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THIS IS MY ABORTION
July 13, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Guardian "I took secret photos of my abortion to empower and educate women: Thisismyabortion.com shows that the reality of abortion is far from the vile and grotesque images used by the pro-life lobby"

Interviews with Vice, Business Insider, Jessica Gottlieb, and Jane Dough. Criticism from Catholic Online, Jill Stanek, the Catholic View for Women, and The Blaze.
posted by andoatnp (118 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The nightmaresque post processing is giving those photos an appearance I'm thinking maybe she wasn't going for.

That said this is very brave for her to do.
posted by schroedinger at 3:13 PM on July 13, 2012


Is it safe to click on any of these links? Like, will I get fired from my job?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:13 PM on July 13, 2012


It's not exactly cuddly kittens either. What it is, is just stark and real.
posted by salishsea at 3:14 PM on July 13, 2012


If I thought any of this was not safe for work, I would have mentioned it. That being said, I don't know your boss.
posted by andoatnp at 3:14 PM on July 13, 2012


There are four photos...two have lots of machinery in them and two have a jar filling with blood. If this is NSFW for you, then it is what it is.
posted by salishsea at 3:15 PM on July 13, 2012


Sorry not machinery...the first two are just empty bottles on a side table in a clinic...
posted by salishsea at 3:16 PM on July 13, 2012


It's a glass bottle with blood. It is safe for work unless you work at the Vatican.

And this woman deserves a standing ovation. BRAVA.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:18 PM on July 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


It is really striking to me how abortion in the US has, while (still) legal, been culturally stigmatized to the point that it's never discussed openly as a medical procedure would be, but rather it's pushed into a mysterious, frightening closet.

A large portion of the pro-choice movement has accepted the framing "abortions are bad, they should remain legal, but we should eliminate them by making them unnecessary" which, in my opinion, cedes far more territory than we can afford to cede given how threatened reproductive rights are in the US anyway.

How individual women feel about their abortions has everything to do with all they bring to bear on their individual experience — and those experiences are varied. That means that while for many women it's unpleasant and traumatic, it's also the case that for many women it's not — and in the last thirty years I've increasingly seen the default in the conversation become "abortions are horrible, traumatic experiences inherently, for everyone" even from the most staunch pro-choice activists. This is a big mistake, not just because it's not true (for all women), but because, again, it cedes territory to anti-abortion activists that reproductive rights activists can't afford to give up.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:22 PM on July 13, 2012 [38 favorites]


I'm having a hard time reconciling these (to me) plain, inoffensive photos with all the anti-choice outrage. I mean, I know what it symbolizes to them---loss of a life, etc---but it's so anti-climactic. I shed more blood every month on my period.
posted by book 'em dano at 3:24 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's a glass bottle with blood. It is safe for work unless you work at the Vatican.

Um.... glass containers full of blood seem to be perfectly kosher (so to speak) with the Vatican...
posted by Huck500 at 3:27 PM on July 13, 2012


I'm having a hard time reconciling these (to me) plain, inoffensive photos with all the anti-choice outrage. I mean, I know what it symbolizes to them---loss of a life, etc---but it's so anti-climactic. I shed more blood every month on my period

Then I do not think you are making a good faith effort to understand the logic of the anti-abortion position.

As for the website, the woman completely misses the point. People use a picture of an aborted fetus with hands and feet because that has a powerful emotional effect on people, and because it depicts the reality that not all abortions are like the ones in these pictures. That being said, this woman is fighting a straw man. No one has claimed that every abortion is the killing of a baby with fingers and toes and the capacity for long division. The essence of the pro-life position, at least when it's fully worked out and articulately stated, is based on deeper, more interesting, and more complex considerations than whether or not your aborted fetus makes you shudder.
posted by pdq at 3:30 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am very pro-choice - such as it is outwith the US, where views on abortion are seen as more personal than political standpoints. But I can't look at these pictures, as I hope to christ that it isn't a choice I'm ever required to make.
posted by mippy at 3:35 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The essence of the pro-life position, at least when it's fully worked out and articulately stated, is based on deeper, more interesting, and more complex considerations than whether or not your aborted fetus makes you shudder.

The essence of the pro-life position is that fetuses are equivalent to killing real live babies with fingers and toes, and so they use fetuses who look like out-of-the-womb babies to drive the point home.
posted by schroedinger at 3:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [34 favorites]


I know several women who have had abortions and who feel about them the way one feels about any ordinary medical procedure. They are not ashamed, and they do not feel traumatized, and yet so many people want them to act regretful.
posted by rtha at 3:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [22 favorites]


Gotta say, the Instagramming of the photos don't help her cause. It really puts a veneer of "terrible things happen here" on the pics.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:41 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


People use a picture of an aborted fetus with hands and feet because that has a powerful emotional effect on people, and because it depicts the reality that not all abortions are like the ones in these pictures. That being said, this woman is fighting a straw man. No one has claimed that every abortion is the killing of a baby with fingers and toes and the capacity for long division.

I have never, ever seen or heard an anti-abortion argument that did not go to the example that you create: fingers, toes, a mind, and all that. You say she's fighting a straw man, but I'm at a loss to understand how--particularly when you yourself point out what sort of pictures are used by anti-abortion activists and why.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


No one has claimed that every abortion is the killing of a baby with fingers and toes and the capacity for long division.

Huh. I have heard plenty of people make exactly this argument. And even more hint at it.

yet so many people want them to act regretful

Well, there are a lot of people, it seems to me, who still believe, consciously or unconsciously, that women are wombs -- that having babies is what makes women women. I have a fair number of female friends who have chosen not to have children (or, occasionally, have discovered they were infertile). They have all gotten somewhere between some and a shit ton of fuss from family over their decisions. The idea that a woman could have an abortion and not be permanently scarred by it is kind anathema to this point of view.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:49 PM on July 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


The essence of the pro-life position, at least when it's fully worked out and articulately stated, is based on deeper, more interesting, and more complex considerations than whether or not your aborted fetus makes you shudder.

Really? Because I'm not seeing those in the Right to Life posters.

and because it depicts the reality that not all abortions are like the ones in these pictures.

No. But 91% are performed between weeks 6 and 12 so 91% are pretty much exactly like the ones in these pictures. I'm not sure where you're going with this but it's whiffy.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:50 PM on July 13, 2012 [42 favorites]


I have never, ever seen or heard an anti-abortion argument that did not go to the example that you create: fingers, toes, a mind, and all that.

Then you have not exposed yourself to very many. Have you ever tried to read articulations of the position by, say, Elizabeth Anscomb or Robert George? Anti-abortion people, like many factions, often have their passion outweigh their articulateness. That's unfortunate, but it's not very honest (I'm referring to her, not you) to pretend that a given subset of the arguments against abortion represent all that there is to say for that side of the debate.
posted by pdq at 3:52 PM on July 13, 2012


Having given my students a "write a persuasive essay about a debatable issue" assignment, I decided to take a risk and allow them to choose abortion as a topic. I figured, what the hell, it's the end of the year, we're not doing presentations or live debates, and these kids may be 8th graders but they've really shocked me with how bright they were.

Reading the two or three anti-abortion papers I got, I found myself really curious as to the sources and the statistics they cited. I followed up on their sources, which amounted to deadbabyfetuses.com (I made that up just now, I have no idea if there is such a site and I won't look to see if there is). The facts and figures they stated amounted to their being hardly any babies born in the US at all since Roe v. Wade.

Their sources were not the sum total of the anti-abortion debate (as I explained to these students), but misinformation like that drastically undermines the position. And yes, my memory of those websites leaves me very grateful for this woman's pictures and her actions.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


There's this quote from Jill Stanek's blog: I am still overwhelmed with sadness looking at that jar of bloody pulp. Jane’s dead baby is in there, even if unrecognizable, and Jane had the great idea to “document” the murder. Both the visual and the thought are hard to bear.

That's part of the reason that I'm feeling a little hopeless looking at the photos. I see a jar with some blood, and she sees evidence of murder. How on earth do you bridge the gap between those two viewpoints?
posted by book 'em dano at 3:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


"The idea that a woman could have an abortion and not be permanently scarred by it is kind anathema to this point of view."

There's a lot of complex psychology involved in all this and I think it's really important to try to avoid even implying that any individual woman's trauma and unease about her abortion is just a response to propoganda — because it's not.

Well, it's not necessarily. There's probably someone out there for whom it reduces to something so simple. But for almost all other women who feel their abortion were traumatic, the reasons are complex and valid.

But that these experiences are all valid, and should be respected, is part of why I think it's very important that the experiences of women who do not feel traumatized are validated and respected. What I've seen happen is that the pendulum has swung far in the direction of illegitimatizing, explicitly or implicitly, the experiences of women which don't conform to this idea that abortion is a horrible thing. It's certainly horrible to some women, both those favoring and opposing abortion rights. But it's certainly not horrible to all and the presumption that it is, is just as wrong and offensive as the presumption that it is not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Then you have not exposed yourself to very many. Have you ever tried to read articulations of the position by, say, Elizabeth Anscomb or Robert George? Anti-abortion people, like many factions, often have their passion outweigh their articulateness. That's unfortunate, but it's not very honest (I'm referring to her, not you) to pretend that a given subset of the arguments against abortion represent all that there is to say for that side of the debate.

So the fact that there are calm, rational anti-abortion arguments out there means that this woman's page and her pictures amount to her fighting a straw man? Again, you know damn well there are mouth-foaming fanatics out there waving posters of dead, bloody babies in piles, and you also know damn well that those pictures don't represent the majority--or even remotely close to it--of real abortions. So how is showing what the real thing usually looks like a punch at a straw man?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Really? Because I'm not seeing those in the Right to Life posters.

One poster does not encapsulate the entirety of the right to life position. The point being made is that if we feel uncomfortable chopping up an unborn fetus with fingers and toes then we should feel uncomfortable chopping up an unborn fetus that's less fully formed.

No. But 91% are performed between weeks 6 and 12 so 91% are pretty much exactly like the ones in these pictures. I'm not sure where you're going with this but it's whiffy.

The point of the posters, at least as I personally understand them, is that if you feel antsy aborting a well-formed fetus then it is awfully hard to come up with an intellectually honest way of drawing the line where the fetus becomes too unsettling to allow aborting. Saying "any time before it leaves the womb" is logical, in a way, but lots of people get pretty creeped out thinking about a viable baby at 8 1/2 months getting its skull crushed in. So most people want to draw some line before "leaves the womb" but after conception.
posted by pdq at 3:59 PM on July 13, 2012


Then you have not exposed yourself to very many.

Robert George argues that embryos are complete human beings, so I'm not seeing how that's different from the more popularly known position that fetuses have fingers and toes just like already-born babies.
posted by rtha at 4:00 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Robert George argues that embryos are complete human beings, so I'm not seeing how that's different from the more popularly known position that fetuses have fingers and toes just like already-born babies

Are you equivocating complete in the sense of fingers and toes with complete in the sense of deserving full moral status? It seems like you are, or at least others are, though forgive me if you are not. the arguments of people like Robert George deal in terms of moral and political philosophy and what exactly is to be made of personhood. Perfectly reasonable people can disagree with him. But this woman seems to want to pretend that, if the aborted fetus doesn't look like a newborn baby, the whole position is shaken. That's not the case.
posted by pdq at 4:04 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


But that these experiences are all valid, and should be respected, is part of why I think it's very important that the experiences of women who do not feel traumatized are validated and respected. What I've seen happen is that the pendulum has swung far in the direction of illegitimatizing, explicitly or implicitly, the experiences of women which don't conform to this idea that abortion is a horrible thing. It's certainly horrible to some women, both those favoring and opposing abortion rights. But it's certainly not horrible to all and the presumption that it is, is just as wrong and offensive as the presumption that it is not.

Certainly. This is the reason why the Pro-Choice people are Pro-Choice and not Pro-Abortion (despite the rhetoric). There are a lot of different reasons for having abortions, and there are a lot of different reasons for having children, and we ought to respect those reasons and those choices (even if we wouldn't make the same choices if we were in that woman's position).
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:04 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


book 'em dano: "There's this quote from Jill Stanek's blog: I am still overwhelmed with sadness looking at that jar of bloody pulp. Jane’s dead baby is in there, even if unrecognizable, and Jane had the great idea to “document” the murder. Both the visual and the thought are hard to bear. "
I'd be interested in knowing what this Stanek person thinks Jane's punishment should be. I mean, it's murder, right, and the victim is a minor so life without parole would be typical I think.
posted by brokkr at 4:06 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you equivocating complete in the sense of fingers and toes with complete in the sense of deserving full moral status?

No. But I'm saying that while there are certainly people who are writing in a more nuanced way about being against abortion, it takes an awful lot of deliberate ignoring to pretend that the anti-abortion movement that is most visible is "has fingers and toes, see!" is somehow not the most visible. Those sign-waving people I used to walk past whenever I walked by Planned Parenthood clinic I lived near? Fingers-and-toes-don't-murder-your-baby people, all of them.
posted by rtha at 4:08 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


"That's part of the reason that I'm feeling a little hopeless looking at the photos. I see a jar with some blood, and she sees evidence of murder. How on earth do you bridge the gap between those two viewpoints?"

You don't. You just say that she's wrong. Because she is.

And, importantly, I think we shouldn't be afraid of saying she's wrong and, instead, simply assert that the argument is exclusively about reproductive rights. For people like Stanek, it's not about reproductive rights, it's about the status of the fetus.

And that's okay, because I tend to think that's an extremely important issue. One which people like Stanek are mistaken about, and we should say so, strongly, and not in the least cede that territory by avoiding that argument.

Maybe by taking her argument seriously, but refusing to agree with her conclusion, that might bridge the gap a little bit, at least in terms of having civil discourse. That's been my experience with pro-lifers on occasion, though not reliably.

† Well, pro-lifers all claim that it's not, but my long observation and engagement with them has led me to conclude that, sadly, for the majority of pro-lifers the argument is very much about reproductive rights and not the status of the fetus — otherwise, for example, there would be an equal and sustained outcry against fertility clinics...but I digress, so, assuming that Stanek is sincere...
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:11 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


No. But I'm saying that while there are certainly people who are writing in a more nuanced way about being against abortion, it takes an awful lot of deliberate ignoring to pretend that the anti-abortion movement that is most visible is "has fingers and toes, see!" is somehow not the most visible. Those sign-waving people I used to walk past whenever I walked by Planned Parenthood clinic I lived near? Fingers-and-toes-don't-murder-your-baby people, all of them.

Well sure. But it's an awfully self-selecting crowd. There aren't very many thoughtful takes on complicated issues that can be neatly summarized in a persuasive way on a poster. And the people who have strong inclinations to picket an abortion clinic are often going to be the same people who get very passionate and emotional and let that get in the way of clear thinking and sound reasoning. It's a pity, and it applies to pretty much every faction of every major issue I can think of.
posted by pdq at 4:13 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


But this woman seems to want to pretend that, if the aborted fetus doesn't look like a newborn baby, the whole position is shaken.

The whole position -- summed up by you as "the point being made is that if we feel uncomfortable chopping up an unborn fetus with fingers and toes then we should feel uncomfortable chopping up an unborn fetus that's less fully formed" -- is most certainly shaken by images like these. Knowing that "an unborn fetus that's less fully formed" means "a bottle with a quarter-inch of blood in it" and not "a tiny baby-shaped thing" does in fact have a major impact on whether most people are willing to treat the former as if it were the latter.

This is precisely why anti-choice activists tend to portray fetuses as tiny babies, even though the vast, vast majority of fetuses being aborted do not look anything like tiny babies. Showing people that they don't look like tiny babies is not "fighting a straw man"... especially not when you yourself admit that the argument she's challenging is a common one.
posted by vorfeed at 4:20 PM on July 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


"Certainly. This is the reason why the Pro-Choice people are Pro-Choice and not Pro-Abortion (despite the rhetoric). There are a lot of different reasons for having abortions, and there are a lot of different reasons for having children, and we ought to respect those reasons and those choices (even if we wouldn't make the same choices if we were in that woman's position)."

But some of us are pro-abortion, insofar as that makes sense for any medical procedure.

I think you're probably not contradicting me, but my point is that it's basically impossible these days in the US to argue that abortions are perfectly acceptable medical procedures — thus everyone is so damn careful to make the distinction between "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion". I frequently say I'm pro-abortion for this very reason. Because I'm pro-abortion in exactly the same way that I'm pro-appendectomy. I don't think everyone should have one, but I do think everyone who needs one should have one and, particularly, I think it's a form of birth control. It may be more medically invasive than other birth control but then, it's arguable whether some of the other conventional forms of birth control should be objected to on many of the same grounds (medical, unpleasant) that abortions are objected to. So, again, I categorically reject the premise that abortion is some special noxious-but-should-be-tolerated-in-its-necessity thing.

That's not the same thing as making it clear that many women do experience abortions as noxious and traumatizing and their experiences are as valid as those of women who do not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:20 PM on July 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


This is a fucking complicated business. I recall that someone posted in the deleted thread that abortion was 'simply a medical procedure'. As if a human foetus was directly equivalent to a cyst or something. I don't think that's right, but instinctively I'm pro-choice. I'd like to hear some better arguments though. Otherwise it's a question of balancing evils, praxis over theory, if you like.
posted by tigrefacile at 4:21 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"That's part of the reason that I'm feeling a little hopeless looking at the photos. I see a jar with some blood, and she sees evidence of murder. How on earth do you bridge the gap between those two viewpoints?"

You don't. You just say that she's wrong. Because she is.


That's a profound oversimplification. The very questions of what constitutes "life" and more specifically "human life" (which underpin the question of what constitutes murder) do not lend themselves to bright-line answers. To some people (including me) "Life" and "humanity" are emergent concepts, and their boundaries are fuzzy; the fact that you happen to have resolved those boundaries to enclose a space that does not overlap with the fetuses during the currently-legal period for abortions says nothing about the rightness or wrongness of another person's opinion.
posted by Jpfed at 4:21 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


But this woman seems to want to pretend that, if the aborted fetus doesn't look like a newborn baby, the whole position is shaken. That's not the case.

I don't think she's "pretending" anything. She's saying "This is what it's like. I don't find it traumatic, and I'm glad I did it." She does not believe the pregnancy she ended is equivalent to a human life.

And that is the nut of the pro-choice argument; there are endless arguments to be made on what is a human being, or even when a pregnancy begins (many prolifers take the position that it's as soon as a sperm attaches to an egg, but that is not the medically accepted definition). But although it's easy to argue about personhood, nothing changes the fact that the entire process is taking place inside the body, and at some risk (ranging from very little to fatal) and expense of energy and health, of someone who is, without question, a full human being.

Because it's inside her body, we cannot call ourselves a civilized democracy if we deprive her of the right to choose whether or not to host a pregnancy to completion. So what you or I or anyone thinks is the beginning of personhood is irrelevant. It may make us squeamish or uncomfortable, but it is not our choice or our risk.
posted by emjaybee at 4:22 PM on July 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


Because it's inside her body, we cannot call ourselves a civilized democracy if we deprive her of the right to choose whether or not to host a pregnancy to completion. So what you or I or anyone thinks is the beginning of personhood is irrelevant. It may make us squeamish or uncomfortable, but it is not our choice or our risk.

You are not engaging with the pro-life position. You are saying that there are two parties - "us" and the pregnant woman - and that we have no business controlling what the pregnant woman does. The pro-life position holds that there are three parties: "us," the pregnant woman, and the fetus, and it further holds that society can to some extent regulate what the woman can and cannot do to the fetus once it comes into existence. You are welcome to think that any position that holds the fetus to be an actual third party with rights worthy of consideration to be stupid and not worth arguing against - that's fine - but your comment is merely theorizing inside an echo chamber.

The problem with this debate is that pro-life people say "why are you for killing fetuses?" and pro-choice people say "why are you against women's rights?" There is amost never a discussion that might actually be useful: first, coming up with some way of defining personhood, and second, ascertaining whether fetuses, or some subset of fetuses, meet that definition and are thus owed some degree of protection under the law.
posted by pdq at 4:33 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


and second, ascertaining whether fetuses, or some subset of fetuses, meet that definition and are thus owed some degree of protection under the law.

this is settled law under Roe v. Wade. RvW found that the state's interest in the rights of the fetus evolve over the duration of the pregnancy and that the state has an interest in protecting those rights during the second and third trimesters. It's not like the idea that "some subset of fetuses are owed some degree of protection under the law" is some brand-new idea that nobody's ever considered before.
posted by KathrynT at 4:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


pdq, emjaybee's position is also worth engaging. You can come to meet it, just as you request that she meet you.

For example, because the fetus is located inside the mother, is dependent on her for nutrients/protection, etc., there is an unusual association between the fetus and the mother. Is there some kind of relationship between two entities where it acceptable for one entity to end the life of another? This is very much a question worth considering and feeling out the boundaries of.
posted by Jpfed at 4:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I found and spent nearly an hour at the Prenatal Exhibition at OMSI (scroll down a bit for a brief, google it for images). This caused me to reassess my feelings about abortion, morality, and law. I can't simply say how it changed, but one thing (surprising to me) I decided shortly afterwards and have been steadfast about since: Plan B type drugs ought to be on the shelf at every store that sells medicines of any kind, here or anywhere.
posted by wobh at 4:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


KathrynT, the specific set of fetuses that are owed some protection is a relevant issue; just because Roe v Wade set it at a particular point doesn't mean that said point is exactly right. Oftentimes participants in a democracy will discuss what they think the law should be, and so they do not regard what the law happens to be right now to be final. To some, it's an issue that still warrants discussion.
posted by Jpfed at 4:43 PM on July 13, 2012


this is settled law under Roe v. Wade. RvW found that the state's interest in the rights of the fetus evolve over the duration of the pregnancy and that the state has an interest in protecting those rights during the second and third trimesters. It's not like the idea that "some subset of fetuses are owed some degree of protection under the law" is some brand-new idea that nobody's ever considered before.

Settled law does not equal settled fact. Or are you also happy to accept that Citizens United definitively settles the ethical questions pertaining to the case?

For example, because the fetus is located inside the mother, is dependent on her for nutrients/protection, etc., there is an unusual association between the fetus and the mother. Is there some kind of relationship between two entities where it acceptable for one entity to end the life of another? This is very much a question worth considering and feeling out the boundaries of.

Yes, yes. I was not trying to be dismissive of the other side. My point is that unless people like me consider what you've just concisely laid out, and unless the other side considers questions related to the potential personhood of the fetus, then neither side is saying anything that will usefully further the debate.
posted by pdq at 4:44 PM on July 13, 2012


pdq: And the people who have strong inclinations to picket an abortion clinic are often going to be the same people who get very passionate and emotional and let that get in the way of clear thinking and sound reasoning.

That's some serious rationalization right there.
posted by sneebler at 4:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Settled law does not equal settled fact. Or are you also happy to accept that Citizens United definitively settles the ethical questions pertaining to the case?

No, I'm rejecting the idea that this discussion is one that has never been had, the disingenuous notion that only pro-life people have ever considered the idea that the fetus might have rights. The fetus HAS rights; it's a cornerstone of American law on the subject. No need to pretend that it's some sort of fundamentally unconsidered paradigm.
posted by KathrynT at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I see a jar with some blood, and she sees evidence of murder. How on earth do you bridge the gap between those two viewpoints?"

When I teach ethics, and I do a unit on abortion, I have my students write a persuasive paper, with three strong, well-researched arguments supporting or opposing abortion. For the other side. There is fairly universal shock and horror that I would ask them to do such an offensive thing. But afterwards, there is pretty universal agreement that it was the most thought-provoking and personal-growth-inducing thing we did in class.

I've never had a single student say it changed their core position on abortion, but almost all of them say, "I'd never really understood the other side's arguments before, but now I see that it's a lot more nuanced than I realized." Both sides find the other side is unexpectedly thoughtful, not just the mouth-frothing crazy people they'd always experienced before. I have them write a one-page reaction paper they can staple to the back, which helps a lot of them who have very strong opinions get through the assignment, when they know they can vent that steam, and students write really emotional, moving things in their reaction papers. A lot of them say, "I was so angry at you when you assigned this paper that I considered dropping the class, but now I'm so grateful you made us do it."

A lot of students actually start their research by seeking out their most vehement friend or relative on the opposite side to get an idea of where to start, which I think is very brave. One student, who was a lesbian from a fundamentalist Christian family, and semi-estranged from her family, decided she'd ask her mother because her mother is always out marching with the posters in front of the clinic, which I thought was crazy-brave. She told me later that her mother was really moved that she (my student) was asking and really trying to understand the mother's point of view, so the mother talked to the daughter without yelling or clamming up and really laid out her ethical reasoning, which segued into talking about the daughter's liberal politics and sexual orientation, and the mom said something along the lines of, I was always raised that it's a sin, but I love you and I only want what's best for you and I've been so afraid you were rejecting me. And the daughter was like, mom I love you so much but I can't change who I am. And the upshot was that the mom joined some sort of PFLAG for fundamentalist Christians and they're sort-of tentatively reconciled, and the mom isn't sure she's on board with the gayness but she's trying to understand. Which is to say, good things happen when we actually listen to each other and try, genuinely, to understand.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2012 [66 favorites]


the disingenuous notion that only pro-life people have ever considered the idea that the fetus might have rights

I never said that.

No need to pretend that it's some sort of fundamentally unconsidered paradigm.

I'm not pretending that. I'm saying that it's one of the central questions, and that in many discussions of the issue that I've witnessed it has been overlooked.
posted by pdq at 4:54 PM on July 13, 2012


At 6 weeks of pregnancy, my abortion looked very different than the images I saw when I entered the clinic that day.
No kidding. Did that not really occur to her before?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2012


There is amost never a discussion that might actually be useful: first, coming up with some way of defining personhood

If so, then we'll probably have to start with early Depeche Mode, as this is about as deep as this question goes for the vast majority of people. Any attempt to create a "definition of personhood" which does not allow for abortion is likely to be stymied by the fact that non-viable fetuses -- especially first-trimester fetuses -- just don't fit that metric.

The mainstream pro-life movement is an attempt to convince everyone that first-trimester fetuses do fit this metric, based on pretty much nothing but misinformation. That's why pushback a la these photographs is so important.
posted by vorfeed at 4:59 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Wednesday night, I saw John Waters live, and he threw out the movie line "I'm GLAD I had an abortion!" - it got laughs. Not a single boo, but then again, it was at Hollywood Forever.

For many people it's a matter of civil rights - and that's that. The end. In that spirit, another Waters quote: "Sometimes I wish I was a woman, just so I could have an abortion.”

It puts a nice point on it. There's no softening of the blow, no talk about tragic and sad and regretful and 'sad but necessary'. It may be all those things for many women, but that doesn't get at the principle of the thing. It's about civil rights, and those don't need to be wrapped in any language and imagery catering to the sensibilities of those who might oppose such rights.

No need to soft-shoe around it. It's unapologetic. The urge to present women having an abortion as "worthy", because they did it for the "right" reasons and with requisite reverence is the same urge as showing black people as noble and fantastic human beings in those early Hollywood productions that tried to be progressive on race relations. Maybe it was necessary for the times. But thankfully, we don't need that anymore. Black people can be full human beings - just like anybody else, and don't need to be Superniggers to be accorded full civil rights. If you don't assert those rights, UNAPOLOGETICALLY, there will always be a shadow attached to exercising such rights.

Abort away! And anyone who doesn't like it doesn't need to have one.
posted by VikingSword at 5:10 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Any attempt to create a "definition of personhood" which does not allow for abortion is likely to be stymied by the fact that non-viable fetuses -- especially first-trimester fetuses -- just don't fit that metric.

So the typical response to this argument is that they will fit standard metrics for personhood in about six months or so if the pregnancy proceeds. That's not really misinformation, but it does get into sticky questions about potentiality and hypotheticals. I think that ethically, questions about potential personhood are particularly challenging.

The thing that bothers me most about these questions is that I prefer to take a parsimonious approach to them--when there is a potential for personhood (in the case of a long-term coma victim showing discernable brain activity, for instance), I generally choose to err on the side of personhood. This does not sit well with my intrinsic bias to be pro-choice.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:11 PM on July 13, 2012


It's about civil rights, and those don't need to be wrapped in any language and imagery catering to the sensibilities of those who might oppose such rights.

You realize that the other side uses the language of civil rights, too, don't you?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:12 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


You realize that the other side uses the language of civil rights, too, don't you?

Yeah, I know. I also regularly hear racists scream to anyone who expresses opposition to their ideas "what about my civil rights", those rights being presumably the right to discriminate against others.
posted by VikingSword at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a profound oversimplification. The very questions of what constitutes "life" and more specifically "human life" (which underpin the question of what constitutes murder) do not lend themselves to bright-line answers.

IMO, the question is not whether a fetus (or zygote, blastocyst, fertilized egg, embryo, whatever) is a human life. I will grant that it is a potential human life.

The question is whether the "rights" of that potential life ever trump the rights of an actual human woman. And I maintain that they do not - not ever, for any reason.


You are not engaging with the pro-life position.


I refuse to engage with a position that puts the "rights" of a potential person before the actual rights of an actual person. A woman has an absolute right to decide what to do with her own body, period. No law should be able to force her to serve as an incubator against her will. Ever.


No kidding. Did that not really occur to her before?


I don't see why it should have occurred to her - it's not as though there are thousands of images available of what most abortions look like. That is the whole reason her making photographs of it available online is notable at all.
posted by caryatid at 5:19 PM on July 13, 2012 [30 favorites]


So the typical response to this argument is that they will fit standard metrics for personhood in about six months or so if the pregnancy proceeds.

Sure, but they're not being aborted in six months. They're being aborted now. By this logic, every fertilized egg that is flushed by the body (and there are many) is equivalent to abortion, and thus to the tragic death of a "potential person". I don't see how that can be a coherent or reasonable position; some potentialities are clearly much more equal than others, and that brings us right back to Depeche Mode.
posted by vorfeed at 5:21 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is amost never a discussion that might actually be useful: first, coming up with some way of defining personhood

What always seems to get lost in those discussions - the ones I've had and read, at least - is the acknowledgement that there is already an actual, existing person in this debate: the pregnant woman. Her status gets dismissed while we stand around arguing about whether or not something that is six days or weeks or months gets to have more rights than she does.
posted by rtha at 5:22 PM on July 13, 2012 [22 favorites]


There used to be a website called Heartbreaking Choice, which was all stories of women who had to have very late terminations of very-much wanted pregnancies. The wayback machine still has some of it, fortunately.
posted by rtha at 5:30 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Both sides find the other side is unexpectedly thoughtful, not just the mouth-frothing crazy people they'd always experienced before."

From my perspective and experience, what's happened is that each activist side has utterly refused to even consider the opposing side's premise. They just discard the opposing side's premise as irrelevant, argue from their own, and then characterize the opposition's point-of-view as if it had been argued from the premise contrary to theirs (that is, it's a very tendentious portrayal of the opposition). In short, the pro-life activists refuse to engage on the topic of a woman's bodily autonomy and the pro-choice activists refuse to engage on the topic of the status of the fetus. The pro-life activists portray the opposition as anti-life, and the pro-choice activists portray the opposition as anti-choice.

Now, a problem I personally have is that over the years I've come to believe, as I parenthetically wrote above, that a large portion of the pro-life activists aren't actually primarily concerned with the status of the fetus. I think a large portion are fighting a regressive battle against women's rights in general where abortion is the most opportune target of the crucial reproductive rights portion. But it's very difficult to tell those who are in earnest from those who are not, and both from those who are just somewhat confused or heavily influenced by others, or what have you. On the other hand, I also decided a long time ago that as a general ethical principle we should always privilege the "personhood" question over all others because history has shown that when we merely take it as decided, one way or another, or when we make it contingent, very often Bad Things Happen. So, okay, I presume earnestness and take the question seriously even when I'm unsure that those with whom I'm arguing also truly do. That's kind of a digression, but an important one.

The other important point, and what I think is very much involved in your experience teaching those students, is that there's been an increasing gulf between the activists (pro and con) and everyone else. Survey after survey shows that the vast majority of Americans have positions that are more nuanced, and not absolutist, and quite distinct from the activists on both sides of the issue. I think a chief component of this is that the non-activists understand that this is a situation of competing rights, not that it's about deciding where all the rights exist and where none exist. And so regular people can very often have productive discussions about this where they learn from each other, from those who have different positions than they do, if given a chance. But the institutions to which they belong often try to make sure that they're not given that chance. This is certainly true with regard to the pro-lifers, but I think it's also true to some degree with the pro-choicers.

This is why I'm pretty aggressive about saying that a) I think that the status of the fetus is very important but that, crucially, it's unambiguously not a person (at least during the first trimester); and, b) I'm "pro-abortion". Because I think that even though it's the case that given what I think about the pro-life premise (it's false) that I necessarily believe the discussion is all about reproductive rights, the fact of the matter is that the anti-abortion activists have been winning for a long time now, we're steadily retreating from RvW, and the anti-abortion activists have crucially controlled the framing of the discussion.

Pro-choicers have come to believe that refusing to consider the status of the fetus as part of the argument means refusing to let the anti-abortion activists frame the discussion, but that's not been in practice the case. Because of all the things being discussed in this thread — peoples' emotional reactions to certain images and, really, the strong majority that's opposed to abortion in the third trimester — then refusing to engage on the question of the status of the fetus means to tacitly cede that entire territory to the anti-abortion view. While the majority feel that third-trimester fetuses are persons, the majority also does not feel that first-trimester fetuses are people. But if the pro-choice activists don't defend the non-personhood of first-trimester fetuses, we risk the anti-abortion activists steadily making inroads in convincing people that they are.

Meanwhile, despite of all their successes, the anti-abortion side is making a mistake in similarly refusing to engage with the pro-choice's premise. A whole lot of people in the US both believe that a fetus is a person but that abortion should be legal — and they believe this because they believe that a woman's right to control her own body is paramount. The pro-lifers refuse to engage in this point of view because they reject the entire premise of a woman's bodily autonomy as being relevant. In doing so, they're tacitly allowing the pro-choice side to be the only group that takes a woman's reproductive rights seriously. For all the people who both think the fetus is a person but that a woman's reproductive rights are very important, the complete lack of regard for a woman's reproductive rights by the anti-abortion lobby is...frightening. Those people might be persuaded to a more anti-abortion inflected position if they were rightly aware that the anti-abortion activists don't care much about a woman's reproductive rights.

This is, I guess, a classic example of political polarization where the structure of the civil debate is far different from what the majority believes, in practice. But then this is often true and, worse, it's (in my opinion) more and more often true in the modern era. What happens now is that a few groups coordinate their messages in a partisan fashion, and the population increasingly divides itself into self-selected insular communities that reinforce these carefully crafted messages. Increasing political polarization results from this, unless there's a moderating professional political class that acts as a buffer. These days, that class is close to extinct and your average fanatical demonstrator becomes your Congressional Representative.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:43 PM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Very well stated, Ivan. There are legitimate moral points on both sides of the argument, and until the activists on either side acknowledge and grapple with each other's briefs, the disingenuous and tendentious shouting match will continue.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:16 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something that gets lost in the abortion debate is how tenuous early pregnancy is. Many early pregnancies end in miscarriage, often before women even realize they are pregnant.

The equation in the debate seems to be pregnant = baby from the earliest moment of pregnancy, but this is far from true. I also think this attitude causes a lot of pain for women who experience miscarriages. The historic approach considering quickening to be the start of personhood, the start of that pregnant = baby equation, makes more sense.

An abortion at 6 or 8 weeks (whether spontaneous or induced) is not biologically uncommon or dangerous. Our culture needlessly attaches a lot of freight and pain to it.

I think the photos are worthwhile. Having experienced this more than once without the intervention of surgical instruments, what the photos show is real: blood, perhaps some clot-like tissue. It is traumatic or tragic only if we assign those things to it. And it doesn't seem that assigning those things is getting us anywhere.
posted by jeoc at 6:26 PM on July 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


There are legitimate moral points on both sides of the argument, and until the activists on either side acknowledge and grapple with each other's briefs, the disingenuous and tendentious shouting match will continue.

But isn't that begging the question? That's the crux of the matter - not everybody agrees that there are "legitimate moral points on both sides of the argument". Of course, if you accept that, then it sounds eminently sensible to "talk it out" and anyone who doesn't agree is "shouty". And if you don't accept that, then it seems highly offensive if not contemptible to try to find a moral middle ground in something that does not allow for it.

This is an issue that strikes at something very fundamental - in some ways as fundamental as it can get - the control over your own body. And for many people - on both sides of this question - there can be no "legitimate moral point on the other side of the argument". To them it's like saying: well, huge numbers of people - truly huge - believe that owning other human beings is OK, and others, also in huge numbers, believe it's fundamentally unacceptable. For that, there is no compromise, for either side - you can try to find some kind of middle ground, say giving some people 3/5 of personhood, but it will satisfy no one. It may be so fundamental, that people will go to war over it, it will tear families apart. And it did.

It sounds reasonable to say let's just talk, because there are legitimate moral points on both sides. It appeals to us as reasonable human beings. But the stark reality is, that in some questions, there can be no legitimate moral point on one side or the other. Slavery is one example. For many people, control over one's body is as fundamental as that. So, shouty or not, sorry, but that's how it's gonna have to be - no compromise.
posted by VikingSword at 6:29 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


VikingSword: I think most people would agree with the notion that the fetus is deserving of some moral consideration, especially as it develops into a viable human being. You might legitimately argue that the moral value of the fetus will never ever ever trump the moral value of a woman's right to decide what happens inside her own body... but to absolutely dismiss what most people think is a morally intuitive notion (that a human fetus has some non-zero value distinct from the mother) polarizes the discussion, as Ivan argued above. It also alienates a good portion of the population that assigns moral value to a fetus, but could be convinced to support a moderate pro-choice position (for early termination, for instance).

And making the analogy to slavery is tantamount to Godwinning the discussion. It's ironic that pro-life extremists make a similar argument from a different perspective. Let's leave slavery (and Hitler) out of this.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:47 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


And making the analogy to slavery is tantamount to Godwinning the discussion. It's ironic that pro-life extremists make a similar argument from a different perspective. Let's leave slavery (and Hitler) out of this.

But that's missing the point. Because it is not "ironic" that pro-life people make the slavery argument - it's very much the issue. It points to the fact that for BOTH sides it's as fundamental as that. I was very careful in not assigning the right to make that analogy to only one side. My point, rather, was that for many people it's as fundamental an issue as that, and you cannot wave that away by simply saying "but it ain't so". I was underlining why it's such a hard issue to resolve, and why there may just be no compromise. As there can't be about slavery. Godwinning has absolutely nothing to do with it. It has to do with the fact that there are issues about which there can be no compromise. For many people, this is one of them.
posted by VikingSword at 7:00 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's hard to pretty up the intentional ending of human life
posted by Jondo at 7:21 PM on July 13, 2012


That's a fair point.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:23 PM on July 13, 2012


comment above directed at VikingSword
posted by BobbyVan at 7:23 PM on July 13, 2012


It's hard to pretty up the intentional ending of human life

Are you kidding? We do it every day. Judging simply by human behavior, there's more exception to the "thou shalt not kill" rule than there is rule...
posted by vorfeed at 7:29 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


"It sounds reasonable to say let's just talk, because there are legitimate moral points on both sides. It appeals to us as reasonable human beings. But the stark reality is, that in some questions, there can be no legitimate moral point on one side or the other."

I think you're equating compromise with allowing that there are "legitimate moral points" in the opposition's argument.

While my comment might imply that there's some compromise possible — and there certainly is, as RvW itself is a compromise and most Americans support something that is a compromise between the two extremes — my argument in that comment wasn't that a compromise is possible, but that refusing to even acknowledge the other side's premise as having validity (not that it's true, but that it's a valid starting point that someone may choose or not choose to believe) actually damages the credibility of both activist camps with each other and with everyone else.

Note my own example: I engage with pro-lifers on the status of the fetus, agree that it's an important question, and then make it clear that I don't share their definition of personhood and that I unambiguously deny that a (first-trimester) fetus is a person. There's no compromise there. But there is an acknowledgement that a) the status of the fetus is an important matter to consider and that b) by their own definition, with which I don't agree, the fetus is a person and in those terms their argument is reasonable. I don't agree with it. I think they're wrong. I don't compromise with them on it. But I don't just wave away the issue of the fetus.

Likewise, if the pro-life side didn't just wave away the issue of the rights of the woman, if they would acknowledge that this is an important concern, that they would accept that arguments that make reproductive rights the paramount concern aren't by design anti-life, then they'd find that talking with pro-choicers would be much more civil. But, instead, both sides (as evidenced to some degree in this thread) often seem to simultaneously disregard the other side's major premise while, in its place, substituting the exact contradictory to their own. This basically recasts the opposition into "Bad People" and of course even civil disagreement isn't even possible, much less any agreement.

I am emphatically not arguing for a compromise. I'm just arguing for engaging with the opposing argument in good-faith, which is pretty rare in the abortion debate these days.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2012


This is why the public shouldn't even be involved in this question. This is not a matter for policy debate.
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


There are legitimate moral points on both sides of the argument, and until the activists on either side acknowledge and grapple with each other's briefs, the disingenuous and tendentious shouting match will continue.

Well, for the record, and as I've mentioned before I started a prolife group in college. I was vehemently anti-abortion, to the point of marching, doing displays on campus, and engendering so much ill will with my freshman roommate that I'm pretty sure she still hates me.

I went to marchesm although not protests, because they bothered my conscience even then. Also I was scared to actually tell a woman that she was a murderer to her face. And the old dudes with the bloody fetus pics creeped me out. I held a prolife convention on our campus. I started a drive for supplies for women who kept their babies. I pamphleted and petitioned. I voted Republican. I wrote long angry editorials in the school newspaper that used the word "abortuary" with complete seriousness. I was committed.

So yes, I have engaged with the position of the prolife movement, more than most people I know. I persuaded myself I could be a prolife feminist, even though, mysteriously, I could not find one organization or person--one---who would ever agree with me that Contraception Was Good (And Prevented Abortions). Even when I let them have the doubtful take that maybe the Pill was some kind of abortifacient, and said "why not condoms?" I got a bunch of uncomfortable handwaving about it "encouraging sex." Which, to me, was never the point, because that was a religious argument, and I was arguing on what I thought were clear secular grounds of "fertilization=human life." I was good at it too; the "not yet human" argument was something I rebutted with "What about kids born with undeveloped brains...are they less human?"

But over time I came to the realization that actually protecting every fertilized egg, which is the only way to be consistent with the position that the state should have a say in the fate of fertilized eggs, would require constant Orwellian monitoring of 51% of the population. You'd have to test women constantly for pregnancy and for unauthorized termination of same. You would have to monitor, and prosecute, and invade the privacy and bodies of every woman capable of reproducing.

Which gets you the Republic of Gilead, basically. Or worse.

When I combined this understanding with a frank assessment of the lack of logic or compassion in the anti-abortion movement, such that none of what they fought for would actually even reduce abortions in practical terms, I came to the conclusion that discussions of the rights of the fetus must always be the concern of the woman making the choices, and no one else. There is no other way to safeguard the equality of women in our society. You cannot give the state a say in the condition or management of a woman's body without making her a second class citizen and infringing on her freedom in nearly every way imaginable.

Given that such a society appears to be the very real goal of every single organization dedicated to rolling back abortion rights (and tellingly, this always includes contraception rights) I don't give a flea's fart what sort of philosophical beard stroking and semimystical thoughtwanking about the personhood of the fetus that others (almost always male others) think deserves my consideration. I don't have that luxury. I am far too busy trying to defend the principle that my body belongs to me and only me, regardless of whether I'm gestating or not.
posted by emjaybee at 8:04 PM on July 13, 2012 [65 favorites]



It's hard to pretty up the intentional ending of human life

There's nothing pretty, or just, or "pro-life" about the valuing of potential life over an existing actual person's life, but "pro-lifers" do it all the time. And they get away with it. It needs to stop.

Also: Amen, emjaybee.
posted by caryatid at 8:14 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I disagree
posted by Jondo at 8:16 PM on July 13, 2012


I refuse to engage with a position

How quaint - you "refuse to engage". Bully for you.

A woman has an absolute right to decide what to do with her own body, period. No law should be able to force her to serve as an incubator against her will. Ever.

A fair position. Here's another fair position:

A man has an absolute right to decide what to do with his wallet, period. No law should be able to force him to serve as a money tree against his will. Ever.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:29 PM on July 13, 2012


Wow. What a terrible analogy.
posted by rtha at 8:32 PM on July 13, 2012 [32 favorites]


"I don't have that luxury. I am far too busy trying to defend the principle that my body belongs to me and only me, regardless of whether I'm gestating or not."

Yes, but as a practical matter, that argument is not working. The overwhelming majority of Americans, including the majority of women, do not see this issue in the absolutist terms that you do. Roe v. Wade didn't even take that absolutist position and we've been retreating away from RvW for twenty years.

I'd be fine with that view being the law of the land, myself. Few others would.

I completely agree with you about the practical reality of the anti-abortion movement with regard to their motivations and aims and actual, practical positions. And, in that context, I entirely understand the rationale for taking the position you've taken — it seems like the only effective way to oppose the anti-abortion movement.

But my argument is that it's not because a majority of Americans, men and women alike, do consider the status of the fetus to be important, do believe that the state has some legitimate interest in the fetus, and so distrust the absolutist position you're taking and, as a result, are less inclined to support the pro-choice position than they otherwise would.

Also, as I previously argued, the majority of Americans do not accept that a fertilized egg is a human being, many or most do not accept that a first-trimester fetus is a person, and so what should be a slam-dunk for the pro-choice movement ends up being entirely neglected. There was a time when it was only mostly Catholics who took the "fertilized egg is a person" position. Now, sadly, a lot of non-Catholics are opposed to Plan B for that reason. There was no reason why that view should have made inroads given that it's not what most Americans have ever thought. But we on the pro-choice side, in insisting as you do that the one and only issue here is a woman's autonomy, have ceded that entire argument about first-trimester abortions, and even Plan B, to the territory of the anti-abortion movement.

I absolutely agree that the anti-abortion movement is being driven by an extremely regressive sexist contingent who is using this as a cover for their agenda. That explains all the inconsistencies you're describing, it explains a lot of things. However, that group is a fringe who has been effectively manipulating the American public and it's the public in general that we have to be concerned with. Both in terms of state laws and in terms of SCOTUS. Right now, despite the fact that the majority of the American public supports abortion rights (just not in the third trimester, which are rare anyway) somehow regressive laws are being passed all over the US and the US Supreme Court is increasingly packed with justices with the same regressive values. We shouldn't be losing this political battle given that the majority agrees with us. But we are. Maybe I'm wrong and the framing that you prefer is not what's at fault here. But something is.

And this post is an example of it. There is no good damn reason why, especially given the majority views in this country about first-trimester abortion, that these photos should be fraught. But they are. And that's because the default position of the pro-choice movement has been, for years, an angry complaint that we shouldn't be arguing about abortion in the first place...while the anti-abortion movement has been controlling the messaging and packing the courts and gotv. Well, for better or worse, we are arguing abortion, it's not all by itself going to stop being "a matter for policy debate", and the people with whom we're arguing don't accept our premises. We're losing the argument. Something needs to change.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:42 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. What a terrible analogy.

You think that's bad? How about this?

"If you don't want to get pregnant, don't spread your legs"? Misogynist
"If you don't want to pay child support, keep it in your pants"? Orthodoxy.

Regarding those who are lamenting that there is a national abortion argument at all, it is because of Roe v. Wade. As most know, pre-Roe simply allowed a state to ban abortion. There was legal abortion to be had pre-Roe.

People clamor about protecting Roe v. Wade as if it were the most important jurisprudence ever (although everyone forgets Casey), but the fact is that if Roe v. Wade were overturned during the very next SCOTUS session, state abortion laws would likely not look very different. Last year, in Mississippi of all places, a personhood amendment for fertilized eggs lost in a landslide. Surely some states would restrict abortion more tightly than currently, but I think it is rather unlikely that any state would ban it outright.

IAALBIANYL.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:53 PM on July 13, 2012


The point of the posters, at least as I personally understand them, is that if you feel antsy aborting a well-formed fetus then it is awfully hard to come up with an intellectually honest way of drawing the line where the fetus becomes too unsettling to allow aborting. Saying "any time before it leaves the womb" is logical, in a way, but lots of people get pretty creeped out thinking about a viable baby at 8 1/2 months getting its skull crushed in. So most people want to draw some line before "leaves the womb" but after conception.

First of all, as a formerly pregnant person, people who make the "a viable baby at 8 1/2 months getting its skull crushed in" argument creep me out and piss me off. It defies the reality that at 8 1/2 months it would be an incredibly risky procedure and no doctor in his or her right mind is going to perform it unless the baby is dying/already dead and the mother's life is at risk. And the number of women who would willingly go through a life-threatening procedure for the LULZ of killing a viable child is so small as to be non-existent. That argument is absurd to the point of being insulting and downright defamatory.

The laws around abortion become increasingly restrictive as a fetus moves closer to the earliest point of viability, which all current data suggests is no earlier than 23 weeks. That is the line that we as a society have decided to draw.

Here is what a pregnancy at 6 weeks actually looks like. Please note the quote below.
Right now, your baby is a quarter of an inch long, about the size of a lentil.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


"If you don't want to get pregnant, don't spread your legs"? Misogynist
"If you don't want to pay child support, keep it in your pants"? Orthodoxy.


Oh man, you're right, it's so unfair! Guys don't get to have a say in abortion! Sure, so maybe as a result of you not being physically subjected to pregnancy societies across time and space haven't tried to regulate your sexuality and body through oppression and abuse. Sure, so maybe if pregnancy does happen you physically aren't subjected to all of its side effects, life-threatening dangers, and accompanying impact to your career and physical welfare for nine months and recovery from it for months and months afterwards. But you're right, the guy who impregnates a woman and the pregnant woman herself are in exactly the same situation but the whole damn unfair world is oriented against you, The Saddest Sperm Donor.
posted by schroedinger at 9:28 PM on July 13, 2012 [33 favorites]


A man has an absolute right to decide what to do with his wallet, period. No law should be able to force him to serve as a money tree against his will. Ever.

What does this even mean?

"If you don't want to pay child support, keep it in your pants"? Orthodoxy.

I have never - NEVER heard this argument. I've often heard women get blamed for getting pregnant, but never men.

So is the money tree thing above alluding to child support? Hate to burst your bubble but child support is not confined to one sex, the way pregnancy is. When a women gets pregnant she is solely responsible for incubating the embryo for nine months. At the very least it will cause growing discomfort (ask any woman in her eighth month how she's REALLY feeling), at the worst it will cause death (about 10 in 100,000 women die of pregnancy in the U.S. - more in countries without the same level of health care).

Child support, on the other hand, is paid to the primary caregiver from the other parent. If a stay at home dad were to get primary custody of the children, the mother would have to pay child support.

So, nice redirect, but it doesn't quite work.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


Report: States Enacted 39 Abortion Restrictions So Far In 2012
posted by homunculus at 10:00 PM on July 13, 2012


Jamaican doctor arrested for performing abortion on 12-year-old: Dr Lloyd Goldson and the girl's mother have been arrested for allegedly procuring an abortion, and could face life in prison
posted by homunculus at 11:07 PM on July 13, 2012


Life and death could not be more polemic. Before it's born, a baby is a fetus. The argument is whether and/or when the killing of a fetus is legal. It seems to me that a culture that rationalizes killing can come to a reasonable legal definition to handle this type of homicide. We authorize police officers and soldiers to kill for the common good. We allow civilians to use deadly for when they protect themselves or someone else.

One aspect is medical. The two major features here are protecting the mother and protecting the fetus. Sometimes you need to make a choice that sacrifices one on behalf of the other. This is a medical situation between the parents, perhaps other family members, and the doctors.

The other aspect is social. Let's say that we don't approve of abortions as a legitimate means of birth control. If a pregnant woman can't take care of her baby, then we can ignore the situation--the child will be uncared for, count on it. If she's indigent, she may simplify things for us by dying before she gives birth.

Or we can make the decision (as a culture) to deal with that child. Adoptions, prenatal care for indigent mothers, and such, are appropriate responses. A healthy baby born to a healthy mother is a baby. We ought to take care of, not kill, this child.

Then, of course, the can gets kicked a little further down the road. It's one thing to rant about feckless fathers who couldn't care less about their children, or rant about irresponsible pregnancies. It's another to turn your back on the child. The Bible is wrong. The sins of the fathers ought not to be visited upon the children.
posted by mule98J at 11:30 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


killing of a fetus is legal. It seems to me that a culture that rationalizes killing can come to a reasonable legal definition to handle this type of homicide

This type of homicide? I don't consider it homicide at all. A homicide is the killing of a human. An embryo (as most abortions are performed on embryos, not fetuses) is not a self-sustaining human - it's a potential human, but not yet a human. Is allowing someone to die of natural causes instead of forcing them onto life support homicide? If your answer to that is no, then neither is abortion. An embryo is not a human. It is not capable of autonomous bodily function.

Or we can make the decision (as a culture) to deal with that child. Adoptions, prenatal care for indigent mothers, and such, are appropriate responses. A healthy baby born to a healthy mother is a baby. We ought to take care of, not kill, this child.

This is, of course, ignoring the innate health risk women face in bringing a child to term. I'm not talking about the "high-risk" pregnancies where the doctor would recommend a termination, but just normal pregnancies.

I have never met anyone that wants to, in your words, "kill this child", but thankfully that's not what abortion is.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 2:55 AM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


pdq: Have you ever tried to read articulations of the position by, say, Elizabeth Anscomb or Robert George?

I'm pro-choice, or actually these days I also describe myself as pro-voice and pro-autonomy. I finished George and Tollefsen's book Embryo a couple of months ago. I found it thought-provoking and would recommend it to pro-choicers interested in sharpening their debate skills regarding this topic. I agree that George and Tollefsen's position does not rely on "a fetus has fingers and toes and a mind."

What it does rely on is prioritizing the capacity of zygotes, blastocysts, and fetuses to become people. As far as the effect they dearly wish to have on legislation, there's not a lot of difference between them and their "fingers and toes" colleagues.

One of the many things that reading Embryo clarified for me is that "the zygote / blastocyst / embryo / fetus is dependent on the woman's body," to them, means the embryo is particularly, grievously vulnerable and defenseless and thus deserving of all the legal personhood protections our society can muster.

To me, caryatid, rtha, and other pro-choicers, "dependent" means "trumped by the bodily autonomy rights of the person whose organs are being depended upon." For George and Tollefsen, bodily autonomy rights of born people apparently don't exist, or their existence matters so little as to be not worth mentioning, or is trumped by the embryo's right to be born (into a quality of life that may lack decent housing, food, nutrition, medical care, and a stable or non-violent relationship with adults).

George and Tollefsen prioritize non-sentient cells' *capacity* to become born humans. They believe "in actions that may never be done to [their idea of] people regardless of the consequences" ie, killing may never be done to zygotes etc, regardless of the consequences to women's and existing children's quality of life. Regardless of the Orwellian Stasi-type system that monitoring and enforcing this principle would require. To my mind that position displays little moral worth and even less compassion.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:55 AM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Adoptions, prenatal care for indigent mothers, and such, are appropriate responses.

NO THEY ARE NOT. Stop saying they are like we all just agree that. We do not. What you just described sets poor women up to be forced baby making machines for the billion dollar US adoption industry. That isn't better, it's worse.

In countries with sustainable social welfare, women who give birth do not choose adoption. The UK has a population of 62 million. Last year, there were 60 domestic infant adoptions. Ireland has a population of 4 million. Last year I believe there were 0 domestic infant adoptions.

I have yet to see a strong anti-choice lobby advocating for free prenatal care, free post-natal care, housing benefit, food subsidy and a social welfare payment significantly above the poverty line for women facing unplanned pregnancies in the United States. If you don't want to give women a choice between having children and not having children, the least you can do is give them a real choice between adoption and child-rearing. Otherwise, you're just treating them as breeding livestock. Put your tax dollars where your rhetoric is.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:42 AM on July 14, 2012 [32 favorites]


[Tanizaki, men's rights/child support is a massive derail here, please cut it out.]
posted by taz at 3:56 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


So you are going to be forced to be an organ donor, whether you like it or not, because it is going to save someone's life. It doesn't matter whether you know or like that person, or whether you or anyone else think they deserve such a sacrifice on your part. It's a life (and not just a potential life, which is the case with forced pregnancy). That life is more important than your life or your bodily autonomy, just because the law says so. It doesn't matter what you want. You are only a donor. If you didn't want to be a donor, you should have thought about that before you went in for a checkup and allowed your blood to be drawn.

It doesn't matter that the procedure will endanger your life or that your body and health will be irretrievably altered by that procedure. It doesn't matter that it will be painful and dangerous for you and cause months of your life to be spent in physically unpleasant, possibly excruciating, preparation for and recovery from the surgery, or that your body will never be the same again. In fact, what you're being forced to do is trivial compared to forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.


I learned that example in Con Law II. It is not original. The responses to "The Violinist" have been done, so I will not rehash them here.

By the way, I was forced to be a donor of my entire body when I turned 18. It is called Selective Service. Please tell me more about bodily autonomy.

Arguments regarding complete bodily autonomy are generally made under a theory of property rights i.e. that one's body is one's property. That is fine, but then one must explain why property interest in one's person is different than any other property interest. Why does some weird substantive due process "right to privacy" apply to my body but not to my private financial transactions such as a cash transaction for $15,000, or if I keep my cash overseas? Why does this right not bar public schools from requiring certain vaccinations of incoming students? (I am not a vaccine denier and my kids get all their shots - this is just an example)

I would point out that I have not stated my own thoughts on abortion, which I have been careful not to do. I am merely discussing the logical underpinnings of the positions at issue.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guttmacher tells us that places with highly restrictive abortion laws have higher rates of abortions than places with liberal abortions laws. Which is not surprising when you consider that places with liberal abortion laws also generally have quality sex education, make contraception easily and cheaply available, and greater equality for women. I find it hard to believe that the leaders of anti-abortion groups in the U.S. don't know this, and so I'm led to believe that their goal is *really* a lowering of abortion rates here, because if it were, it's pretty easy to see what kind of health and social policies they ought to be fighting for. And they're not.

And something else I haven't seen addressed - mostly because I haven't read any nuanced, philosophical writing on the subject in decades, so maybe I've just missed it - is this: if a five-year-old has a fatal condition that can only be cured by organ donation, and the child's parent (either one, mom or dad) is the only person who is a match, should the parent be required by law to donate the organ? The donation won't kill the parent (probably; surgery is always risky), but it will, of course, change their life in a permanent way. Why shouldn't this be a law, since the child's life in this case is entirely dependent on its parent?
posted by rtha at 7:48 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Given that such a society appears to be the very real goal of every single organization dedicated to rolling back abortion rights (and tellingly, this always includes contraception rights) I don't give a flea's fart what sort of philosophical beard stroking and semimystical thoughtwanking about the personhood of the fetus that others (almost always male others) think deserves my consideration. I don't have that luxury. I am far too busy trying to defend the principle that my body belongs to me and only me, regardless of whether I'm gestating or not.

I appreciate and respect your philosophical journey on the abortion question, as well as your strongly held views. But you're incorrect when you single out men as the only ones who are concerned about the moral status of the fetus.

A 2011 Gallup poll shows a majority of US women favor a number of restrictions on access to abortions. For instance,

-70% of women favor a 24 hour waiting period
-72% of women favor parental consent for minors
-52% favor the ultrasound requirement

It just seems like bad political strategy to loudly denigrate the moral judgments and intuitions held by a majority of US women.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:50 AM on July 14, 2012


I learned that example in Con Law II. It is not original. The responses to "The Violinist" have been done, so I will not rehash them here.

Perhaps you should, as that would help your argument a hell of a lot more than the smug one-off you've left in its place.

By the way, I was forced to be a donor of my entire body when I turned 18. It is called Selective Service. Please tell me more about bodily autonomy.

And your point is . . . ? You were forced to sign up for Selective Service, so that means women can't demand bodily autonomy? Are you assuming that all the posters here think Selective Service is OK, and it is fair that women are not required to enroll but men are? That is a poor assumption in of itself.

Arguments regarding complete bodily autonomy are generally made under a theory of property rights i.e. that one's body is one's property. That is fine, but then one must explain why property interest in one's person is different than any other property interest.

. . . Are you saying it's not self-evident how preservation of one's own life is different than preservation of one's bank account?
posted by schroedinger at 8:41 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


And your point is . . . ? You were forced to sign up for Selective Service, so that means women can't demand bodily autonomy? Are you assuming that all the posters here think Selective Service is OK, and it is fair that women are not required to enroll but men are? That is a poor assumption in of itself.

My point is that this is an indication that there is not bodily autonomy. What other posters may think about SS is quite beside the point. I can only defend arguments that I have made, not ones that you have made up for me.

Are you saying it's not self-evident how preservation of one's own life is different than preservation of one's bank account?

Since I framed the discussion in terms of the property theory of body automony, I do not see the predicate for your question. And, you have shifted your ground. The discussion was not "women have the right to preserve their lives" but "humans have absolute autonomy over their own bodies".

There is no such thing as "self-evident", so you will have to make the argument that a property interest in one's money is any less sacrosanct than a property interest in one's body. In fact, I think they are one and the same. The movie, "In Time", which I recently watched in-flight, made this point rather clearly although it was probably lost by many. Every piece of property that you and I have, tangible or intangible, represents a portion of our lives. It took me a few hours to make the money that paid for the TV in my living room. Maybe a cup of coffee *is* four minutes as shown in the movie. If my TV is stolen, several hours have been stolen from me. Time, which once lost, cannot be recovered.

Put in another example, lest you think my concern is for possessions, imagine the person who types a lengthy email (or MeFi post) only to lose it to a catastrophic computer failure. He laments not the intrinsic value of electrons but the loss of his time.

For these reasons, I do not see a difference between one's property and one's life. I do not think that one's rights in one's property or in one's body or life is absolute. Yes, I can legitimately asked to pay taxes to the state or be subject to conscription. This lack of absolute autonomy is also seen in abortion jurisprudence, where the state does have an interest in the abortion not taking place once the fetus reaches viability. The woman's "Right over her body" is a very different right at 7 weeks gestation than it is as 25 weeks gestation. This is not necessarily my opinion but the holding of PP v. Casey and its progeny.

To avoid speculation, I will say my opinion is that Casey probably got it just about right.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2012


Time, which once lost, cannot be recovered

....are you just trying to derail the conversation?

This is not an argument about the loss of time - I completely agree our life is time, but our life is not about property.

If my mom died, I'd be much, much more upset than if the painting I worked for a week on got lost in a fire. If I lost everything I owned tomorrow I'd be devastated - it would take years to replace it. But if I had to choose between that and dying, I'd choose the former.

I can legitimately asked to pay taxes to the state or be subject to conscription. This lack of absolute autonomy

...but you're not being taxed on your body. You're being taxed on your stuff. In the US if you make less than a certain amount of money, you don't pay income tax. If you don't buy stuff, you don't pay sales tax. If you just sit there and be, you are not being taxed on your body.

Equating taxes with a lack of bodily autonomy is, I think, trying to confuse the basic issues of abortion with unrelated (but still controversial) social issues so as to muddy the waters. They don't need to be any muddier.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 11:59 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not an argument about the loss of time - I completely agree our life is time, but our life is not about property.

I am sorry, but I do not understand what "our life is not about property" is supposed to mean. In any event, I have not been speaking about "what life is about". My comments have been about the property theory of body autonomy.

...but you're not being taxed on your body. You're being taxed on your stuff. In the US if you make less than a certain amount of money, you don't pay income tax. If you don't buy stuff, you don't pay sales tax. If you just sit there and be, you are not being taxed on your body.

Equating taxes with a lack of bodily autonomy is, I think, trying to confuse the basic issues of abortion with unrelated (but still controversial) social issues so as to muddy the waters. They don't need to be any muddier.


You appear to have misunderstood, which may make things "muddy" in your mind. The point is that all property is subject to government interference to some extent. If one's theory of body autonomy is based on one's property rights in one's body, one must explain what property interest in one's body is different than one's property interest in anything else. Can you?

I am not trying to have a discussion about tax policy or any other social issue. That is your confusion. I am merely examining the property theory of body autonomy.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:24 PM on July 14, 2012


If one's theory of body autonomy is based on one's property rights in one's body, one must explain what property interest in one's body is different than one's property interest in anything else.

You say this as if one must flow from the other. And that if they do, one must treat them as the same thing. I don't see why.

It is illegal to murder someone. But not all killings are murder; we make these distinctions culturally, legally, and morally.

There are legal, cultural, and moral distinctions made between one's autonomy being compromised in certain contexts; this doesn't mean it would be legally, culturally, or morally acceptable in all contexts. Being knocked on the head and having your wallet stolen is not the same as being required (in some cases) to pay into a common pool out of which you benefit: police, fire, roads, not being left to die on street because you're poor oh wait, having legal recourse for when your neighbor decides to build an addition that stretches onto your property, etc.
posted by rtha at 1:15 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


What rtha and emjaybee have touched on, but which mostly is not being discussed (which I never understand because to me it is an untouchable, unassailable argument for reproductive rights):

If I am a female and I find myself in an unwanted pregnancy, I don't have to go to a clinic and have an abortion in order to terminate that pregnancy.

There are a number of things that I can do, which are 100% perfectly legal, in order to terminate that pregnancy.

Those actions aren't always safe, but they are legal. And they have been used by women since the dawn of time.

And as long as I have the ability to end my own pregnancy legally (if not safely), and as long as men and the government can't do anything to stop me (short of a Republic of Gilead / Oceania scenario),

then it is in the best interest of men and the government to maintain my safe + legal options.

No anti-abortion activist can ever answer this one for me. There hasn't ever been a logical, reasonable argument made to me that overrides the basic human fact that a woman who is determined not to be pregnant has options for which she doesn't need the government's approval.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that if that faction were truly anti-abortion (i.e. opposed to the unsafe termination of viable embryos), then they would be anti-unwanted pregnancy, and therefore pro-contraception and pro-sex education.

But they aren't. So they must be anti-women.
posted by pineapple at 6:00 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


There are a number of things that I can do, which are 100% perfectly legal, in order to terminate that pregnancy.

Unless I am not understanding the methods you're talking about I'm not sure that's accurate.

In Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta and the other tiny handful of EU countries where abortion is not legal, self-abortion with herbal abortificants, coat hangers, boric acid or whatever is illegal and a prosecutable criminal act. I would expect that to become the case in every US state where abortion is criminalised. And in fact now that I Google it, self-abortion is in fact prosecuted in at least some US jurisdictions, including New York. Am I just not following what you're really saying?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:26 PM on July 14, 2012


Guttmacher tells us that places with highly restrictive abortion laws have higher rates of abortions than places with liberal abortions laws. Which is not surprising when you consider that places with liberal abortion laws also generally have quality sex education, make contraception easily and cheaply available, and greater equality for women. I find it hard to believe that the leaders of anti-abortion groups in the U.S. don't know this, and so I'm led to believe that their goal is *really* a lowering of abortion rates here, because if it were, it's pretty easy to see what kind of health and social policies they ought to be fighting for. And they're not.

This is unbelievably sloppy reasoning. You aren't even considering factors like average income, percentage of households that are single-parent, etc. etc. etc.
posted by pdq at 6:30 PM on July 14, 2012


DarlingBri, I know there are the "known" self-abortifacient methods that the government can and has criminalized (if in fact they can prove intent). I'm not really talking about that. A woman who is determined enough not to be pregnant can force a miscarriage, in ways the government can't ever come near, but I'm not willing to create a list here that could draw unintended attention.
posted by pineapple at 6:47 PM on July 14, 2012


This is unbelievably sloppy reasoning.

The why does not change the outcome:
Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America—regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds. [1]
The irony of these stats is that the US is fueling unintended pregnancy in Africa with restrictions on birth control and sex education limitations attached to foreign aid - courtesy of the same right-wing Republican legislators who oppose abortion. I don't think those 20 extra abortions per thousand is quite the result they were looking for, but there you have it.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:07 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is unbelievably sloppy reasoning.

Unless what you're pointing out is my missing-word typo, where I said and so I'm led to believe that their goal is *really* a lowering of abortion rates here,

and what I meant to say was and so I'm led to believe that their goal is *really* not a lowering of abortion rates here, - in which case, fair point! What I wrote doesn't make sense without the "not" in there! - I'm not grokking you.

Because I'm not the one "not considering" various factors. Did you click the link? Did you read the linked material, and its sources? These are data compiled by public health agencies and the U.N. and so on. I'm pretty sure that various regression analyses has been performed, as that is standard.

In any case, I don't see how things like average income or marital status has more effect than the stark realities that women in Western Europe have greater educational and economic power, that both men and women in Western Europe have easy and cheap access to birth control, and sex education generally seems to be fact-based rather than religion-based.
posted by rtha at 7:27 PM on July 14, 2012


Yeah, at this point I'm not interested in discussing matters of law and national policy with people who have not read and absorbed the Guttmacher data. They aren't playing with a full deck.

In any case, I don't see how things like average income or marital status has more effect than the stark realities that women in Western Europe have greater educational and economic power,

In fact, in terms of economic development, the chicken may end up coming before the egg, so to speak; when women have maximum reproductive choice, they also can maximize their contributions to the cash/productivity economy. Reproductive freedom is one of the engines that generates greater wealth in a nation, not a result of it.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Can I just congratulate metafilter on having one of the best (most civil and nuanced, with the best points made on both sides, and real engagement) discussions of abortion I have ever seen, in this thread? I'm favoriting things left and right from various points of view, just because I'm so relieved to see this argued so well.

I'm currently pregnant, and right in the gray-line area -- going in next week for my 20 week ultrasound. For me this is a fraught time period, because what if that 20 week ultrasound revealed a severe problem with this very wanted pregnancy? (Not that I have any reason to expect it, but one can't help but worry.) 20 weeks is -- I just don't know what 20 weeks is, besides the first opportunity to detect some kinds of serious problems.

I grew up very pro-life, raised by an activist. I do take very seriously the "personhood" question. I am very much opposed to abortion in the third trimester except under very unusual circumstances (fortunately, I understand, it generally happens only under those very unusual circumstances.) I have also come to believe that for most of the first trimester fetus does not meet a definition of personhood that I would consider reasonable (though I find it hard to articulate a definition which excludes them without also excluding people with severe brain damage and/or physical handicaps, or with some proposed definitions, newborns, who are physically dependent and incompletely formed, and would appreciate more discussions of the distinctions, to help me resolve the unsettled feeling this leave me with.) It comforts me that most abortions take place during this period. I have no idea what to do or say about the second trimester. I wish I did.

I also take seriously the idea of bodily autonomy, and was first persuaded away from my hard line anti-abortion position by a variation on the "living organ donor" argument, presented on another internet forum years ago -- so conversations like this do sometimes change minds. Indeed I would not call anyone who refused to donate bone marrow or a kidney to a dying stranger/relative (an unborn child is both, really) a murder, even if the person in need of donation subsequently died. Indeed I do not think that kidney or bone marrow or even blood donations should be legally compelled, even the decision not to donate unquestionably results of the death of fully human persons.

So where does that leave me? Does the "organ donor" argument make the "personhood" argument irrelevant? Not quite, I think, because the one case I can think of where I might agree that donating an organ should be legally compelled is if the person who is being compelled to donate actually caused the injury -- if the reason you need a kidney is because I attacked you, for instance, and I am a perfect match. Or even if I just accidentally hit you with a car. In cases not involving rape, I do think the woman bears some responsibility for her pregnancy, and thus some responsibility to the person who is created at some point (or over some time?) during it.

On the other hand, I think that the "personhood" argument does make the "organ donor" argument irrelevant in the sense that, if the fetus is not a person (actual rather than potential), then certainly no one would say that a woman should be compelled to support it except out of pure misogyny.

I think that the pro-life people who are also anti-contraception are refusing to take their own arguments seriously, and am rather disgusted with them. If you really believe that abortion is murder, then you have to be pro-contraception, which cannot be viewed as being nearly as bad as murder in any sense, no matter what your religious beliefs. I do accept that many in the pro-life movement are disingenuous, and wish that they would shut up, so that I could talk to the ones that aren't.
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


would appreciate more discussions of the distinctions, to help me resolve the unsettled feeling this leave me with.

The position at which I've arrived after a lifetime of wrestling with this is that this distinction cannot be clearly made, no matter how much we cry out for one. After all, if we had a clear distinction, the matters of policy would flow from there, and there would be nothing to argue about. But as with all things medical, and all things life and death, the real, actual environment we are operating in is full of gray areas, difficult choices, worst- and best-case scenarios.

Life can struggle along in many forms, dependent or (relatively, never truly) independent, and as human beings all we can really expect ourselves to do is engage our most compassionate and most pragmatic senses in making decisions about our management of questions concerning life and potential life. Those decisions, I very strongly believe, are best made by the people most closely involved and most capable of considering the action from every specific angle involved in their unique case, under the advisement and guidance of the medical profession. I see these decisions as not dissimilar to those made when a family member is aged and suffering, or profoundly compromised, wracked by trauma or trapped inside a brain which is no longer functioning to produce a meaningful or even comfortable or wished-for life. They are not dissimilar to any of the difficult, emotional, and most of all private decisions that take place in the halls of hospitals, in homes, in surgery rooms and offices. None of those choices is ever light, clear, or easy. No thinking about life or death benefits from the guidance of obvious, evident bright-line rules. Those don't exist when we are talking about beginning a life, maintaining one under adverse conditions, or ending one. All that exists is the best possible, responsible decision for those individual people in that circumstance with their own medical consult.

I tend to approach this question not from an obsession with understanding or taking a stand on when an individual human life can be said to begin or end. I have come to feel this is a game of philosophy or ethics, which has much to do with ideology and little to do with pragmatism. And so often, attempts to assert control over a decision about how other people - total strangers - handle these situations is deeply stained with misogyny. Misogyny is indeed primarily responsible for the pervasive inconsistency of positions on contraception, adoption, sexual activity, family planning, and abortion. The whole argumentation process is nothing more than an intellectual game for people whom it will not directly impact. The bizarre degree of obsession with abortion and its theory on the part of "pro-life" activists and their apologists, men particularly, will always be suspect to me.

So in the end, I don't say "First, we must solve the problem of where life begins! We must solve the problem of who has the most rights!" Those are theoretical questions, interesting in the abstract if you want to discuss problems of humanism or the derivation of rights, sure, but unrelated to crafting policy which creates desired outcomes.

Instead, I begin by asking "What is best for everyone? What is best for society as a whole? Which set of decisions produces the outcomes that benefit the many and improve existence on this earth for those who end up here? What reduces suffering and improves health and safety?"

After much research, I've concluded the position that I will advocate for is the approach taken in Canada: no law restricting abortions for any reason, at any time. It seems so frightening and insanely risky to many, and yet on every measure - number of abortions, number of late-term abortions, number of unplanned pregnancies - that nation's rates are much better than ours in the US. Taking the entire issue out of the football arena, where it's framed as a struggle over "rights" or a battle of competing "morals," would communicate respect for individual dignity in life planning and decisionmaking in a medical context, while profoundly depoliticizing an issue which has skewed our party politics and hence our broader economic and social policies mightily, to our own detriment. It's time to move on, to resist descending into the back-and-forth and responding to the insistence that someone who wants to insert themselves into your private life be given that access. It's not necessary, it's not productive of good outcomes, and in the end, it is really nothing but a bid for control.
posted by Miko at 6:45 AM on July 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Hear, hear! Outcomes over ideology.
posted by vorfeed at 10:49 AM on July 15, 2012


People clamor about protecting Roe v. Wade as if it were the most important jurisprudence ever (although everyone forgets Casey), but the fact is that if Roe v. Wade were overturned during the very next SCOTUS session, state abortion laws would likely not look very different.

State abortion laws != all abortion laws in the U.S. I have no doubt that if Roe (and/or Casey) were overturned, there would be a major push to outlaw abortion at the federal level. (See, e.g., the "partial-birth" abortion ban.)

So, you know, I don't really care if state abortion laws wouldn't look any different.
posted by asterix at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


then it is in the best interest of ... the government to maintain my safe + legal options.

Indeed. It's the old saying - outlawing abortion will not actually stop abortions, it will just stop safe abortions.

Of course, when you make that argument - that women having illegal abortions are in much greater danger of losing their lives - the counter is usually, "so? good riddance!" ....which kind of counters the whole, "oh, regardless of what you think of embryos, we want abortion to be illegal because it's a physical and mental health risk to the mother! Maybe it causes breast cancer and depression or something."

And as for dangerous ways of abortion being legal? Well, not quite. In Iowa you can't even have an accident while pregnant without them assuming you're trying to perform a self-abortion and arresting you.

But whether the methods are legal or not, most educated women know that being recognized as a human first (with all attached inalienable rights) is having control over your reproduction. After all, most excuses for treating women in sub-human capacity is down to reproduction - jobs couldn't be given to women because they'd just leave to have children, they can't serve in the army because ew periods, and women get all crazy because of their wandering uterus.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:18 PM on July 16, 2012


State abortion laws != all abortion laws in the U.S. I have no doubt that if Roe (and/or Casey) were overturned, there would be a major push to outlaw abortion at the federal level. (See, e.g., the "partial-birth" abortion ban.)

So, you know, I don't really care if state abortion laws wouldn't look any different.


Is there reason to believe that Congress would ban abortion when none of its represented states had? Even the Mississippi personhood amendment failed.

By they way, what clause of the Constitution do you think would empower Congress to enact any abortion law?

IAALBIANYL
posted by Tanizaki at 1:16 PM on July 17, 2012


Is there reason to believe that Congress would ban abortion when none of its represented states had?

Did you even read the comment you quoted? I'm going to go with "no", since the answer to your question is contained within it.
posted by asterix at 5:14 PM on July 17, 2012


Did you even read the comment you quoted? I'm going to go with "no", since the answer to your question is contained within it.

This statement is at odds with your previously expressed prediction that "there would be a major push to outlaw abortion at the federal level".
posted by Tanizaki at 7:42 AM on July 18, 2012


Sooooo, soooo important to you, isn't it.
posted by Miko at 7:55 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


By they way, what clause of the Constitution do you think would empower Congress to enact any abortion law?

Interstate commerce clause -- the same excuse which was used to uphold blatantly unconstitutional drug laws. Clarence Thomas even warned about this possibility in his dissent to that decision:

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything – and the federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers. [emphasis mine]
posted by vorfeed at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This statement is at odds with your previously expressed prediction that "there would be a major push to outlaw abortion at the federal level".

The "no" was in response to my question "Did you even read the comment you quoted?".
posted by asterix at 11:00 AM on July 18, 2012


Planned Parenthood Sues Arizona For Blocking Low-Income Women’s Access To Health Clinics
posted by homunculus at 11:07 AM on July 18, 2012


Interstate commerce clause -- the same excuse which was used to uphold blatantly unconstitutional drug laws. Clarence Thomas even warned about this possibility in his dissent to that decision:

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything – and the federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers. [emphasis mine]


I thought someone would say the Commerce Clause.

Well, I certainly agree with J. Thomas on the state of Commerce Clause jurisprudence. It is notable that in Gonzales v. Carhart, neither party raised the Commerce Clause issue, which I think was a wasted opportunity. However, it may be that the recent Sebelius decision has made some erosion of the wayward Commerce Clause jurisprudence, which started to get reined in by Lopez.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2012


How I Lost My Fear of Universal Health Care, by a conservative Christian who moved to Canada ready to face the horrors of socialized medicine. Relevant grafs at the end:
The only concern I was left with was the fact that abortion was covered by the universal health care, and I still believed that was wrong. But as I lived there, I began to discover I had been misled in that understanding as well. Abortion wasn't pushed as the only option by virtue of it being covered. It was just one of the options, same as it was in the USA. In fact, the percentage rates of abortion are far lower in Canada than they are in the USA, where abortion is not covered by insurance and is often much harder to get. In 2008 Canada had an abortion rate of 15.2 per 1000 women (In other countries with government health care that number is even lower), and the USA had an abortion rate of 20.8 abortions per 1000 women. And suddenly I could see why that was the case. With Universal coverage, a mother pregnant unexpectedly would still have health care for her pregnancy and birth even if she was unemployed, had to quit her job, or lost her job.

If she was informed that she had a special needs baby on the way, she could rest assured knowing in Canada her child's health care needs would be covered. Whether your child needs therapy, medicines, a caregiver, a wheelchair, or repeated surgeries, it would be covered by the health care system. Here, you never heard of parents joining the army just so their child's "pre-existing" health care needs would be covered. In fact, when a special needs person becomes an adult in Canada, they are eligible for a personal care assistant covered by the government. We saw far more developmentally or physically disabled persons out and about in Canada, than I ever see here in the USA. They would be getting their groceries at the store, doing their business at the bank, and even working job, all with their personal care assistant alongside them, encouraging them and helping them when they needed it. When my sister came up to visit, she even commented on how visible special needs people were when the lady smiling and waving while clearing tables at the Taco Bell with her caregiver clearly had Downs Syndrome.
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


...If a woman gets pregnant unexpectedly in America, she has to worry about how she will get her own prenatal care, medical care for her child, whether or not she will be able to keep her job and how she will pay for daycare for her child so she can continue to support her family. In Canada those problems are eliminated or at least reduced. Where do you think a woman is more likely to feel supported in her decision to keep her baby, and therefore reduce abortions?
posted by Miko at 11:44 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


South Dakota Doctors Ordered To Say Abortions Lead to Suicide
posted by homunculus at 3:54 PM on July 27, 2012


DarlingBri: "'Adoptions, prenatal care for indigent mothers, and such, are appropriate responses. '

"NO THEY ARE NOT. Stop saying they are like we all just agree that. We do not. What you just described sets poor women up to be forced baby making machines for the billion dollar US adoption industry. That isn't better, it's worse.

"...If you don't want to give women a choice between having children and not having children, the least you can do is give them a real choice between adoption and child-rearing. Otherwise, you're just treating them as breeding livestock. Put your tax dollars where your rhetoric is."


My argument is this: We ought to set aside money for indigent mothers who cannot afford to sustain a pregnancy. Women who cannot raise a child need not have only the abortion option open to them, should they become pregnant. I fully understand that our enlightened society isn't willing to actually to fund orphanages and adoption centers on any meaninful scale. Big Business has its ways of demeaning any human endeavor.

Whether abortions are sinful, or whether homicide occurs only after the "embryonic" stage is not relevant. I don't disagree with abortions in general, but, like everyone else who is pro-choice, I qualify that thinking. If I'm not in favor of abortions as a means of birth control, maybe I should say that I am in favor of other means of birth control. In my mind, abortions ought to be performed for medical reasons, not simply because a woman simply doesn't wish to have become pregnant. That doesn't mean I think she has to spend the rest of her life raising the child. I recognize that raising a child is not just an inconvenience to many people--it's beyond them for any of a hundred reasons.

The social forces that encourage baby mills are not part of my argument. That argument belongs to another rant.
posted by mule98J at 7:58 PM on July 27, 2012


. I fully understand that our enlightened society isn't willing to actually to fund orphanages and adoption centers on any meaninful scale. Big Business has its ways of demeaning any human endeavor.

I'm confused by this. If anything, Big Business stands to make tons of money on "adoption centers." Two of my friends just paid about $20K for their baby.

like everyone else who is pro-choice, I qualify that thinking

That's really not true of "everyone else who is pro-choice." I don't disagree with abortions in general, and I don't qualify that thinking.

In my mind, abortions ought to be performed for medical reasons, not simply because a woman simply doesn't wish to have become pregnant.

Being pregnant is a huge physical disruption, sometimes a psychological trauma, and always a medical risk. Not wanting to be pregnant is a pretty good reason to have an abortion rather than have a baby (as is not wanting to become a parent who gave a child up for adoption). It's reasonable for medical practitioners to agree on some protocols about how much time you have to arrive at that decision, but not reasonable for me to get involved with what I think is or isn't a good reason. The whole scenario really should not involve what people outside the situation and outside the medical profession think.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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