally reserved.

But let's go back to our ignorance of a few days ago, when we thought we were just reading about how one woman arrived at the decision to "get rid of" two of her three triplets. Titled "When One is Enough," the essay was about Amy Richards, who had recently gone off the birth control pill. Unsure of how easily or not she would conceive, 34 year-old Amy and her boyfriend of three years, Peter, agreed to "keep the child" if she became pregnant. When the couple found out she was carrying triplets, Amy decided to undergo "selective reduction" and "reduce" the identical pair among the three.

"Shouldn't we consider having triplets?" Peter ventured.

Amy reproached him: "This is why they say it's the woman's choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That's easy for you to say, but I'd have to give up my life."

It was lost on Amy, a feminist activist who lectures on anti-violence, that it's the woman's choice because Nature thought it had entrusted the delicate task of safeguarding new life with the gentler sex. Nature was wrong.

Paraphrasing Peter's thoughts, the column continues, "Peter was staring at the sonogram screen thinking: Oh, my gosh, there are three heartbeats. I can't believe we're about to make two disappear."

Amy's mental dialogue was quite different: "Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn't be able to fly after 15….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."

Amy clearly wasn't going for sympathy. It's not likely that she expected readers to be understanding of a woman killing her intended baby's siblings so she could be free to fly to colleges to spread her wisdom about non-violence and the human condition. Especially since she made it clear that even putting the kids up for adoption was too much to ask, because being on bed rest would mean missing her "busiest months" of spreading her message.

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The essay managed to cause some discomfort even among those squarely in the pro-choice camp, and for this reason one wonders whether in publishing the piece the magazine was engaging in intrigue--staying on the pro-choice side of the debate while tacitly subverting some of the movement's widely accepted dogma through this unsympathetic tale.

Of course, considering that a previous "Lives" piece was by a woman who faked terminal illnesses to get attention and sympathy from coworkers, perhaps it's simply a space reserved for the depraved. Perhaps it's a printed confessional where the depraved flaunt their derangement and ask for no sympathy, much like Newsweek's "My Turn" —in which a woman once wrote of the friendship she enjoys with her daughter, who respects her mother's decision to leave her in infancy because she didn't want a life of "baking cookies."

Amy's is not a story of desperation. It is not the story of a pregnant 16 year-old with a boyfriend who wants out, but of a blessed 34 year-old woman who admitted her biological clock was ticking. Amy makes no pretense about the selfish factors that played into the decision she made. She didn't agonize for a second, admitting that she never seriously considered having triplets. On a webzine called "Noli Irritare Leones," a blogger named Sappho writes, "Richards isn't trying to convince people that she's still a good person, even though she has had an abortion. Perhaps, instead, she is trying to show that she knew what she was doing. That she's rational, not under pressure, well informed…she's seen the heartbeats…She doesn't choose to present her situation as desperate ("There was a part of me that was sure I could work around that. But it was a matter of, Do I want to?"); for the most part the account is matter of fact and unemotional."

Semantically speaking, "a woman's choice" is singular, not plural. Yet educated contraceptive-pill users know that when one goes off the pill, she drops a few eggs and is particularly fertile. Women are often advised to abstain from sex for several weeks after stopping usage, until normal ovulation returns. So Amy actually made three choices: She made a choice to go off the pill. She made another one by having sex immediately afterward rather than waiting for her normal cycle to return. In baseball, the rule is three strikes and you're out. Something so much weightier should be taken at least as seriously.

The utter lack of any moral analysis that went into Amy's decision-making is what the current application of Roe v. Wade affords us. Given their representatives in the public square, members of the pro-choice movement shouldn't blush at the woman's lack of moral consideration. For how can we expect Amy to approach the subject weightily when even mainstream conservatives, who call themselves "pro-choice Republicans," have been programmed to believe that a child at eight weeks (the age at which Amy's twins were aborted) is not a child but merely a "clump of cells"?

And yet Amy and Peter made no pretense about knowing in their heart of hearts that the reverse was true. A reader gets the sense that Amy, and Peter especially, knew they were deleting nothing short of their own children. So why did they kill their twins?

Because they could. Knowing what we know about Amy today, the woman's detached calculation has a different significance. On one hand, it makes the situation less disturbing, giving us some reassurance that the pro-choice movement hasn't quite damaged women beyond repair, as one might suspect from reading such an account. On the other hand, now that we know the breed of woman setting the movement's paradigm, there is cause for alarm. With her less than contrite confession, Amy Richards exposed, indeed flaunted, the callousness of her movement and lent credence to the assertion that its position is in fact more pro-abortion than pro-choice. Some readers even thought the essay was a parody of the pro-choice/pro-abortion movement.

Amy's story wasn't a parody. But her movement is. Pro-choice is in need of an overhaul —and thanks to Amy Richards, we know that its Democratic and Republican adherents have more in common than they think. We need a Pro-choice movement that is pro-life. Pro-choice Republicans and Democrats, get busy.

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JWR contributor Julia Gorin tours with Right Stuff Comedy and performs in the monthly New York-based show Republican Riot. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Julia Gorin