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Pro-nuance
December 16, 2004 7:45 AM   Subscribe

A right that ends in sorrow, aka the difficulty of standing up for something that really sucks. (via Amy Sullivan)
posted by alms (73 comments total)

 
I'm not certain I have the standing to voice an opinion on this subject, but I will say it's essays like this that give me hope for the Democratic Party in particular, and the Left in general.
posted by mojohand at 7:52 AM on December 16, 2004


I find it disturbing that most people of power involved in the abortion debate are men. An abortion is such an extremely personal thing; it's difficult to debate any kind of national policy pro or con.
posted by pepcorn at 7:56 AM on December 16, 2004


I was going to say what mojohand said. There's nothing inconsistent with being pro-choice, but also dismayed that abortion is so prevalent. I think that if the avid pro-choice movement would even acknowledge abortion's dark lining -- rather than adhering to a gun-lobby-like "give no quarter" strategy -- many more people would support a woman's right to choose.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:09 AM on December 16, 2004


Was it Clinton that said it should be "safe, legal and rare"? That's pretty simple and to the point. I agree we should address the emotional component, as the right seems to have a monopoly on that right now.
posted by whatnot at 8:25 AM on December 16, 2004


An abortion is such an extremely personal thing

But isn't that the point of the whole debate, I should think, with one side believing that it should remain a personal thing and the other side wanting to subject it to governmental regulation and enforcement, removing the personal element.

Who needs personal ethics when someone else can just tell you what to do all the time? Why bother with thinking and choosing when one can follow a list of someone else's rules? God, himself, (according to the Christian tradition) declined to impose conformity to his rules in favor of preserving individual choice and responsibility, but it seems many of those who would squat neath his umbrella feel that they know better than he and seek to control their fellow man accordingly.
posted by rushmc at 8:27 AM on December 16, 2004


An abortion is such an extremely person thing.
posted by Faze at 8:34 AM on December 16, 2004


Respectful but enthusiastic applause for the article. Brilliant.
posted by Doohickie at 8:39 AM on December 16, 2004


I agree that as a matter of politics and emotional reality, the abortion-rights crowd has to get some nuance.

But still, there's something annoying about the idea that women have to publicly manifest themselves contrite sinners to claim the right to abortion. In what other political arena do we demand this? Do hawks have to acknowledge the human tragedy of going to war while reaffirming its necessity? Is there a rhetoric of grovelling when it comes to the right to divorce?

BTW, the Cynthia Gorney book "Articles of Faith" mentioned in the essay is really good.
posted by insideout at 8:46 AM on December 16, 2004


While an interesting and decently thought out article, I don't think it means shit. Even if the abortion rights campaigners changed their tone to somber and serious, stopped holding loud rallies and only worked to emphasize the dangers of going back to the bad old days, it wouldn't do any good. The religious right, for lack of a better term, in general want to ban the practice for religious reasons; reasons that cannot be contradicted with facts by their very nature and that they are entirely unwilling to comprise on. In short, the opposition is the key in this argument and all the posturing in the world will not work. Until the right to an abortion becomes a constitutional amendment (Hah!) this will be fought over.
posted by Vaska at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2004


Vaska, I don't think the article claims that better language will change minds on the religious right. It's the mushy middle that Blustain is talking about.

Even as a pro-choice left-wing Democrat I cringe whenever I hear a politician talking about "preserving a woman's right to choose." Don't they know about transitive verbs? Where's the direct object?

So instead of speaking in English, Democrats speak in this weird political code. People on the left know how to decode it. But for people in the middle, it just comes across as Democrats reciting an interest-group catechism.

By contrast, look what the other side does. They speak about a culture of life. Now this is also a code phrase, one that is well understood by the religious right. But unlike our code phrase, theirs is written in English and it has a resonance that is appealing to the mushy middle.
posted by alms at 9:19 AM on December 16, 2004


The "Religious Right" may want to ban abortion, but I suspect there's a much larger group of people, like myself, who just find the idea of mid- and late term elective abortions a practice that shouldn't be. Which is why the "right to chose" crowd nauseates me to no end.

In any case, the debate will eventually be moot. Blue State people have fewer kids than Red State ones. So the right-to-chose crowd will, eventually lose by attrition, and abortion will be restricted.

Not at all a bad outcome,
posted by ParisParamus at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2004


You don't make something more valuable just by saying it is so. Such it is with life. In times past old people were respected because there were few of them. Likewise children were dear because so many died young. Life will become more valuable again when there are fewer humans around. While it works on a local basis to love others, loving all humanity just tends to add to Earth's burden.
I don't like abortion either, but I believe it is a necessary evil and hope it will eventually be replaced by a hella more thoughtfulness when it comes to procreation.
posted by ackptui at 9:40 AM on December 16, 2004


But still, there's something annoying about the idea that women have to publicly manifest themselves contrite sinners to claim the right to abortion.

I didn't get this from the article at all. Saying "this sucks" is different from publicly lampooning yourself on the spear of shame. Sometimes unwanted pregnancies happen, and unfortunately, abortion is often the only viable solution. Realizing that the situation means that this solution also means killing an embryo, one that left on it's own in many cases would become your child, is sobering.

You should have no shame if this is what you must do, and I feel abortion should be legal, but the left often glosses over the unpleasantness of abortion just like the right glosses over the unpleasantness of having unwanted children.

People need to get real and discuss this like adults, and this article reminds me that I'm not the only one who feels this way. The far right and far left appear to be killing real debate about many issues in this country.
posted by wicked sprite at 9:43 AM on December 16, 2004


Blue State people have fewer kids than Red State ones. So the right-to-chose crowd will, eventually lose by attrition, and abortion will be restricted.

...because it's impossible to imagine that any of those Red State babies might grow up to become liberals? Are they cloning themselves out on the prairie?
posted by briank at 9:51 AM on December 16, 2004


Blue State people have fewer kids than Red State ones.

Yeah, but the red state kids will be more likely to kill each other with handguns, so it all works out in the end.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:51 AM on December 16, 2004


You know, I really don't have any moral qualms about first-trimester abortion, or think it's a bad thing. I just don't. I don't care if they're rare or if everyone has one once a week.

I understand the pro-life position - they think of it as a human. Fine. I understand my position - I don't. Fine. The space in there where people are in favor of having legal abortion but feeling guilty about it always seemed weird to me.

(And I think "culture of life" is just as crappy a phrase as "freedom to choose" - it sounds like something you'd find in a petri dish.)
posted by kyrademon at 9:54 AM on December 16, 2004


I've never, ever met a pro-choice person who spoke with uninhibited glee about abortions. Abortion is already almost universally recognized as sorrowful. To ask pro-choice activists to discuss the damaging repercussions of abortions would be like asking civil rights activists to mention that the 4th amendment is really helpful to terrorists. It is true, we all know it's true, but it isn't their job.
posted by Doug at 10:00 AM on December 16, 2004


Most of the people that oppose abortion believe it is equivalent to murder. For these people, all the nuance in the world is pointless - they simply cannot accept the fact that it's legal for a person to murder their unborn child. It's as simple at that to them, and that's why their position is so simple, and so firm.
posted by Jart at 10:11 AM on December 16, 2004


I've never, ever met a pro-choice person who spoke with uninhibited glee about abortions. Abortion is already almost universally recognized as sorrowful.

I agree. It's not a hobby that people pursue. It's a medical procedure.

To ask pro-choice activists to discuss the damaging repercussions of abortions would be like asking civil rights activists to mention that the 4th amendment is really helpful to terrorists.

To ask choice proponents to discuss the damaging repercussions also gives choice opponents a chance to use their words against them. That's a situation people generally try to avoid in political debates. People argue the black and white and stay away from the tricky gray because it's safer, not because it's more righter.

(Talking about the gray is now called "flip-flopping.")
posted by mudpuppie at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2004


What's truly pathetic is that I STILL don't have a clear idea as to whether la procedure dite partial birth abortion is a gruesome one that can protect the mother; or a gruesome unnecessary one, whose legalization is favored by the "choice" camp as a bulwork against generally restricting abortion.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2004


I guess I'm not really too clear on what the author wants the Left to do. She's turned off by the Left's defense of abortion, but doesn't want the right to choose an abortion revoked. How, exactly, should that right be preserved if the practice itself cannot be defended?

I don't see much room for nuance. You either think abortion is okay (perhaps not for you but for others) or you don't.

As for the emotional aspect, after having an abortion 4 years ago, I felt nothing so much as relief and gratitude for having had the option. The only regret I felt was for having gotten pregnant in the first place. It was painful, unpleasant, and yes, it was sad, but it was the right thing for me to do at the time.


Like the author of the article, I too went to the March For Women's Lives. Unlike her, the march left me feeling strong and hopeful and happy that so many people want to keep abortion legal.
When there are people who want to take away what I consider to be a very basic right to decide what happens to my own body, I feel compelled to speak out, not in hushed tones, but loud enough for them to hear. Which is not to say that I am not sensitive to the fact that other people have different feelings about abortion. My mother is pro-choice, but would never have an abortion herself. I respect that completely.

I would not personally have a late term abortion, but I can imagine situations in which it might be appropriate. What would be wrong for me, might be right for someone else. At any rate, such abortions are rare.

I will continue to support politicians who do not equivocate on abortion rights. As long as a polician wants to keep it legal, I don't much care what his or her personal feelings about it are. I know it's been said before, in many ways, but I really wish the anti-choice crowd would devote even half as much energy to the welfare of the "born" as they do to other people's fetuses. The world would be a better place.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:17 AM on December 16, 2004


I see no unpleasantness in abortion. Abort away, I say! These foetuses can't survive on their own and who are we to say a woman should be slave to the creature growing inside her? If she doesn't want to live her life according to the needs of an unborn child, she shouldn't have to. If you want to transfer unwanted foetuses into the bellies of willing volunteers (or paying customers, even!), then let medical science catch up. Otherwise, last I checked, slavery was outlawed in the 1800s.
posted by PigAlien at 10:21 AM on December 16, 2004


well said, doug.

the pro-abortion effort will start honestly discussing the morality of second-trimester abortions when anti-abortion groups starts honestly discussing birth control. that is, in a far distant galaxy. it still seems to me (a partial observer, natch) that the pro-abortion crowd is more logical, reasonable, and moral than the anti-abortion crowd. your sources may vary ...

on preview: What's truly pathetic is that I STILL don't have a clear idea as to whether la procedure dite partial birth abortion is a gruesome one that can protect the mother; or a gruesome unnecessary one, whose legalization is favored by the "choice" camp as a bulwork against generally restricting abortion.

there was an excellent article about the invention of the "partial-birth abortion" in Harper's November issue (maybe October). i'll see if i can find it.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2004


Alms : You're right, and I take my comment back about the article being shit which was inaccurate. If I had been thinking correctly I would have called it useless. I still do not think that a change of tone or terms will win this battle as it is controlled by the 'religious right' who stand upon what is more easily portrayed as the moral high-ground and force the nature of the discussion. Also, the middle swings on a single issue most elections; last time it was terrorism, next time it might be something else. The key is for the opposition is keying in on the issue of each election.
posted by Vaska at 10:23 AM on December 16, 2004


Sorry Paris - my family produced 5 red state kids and 4 of us left for the blue and became what you would consider "liberal" . I do think it's interesting that the only one that stayed home is the only one who votes republican - but he is pro choice.
Standing up for basic human rights means championing unpleasant, complex moral issues. At times I envy the simple-minded approach of just listening to some redneck preacher or tuning into some blowhard on the radio who will tell me what to think, but real life just isn't that easy.
posted by 2sheets at 10:28 AM on December 16, 2004


ParisParamus - I've never heard of a late-term abortion occurring for any reason other than to protect the life of the mother. Doing so for other reasons is, as far as I know, already illegal and has been since abortion of any kind became legal in the US.

Doug - I don't think of abortion as necessarily sorrowful. I wouldn't exactly call my position uninhibited glee, but I am genuinely happy it exists and is legal.

apis mellifera - Thanks for your comments. It always adds to these discussions to hear from someone who has first-hand experience with the issues involved.
posted by kyrademon at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2004


2sheets, your milage may vary; I grew up in a liberal enclave, and turned more conservative (esp. after living in Europe). But most people, for better or worse, don't leave the flock.

I don't think abortion should be made illegal. I'm not even sure if it should be more limited. What I do know is the tone of the pro-choice camp sounds and feels amoral and offensive, and turns-off us fence-sitters.

Remember, there are at least as many freak extremists who support your position as support the one you oppose.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:38 AM on December 16, 2004


I STILL don't have a clear idea as to whether la procedure dite partial birth abortion is a gruesome one that can protect the mother

I had friends who had a sixth-month [not quite late-term but definitely close] abortion after realizing they were going to give birth to a horribly deformed likely-dead baby/fetus. It was a terrible decision they had to make and the procedure itself was very unpleasant necessitating a hospital stay in addition to all the communication with relatives who had been sending well wishes about the baby and now didn't know what to say. While I don't think it was strictly necessary to protect the health of the mother, it could be argued that it protected the sanity of the mother. One of the things that has been missing from this discussion -- and I generally agree with the article about the way the rhetoric is going -- is the fact that even if you are pro-choice, you are still relegating the decision to a woman and possibly her partner and her doctor. I'm totally comfortable with doctors making the decisions about what is medically necessary and I depend on them to make sane choices where perhaps expectant mothers [or the state] might not.
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on December 16, 2004


Try to ignore who's saying what, with what tone they are saying it, and focus on the actual issue. Do some research into "partial-birth" abortion. Find statistics as to how often and in what circumstances it is used. Find an impartial description of the procedure in a medical textbook. Then, decide how you feel about it.

Being "turned off" by extremists on either side is no way to make a decision.
posted by callmejay at 10:49 AM on December 16, 2004


2sheets, your milage may vary; I grew up in a liberal enclave, and turned more conservative (esp. after living in Europe). But most people, for better or worse, don't leave the flock.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:38 PM EST on December 16


Not true -- although the correlations between parents and offsprings' political beliefs are usually statistically significant, they don't make up a super-majority. See Frank Sulloway's Born to Rebel or Altemeyer's work on right-wing authoritarianism.
posted by trey at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2004


So the right-to-chose crowd will, eventually lose by attrition, and abortion will be restricted. Not at all a bad outcome,
...
I don't think abortion should be made illegal. I'm not even sure if it should be more limited.


You flip-flopped in an hour?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:55 AM on December 16, 2004


mrgrimm, if you want to turn the discussion to the morality of second-term abortion, I'd be happy to get that ball rolling here, at least.

Fetal development has progressed pretty far at that point, but the fetus is still pre-viable.

Let's assume for now that second-trimester (and even third) should be legal when the health of the mother is in serious danger of the fetus will have horrible birth-defects.

The other main groups that tend to get second trimester abortions are those who 1) do not realize they are pregnant until after the first trimester have passed, or 2) have delayed making a decision about abortion for any of a number of reasons.

The main question regarding the morality of it (if you believe abortion should be legal at all) seems to be: which is the more important factor in determining whether or not a fetus should be considered human - viability or development? And why?

If development is the answer, at what point in the development of the fetus does it become human enough for it to have rights which may supercede some of the rights of the mother?

If the answer is unknown or debatable, which side should we err on?

Based on the answer (viability is more important, development is more important, unknown/debatable), what, if any, restrictions should be imposed on second-term abortions?
posted by kyrademon at 11:08 AM on December 16, 2004


I don't feel one has to condemn those who have abortions to see the current rate as symptomatic of larger societal issues. Many detractors in the middle and upper class see it as the refuge of confused teenagers and callous college grads, but it's seldom addressed as a product of economic issues, a troubled adoption program, and a lack of awareness and health care options.
In the past four years, nothing has been done to address these issues, and conservative friends of mine shoot back, "Just because you're poor, that doesn't make it ok!" No, but I wish more people understood that by granting child credits to low-income families, and by promoting adoption and improving the adoption system, we could reduce the number of abortions shouldn't have to happen. But so few are interested in reducing, they just want politicians to say "I'm against it!" and then look the other way.

I think the absolute best thing the Democratic Party could do would be to carefully begin drawing an outline for how to logically reduce unnecessary abortions, and find ways to present it that make it look appealing to both sides. Not "Abortion is evil," but:
"If we do these things that help the lower, that help children, that help teenagers understand the consequences of pregnancy and methods to avoid it, all things that are good...abortions will drop. They dropped under Clinton and went up under Bush, because he did nothing except say 'pro-life' as loud as possible."

I think the number of people voting Bush simply because of pro-life stance would astonish some of us. Among the voters I know, it was absolutely huge.
posted by dougunderscorenelso at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2004


jessamyn, your response (and experience) did not include "PBA", so I'm not sure what to say.

" they don't make up a super-majority."
By which, you mean, 75%? A majority ("more times than not") is enough over time to make the losing side lose, so I'm not sure how that answers my assertion.


"You flip-flopped in an hour?"

No, I'm on the fence. And i'm leaning towards a restriction of abortion rights, but I'm still on the fence.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2004


jessamyn, your response (and experience) did not include "PBA"

Well, the procedure she had involved PBA, it was just late second trimester so I don't know what you call it. Instead of doing a straight D&C they had to basically induce labor and do all the icky things that some pro-lifers show you pictures of. Part of my point was that drawing an arbitrary line and creating legislation is always going to result in weird terrible choices for people, many of whom are going to do whatever they feel they need to, no matter what the law said. If I felt those people had access to good safe medical care and good advice from their doctor, I'd feel better no matter what the eventual outcome wound up being. Abortions are at their lowest rate in the US in two decades, so I feel that people aren't jumping in to getting them willy nilly, and I find it hard to believe that making already rare procedures tougher to get would really affect what is already a positive trend.
posted by jessamyn at 11:46 AM on December 16, 2004


...and my other point was if they had gotten the procedure two or three weeks later it would have been illegal under PBA laws.
posted by jessamyn at 11:47 AM on December 16, 2004


I do wish the rhetoric was clearer. It's anti-legalization and pro-legalization. Abortion has always been and always will be; the debate has to do with its legal status.

And I was very happy the day I got my safe, legal abortion. Don't regret a thing.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2004


I think, or would assume, the proposed PBA legislation was limited to the specific PBA procedure.

My only interest in the procedure is to see the "pro choice camp" deals with it; whether there's any aknowledgement of it being horrid. Because it is. Again, this in the context of the pro-choice camp seemingly failing to acknowledge that late-term abortion should not be legal as an elective procedure. Again, it's the seeming failure to recognize that a baby is a human before its born (when is the question; not if).
posted by ParisParamus at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2004


sorry for the unedited quality of the above; I'm trying to do my day job here...
posted by ParisParamus at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2004


Most of the people that oppose abortion believe it is equivalent to murder. For these people, all the nuance in the world is pointless

Ummm, Duh?

If you believe that abortion is murder, how they should they find nuance in it?

The debate is not nuance in murder, but whether it is murder or not.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2004


November's Harper's has a great article about this issue called "Gambling with Abortion: Why Both Sides Think They Have Everything to Lose" by Cynthia Gorney. (I can't find a link to it, but it might be up on-line. Is it just me or is that a dreadful website?)

One point that stuck out was that the whole "partial-birth abortion" (that's not a medical term, by the way, but one made up by anti-abortion legislators to politicize and replace "late term abortion") process to which most abortion proponents object was developed by a doctor who sought a way to perform the procedure in a way that would leave the fetus whole and allow the parents to see and hold the baby. I find this is a good datapoint to remind opponents who paint pictures of late term abortion seekers as irresponsible or flip about their decisions. Most women seeking late term abortions (which are painful, difficult to obtain, expensive, and take days) are not flip, irresponsible opportunists but women facing hard choices about children they want.

However, the article doesn't shrink from the fact that not all women seeking late term abortions are like jessamyn's friend. Nor does it hide from the reality of how truly awful late term abortions are. I understand why some people read descriptions or see photos of D&E or D&X abortions and react so strongly, because I have similar reactions: Don't do that anymore. Make it stop.

I've always been vehemently, unapologetically pro-choice, but have recently looked very critically at my stance, in light of what late term abortions involve and the statistics about who gets them. My conclusion is that I'm still vehemently and unapologetically pro-choice, and that maintaining that stance involves supporting access to procedures that I find extremely upsetting. However, I recognize that those procedures are necessary and I would find the further erosion of a woman's right to bodily integrity even more upsetting.

On preview: ParisParamus, I seem to have addressed your question, although I don't claim to speak for the whole pro-choice camp. And I do think that late-term abortion should be legal, particularly the procedure that most anti-abortion folks want to ban because, as mentioned above, it's safer than the procedure it has generally replaced (the D&E, during which a doctor dilates a woman's cervix and then, to quote a doctor from the aforementioned Harper's article, "disarticulates" the fetus and pulls out the pieces, is not the procedure being challenged by partial-birth abortion bans, interestingly enough) and allows parents to see the baby and have a intact body for burial, if they wish.
posted by jennyb at 12:49 PM on December 16, 2004


What's truly pathetic is that I STILL don't have a clear idea as to whether la procedure dite partial birth abortion is a gruesome one that can protect the mother; or a gruesome unnecessary one

I can't remember where I found the info, and I'm far too lazy to go look it up again so you don't have to, but:

It's almost never because you just don't want a kid. As in, IIRC, something less than 1000 nontherapeutic PBA's, ever, and most of those the work of one physician in New Jersey. It's primarily used where the fetus is nonviable for one reason or another that's discovered late in pregnancy -- hydrocephaly, where the child's head might be the size of a basketball, or other life-threatening defects.

So the alternative is essentially always --NOT-- a healthy child with loving natural or adoptive parents. It is a child aborted by another means, or delivered vaginally or by c-section who promptly dies. While gruesome, it's probably far safer than attempting a normal vaginal delivery or undergoing a c-section.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2004


By "late-term", are the people here referring to third trimester, second trimester, or both?

Because the laws governing those periods are quite different.

Plenty of pro-choice people think that third-trimester abortions shouldn't be legal as an elective procedure, ParisParamus. Like me. And most people I know. So I'm a little baffled by our "failure to acknowledge" this.
posted by kyrademon at 1:00 PM on December 16, 2004


(That is to say, baffled by your accusation, not baffled by our failure, which as far as I can tell does not exist.)
posted by kyrademon at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2004


I think, or would assume, the proposed PBA legislation was limited to the specific PBA procedure.

You'd think wrong. The state legislation on which it's based has repeatedly been struck down for being overly broad and vague. It is not at all clear what would be legal or illegal, and at this point that cannot be an accident.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:02 PM on December 16, 2004


"So I'm a little baffled by our "failure to acknowledge" this."

That I don't see this may be function of the media, which doesn't, generally promote nuance.

Still firmly on the fence.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2004


ParisParamus: I don't see why your decision concerning so-called "partial birth abortion" is based on how the pro-choice camp official response. You know the facts--employ your rational faculties and reach your own decision. Your identity politics aren't just immature in this case, they're actually a large part of the problem.

(BTW, where is this pro-choice camp located? Do they do Sunday night bicycle rides?)

I don't think nuance will help the abortion debate much. Abortion is not regarded as a moral issue any more, it's now regarded as a political issue. But the question of whether abortion should be legal is very different from the question of whether it's right or wrong. Liberals fail to recognize this distinction and too often respond to moral queries with "political codespeak." Conservatives fail to recognize this distinction and too often respond to political queries with quasi-religious dicta. Nuance won't help resolve this issue because the abortion debate for most people (like ParisParamus) isn't about abortion--it's about the abortion debate itself.
posted by nixerman at 1:28 PM on December 16, 2004


No, it's still about when a zygote or embryo or fetus is sufficiently human to regulate it's termination. The "you have no right to regulate my body" argument is BS, and is perceived as such by more and more people. And the same, shrill amoral crowd that, probably assured that Kerry would lose is losing this debate for the pro-choice side (for better or worse...)

Not an original thought, but, how can Scott Peterson be guilty of > 1 murder, while abortion is legal in California?
posted by ParisParamus at 1:34 PM on December 16, 2004


Law should not be based upon squeamishness.
posted by rushmc at 1:42 PM on December 16, 2004


But the question of whether abortion should be legal is very different from the question of whether it's right or wrong.

This is an excellent point. I think elective, late term abortions are wrong, but they are performed so rarely (if ever--I still have a difficult time believing that a woman wouldn't just go ahead carry the pregnancy to term if she's taken it that far and give the baby up for adoption if she doesn't want it). Criminalizing ALL late term abortions seems necessary and irresponsible because there are sound medical reasons why they sometimes have to be performed.

And I suspect that even if late term abortions were universally outlawed, the "anti-choice camp" would still hold up picket signs with gory pictures of 8-month-old fetuses with caved-in heads on them because it's dramatic and manipulative. Nevermind that the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester. Talk about a lack of nuance.
posted by apis mellifera at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2004


ParisParamus, I suspect the debate on "partial birth abortion" may have been specifically engineered to confuse people with your perspective on the views of people with mine - since I am opposed to the "PBA" legislation (which I am - it's an awful bill), I'm portrayed as favoring unrestricted third-trimester abortions (which I am not.)
posted by kyrademon at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2004


The "you have no right to regulate my body" argument is BS, and is perceived as such by more and more people.

It's not BS at all.
Why do the rights of a lifeform growing inside of me, wholly dependant on the nutrients it absorbs from my body, trump my rights? How could they even equal my rights?

OKay--I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you do not have a uterus--but try to imagine what it would be like for you to have your physical being, your life, taken over against your will. For the few weeks that I was pregnant, I felt constantly ill and trapped in my own flesh. Every moment was filled with panic and dread. I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone.

Not an original thought, but, how can Scott Peterson be guilty of > 1 murder, while abortion is legal in California?

I don't get it either. Perhaps destroying the fetus of a woman who wants to keep it should be a special category of assault--because of the damage it does to the mother, but if the mother is killed, I don't think it qualifies as a second murder.
posted by apis mellifera at 2:38 PM on December 16, 2004


*applauds apis mellifera*
posted by languagehat at 3:09 PM on December 16, 2004


I would actually say that the Unborn Victims of Violence bill is a bad law for exactly those reasons, and that's why the pro-choice "camp" was fighting against it. It does start to establish that a fetus is a being with distinct legal rights.
posted by occhiblu at 3:12 PM on December 16, 2004


apis mellifera: Why do the rights of a lifeform growing inside of me, wholly dependant on the nutrients it absorbs from my body, trump my rights? How could they even equal my rights?

Devil's Advocate: If it was growing outside a woman's body, in say the form of a 10 year old child, its rights would impose correlatively duties upon that mother. It is illegal to refuse to feed one's legal child, and child negligence cases are not uncommon in the US. One has the legal duty to care for one's progeny and protect them from harm. The question them becomes at what point is such a duty imposed on the mother and so it's back to square one.

As an aside, to those who use viability and autonomy as the criteria for determining human status, what is the basis for this choice?
posted by Endymion at 3:13 PM on December 16, 2004


Endymion (although I don't necessarily use viability as my sole criterion), one could argue that, if a fetus cannot survive without being inside its mother, it is still a part of the mother and not a separate being in its own right.

This is very different from a ten-year-old, or even an infant, either of which could be fed and cared for by anyone.
posted by kyrademon at 3:28 PM on December 16, 2004


kyrademon: Endymion (although I don't necessarily use viability as my sole criterion), one could argue that, if a fetus cannot survive without being inside its mother, it is still a part of the mother and not a separate being in its own right.

To infer an ontology from mere dependence seems rather dubious to me and to further extrapolate specific rights and privileges from that ontology even more so.
What I take it you're saying is that a 10 year old is not truly dependent on its parents and so the situation is not analogous. And yet we do legally act as if such a person is in fact wholey dependent on its parents for sustenance. But perhaps another hypothetical scenario would be more apropos. A victim of a gunshot wound is brought into a hospital and placed in the ICU and hooked up to life support. Since his life is dependent on the hospital should the hospital administration then enjoy similar rights to a pregnant woman. Rights that is to terminate the life as they deem fit accountable only to their own standard of judgement.
posted by Endymion at 4:02 PM on December 16, 2004


Endymion, we most certainly do not legally treat ten-year-olds as if they are wholly dependent on the parent. I would be extremely surprised to find, say, a law stating that a ten-week-old embryo can be taken away from a mother if she mistreats it.

Anyway, I think the gunshot victim analogy falls apart, too. For example: 1) The hospital did not grow the patient, 2) the patient has been functional long enough to be considered to have established who they wish to determine whether they live or die if they cannot make their wishes known - note that hospitals cannot legally supercede the wishes of designated next-of-kin family members or those holding medical power of attourney in terms of treatment, and such people can, in fact, in certain cases ask that someone be taken off life support.

When a baby becomes a separate entity from you, rather than just another part of your body, is a valid question. And the viability point is not an unreaonable answer, although it's not the only one. When potential intelligence should be treated as intelligence is, to be fair, another valid question, but it's not a clear-cut legal point if the way we treat gorillas, dolphins, and the billions of sperm and eggs that get wasted every day are anything to go on.

(Dang, we keep crossing swords, don't we?)
posted by kyrademon at 4:47 PM on December 16, 2004


we most certainly do not legally treat ten-year-olds as if they are wholly dependent on the parent. I would be extremely surprised to find, say, a law stating that a ten-week-old embryo can be taken away from a mother if she mistreats it.

For the purposes of culpability we do act as if the 10 year old were dependent on their parent. That it is technically possible to transfer that dependence to another adult is in my opinion irrelevant, although I'm sure some will say its the very crux of the issue. But I think that such legal reasoning flows from dependence to a culpability, to fulfill certain requirements and that your scenario is actually backwards. Why assume that the culpability of the parent should be less for something that has total dependence than for something that has a small measure of autonomy. Whence does the inconsistency arise?

1) The hospital did not grow the patient

I'm not sure what you mean by grow. If you mean provide an environment whereby the being can perform the function of life, then they certainly do. If you mean provide the nutrients necessary to continue life then they do that as well. If you mean they are not the impetus for the life that is true. But if it is the impetus for life that is the standard you open up a whole can or worms in terms of rights of the sperm donor. But neither the mother or the hospital is in anyway a willing residence for such a person. A hospital is at a disadvantage, in truth, because they cannot turn away such a dependent whereas a potential mother could take birth control to try to minimize such an occurrence.

2) the patient has been functional long enough to be considered to have established who they wish to determine whether they live or die if they cannot make their wishes known - note that hospitals cannot legally supercede the wishes of designated next-of-kin family members or those holding medical power of attourney in terms of treatment, and such people can, in fact, in certain cases ask that someone be taken off life support.

What would the decision be if they had no will or next of kin; if they were merely a homeless drifter? Should not the default in terms of interpreting the unknown desires of a lifeform always assume that its primary concern is to continue in life. Should the wishes of the hospital be able to supercede these unknown wishes. Is a mother who feels she is not ready to have a child at her present point in her career ethically different than a hospital who decides that such a person just doesn't fit into their bottom line this financial quarter? An inflammatory question, to be sure, but from the statistics I've seen most abortions are not performed for health reasons.


When potential intelligence should be treated as intelligence is, to be fair, another valid question, but it's not a clear-cut legal point if the way we treat gorillas, dolphins, and the billions of sperm and eggs that get wasted every day are anything to go on.

Well if potential intelligence is the criteria, none of those things will ever develop what we think of as a mind. For a fetus it is plausible though far from certain. Perhaps the reason that people object so strongly to late term abortions is that the potential rises steadily and most likely linearly right up until the moment of brain formation. But in the law some arbitrary but not random line of distinction always needs to be drawn. The question is simply where.

(Dang, we keep crossing swords, don't we?)

You know what they say about people who keep crossing swords... or at least I hope you do because I have no idea where I'm going with this.
posted by Endymion at 6:09 PM on December 16, 2004


A newborn is viable outside the womb with constant care and feeding.

A 6.5-month old fetus is usually viable (75%) outside the womb - with constant care and feeding of course. And as medical technology increases, the age of viability for a fetus will continue to drop.

At what point does a viable person get rights*?. Rights that conflict with those of the people around her?

*as though rights were something given by someone else, rather than innate.
posted by iwearredsocks at 7:23 PM on December 16, 2004


Endymion -

Some of the differences you find trivial and semantic I find immense. There is an enormous difference between: 1) "This here will die without a caretaker. You are the current designated caretaker. Should anything happen to you, there are a few billion other people who could do just as well," and 2) "If this here is cut out of your particular specific body, it's dead." One is inarguably a separate being from you. The other is arguably still part of your body.

I'm sorry for the confusion over the word grow - I thought it was fairly self-explanatory. I meant, roughly, grow to mean "to extrude out of one's own body bit by bit from when it is still a single cell for as long as needed until it can separate off, using the materials of one's own body to supply the necessary parts." Hospitals, as far as I know, do not do that with patients. And that specific definition is an important part of what I'm talking about here . . . because if you're growing something in your body, it *is* part of you, until there is a valid reason to start considering it not part of you. It's not a matter of culpability for a being of total dependence vs. one of limited autonomy vs. one of complete autonomy. Of course not - that's not the issue. It's a matter of the rights you have over your own body vs. the rights you have over something which is not, and when that change (from a legal standpoint) should occur.

"Is a mother who feels she is not ready to have a child at her present point in her career ethically different than a hospital who decides that such a person just doesn't fit into their bottom line this financial quarter?"

Yes, of course. If you believe, as I do, that a fetus is not a separate person until a certain point. Of course, there's the whole other issue of when life ends (when a person stops being a person), which would actually be relevant to your hospital scenarios, but that's actually a very different subject.

As for gorillas and dolphins, couldn't disagree with you more. Gorillas, for example, can be taught language, and at a tested IQ of 90, Koko is smarter than many of my high school classmates. I've been an advocate of giving her citizenship for years.

And as for sperm and eggs, they, under the right conditions, can become a person. Why consider them "people" only when they hit it off, as opposed to at some other, earlier, or later, point?

I fully agree with you the the question is where the arbitrary line needs to be drawn. I'm not entirely convinced that the viability line is the place. But there is a perfectly sound argument for it - the change from when something is part of the being growing it to when it is not.


iwearredsocks, most rights are granted (usually by society, or at least whoever runs the society) rather than innate. If they were innate, how could they be taken away, as they so often are?
posted by kyrademon at 9:16 PM on December 16, 2004


I think this discussion has reached a juncture where anything more would just be recapitulation on my part.

As a side note, rights were considered innate by the Founding Fathers; hence the word inalienable. They aren't granted by the government only recognized; hence the 9th amendment "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
posted by Endymion at 9:47 PM on December 16, 2004


I know that rights are considered by some to be innate. I consider that a curious concept. This does not mean I think they should be taken away; just that they can be.
posted by kyrademon at 10:31 PM on December 16, 2004


In a world where an individual's rights are granted by a group or a government those same rights may be revoked. Not a safe or free concept.

They come built-in. The confidence of this idea is what gives the freedom-fighter the strength to stand up for her rights even when no one around her will recognize them.

Of course there is a lot of discussion of what rights come with each baby child. On one end, The Liberty Manifesto makes note of only two rights it sees. On the other end of the scale is the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is full of what O'Rourke calls entitlements; i.e., "Everyone . . .has the right to social security and is entitled to realization . . .of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality." (article 22)

Interesting too that Article 8 of the same document makes reference to, "the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law", the paragraph in the preamble notwithstanding.

on preview: I find the idea that rights are anything other than innate equally curious. The only way my rights could come from a source outside myself would be for some superior person or group to grant them. And in that sense, no one is good enough to do that for me. Or for you.
posted by iwearredsocks at 10:38 PM on December 16, 2004


OK, I'm confused . . . if rights are actually innate, then in shouldn't matter whether they're considered to be innate or considered to be granted - either way they should be unrevokable. The "confidence" in the idea that they are innate should be irrelevant. Your own statements that people need to consider their rights innate, since otherwise they could be revoked or people might not stand up for their rights, seems to me to prove that they're not innate.

Unless you mean something completely different from the word "innate" than I do?

Or unless you mean something entirely different from "rights" than I do?

I mean, I can see what you're saying if by "rights" you mean the freedoms everyone *should* be granted, rather than the freedoms that they *are*. E.g., "everyone has the right to social security" means "everyone should have social security under the law" rather than "everyone does have social security under the law" (which is what I always took "rights" to mean.) Are rights being used in two different ways here? I mean, "You have the right to an attourney" isn't particularly meaningful if all it means is that, gosh darn it, I really *should* be able to have an attourney, but they're not going to give me one. On the other hand "Everyone has the right to social security" makes no sense whatsoever unless it means that everyone *should* have social security, since plenty of people don't.

In conclusion, I think we must be talking about two different definitions of "rights" here, because otherwise one of us isn't making any sense.

And incidentally, in the definition I was using, there is no need for a superior person or group to grant me rights. Ideally, I grant rights to everyone else in society, and they, in turn, grant me those same rights back, by mutual agreement. So we are all equals.
posted by kyrademon at 11:05 PM on December 16, 2004


The FPP was about how the Democratic Party should best deal with abortion. It wasn't about when life starts, or rights, or murder, or any such things.

Here's my reaction to the author of the linked article: she wants nuance re morality and guilt. I think that's bullshit. I want information and statistics re availability, both geographic and economic. Legal abortion that's both locally available and affordable results in fewer women's deaths.

Unavailable, illegal/unaffordable abortions result in deaths of women.

And since this discussion has got wildly off that subject, fine. I wonder what the anti-legalization proponents might find if they looked into their family histories. I found, by accident, about my grandmother's illegal abortion in the 1920s, and my mother's in the early 1960s. Did the illegality mean they weren't going to get their abortions? Nope. It just meant that they had to pay a lot (my grandmother had the means) or suffer a lot (my mother).

I'll just let you know what my mother had to do. It may make a few of you anti-"choice" men do the correct thing and embrace vasectomy. She had to walk a mile every day, for four days, with a rag shoved up into her os. The point was to make her miscarry by torturing her uterus.

Why didn't she just give birth? Same reason as my grandmother in the 1920s and me in the 1980s: an absolute curtail of autonomy; a healthcare nightmare; loss of control over one's body that may and probably would result in one's not being able to work; public stigma; and the hijacking of one's body by something we hadn't invited.

My grandma didn't have reliable birth control available to her; in the case of me and my mom, ours failed us.

You anti-legalization fellas, you really have no idea. Maybe you ought to get your brethren to stop impregnating? Perhaps y'all ought to get snipped and bank your sperm? Maybe if you stopped fucking women, you could stop the need for abortion!
posted by goofyfoot at 11:48 PM on December 16, 2004


goofyfoot, I think the questions of when life starts, and rights, and murder, are closely connected with how the Democratic Party should best handle abortion.

So are the very important issues of access, and women's health, and curtail of autonomy, and healthcare, and loss of control, and public stigma that you bring up.

So are the issues of poverty, and child care, and birth control, and overpopulation, and social justice that other people have brought up.

It's when people stop talking and thinking about all these issues that I get worried.

I agree that the article was bullshit, though. Why the hell should I feel guilty about an ethical stand I've taken and believe in? Yay abortion, damn it.
posted by kyrademon at 12:12 AM on December 17, 2004


(And now that I think about it, how can you have an "innate" right to social security in either sense? Social security is a recent concept, which didn't and couldn't exist at many points of human history. How the heck can that possibly have been innate for all humans? Retroactive innateness?)
posted by kyrademon at 1:19 AM on December 17, 2004


Not sure if this gray area is quite germaine to the conversation, but in addition to not wanting a kid for another decade (or possibly ever), I know that at this point in my life, I'm not financially secure enough, patient enough, or prepared enough to be a good mother. Moreover, I could never in good faith give a child up to the care of the state.

Regardless of any ambivalence about abortion's morality, for me, an even larger moral issue is whether or not I'm fully committed to providing the best life possible for a child, for the next 17+ years. I may be atypically neurotic, but I don't think I'd be comfortable having sex if I wasn't also comfortable with kid/abortion/adoption as a potential result.
posted by soviet sleepover at 2:00 AM on December 17, 2004


On the survive-outside-the-womb issue: Amber Alert issued for an 8 month old fetus (via drudge)

kyrademon, I think you're right - we may have a confusion of terms. Let's take the "unalienable Rights" listed in the Declaration of Independence: "among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". I think they are saying that these rights are independent of space and time, belong to all men. Of course they did a shitty job of recognizing all races as men.

The men who were slaves at the time . . .did they have the unalienable rights listed by the Great White Fathers? Obviously they were not recognized as having them, but I believe they did possess them by virtue of their humanity.

If a slave knew in his mind/heart/soul that he possessed those rights and they simply weren't recognized, that could yield an entirely different mindset and resulting actions than if the thought, "I wish the folks around me would bestow some rights on me so I could be free".

Granted, he was not free practically. The circumstances around him were not in line with the reality of what it means to be a person. But that doesn't change the fact that he was the owner of the universal right to be a free man.

On a governmental scale, why is it important for our elected servants to know that we have rights that exist even if the entire ruling class were to disappear tomorrow? So they will bear in the back of their minds, "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government".

A government that sees itself or other people as the source of rights has the philosophical underpinning needed for tyranny.
posted by iwearredsocks at 8:48 AM on December 17, 2004


"It's not BS at all.
Why do the rights of a lifeform growing inside of me, wholly dependant on the nutrients it absorbs from my body, trump my rights? How could they even equal my rights?"


How about killing a baby during labor? If it's 51% still inside, and 51% outside? Please reconsider your stance.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:13 AM on December 17, 2004


oops. make that 49% outside...
posted by ParisParamus at 9:15 AM on December 17, 2004


How about killing a baby during labor? If it's 51% still inside, and 51% outside? Please reconsider your stance. --ParisParamus

That's not what we're talking about and you know it.

As stated numerous times by myself and others, such a procedure would not be performed without clear medical reasons. Look, I am one of the biggest bleeding hearts you'll ever talk to. I'm a vegetarian, I am reluctant to kill almost any living thing, I even feel bad about pulling weeds. I'm the sort of person who writes poetry about a bird I accidentally hit with my car. And yeah, I did quite a bit of writing and reflection on my abortion.

I would not have a late term abortion unless I had to and I don't think anyone in the world would decide to have a newborn killed as it was coming out the birth canal, you know, for kicks. We are mammals for Christ's sake. It's not in our nature to forsake our young unless we're under extreme stress--and this has nothing to do with morality. It's biological.

Having said that, I stand by my conviction that the rights of any living thing growing inside me (the host!) cannot supercede my own rights. Also, my decision to have an abortion was not entirely selfish. It was also informed by my concern for my potential offspring. Quality of life is more important than life for life's sake, to me. I take parenthood very seriously. I wouldn't have made a good parent at the time. I couldn't have provided the quality of life that I think is absolutely essential for healthy development. Why not have the baby and put it up for adoption? Because I wouldn't be able to do that. For the above-mentioned biological reasons, I don't think I would be capable of giving my own child away. It would do serious damage to my psyche, and I don't think it would be good for the child's psyche, either. Once again, I respect the rights of people who choose to go that route, but I personally think it's wrong. If you're going to bring a new person in this world, I think you should be willing to take full responsibility for that person's care. Otherwise, don't bother. It may seem like a cliche of the pro-choice movement to you, but the world really doesn't need any more unwanted and uncared for people. Look around.

15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, most before the first trimester. As far as I'm concerned, I had what amounts to a voluntary miscarriage. Not nice, but not even close to the horror described in your quote above.

To reiterate my stance: Surely there are ethical considerations to be made about ability of the living tissue in various stages of development to suffer, but the bottom line is that I am the only one capable of making ethical decision about what happens to me and the organism that requires gestation inside my body for survival, because who else would be more fit than me? The organism itself? You?

Sorry, all, for the long rambling comment. And I know it has fuck-all to do with the article at this point, but there you go.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:37 AM on December 17, 2004


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