Abortion clinic procedure room as sacred space
December 11, 2017 1:03 PM   Subscribe

"I don't put basic reproductive health needs of women beyond the reach of compassion that I derive from my Christianity, whereas other people simply do." In a Radio Boston interview with host Meghna Chakrabarti, Dr. Willie Parker explains how his Christianity called him to help women who need abortions. "Even if I conceded that a fetus is a person on par with the woman carrying it, the problem still remains: How do you give rights to a fetus, to a person that's inside of a person, without taking rights from the person that the person is inside of?"

Excerpts from Dr. Parker's book, Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice:

Pp. 145-46, [On "life begins at conception"] "Based on what we know scientifically about human reproduction and embryology, I like to say that 'life is a process.' It is not a switch that turns on in an instant, like an electric light. Instead, life -- before and after conception -- is a galaxy of contingent, interconnected conditions that must be met in order for a single human to achieve progress, maturation, and fulfillment."

Pp. 150-52, [On fetuses between 22 and 25 weeks' gestational age] "Life is a gray area. . . . Depending on various different factors -- its weight, its lung development, the health of its mother . . . -- [a fetus] may live. Or it may not. . . . In the second trimester, a small percentage of fetuses are discovered to have anomalies so severe that they will not survive outside the uterus. [On witnessing the full-term birth to a Christian fundamentalist mother of a baby that had not developed lungs] Born at term, the baby could feel pain, and, even if she couldn't interpret anything like self-consciousness, she must have felt all the anxiety and panic that would accompany suffocating to death . . . [Young anti-abortion activists I talked with at the University of Alabama] countered that sometimes miracles happen that allow these fetuses to survive. Yes, I answered, maybe. But most of the time they don't. And the students were forced to concede that, sometimes maybe, abortion does not equal murder."

Pp. 162-64, "[The 'black genocide' movement] targets the most vulnerable women and pits their pregnancy against their own self-interest [and] only serves to compound the misery of people who are already living in circumstances of pain and deprivation. . . When I see a patient like this . . . and I sense that she's wavering based not on her own inner voice but because of some propaganda she encountered somewhere, I try to rebuild her self-esteem and her dignity. I tell her that her decision to care for herself is not in conflict with any duty she may or may not have to other people who look like her and that the shame she feels is a product of outside forces who want her to feel this way . . . I encourage these women to act on their own behalf and to feel the power of their own agency. . . . If the antis can change the terms of the abortion debate, framing it as a systemic racism perpetrated by big health-care institutions against black people, then they can change the laws around abortion and no one will intervene, not even the white women who need abortions, too.

"Their goal -- I'm preaching now, I can't help it -- is . . . to limit access to abortion for all women, including, and especially, white women. Because the thing all too many white anti-abortion activists really want, which they can't say out loud, is . . . to push back against the browning of America. . . . Too many of [white] women are working and going to school, running businesses, running for political office, and taking birth control pills . . And so the white men in charge have invented a work-around. They've tied their antipathy toward abortion together with civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. They understand that by curtailing abortion for black women they curtail it for white women, too. It's a sleight of hand, a misdirection. The way I see it, the attack on abortion rights is nothing less than an effort to put all women back in their place."

Pp. 177-78, "The plight of women in Mississippi was also intensified by the ability of the nation's progressives and elites to look away from them, to disassociate themselves from their southern sisters or to regard them as beyond help. Before I took my trip down there, I too was guilty of believing that there was something 'backward' about the state that justifies disengagement. Just as groups of people like to subordinate other groups of people to themselves and obliterate their humanity, whole regions have been dehumanized as well."

P. 180, "I do everything I can to explore what for me is the central question, which has two parts. First: Have you made this decision yourself? And second: Are you resolved about it? A woman is entitled to her own regret, as well as her own inner conflict and moral ambivalence. But I will not do an abortion if I sense that it is not her own desire."

P. 6, "I can live with the awareness that someone might harm me. I am not so sure that I am brave enough to live with the awareness that I was too afraid to do what I knew to be right."

Pp. 211-12, "Sexual reproduction is part of a collaborative process -- between a male and a female and between God and humans. In that process, all distinctions disappear. God has no hands but your hands. God has no ability but your ability. . .

"And if you look at it that way, if you set aside the idea that God is like Siri, telling you to go left or to go right, then the whole business is sacred. All of it. A pregnancy that intimates a baby is not more sacred than an abortion. You don't become sacred, like Mary, just because you conceived, and the termination of a pregnancy is not the resolution of an error. It is merely one of the reproductive outcomes. So is miscarriage. So, now, is surrogacy and in vitro fertilization -- all these are on a continuum and they all hold moral weight. The God part is in your agency. . . . The part of you that's like God is the part that . . . says, I choose to. Or, I choose not to. That's what's sacred. That's the part of you that's like God to me.

"The procedure room in an abortion clinic is as sacred as any other space to me, because that's where I am privileged to honor your choice. In this moment, where you need something that I am trained to give you, God is meeting both of us where we are."

Dr. Parker keeps his Facebook page updated with interesting comments and posts.

The National Network for Abortion Funds has a Dr. Willie Parker Fund for Abortion Access in the South.

Previously.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus (73 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love what Dr. Parker is doing, and the message he's putting out in the world.

But boy howdy, do I worry for his safety.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:30 PM on December 11, 2017 [31 favorites]


I love this man.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:34 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


As a staunchly pro-life registered Democrat, I find this doctor very reasonable. He is strong on the medical aspects of the abortion issue, particularly the developmental aspect of all life. I think many conservative Christians make what is a fundamentally very mysterious process seem arbitrarily clear-cut. The comment about the pain a fetus that is going to die feels at birth is well worth considering for Christians, even those who have a strong and desperate desire to see their child born.

I think he is overreaching on ascribing opposition to abortion as largely due to the patriarchy and race-panic. There are plenty of us who see plenty of nuances and respect for the particulars of different situations (particularly medical) but believe that on-demand abortion of healthy babies is in most cases is nonetheless a simple moral wrong. This is an issue that requires good faith on both sides and that has to mean not ascribing unconscious and unprovable evil motives to everyone who disagrees with you.

The biggest problem with what I read above is this: The part of you that's like God is the part that . . . says, I choose to. Or, I choose not to. That's what's sacred. That's the part of you that's like God to me. This is not a Christian message -- full stop. Moral choice is indeed what makes us like God but choosing rightly is what God is interested in, and all choices can't be good because we choose them. That is the message of the serpent in the garden.
posted by fraxil at 1:43 PM on December 11, 2017 [10 favorites]


I am glad there are people like this in the world and that there are abortion funds.
posted by crush at 1:48 PM on December 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


I don't see a claim that all choices are equally good. Only a claim that the right to choose is sacred and it is not (this) man's place to deny that choice. So, perhaps I am colored by my Universalist bent, but I see respecting other's expression of their own choice based on their own circumstances as sacred.
posted by meinvt at 1:50 PM on December 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


This is not a Christian message -- full stop.

Pretty sure there's many ways to interpret the word of God. Being absolutist about the ideas behind the stories is dangerous territory.
posted by dazed_one at 1:54 PM on December 11, 2017 [28 favorites]


God wants us to love him, but he wants us to come to that love via a choice, not fear or coercion.

God wants people to have children, but he wants that to come via a choice to have children, not fear or coercion.

Seems pretty simple, honestly. It's important to have children when you believe it's best, not by force.
posted by explosion at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2017 [27 favorites]


The biggest problem with what I read above is this: The part of you that's like God is the part that . . . says, I choose to. Or, I choose not to. That's what's sacred. That's the part of you that's like God to me.

it's interesting that the part you find most problematic is the part that i find the most hopeful for a meaningful dialogue with antichoice christians.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2017 [38 favorites]


I don't want to get too off topic but there is nothing in the OT or the message of Jesus to suggest that all choices are equally valid or equally good or equally Christian. This is essentially a denial of the concept of morality. I cannot in any coherent sense claim to be an environmentalist, then go about polluting rivers and burning forests and claim that you pointing out the inconsistency is "absolutist".
posted by fraxil at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2017


I like to say that 'life is a process.' It is not a switch that turns on in an instant, like an electric light.

Yes. This. A thousand times this. The phrase I like to use is, “An acorn is not an oak.” The idea that a fertilized egg at the moment of conception is the same as a blastocyst is the same as an embryo at 8 weeks is the same as a fetus at 22 weeks is the same as a newborn is the same as a 4-month-old infant is supercrazybonkers to me.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 2:09 PM on December 11, 2017 [47 favorites]


Where does he say all choices are equally valid?
posted by Uncle at 2:09 PM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


Yes, but the notion that the power of the individual to choose, to create, to destroy... the idea that this is a divine gift is straight out of Genesis, undergirds the Golden Rule, and is one of the more challenging parts of being Christian:

"A woman is entitled to her own regret, as well as her own inner conflict and moral ambivalence. But I will not do an abortion if I sense that it is not her own desire."
posted by billjings at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2017 [11 favorites]


I've found the REAL question is "When is the Soul installed in the flesh". Best I can tell, the Traditional Jewish belief is "When the mother feels the child move". Which makes sense, given blastocyst twinning falsifies the hypothesis "Ensoulment happens at conception", since if that was true, when the blastocyst was twinned, one twin wouldn't have a soul OR they'd have identical ones. Which is obviously false.
posted by mikelieman at 2:18 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


Where does he say all choices are equally valid?

It is implied when he says "that's what's sacred" regarding making a choice to keep or abort the fetus. I read it to mean that in this particular issue, he saying both choices are equally valid because the act of choosing somehow sanctifies the choice. Forgive me if I've misinterpreted
posted by fraxil at 2:23 PM on December 11, 2017


since if that was true, when the blastocyst was twinned, one twin wouldn't have a soul OR they'd have identical ones. Which is obviously false.

And also, squillions of fertilized eggs/embryos don't make it to implantation or miscarry. If you do believe in souls then that's a lot of wasted souls.
posted by Talez at 2:24 PM on December 11, 2017 [10 favorites]


I read it to mean that in this particular issue, he saying both choices are equally valid because the act of choosing somehow sanctifies the choice.

I read it to mean, the right choice is context dependent, and only the person who is pregnant has the right to decide what is the best choice in their circumstances (and, in his opinion, the freedom to make that choice is sacred).
posted by misfish at 2:34 PM on December 11, 2017 [20 favorites]


Dr. Parker is a hero. I was honored to meet him several years ago. He is an incredible human being doing the highest work of goodness and compassion, serving the most forgotten and neglected women of our society. I am so glad that he is spreading the gospel of abortion as a moral and compassionate choice. I am not a Christian, but if my understanding is correct, Jesus taught ministry to the needy, and Dr. Parker lives and breathes just that.
posted by stillmoving at 2:38 PM on December 11, 2017 [27 favorites]


but believe that on-demand abortion of healthy babies is in most cases is nonetheless a simple moral wrong.

It is not possible to abort a baby, regardless of its health. The law does not allow it, never has, and never will. and I don't just mean because abortion is something that can only be done to a pregnancy and understanding what the word means is crucial to forming opinions about it. although that too.

I am happy to restrain myself from engaging, here and now, in an argument about the right of women to be pregnant or not, but I don't think it is a good idea for people with restraint to ignore nonsense redefinition of words and concepts (like "baby") by those on the other side of that argument. this is important enough that I made a considered choice to respond rather than flagging that comment, though I respect that the moderators may decide it was the wrong one.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:38 PM on December 11, 2017 [100 favorites]


Thank God for Dr. Parker.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:44 PM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


And also, squillions of fertilized eggs/embryos don't make it to implantation or miscarry. If you do believe in souls then that's a lot of wasted souls.

I am willing to concede that G-d doesn't waste souls on eggs/embryos that He knows aren't going to go the distance. Of course, that begs the question, "Why would G-d, then waste a soul on an embryo he knows will be aborted?", and obvs, He wouldn't
posted by mikelieman at 2:46 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


The idea that a fertilized egg at the moment of conception is the same as a blastocyst is the same as an embryo at 8 weeks is the same as a fetus at 22 weeks is the same as a newborn is the same as a 4-month-old infant is supercrazybonkers to me.

I agree, although I think that complicates things for people who draw the moral questions in stark black and white terms on both sides. I would love it if everyone acknowledged that the ethical calculus is different for a clump of undifferentiated cells than for something with a spine and a brain, all the more so as the pregnancy continues. I don't find the extreme anti-abortion view that pregnancy termination is wrong from the moment of conception remotely convincing, but nor am I convinced by an equally extreme view that says there is nothing morally troubling about aborting a viable fetus, but it would be infanticide if that same a fetus of that same level of development were a preemie outside the womb. As a matter of law, I am reasonably comfortable in the pro-choice camp, believing that it is impossible for the state to impose limits on abortion without trampling over the rights and moral agency of women, but believing something must remain legal doesn't mean I also believe it is in all instances moral. The greater good means that people must sometimes be free to make their own decisions in cases where I would find one of the options deeply troubling.

As for the soul, there's no such thing. It's an interesting concept from the ancient world and it is completely understandable why people would have postulated its existence, but it's kind of silly to include that bit of premodern theological anthropology in something like an abortion debate. It's akin to asking whether air travel is in danger of disrupting the pathway the sun travels each day along the dome of the sky. There's no soul, there's only brain. And since brains, unlike souls, exist on a developmental continuum, the moral question of abortion is never going to have a satisfactory answer that says "fine before this date/infanticide afterward." Some things just aren't that easy.

Or, in Parker's words:

So life is a process, it is a series of beginnings and endings, and that we would elevate or focus in on one particular event for the point of persuasion, oftentimes for political reasons, is just a less nuanced approach to the notion of what life is than I care to engage in.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:16 PM on December 11, 2017 [12 favorites]


I think the reason people might get their backs up about this particular set of statements is the doctor specifically stating that those who are not helping people obtain abortions are placing people who want (or need) to have abortions "beyond the reach of their compassion."

I don't think that is true; there's simply a deep and fundamental divide in the underlying belief system/moral approach that has nothing to do with Christian compassion. The active practice of compassion can, in fact, mean that you deny someone your assistance if they seek your assistance in order to do something that you believe is a grave wrong.

I do not subscribe to Christian ethics, but for many Christian believers, those ethics are very compatible with the practice of not assisting women with abortions. For those people, compassion doesn't require that you help someone sin by doing violence on an innocent third party.

Again, this is not my belief, but I often find it odd when people try to wrest the control of the definition of "true" Christianity from people whose beliefs align very well with lots of Christian doctrine and church leadership.

How about: Christianity should have nothing to do with abortion at all. Or, many practicing Christians would never help a woman obtain an abortion, but that shouldn't have any impact on whether those who want to perform abortions should perform those abortions. IDK. This insistence that Christianity mandates abortion assistance is really kind of beside the point (and extremely far-fetched as meaningful doctrine/praxis for a substantial number of Christians.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:40 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


"[The 'black genocide' movement] targets the most vulnerable women and pits their pregnancy against their own self-interest [and] only serves to compound the misery of people who are already living in circumstances of pain and deprivation. . . When I see a patient like this . . . and I sense that she's wavering based not on her own inner voice but because of some propaganda she encountered somewhere, I try to rebuild her self-esteem and her dignity. I tell her that her decision to care for herself is not in conflict with any duty she may or may not have to other people who look like her and that the shame she feels is a product of outside forces who want her to feel this way . . . I encourage these women to act on their own behalf and to feel the power of their own agency."

I'd also like to applaud Dr. Parker for making this point. Women--in general, but especially poor women and poor women of color--have been told, all of their lives, that their lives, bodies, decisions, are lesser-than, if not worthless. They are told this by a society that turns them down for job interviews and follows them through department stores; by healthcare providers and institutions who discount their pain; by educational systems that prejudge them; and by "justice" systems that fail them. They are told this, in utero, when society fails to save black women and black babies at exponentially higher rates than they do white women. (e.g., perinatal morbidity and mortality for black women is 3-4 times higher than that of white women).

As an aside: as a full-scope midwife who has worked with women during all stages of pregnancy, including pre-conception/contraception, prenatal care, labor, delivery, and abortions, I don't take issue with the language of "baby" in abortion discourse--in fact, I feel it can humanize the experience for some women--and while medico-legally incorrect, I'm happy for a woman to refer however she wants to her pregnancy and her body, whether she talks about her baby, her fetus, her pregnancy, her bean, etc. But I do take issue with the claim that Dr. Parker is providing the "on-demand abortion of healthy babies"--because this is your language, not his, and not a particular patient's--and because his service in providing an abortion is actually affirming a (frequently underserved and disenfranchised) woman's right to bodily autonomy and fostering her own self-respect and self-worth. This is deeply moral, responsible, and compassionate work that is rarely easy but always righteous. Further, because of absurd restrictions placed on the freedom to access abortion in states like Alabama and Mississippi, abortion access is far from "on-demand," though if it were, many more women would have access to appropriate and timely care to which they have the constitutional right.
posted by stillmoving at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2017 [36 favorites]


nor am I convinced by an equally extreme view that says there is nothing morally troubling about aborting a viable fetus, but it would be infanticide if that same a fetus of that same level of development were a preemie outside the womb.

This is a strawman, generally put forward by radical anti-choicers, not an actual position espoused by more than a handful of way-out-there people on the pro-choice side. (You can always find at least a few way-out-there people on any side, and it's not reasonable to use them as an excuse to disregard the entire position.)

Pretty much every person I've read arguing for why late-term abortion must be legal and available is arguing from the position that sometimes really, really bad stuff happens during pregnancy, and that it's not reasonable to force a woman to go to term and deliver a child who will suffer briefly then die.

Nobody goes for an abortion at 34 weeks because "oh, gosh, I'm tired of being pregnant" or "I didn't realize it would affect my life, enough of this" or any other ridiculous argument. People seeking late-term abortions do so because either the gestational parent's life is endangered or because the unborn fetus has abnormalities the medical professionals involved consider incompatible with life, so the best that can be expected is delivery then almost immediate and likely painful death.
posted by Lexica at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2017 [59 favorites]


Do we trust women with this power? It makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, thus the fantasies of women and doctors gleefully aborting fetuses late in pregnancy for no reason whatsoever, despite the fact that after viability, it's probably much easier to just finish out the healthy pregnancy.

But we don't ascribe this sort of basic sensible and ethical thinking to women. Instead we imagine them all craving to slaughter fetuses, just barely restrained from monstrous acts of near-infanticide by the greater morality of the half of humanity that will never be pregnant.

Being but a lowly woman, I do in fact trust the great majority of women to make sensible, medically safe, and ethical decisions about their own bodies and the pregnancies therein, but sadly that is still a controversial opinion.
posted by emjaybee at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2017 [58 favorites]


The active practice of compassion can, in fact, mean that you deny someone your assistance if they seek your assistance in order to do something that you believe is a grave wrong.

Uh huh. And what about making it illegal for others to provide their assistance?

It's also really stupid to talk in the abstract. We are discussing a matter of basic bodily autonomy, not substance abuse.
posted by PMdixon at 4:39 PM on December 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


I do not subscribe to Christian ethics, but for many Christian believers, those ethics are very compatible with the practice of not assisting women with abortions.

Believe it or not, I've heard the anti-abortion Christian rhetoric before. I think it's nonsense - for one thing, it's younger than a happy meal - but I've heard it before.

So there's no need to explain it to me. There's no need to legitimize it any farther than it already has been (indeed, it's become so much a lynchpin of many evangelicals' beliefs that they're willing to elect child molesters in order to theoretically eliminate it).

But I *am* interested in hearing about the opposing worldview. Because that's the one that isn't being regularly explained to me.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:40 PM on December 11, 2017 [19 favorites]


yes, the idea of 'on-demand' abortion is particularly bizarre. In most states in the US, abortion providers are pretty rare. Abortion is expensive, and often not covered by insurance. In order to get an abortion, in many states, you have to attend multiple appointments where you are given advice and information that may or may not be medically accurate. If you are a young woman, in many states, you must have your parents' permission or explain to a judge exactly why you want an abortion. Then you have to go to a clinic where - even in a liberal bastion like Boston - you will be protested against. Access to abortion is 'on-demand' in the sense that if you are a person with privilege, resources, and tenacity, located in the proper part of the United States, it is possible to get an abortion with a reasonable amount of hassle. In the rest of the country - in places being served by courageous and compassionate doctors like Dr. Parker - it is the farthest thing from on demand. I can personally assure you that every person seeking an abortion in states where they are heavily restricted - in Ohio, in Indiana, in Mississippi, in Alabama - has considered their options and choices and thought more deeply about what getting an abortion would mean and what continuing with a pregnancy would mean, than you ever could hope to do from your safe and theoretical distance.

Dr. Parker is literally saving lives, and I don't see how you can weigh possibilities and theoreticals and collections of cells against the active, full, hopeful lives actual women are currently living.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2017 [50 favorites]



yes, the idea of 'on-demand' abortion is particularly bizarre.


I always want to ask people who fetishize this phrasing what they mean, and sometimes I do. because if they don't mean abortion you can watch on television at your leisure, as a perk that comes with your cable subscription -- and maybe they do, what do I know about it -- what are the alternatives to abortion "on demand?" since "on demand" is the highly artificial way to say "on request," used by people who think women are pushy, entitled, and spoiled.

as far as I can imagine, it's either abortion you have to beg and plead and grovel for -- that's if being "demanding" is the great sin -- or abortion assigned by required random lottery of all pregnant women, if only having one when you want to is the problem. if there are other alternative meanings for this code, I don't know what they are.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:43 PM on December 11, 2017 [28 favorites]


You raise an interesting question about the phrase "abortion on demand." I realized that I first became aware of the phrase from 70s feminists seeking to promote an unconstrained right to choose: I remember the phrase "free abortion on demand and without apology." This 1971 book ("Abortion on Demand: A Woman's Right," by Caroline Lund and Cindy Jaquith) seems to be the source of that language. To 70s activists, the phrase meant there should not be obstacles and barriers to women seeking abortions, like mandatory waiting periods or permissions.

However I also found a use of the phrase in an 1874 book, and in a couple others from the 1930s and 40s, particularly on the "anti" side. So perhaps it carried the pejorative connotations before it was picked up and reused by the 2nd wave feminists.
posted by Miko at 5:58 PM on December 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's also rather telling that, if you are in a younger age group, obtaining tubal ligation also requires begging and pleading and grovelling if you can find a doctor who will do it at all. No matter how sure she is, even the POTENTIAL for a baby is enough for many to deny a woman control over her own fate.
posted by delfin at 6:01 PM on December 11, 2017 [22 favorites]


I like it fine as an antique pro-choice slogan, it's just as an anti-abortion thing that it makes no sense. because there's supposed to be a pretense that the crusade is against abortion itself, not against pushy women being in charge.

but it's still weird, the idea of storming into a doctor's office to demand an abortion. I have certainly been in a position to have to DEMAND even a standard blood test or an MRI, so I know it's realistic. but "you can have it if you loudly insist on your rights for as long as it takes to wear them down" is a sad fact of modern doctor-patient relations, not an ideal to dream about re: medical procedures. and again, from the other side, it's like -- even if they copied the phrasing and didn't invent it, they say it like it's a dirty bad thing, something that will fluster and embarrass feminists and elicit denials. and they never explain why, you're just supposed to know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:09 PM on December 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


I can get a cavity in my tooth filled ON DEMAND.

I can get my ears pierced or a tattoo done ON DEMAND.

I can get a breast reduction or knee surgery ON DEMAND.

So having an abortion ON DEMAND is a completely bullshit phrase to describe a normal, legal medical procedure that is many times safer than actually giving birth.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:23 PM on December 11, 2017 [19 favorites]


[A couple comments deleted; it's pretty weird to insist that a thread about a Christian's religious approach to abortion should stop being about that; if you're not interested in the how-might-Christianity-look-positively-on-abortion-access angle, that's fine, but don't come in here to make the thread about your views.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:51 PM on December 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


It's also rather telling that, if you are in a younger age group, obtaining tubal ligation also requires begging and pleading and grovelling if you can find a doctor who will do it at all.

I was pleasantly surprised when, after a failed attempt to place an IUD and me then deciding to get my tubes tied (nickel allergy meant I was ineligible for the Essure screws, thank goodness), the doctor's argument was "If you get a tubal ligation, it's abdominal surgery under general anesthesia. It's a surgery we do a lot of and we're good at, but it's still abdominal surgery under general anesthesia. Your husband is willing to get a vasectomy. For him it's not abdominal surgery under general anesthesia. Let him get the surgery." (Upon further discussion I agreed to another attempt at the IUD, this time with ultrasound to ensure proper placement. I've now been 100% Team IUD Is Awesome for almost ten years.)
posted by Lexica at 8:56 PM on December 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


I can get a breast reduction or knee surgery ON DEMAND

As someone who's had a breast reduction, I can tell you right now that there were a fuckton of hoops to jump through before it was approved AND I had to expend a incredible amount of effort to convince the surgeon to reduce them to my parameters (and honestly they still ended up larger than I wanted) and EVEN THEN he still commented on how "tiny" they were during my post-surgery appointments.

Patriarchy!
posted by elsietheeel at 8:58 PM on December 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


Dr. Parker is literally saving lives, and I don't see how you can weigh possibilities and theoreticals and collections of cells against the active, full, hopeful lives actual women are currently living

I think the thing I honestly regret about abortion dialogue in the United States, in particular, is that the state of debate actually seems to have gotten less robust than in the 1970s, when you could have things like Thomson's brilliant violinist analogy - arguing that the fetus may in fact be a human but that still doesn't require a woman to bring it to term anyway. Like - you should absolutely prioritize the woman and Dr Parker is right to provide women with abortions, but I find myself frustrated with the idea that doing so means you can only acknowledge a fetus as a theoretical collection of cells.
posted by corb at 9:33 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't take my comment as a broad statement of the language or philosophic positions of the pro-choice movement in the US generally.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:05 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Yes. This. A thousand times this. The phrase I like to use is, “An acorn is not an oak.” The idea that a fertilized egg at the moment of conception is the same as a blastocyst is the same as an embryo at 8 weeks is the same as a fetus at 22 weeks is the same as a newborn is the same as a 4-month-old infant is supercrazybonkers to me."
It is supercrazybonkers, but there is a way in which it is supercrazybonkers that is authentically pretty foundational to Christianity. While it is true that the modern form of the abortion debate is indeed younger than the happy meal, there are real parallels to it in the earliest days of the Church to look back to in its foundational opposition to infanticide.

In Greece and ancient Rome a child was virtually its father's chattel, in Roman law, the Patria Protestas granted the father the right to dispose of his offspring as he saw fit. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law held that "Deformed infants shall be killed" (De Legibus, 3.8). Of course, deformed was broadly construed and often meant no more than the baby appeared "weakly." The Twelve Tables also explicitly permitted a father to expose any female infant. Cicero defended infanticide by referring to the Twelve Tables. Plato and Aristotle recommended infanticide as legitimate state policy. Cornelius Tacitus went so far as to condemn the Jews for their opposition to infanticide. In Histories 5.5 He stated that the Jewish view that "it was a deadly sin to kill an unwanted child" was just another of the many "sinister and revolting practices" of the Jews. Even Seneca, who was famous for his high moral standards, stated, "we drown children at birth who are weakly and abnormal" in his work De Ira (1.15). Hell, infanticide was a casually considered phenomenon, check out this letter that we have, "Know that I am still in Alexandria.... I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it." Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule, page 54. This all changed quite suddenly with the rise of Christianity.

While I am happy to concede that a substantial amount of modern Christian opposition to abortion is fundamentally rooted in misogyny and the machinations of people who worked to weaponize the Church against its natural home in the Left in the 70s*, it is important to recognize that a deep opposition to infanticide very much goes to the heart of a lot of what Christianity has always been. It is difficult to see the visceral conclusions of that opposition today, but only because of how ubiquitous the change is, like how difficult it would be for a fish to see water. There was significant culture clash between the earliest Christians and the Greco/Romans they were surrounded by, and infaticide was one of the biggest sticking points that Christians were most aggressive about. The core difference was that while the Greeks and Romans defined personhood by the things a person was able to do, and early Christians defined personhood by what one was, namely a child of God. The idea of the universal sanctity and equivalent value of life was a truly radical concept at the time, and came inherently from Christianity's Jewish roots. With personhood being such a fluid thing, both vulnerable and naked people as well as children were less people than secure adults were. In essence, without the modern absolute understanding, how much of a person you were was precisely correlated with how much you could convince/force other to recognize your personhood. An infant became a person when their father said they were and women could be almost people but only when their male relatives and then husbands defended their claim in the same way that the dispossessed, hungry, naked, and enslaved became less a person as a result of their circumstances.

The Christian movement, from the very beginning, recognized the personhood of vulnerable people and saw it as a moral absolute, non-variable. So when you say that an acorn is not an oak it strikes a chord as unacceptably sensible in a way that is fundamentally unchristian. In the similar way, it is supercrazybonkers to believe that your even your scruffiest neighbor that you look down is your sibling because they are not, or that you'll benefit in some tangible way by giving all of your stuff to the poor because you won't, or that you should turn the other cheek to your enemies because you'll probably just get smacked again, or that you should care for the powerless at all much less especially so because what the can they do for you being powerless, or that you should let anyone who steals your stuff keep it because screw that guy, or that you're not really meaningfully morally superior to a murderer if you harbor anger towards others because what the heck Jesus, and that is much less that the benefits you're supposed to get from all of this very explicitly have nothing to do with letting others see you do any of it - in fact the opposite. Its not supposed to make sense that everyone you meet is just as infinitely worthy of your love and help especially if they can't/won't return it, or that truly honest self sacrifice is truly empowering, or that the most radically powerful and self affirming action you can take in any situation is generally surrender, or that this dude really was born of a virgin (the most universally human joke ever), because it doesn't. Its supposed to be something more, something deeper, and something often much more important than sensible.

Of course over the last couple thousand years Christians have not been immune to either hypocrisy or apostasy, but seeing infants as people has always been part of it - and that has radically changed the world, creating the one we live in. Its not hard to see the things that made Romans and Greeks see infants as having only conditional personhood as the same kinds of things that allow us to give fetus' a similar kind of conditional personhood. I suspect few of us here would be inclined to argue with a pregnant woman who feels their fetus is as much of a person as they are, but that many of us would be inclined to argue with that traveling Alexandrian author.

*More than that its fundamentally rooted in arrogance. What use could legal prohibitions of abortion have for fetuses when that is so demonstrably irrelevant the actual well-being of fetuses? I mean, when the evidence is so clear that legal prohibition of abortion has no measurable effect on the incidence of abortion, whose benefit could this activism possibly be for? The obvious answer is our own - the 'unborn' be damned. It is so much easier for us to turn away from the plight of both women and the pregnancies together, passing by on the other side of the road in our own self-righteousness like the priest in the parable of the good Samaritan, by declaring the root problem to be the hard choices of the women we place in often impossible positions. Why own up to how our own greed and self-interest as a society causes us to value low taxes over universal child care, how our own callousness prevents universal paid maternity leave, how our own sinful lack of compassion had led to support for struggling families being rolled back rather than strengthened so that a few can swim in Scrooge McDuck vaults of money, how so many women can't properly care for the children they already have because we can't be bothered to help with functional universal programs, when it is so much easier to blame anyone but ourselves? Even if we're pointing fingers at the least powerful among us. Empirical evidence demonstrates that the way to prevent induced abortion is to act like we mean it when we claim to be Christian and empower rather than attempt to control women. The incidence of abortion, both induced and spontaneous, goes down not when we throw women or doctors in jail, but when children are made to affect careers and educations less, when women have access to family planning, when families don't need to worry about whether they can feed or house another child, and when pregnancy becomes safer for both mother and child. If those of us who are Christians really want to demonstrate to God our stewardship of his precious gift of life we must advocate for what really protects it for both women and children, which is communal love and sacrifice not punitive laws.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:03 AM on December 12, 2017 [19 favorites]


fraxil: "The biggest problem with what I read above is this: The part of you that's like God is the part that . . . says, I choose to. Or, I choose not to. That's what's sacred. That's the part of you that's like God to me."

poffin boffin: "it's interesting that the part you find most problematic is the part that i find the most hopeful for a meaningful dialogue with antichoice christians."
In that comment fraxil gave one good reason why this isn't the most orthodox or theologically literate point for him to make, but more generally its pretty darn central to Christian thought that what makes us sacred is not something we choose or that its something that we even could choose in an authentic way even if we wanted to. Its the reason why almost all Christian denominations are really enthusiastic about infant baptisms and have a very separate and considerably less important ceremony for adolescents who come of an age where they can choose Christianity for themselves.

That said, if you'd like to know what might be convincing to pro-life Christians and produce meaningful dialogue, maybe listening is a better strategy?
posted by Blasdelb at 3:54 AM on December 12, 2017



That said, if you'd like to know what might be convincing to pro-life Christians and produce meaningful dialogue, maybe listening is a better strategy?


“Meaningful dialogue” on their terms, you mean?

We’ve listened (and I’ve had to explain this twice) to pro-life Christians. In many ways, it’s almost synonymous with Christianity today (just like being anti-gay is synonymous). Listening to the opposite point of view is new.

“Listening” also means a dialogue on their (your) terms. It means smiling and pretending that the lovely theological rationale you have portrayed is accurate, rather than acknowledging that it’s not- that the pre-Roe experiences of many Christian pastors led them to be pro-choice (in a limited, pre-second wave sense) and that very few theologians held ensolement to be something that happened in early pregnancy. It means strengthening the anti-abortion position rather than acknowledging it to be the nonsense it is.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:54 AM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]


"Its the reason why almost all Christian denominations are really enthusiastic about infant baptisms"

Given that all Baptist and Anabaptist denominations are fundamentally opposed to infant baptism and that they make up a huge proportion of the "pro-life" movement in the United States I think this description is very unhelpful. It's certainly the case that the majority of Christians worldwide accept infant baptism, but to almost completely discount the opposing view is deeply misleading, especially in the context of this debate.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 4:57 AM on December 12, 2017 [13 favorites]


a deep opposition to infanticide very much goes to the heart of a lot of what Christianity has always been

Thoughtful comment - but we're not talking about infanticide. I'm not aware of any pro-infanticide movement.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]


"It means strengthening the anti-abortion position rather than acknowledging it to be the nonsense it is."
The vast majority of people in the US are 'anti-abortion.' There isn't really a politically or socially meaningful position that isn't anti-abortion, at least beyond metafilter or the concept's more relevant value as a straw man to pro-life fanatics. It is certainly a logically consistent and defensible position to take, but you shouldn't delude yourself into thinking that it does anything but hurt the pro-choice movement by association. The majority of Americans have strongly held but mutually inconsistent and often only loosely examined feelings about abortion. Logically consistent certainty is in the minority, even when both pro-choice and pro-life groups are considered together. Lecturing conflicted people about how you think they feel, calling them names they don't use themselves as elsewhere in this thread, and committing to engaging only in monologue is only going to further isolate the pro-choice movement more than it has been over the last decade.

It also does no one any favors to pretend that Christian theology isn't deeply and intractably divided on basically everything related to this issue.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2017


Pro-choice arguments have been tailored to those who claim religious grounds for their opposition and they shift nothing. At this point, I'm willing to believe that either they prefer not to listen, or their opposition has some deeper, unexamined basis.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:35 AM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


Pro-choice arguments have been tailored to those who claim religious grounds for their opposition and they shift nothing.

I think that is absolutely, categorically, not true - it's just that you don't see us, because by the time we decide to be pro-choice, we often don't feel comfortable talking about our process.

I'm both anti-abortion and pro-choice, and I didn't start that way. That position can absolutely exist and people can make their way there through persuasion. Ultimately, I think women and unborn children would be much better served by making comprehensive birth control widely available such that every child is a wanted child. I want less abortions in the world, but I would never force a woman to carry a baby to term, because she gets to have a choice over her bodily integrity.

But I will bristle, every time, around things like "It's not a baby/don't call it a baby/it doesn't have a soul yet". Because those people - whether they mean to or not - are telling me that I don't get to define my own morality, how I and others choose to perceive personhood, or interpret my own faith.

I understand that rude and terrible pro-life evangelicals are aggressively pushing their religious views on other people and trying to force them to share them. That is...for me, morally offensive to the highest degree. You cannot dictate someone else's faith. But the solution to those people is not to reflexively yourself become the arbiter of other people's faith. Let people believe what they believe in their hearts; as long as they accept pro-choice politics, who does it harm?
posted by corb at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


By the same token, appeals like "How can you just call it a fetus or a group of cells when it is a baby with a soul," are neither useful nor persuasive when you are speaking to people who do not feel that. So much of the conversation on abortion is people talking crossways at each other and people trying to claim the moral high ground and dictate to others how they should believe and feel. This is why I feel like pro-choice is the only defensible position. I don't want to know what you think about my abortion and what, exactly, you would call what I aborted. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. And, frankly, it shouldn't matter to you what I think about it, either. All that matters is that we are pro-choice and we will defend our right to access the healthcare we need.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:10 AM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


One argument I've used on forced-birth Christians is talking about the fetus' soul: what happens to it? Does it go to hell because it hasn't been baptized?

Of course not, they insist; it goes to heaven.

Well, then what harm has been done to it?

(I can't say I've persuaded anyone with this argument, but it does obviously bother them. They're sure there must be a trick but they can't figure out what it is.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:26 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


It also does no one any favors to pretend that Christian theology isn't deeply and intractably divided on basically everything related to this issue.

Indeed. It’s an anti-reality position. Which is great if you’re in control of the world or really enjoy punishing people who observe a reality that you personally wish weren’t reality. It’s less useful if you intend to operate in reality. Which is where all people with uteruses live. So it’s pretty important.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Well, then what harm has been done to it?


Indeed. Given those assumptions, abortion does the embryo/fetus a big favor.

Of course, many Christian believers have the concept of human choice as somehow key to God’s plan for humanity. In other words, they see having the ability to choose sin and hell as important and valuable.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2017


The argument that "it's just a bundle of cells; it's not a person" is incredibly hurtful to those who've been through miscarriages.

Mizuko Kuyo: Japan’s Powerful Pregnancy Loss Ritual describes the mourning for children lost by miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. Mizuko Kuyo: Grieving for the Stillborn is another article about the Buddhist ritual. They don't differentiate between types of death: the point is, this was a potential family member that you didn't get to meet. The idea of not mourning for a child lost to abortion would be considered as cruel as saying, "you can't mourn for your brother who died in a car accident; if you had taken his keys away he'd be alive today."

It might be true - the death might be on your hands - but you still get to mourn. Pushing women to believe that they haven't lost anything when they get an abortion is a heartless approach to a deeply personal situation, and one that has driven many women away from pro-choice beliefs.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:47 AM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry, what I meant to say, perhaps more explicitly, is that nobody should dictate anyone else's perspective on the ending of their pregnancy by abortion. I'm very glad that some women are comforted by mourning their abortion in the same way they are comforted by mourning a stillbirth or death of a potential family member. However, if someone had tried to comfort me in that way after my abortion, I would have found it infuriating. Pushing women to believe that they have lost something when they end an unwanted pregnancy can also be a heartless approach to a deeply personal situation. Let women decide what they need.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:02 AM on December 12, 2017 [13 favorites]


nobody should dictate anyone else's perspective on the ending of their pregnancy by abortion

Nobody should dictate anyone else's perspective on the ending of their pregnancy, period. Whether that's by abortion or miscarriage or stillbirth or thriving birth, the emotional reaction could run the full gamut from "yay that's over" to "meh, so that happened" to "omg how do I live with this?"

Mizuko Kuyo isn't for all women who've had abortions or stillbirths; it's for those who want to mourn. The current mainstream pro-choice rhetoric often tries to insist that no mourning should ever be needed, and that's a huge impediment to outreach to those who feel differently.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Having been raised rather religiously, with plenty of anti-abortion rhetoric openly taught at my Catholic school, I have seen how the arguments in favor of choice and autonomy for women have had to concede so much ground, to the point where now, most people have to hedge their pro-choice positions by claiming they want abortions to be rare, or treating every abortion as a tragedy, or claiming that while they themselves would never abort . . . etc. I know this rhetoric annoyed my own mother, who was vocally pro-choice even when we were heavily involved in the Church. That's what I mean when I say I've seen pro-choice arguments that explicitly try to appeal to religious convictions go nowhere. Why did those religiously-based arguments appeal only to some believers, when both pro-choice and anti-abortion Christians agree on some of the basic points of doctrine?

Hell, I even remember being taught in religion classes that killing someone in a war, even though that person might be "innocent," wasn't a sin because you still had to follow the rules of your country. We were told the death penalty was okay because it technically didn't count as killing since the person executed must have committed a horrible crime to arrive at that sentence. But abortion is always unequivocally murder, even if the infant had a condition that would result in certain death moments after birth. Religious reasons, both official and unofficial, are more often reflective of other political or practical concerns. Culture shifts religious interpretation as well. Abortion really wasn't on the religious radar until a confluence of social changes: birth control giving women greater freedom, medical technology allowing imaging and photography of fetuses, and the failure of many white Evangelical Christian churches to pick the right side of the Civil Rights issue.

I think the religious framing of this issue isn't immutable, and can be changed with social pressure, both internal and external. Dr. Parker is doing very important work here changing the terms of the debate.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]


I have some discomfort with abortion, and for me, many abortions are expedient. I get why people are anti-choice, I just think it's wrong to force a woman to carry a pregnancy. Expediency on a planet full of humans is okay with me. It's not my role to judge other people's lives and needs when it comes to a woman having agency over her body. Having an absolute approach to abortion is dumb; it's an incredibly complex and nuanced issue.

> mainstream pro-choice rhetoric often tries to insist that no mourning should ever be needed, I have literally never encountered this. I have frequently encountered anti-choicers who believe that post-abortion trauma is a very frequent and debilitating thing. I know women who have uneasy feelings about an abortion, specifically a woman whose husband bullied her into it. Choice. I'm in favor of choice. And I definitely know people who regret having a child or children, and that is traumatic for that child.

I came in to post this: We Do Abortions Here: A Nurse's Tale, by Sallie Tisdale. Thank you, abortion providers, for taking the risk and doing what you do.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


mainstream pro-choice rhetoric often tries to insist that no mourning should ever be needed

Yeah, that's bullshit. I have only seen women pushing back against the insistence that they need to mourn, when they don't want to.
posted by agregoli at 7:25 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


I think anti-abortion types often confuse the idea that women shouldn’t be required to mourn the ending of a pregnancy as not allowing women to mourn. People should mourn or not mourn as they see fit. That is central to being pro-choice.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:50 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


I have only seen women pushing back against the insistence that they need to mourn, when they don't want to.

I have seen plenty of "it's only a bundle of cells; it's not a baby, not a person" arguments, insisting that an abortion can therefore not be murder because a person isn't being killed; it's more like cutting your hair or trimming your fingernails than ending a life. And we don't mourn our fingernails.

I have, of course, also seen plenty of fake reports from the forced birth side, insisting that abortion comes with emotional trauma and depression for years, and those are garbage. But a lot of the pro-choice, pro-freedom rhetoric has chosen to meet them on their terms, and claim that a fetus is not a person and therefore shouldn't be treated like we treat people.

I haven't seen any specific, direct announcements of "it is wrong to mourn an abortion." But I have seen plenty of declarations that "it's only a clump of cells" - and who is going to tell their friends they're in mourning for a clump of cells? The language we use gives a context for our actions.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:34 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


No one has told a mourning woman she shouldn't mourn for a "bundle of cells" is the point. And yeah, it ISN'T the same thing, it's a continuum. Because in a burning building scenario, no one is saving the petri dish of an embryo over a crying newborn.

If their friends are pro choice, truly pro choice, they know that you can mourn an abortion, even if you wanted to have it done. Acting like pro choice people are callous and there is no acknowledgement of the range of emotions that can accompany abortion is bullshit too. Pro choice people have displayed FAR more compassion in this area, by supporting women, than pro forced birth folk ever have.
posted by agregoli at 8:54 AM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


I haven't seen any specific, direct announcements of "it is wrong to mourn an abortion." But I have seen plenty of declarations that "it's only a clump of cells" - and who is going to tell their friends they're in mourning for a clump of cells? The language we use gives a context for our actions.

And I've seen a bunch of people call it a baby. Some people see it one way, some people see it another. Their friends view it as a bunch of cells. They might view it as a baby. Their friends don't have to mourn an abortion they have.

I actually help out with a group that funds abortions (and also helps with prenatal costs if someone wants to have a child, because choice) - Our Justice, formerly Pro Choice Resources. One of the services we advertise is having a post-abortion support group that doesn't have a religious framework (those can be hard to find). One of the things that we emphasize is that everyone who has had an abortion is encouraged to attend, no matter how you feel about it. And that has been my experience working with the reproductive justice movement - that nobody else should have ownership over your feelings on this situation, but that doesn't also give you the right to dictate other people's feelings on the matter.

Again, it's about the freedom to choose.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


The "it's only a bundle of cells" rhetoric emerges for 2 reasons:

1. It's scientifically accurate to differentiate between stages of fetal development. The vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and in many of those cases, the embryo is barely visible to the naked eye, if at all. A miscarriage at this stage might be no different than a late menstrual cycle, and embryos at this stage can spontaneously abort due to a number of factors. That is very different from the images anti-abortion activists try to push of the removal of a late-stage fetus. The imagery they use to oppose abortion usually depicts much older fetuses that are far more developed than what is removed in the majority of abortions. Pictures of third-trimester abortions are passed off as accurate images of a 4-week abortion, and sexual/scientific education being what it is in the U.S., many people have a tenuous grasp of the facts of reproduction.

2. It pushes back against the anti-abortion rhetoric of "personhood," which by using loaded, emotional terminology like "baby" and "person" attempts to manipulate the pro-choice position into a black-and-white moral dichotomy that benefits enormously from our protective instincts toward infants. But this terminology erases the personhood of the mother. The woman/uterus-owner is erased in the framing of a fetus as equivalent to an infant, when one is dependent for every biological need on another's body, while the other is not. Sure, someone has to feed, change, & hold a baby, but a dad/grandma/cousin/friend can do that as successfully as the bio-mother. That's not true for a fetus. Until the fetus is viable outside the womb, it cannot overrule the agency of its mother. For a fetus to be a "person," the mother is dehumanized.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:10 AM on December 13, 2017 [10 favorites]


This is a fascinating theological position for Dr. Parker to take, and I applaud him especially for not only holding the position, but putting it into practice. Faith without works is dead, as they say.

Probably all the Christians I know fall into 2 ideological camps – that abortion is wrong and should be illegal, or that abortion is wrong but it should be legal. The debate is never about whether abortion is right – the concept of protecting the most vulnerable is fundamental to Christian theology, as Blasdelb excellently explained. Of course, it is not only the fetus who is vulnerable here – it’s the mother too. And Dr. Parker extending this ideology to protect those women, by providing abortions, is radical; as the normal Christian response on this particular point would be a proposition to help those women by increased access to childcare, social support, etc, with the aim of ultimately helping both the mother and her child, once it is born. To pursue the greater good.

So what Dr. Parker is doing here seems to be practicing some form of the doctrine of least harm: acknowledging the world we live in, with its biases, flaws, and ‘fallen’ nature, and working to make the best of it. Christians tend to turn into idealists, moral purists, in the abortion debate, whereas ‘least harm’ is more readily accepted as justification for a lot of other less-than-ideal practices. I get a LOT of pushback from Christians when I profess pacifism – ‘sure,’ they’ll say, ‘violence is bad…but what if your family’s being attacked? What if you have to kill one to save many? What if…” – with the assumption that sometimes a lesser evil is required to prevent a greater evil - making the lesser evil morally good. But I’ve never seen someone take this argument with abortion. Thanks for posting.
posted by smokysunday at 10:43 AM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Some people see it one way, some people see it another."
This is kind of the thing though, this is might be the right answer for us to arrive at on a social and legal level, but it is profoundly unsatisfying.

We no longer tolerate the idea that personhood can be a conditional or contextual thing that depends on a matter of perspective in any other context, and we aren't really wired to be able to do it anymore. Personhood isn't a property of being that becomes evident when it is transferred or bestowed or defended, but a property of being that is inherent and self-evident. Any answer to the question of whether a fetus has personhood or not that doesn't rely on inherent and self-evident qualities is going to necessarily feel inadequate and anachronistic. So when someone says that their miscarriage represents a death to them, of course it feels like an attack on women who have had abortions that do not feel that way, because it fundamentally is. In the same way, when some says that their abortion represented little more than a medicalized fingernail trimming would, of course it feels like an attack on women who are grieving, because it inescapably is.

To say that one fetus is a person who can die and whose intentional death would be homicide, while another is not, is much more incompatible with our shared values than anything either side of this debate has to say on the subject - even if it represents the least awful solution.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:53 PM on December 13, 2017


Personhood isn't a property of being that becomes evident when it is transferred or bestowed or defended, but a property of being that is inherent and self-evident.

Where does personhood reside? The brain? A fetus' brain can't really be said to exist very early in pregnancy. Surely not the body, because then donating a kidney would lessen your personhood somehow.

Personhood is a concept made up by people and it is absolutely a granted thing. We don't give it to very intelligent non-humans (not yet) even though a chimp could outsmart a two-year old. The more you examine it as a concept, the more you see it is full of holes, because it is an imperfect tool we invented in order to differentiate between beings we consider "like us" to a greater or lesser degree.

It can be used for justice, to protect vulnerable humans such as those with disabilities or otherwise marginalized. It can be used for injustice, in order to push people outside the margins. But it's just a tool.

In the case of a fetus, because we have already granted that women are in the category "people," and being a person means having the right to decide what happens to your own body, we also give them the power to decide whether a being growing inside their body is also in that category, or not. To do otherwise is to declare women less than people.

Again, this is about power. The power to create, or refuse to create, another human being. It's an immense power, and because we don't trust, like or believe in the equality of women, we are uneasy with them having access to something that large. We want to intervene, to hedge, to judge and to steal it from them.

Only the woman in whose body the fetus is growing has the right to determine that fetus' future; whether it will be terminated or allowed to grow and become a person. If that makes you uneasy, what is it you fear? What evil do you imagine will follow?
posted by emjaybee at 1:14 PM on December 13, 2017 [10 favorites]


I am a Christian who does not think abortion is wrong. We exist. Thank God for Dr. Parker.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:41 PM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


If that makes you uneasy, what is it you fear? What evil do you imagine will follow?
I'm afraid of how, particularly when we frame these discussions as competitive gotchya contests, it becomes really easy to devalue the perspectives of women experiencing pregnancy differently in subtle but still vicious and fucked up ways. I'm afraid of how the humanities have gotten so devalued that deeply important, subtle, and fundamentally mysterious concepts like personhood become so easy to just casually dismiss as 'made up.' I am also terrified of how constructs of personhood that are relational as above, medicalized as in your comment, or contextual in some other way rather than existential always seem to turn out for disabled people like me and the otherwise vulnerable.

Personhood is not about power, its a thing that either is or is not, whether it is respected or isn't.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:51 PM on December 13, 2017


Can you please define 'personhood' in black and white?
posted by elsietheeel at 3:59 PM on December 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


Man, as much as I appreciate your thoughtful approach to these conversations, blasdelb, it sometimes comes very close to someone who cannot get pregnant explaining the way people should experience and think about their unwanted pregnancy. These are considerations for people who might terminate a pregnancy, but frankly, I don't think that the pro-choice movement are the ones devaluing women's experience.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:03 PM on December 13, 2017 [12 favorites]


also, a background in humanities might teach one that there are many different definitions of personhood, and even different religious interpretations of the abortion debate.

As a note - the abortion fund I volunteer for was started by clergy and doctors before abortion was legal. And honestly, I think that the stance of abortion not being a sin is a lot more prevalent in non-evangelical Protestant circles than the conception of the debate gives credit for, and even the Jesuits I knew seemed to think that there were bigger issues to tackle than abortion. To say nothing of other faiths - Judaism has put thought into the concept of personhood (to say the least) and has come to its own conclusion on the validity of abortion.

It's really frustrating to be told that we're framing this as 'gotcha' moments, but also be told that allowing for multiple viewpoints and nuance is 'dissatisfying'. It's possible to go into the debate and come out understanding that people may have irreconcilable differences on the philosophical notions of personhood, and still work to make sure that everyone can make reproductive decisions based on their own beliefs. That includes abortion, that includes working against poverty, includes birth control and medical care (including long term care and medical care in rural areas). That includes access to clean drinking water. The pro choice/reproductive justice movement really is working on multiple different fronts, and is, in fact, treating this as a nuanced and multifaceted issue.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:18 PM on December 13, 2017 [18 favorites]


So when someone says that their miscarriage represents a death to them, of course it feels like an attack on women who have had abortions that do not feel that way, because it fundamentally is.

As someone who lost a daughter at 21 weeks gestation, I just want to say the experience was eye-opening and reinforced my belief in being pro-choice. And my wife and I absolutely grieve her loss. We have the grave and tombstone to prove it.

I think a critical difference between women who grieve their miscarriage and women who do not grieve their abortion is wantedness. Who would grieve not having something they didn’t want?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Too much of this discussion is focused on a erroneous definition of personhood that is binary. While I mentioned the loss of my daughter at 21 weeks in my prior comment, there are some things I should make clear:

First, as painful as going through the miscarriage was, it does not compare to the friend who lost a son at 36 weeks gestation. Or the friends who lost children in early infancy and childhood.

Conversely, people who experienced a miscarriage before 10-12 weeks did not have the same sort of loss as ours.

Which leads me into the most frustrating part of the whole abortion debate—again, it’s an erroneous definitional argument over whether it is/is not murder. I think it is most accurate to say it can be murder. It isn’t unreasonable to seek agreement in good faith on prohibition in the areas where we can find consensus and leave the judgement up to the individual women for the rest.

Unfortunately, the arguments are so ideologically rigid and exercised in such bad faith that I fear no reasonable solution will ever be found.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:08 AM on December 15, 2017


Big Al 8000: People aren’t always told it’s ok to grieve their abortion - even if the pregnancy was not a wanted one - or that it’s ok to have complex and sometimes conflicting feelings about their experience. Ending an unwanted pregnancy still has the capacity for a lot to grieve, from people feeling like their body (or very often, their birth control) has betrayed them, to shifts in interpersonal relationships, to feelings of “I want this pregnancy but can’t afford/lack community or family support for/am not healthy enough for this pregnancy,” to difficulties accessing culturally competent or trauma-informed - or in many cases even just bog basic - reproductive health care. “Unwanted pregnancy” can look a lot of different ways to the person experiencing it. These are frequently not black and white situations. I’d also be grateful if you could refrain from devaluing the losses experienced by people who miscarried at an earlier gestation than your spouse. It is not for you to decide what miscarriages - or abortions - are grief-worthy for the other people having them.
posted by sutureselves at 7:17 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


So, there’s quite a bit my prior posts don’t convey and I’m sorry to leave the impression that there is a rigid hierarchy of loss. There isn’t. But the nature of the loss differs greatly by the circumstances and the individual experiencing them. I feel very strongly that the push by the anti-abortion crowd to make all pregnancies and losses, whether by miscarriage or abortion as equivalent is deeply harmful. Not all losses are the same, and we should acknowledge that.

And that has almost nothing to do with the personhood of the unborn and everything to do with the experiences and desires of the mother.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:11 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


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