Dec 6, 2021

Your response to my abortion pieces

Your response to my abortion pieces

Tangle readers sound off.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

It's a little longer than usual, but that's because we're sharing a wide range of reader feedback to last week's coverage of abortion issues. I explain more below.

a Democrats for Life of America sign at the March for Life in DC
Photo by Maria Oswalt / Unsplash


On Thursday, I wrote that "Justice Elena Kagan, meanwhile, warned about the 'stench' on the court that would exist if its interpretation of established law simply changed based on the personal preferences of the sitting justices at the time." In fact, it was Justice Sonia Sotomayor who issued that warning.

This is the 48th Tangle correction in its 122-week history, and the first correction since December 1st, capping off an unusually sloppy month (our apologies). I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Amazing. Thank you.

Last week, we said we were going to donate 50% of all new subscription revenue and tips to Heavenly HARVST, an organization that feeds the hungry up and down the east coast. Incredibly, so many readers stepped up — either by subscribing or giving a tip — that we managed to donate $1,720 directly to the cause. Thank you all so much. This community continues to inspire me. As always, screenshots for proof:

Screenshot of Tangle's donation to Heavenly Harvest
Screenshot of Tangle's donation to Heavenly Harvest

Quick hits.

  1. Democrat Stacey Abrams announced she is running for governor in Georgia. She lost to incumbent Brian Kemp (R) by 1.4 points in 2018. (The announcement)
  2. Bob Dole, the longtime Republican leader, presidential nominee (1996) and former senator, has died at the age of 98. (The details)
  3. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was fired by the network after misleading them about the role he played in helping mitigate sexual harassment allegations against his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (The firing)
  4. The parents of the 15-year-old Michigan boy who allegedly shot and killed classmates have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. (The charges)
  5. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate (with a weekly testing option) for all private companies. (The plan)

Today's topic.

Reader feedback. Every now and then, I like to put together a newsletter of reader feedback on a specific edition. I do this for a few reasons: One, I think it's really interesting to let Tangle readers see the kinds of emails and replies I get. Two, I think it's important to keep sharing the opinions and views of people who aren't me. And three, I think it's important to share those opinions even — and especially — if they are ideas I didn't think of, or don't agree with, or otherwise feel like they add something of value I wasn't providing.

Last week, I published three pieces related to abortion. One was a history of abortion law, the other was specific to the challenge before the Supreme Court, and on Friday we ran a subscribers only edition from Sophie Trist, a fascinating essay where she explained her "consistent life ethic" values (if you aren't a subscriber and didn't read it, I encourage you to go do that).

As you can imagine, hundreds of responses came in to these editions. I've chosen to publish a few below, mostly focused on Thursday's piece about the current Supreme Court challenge. I've tried to choose replies that represented the wide range of feedback we got, and I'll also include a few positive responses just to create a little bit of hope that even this isn't a topic too taboo for Tangle (even when I take an unambiguous position in "my take"). Unsurprisingly, many readers asked to remain anonymous, a wish that I've granted.

Instead of our usual right vs. left dichotomy, I've also tried to parse these responses between those that were "pro-choice" and "pro-life," as the traditional nomenclature divides them (though as always, I encourage you to see the nuance and ambiguity in these responses, as most people don't neatly fall into either aisle). Given that I took a pro-choice stance on Thursday in “my take,” I’ve given the “pro-life” side a little more space today.

After today's piece, we'll have covered abortion in three of our last six newsletters. That’s a lot. So we'll be taking a break from the issue for a while — probably until the Supreme Court's decision comes down in the spring or summer (with the exception of some reader questions). We'll be back to regular programming tomorrow.

I hope you enjoy today’s edition.


One anonymous reader said "There is no other scenario in our society in which we hold it acceptable for the State to force an individual to use their body in the defense or upholding of another person's right to life.

"We don't require an individual to risk themselves in an attempt to save someone caught in a dangerous scenario, like an industrial accident or drowning, excepting trained professionals who have accepted that burden willingly. We would consider it abhorrent to force healthy individuals to give blood, bone marrow, kidneys, or lungs to save any of the many people who die each year from a lack of available supply. We consider it abhorrent to harvest organs from the dead for the same purpose, unless we have a clear record of their consent to do so from before their passing. Case in point, most people consider organ trafficking to be one of the most heinous crimes in the modern world.

"Structurally, those scenarios are extremely similar to pregnancy. There is an innocent life, which has a right to life, that requires the use of another person's body and effort to stay alive, and the other person does not wish to provide that for a host of different reasons."

Another anonymous reader from Los Angeles said "I’m a little disappointed that at no point in this entire description did you talk about what abortion actually is, what it actually isn’t, and what birth, if you get there, looks like (it’s amazing how many people don’t know — including fathers).

"Many people don’t understand what an abortion procedure can entail (there are several options, depending on the situation). And many people (including liberal women who have been pregnant!) aren’t aware that many miscarriages end in a legal abortion to protect the mother from future medical danger," this reader said. "That procedure wouldn’t be considered a medical emergency in that moment but it can quickly turn into one, which is why making it only available in cases of 'risk to the mother' poses a legal problem for women trying to prevent risk to their health. And just so we’re clear on how pervasive this problem is: 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s 25% of pregnancies that can result in abortion, depending on the circumstances, for reasons no other than the baby is gone.

"Also, not mentioning the realities of birth while discussing abortion leaves the conversation incomplete, especially when adoption is regularly mentioned as an alternative in legal arguments. It fails to recognize that birth is not a simple or unharmful procedure, nor is it entirely safe. Women’s bodies are literally torn apart, often ripping from their vagina to their anus. They wear diapers for incontinence and bleeding for a considerable time, and incontinence could continue throughout their life. Their breasts will produce milk, and not ejecting that milk at regular intervals (which as I recently learned when my friend gave birth is usually tied to closeness to the baby through an exchange of hormones, so can be messed up without that baby present) can result in serious infection leading to fever and in some cases, hospitalization. Additionally, over 50,000 pregnancies every year result in severe or life-threatening conditions. I know several of them, personally, fortunately all of whom were white, white-collar, and had paid family leave to deal with the aftermath of their emergency. Black and brown mothers are statistically not as fortunate, or safe.

"In a country with no guaranteed paid family or sick leave, I think it’s important that people understand, in serious detail, what it is they are asking a woman to work through when we say 'they can always put it up for adoption.' They will need to work the day after a major medical procedure (natural birth is a best case scenario. C-Section recovery is even more brutal), and take regular breaks to relieve their breasts of milk, even if they don’t keep the baby, until their milk production stops. For many, especially low wage workers, that could result in job loss, income and medical insurance loss, meaning the problems of their pregnancy continue well after their baby is home with another family. And that’s assuming they don’t need bed rest even before the baby is born.

"Everyone has a right to believe whatever they believe. But to do it with ignorance as to what the procedure entails, and what pregnancy entails for a woman is as wrong as it is pervasive. It leaves room for lies, presumptions, assumptions, and interpretation as to what these laws actually mean. I wish, in addition to the thorough legal description, more people sat down and explained what all this legalese is actually ABOUT. We never talk about it, and we should."

An anonymous reader from southern California said "I personally would not have had an abortion had I become pregnant before I was ready, but I also do not want to infringe my personal choice on others, and that is what we are seeing today. And yes, abortions should be a choice in support of women’s full autonomy. I grew up with a mom who saw a friend die from a botched abortion.

“I had a best friend who at 16 had an abortion and went on to college and become a mother of two. But if she had that child at 16, I’m not sure that would be her life today. I also have an acquaintance who was raped by her father as a 12 year old girl, got pregnant and had an abortion (but did not tell her mom the truth about who the father was until she was in her 40s). These draconian laws are seriously not going to protect children (and yes, she was still a child) like her? Just because she, as a child, had a functioning uterus does not make her ready to be a mother and nor should any society force that upon her... I appreciate your willingness to share your opinion on this, but frankly, I do strongly believe that this is the matter for women to decide, the fact that congress is made up of only 26% women, does not directly reflect a population made up of 50% women."

Ali, in Sante Fe, New Mexico, said she "wanted to add one more nuance to your thoughts around why lower income women will be disproportionately affected."

"I'm exactly 15 weeks pregnant right now so I find these current events especially troubling and personal. My pregnancy was planned and I couldn't be more thrilled, but if my pregnancy weren't planned, there are a lot of very realistic scenarios in which I would likely have no idea I was pregnant. I can't feel the fetus at all and I won't be able to for 5 or so more weeks. My pregnancy symptoms (weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, declining cognitive function, overwhelming sadness/feelings, etc) have been almost identical to those of depression, of which I have a history. If I were on contraception, I would be very unlikely to think I might be pregnant, and the time between periods might be expected, depending on the contraception I was on. If I don't have good insurance and can't afford healthcare, I would probably not go to the doctor for these symptoms.

“For one, many Americans will avoid even necessary healthcare right now because of the cost, and second, I would probably just write off the symptoms as depression anyway. By the time I suspected I might be pregnant, it might be far past the 15 week mark, making 15 weeks itself a poor choice for picking along that nuanced gradient you mention to balance bodily autonomy and the state's interest to protect life. But like you also mention, the 15 week argument is probably moot anyway since the court looks like it will overturn the constitutional protection altogether. But, if we did have to pick along the gradient, I think considering when in a pregnancy it is beyond doubt that a woman of any means will know she is pregnant is the only way to actually protect choice and constitutional liberty.

"Second, my body has already and will continue to change permanently. Regardless of who is responsible for child care after the birth, I don't see how the state forcing a person to endure 9 months of pregnancy symptoms and the irreversible changes to their body could possibly be viewed as anything but a violation of their constitutional right to liberty. As you know I'm an athlete. A huge part of who I am as a person and where I derive meaning and joy in my life comes from my participation in team sports and activities. My hips are bigger now and will continue to grow in a way that will permanently change my athletic ability for the worse. I'm uncoordinated right now; it's pretty sad and comical at the same time if you know me. Even the healthiest of pregnancies, which I'm lucky to say mine has been so far, can be nightmarish in symptoms, not to mention everything you have already addressed like the possible severe health outcomes.

"I know that you mentioned a lot of this already, but just wanted to share from the perspective of someone who is 15 weeks pregnant today. I can't focus on work or really anything because this is so upsetting. The idea of the state forcing me to undergo what I am currently going through by choice feels like the most severe violation of my rights I can imagine and the most horrible of reminders that constitutional liberty in this country will very shortly not apply to women, that is, the state will very explicitly decide that it does not view women as human beings."


Therese from Valparaiso, Indiana, said "The reason we disagree here (as I am a pro-life person) is because I think we have different conceptions of what the word 'inherent' means. In my mind, when I say, 'All people have inherent value,' I’m referring to a quality that is independent and unchangeable. Meaning, no circumstances or incidental qualities (such as incapacitation, crime, family lineage, disability, wealth, political opinion) can affect its existence or amount. This value is equally present among all members of the human race.

"This inherent value is the source of what we conceptualize as Human Rights—the entitlement to universal respect and dignity," Therese added. "The government’s purpose is to acknowledge, recognize, and defend these rights, which manifests as the right to vote, right to fair trial, etc. I would say the right to protection from lethal violence is also one of these resulting rights. When a governing body does not recognize or defend these rights, it’s oppression—in such a case, people still have and deserve these rights as a result of their inherent value, but the rights are being violated.

“Your later sentence lists off some incidental qualities such as consciousness, pain, societal value, etc., and says that these qualities are not comparable between a fetus and a born person. I agree with that. However, I disagree with the conclusion that this means these two cases are also different in inherent value, and therefore different in legal recognition. If these highly variable attributes affected the inherent value that is the source of human rights, then human rights would also be variable—but we know this not to be the case.

“People who contribute a lot to society do not have 'more' of a right to vote than someone who cannot work due to a disability, for example. Their rights are the same because their inherent value is the same. Therefore, fetuses and born humans both have the equal right to protection from violence, regardless of their incidental differences."

Another anonymous reader said, "I think you should be cautious about following the mainstream media standards on rape and incest exceptions. While it has become popular for left wing outlets to announce the lack of such exceptions as top line information for every rule and restriction, there is a world of difference between excluding these exceptions in a 6 week abortion ban (which I oppose in fact) and excluding them in a 15 week ban in a state where abortions were not previously available after 16 weeks.

"Many laws like Mississippi's are carefully crafted to avoid the need for such exceptions by allowing ample time for anyone to get a legal abortion especially those who fall in these unfortunate categories," the reader added. "Like most frequently cited opinion polls on abortion, the 84% support statistic you cite is not specific to the details of Mississippi’s law, which as you explained very well earlier this week has a huge impact on the results of these sorts of polls. While popular opinion should not impact how (or whether) the court reads the constitution, the question of how (and whether) people really feel about these things is more effectively answered at the ballot box, especially in the future if Roe is overturned."

Another anonymous reader from Huntington, West Virginia, wrote in to offer their perspective on contraceptives.

"I will start with the 'emotional argument' of the fact that as a young woman, I do not feel empowered by contraception whatsoever. I feel objectified by it. There are ways to avoid pregnancy when necessary without contraception, but part of the gift of [being a] woman is motherhood. Not everyone 'wants' to be a mother, I understand, but we are tied to it in a way we can’t control… And maybe that’s a good thing. I question the recently developed baseline assumption that living selfishly is better for the human soul than living selflessly.

“The sexual revolution successfully divorced sex from reproduction in our minds (but not in actuality), beginning with the social acceptance of contraception,” she added. “With contraception, in our minds, we 'SHOULD' be able to have sex and NOT reproduce. It’s a right! An expectation! It’s 'liberating'. Why? No other animal on the planet operates under those guidelines. Man’s sexual appetite has been allowed to grow rampant, stripped of all its natural boundaries. Look at how women are portrayed in advertisements now. Sexy and ever available for consumption. Under the philosophy of contraception, as a woman, I have gone from 'life bearer' to 'liability.' I must become like a man and be 'liberated' from my potential motherhood. Which, ironically, is somehow considered 'pro-woman' but seems much more anti-woman to me."

Josh from Bellevue, Washington, said "I still think it is odd to spend this much time discussing something without including much discussion of what exactly it is. Similar to our ignorance on the legal history of abortion, I think it is very common for Americans to be pretty ignorant of the medical facts of what they are talking about when they say abortion is or isn't justified. Some things I'd think would be relevant:

  • What are the features of the fetus that is killed when an abortion is performed at the 20, 14, or 13 week mark? These kinds of numbers litter discussions on abortion and I don't think most people are forming any kind of picture in their head for what is being discussed the way we do for your example of a fertilized egg.
  • The CDC data you link to mentions that 42.3% of all abortions in 2019 were early medical abortions and (if you go the extra click for this less important fact) 49% were surgical. What actually happens with each of these methods?

P.S. Is it paranoid that I just feel sick when I see something like that CDC page listing the stats for the second most common method of abortion (medical) while leaving off the most common (surgical)? To me, it seems obvious that the only reason to do that is to manipulate the reader's impression because surgical doesn't sound so much like the fetus evaporates in a benign puff of smoke. Nothing depresses me more about our chances as a nation than this kind of corruption of institutions to put narrative ahead of honesty. The particular "it's not directly a lie" character makes it worse for me because it's the sort of thing that smart people can easily justify to themselves."

Another anonymous reader from North Dallas, Texas, "I am not sympathetic with abortion for some obvious reasons. My mother had me out of wedlock after my biological father insisted on abortion. He left my mother for not wanting to abort, and I never met him. Truth is, my mother was scared of abortion — it is not an easy peasy thing. And the woman suffers either way. But as a result, I had a chance to live. I do think that she suffered some shame and taunt from the family for having me out of wedlock. But eventually, my family got used to me, and I don't think my mother ever regretted that she had me — somehow she was unable to conceive ever again, and I ended up being her only child.

"Thus, I am not sympathetic with abortion... But I agree with you that there is no easy fix. I believe that abortion existed and will exist whether it is done legally or illegally or with the use of homemade remedies. What the government does by making abortion illegal is recognizing the value of the fetus. It would not in any way diminish the abortions. But there are ways of minimizing it, difficult ways if we are willing to do it as a country."

Audrey from Cambridge, Massachusetts said "I do have a few issues with what you said in your take today, specifically with your belief in there being a 'gradient of life.' Certainly, the fetus does not have the same 'inherent value' as a born person, including the fetus's mother. That's why that popular thought experiment about having to save either a petri dish of fertilized eggs or a five-year-old, obviously, should be answered by saving the five-year-old. However, where we disagree is what factors determine life. I happen to believe that 'consciousness, sense of pain, societal value, personality, self-determination or worth' have nothing to do with whether a person is living or not. In my view, a person is living at the moment of conception because, at that point, a zygote is created that has a unique set of human DNA and is showing the commonly agreed-upon signs of life in an organism, namely cell growth and specialization...

"As such, I fundamentally disagree with the notion that, at some point, the woman's personal choice should be valued over the life of the fetus," Audrey wrote. "I don't think at any point personal choice and convenience take precedence over life itself. I might be convinced of abortions to save the life of the mother, at least in cases where preterm delivery is not a viable option (this is an exception that I'm still weighing for myself). But abortions for any other reason ultimately conflict with life as the superseding right, at least in my eyes."

A reader named Alan said "I do not think that the federal government has a constitutional leg to stand on. The federal government should leave it to each state to enact laws regarding access to abortion. I feel that a woman should have the right to safe health care as much as a man does, but I dare to say that most abortions have nothing to do with health and more with lifestyle. I have always told my sons if you are not ready to raise a child, don’t have sex, whether they did or not is anyone’s guess.

"My biggest problem with both sides is that they pick and choose their stance on the value of life, 'pro-choicers' will take a stand for abortion and against vaccine mandates and the death penalty and use the same argument that the ‘pro-lifers’ do, except opposite sides. One will say abortion should be safe and available to all, and don’t kill a criminal, the other will say, kill the criminal, but don’t abort a fetus. One will say, you must get vaccinated and 'my body, my choice,' and the other, don’t make me do anything to my body that I don’t chose to do, but let me make choices whether you get an abortion or not. The death penalty should be brought back but abortions are murder or the death penalty is murder but abortion is not."

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Thank you!

Have a nice day.

Not all the feedback to last week’s coverage was critical. In fact, I was surprised to see just how many positive replies came in, even from folks who openly disagreed with where I landed or what my personal position was. To show that this conversation is possible, I just wanted to share a few of those replies as our “Have a nice day” story today.

Tyler from Kentucky said "I am someone who was adopted from birth into a completely separate family from my biological parents as a result of a pregnancy between two college students. Every time this topic comes up and I hear the discourse surrounding it, I feel a heavy lump in my chest and the thought of 'I could have been one of those aborted fetuses' creeps to the front of my mind. As a result, while I have drifted more 'Left' in many regards as I've read, grown, and learned and consider myself very centrist (for American politics), this is a topic I have never wavered or moved that direction on. So in full disclosure, when I read your tweet stating your were announcing your stance as 'pro-choice' I was prepared to criticize this newsletter.

"That said, I honestly can't do so. This was a very well-balanced, fair, and thought-provoking newsletter that does as good a job as I can imagine tackling both sides of the issue and clearly stating an independent opinion. My personal stance on the topic of being very staunchly Pro-Life comes from that personal connection mentioned above, but also from a very religious view point. I don't plan to debate any points you make or bring up any items of my own for you to refute. I don't see a value in that. This is truly a topic that, in my mind, falls under a category of 'there are extremely intelligent, scholarly, and thoughtful people who have ended up on both sides of this divide, therefore, any person's stance is probably 85% a result of their own personally held beliefs.'"

Nate from Canon City, Colorado, said "Thank you for writing on this topic! I appreciate your willingness to seek to understand 'both sides' on this issue. I'm sure it also feels a little dangerous to your business as it is easy to tick people off and they, concurrently, may unsubscribe.

I would call myself pro-life, but that doesn't change my appreciation for Tangle! You are not the final answer for me, I am responsible to decide what I believe.

I doubt that I would be able to articulate anything pro-life that would change many people's minds. From my perspective, followers of Jesus should be most concerned about this issue. And not only abortion, but also the other things you mentioned, such as families struggling, women unable to make it through pregnancy for various issues, fatherless homes, etc. Followers of Jesus, motivated by true love and grace, taking action in significant ways is what needs to happen, not changing laws (because history shows that that is not effective).

Again, thank you for tackling this difficult subject (and others)! Your commitment to wading through difficult issues is one of the main reasons I recommend Tangle to friends and family!

Noah from Portland, Oregon, said "This stood out as a remarkably insightful piece. I appreciated especially your take -- it is honest and fair. I am pro-life; I also take all of your criticisms and concerns about what future after Roe seriously. The way that richer women will still be able to procure abortions reminds me of how so many rules and policies work: affecting the most vulnerable without harming or impeding the most powerful in any meaningful way. I don't have solutions to this; I simply recognize the problem too."

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