27 July 2005

abortion ramble

[[the fire boss is thinking about hipsters and hipsterdom, and very interestingly at that. especially check out two sections: (1) living between hip and mainstream, having both of them make funny faces at you; (2) loving things that you find offensive.]]

and in the opposite corner: amelia, head full of abortion politics. i guess it's the roberts nomination, and his "feminists" for "life" wife, that predisposed me. then, at friday dinner, i was surprised by someone's "pro-life" status. [and let me just say: can we all stop defining ourselves as part of a euphemistic little camp and start telling people what we favor and oppose? because frankly, i think of myself as pro-life, but i oppose most government restrictions on abortion. and i bet most of my "anti-choice" friends don't actually want to end, you know, choice. but that is not where this little piece is going.]

i've read a couple of pieces lately from "my side" that really fail to get to the heart of the problem, or to acknowledge the few, but very substantial, principled ways to be opposed to abortion. start with this (rather aged) bitch phd post, entitled "do you trust women?" i loved the piece, because it helped me put some chunks of principle in their places. she's arguing, essentially, that folks who oppose abortion because they believe it to be murder cannot but surrender that position when they allow exceptions. exceptions imply shades of grey; shades of grey necessitate complicated moral judgments; legal exceptions imply that (specifically female?) individuals are incapable of making these moral judgments accurately. furthermore (i would add), exceptions (for example, for rape and incest) are usually predicated on choice and responsibility, not some sort of change in the moral status of the cells at issue.

which is, i think, a correct starting point for conversations between people who oppose abortion rights and people who favor them. especially for those of us who feel obligated, by our faith or for whatever reason, to place human lives on a very high pedestal, it is worthwhile to understand that there is no common ground where one person believes that an abortion ends an innocent human life and another believes that an abortion prevents one. now, that is in many respects a sad state of affairs, but i do think it irreducible, unless you want to argue about what constitutes a human life. i don't. at least, not right now.

what i do want to acknowledge is the fact that i have to respect the belief that life begins...well, early. and by that logic, i need to acknowledge the possibility of the existence of feminists who oppose abortion. if human life is sacred and every conception immediately creates a human life, then the termination of a pregnancy, any pregnancy for any reason at any time, is something to abhor. the fact that women are the only people who can become pregnant doesn't change that. what it does mean is that "feminists for life" -- people so identifying -- had damn well better follow a wholesale consistent life ethic. furthermore, as feminists they need to incorporate into that tradition a steadfast refusal to believe that biology is destiny. if they're going to ask women to bear children that they didn't expect or want and can't afford, they had better have some great and radical ideas about the advancement of all women, including girls born to teenagers and mamas who want to breastfeed during board meetings. also, duh, comprehensive sex ed.

so it's logically possible. hurrah. but do many of the women who currently identify as "feminists for life" actually meet those criteria? that is the most rhetorical question i have ever asked.

but back to the question of whether we trust women. i think there may be a gender-neutral rationalist argument that we cannot trust anyone to make such a judgment: the material disadvantages of [not ending x, our gender-neutral condition] easily outweigh the material advantages; hence most people will choose to [end x] if left to their own moral devices. but check out the data: actual empirical people fucking up narrowly rationalist arguments right and left! which is to say, most pregnancies get carried to term, including a hell of a lot of really, really dangerous or disadvantageous ones. as this post (also from bitch phd) makes clear, the vast majority of women are fully aware of the mind-bending gravity of carrying, bearing, raising a child.

all of this is getting to one point: whatever your moral convictions about abortion, you need to understand that they are, indeed must be, different from your political/legal preferences about abortion. abortion might be awful. it might be murder. it might be "genocide," as the crazies outside PPSP are fond of putting it. none of that means that public policies restricting access to the safe provision of abortion services are the right public policy instrument for ending abortions. for a variety of reasons (see "mind-bending gravity," above), women will seek abortions whether they are legal or not. this has a direct analog in abstinence-only sex "education:" namely, you can make the practice secret and illicit, but that will not by itself have any effect, save this: the consequences of the act will be more dire.

a couple of people over the years have accused me of being "consequentialist" when i make arguments like this one against abortion restrictions. to which i say: well, yes. OF COURSE! policy is about cause and effect. that is why lots of gay-bashers are now trying to legitimate themselves by claiming that gay marriage would be bad for children, or for "society," or something like that. that is why abstinence-only hacks are trying really hard to craft studies that show some sort of positive effect. that is why there are so many assholes out there who will tell you that "abortion is bad for women" or "abortion causes breast cancer." if true, those would be legitimate reasons to legislate.

as it is, i think that people who believe that abortion is murder need to consider a huge constellation of public policies that might actually decrease the number of abortions. if those people additionally identify themselves as feminists, they need to work even harder: this is not about gender neutrality, this is about full autonomy regardless of biological difference. as for me, well, i don't believe that life begins at conception. i'm off the hook!

just kidding.