Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Place to Aruge about the Morality of Abortion

I'm going to post a lot about abortion - I'm very passionate about the issue, I think it's very important.

But what I'm not interested in, is the debate about whether or not abortion is moral. Whenever anyone tries to talk about the reality of abortion someone comes in and says "what about the babies". I used to be interested in those sorts of arguments, I used to be pretty fucking good at them, but I'm no longer have the energy to argue with people who don't believe women can make their own decisions, and have no interest in acutal lived experienced.

I don't want every post I write about abortion to be a place where these debates happen, because they bore me, but I understand that other people want to have this discussion. So my solution is to create a thread where these discussion can happen. If anyone ever posts about the morality of abortion anywhere else I'll cut and paste it here.

My opinion is that the only person who can judge the morality of any abortion is the individual woman involved. I believe it's simple, I believe it is cut and dry, and I don't believe in any time limit. Here and here are some posts by Bitch Ph.D. that I love, and say everything I need to say about the relationship between morality and abortion:

The bottom line about abortion is this. Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments? If you are anti-abortion, then no. You do not. You have an absolute moral position that you don't trust anyone to question, and therefore you think that abortion should be illegal. But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute. That moral judgment is involved. And that right there is where I start to get angry and frustrated, because unless you have an absolute position that all human life (arguably, all life period, but that isn't the argument I'm engaging with right now) are equally valuable (in which case, no exceptions for the death penalty, and I expect you to agonize over women who die trying to abort, and I also expect you to work your ass off making this a more just world in which women don't have to choose abortions, but this is also not the argument I'm engaging right now), then there is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women. I am completely serious about this.

Let me unpack a bit, because I know this sounds polemical, since I am clearly stating a bottom line. When pro-choice feminists like Wolf, or liberal men, or a lot of women, even, say things like, "I'm pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with... [third-trimester abortion / sex-selection / women who have multiple abortions / women who have abortions for "convenience" / etc.]" then what you are saying is that your discomfort matters more than an individual woman's ability to assess her own circumstances. That you don't think that women who have abortions think through the very questions that you, sitting there in your easy chair, can come up with. That a woman who is contemplating an invasive, expensive, and uncomfortable medical procedure doesn't think it through first. In short, that your judgment is better than hers.


  1. Fuscia, what you're saying is exceedingly insensitive. My stance is pro-choice. Personally, I couldn't have one. I'd rather adopt. But for instance, do you view my friend who had an abortion because if she continued with the pregnancy she would have died, a murderess? It wasn't easy for her to give up her only chance to have a child - she was told she would be infertile - but it was her life or the babys.

    How about another person I know who aborted the baby because they had been impregnated via incestuous rape?

    I strongly disagree with abortion as birth control - and a lot of people do use it as such - but I don't think all abortion is wrong, and I am upset you're not factoring the emotional trauma the parents go through.

    The decision to abort your pregnancy is not an easy one.

  2. For me abortion rates are like the canary in the mine shaft, if they are going up then there's way too much unprotected sex happening, and that's not good for other things.

    Abortion really should be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. It's a choice that every should be able to make, but hopefully one that they'll never have to.

  3. fuscia, a fetus is just the potential for life. Once it's able to survive without my body it's got rights. Until then the right of an actual human trumps the right of the potential one.

  4. Fusica, you didn't read my comment

    "until the baby is able to survive outside my body then it's rights are secondary."

    That's important distinction. It's when a fetus goes from a potential human being to an actual one.

    Every pregnancy and birth carries a risk to the wellbeing of a mother in a physical or emtional sense. So you are asking that a women's right not have the right to choose herself into a life threatening situation for a group of cells that have the potential to be a human being but won't be without her. Until we have the technology to grow babies outside the womb, then the fetus's rights will be secondary to the wellbeing of the mother.

    And yes I beileve that my mom had every right to terminate the pregnancy of me if she needed to.

  5. hear hear stef, you are going great guns, much better than i could.

  6. Anonymous12:34 pm

    yes - nicely put stef

  7. what do you determine an "inconvenience" fuscia? i thought children rather tended to change one's life completely, certainly the first progeny does.

  8. Fuscia, have you thought through your lack of a potential/actual human dichotomy? It's a simple fact that pregnancy is a gradual process in which something which is most emphatically not human (a blastocyte) becomes a human baby capable of surviving outside the womb. Any attempt to pick a point at which it suddenly shifts from non-human to human is necessarily arbitrary and unsatisfactory in many respects. You prefer the arbitrary determination that an ovum becomes a human when a sperm penetrates it, but this no more logical than claiming that a baby becomes a human when the umbilical cord is cut.

    In other words, there's room for argument about how far into a pregnancy abortions can be carried out, but no room for argument about whether they can be carried out at all.

  9. Nope a fertilzed ovum, is not a human being. All those frozen embryos in clincs around the world aren't being murdered, they are waiting for an enviroment in order to become life.

    I see the fertilized ovum as having the potential to be life, but even the most senstive of pregnancy tests isn't going to pick up that someone is pregnant until at least 4-5weeks in.

    I don't really see abortion as a cut and dried issue. Ideally it shouldn't be used as the primary form of birth control, and done after the second trimester begins. Because the potential life is turning into actual life.

    But every unplanned pregnancy has a different set of cirucumstances that need to be considered. There should be a broad set of guidelines so that mother and, ideally, father along with health professionals can come to a decision together.

  10. Since your OP changed I'm going to make some comments on them.

    Gendered abortions - You're looking at this decision through a western viewpoint. I'm living in a country where in some places there are up to 150 boys for every 100 girls. Because in some cultures having a boy trumps what a women may feel about this medical procedure. There's a reason for the gender ratio we have and upsetting this has some very grave consquences.

    Late/Third Trimester abortions. This is where the pro-lifers are gaining traction. To deny at some point the fetus begins to have more rights as their potential life turns into actual life, is a nasty flaw in your arguement. At some point a fetus becomes a being, which I see is the point where it can survive outside the women. For that point the right of the fetus start to become important.

  11. If saying that women are the best people to make decision about continuing pregnancies is a Western perspective then I'll take it. The reason women sex-select is because they live in a horrificly misogynist society. If you want to stop women sex-selecting there's more than enough work to be done to make sure there's no reason to sex-select. That'll do far more actual good than hand-wringing about sex-selection

    I believe that a pregnant woman knows far more than I do about the life inside her. I trust her to weigh up that life vs. her reasons for wanting an abortion far better than I ever could.

    Reality bears this out, very few women have late abortions, and the

    Stef my view of abortion isn't about potential life vs. actual life, it doesn't come out of a philsophy class. I believe that women must have access to abortion on their terms, because I know that individual women are the only people who can make good decisions about pregnancies.

  12. It's been pointed out that a sticking point in the abortion debate is where a human life begins. I think this is the biggest problem.

    In terms of the definition being whether the baby can survive outside the womb, I have to say I disagree. Premature babies can survive outside the womb. Mature babies also.

    If the qualification then becomes 'without medical assistance' then that leaves the abortion debate scarily close to crossing over into a euthanasia debate. My position is that the whole debate then falls down because in self-interest, surely no-one could advocate an argument where they cease to be humans (and therefore lose their right to life) when they become dependent on medical assistance to live.

    Going back to the original linked work - logically, it doesn't work. Why make murder illegal if we trust people's moral judgement?

    Surely, if the question of the legality of abortion is about trust in moral judgement, then the obvious conclusion is that yes, there no trust! Just as there is no trust in people's control over greed or lust or violence. State legislation is the embodiment of distrust in private citizen's capacity for self-control.

    Would we say, hey, you can trust me not to murder - so let me choose, okay? Replace that verb with any other activity you like and the answers are clear.
    So from that perspective, I think the logical basis for her argument is a little shaky.

    I suspect though, that she is right. Why else have civil rights been withheld from non-whites and females? Distrust. I think that the right to choose will inevitably be given back to women.

    If I actually have anything to offer the debate, it might be this: a T-shirt my mate saw recently was worn by a baby and it said, 'Now that I'm safe, I'm pro-choice!' I'll always be pro-life to myself, but I know that not everyone shares my views. Just don't castigate me for being inconsistent: I'm a private citizen and I'm not writing the laws. Nor am I compelling others to share my view. The mistake made most by feminists in this debate is in my opinion their failure to recognise that some men may actually trust women to do their own thing.

    Waaaant my baby back baby back baby back baby back.....Waaaaant my baby back baby back baby back...


  13. Fuscia, if I say "the sun revolves around the earth" after you, will it make it so? If a fertilised ovum is a human being, my wife is pretty sure that she's unintentionally flushed a human being down a toilet, possibly more than once. That's quite a sense of humour God's got, huh?

    Mellie, we're all here by some chain of circumstance. For all I know, I wouldn't be here if my parents hadn't messed up their contraception. I do know at least one of my nephews owes his existence to that. If it were possible to count up all the potential people who aren't here because of some chain of circumstances (got an abortion, remembered to buy condoms, got too pissed to come, decided to put off having a baby til next year, kneed the rapist in the bollocks and got away, etc etc etc tending to infinity), the nonexistent people would probably outnumber the atoms of the universe. No, I'm not going to feel bad for them, and if the blob of gooey that eventually became me hadn't successfully latched onto the wall of my mother's uterus no-one would be feeling bad about me either. So yes, it's fair to say that "Now that I'm safe I'm pro-choice". And if I'd been aborted (no doubt there are some that wish I had been), my opinion on the subject wouldn't count for any more than that of my hundreds of potential brothers and sisters who never actually eventuated.

  14. Mellie I think you misunderstood Bitch Ph.D's argument (and mine, since I agree with her), she wasn't saying that you had to agree that abortion were morally right. But that once you concede that any abortion was morally right then the only reason to draw a line outlawing any other sort of abortion is that you don't trust women to make moral decisions. Once you've acknowledged that one abortion is OK then you can't make an argument based on the fetus. So someone has to make a decision which abortions are OK and which aren't. Either you think that you have a right to make that decision or you believe that women can make that decision. I don't think there are any reasons why someone would think they can make better moral decisions about abortions than the women involved, except that they don't trust women to make moral decisions.

    That's the argument in a nutshell. It's not comparable to murder because most people don't say "I'm ok with killing someone because they hid their drugs, but not because they hit you". (well the legal system does, but that's a different matter).

    I've no idea what sense you consider yourself pro-life, but if you really do trust women to make their own choices then I've no quarrel with you (unless you want to talk about it with me).

  15. Why only a fertilized ovum? The ovum is alive before fertilization, and has the potential to grow in to an adult human. Logically, all women should get pregnant as soon as they are capable, and again immediately after each birth, to minimise the number of humans they kill over the course of their lives. And of course, Onanism is also mass murder, and should be punished accordingly.

  16. "You are tarring 'women' with a generic brush, as though all were equally capable and equally responsible in their decision making."

    I'm a feminist, of course I believe all women are capable of making decisions over their own body.

    If you don't then that's entirely consistent with not believing that women have any right to abortion.

    "You are also not factoring in that the laws of society to a very large degree 'inform' the decisions people make, if drinking a gin and tonic is illegal, then substantially less people will do it. "

    This simply isn't true - either when it comes to abortion or your analogy. When the New Zealand abortion law changed to make abortion harder to get, the number of abortions had by New Zealand women went up (as far as anyone can figure).

    And prohibition didn't lead to a great decrease in alcohol consumption either.

  17. It's not a matter of opinion, historical fact shows that making abortion and alcohol illegal does nothing to decrease the number of abortions or the consumption of alcohol.

    I've no idea where you got the rest of your statements form - they don't reflect my beliefs.

  18. In some cases making a behaviour illegal makes it less common, in other cases it doesn't.

    Abortion and alcohol are both instances where there is evidence that making it illegal does not decrease the behaviour.

  19. Maia that certainly clears it up - I hadn't realised that there was a 'grade' of abortion. I still don't think there's anything to be gained down that path though - state law is always going to assume a moral oversight via the barometer of public opinion and it is simply the degree to which the state interferes that changes. So to attack abortion law on the basis of moral judgement is really an attack on any non-extreme version of laissez-faire capitalism (ie. enforcement of property law and contracts). Which reads as a very libertarian position. (Which it obviously is)

    I say that I'm pro life but that the ethical dilemma will always arise when allowing the baby to live will kill the mother. I don't know the answer to that one yet and I certainly do not envy those who have had to make that decision for themselves. Given that these are often ectopic pregnancies where the baby would not survive full term, perhaps that is the justification. Can we know that for sure? I don't know. It's possibly the closest I've come so far.

    Why not pro-choice? Cosmetic abortion. Consider this:

    a) all sustainable human life is sacred [and should therefore not be terminated]
    b) cosmetic abortion (products of rape, incest) denies a)

    c) if a), then not b)

    Pregnancy by rape or incest is a horrific situation to be put in - I can't appreciate it so I won't try - I'm not trying to deny that. What I'm getting at is the value of human life.

    I believe a) to be true. I also wonder though, is it not possible for a child born from something as disgusting as rape or incest be normal? Yes the child would be a perpetual reminder of that poison but the child would only be different in terms of what it is told about its origins and how much the feelings of others are impressed onto that child. The child could grow up perfectly happy and normal and then have to go through the shock once it is older - but to feed them the poison from an early age is to deny them the chance at a happy life.

    Gad, it sounds dangerously utilitarian. That's not where I'm going with it.

    But I'm a Catholic so that's more or less why I got to that position.

  20. Anonymous8:51 pm

    A foetus doesn't have human rights and I don't argue that it should have, but I do argue that it should have SOME rights - say comparable with an animal's right to humane treatment, or the right of a dead body to the respect and dignity befitting an ex-human. Why is it a crime to torture a kitten but OK to rip a foetus limb from limb? Why is it a crime to "offer indignities" to a dead body but OK to toss a foetus in an incinerator? This is what has always troubled me about abortion: it seems to demand a heartlessness that cannot be good for society. I don't see why we can't terminate pregnancies humanely with the same respectful regret with which we put animals down. I can't help wondering if the insistence that a foetus is just a piece of tissue is rather like the military practice of dehumanising the enemy. It's not a baby but it's not just tissue either.