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January 22, 2007

Blogging for choice

I've got to recommend Liza's post in honor of Blog For Choice Day: Blogging for Choice: My Choice, My Life, My Motherhood. I had the privilege of meeting Liza's two adorable kids this weekend. If I ever have children, I hope I can bestow as much love upon my offspring as Liza does on the little guys she affectionately calls "Thing 1" and "Thing 2."

Here's another great post on today's theme from Zuzu of Feministe.

And more from Amanda, Jill, and Jessica.

One of the themes of Blog For Choice Day is to explain why you're pro-choice. Initially, I resisted because I didn't feel any explanation should be necessary. To me, it's just obvious that fetuses aren't people and that real-live people who have become hosts to unwanted pre-people should be able to take the necessary steps not to become the parents of actual people. Who the hell gave anyone the idea that this choice is a view that needs defending, as opposed to common sense?

I don't write posts explaining why you shouldn't kidnap people, or give them tattoos without their consent. Shouldn't it be obvious why you must not force an innocent person to incubate a hunk of protoplasm until it becomes a baby?

I am reminded of a moment at the YearlyKos convention in the late spring of last year. Alon Levy and I were at an abortion rights breakout session. Participants explained in turn why the chose to attend this session. Towards the end, a woman said in slightly accented English,

"I'm here because I don't understand what the big deal is. Where I'm from, abortion is no big deal."

The woman was from an Eastern European country, the Ukraine if I remember correctly. She was surprised when she came to America to find that abortion was such a huge public emotional fight.

I was impressed at her honestly and bravery for speaking out against abortion moralizers and giving no quarter to the irrational weirdoes who keep trying to sustain abortion as a political issue.

I think she managed to shock even some of the ardent pro-choice activists in the room. This wasn't a spin or a posture for her, it was just reality.

"What are you so worked up about?" she was asking, under the sneering gaze of some fratboy correspondent from a conservative opinion journal.

It was a fair question, and one that's not posed often enough.

For some perverse reason it has become controversial, even among defenders of choice to assert the following: Abortion is not morally a big deal.

Pregnancy is a major event in anyone's life, whatever decision you make about it. On the other hand, we don't assume that most decisions that are life-altering for the individual are necessarily moral dilemmas. Who to marry, where to live, what job to take, and so on. These are all potentially heart-wrenching personal decisions, but they are not, and should not be construed as moral quandries.

Sometimes I feel as if the anti-choice forces attempt to intimidate the defenders of reproductive freedom by pretending that they are only people who respect the emotional impact of reproductive decisions. When the do so, they are dishonest.

One of the reasons I'm proud to be a defender of the sexual justice movement is because it affirms that free sexual, reproductive, and gender choices are an essential part of well-being.

Comments

I understand where you're coming from, Lindsay, but unfortunately we are forced to constantly restate the obvious or else we will be drowned out by the Christopaths who want to take the whole world for a flux capacitor-enhanced joyride back to the Neolithic era. Still, for a non-post about choice, you wrote a pretty good one.

If I ever have children...

It really hurts both Lindsay, Jr. and me when you write things like that.

thanks for the post. I didn't even KNOW that it was blog for choice day until I read your ads on the side of your page! I started this late in the evening, pretty tired, so passed on some of your links (sorry), but you get top billing, so I hope you get a lot of views!

http://svmomblog.typepad.com/silicon_valley_moms_blog/2007/01/hey_did_you_kno.html

You wrote:

> it's just obvious that fetuses aren't people

Well, no, it isn't obvious... otherwise the disussion about abortion would be, well, obviously less passionate than it is... would it not?

Is a baby still a "baby" the day _before_ it is born? Or is it still classified as a fetus? If your opinion is that, "yes, it is still a fetus and can be aborted by choice", then I'll back away slowly and leave you in peace. If not, then when exactly is the fetus, i.e. the "hunk of protoplasm", incubated long enough to become classified as a baby? This question does not have an "obvious" answer... and so, the debate rages on.

Have a happy blog-for-pro-choice day! ;)

cheers.

--biff.


Oh thank god someone's saying it: really, abortion has all the moral significance of removing a tooth.
When was the last time anyone (excepting perhaps former senator Santorum) dandled a fetus on their knee or coo-cooed and baby-talked to an embryo. It's a woman's body and a woman's choice, fucking period.

when exactly is the fetus, i.e. the "hunk of protoplasm", incubated long enough to become classified as a baby? This question does not have an "obvious" answer...

Yes it does: when the umbilical cord is cut and the child sucks air.

cfrost wrote:
>
> > when exactly is the fetus, i.e. the "hunk of
> > protoplasm", incubated long enough to become
> > classified as a baby? This question does not
> > have an "obvious" answer...
>
> Yes it does: when the umbilical cord is cut and
> the child sucks air.

Your militant position notwithstanding, I'm afraid that you are misinformed. In fact, Roe v. Wade itself states that the "point at which the fetus becomes ‘viable,’ that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks."

Obviously, that was written back in the 70s. Medical advances since then have likely pushed back the point of viability even further back toward conception. But back how far? Weeks? Months?

Again... these are questions that do not have obvious answers.

Best regards,

--biff.

One might envision a point in the future when embryos and their placentas could be transplanted from one woman to another or even another species. Something like that might come perhaps from efforts to preserve endangered species, e.g. transplantation from an endangered Grevy’s zebra to a donkey. A human embryo might eventually even be able to be grafted into a pig’s uterus. (Reproductive biology gets stranger all the time.) The antiabortionists would then claim that all fetuses were “viable”. Better to stick with a point that is readily and historically associated with the beginning of life, like birth. What’s on your driver’s license, your date of birth or date of conception?

Another question that has an obvious answer is that of the inviolability of a woman’s womb. If you put sperm into it against her will, it’s called rape; as long as we’re arguing semantics and definitions, what is further tampering called?

No biologist hallucinates that "life" begins at birth. Non-spontaneous abortion is a procedure designed to kill a living organism; if the killing doesn't happen, it isn't an abortion. Spontaneous abortion is when the fetus dies without inducement. The question is not whether it's a killing - of course it is - but rather whether we treat the matter ethically, morally, legally as the killing of a roach or as infanticide.

> If not, then when exactly is the fetus, i.e. the
> "hunk of protoplasm", incubated long enough to
> become classified as a baby?

It takes most couples, even those in their 20s, at least a few months to get pregnant. In other words, at least a few menstrual cycles. Odds are very high that in at least one of those cycles Mother Nature flushed out a fertilized ovum that was not going to grow into a viable human being but might have been able to grow into some sort of creature. Was that an "abortion"? Was it immoral of Gaia to do that?

Cranky

To me, it's just obvious that fetuses aren't people

And the reason that the abortion debate is so emotional is that it is equally obvious to your opponents that a viable fetus is as much a person as an infant.

Cranky, not a very good analogy. Personifying forces of nature, while a useful literary device, does not embue such forces with moral agency.

Isn't "To me..." kind of a dishonest omission, Biff?

I'm a Great Big Nerd, but I enjoyed Ragnell's contribution to this.

Hey Biff, you're totally right. With today's medical advances, golly gee, we can probably get unborn babies to live outside the womb successfully at, what, like 24 weeks now? Awesome! Of course they'll have developmental delays, will have problems with their internal organs, their eyes, and their ears, and so forth, and ... hmmn, how many machines will it require? How many dollars a day for our superhuman medical technology to step in?

Kind of like prolonging the lives of the poor 99 year olds who just want to die, isn't it?

Nature has defined when a fetus is viable. We are not Gods, to stand in the way of nature, and no religion that I have ever heard of suggests that we should. A two-inch piece of developing protoplasm is not a viable entity. I can pretend that my toaster has a soul, too.

I think she managed to shock even some of the ardent pro-choice activists in the room. This wasn't a spin or a posture for her, it was just reality. "What are you so worked up about?" she was asking, under the sneering gaze of some fratboy correspondent from a conservative opinion journal.

It was a fair question, and one that's not posed often enough.

That you can ask this-- knowing full well the answer-- is testimony to the incredibly poor job that has been done in framing this issue for public discourse.

The fundamental question of the abortion issue is "what gives us rights?" and more directly "what makes us human?"

The pro-lifers have a coherent theory: a divinely created soul enters the body at the moment of conception. At that point, it ceases to be a clump of cells and becomes a person, entitled to the same moral rights as anyone else-- and the termination of a pregnancy is therefore at least as serious as withholding life-saving care from a sick person, potentially as serious as homicide. Unfortunately this is an innately unprovable and mystical concept, completely unsuitable as the basis for public policy in a secular, pluralistic society.

Worse, their position is driven by politics such that it becomes inconsistent-- abortion is usually considered "OK" in cases of rape or incest, because the public would be sympathetic to it. This doesn't take seriously the argument that the fetus is a person, and instead attempts to punish women for having sex they might possibly have enjoyed. This becomes the underlying subtext for the movement: the domination and suppression of women.

The pro-choice side focuses on this because it is genuinely outrageous; however, in so doing, they blithely dismiss the roots of the pro-life position. "It's just a clump of cells." The "viability" alternative is a sliding scale that fails to address the fundamental roots of our moral obligations to one-another: we owe moral and legal consideration not because of an innate quality of person-hood but to a variable set of qualities dependent upon available medical technology. This is legally and practically useful, but remains totally unsatisfying from a moral standpoint.

This is only natural because "what makes us [morally] human [agents]?" is one of the great philosophical issues of all time. Our lack of a satisfying answer ultimately undergirds most, if not all of our bioethics controversies, but we never talk about it because our public discourse isn't set up to handle that level of discussion.

It's extremely frustrating.

And the reason that the abortion debate is so emotional is that it is equally obvious to your opponents that a viable fetus is as much a person as an infant.

Only it isn't, SC. If it were, then the anti-choicers would be calling for abortion to be given the exact same legal status as premeditated murder. Under this scenario, both the mother and the physician involved would be guilty of first-degree murder and be subject to punishment accordingly. But no one outside the most extreme fringes of the anti-choice movement actually advocates this. So while they may say that "a viable fetus is as much a person as an infant," they refuse to accept the logical conclusions of this argument.

Among other people, Scott Lemieux and the rest of the crew at Lawyers, Guns & Money have gone over this in exhaustive detail in numerous posts.

Except, Kvetch, that the logic you're using makes no sense.

I can believe that shooting running over someone because my brakes failed, shooting someone in battle, and beating someone to death unprovoked are all equally killing a person, and all wrong, without that being ANY reason to argue that they should all be treated the same by the law.

running over someone because my brakes failed

No, I'm sorry, but you're the one who's not making sense here. Running someone over because your brakes failed is an accident. Deliberately terminating a pregnancy is not. The comparison is specious.

If someone truly believes in their heart of hearts that a fetus is indistinguishable from an infant, then abortion is deliberate, premeditated infanticide. The usual mitigating factors--accident, self-defense, crime of passion--simply don't apply here. Why, then, are we not hearing calls for women who terminate their pregnancies to be treated as cold-blooded killers?

Well, the simplest route is the direct one--"unwanted pregnancy" could be counted as a mitigating circumstance.

My point with an accidental killing, a deliberate killing generally considered justifiable, and a deliberate killing generally considered unjustifiable is that agreeign "such and such an action is avoidable and resulted in the death of a person" doesn't make (in current law) the consequences the same; saying that in one specific case it must is sophistry of the most nonsensical sort.

Ah, found just the LGM post I was looking for. SamChevre, I encourage you to check it out...Monsieur Lemieux makes the point far better than I could. But in case you choose not to, I'll just point out the crux.

The 2004 Republican Party platform contains the following two sentences:

We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. [...] We oppose abortion, but our pro-life agenda does not include punitive action against women who have an abortion.

Clearer now? "Unborn children" are protected under the 14th Amendment...which would mean that terminating a pregnancy constitutes murder. But somehow women shouldn't be subjected to "punitive action" for this particular type of murder. Given that none of the usual mitigating factors apply, how can they possibly square this circle? Scott Lemieux comes up with a couple of likely explanations, but I don't want to spoil the fun, so I'll say no more beyond "Read the whole thing."

The leading wingnut on this issue here locally makes it quite easy. He does pay lip service to the Holocaust of innocent babes being killed, but is far more animated by the ancient fear of female sexuality run amuck, causing, in his lurid fantasies, men to be infected by femininity, and women by masculinity; children to disobey parents, women to disobey men, men to disobey their "Commander-in-Chief" and everyone to disobey the Lord their God. Resulting, no doubt, in black lesbian hoodlums painting the streets of west Austin in blood...

Its these neurotic fears (which are old as humanity) that make this a political issue in this country and elsewhere with people who show a positive contempt for "the sacred value of all life" in other contexts. And so we have the major pro-life organizations country pushing for legal restrictions on birth-control to adults, despite overwhelming evidence that lack of access to or knowledge of such things is certain to ensure the "murder" of more innocent fetuses. (I don't think we need to review the record of "values conservatives" on the health of babies and children post-womb. How much publicity has our third-world-level infant mortality rate in this country gotten lately?)

I've read it--several times. Others have pointed out it's flaws--many-several times. The basic problem is that absolutely NOTHING in the 14th Amendment or any other legal document says anything about what mitigating factors can be considered; there is nothing that would make counting "unwanted pregnancy" as a mitigating factor in any way problematic.

there is nothing that would make counting "unwanted pregnancy" as a mitigating factor in any way problematic

Perhaps I haven't framed this with the utmost clarity, so I'll try again: What is it about "unwanted pregnancy" that makes it a mitigating factor for the woman, but not for the doctor? Scott L points out the ridiculousness of this: "Enshrining this principle into criminal law would certainly have interesting consequences; if you want somebody killed, just pay somebody to do it, and as far as you're concerned it’s all nice and legal."

You end up arguing that the doctor who performs an abortion is a fully fledged adult with full adult legal rights and responsibilities, while the woman is...what, exactly? A child? A passive container?

For me the point of viability is not what's important in terms of the moral issue, what's important is the capacity for consciousness and experience. Assuming you don't believe in a supernatural soul pulling the brain's strings, this should be entirely dependent on brain function, and medical science has shown that the synapses in the brain don't even form until the mid to late second trimester (see here">http://www.tnr.com/013100/easterbrook013100.html">here and here, for example, along with some of the papers cited in the 'references' section of this wikipedia article). Before that there can be no passing of electrochemical impulses between neurons in the brain, and so no organized brain activity whatsoever. So until that point, I think anyone who believes that mental processes originate from brain function should agree that the fetus probably has no more consciousness than a plant, which to me means there's nothing immoral about killing it. After that I think abortion is more morally questionable, but I still think the mother's right to control her body takes precedence, and anyway I doubt the consciousness of a fetus in the isolation of the womb could be much more complex than that of some of the animals that we routinely kill for food (but I think that's morally questionable as well).

Enshrining this principle into criminal law would certainly have interesting consequences; if you want somebody killed, just pay somebody to do it, and as far as you're concerned it’s all nice and legal.

Of course, that's already the case when one person has a clear mitigating circumstance and one doesn't. (If, for example, a battered woman enlisted someone to kill her batterer--the history of abuse would be a mitigating circumstance for her, but not for the killer.)

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