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Posts Tagged ‘abortion’

And worser…

There are some things that, in the 21st century, there’s just no fucking excuse for anyone to die of any more.

One of these things is a miscarriage which is prolonged for days, by medical experts who have all the necessary treatment and care and resources available to solve the problem, but elect not to do so for religious reasons.

The details of Savita Halappanavar’s case, and the reasons why it should be sparking all the outrage it has and more, are already all over the place. If you need someone to catch you up, I can recommend starting with Nelson Jones, Sarah Ditum, and Jennifer Keane.

In short: When you have repressive anti-abortion laws on the books, and insist on hoops that women must jump through before they can be permitted necessary medical procedures, then it’s a matter of when, not if, the “pro-life” position ends up killing people, and being “a Catholic country” means endorsing manslaughter.

Also, this shit’s still happening.

I’ll write about something cheerier soon, human condition permitting.

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A recent article by Mehdi Hasan about being pro-life has been widely, and rightly, criticised. Here’s one good example of that.

Rather than go over again the various problems with Hasan’s attempts to reconcile an anti-abortion stance with his “lefty” politics, I was given pause by one particular observation, about his style of engaging with opponents:

Hasan employs an undermining tactic that he uses to subtle, although powerful effect, throughout his piece. His opponents are emotional rather than logical: they are “provoked” to “howls of anguish” by Hitchens’s “solid” “reasoning”; they “fetishize” their position in opposition to pro-lifers who “talk”. He accuses pro-choicers of “smearing” him; he asks them not to “throw [his] faith in [his] face”. And yet in the same article he repeatedly “smears” them with oppositional language that positions him on the side of logic and social progressiveness, relegating pro-choicers to the illogical side of the raging ego of neoliberalism.

Part of the reason this struck me as much as it did is because I’m certain I must have done this quite a bit myself.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. It takes some deliberate thought to remember why it’s a bad idea, when you’re trying to write something evocative and convincing. It’s easy to slide into some forms of intellectual laziness when you’re focusing on trying to craft some clever sentences.

And it’s not like the terms in the scare quotes have no value whatever in discourse. Reasoning can be more or less solid; the tone of an argument can make it seem emotionally fuelled, or unreasonably angry.

But not everyone who disagrees with you is a shrill, screeching harpy. Even if they disagree with you about something really important. They might well be trying to make their point, trying to make themselves understood, standing up against what they see as their opponents’ frustrating failure to get the point, and sometimes lapsing into unfair characterisations or snark. Much like yourself.

I’m going to try to bear this in mind more in future.

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A propos of nothing much:

We (as in, people with similar social and political views to myself) don’t tend to think too highly of people who are opposed to abortion in all instances.

It seems both uncaring, to insist that a woman forefeit her right to make decisions about her own body, and scientifically illiterate, to assert that a barely fertilised zygote is not significantly distinct from any other “human”.

When someone of this disposition is willing to make some allowances, though – for cases of rape, say – that tends to mollify us a little bit. They’re not wholly dogmatic about their ideas. They’re willing to give a little bit of ground.

But surely what we’re doing, when we encourage anti-abortionists to make this exception, is congratulating them for betraying their principles. Or, rather, we’re giving tacit support to an implied set of principles that’s even more obnoxious and inhumane.

Start with the basic concept that terminating a pregnancy is always, unequivocally immoral. This is a frankly uninformed and irrational idea when taken to the extreme positions that some people hold, given the nature of a barely fertilised embryo in the earliest stages of gestation. If a tiny cluster of cells carries the same moral weight to you as a fully developed infant, then what you value can’t be called “human life” in any way I would recognise the phrase. I am strongly against this position.

But there’s some consistency there. People with this view are opposed to what they see as murder of defenseless innocents. That part I can follow, even if the logic behind their classification of “defenseless innocents” is ideologically inane.

If you’re willing to allow for the possibility of abortion in cases of rape, though… what is the guiding principle behind your moral judgments?

A fetus is no more or less deserving of protection based on whether its mother was being physically assaulted against her will prior to its conception. So if abortion would be “murder” in normal circumstances, why should it be different here?

One obvious answer that might present itself involves compassion for the mother. Some anti-abortionists just can’t bring themselves to insist that a rape victim bear her rapist’s child against her will. It seems unconscionable to them, so they allow for an exception. On the face of it, this seems like human kindness breaking through an ideological wall.

But it’s not really. Here are some other circumstances which have no significance to the condition of an unborn child, but in which we’re told abortion is an unacceptable abomination:

  1. A woman has consensual sex without using contraception, and becomes pregnant.
  2. A woman has consensual sex, uses contraception, it doesn’t work, and she becomes pregnant.
  3. A woman gets drunk, has sex, regrets it soon after, and becomes pregnant.
  4. A girl hears from her friends at school that you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex, doesn’t have this misconception corrected in any kind of sex education class, has consensual sex with her boyfriend, and becomes pregnant.
  5. A woman has consensual sex with her husband who has had a vasectomy, but she becomes pregnant.

Of the many possible contexts to a woman becoming pregnant, rape is the only one in which some anti-abortionists are willing to make an exception… and also the only one in which it’s entirely out of the woman’s control.

People who are against abortion with no exceptions are at least consistent in their concern for the innocent human life they perceive to be at risk.

People in the “except for cases of rape” camp aren’t as concerned about the welfare of the child as they are about whether it’s the woman’s fault.

The implicit message is that, unless a woman was sexually assaulted against her wishes, the responsibility for the pregnancy lies squarely with her… and that’s what makes abortion immoral. If you were raped, then okay, you’re off the hook – but if you just weren’t careful, or you were stupid, or you’re the kind of slut who actually has sex willingly and enjoys it, then you deserve to be stuck with this.

The fetus’s welfare doesn’t come into it. The one determining factor is whether the woman deserves to be “punished” (which is effectively what it amounts to) for being insufficiently sexually puritan and abstinent.

If you asked them, they probably wouldn’t agree that they think this way. They probably don’t even think they do. But underlying, deeply engrained hang-ups and presumptions about sex are pernicious and ubiquitous, and are one of many things harmfully exacerbated by a religiously based sense of morality.

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I haven’t written at length about the ultrasound probes that legislators in certain states are requiring that women be forcibly penetrated with before they’re permitted certain medical procedures. But given the implicit rationale behind the law (that those shameful sluts must be made to understand the full consequences of their actions), I like this as a complementary idea:

I have a modest proposal that would resolve the issue. In Virginia, Texas, and the six other states that now mandate this procedure, let Army and other military recruiters be veterans who have lost an arm or a leg or been otherwise traumatized in combat. Let every recruiting station show continuous images of innocent noncombatants who died, including under attacks by American drones. Let the recruiting centers display that Russian proverb, “Every bullet finds its target in a mother’s heart.” And above all, let each prospective recruit and his or her mother be advised that he or she is not at all unlikely to commit suicide after undergoing the dehumanization of basic training (“basic” to all violent systems) and coming to realize the horrible hypocrisy of what they have been brought to do by a heartless state.

And especially in Texas, the execution capital of the country, let every warden who’s about to order the execution of a death-row inmate talk the matter over with the inmate’s mother. Let the executioners themselves listen to the heartbeat of the prisoner and hear his (or her) own story of how they were led by a violence-prone society, with its mass-media culture, to commit the crime.

Also, Viagra prescriptions to require a urethral sounding.

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It’s difficult, being an obnoxious, hateful, anti-abortion campaigner.

Not everyone who’s anti-choice fits this description, of course. But the ones who really commit to it? They have a tough time.

Case in point, this particular crowd who met one woman outside an abortion clinic, and didn’t get the reaction they might have expected.

…she told them her baby was already dead

She told them, through sobs, that she carried one baby til it was born dead and she couldn’t do that again.

Now, your anti-choice campaigner has a tough decision to make here. They’ve already taken it way further than most people take their philosophical commitments. They’re out on the streets, with placards or whatever, shouting at women, calling them murderers, making them feel as guilty as is necessary to “save a life”, through their own uninformed notion of what a “life” is. This isn’t something you do casually. These are people who have dug themselves in and identify strongly with what they’re doing now.

And the option that presents itself to them, in a case like this, is to admit that they’ve been shouting horrible, damning, guilt-inducing things at a totally innocent woman whose substantial trauma is only being made worse by their own actions.

The option they have is to accept that, in at least this one instance, they were wrong about this woman, they misjudged and mischaracterised her, her motivations weren’t at all what they’d assumed, they’ve been incredibly unfair and unkind to her, she’s gone through something horrible and they’ve become part of the reason she’s sobbing uncontrollably right now.

After taking up the position they have, that’s what they find themselves presented with.

So do they take reality up on the deal?

No.

Instead, they continued to tell her not to kill her already dead baby.

It shouldn’t be surprising. It’d be astonishing to see someone spontaneously break away from a picket line and address the chanting crowd of which they were until recently another homologous part, and say “Hey guys, I’ve just realised, we’re completely awful.” That’s not generally how people’s minds change. Maybe some of them will have had their confidence shaken by it. Maybe some of them slept fitfully that night, and didn’t feel quite so certain over breakfast the next morning that they were doing the right thing. I hope so.

It’s no surprise to see unkindness doubling down like this, when caught in the spotlight. It doesn’t take anything particularly monstrous or inhuman to seem so hateful. But it’s sad.

(h/t Antichristian Phenomenon)

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Don’t you miss the good old days, back when abortions in the USA happened about as often as they do nowadays, but thousands of women died every year?

No? Well, Rick Santorum does.

This is just another example of the dangers of letting religious ideology motivate your moral principles. Some Christians say atheists can’t be moral because we have no overruling guiding force to tell us what’s right and wrong. I say we have a much better shot than some Christians, who willingly submit to an overruling force that entirely shuts down their capacity to think for their damn selves.

Seriously, I’m willing to take Rick Santorum at his word on this. He thinks our approach to women’s health was better in the days when “people who did abortions were, you know, in the shadows”. Which was because many of these medical procedures – perhaps as many as 1.2 million a year – couldn’t be performed by qualified professionals in appropriate hospital settings, and hundreds of women a year were dying as a result, well into the 1960s (on top of numerous others suffering complications).

So the country Rick Santorum wants to run is one in which thousands of women die needlessly, and millions of eggs continue to be fertilised and reach the early stages of development before being terminated, but in which his conscience is clear because he can claim to have followed his own interpretation of his religious ideology to the letter. The fact that abortion is less common in countries where it’s legal? Not important. It’s the principle of the thing, and if that means the unnecessary deaths of people who won’t do what they’re told, so be it.

It’s either that or he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

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I’m still slowly learning more about the idea of anti-natalism, on the grounds that it’s intriguingly counter-intuitive. It’s one of those things that tends to get immediately shut down in more mainstream conversation, generally by people who don’t seem to be fully understanding it or giving it even partial credit where it may have a point (as is also the case with anarchism).

The latest post in one explanatory series focuses on “body ownership”, and while I’m still not finding the approach of this particular series entirely satisfactory, it’s inspired what might be an interesting thought experiment.

Let’s assume that you’re like the majority of people I interact with online: not an anti-natalist, but in favour of a woman’s rights to choose what to do with her own body as far as reproductive health goes. If she wants to terminate a pregnancy in the early stages of development, she should be allowed to do so safely and legally. If she wants to have the baby, it will be legally her child, assuming she doesn’t display a serious dereliction of parental duties. While carrying an infant to term, there should be some legal restrictions on the activities she’s allowed to engage in, such as using drugs, for the sake of the baby’s welfare.

Most of the controversy in all this tends to surround the abortion side of things. On the other hand, a woman wanting to become a mother is usually seen as positively admirable.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical woman called Linda. She’s healthy and financially comfortable, and she and her husband want to have a child together. Millions of children are born in the US every year; however you might feel about the suitability of some of these parents to the task of raising a new child, Linda and her husband are as uncomplicated and controversy-free as possible. They’re in an excellent position to be great parents.

But Linda’s hypothetical world is a slightly different world than ours. In Linda’s world, scientists have learned something about fetal development in the womb (which doesn’t apply in our world). From the stage when Linda’s baby starts developing a brain and central nervous system, and for the rest of the pregnancy, it will be in extreme pain. As its consciousness starts to appear, the first sensations it experiences will be of constant anguish and torment, which will continue unabated for several months.

This happens to all babies. Pregnancy is an agonising experience, until the point of birth, and this can only be prevented by terminating the pregnancy before the fetus reaches that stage of development. There are no long-term effects from this pain, no trauma that causes any suffering later in life. But every unborn child will begin existence by experiencing several months of torture.

Is it morally acceptable for Linda to deliberately try to become pregnant, and purposefully put an infant through this pain?

In fact, let’s say it’s even worse. Let’s say that Linda’s baby will be in the same unceasing pain for the entire first year of its life, as well. It won’t be able to express its suffering usefully; it’ll just cry and flail a lot, like most babies do, and regularly wear itself out and fall asleep. Again, the pain stops after about a year, and there’s never any trauma or suffering later in life associated with these experiences in infancy. But we know that this is what unavoidably happens to every child that’s born.

Here’s my point: In Linda’s world, taking the same attitude to motherhood that we do in our world would be actively immoral.

To create new consciousnesses as cavalierly as we do here, knowing what will happen to them, is morally unconscionable in Linda’s world.

To have the option of artificially preventing fertilisation, or terminating the embryo’s chance of developing into a conscious being that will experience months and months of excruciating pain, but to refuse to do so, is something for which you’d need a seriously convincing justification.

Perhaps it’d be part of some regulated scheme to keep the human species alive while doing everything we can to minimise this pain. There’s perhaps an interesting set of questions to explore there too, which I’m not going to get into too deeply right now. But I think it’s clear that “I just really want a baby, I think it’d bring me and my partner closer together, plus they’re so cute, and anyway we got drunk and couldn’t find the condoms” isn’t going to cut it any more.

In that world, there’d be a seriously strong case that pregnancies should not generally be permitted to reach such a stage of development.

Sexual and reproductive health there would probably go in a very different direction than it has here. But it’s conceivable that it would reach a point where enforcing mandatory abortions, in the cases of a high proportion of pregnancies, becomes the least evil option.

Are you still with me?

If you think I’ve already parted ways with reasonable ethics, common sense, or basic decency, I’d love to hear what mistakes you think I’ve made in the comments below. I think that, in this imaginary scenario, the conclusions I’ve drawn are tragic, but valid.

And if you agree, then you’re at least playing in the anti-natalists’ ball-park. You might not be on the same side, but you’ve stipulated to one of their primary ideas: that the potential future suffering of a conscious being may morally necessitate us to terminate its existence, for the sake of its own well-being, before it has a chance to experience said suffering.

In Linda’s world, this moral obligation seems unavoidable. What about ours?

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