Thursday, April 30, 2009


I'm a big fan of pop culture. I enjoy television, film, music, and the stage, and I know lots of random bits of trivia. Naturally, I heard the news that the iconic actress Bea Arthur (1922-2009) passed away recently. She was an impeccable actress, and deserving of all the praise that she's been given recently on entertainment blog tributes and the like.

At the same time, there's one thing she's been praised for recently that's been rather distressing, and that's for the controversial role she played on the 1970's sitcom Maude. It's not that she didn't play that role well; she was a great actress, and she did. I suppose what distresses me is the role itself, and for the controversial story arc it had in its first season in which the title character, Maude Findlay, has an abortion. Many tributes have called that storyline--and all those who were involved in it--"courageous" and "visionary" (it aired before Roe vs. Wade). Being a fan of the show's creator Norman Lear (especially All in the Family), I was aware of that storyline for a while. While I appreciate his ability to bring social issues into sitcoms in a way that wasn't cheesy, that particular storyline just always bothers me.

What bothers me about it is that the character of Maude was not the type of woman whom we usually hear about when pro-choice advocates campaign for the right to choose. She wasn't a rape victim, nor was she a poor teenage mother with her "whole life ahead of her." There was no clearly defined risk to her life, other than the fact that she was 47. She was a professional, with the means and ability to raise a child. She just didn't want to. Throughout the episodes (and granted, it has been a while since I've seen them), the main reasoning put forth for Maude to terminate her pregnancy was that she was too old. Her child would be younger than his/her nephew, she had gray hair, she was too old to go through the process of raising a child. In other words, it just didn't fit into her plans.

I'm glad my mother, who was only two years younger than Arthur's character, didn't feel that way about me. Yes, there was a lot of risk for a 45-year-old woman (who also had gray hair by that point) to have a child. Her previous two pregnancies with my brother and sister had had their own complications, and they had been almost a decade previous. If, say, my mother and father had gotten married in their 20s instead of their 30s, and had had a child then, I could have very easily been an uncle who would be younger than a niece or nephew. That would have been awkward and not the "normal family" that many people aspire to. I also might not have been a "normal child." I had a 25-30% chance of having Down's syndrome.

But despite all these things, my mother made the choice to give me the chance at life. She was encouraged by some not to, for many of the same reasons that Maude was. Yes, it's been odd having parents who are old enough to be my grandparents. Yes, I'm very lucky that my mom got through her pregnancy okay and that I didn't have any abnormalities. But at least she took the risk. Life may have gone on okay without me--just as it did for Maude and her family for the remainder of the classic TV series--but I wouldn't have been here for it.

And that's the main thing I don't understand about pro-choice advocates. Many don't seem to recognize that it's a life that's being snuffed out. But it is. If my mother had made the opposite choice than she made, I wouldn't be here. Everything I've experienced and written and seen and loved would be gone. Non-existent. That's why I can't understand why some people call the decision to terminate a pregnancy "courageous."

Isn't courage doing something which might end up costing you greatly? Isn't it courage to have a child even if you don't have any money, or even if it was conceived in an awful manner such as rape? Isn't it courage to face the risks of a late pregnancy? I'm not a woman, so in many ways I don't know, but at the same time, I feel that if I was, I would risk my own life so that I could give a child a chance at one. That's why I can never see the right to choose an abortion as anything other than an easy way out. I can sympathize with the emotions of those who would choose such a thing, but I simply can't understand why they'd make that choice.

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