In Defense of Guilt

Turns out the Emily Letts story is even more outrageous than it initially appeared. Yes, Emily Letts killed1her baby2 but there’s more.

It turns out she entered the the video in a competition and won.3 The competition’s purpose? To remove the stigma of abortion. Let that sink in: She filmed her abortion and entered it in a contest to encourage others that it’s not so bad.

Why the public outrage, I wonder? Abortion advocates tell us it’s a choice that could could go either way, and we should be ok with that. If that’s true, why care what she chose to do or that she did it publicly? Perhaps we should join her and celebrate! But on the other hand, what happened to the claim that abortion ought to be “safe, legal and rare.”4 Isn’t that the rallying cry that got us where we are? Now I’m thinking maybe they didn’t really mean that after all. After all, if abortion advocates truly wanted to see the numbers go down, there is no reason to reduce stigma. If there is no stigma about the procedure, then we ought to embrace it. Maybe getting an abortion is no different from getting braces.

guiltEmily’s interview ends on a positive note, at least in her eyes. She’s trying to end guilt because she says guilt comes from society. I think she’s wrong. This is a dangerous message. Just like when your stomach feels full or your hand feels the warmth of the flame, we should at least consider the possibility that maybe our feelings are something like a “check engine” light. If guilt is simply the subjective opinions of others being unfairly imposed upon us, we probably ought to take another look at other perceived wrongs. Perhaps society unfairly transferred guilt onto Andrea Yates. Maybe we need to understand that the Tsarnaevs were doing what was right for them in Boston. Some day maybe we’ll progress far enough to see the stigma removed from drunk driving. Clearly, society is oppressive in many areas so we have a lot of work to do. Maybe we should be thankful to trailblazers like Emily Letts.

Or on the other hand, maybe guilt and outrage are clear indications that some things really are wrong. Maybe guilt isn’t imposed by society. Maybe we sometimes feel guilty because we actually are guilty?.

What do you think?

  1. kill: to cause the death of a living thing
  2. Her characterization of what was inside her, not mine.
  3. Here is the 2013 call for entries. And here is the announcement of the winners.
  4. Clintons at NARAL event; NY Times Op Ed; Planned Parenthood