Do You Trust Women

by Tedra Osell on January 20, 2012

Sunday is Roe Day [edited to add: and some good news to celebrate!]. I wrote this piece a long time ago, and I’ve reposted part of it since then. And now I’m doing so again because I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read, let alone said, on the subject.

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

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

Think about the hubris of that. Your judgment of some hypothetical scenario is more reliable than some woman’s judgment about her own, very real, life situation?

And you think that’s not sexist? That that doesn’t demonstrate, at bottom, a distrust of women? A blindness to their equality? A reluctance to give up control over someone else’s decision?

Because if you cannot see that, then I don’t care who you are. Male, female, feminist, reactionary asshole. You are acting as a conduit for a social distrust of women so strong that it’s almost invisible, that it gets read as “normal.” The fact that abortion is even a debate in this country demonstrates that we do not trust women.

By the by, I am not reposting the second half of the original post, primarily because it’s not on the topic of abortion. It is on the topic of “civility” and “tone,” however, which some of y’all might find interesting. If so, click “this piece” up top, which will take you to the OP, and scroll down to the dashes.

{ 776 comments }

1

Billikin 01.20.12 at 6:20 pm

“The bottom line about slavery is this. Do you trust plantation owners to make their own moral judgments?”

Actually, no, I don’t. But that is not really the question. If we trust everybody to make their own moral judgements, then we get chaos (or perhaps libertarian utopia, I don’t know). Virtue is its own reward because the world does not reward it. I am not willing to accord any group of people unquestioning moral autonomy. It is not a question of trust. We do not hang children for stealing bread anymore. Almost everybody finds that morally repugnant today. But we did not get from there to here without questioning each other. Slavery is no longer a live moral issue for us. Abortion is. We are still questioning each other about it.

2

FredR 01.20.12 at 6:30 pm

I thought all laws were based on the idea that, in certain circumstances, we don’t trust people.

The fact that I support anti-rape laws means that I don’t trust men to always determine when having sex is appropriate, but I don’t think that makes me anti-men.

3

Marcos 01.20.12 at 6:33 pm

And you think that’s not sexist? That that doesn’t demonstrate, at bottom, a distrust of women? A blindness to their equality? A reluctance to give up control over someone else’s decision?

Not willing to start a huge reaction, but I don’t see how it follows that it’s sexist. If you were to say that you don’t trust the woman’s judgement but you would allow a male to look into the issue and decide, that would be sexist. But pro-life would prefer no one to have that discretion, either woman or man.

I get

4

Russell Arben Fox 01.20.12 at 6:42 pm

Your judgment of some hypothetical scenario is more reliable than some woman’s judgment about her own, very real, life situation?

I don’t even trust myself to make my own judgements about my own, very real, life situations.

5

MPAVictoria 01.20.12 at 6:50 pm

Great Article.

However, I am not sure that saying one is “uncomfortable” with someone’s choice is the same as saying that your discomfort “matters more than an individual woman’s ability to assess her own circumstances.” I can be uncomfortable with someone’s choice and still support and defend their ability to make that choice.

6

Omega Centauri 01.20.12 at 6:51 pm

Isn’t condemning “uncomfortable with” a little too strong? Being uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily override respecting your right to. There are a lot of things I tolerate that I’m not comfortable with, including many of the things on your list. I can support someone’s right to do something I don’t like. In fact if it didn’t bother me, you would not need to claim it as a “right”, as I’d have no reason to oppose it.

I won’t even get started on the potential unintended social consequences of allowing widespread sex selection.

7

MPAVictoria 01.20.12 at 6:55 pm

“I won’t even get started on the potential unintended social consequences of allowing widespread sex selection.”

I was thinking of the exact same issue.

8

Jim 01.20.12 at 6:56 pm

Consider a world in which only women have guns, and guns are the only way to kill another person. Is it appropriate to say that your views on the killing of another person in this world is as follows:

1. If you think that it is morally just–and therefore legal–to kill a human being under some circumstances and not under others, then you are a sexist?

?

9

Jeffrey Davis 01.20.12 at 6:58 pm

I supported abortion rights 40 years ago, using a notion of rights as the foundation for that decision. I’ve regretted that for years.

Abortion is not an issue that can be settled. Legal or not, it returns every time a pregnancy creates terrible demands on the people involved. It’s definitely not going to be settled by appealing to a secondary issue. No one is an island.

“any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind. “

10

mpowell 01.20.12 at 6:59 pm

I have to agree with the first commenter. To me, this is a terrible argument and I say that as someone with a very pro-choice, pro-abortion for the people who make that choice type of view. The only thing I can agree with here is that there is very little justification for a rape or incest exception if you take seriously the right to life of an unborn fetus. I reserve the right to question the moral judgment of all of my fellow citizens and I exercise that right when I vote in favor of policies that restrict people’s behavior to do immoral things in a context where government action is appropriate.

The argument that the anti-abortion crowd distrusts the decision-making ability of women really already assumes the conclusion of the pro-choice movement. Namely that the only person involved in the decision is the woman. But the intellectual basis for the anti-abortion movement is that it also involves another person: a fetus. (Let’s leave aside for the moment that the intellectual basis for the argument and the underlying motivation for the strongest anti-abortion advocates are not usually aligned) We don’t allow people to commit murder for this reason. This point is so obvious to me, I would be really curious to know why someone advancing this argument thinks that comparison doesn’t apply.

The other point I would make is that when we pass laws to restrict people’s behavior we are not necessarily questioning the judgment of a group of people as a class. We are questioning the ability of each and every individual person to make the correct decision on their own. This is a much different thing. Or to put it another way: the anti-abortionist does not believe that every woman will make the immoral (in their opinion) decision to have an abortion.

11

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:01 pm

“I can be uncomfortable with someone’s choice and still support and defend their ability to make that choice.”

This, absolutely. But that’s not what the piece is about: the piece is about people saying “I’m uncomfortable with the imaginary scenario where some teenager realizes at 7 months pregnant that the prom is next month so she willy-nilly decides to get an abortion, and therefore I think third trimester abortions should be illegal.” I’m absolutely fine with people being “uncomfortable” with abortion; I’m not fine with people trying to fucking legislate when others can and can’t get it because of that discomfort.

12

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:02 pm

Billikin, congratulations on making the first comment patently offensive.

A fetus is part of someone’s body. A slave is not. DUH.

13

MPAVictoria 01.20.12 at 7:06 pm

“This, absolutely. But that’s not what the piece is about: the piece is about people saying “I’m uncomfortable with the imaginary scenario where some teenager realizes at 7 months pregnant that the prom is next month so she willy-nilly decides to get an abortion, and therefore I think third trimester abortions should be illegal.” I’m absolutely fine with people being “uncomfortable” with abortion; I’m not fine with people trying to fucking legislate when others can and can’t get it because of that discomfort.”

That makes sense. Thank you for taking the time to respond.
Excellent piece of writing.

14

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:09 pm

Fred R. yay for making comment #2 patently offensive as well! Because yes, whenever women talk about abortion the natural jump is to move to talking about rape. That’s not at all implicitly threatening or fucked-up in any way.

Rape laws don’t exist to prevent rape. They aren’t about trusting men. They also aren’t about “determining when having sex is appropriate.” They exist to *punish* people–men and/or women–after the fact, for *violence done towards someone else*, not for “having sex with” them. The idea that they somehow “prevent” rape implies that men would go about raping willy-nilly if it weren’t against the law; and if that were the case, than I damn well wouldn’t trust them, no. Do you really think that violently using someone’s body is pretty similar to “having sex with” them if no law says otherwise?

15

SamChevre 01.20.12 at 7:13 pm

I do not trust ANYONE to make their own moral judgments. “Even the wise cannot foresee all ends.”

16

Rich Puchalsky 01.20.12 at 7:16 pm

“I’m absolutely fine with people being “uncomfortable” with abortion; I’m not fine with people trying to fucking legislate when others can and can’t get it because of that discomfort.”

“When pro-choice feminists like Wolf, or liberal men, or a lot of women, even, say things like, “I’m pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with… [third-trimester abortion / sex-selection / women who have multiple abortions / women who have abortions for “convenience” / etc.]” then what you are saying is that your discomfort matters more than an individual woman’s ability to assess her own circumstances. “

17

SamChevre 01.20.12 at 7:17 pm

A fetus is part of someone’s body.

I do not think this is generally agreed on; I would say “a fetus is its own body, and its own person, temporarily dependent on someone else’s body for basic needs.”

18

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:22 pm

6 & 7: Why is abortion b/c of sex-selection a problem for you? Who gives a shit why someone chooses to abort?

Let us think this one through. “Oh, I’m pro-choice, but I’m uncomfortable with ‘letting’ women decide to abort just based on the sex of the fetus” = “I don’t think that women living in a culture where the gender of children is a BIG FUCKING DEAL are as equipped as I am to think through the potential consequences of having a boy/girl to themselves and that child as I am. They probably just go around having abortions without thinking about whether they’re doing so for sexist reasons, or whether it’s good for their society to have a dearth of female children, the way I do. In fact, I think it would be good to ban sex-selection abortions. Because even if a given society is so very sexist that it is likely that enough women would choose to have only male children to actually have widespread detrimental social effects, I’m sure it’s not so sexist that women who bear female children would be in any way punished for doing so, nor would those female children be punished for being female. Because it’s TOTALLY POSSIBLE to be sexist enough to convince MOST WOMEN not to have girl children without being so sexist that you make being a girl or woman a COMPLETELY HEINOUS way to live. And hey, even if it’s not, having roughly equal numbers of men and women is so important that it’s worth making women’s lives utter shit just to ensure that there will be more women to have utterly shit lives going forward.”

Really??

19

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:25 pm

I do not think this is generally agreed on

Uh huh. The violinist scenario. Try doing some research on pregnancy: a pregnant woman is *literally building* the baby. Even if you want to attribute “personhood” to a fetus, you don’t get to say that it’s “its own body” unless you want to actually deny medical fact.

20

FredR 01.20.12 at 7:26 pm

I’m sorry if you thought I was threatening you (or anyone) with rape. That was certainly not my intention. I was looking for something that was largely a male activity, and rape was the best I came up with on short notice. In the future I’ll try to pick more neutral analogies, and please delete this comment if my continued discussion using that analogy is too offensive.

Is it very controversial to think of laws as existing to prevent the activities they make illegal? I hadn’t thought so. That’s certainly how I think of laws…

In any event, I suppose implicit in my (poorly chosen) analogy was the idea that there different kinds of sex, just as with abortion there are distinctions that can be made depending on the circumstances (1st v. 3rd trimester, for example). There are gradations between mutually consensual sex and violent rape, such as, for instance, taking advantage of a person when he or she is too drunk to meaningfully give consent. Whether a person is drunk enough to have crossed that line is one example where I wouldn’t always trust the judgment of the sexual partner.

21

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:26 pm

You know, I was originally going to repost the second half of the OP as well, and say some snarky things about the CT comments section in connection with it. But then I thought that was probably unnecessarily provocative. MY BAD.

22

Patrick 01.20.12 at 7:26 pm

Someone might have absolute opinions about the morality of an act in certain circumstances, but think that there are reasonable disagreements to be had about the same act in other circumstances. There’s nothing contradictory about that, nor is it uncommon. It accurately describes my opinions about morally questionable acts like, say, shooting some guy in the face with a gun.

23

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:30 pm

There are gradations between mutually consensual sex and violent rape, such as, for instance, taking advantage of a person when he or she is too drunk to meaningfully give consent. Whether a person is drunk enough to have crossed that line is one example where I wouldn’t always trust the judgment of the sexual partner.

Indeed. And when someone is “too drunk” then what’s happening is rape–it’s not a judgment call. The fact that there are a ton of men out there who don’t get that isn’t because there are “gradations between sex and rape”; it’s because our culture defines sex as “penis inside vagina” rather than recognizing it as something that *two people do together*. If one person isn’t part of “doing it”–i.e., if the sex isn’t demonstrably “mutually consensual” to both parties–but there is a penis (or other object) penetrating the body of someone else, then that’s rape.

24

MPAVictoria 01.20.12 at 7:32 pm

“Really??”

Yes really. I am 100 percent pro choice. That does not mean that I can’t have concerns about a cultures that pressure women to abort children they might otherwise want but who happen to be the wrong sex. I can be concerned and still support the right of women to make their own choices for their own reasons.

25

Sebastian 01.20.12 at 7:32 pm

I respect the pro-choice opinion in many of its iterations, but not this one. We have laws specifically because we don’t trust people to make moral decisions all the time. That is pretty much what law does.

People are self interested and will often do things to the detriment of others in order to make things easier on themselves, or to make themselves richer, or because of a personal mental quirk, or for thousands of other reasons. Lots of times we let them do such things. Sometimes we don’t.

Can you ever imagine yourself writing a sentence like: “If you think we need pollution regulations you aren’t trusting the moral judgment of business owners. What you are saying is that your discomfort matters more than an individual business owner’s ability to assess her own circumstances”?

I hope not. The argument almost refutes itself.

26

Russell L. Carter 01.20.12 at 7:40 pm

Sebastian is equating a tragedy of the commons situation with state/religious coercion into individual women’s bodies. His argument refutes itself.

27

Adam 01.20.12 at 7:42 pm

Aren’t laws against infanticide predicated on the same lack of trust? If someone believes that a fetus is a distinct person, then your line of argumentation wouldn’t be convincing to them because if would justify also getting rid of infanticide laws.

28

delurking 01.20.12 at 7:45 pm

I’m puzzled, Fred. So you’re saying it is only the *law* against rape that keeps you from raping women?

29

Josh McCabe 01.20.12 at 7:48 pm

One wonders whether you hold yourself to the same standard on other issues of choice:
Do you trust women to decide whether they want to work for less than what you consider a minimum decent wage?
Do you trust women to decide whether they want to work in what you consider unsafe working conditions?
Do you trust women to decide what she wants to spend here income on instead of taxing her and telling her what to spend it on?

By your logic, minimum wage laws, OSHA, and taxation all represent a mistrust of individual abilities to make decisions. Maybe you agree (I do) but I have a feeling that your “pro-choice” position is incredibly hollow as a general principle.

30

Wax Banks 01.20.12 at 7:49 pm

Thinking aloud here:

A fetus is part of someone’s body.

I think this line brings more bullshit into the conversation than it clears away. (There is a tricky discussion to be had about the political/social push to include fetuses definitionally in women’s bodies, instead of emphasizing the extraordinary nature of the union between fetal and maternal bodies — but it doesn’t bear directly on this one, and I’d rather not have it today.)

It should be enough to say that pregnancy is a state a woman’s body can enter into, and that she can choose to leave that state as well, killing the growing organism(s) within her reproductive system (note ‘organism’ rather than ‘human’); and we can insist that such action is justified and reasonable and should be legally protected for a bunch of reasons. Which sidesteps bullshit about ‘souls’ and defining ‘human life’ and ‘humanity,’ and welcomes comparison to other forms of sanctioned killing.

‘My body, my choice’ is a nice construction but ‘our bodies, my choice’ is closer to the mark — come to think of it, ‘our body, my choice’ will do just as nicely. A shared body but not simply (simplistically) the pregnant woman’s.

Which is maybe just to say that by being ‘pro-abortion’ I’m more ‘pro-life’ than ‘pro-specific-lives,’ if that isn’t completely mad: that yes, sometimes lives (human or otherwise) must end for life to go on. Even the life of a fetus. (Or just a mass of undifferentiated cells, which is ‘life’ of a sort but not in any particularly meaningful way ‘human’ life.)

On the other hand I believe I could kill for my son (and would rather not find out either way), so obvs. this isn’t a whole big system so much as a maybe-useful notion. And there it is, I guess.

31

Sebastian 01.20.12 at 7:50 pm

Russell, you aren’t trusting my moral judgment. How dare you.

32

Wax Banks 01.20.12 at 7:50 pm

You know, I was originally going to repost the second half of the OP as well, and say some snarky things about the CT comments section in connection with it. But then I thought that was probably unnecessarily provocative. MY BAD.

I prefer your ‘aggressive’ style to your ‘passive-aggressive’ style, FWIW.

33

Billikin 01.20.12 at 7:51 pm

Tedra Osell: “A fetus is part of someone’s body. A slave is not. DUH.”

If a fetus were simply a part of someone’s body, there would be no moral question, would there?

34

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 7:53 pm

22: Yeah, I have a problem with sexist culture too. That’s not a problem with abortion.

35

Lynne 01.20.12 at 8:03 pm

Tedra, I’ve noticed that when abortion is discussed people talk about it, and clash, sometimes simply because one person is discussing the legality of abortion and the other is talking about morality. It astounds me how often this blurring occurs, but it seems to me that might be what is happening when someone says they are pro-choice (they endorse abortion being legal) but that the procedure makes them personally uncomfortable.

My own pro-choice position was solidified when I had my first child. Every cell in a woman’s body changes with pregnancy! No more waffling for me after that: every woman has to have control over her own body.

Different camps define the issue differently—I am Canadian and a local MP (Member of Parliament) recently has been making the news by calling for a re-examination of abortion, in particular of “when life begins”. That’s how the anti-choice camp sees the question. There is no obvious way for me to engage in discussion with this MP, should I be tempted to.

I would just want to tell him that his freedom to exercise his morality ends with my person.

36

Wax Banks 01.20.12 at 8:05 pm

I can be concerned and still support the right of women to make their own choices for their own reasons.

Extending this, perhaps in a direction MPAVictoria didn’t intend: even if ‘abortion must be legal’ is a good principle, the cost of the choice to get an abortion is borne by more than one person (again, insisting otherwise, even for polemical reasons, adds rather than subtracts bullshit); and sympathy for those who must share that emotional work (the formerly-pregnant woman foremost) is ‘concern’ that isn’t necessarily hesitation or willingness to sell women out.

Presumably pro-choice (or ‘pro-abortion’ in the Crazy Aunt Camille sense) folks desire a world in which, when a woman terminates a pregnancy, she gets unqualified support from the people around her; hurrah for that; but surely concern for the life of another human (the woman in question) can’t be separated from, indeed isn’t likely to exist without, the ability to imagine the pregnancy resulting in a child — to support her choice either way. By making yourself able to support either choice, don’t you open up an emotional space for, say, regret? Fear? Even anger, which may flare and ideally fade? Isn’t that ambivalence better, healthier, more emotionally ‘well rounded’ (oh god), and ultimately — most importantly I think — more sustainable than arraying along lines of competition, insisting that just because a choice is yours, your choice must be perfect?

Again — I’m not sure how I feel about what I’m thinking here, but I can’t help wondering whether we lose more than we win by militating against resistance, revulsion, regret, instead of also working through those emotions.

37

Tom Hurka 01.20.12 at 8:05 pm

One view is that the best person to make a moral decision is someone directly involved in the situation, who knows many of the details and will have to face the consequences him- or herself.

Another view is that the best person to make a moral decision is someone far removed from the situation, because he or she has no personal stake in it and can’t be disproportionately affected by how the decision will affect his or her interests.

Neither view is the whole truth, but each is part of the truth.

38

Wax Banks 01.20.12 at 8:06 pm

I am Canadian and a local MP (Member of Parliament) recently has been making the news by calling for a re-examination of abortion, in particular of “when life begins”.

Didn’t Watchmen and Avatar teach us that nothing ever ends, and nothing ever begins? I MEAN DUH.

39

duck-billed placelot 01.20.12 at 8:15 pm

UGH UGH UGH, Tedra Osell, you are the best; commenters, (some of) you are the worst. Listen, pollution analogy man, did you just align ‘women who have abortions’ with ‘polluting, greedy business owners’? And ‘abortion’ with ‘horrible mistreatment of nature’? Because, yo, we’ve never heard that it’s totally natural for women to have all the babies ever regardless of her health or life circumstances or consent to sex or age or anyfuckingreasonatall. That’s a totally new idea, that women/girls exist solely as a natural, beautiful vessel for housing (hopefully!) people (boys) or other vessels (girls)!

A more accurate analogy might be, ‘If you think wealthy business owners who live outside our community should get to write the pollution regulations, you’re saying their ability to profit is more important than the lives and health of stakeholders who actually live where the pollution is.’ In this analogy, ‘women who have abortions’ are the stakeholders, see, and often the pollution thing, the thing that makes them sick, is, you know, the fetus.

40

Pascal Leduc 01.20.12 at 8:18 pm

I have to say, of all the directions I was expecting this thread to go into, claiming that “women shouldn’t be allowed to choose to have abortions because, fundamentally, people shouldn’t have the right to decide what happens in their lives” wasn’t what I was expecting.

It’s certainly different from the old tired rhetoric we see in other places.

Though personally, I cant help but wonder whether or not people should have the right to decide that people shouldn’t have the right to make decisions about their own lives.

41

BenK 01.20.12 at 8:27 pm

There are crimes because sometimes people make bad decisions – and sometimes, they make wrong decisions. I do both – and do not often cross the line into criminal behavior – and saying that women can commit crimes is not sexist. Saying that they can make bad or wrong decisions is not sexist. Saying that people make bad or wrong decisions often under the stress of difficult situations is basically common sense.
Suggesting that their stress makes their decisions more worthy of respect is pretty silly.

42

politicalfootball 01.20.12 at 8:27 pm

Rape laws don’t exist to prevent rape.

A key rationale for all laws is shaping behavior, and not merely punishing behavior. Rape is no exception.

The anti-abortion movement favors criminalization because they believe that laws against abortion will prevent abortions. Pro-choicers also believe this, and base their opposition to abortion restrictions largely on this belief.

Any law involves substituting the judgment of the state for that of individuals, including women. If abortion ought to be permitted – as, of course, it ought to be – it’s not because women’s moral judgments ought not be regulated, but because this particular judgment is best left to the individual involved.

43

MPAVictoria 01.20.12 at 8:31 pm

“That’s not a problem with abortion.”

It is if women are being pressured into having abortions they would otherwise not have.

44

duck-billed placelot 01.20.12 at 8:35 pm

@ politicalfootball: Much of the anti-abortion political movement favors criminalization because they believe that laws against abortion will punish the kind of women they think of as needing abortions. I.e. poor women. Young women. Women of color. Slutty single ladies. Anti-abortion people know all about the back alley abortions of yore (and now, in many places), and the scarring and infertility and bleeding and infection and death. That is the goal. See: abstinence-only education, morning after pill, attempts to outlaw contraception, attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood etc. etc. etc.

45

leederick 01.20.12 at 8:37 pm

“6 & 7: Why is abortion b/c of sex-selection a problem for you? Who gives a shit why someone chooses to abort?…

Uh huh. The violinist scenario.”

Well, as you mention, feminists give a shit why someone chooses to abort. The standard example that gets trotted out is the violinist scenario, which justifies abortion in terms of self-defense. People can argue about that, but let’s suppose we all agree. The problem here is we then get an additional bit of rhetorical slight of hand which tries to go from ‘abortion is legal in the case of self defence’ to ‘abortion should be legal in all cases, even in cases where we have a explicit statement of intent which doesn’t involve self-defence’. #6 and #7 are quite right on calling this as BS.

46

Russell L. Carter 01.20.12 at 8:37 pm

“Russell, you aren’t trusting my moral judgment. How dare you.”

Sebastion, I fully trust your moral judgment on whether or not YOU should have an abortion.

But knowing your proclivities (they’ve been on display for years) I also am fully certain you would rather fuck up the commons completely than suffer even the slightest restraint on your polluting behavior.

47

jack lecou 01.20.12 at 8:52 pm

Like some of the others here, I am having some difficulty with this argument. I think maybe part of the problem is that it seems to be fundamentally predicated on the principle that a fetus is a part of a woman’s body / pregnancy is a personal medical condition. It’s presented as an incontrovertible statement of logic, but it breaks down a bit if you are arguing with someone who defines abortion in some other way.[1]

For example, if someone has decided that abortion really is equivalent to taking another person’s life, than there doesn’t seem to be to be anything fundamentally illogical about nevertheless defining circumstances in which that act is justifiable, possibly requiring an official adjudication to decide if that is the case. As we do with homicide, you’d be starting from the position that the act is generally impermissible, but then carving out exceptions or defenses for particular circumstances (e.g., self defense, state executions, euthanasia, etc.).

Plausible “justifications” for “feticide” someone might make could include things like birth control failure, rape, extraordinary hardship, etc. It’s a tremendously more intrusive approach, and certainly not the law as it stands, but it’s not logically inconsistent that I can see. A person who holds that view could even get to things like selectively banning late term abortions by suitable adjustments their definition of when a mere fetus becomes a “life”. Adding gray areas, if necessary.[2]

And, at least when spoken by a person who holds such a view[3], some of your “but I’m uncomfortable with” phrases do seem to work ok. Consider the analogous statement, “I support the principle of justifiable homicide in cases of self defense, but I am uncomfortable with the fact that my neighbor has shot and killed 10 burglars in as many years.”

————
fn1.: Yes, at least 99% of such people absolutely do ultimately turn out to be speaking from a position of incoherent patriarchal BS. I’m not sure it’s impossible for one to exist in theory though.

fn2.: There may be some views which are harder to construct with this logic. For example, it there doesn’t seem to be a particularly clear path for someone who wants to hold that early term abortions are not ok because a fetus is a person, make an exception can be made in cases of rape, and then claim late term abortions are not permissible, even in cases of rape.

fn3.: You’re right that they really don’t work when spoken by someone who otherwise maintains that they regard abortion as a personal medical decision. I expect the “liberal man” who says “I believe…but” is still full of it.

48

Sebastian (2) 01.20.12 at 8:57 pm

Teresa’s whole argument seems to be entirely premised on the idea that value of life is a completely binary issue. But what’s wrong, for example, with the view that life somehow begins at conception and then increases in both value and rights as pregnancy/its development progresses?
That certainly seems in line with how we emotionally deal with the issue: most women, I understand, don’t even notice what amounts to early spontaneous abortions after 4 weeks or so. On the other hand, late term miscarriages are major tragedies, often for an entire family.
In the same way I think it’s a perfectly defensible to think that a first trimester abortion just isn’t a very big deal, but that a later term abortion is a bigger issue. And it’s not that uncommon in both our legal and moral system to weigh different goods against each other – so even if I think that a 5-month old fetus has some degree of rights, it’s still possible to weigh a woman’s right to chose higher, or it’s possible to weigh a woman’s right not to be traumatized by carrying out the result of rape or incest.
Another perfectly reasonable position is to say that one is never comfortable with forcing a woman to carry out a baby against her will, but that one is personally and morally opposed to late term abortions.

49

MPAVictoria 01.20.12 at 9:05 pm

This article seems to be on topic:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16618156

Criminalising abortions seems to have little effect on the number of abortions performed. It does however greatly increase the risk of women undergoing dangerous black market abortions. Way to be pro-life people.

50

leederick 01.20.12 at 9:21 pm

I don’t think that would happen. People can shroudwave all they like about abortion related maternal mortality in countries like the US/UK in the 50s, but the reality is there are western countries like Poland and Ireland where abortion is banned, and they don’t see anywhere close to that sort of mortality. Things have changed, I think possibly because of the stigma of unmarried pregnancy is much less than it was and more widespread knowledge about contraception.

51

Lynne 01.20.12 at 9:22 pm

@jack lecou, it is true that someone who believes abortion is no different from homicide will be absolutely, immovably opposed to legalizing abortion. There is no reasoning with such people. They just have to be overruled.

What other anti-choice people seem to miss (and the abortion =murder crowd don’t care about) is the enormity of a law that overrides the sovereignty of people over their own bodies.

I was in a class with the late philosopher George Grant when someone took him up on his anti-abortion stance by saying, IIRC, “If there can be a law forbidding abortion, there could be a law compelling it.” He acknowledged this, as the point was the reach of the law.

I can’t think of any equivalent situation that faces men, where the law can reach into their bodies and say “Yes, do this,” or “No, you can’t.” I do wish that more men would consider this violation when they are expressing their opinions on abortion—some men here have, some seem oblivious to the unique scope of abortion law.

52

politicalfootball 01.20.12 at 9:23 pm

Much of the anti-abortion political movement favors criminalization because they believe that laws against abortion will punish the kind of women they think of as needing abortions.

Oh, sure, punishment is a big motivator, both in general for laws and in the specific example of the anti-abortion folks. These folks regard a baby as a well-deserved comeuppance for a woman who behaves improperly. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

53

Dan 01.20.12 at 9:25 pm

Doesn’t the violinist argument support the legitimacy of *all* abortions, no matter how late in the term? (For that matter, I don’t actually see why it wouldn’t have the consequence that it’s OK leaving one’s new born baby to starve.) It seems a very — how should I put it — libertarian argument.

I do find it interesting that so much abortion rhetoric on the left appeals to such a strong right of self-ownership and bodily control. But as anyone who has read Cohen on the topic knows, taking such a right seriously will rule out pretty much all enforceable non-contractual obligations to serve other people. I wonder how this circle is meant to be squared without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

54

politicalfootball 01.20.12 at 9:28 pm

The standard example that gets trotted out is the violinist scenario, which justifies abortion in terms of self-defense.

That’s not how I understand it. The woman in that scenario could unplug even if her only reason is that she hates violin music. She’d be within her rights.

Would she be behaving morally? Well, now you’re moving into Tedra’s territory, and her argument applies.

55

nnyhav 01.20.12 at 9:31 pm

I’m pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable when the delivery room obstetrician, just before cutting the umbilical cord, says “Hey, last chance! It’s your prerogative!”

Part of what’s worthy of celebration of Roe was the defining of a bright line (start of third trimester) beyond which government could not go (and permitting some blurring on the other side of it). And that, it seems to me, is the moral judgment that matters. Not that it matters whether or not I’m comfortable with it.

56

Matthew Stevens 01.20.12 at 9:32 pm

You know, I was originally going to repost the second half of the OP as well, and say some snarky things about the CT comments section in connection with it.

Okay, I was going to stay quiet, since I’m pro-choice and feel I’m on “the same side,” but this passive-aggressive remark is too much.

You can be 100% pro-choice without unconditionally trusting people “to make their own moral judgments.” (Making decisions about their own bodies, yes, but that’s not what you said.) There are an infinite number of convincing pro-choice arguments, but yours wasn’t one of them. No big deal, they can’t all be winners.

Now folks are pointing out the absurdity of the claim, and you’re offended. What the hell? I’m sure you’ll think you’re being attacked because you’re a strong, angry woman or whatever. That’s not it. It’s because attitude shouldn’t trump argument, particularly at a goddam academic site like this one.

57

shah8 01.20.12 at 9:35 pm

Well, *jack lacou*, it turns out that Ishiguro has the truth of things, and eh, your heart kinda sorta belongs to me when you die. Therefore, I demand that you do regular cardiac exercise and eat a very healthy diet low in cholesterol and free from Hagen-Daz. What’s wrong? You *need* to faithfully exercise and eat right anyways, it’s good for you! So what if I have an unhealthy interest in how soon you’ll die, it’s all good.

You know, when society makes available tendentious arguments that always privileges and ownership stance towards what happens to a woman’s body, I think it’s normal for people I’d prefer to associate with to reject the general premise of the argument, just as you would, say, the Wandering Murderer, or the Ticking Time Bomb. Some of those initial comments were genuinely maddening…

58

Omega Centauri 01.20.12 at 9:47 pm

Is it unreasonable to expect that a society which contains some elements which think a certain act is totally despicable, that we at least require a statement outlining the reasons for wanting to take that action? And then perhaps to judge that certain justifcations (such as, I wanna go to the prom, or I only wanna have male babies), be deemed frivolous and unacceptable as justifications.

I would happily support 3rd trimester restrictions, if it would once and for all end this as a political issue. This issue has been used as a wedge in order to impose other unacceptable things on the society I unfortunately live in. I’d be willing to compromise a little bit if it would enable our politics to become more rational. We have to somehow live with a portion of our population that does not share our values.

And, NO, I wouldn’t allow sex selection (unless there was some provision that the overall demographic balance would not be substantially changed)! Otherwise a potentially very dangerous social experiment whose consequences may not be forseen, and may not show up for thirty years or more be run. I don’t think individual rights totally trump societies rights/responsibilty to have some control over the commons. And the demographic composition of the population is part of the commons.

59

jack lecou 01.20.12 at 9:57 pm

I can’t think of any equivalent situation that faces men, where the law can reach into their bodies and say “Yes, do this,” or “No, you can’t.” I do wish that more men would consider this violation when they are expressing their opinions on abortion—-some men here have, some seem oblivious to the unique scope of abortion law.

I think that’s an incredibly important consideration. Maybe what seems off with Tedra’s argument is that it doesn’t actually consider that.

It’s one thing to weigh the intrusion that regulation of abortion entails against all the conceivable interests society might have in doing so. And I think given the fundamentally outrageous and exceptional nature of the former, one certainly has to find the latter lacking (or nonexistent, as the case may be).

But it’s still a fact that such weighing is a perfectly legitimate exercise. It’s how we decide whether something falls into one of the categories where we, as a society, can afford to trust people implicitly (where to get one’s hair cut?; how much to tip one’s waiter?), one of the categories where we really can’t proffer very much trust at all (who and when it is permissible to kill?), or one of the categories that sort of falls somewhere in between (when must a parent seek medical attention for a sick child?; which experimental medical treatments will one be allowed to take?).

Saying that the bottom line is “Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments?” at least gives the appearance of short circuiting those considerations.

60

salacious 01.20.12 at 10:03 pm

“I can’t think of any equivalent situation that faces men, where the law can reach into their bodies and say “Yes, do this,” or “No, you can’t.” I do wish that more men would consider this violation when they are expressing their opinions on abortion—-some men here have, some seem oblivious to the unique scope of abortion law.”

Suicide? Selling organs? Bonding oneself into slavery?

I’m sure there are distinctions that could be drawn around all of these, of course, but they illustrate that the idea that anti-abortion statues are sui generis is specious.

61

Russell L. Carter 01.20.12 at 10:05 pm

“And the demographic composition of the population is part of the commons.”

Once we recognize this then the negative demographic impacts on the national financial situation by retiring/expiring baby boomers can be offset through government intervention by mandating females to produce more children. For instance, an easy way to achieve this is to ban contraceptives and abortions, for any reason.

62

Alison P 01.20.12 at 10:12 pm

I think forcing a woman to give birth is like forcing you to sell an organ while you are alive. The question of whether the reasons for refusing are frivolous doesn’t enter into it. The question of whether someone with less of a stake in the issue might reach a more judicious conclusion doesn’t enter into it.

63

bay of arizona 01.20.12 at 10:13 pm

I agree with the comment that mentioned the conflating of moral and legal arguments. Why does it matter if angels can dance on the head of a pin? The real questions, which people who are ‘uncomfortable’ always avoid, are:
Will women serve prison for murder for hire? Why not?

If someone announced their intention to kill a family member regardless of the opinions of others there would almost certainly be law enforcement involvement and restraining orders and the like. Will a pregnant woman be arrested – I believe this happened in Iowa recently, when a woman told a nurse she never wanted a baby.

Other than being shackled to a hospital bed and forced to give birth, how can you guarantee an abortion will not occur (this is especially relevant if there is a personhood amendment which gives 14th amendment rights to fetuses? In Florida there was a case where the fetus received its own attorney because the mother did not want to follow doctor’s orders. She was forced to by the state, though the fetus died anyway.

These are 2 real world examples of the practical meaning of abortion bans in the real world. I wish pro-choicers would use this in their arguments, because it isn’t idle speculation.

64

mollymooly 01.20.12 at 10:14 pm

Obviously if a fetus is analogous to a kidney then banning abortions is as monstrous as banning kidney transplants.

Obviously if a fetus is analogous to a born baby then allowing abortions is as monstrous as allowing infanticide.

Even if those who sincerely hold either of the above views acknowledge there are others who *sincerely* hold the opposite view, I can’t see how a political/legal accommodation can be reached that will avoid leaving one side or the other lamenting a massive perceived injustice.

But in any case I don’t think it’s helpful for advocates for either side to assert that those purporting to hold one of the above views deep-down-really *know* the other view is correct, but choose to pretend otherwise for there own monstrously selfish/sexist ends.

‘But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute.’ — indeed; but when bishops excommunicate a 9yo rape victim for getting an abortion, pro-choice people are slow to at least give them points for consistency.

65

mpowell 01.20.12 at 10:22 pm

I had another comment eaten by moderation, but I’ll just shorten it to say I agree with Jack @ 45. If you just assume away your opponents priors there is no debate. If you want to make any progress on this debate you have to actually convince people (not me by the way) that a fetus should not be regarded as an independent person with a right to life, or if it does have a right to life, that right is limited or superseded by the right of a woman to control her body. Just insisting that the fetus is not an independent person and the issue doesn’t even deserve discussion in increasingly shrill terms is unlikely, I imagine, to persuade anyone.

66

christian_h 01.20.12 at 10:23 pm

Thanks to Lynn (47.).

67

jack lecou 01.20.12 at 10:41 pm

I guess maybe my problem is that I’m not actually certain I would reject all claims on use my organs.

Have I seen an argument yet that I’d judge good enough to give someone claim to one? Nope. But do I think one couldn’t possibly exist, even in principle, just because it’s “my” organ? No.

Nor does the question really boil down to “Do you trust me to make moral judgements about my organs”.

So, yeah, giving someone else control over a woman’s body is at least as heavy duty. And yes, all of the arguments I’ve seen or can imagine for doing such a thing range from very poor to downright dishonest. Yet, “do you trust women to make moral judgements” still doesn’t strike me as an accurate ‘bottom line’ to describe that situation or the considerations.

68

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 10:59 pm

40: No, it still isn’t about abortion. It’s about the broader social context *that leads women to think that it would be preferable to undergo a medical or surgical procedure to abort a wanted pregnancy* than to bear a child of the “wrong” sex. Making it about abortion ignores the larger context and implies, as I pointed out in my first response to this particular red herring, that it would be better, somehow, if women couldn’t have sex-selective abortions despite living in a society where they, as women, are so undervalued that they, as women, think it would be better not to have girls who will grow up to be women like themselves. In other words, if you’re saying sex-selective abortion should be illegal–and again, I am talking about laws regulating abortion here, not how one personally feels about what one would personally do–you’re saying that the lives and autonomy of those women is less important than having a sex-balanced society.

Which, you know, fine; someone can make that argument. I am not going to buy it, because I think that women, being people, are part of “society” and that therefore *their quality of life matters as much as that of men*.

69

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.20.12 at 11:01 pm

They should start sterilizing everyone from the minute they are born, grow new people (if necessary) in vats, and thus end all this nonsense already.

70

Manta1976 01.20.12 at 11:02 pm

I have nothing agains abortion (mostly, because I am not affected by it), but the “argument” of the post is so badly argued, that it defies belief that it could be taken seriously.

Along what 23 said:
The bottom line about X is this: Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments? If you are anti-X, then no.
You can substitite anything for X.
Example:
The bottom line about infanticide is this: Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments? If you are anti-infanticide, then no.

The remainder of the post is no better: by its “logic” (and I am using the word quite losely here), we should not outlaw anything unless we do not allow any exceptions.

71

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:02 pm

“I would happily support 3rd trimester restrictions, if it would once and for all end this as a political issue.”

Women who discover in the third trimester that the child they are carrying has a defect that is incompatible with life, or that they themselves have an illness that may be worsened by carrying a child to term: too bad! It might be more painful and dangerous for you to carry the child to term and give birth to it “naturally,” but having the pregnancy terminated in the way that’s safest for you is politically divisive, and your life and body are less important than harmony in the body politic.

72

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:05 pm

The infanticide thing is a stupid red herring. I am going to just start deleting comments that equate a fetus in utero to a baby on the grounds that if you don’t know the difference between something that is inside and a part of your body and something that isn’t, you are too stupid to be commenting.

73

shah8 01.20.12 at 11:06 pm

Look, *mpowell*, nobody’s going to listen to you.

Why?

Nobody really gives a shit about debate. On the one hand, you have misogynists largely intent on establishing that a woman’s rights shall be contingent to whatever the men around her think. On the other hand, you have more egalitarian-minded people who think that people engage in moral conducts and that they have a say about what is moral and what isn’t moral.

For instance, what separates our lives, say, from lives in China, is that we have a consensus based approach to organ donation, based on laws that everyone essentially had input on, given how strong people feel about the disposition of bodies. In China, this is not true, especially of the prison population.

If someone started up a campaign that *everyone* must assume that their body parts will be donated upon death to solve some perceived lack of supply, then hell would be raised. For organs that people do.not.need. You wouldn’t be able to have a debate! You don’t see people seriously entertaining the odd libertarian who argue that slavery should be legal, do you?

This all because, as a practical matter, ownership of your body matters. Only people who have been *deprived* of rights generally gets to hear arguments about working in agriculture areas heavily sprayed with pesticide. Only by imposition, could the US spray Roundup on suspected coca fields in foreign countries, regardless of who’s under them. Only by presuming that women have a naturally subordinate state can people get away with having “debates’ about bodily autonomy. Which, if you read the OP carefully, was what it was all about, man. It wasn’t about proving something is right or wrong. It was about saying that our rights depends on not having to have these tendentious debates every time the issue comes up.

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Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:07 pm

62: “my problem is that I’m not actually certain I would reject all claims on use my organs.”

That’s not the question. The question is, do you think that other people have the right to forbid you from rejecting such claims?

75

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:09 pm

60: “If you want to make any progress on this debate you have to actually convince people (not me by the way) that a fetus should not be regarded as an independent person with a right to life”

This is patent question-begging; your implication is that the idea that a fetus is an independent person is the default position, and that somehow we have to prove that this isn’t the case. But it’s a *biological fact* that this isn’t the case. The burden of proof that the fetus is an “independent person” lies with those who want to tell women that they can’t do what we want with our own bodies.

76

Omega Centauri 01.20.12 at 11:13 pm

In any practical consideration of things, the political consequences of allowing abortions for reasons that most people would consider to be frivolous, could be catastrophic. Thats a very strong reason, why demands for absolute rights, as opposed to relative rights, which are compared on a case by case case with other considerations is problematic. I think you are setting up a situation which is antagonistic to people who are 99% (but not 100%) on your side.

I would also state, that the overall social stability of society is more important than the quality of life of any individual member of that society (which applies to male as well as female members). Thats why sex selection should be disallowed. In any case, we are talking about “advanced” societies, where (hopefully) misogynist attitudes towards infants/children are not prevalent.

77

Manta1976 01.20.12 at 11:13 pm

Tedra, so if (or, better, when) medical progress will allow a 2 months fetus to survive outside the womb, we should outlaw abortion at 2 months?

78

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:15 pm

52: “You can be 100% pro-choice without unconditionally trusting people “to make their own moral judgments.” (Making decisions about their own bodies, yes, but that’s not what you said.) “

Read the post again. The first paragraph, in particular. And then let’s talk about who is being passive-aggressive, with this implication that a “goddamn academic site” ought to host more intelligent arguments than the one here.

79

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:16 pm

72: If you’ve got a 2-month fetus in a jar, I don’t care if you want to pass laws forbidding me from killing it. If that fetus is inside someone’s body and you have to get it out to put it in the jar, then sit down.

80

Tedra Osell 01.20.12 at 11:18 pm

“the political consequences of allowing abortions for reasons that most people would consider to be frivolous, could be catastrophic”

Indeed.

81

Manta1976 01.20.12 at 11:21 pm

You are claiming that the right to abortion is based on the “biological fact” that the fetus is not an independent person (I would say independ organism, but whatever): I was trying to point out that scientific progress could change such fact…

82

jack lecou 01.20.12 at 11:21 pm

The question is, do you think that other people have the right to forbid you from rejecting such claims?

In theory, yes.

83

Rich Puchalsky 01.20.12 at 11:21 pm

The ordinary use of “I’m pro-choice” means “I think that abortions should be legal, and I oppose any new restrictions on them.” Someone saying “I’m pro-choice, but I’m uncomfortable with X” is then usually taken to be expressing discomfort, not taken to be suggesting legislation. But it’s not really made clear in the original post which one is meant. Is it OK to have the uncomfortable-ness as long as you don’t suggest that any legislative result should follow? Or is the uncomfortable-ness in itself a bad thing, a basically sexist attitude, like “I’m comfortable with my teenage sons sleeping with people, but uncomfortable with my teenage daughters sleeping with people”?

The post is written to criticize the attitude, mostly. It’s about moral judgement, and “you can’t see that”, etc., not legislation. But this quickly slides back to “you are suggesting laws that control women’s bodies” when people disagree with it.

It’s basically not a very well written post, and it’s being used to be righteously rude to commenters in ways that they can’t be back or they get threatened with banning.

84

shah8 01.20.12 at 11:32 pm

Now, *Rich Puchalsky*, I’ve never seen you be especially useful in a thread started by one of the women posters of Crooked Timber, but I think I’ll push you here.

The issue here is about the maintenance of controversy in order to limit a woman’s right. Part of that maintenance is about the expression of disgust at some x, y, z. Very necessary medical procedures got restricted and banned, simply by encouraging people to be “uncomfortable” about some aspect of rights that people *need*. When one thing is made disgusting, somehow, the “disgust” feeling isn’t relieved. You know, because then the misogynists work on other feelings of anxieties like the image of 11 year old buying prescription pills designed to prevent implantations of fertilized eggs. Being deliberately obtuse to how anti-abortion politics *should* get you jeered as a simple-minded troll.

None of that stops until people, by and large, stop entertaining “debates” about some aspect of a right that other people wish to remove.

Just like Birtherism controversy, or the maintenance of the Clinton “scandals”. Decent people shuts the scandalmongers and “moral” gossipers the fuck up. And the resolution is the same for abortion as it is for Birtherism (and the birther-curious). Understanding that there is no “debate” being had, and anyone who still spouts it is a moron to be socially penalized.

85

salacious 01.20.12 at 11:40 pm

“Understanding that there is no “debate” being had, and anyone who still spouts it is a moron to be socially penalized.”

There is a debate being had. It’s overlaid with misogyny and reactionarism, to be sure. But you can’t simply assume the opposition away–there are people who think that abortion is morally wrong. They may be incorrect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, nor does it mean they are all arguing in bad faith.

86

Sebastian 01.20.12 at 11:45 pm

“I am going to just start deleting comments that equate a fetus in utero to a baby on the grounds that if you don’t know the difference between something that is inside and a part of your body and something that isn’t, you are too stupid to be commenting.”

Well that is certainly one way to win an argument. And it certainly isn’t passive aggressive, so I guess it must be great!

One of the problems is that it is a continuum. Embryo definitely doesn’t equal baby. Fetus ten seconds before crowning is a baby. Different points on the continuum probably allow for different analysis. Which is why for example in France the woman must claim to be in a “state of distress” because of her pregnancy. After 12 weeks, abortions are allowed only if the pregnancy poses a grave danger to the woman’s health or there is a risk the child will suffer from a severe illness recognised as incurable. If this is the case, two doctors must confirm the risk to the health of the woman or foetus.

In woman hating Sweden Between 12 and 18 weeks of gestation, the women must discuss the procedure with a social worker. After 18 weeks, permission must be obtained from the National Board of Health and Welfare which is only granted for grave incurable defects.

It isn’t just the US that notices that continuum. Much of Europe does too.

The fact that you want to rule the consideration of that continuum off limits to the argument just means that if you set the rules to the argument, you tend to win. It is why Palin doesn’t like typical candidate interviews, for example.

87

Manta1976 01.20.12 at 11:47 pm

79:
so if somebody does not agree with your morals (because we are talking about moral judgements here, if I understood correctly), he should be ignored and socially penalized? Or this happens only when you decide that there is no debate to be had?

I would remind that birtherisms and Clinton scandals the discussions were about facts, here instead it’s about rights.

88

shah8 01.20.12 at 11:48 pm

But guess what? How many of those people are speaking not out of ignorance, lack of empathy, or bad faith? I would say, very damned few of them, and Professor Osell knows this, as would any other long observer of this “debate”. And most of them who do care, avoid being associated with the haters far more firmly than you seem to think. Hence that first paragraph in OP about absolute objection to abortion to exemptions for this and that.

Understanding that “It’s overlaid with misogyny and reactionarism”, is all you need, and you can pretty much stop there. Who can have “debates” with people that hate them? Seriously????

89

jack lecou 01.20.12 at 11:51 pm

In theory, yes.

But now I’m not really sure that’s the point.

Even if you take the position that there’s no way, ever that anyone has a right to tell you or me what to do with our own bodies or organs [which is certainly not crazy], and that pregnancy falls into that category [which I certainly agree that it does], it doesn’t follow that this is then a bottom line question of “trust”.

I mean, I think Newt Gingrich has a right to freedom of speech. Yet I don’t trust anything he says. I think Unhealthy McUnhealthyson has right (more or less) to eat anything he pleases, exercise as little as he wants, and get as many bypass operations as his surgeon will perform. Yet I really, really don’t trust him to make healthy decisions.

I might, in a particular mood, even go so far as say something like “I’m uncomfortable with the idea that there are people out there abusing their bodies so much that they are getting multiple cardiac surgeries and still not changing their habits.”

So is the bottom line on heart health that we “trust” people to take care of their organs responsibly? If we don’t “trust” people on something like that, is it a slippery slope straight straight down to force feeding bran muffins and involuntary kidney donations? That sounds strange to me.

But people do certainly have a right, generally speaking, to the autonomy of their own bodies. It’s not really a question of whether we trust everyone with that.

90

shah8 01.20.12 at 11:51 pm

*Manta1976*, Birtherism was fundamentally about how someone didn’t have a legal *right* to be President! OMG! There’s a brand new MORON.

And if you want to go with “facts”, not “rights” with the Clinton scandals, well, all I have to do, is ask you–What were the *material* facts? If you find that there were none that mattered, generally (given the use of public resources) people tends to think rights were violated…

91

shah8 01.20.12 at 11:57 pm

*jack lecou*…

Generally, if you have a right, it’s because society entrusts you those rights, with responsibility that those rights entail. In practice, no rights are ever given without the public assumption of trust. That’s why I perceive your argument as minor pedantry.

92

Manta1976 01.21.12 at 12:03 am

Shah8:
Sorry, I meant “right” in the sense of moral right, not legal one.
Birthers were “debating” a *legal* right, based on the alleged fact that he was not born in US: in fact, when birthers were shutted up when confronted with tangible proofs.

Here instead we are debating a moral right, where different people can legitimately have different opinions (you know the quip: you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts).

93

Billikin 01.21.12 at 12:08 am

Lynne: “Different camps define the issue differently—-I am Canadian and a local MP (Member of Parliament) recently has been making the news by calling for a re-examination of abortion, in particular of “when life begins”. That’s how the anti-choice camp sees the question. There is no obvious way for me to engage in discussion with this MP, should I be tempted to.”

You might let them know that life begins before conception. You can’t make a fetus from a dead egg.

94

Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:13 am

I was trying to point out that scientific progress could change such fact

And I said, if that happens, then that’s a different question.

On the red herring of “to some people the fetus’s right to life is absolute and you can’t argue that away” (or words to that effect): Read. The. First. Paragraph. Of. The. Argument. People.

95

shah8 01.21.12 at 12:13 am

No.

The abortion farce is all about coralling people to the reactionary’s own facts. The OP is explaining that when the absolute restriction on abortion is lifted, then the woman who could have an abortion is the central moral actor, and not society as a whole, and that moral norms should be argued from that centrality, if it must be argued at all. It’s all about the woman’s right to personally judge the facts of her own circumstances according to her *personal* moral and practical axis. In the sense, the girl owns her personal constellation of facts–that’s what central.

96

Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:17 am

One of the problems is that it is a continuum.

No. It isn’t. Either the fetus is attached to and within *someone’s body* or it isn’t.

Ten minutes before crowning it is still attached. Indeed, at that point emergencies do sometimes happen. When they do, docs do what they can to save the woman’s life. Or they damn well should. The fact that at that point saving her life,i.e., “get the baby out of there immediately” is not incompatible with keeping the baby alive is great.

And no, I am not going to entertain scenarios that are basically “but what if you *knew* that the person in front of you had planted a bomb that would go off in 20 seconds, would you torture them *then*?” I would hope that everyone here would recognize arguments of that nature as stupid and irrelevant. I thought everyone did.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:20 am

Someone saying “I’m pro-choice, but I’m uncomfortable with X” is then usually taken to be expressing discomfort, not taken to be suggesting legislation. But it’s not really made clear in the original post which one is meant.

Oh yes it is.

Moreover, what is the *point* of saying “but I’m uncomfortable with X” if it isn’t to imply support for maybe banning X? Do we frequently have discussions along the lines of “I’m uncomfortable with the idea that some people don’t wear underwear” or “I’m uncomfortable with the idea that some people pick their noses”? No, we do not. Because our personal discomfort with what other people do is not something that’s worth discussing in a public forum.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 12:27 am

shah8: “The issue here is about the maintenance of controversy in order to limit a woman’s right. Part of that maintenance is about the expression of disgust at some x, y, z. Very necessary medical procedures got restricted and banned, simply by encouraging people to be “uncomfortable” about some aspect of rights that people need. “

Tedra Osell: “But that’s not what the piece is about: the piece is about people saying “I’m uncomfortable with the imaginary scenario where some teenager realizes at 7 months pregnant that the prom is next month so she willy-nilly decides to get an abortion, and therefore I think third trimester abortions should be illegal.” I’m absolutely fine with people being “uncomfortable” with abortion; I’m not fine with people trying to fucking legislate when others can and can’t get it because of that discomfort.”

Maybe you should argue with Tedra instead, shah8 — because she’s saying something that contradicts you.

Once more: the person who says “I’m pro-choice, but I’m uncomfortable with X” has, insofar I understand the words, already rejected legislation against X. If you want to argue instead that their expression of discomfort is in itself something that they shouldn’t express, because it is encouraged and used for propaganda purposes which eventually affect legislation and regulatory matters, you can. Is that what you want to argue about? Sure, we can if you want. I’m skeptical that it’s propagandized discomfort rather than more-or-less cultural discomfort, but I guess that there’s an argument that people should shut up about it or they’re letting down the side.

And by the way, “Being deliberately obtuse to how anti-abortion politics should get you jeered as a simple-minded troll” — tsk tsk. Very rude. Don’t you know that CT has a new politeness-friendly policy?

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Billikin 01.21.12 at 12:30 am

mpowell: “If you want to make any progress on this debate you have to actually convince people (not me by the way) that a fetus should not be regarded as an independent person with a right to life”

Tedra Osell: “But it’s a biological fact that this isn’t the case.”

Biologically, a fetus is a parasite. It is a separate life form, but not independent. (Might as well offend everybody.)

The alien fetus is the stuff of sci-fi and horror movies. Who would deny a woman the right to abort a non-human fetus? But what if the fetus is human? Suppose that an evil scientist implanted a human embryo in a woman without her consent, perhaps without her knowledge? (Has that film been made yet?) Wouldn’t she have the right to abort it? What about rape? It may be the woman’s own egg, but should she be made to undergo pregnancy without her consent? What difference does rape make? Just because she gave consent at first (if she did) can she not change her mind? If it is immoral for the evil scientist to make a woman give birth to an embryo he implants, if it is immoral for a rapist to make a woman give birth to his child, is it moral for society to make a woman give birth to a fetus? What is in question is not the morality of the woman, but the morality of the rest of us.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 12:30 am

“Moreover, what is the point of saying “but I’m uncomfortable with X” if it isn’t to imply support for maybe banning X? “

Clinton: abortion ought to be “safe, legal, and rare”.

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Sebastian 01.21.12 at 12:31 am

Attached might mean that you have the right to have it unattached. We could discuss that in theory.

Attached doesn’t mean that you have the right to make it dead. That is a rather different proposition.

So for viable fetuses, abortion could be bannable. That doesn’t appear to be your position. Which is your right. And you can even get mad about it. I’m not criticizing that.

But your personal beliefs don’t actually track the vast majority of Americans, or Europeans. Lots of people really do believe it is a continuum. Plugging your ears, calling them evil bigots, and getting mad about it may make you feel better but it isn’t convincing, nor is it some sort of powerful argument.

You’re even attacking people who totally agree with you on policy, but have moral reservations.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:31 am

84: See, you’re treating this discussion as if it’s “merely academic”: we (people in society) *do* go around saying “I’m uncomfortable with abortions in X circumstance” and the clear implication is “maybe X circumstance should be regulated.”

Sure, in a particular mood one *might* say (your example), “I’m uncomfortable with the idea that there are people out there abusing their bodies so much that they are getting multiple cardiac surgeries and still not changing their habits.”

But that kind of thing is very rarely, if ever said–and even here, you’re only allowing that you “might, in a particular mood, go that far.” Whereas that kind of thing is said about abortion all. the. time.

So, this: So is the bottom line on heart health that we “trust” people to take care of their organs responsibly?

Yes, by and large, that is kind of the bottom line. We assume that people generally make decent judgments about their health, and when/if they don’t (addiction, mental illness, lack of health insurance, time, or money to do so) we see that as a *tragedy*, not something that we should pass laws about (unless we want to pass laws that provide people with health care or addiction treatment, but that’s a different thing).

If we don’t “trust” people on something like that, is it a slippery slope straight straight down to force feeding bran muffins and involuntary kidney donations? That sounds strange to me.

Yes, it does sound strange. Because WE GENERALLY DON’T THINK WE SHOULD FORCE PEOPLE, THROUGH LEGISLATION, TO DO THINGS WE THINK ARE MORALLY DESIRABLE WHERE THEIR BODIES ARE CONCERNED. Unless of course those people have uteruses, in which case we do.

(NB: not entirely thrilled with underlying implication that it’s fat people who we are morally judging; in fact, people *do* sometimes say, e.g., that we should deny people health insurance if they are fat, and there have been US employers who have tried to discriminate against fat employees on “health” grounds. A better analogy would be, perhaps, I am personally uncomfortable with people who drive all over the damn place when they could walk, not because of pollution or global warming or what have you, but because I am Concerned that it’s Bad For Their Health And Pocketbooks. It’s pretty hard to imagine saying that without being smacked down right away, isn’t it? And even harder to imagine there being regular public debates about whether or not we should make it illegal to drive any distance under two miles on the grounds that people should walk more because they’ll get to know their neighbors and get more exercise and fresh air that way.)

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:34 am

But your personal beliefs don’t actually track the vast majority of Americans, or Europeans. Lots of people really do believe it is a continuum. Plugging your ears, calling them evil bigots, and getting mad about it may make you feel better but it isn’t convincing, nor is it some sort of powerful argument.

I am neither plugging my ears or calling people evil bigots. And I’m well aware that “the vast majority” of people “feel uncomfortable with” abortion in some cases, and that this discomfort means that abortion is legislated. THAT IS THE POINT OF THE POST.

I would say that if you don’t find it convincing fine, or even concede that maybe my argument could be improved. But it seems clear that you don’t even *understand* the argument I’ve made, so I’m disinclined to do so.

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jack lecou 01.21.12 at 12:36 am

…minor pedantry.

Hmm. Perhaps.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d find a statement along the lines of “bottom line: do you think women have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies?” completely unproblematic. If the equivalent statement about “trust” is indeed just expressing the same idea in different terms, I’m finding it rather opaque.

I guess I’m (probably over-publicly) trying to work out why it is that, while I’m pretty sure I totally agree with the underlying view being expressed in the OP, I find the actual line of reasoning used to be very confusing at best, and possibly pretty flawed.

Looking at the whole thing from the perspective of a lash against those idiots out there spreading anti-choice FUD (intentionally or not) by blurting out all the dumb variations of “I’m pro-choice, but…” helps somewhat. But only somewhat.

The logic (or, at this point, the target) of things like:

“You have an absolute moral position that you don’t trust anyone to question, and therefore you think that abortion should be illegal. But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute. You have an absolute moral position that you don’t trust anyone to question, and therefore you think that abortion should be illegal. But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute.”

still completely escapes me.

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shah8 01.21.12 at 12:36 am

Alright Mr. Slimeball excuse the violation of the friendliness policy, here’s the deal:

I will not take the time to detail the not-unnoticed neglect of casuality, and of “public forum”. Nor will I undertake any long education of changes in social attitudes wrt abortion.

I posit that you can learn all you want, simply by observing what’s been going on in Catholic America, assuming you saw those people as human, of course.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:36 am

Don’t you know that CT has a new politeness-friendly policy?

No, CT has an anti-sexism policy.

the person who says “I’m pro-choice, but I’m uncomfortable with X” has, insofar I understand the words, already rejected legislation against X.

You don’t understand the word “but,” apparently.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:37 am

Biologically, a fetus is a parasite.

Exactly.

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MPAVictoria 01.21.12 at 12:40 am

“Oh yes it is.”

How many people have to be confused by your meaning before you start to think it might be a problem with how you phrased that section?

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piglet 01.21.12 at 12:43 am

Have to agree with many this is a terribly unconvincing article. The question you posed at the beginning is: “Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments?”

And the short answer to that is, not always. All laws are made because as a society don’t always trust individuals’ moral judgments. You can of course argue that abortion is different than rape, infanticide, slavery, pollution or whatever examples people have come up here for the sake of argument. And I agree it is different and therefore I am against banning abortion. But the reason is NOT and cannot be that women’s moral judgment should always be trusted.

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shah8 01.21.12 at 12:49 am

Alright, now just wait a damned minute!

Who’s confusing the fact we’re under the suzerain of a set of laws with rights?

*Piglet*, *rights* are all about how laws *must* navigate people’s spheres of interest, and not impose willy-nilly! Rights are about the areas of private, public, life in which the suzerain *must* trust the moral and practical inclinations of their subjects! Otherwise, we would live in a totalitarian society!

Geeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzzzz Loooooooouuuuuuuiiiiiissseee!

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Sebastian 01.21.12 at 12:51 am

I understand your argument. I disagree with its premise. In fact I’m pretty sure that YOU don’t even agree with its premise.

The idea that we shouldn’t pass laws that interfere with individual moral judgments would be a radical political philosophy that would have all sorts of implications I’m certain you don’t believe.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:54 am

103: How many people have to be confused by your meaning before you start to think it might be a problem with how you phrased that section?

My presumption is that there is a problem with people really understanding the extent to which they’ve internalized the cultural sexism that says that women’s bodies are public property. I think I’ve said that very clearly in this piece, which as I said I have reposted more than once. In part because I have received a great deal of positive feedback on it.

Not here, clearly. But given that CT has a recent “new comment policy” specifically dealing with sexist comments, I think there’s grounds for my presumption that the comments, not the article, are the problem.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 12:55 am

106: You misunderstand the premise. That is not what I am arguing.

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shah8 01.21.12 at 12:59 am

*Sebastian*, the point isn’t that we shouldn’t pass laws that interfere with individual moral judgements.

The point is that an uninterested third party is not supposed to have a standing in how the state approach the actions of an individual. If a woman having an abortion materially impinges on another party~maybe there is an argument. However, in general, the law is supposed to mediate disputes between people and people with organs of the state. Otherwise, there is no there there. That’s why we have these ridiculous fetal life laws being attempted. So people pretending to advocate for the fetus can easily act on a woman via legal procedures.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 1:00 am

“No, CT has an anti-sexism policy.”

Yeah, right. What that means in practice is that shah8, someone who I have no idea of the gender identity of, can call me Mr. Slimeball, but if I wrote that back I’d be being sexist.

If all the post means is “Don’t support legislation or regulations that take away a woman’s ability to decide for herself what to do in these matters, and have her decision carried out safely and legally” then I fully agree. But it really looks like it’s saying more than that. shah8, for instance, seems to think that only an obtuse troll wouldn’t understand that public expression of discomfort equates to implicit support of antiabortion propaganda or framing.

Why does it come up so often in public? Well, it’s a contentious topic. Not only that, there was a whole countervailing political strategy from the pro-choice side, the “safe, legal, and rare” bit — the Clintonian bid for empathy via expression of discomfort, coupled with a policy that kept abortion legal, and reinforced the necessity for support of various kinds of family support and early intervention that would mean that fewer woman would feel it necessary to have abortions. It’s certainly possible to say that that whole line was a bad idea, but it’s still a pro-choice line.

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Wax Banks 01.21.12 at 1:00 am

Biologically, a fetus is a parasite. It is a separate life form, but not independent. (Might as well offend everybody.)

I was going to say a version of the same thing. (I’m not sure parasitism is the ideal rhetorical frame — it’s too easily whipped out for a bit of demagoguing — but it’s better than some alternatives presented here.) I think T.O.’s boldfaced ‘it’s a biological fact’ bit threatens to run off the rails — a viable fetus may well be just as ‘independent’ as, say, an elderly patient relying on a live-in nurse and $1,000/mo of medication, and in the greater sense (yes this matters, no it’s not just hippie nonsense) there’s no such thing as true ‘biological independence’ anyway. Only degrees of connectedness and distance.

We should avoid allowing ourselves to pretend otherwise to score political points — especially against folks ‘on the same side,’ right?!

Well, when the rhetoric is ‘you’re nothing without me,’ someone’s being fucked with, and pro-abortion arguments don’t need it.

Also, I don’t think infanticide should be a forbidden comparison; birth may be the easiest point at which to draw the legal boundary between ‘freely killable’ and ‘citizen,’ but anyone who’s cared for an infant knows that a 2-week-old isn’t so different from a fetus anyhow — and that the (academic?) exercise of considering legal infanticide (for, say, the ‘fourth trimester’ in Harvey Karp’s terms — a time of total neonatal dependence) might clear the way for a maximalist position on abortion rights without relying on total self-centeredness with all its collateral social damage. Even if you then turn around and say, ‘Let’s make birth the bright legal line anyhow.’

My wife says this sort of comment is too much a flight of fancy for what is, ultimately, a pragmatic argument about real women’s access to abortion, and OK she’s right in the big picture — but the original post is about patrolling morality, so this kind of exercise doesn’t seem totally out of place to me. Feel free to tell me otherwise.

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MPAVictoria 01.21.12 at 1:11 am

“No, it still isn’t about abortion. It’s about the broader social context that leads women to think that it would be preferable to undergo a medical or surgical procedure to abort a wanted pregnancy than to bear a child of the “wrong” sex. Making it about abortion ignores the larger context and implies, as I pointed out in my first response to this particular red herring, that it would be better, somehow, if women couldn’t have sex-selective abortions despite living in a society where they, as women, are so undervalued that they, as women, think it would be better not to have girls who will grow up to be women like themselves. In other words, if you’re saying sex-selective abortion should be illegal—and again, I am talking about laws regulating abortion here, not how one personally feels about what one would personally do—you’re saying that the lives and autonomy of those women is less important than having a sex-balanced society.

Which, you know, fine; someone can make that argument. I am not going to buy it, because I think that women, being people, are part of “society” and that therefore their quality of life matters as much as that of men.”

You are clearly having an argument with someone else because your response has almost nothing to do with what I actually wrote. I am a pro-choice absolutist. That does not mean I cannot be concerned about issues related to why woman may feel pressured to have an abortion.

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jack lecou 01.21.12 at 1:12 am

Yes, by and large, that is kind of the bottom line. We assume that people generally make decent judgments about their health, and when/if they don’t (addiction, mental illness, lack of health insurance, time, or money to do so) we see that as a tragedy, not something that we should pass laws about (unless we want to pass laws that provide people with health care or addiction treatment, but that’s a different thing).

But I absolutely don’t assume that people generally make decent judgments about their health. I’ll credit most people with good intentions, I guess. And it’s true there’s probably some room left for us to make even worse decisions. But when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t even come close to assuming that the ones most people actually make most of the time are necessarily particularly good.

And yes, this is a tragedy. And yet I do not find this undermines my view that forced diet and exercise plans would be a rotten idea. Or that doctors ought not to be able to order us around without consent. Because I think we retain a right to make our own decisions on the matter despite our apparent widespread abuse of the “privilege”.

And of course, even though I think this is a pretty fundamental right, I can readily think of exceptions. Circumstances where our mistrust of particular people’s judgment is heightened and intervention is justified (e.g., forced treatment for addicts or the the mentally ill), or in ways where we might improve decisionmaking without being excessively intrusive (e.g., regulation of what food and beverages are available — or at least for how much). So it’s hardly an absolute rule.

Likewise abortion. To the extent that I think I might understand your argument, I think resting it on at least this sort of “trust” seems like it weakens it. I really don’t know that I’d say I, or society as a whole, “trusts” a given woman – let’s say a 15 year old girl – to make the best decision about an abortion, or anything else. The truth is I’ve never really even thought about it – because it’s not about whether I trust her. It’s her right (or ought to be) to make her own decision – and mistakes. And there’s really no reason that it should be any of my business.

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piglet 01.21.12 at 1:13 am

81: “It isn’t just the US that notices that continuum. Much of Europe does too.”

Sebastian is right. In my understanding, few if any European countries have fewer legal restriction on abortion than the US does. The US does have more restrictions of the kind “it’s legal but you can’t do it here”, or “you have to pay out of pocket”, but legally speaking, even the Netherlands and France (not even to mention Germany) have restrictions on abortion that Tedra Osell and perhaps most US feminists would find outrageous.

Does that matter to this (mostly US-centered) debate? Maybe not. But I wonder whether Osell thinks that these regulations are absolutely hopelessly sexist and unjustifiable. And it would be interesting to hear what European feminists have to say about this.

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Sebastian 01.21.12 at 1:16 am

“My presumption is that there is a problem with people really understanding the extent to which they’ve internalized the cultural sexism that says that women’s bodies are public property. I think I’ve said that very clearly in this piece, which as I said I have reposted more than once. In part because I have received a great deal of positive feedback on it.”

From whom though? If they already agree with you, that doesn’t really test how convincing it is.

Your position seems to lack understanding of the extent to which you’ve internalized the cultural othering of the fetus to the extent that you completely dismiss any considerations/problems surrounding the fetus. You casually condemn even viable fetuses to death, and seem angry that anyone would dare to feel the slightest qualm about it.

I’m sure that sounds more convincing to someone who is already pro-life…

“… unless you have an absolute position that all human life (arguably, all life period, but that isn’t the argument I’m engaging with right now) are equally valuable (in which case, no exceptions for the death penalty…then there is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women. I am completely serious about this.”

The problem is that you have an unstated premise that laws OUGHT not be about a lack of trust. But of course they are. Laws almost never trust people to follow their own moral guide. But without your unstated premise, this statement is banal and definitely not sexist.

OF COURSE, if the society decides that 7th month abortions are immoral, it won’t trust those women who think otherwise to follow their own moral code and have everything work out.

Duh. But that isn’t an indictment of the system at all unless you think that something is wrong with society doing that. And since you aren’t a libertarian, I know you don’t believe that. So your argument ends up with some pretty serious internal inconsistencies.

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Wax Banks 01.21.12 at 1:16 am

…given that CT has a recent “new comment policy” specifically dealing with sexist comments, I think there’s grounds for my presumption that the comments, not the article, are the problem.

Quite possible. Alternatively, consider that you did repost an example of one species of blog post to a community clusterfuck that gathers to discuss different kinds of blog posts — among them philosophical mini-essays where argumentative rigour is more important than e.g. solidarity, which is often just kinda assumed — and the responses fit that pattern, maybe neutrally so? And that you’re defending your post as wide-angle cultural critique while spending much of your energy criticizing allies in particular for not being allied in the right way?

All of which is fine with me, but let’s not make the thread uglier than it already is by waving the ‘y’all are misogynists straight up’ flag just yet

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shah8 01.21.12 at 1:18 am

Addressing that last para, *jack lecou*, what do you think of Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebellius actions when she overruled a panel of scientists (well, they can’t be trusted to think of the right, in the *earthy* sense), on Plan B? On which she essentially said that the State shouldn’t trust minors with OTC drugs that are more or less safe, but culturally controversial?

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:19 am

99: Let me try to reframe this bit, then:

“You have an absolute moral position that you don’t trust anyone to question, and therefore you think that abortion should be illegal. But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute.”

It makes sense to me that someone who believes as a moral question that all human life, in whatever form, should be preserved (supposedly the Catholic position, e.g.) would be against abortion–and indeed, there are people who oppose abortions under *any* circumstances on those grounds. No exceptions for rape or incest (I suppose one could get into complicated philosophical discussions about situations where, say, a woman’s life is in danger because of an unviable fetus–it’s still “alive” after all–though generally I think that people who say that women shouldn’t abort even under those circumstances are putting too much weight on the “innocent” life. But I can accept as consistent the idea that, say, in a situation where one life must end–the trolley scenario–the moral position is not to act, i.e., I’m not going to push someone onto the tracks to save a trolley full of kids because that is a positive action that would cause someone’s death. Okay.)

So that kind of a position is at least logically consistent, and I respect that person’s moral clarity, even if I disagree with its basis. So far so good.

But if instead one says “I think abortion is bad *except under these circumstances,” then there’s an acknowledgement–is there not?–that there are some circumstances under which the moral badness of abortion is less morally bad than something else. So now we’re arguing about who gets to make those moral judgments, yes? Either we end up saying “the pregnant woman gets to do so”–in which case, regulating abortion is wrong–or we end up saying “we, as a society get to do so.”

And I think that the latter is extremely hubristic. Particularly because I have never seen an argument of that nature that doesn’t on some level come down to passing judgment on whether or not the pregnant woman is “good” enough to choose: she got raped, okay, it’s not her “fault.” Incest, ditto. Second-trimester abortions, well, why didn’t she get an abortion earlier? Did she just procrastinate? Then no, it’s her “fault” and she doesn’t get one, but if, say, her husband was abusive and she only just escaped, or she only just found out she’s pregnant, then okay, she’s “innocent” and she can have an abortion.

None of those are about the status of the fetus; they’re about passing judgment on women, and denying them medical procedures because we think they’re bad people. Which is wrong.

Moreover, I *have* seen–repeatedly–situations where someone starts with “I’m uncomfortable with X” (where X is an abstraction) and then there’s a discussion in which *specific women with specific situations* needed X–and then the speaker, if they’re starting from the “pro choice but” position ends up saying “oh, well in *that* case.” “I’m uncomfortable with sex-selective abortions.” “Okay, well, here’s a case where women who don’t produce sons are more likely to be beaten.” “Well in that case you can’t blame them.” “I’m uncomfortable with people choosing abortion instead of adoption.” “Here, read what some women have to say about what that was like.” “Oh dear god, I guess I’d never realized how traumatic adoption can be.”

The point is that whatever follows after the “but” is virtually always based on someone who *hasn’t been in that circumstance* failing to imagine what the conditions actually are like for people who are. Which I think is a common enough thing: we can’t imagine every possible scenario.

Therefore, I think that the “but I’m uncomfortable with” is a shitty argument. Because it’s based on the idea that we know about something that we actually don’t, *and* because, in the context of the abortion debate, it constitutes a concession that maybe *some* women’s abortions should be restricted, based on our speculative ideas rather than their actual lives.

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Mike 01.21.12 at 1:20 am

92: One reason someone might say that “I support X, but I’m uncomfortable with some possible implication of it” is to underscore how strongly they support it on principle, or how important they think the principle is. I suspect that that was the rhetorical device being used in some of the comments here–I thought that was the case in comments 5 through 7 but I could be totally off about that. Of course, I don’t think this is the case every or even most of the time, but it’s not nonexistent.

I could see there still being a chilling effect from it, though, particularly the wording. “I support X, but I’m uncomfortable with it” probably isn’t as good “Despite my irrational uncomfortable with X/implication of X, I still support it and think it’s important to do so.”

On a personal note (hopefully not too personal to be inappropriate for this public forum), one of the things I’ve struggled with in trying to be less of a unthinking, privileged, sexist jerk is accepting that it’s okay (to a degree) to be uncomfortable with the implications of an idea while still supporting that idea on principle. That is, if something makes me uncomfortable, it’s easy to just say fuck it and return to the comfort of unthinking privilege. I suspect others have the same issue, so I’ve thought for a while that promoting the “discomfort is okay” meme would be helpful for decreasing the culture of sexism. Your posts are giving me second thoughts–I hadn’t considered that it would just reinforce the normality of sexism.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:21 am

Shah8, chill out a bit.

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shah8 01.21.12 at 1:22 am

*piglet*…

Europe is practically more restrictive about women’s right to work as well. But we aren’t having that conversation where we talk about the *reasons* for either of the differences, like, oh, the lack of a state church in the US, now, are we?

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jack lecou 01.21.12 at 1:23 am

…what do you think of Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebellius actions…

I think that action was pretty despicable.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:23 am

111: a viable fetus may well be just as ‘independent’ as, say, an elderly patient relying on a live-in nurse and $1,000/mo of medication

No, it isn’t. And a two-week old infant is *very* different from a fetus in a very salient way: I can literally walk away from an infant. A pregnant woman cannot walk away from her fetus, nor can she transfer the care of it to someone else.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:26 am

113: That does not mean I cannot be concerned about issues related to why woman may feel pressured to have an abortion.

Concerned about why women would feel pressured to have an abortion is not the same thing as being concerned about abortion itself. That’s been my only difference with you.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:27 am

113: I really don’t know that I’d say I, or society as a whole, “trusts” a given woman

Aha! I’m not saying that we should trust all individual women. I’m saying that the argument about what abortions we are or aren’t “comfortable” with demonstrates a lack of trust for women *as a class*.

Comity?

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David 01.21.12 at 1:32 am

I’ve probably been pro-choice since before you were born. And I don’t “but” my commitment. But the smug satisfaction with which this piece was proclaimed to about the best thing since sliced bread is rather annoying and doesn’t seem to hold up. And, re politeness, there is the tag so that you can make an emphatic point without shouting. Or am I merely being a pig for pointing that out?

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chris 01.21.12 at 1:34 am

Even if you take the position that there’s no way, ever that anyone has a right to tell you or me what to do with our own bodies or organs [which is certainly not crazy]

It certainly is crazy if you don’t add more qualifiers. If nobody has a right to tell me what to do with my own body and organs, then nobody has a right to tell me not to wrap my hands around your throat and squeeze as hard as I can — they’re my hands, aren’t they? Don’t you trust me to decide what to do with them?

If my right to squeeze things with my hands ends where your throat begins, then we’re right back at “what is a person that thou art mindful of him/her” a/k/a “whose body is it anyway”. Which is intractable precisely because it isn’t empirical or susceptible to evidence.

a pregnant woman is literally building the baby.

Technically, no: they’re literally supplying all the building materials and removing the waste products. The actual construction is directed from the inside, by the fetus’s own DNA.

The placenta is an *interface*. It’s not unreasonable to regard the things on opposite sides of it as different things. And if one of those things is a person, why isn’t the other?

Personally, I answer this by valuing minds, not bodies. The fetus doesn’t have one, so its “interests” are less worthy of consideration. But I don’t want to digress further.

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David 01.21.12 at 1:34 am

Although that didn’t behave like I would expect a tag to behave. Should have put it in quotes, perhaps.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:35 am

114: I wonder whether Osell thinks that these regulations are absolutely hopelessly sexist and unjustifiable. And it would be interesting to hear what European feminists have to say about this.

I think they’re sexist, yes. *Broadly speaking* I think that restrictions in circumstances where (for instance) there are better protections for women against poverty and abuse than there are here are less morally appalling. So, for instance, if first-trimester abortions were available everywhere, paid for by public health funds, and so forth, then I’d be more willing to accept some restrictions on later abortions *even though* I think that ultimately those restrictions are sexist (just as I’m willing to, say, wear makeup under some circumstances, even though I know it’s sexist).

Also I am not opposed to the idea that medical procedures aren’t really an “on demand” thing, and that people ought to be willing to listen to a doctor’s advice.

More than that, frankly, I would have to know a lot more about what kinds of specific regulations we’re talking about and what support there is, if any, for women who might be seeking abortions under X circumstances.

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shah8 01.21.12 at 1:36 am

I’ve never responded to the watch your tone argument very well, from anyone–and I felt the *fastest* way to rebut is a demonstration of why what Mr. Puchalsky thinks is behind bright lines, is, in fact not so. Just without any question-begging.

I also am not reacting well because exactly this sort of controversy is going on in Mexico, where anti-abortion have made even exceptions to rape or mother’s health controversial because it was the only way to enact *new* anti-abortion laws (as a means to support Catholic social power).

In general, a robust society is one that just doesn’t let these things fly, because people will always find a way to nitpick, remove progressive laws, and put in place reactionary laws. Abruptness is a virtue in this situation. Always has been, and always will.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:36 am

115: From whom though? If they already agree with you, that doesn’t really test how convincing it is.

As a matter of fact, I have had people tell me that they were not particularly pro-choice until they thought about what I’d said. So there.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:38 am

116: Fair enough. It’s entirely possible that that first comment right out of the box got my hackles up unduly. Though the ensuing discussion hasn’t particularly reassured me, fwiw.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:41 am

129: I am not a fan of “watch your tone” either. It’s more the name-calling specifically than anger. If name-calling doesn’t specifically violate the CT policy (I think it does, but haven’t gone to look it up today), it certainly violates my own line between “heated discussion” and “okay, we’re losing our heads here and the argument will still be here tomorrow, so let’s take a break.”

Plus I don’t like seeing comment threads turn into arguments between two people, which is where that kind of thing tends to lead.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:44 am

the smug satisfaction with which this piece was proclaimed to about the best thing since sliced bread

“Smug”? I do think it’s the clearest argument I’ve seen. You don’t have to agree, but I don’t have to hide my light under a bushel, which is something that women do far, far too often because it’s unladylike to brag.

No, I am not saying that what you said is sexist. It’s definitely rude, though.

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shah8 01.21.12 at 1:45 am

Understood. I knew I was pushing it when I did it, and reasoned that people would see it for snark.

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T. Paine 01.21.12 at 1:52 am

I never said this the first time I read this, way back when: Thank you for this.

Your piece really prompted me to think more deeply about choice and feminism and being an ally, and also to begin explicitly identifying as a feminist. I was pro-choice before, but this helped me articulate my own moral intuition about the issue, and become a more effective advocate on a host of issues as a feminist.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:53 am

126: Technically, no: they’re literally supplying all the building materials and removing the waste products. The actual construction is directed from the inside, by the fetus’s own DNA.

The placenta is an interface. It’s not unreasonable to regard the things on opposite sides of it as different things. And if one of those things is a person, why isn’t the other?

I think technically yes: the DNA directs the construction, too, but the actual materials and the energy with which they are put together comes from mama. The DNA is a blueprint, absolutely, but creating and supplying the building materials, as you put it, is the building part.

And sure, I don’t disagree that a woman /= a fetus and vice versa. They are different things. Feel free to call them both people. But inasmuch as the fetus-person is physically wired in, if you will, to the mother-person’s plumbing and energy supply, etc., they aren’t *separate* things.

I’m a lot more instrumental than you are: I don’t think that the “mind” is the issue (not least because I don’t want to get into trying to define what constitutes a “mind”). I think that the wired-in, not-separate part is the issue. Fetuses do not grow in jars; they grow in women. Why do people always want to abstract that??

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 1:54 am

135: Thanks.

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jack lecou 01.21.12 at 1:59 am

And I think that the latter is extremely hubristic. Particularly because I have never seen an argument of that nature that doesn’t on some level come down to passing judgment on whether or not the pregnant woman is “good” enough to choose: she got raped, okay, it’s not her “fault.” Incest, ditto. Second-trimester abortions, well, why didn’t she get an abortion earlier? Did she just procrastinate? Then no, it’s her “fault” and she doesn’t get one, but if, say, her husband was abusive and she only just escaped, or she only just found out she’s pregnant, then okay, she’s “innocent” and she can have an abortion.

Ok. That all makes much more sense.

And I agree with you pragmatically (if that’s the word). In the real world, the people making those kind of arguments almost always do turn out to be creepily passing judgment on different women’s “virtue” one way or another.

But. I don’t think the arguments themselves necessarily rely on that. Rape or incest exceptions, for example. Do most people putting that idea forward think about it in terms of the woman’s “innocence” or whatever? Yes, probably. But is there also a sense in which it really can be about the status of the fetus? Is it at least possible to make a logically consistent claim that the fetus is in some sense different — “illegitimate”, “unnatural”, whatever — as a result of the circumstances of conception, so the blanket rule about abortion (of “legitimate”/”natural” fetuses) doesn’t apply? It seems so to me.

To the extent that they might exist in the wild at all, those versions of the argument are certainly buttressed (or drowned out) by the creepy hypocritical ones. But that doesn’t actually mean they are themselves inconsistent. Your original post did not seem to leave room for that.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 2:17 am

Here’s another analogy, and then I am going to go make dinner for my unaborted child and leave the thread to do what it will overnight.

I am personally really uptight about and uncomfortable with illegal drugs. But when I’m discussing drug policy or laws, it doesn’t even occur to me to mention that. (And I don’t think non-drug-users generally make a point of saying that they aren’t users in such discussions, either, unless they are asserting that no one should use drugs, after all, they don’t.) The only reason I can imagine ever thinking to do so would be to somehow demonstrate that even though I think drug law is stupid, I am not myself a drug user–and the only reason I can think that I’d want to do that is that I think drug use is “bad”. Which I don’t.

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jack lecou 01.21.12 at 2:21 am

I’m not saying that we should trust all individual women. I’m saying that the argument about what abortions we are or aren’t “comfortable” with demonstrates a lack of trust for women as a class.

I’m going to have to think about that. I mean, yes, I think the “comfortable” arguments (if you can even call them that) obviously bespeak a certain lack of trust.

I suppose I would agree at least so far as saying that I recognize that such arguments are made with…unusual frequency when it comes to abortion (or women having sex or making decisions in general), and that is certainly symptomatic of our society’s bigger sexism problem. But the “bottom line” business troubles me. I’d say those arguments are not expressing mistrust per se. That’s just the surface cover for the more basic sexism that lies underneath. And what’s underneath isn’t about trust and “good” choices at all, it’s about whether women are real people who ought to even be allowed to make decisions in the first place.

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Omega Centauri 01.21.12 at 2:56 am

I wish some would quit equating, anti-abortion (even in its weakest forms), with sexist. Most of the anti people I know (and I’ve known far too many), do so because of sincerely held religious convictions (which I think are wrong and reprehensible). So the equation is incorrect, and offensive. That’s no different then being called a baby-killer in public because you don’t buy into the conservative agenda.

I think part of the problem with the argument against people who are pro-choice..but…, comes about because they don’t realize they are being unwilling dupes of the extreme anti-crowd. Far better to start off by explaining to them that they are unwittingly moving the Overton window the wrong way, and that they should be more attentive to that possibilty. I’d be quite willing to consider that possibility, if it was introduced to me that way, rather than by something which (probably mistakeningly) reads like a moral condemnation of me. We’ve all been guilty of occasionally echoing a conservative talking point, without realizing how we are being used (I’ve caught myself a few times).

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Sebastian(1) 01.21.12 at 3:00 am

I’ve read and re-read the post. It’s especially the first paragraph that makes this argument confusing for me.
If the discussion ends with “a fetus is part of a woman’s body” I don’t understand why people who think that “have an absolute position that all human life (…) are equally valuable” get an exemption, but people who think that all (human) life has some value, but that value develops on a continuum, don’t?

Without the first part, I can see how “my body, my choice” is really the end of the debate.
But once you allow that an absolute moral position allows for a logical absolute anti-abortion position, I just don’t see why you think that a gradual moral view doesn’t allow for a position that, in some circumstances, prioritizes the value of life of the (unborn) fetus over the woman’s right to determine what happens with her own body.

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mclaren 01.21.12 at 3:10 am

Frankly, I agree with Tedra. Having any kind of public “debate” about abortion shows that in America, women are treated as a kind of pet. You don’t ask your pet whether it wants to be spayed, but you might be “uncomfortable” about it. It’s really interesting to turn it around and ask whether we should have a public debate about whether to pass a law preventing all men from, say, having vasectomies. Males tend to come unglued.

It’s also worth asking why women aren’t trusted in America. I suspect it’s because an overwhelming majority of the most powerful pols in America (think: senate, supreme court, president, etc.) are male.

When 50% or more of the senators are women, I predict the “debate” about abortion will magically fade away.

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Patrick 01.21.12 at 3:41 am

If you argue for a moral conclusion on X due to Y and Z, and someone points out that Y and Z are true of some other matter, but that the moral conclusion you reach on the other matter is the opposite of what you reached on X, it is no answer to bring in a new concern Q to justify the difference.

To do so is to concede that your original argument was faulty in precisely the way your critic claimed. It is a surrender, not a defense.

The OP’s entire argument only works if we spot the OP the unstated premise, “The survival or well being of a fetus can have no value that society should protect by law.” But if we spot that, there isn’t much of a debate left to be had. So what work does the argument do, except as polemic?

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faustusnotes 01.21.12 at 4:10 am

Maybe because I’m Australian, I thought the abortion debate had matured to the point where everyone understood it was possible to be anti-abortion but pro-choice. On the basis of trusting women to make moral decisions. “I wouldn’t do it myself, but …”

But then, I also thought it was possible to be pro-choice but recognize that things get morally murky in the third trimester. And Tedra, all your comments about third trimester abortions on this thread seem to be based on the assumption that the abortion would be a medical emergency. So are you tacitly giving ground on women being legally able to abort right up until the day they give birth?

I personally am not opposed to abortion for “trivial” reasons like sex selection or wanting to fit into your prom dress. Either the woman gets to make her own choice, or she doesn’t. It’s not my business to judge her reasons. And if sex selection were to become a social problem, well we can cross that bridge when we’ve burnt it.

I’m another reader who is confused by some parts of this post. Are you saying that Wolf is anti-abortion? Is her statement of discomfort reflective of her actual legislative program? Or are you ascribing bad faith motives to her and people who agree with her?

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Bruce Baugh 01.21.12 at 6:50 am

Ugh. Threads like this give me so many misandrist moments.

Comparison time. How many of the regulars here would want to respect this argument? “Nazi-flavored right-wing arguments make me uncomfortable. I’m in favor of free speech, but I feel like probably the Skokie decision went the wrong way, and I want anything that seems to me neo-Nazi-ish now to be suppressed. You shouldn’t call me opposed to free speech, it’s just that I want the law to balance my concerns about right wingers alongside others’ speech, and to take my objections very seriously.”

We would, I presume, pretty much all say two things:

#1. “Dude, you should stop talking about your absolute commitment to free speech.”

#2. “Dude, you can be as uncomfortable as you like, but that’s your problem to deal with. It’s not up to the rest of us to speak or not speak just because you’re uncomfortable.”

But then that’s not the best of comparisons, because speech is not a gendered thing – men, women, all kinds of people talk. There simply are no male-specific issues in which basic functions of male bodies are taken as open to discussion by everyone and subject to control based on the comfort or lack thereof on the part of people who aren’t male. Maybe if there were a history of laws requiring males to demonstrate to the satisfaction of everyone in the vicinity that they have no erections in public places except with the permission of anyone present, and of treating males who objected as presumptively guilty of trespassing against the social fabric and pressuring them heavily to conform, and certainly to shut up about any objections they had to specific complaints from others.

Then people could say “Of course I’m in favor of normal male sexuality, I just don’t think they should exercise it until it’s been cleared by everyone who might have to be aware of it.”

That still doesn’t get at it quite, but the very fact that it seems so weird may suggest something to someone outside my head. Men going on about their comfort zones and the burdens these properly place on fertile and pregnant women have, in general, not a damn clue what they’re on about, in terms of what it means to the subjects of their babble. In this thread, as in society at large, there just seems to be no general awareness of how unusual and weird it is to have such discourse taken seriously. Men who’d readily agree that they would need to consult others to understand the impact of policies toward people much richer or poorer than them, much more or less or different employed, and who’d agree that their impulses and guesses in these matters should yield in the face of data and others’ experience, find it soooooo hard to do the same with regard to women.

That sucks. And not in a good way.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 7:22 am

Bruce, is this really about men going on about their comfort zones? Here’s what the original post had:

“When pro-choice feminists like Wolf, or liberal men, or a lot of women, even, say things like, “I’m pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with… “

There’s one named person there — Naomi Wolf, presumably, unless I’m mixing her up with another Wolf. Is she a man going on about her comfort zone? For that matter, I haven’t followed her opinions over time in any detail, but did she really ever suggest abortion restrictions? My impression was that she suggested talking about abortion in a way that Tedra Osell doesn’t like. And snarky shah8 agrees with me — the problem isn’t the suggestion of legal restrictions, which I’ve seen approximately no one here suggest except for the people who were anti-abortion to begin with; the problem is that people are talking about this in the wrong way by saying that yes, society regulates all sorts of personal decisions that people make about their bodies, and society can regulate this too even if they really shouldn’t.

“You pro-choice people are talking about this in the wrong way” does not exactly make a great condemnation, unless you really want it to. And “why do people feel like they can discuss abortion as if it’s any other social issue?” really fails when the original post was about abortion as a social issue. Obviously we’re going to have to talk about it as long as society is. Yeah, it shouldn’t be a live issue, but neither should gay marriage, killing people with drones, or a whole bunch of other stupid things that our society does, and we’re not going to stop talking about those either.

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faustusnotes 01.21.12 at 7:35 am

The reference is probably to this, Rich.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 7:50 am

That’s what I thought, faustusnotes, although again I haven’t followed her writing enough to say whether it could be something else. Here’s a quote from the article you linked:

“Arguing for a new “pro-choice rhetoric,” Wolf appeals for the termination of all euphemism and denial in the hope of securing to the pro-choice movement the essential “ethical core” that it has lacked. “

which matches my memory of what it was from the first time I heard about it. And yeah, there’s no ban on abortion because of uncomfortable-ness there. Just different rhetoric and a different moral argument.

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billie 01.21.12 at 8:05 am

While it remains the woman’s responsibility to feed, house and educate her offspring, then you should accept the woman’s judgement as to whether she has the resources to adequately rear this foetus to independent responsible adulthood.

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Meredith 01.21.12 at 8:08 am

Sorry, Tedra, for coming so late to this important post. I haven’t the patience to read all the comments now (so late — will return). But dammit! If there’s anything that living in a woman’s body teaches you (and why doesn’t living in a man’s body teach this? it’s not as if male bodies don’t do things that are “other” to it — those wet-dreams and pesky erections and all — those experiences + a little imagination should go further), it’s that the I-thou and I-3rd persons stuff is complicated. Which is, after all, why a woman even bothers to give ear to people telling her that she should consider dying to save this not-yet born entity growing inside her (is “entity” neutral enough?). (Or should I live,or live sanely, to raise — and feed — my other children? Hey, most abortions are about that, folks.)
The best test, I think, of this whole issue: when “the mother’s (breathing in and out) life is at stake.” Gee, even before Roe, a pregnant woman whose life was at stake due to pregnancy could get a legal abortion in the US in a standard hospital, any old doctor, no big deal (legally). I guess the Catholic/Santorum position is at least consistent here: woman should die for person-to-be (my interested paraphrase, the “to-be” bit). Do they realize that’s our usual inclination in the first place? How handy that the father doesn’t have to die, too. Oh, I forgot: he’s a warrior, risking his life in battle — the age-old analogue. Those warrior fathers all around us!
Why don’t people trust women to make choices that (on the whole) will be informed by love, generosity, compassion, hopes for others’ future, and a healthy sense of their place in all this? When that’s what most women do, certainly try to do, all the time? What else are women’s lives mostly all about? It is, as Tedra’s post expresses, frustrating to be doubted about what we most devote ourselves to — others. Like we can’t win. And as if people fear, are in dread, that if women — rather, more specifically, mothers — no longer were totally and utterly self-sacrificing, the whole edifice would fall.
My response as “responsible mother” to everyone: grow up.

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Bruce Baugh 01.21.12 at 10:52 am

Meredith: With guys, I think, you run into the difference between “my experience offers me chances to learn…” and “I wish to learn from this experience that…” :)

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Manta1976 01.21.12 at 10:59 am

Dear Tedra,
after reading your answers & clarifications, I think I understand your argument better (but the original piece was clearer: by deleting the initial part of the post, you made the context more murky), but I still find it faulty.
Consider the following prohibitions against:
1) selling a kidney on e-bay
2) driving without wearing a seat belt
3) working in a dangerous enviromnent without wearing suitable protections (just to be clear: I am not asking if you think that the employer should be forced to offer e.g. protective headgear; I am asking if the employee should be forced to wear it)

Do you think that they should be forbidden (I do…)?
Or do you think, for instance
“That you don’t think that [a woman who is selling his kindey] think through the very questions that you, sitting there in your easy chair, can come up with. That a woman who is contemplating an invasive [..] and uncomfortable medical procedure doesn’t think it through first. In short, that your judgment is better than hers.”?

A different question: what do you think about laws forbidding cruelty against animals?

Since you are using this kind of argument to bash other feminists for not being consistent enough, I think you should try to clarify (and apologies if I might seem a bit dense…).

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Manta1976 01.21.12 at 11:14 am

To clarify about the reason why I asked your opinion about animal cruelty: my reason for wanting it forbidden is that I feel very unconfortable with it.

So, your (apparent) claim that “feeling unconfortable with something” is not a good enough reason for wanting to forbid it does not fly with me.

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mollymooly 01.21.12 at 11:25 am

There are many people whose thoughts on abortion might be characterised as confused, conflicted, woolly, incoherent, logically inconsistent, etc. A pro-choice advocate might privately ascribe these flaws to the woolly thinker’s internalising of sexist narratives; that theory is an interesting one to discuss with other pro-choice advocates.

But in the battle for hearts and minds, it may not be the best pragmatic strategy for the advocate to say to the woolly thinker, “you have internalised sexist narratives”; they might find this insulting or offputtingly ideological. It may be possible to point out the woolliness of their present thinking, and offer a coherent pro-choice argument instead, without publicly speculating about how the thinker got to be woolly in the first place.

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Lynne 01.21.12 at 12:17 pm

I’ve read most of the comments, though skimmed the last ones, and people really need to define their terms. “It’s a continuum”—WHAT is a continuum? You are not talking about the same things.

And the word “trust” as used in the OP. Before jumping all over Tedra about that, at least consider the different ways the word is used. “I trust my ten-year-old son to cross the street by himself” is not the same as trusting my adult son to take care of his finances. Since he is my son, I guess it COULD be the same, but the second sentence really means “My adult son’s finances are not my business. They are his business, he can look after them.”

So with abortions: women can take care of this.

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politicalfootball 01.21.12 at 2:07 pm

Comparison time. How many of the regulars here would want to respect this argument? “Nazi-flavored right-wing arguments make me uncomfortable. I’m in favor of free speech, but I feel like probably the Skokie decision went the wrong way, and I want anything that seems to me neo-Nazi-ish now to be suppressed. You shouldn’t call me opposed to free speech, it’s just that I want the law to balance my concerns about right wingers alongside others’ speech, and to take my objections very seriously.”

I respect that argument. There are a variety of hate speech arguments that I take very seriously.

I do think your comparison is apt, and catches the flavor of the original post. It isn’t enough, you and Tedra say, to arrive at a congenial conclusion; one must arrive at it in a very specific way, with the right kind of scorn for people who disagree.

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daelm 01.21.12 at 2:43 pm

“Sebastion, I fully trust your moral judgment on whether or not YOU should have an abortion.”

Russell Carter wins the internet. i stopped reading here.

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Peter Erwin 01.21.12 at 2:55 pm

98:
We assume that people generally make decent judgments about their health, and when/if they don’t (addiction, mental illness, lack of health insurance, time, or money to do so) we see that as a tragedy, not something that we should pass laws about (unless we want to pass laws that provide people with health care or addiction treatment, but that’s a different thing).

Except that there are a number of laws dealing with health issues which implicitly or explicitly involve overriding people’s own judgements. Seat belt laws and motorcycle helmet laws, for example. Not to mention laws banning certain food additives, or recent city laws banning trans fats (contrast that with food labeling laws, which leave it up to the informed judgement of individuals).

There are other laws which can be construed as not respecting the judgment of some class of people, or of all people. Laws limiting how parents can discipline or punish their children — or how they can educate (or not educate) their children — imply a certain distrust of parents. Laws restricting gun ownership imply a distrust of gun owners (or of people in general). Laws governing cruelty to animals, or forbidding the killing of endangered species, certainly imply a distrust of people in general.

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Bruce Baugh 01.21.12 at 3:24 pm

Politicalfootball, this is a side issue, but I’ve lost a lot of my faith in largely unbounded free speech. On the other hand, when I support restrictions on public speech, I acknowledge what I’m doing and I don’t demand anyone respect my continued championing of free speech as a pure political value. This is unlike the people who want to restrict abortion without admitting that they want to take more choices away from women.

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Brett Bellmore 01.21.12 at 3:32 pm

Well, that’s one way to win an argument: Just delete any arguments contrary to your position. Problem is, it only wins the argument in your head, and leaves everybody who disagrees with you still disagreeing with you.

What you find stupid is just exactly the other side’s premise: That the difference between being inside the woman and outside isn’t morally significant.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 4:17 pm

I thought this would be easy. Tedra’s first paragraph was unambiguously clear. If you assert an “absolute” moral position, and then start equivocating, it is not “absolute” in any meaningful sense. It follows that if it is not absolute then those facing that moral choice should have the freedom to make that decision. When you take that decision making power away, you are denying moral agency, i.e., you do not “trust” the person directly involved to make the “right” decision. You are reduced to the babbling incoherence of Justice Kennedy about the “stress” these poor creatures are under.

This should be self evident.

It was also quite appalling to read comments from those asserting their pro-choice bona fides taking her to task for her “tone”. I can only say, address the argument, please.

Lastly, as my blood pressure and wine intake rose in the course of actually reading the comments, who comes along but an actual woman. God bless you, Meredith.

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MPAVictoria 01.21.12 at 4:36 pm

“Well, that’s one way to win an argument: Just delete any arguments contrary to your position. Problem is, it only wins the argument in your head, and leaves everybody who disagrees with you still disagreeing with you.”

Brett no one ever “wins” arguments on topics like this. People don’t become pro-choice or pro-forced birth just because of some clever argument they read on the internet. Human beings just don’t work like that.

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skidmarx 01.21.12 at 4:43 pm

all human lifeare equally valuable

Lives, or is, it’s your choice.

When I was presented with anti-abortion propaganda at a Catholic school, I began to question it on the basis that if the brain doesn’t develop for weeks after conception, giving the foetus full rights at conception seemed unreasonable. But the idea that it should be left to the (potential) mother to decide seemed like a much more logical locus of responsibility when I was introduced to it. Perhaps those insisting on a foetus’ separate identity should be willing to have it separated at the mother’s chosen time, and perhaps implanted in them if they think it’s viable.
[Point only made for rhetorical effect]

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 4:51 pm

“Tedra’s first paragraph was unambiguously clear. If you assert an “absolute” moral position, and then start equivocating, it is not “absolute” in any meaningful sense.”

You have to be a moral absolutist to be pro-choice? Wow, that’s news to me.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.21.12 at 5:04 pm

It follows that if it is not absolute then those facing that moral choice should have the freedom to make that decision.

Nah, it doesn’t follow, with regards to anything that has any societal significance at all. In reality, I don’t think you even have the freedom to stop taking showers: they’ll arrest you for public nuisance (or something) eventually.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 5:07 pm

You have to be a moral absolutist to be pro-choice? Wow, that’s news to me.

My apologies for being the bearer of bad news. But yes, I guess you have to be absolutely in favor of the woman’s right to make the choice to maintain any consistency and not also deny women the same degree of moral agency, much less reproductive freedom, that men have.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 5:14 pm

I don’t think you even have the freedom to stop taking showers: they’ll arrest you for public nuisance (or something) eventually.

It’s a tougher moral dilemma than you think. Should I be clean or sh0uld I continue to contribute to the depletion of a valuable natural resource? Should I go to work in the morning and pollute the atmosphere or should I starve? I wish somebody would pass a law taking those terrible choices out of my hands. I can’t bear the stress. I need a drink.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 5:22 pm

Seat belt laws and motorcycle helmet laws, for example.

That word, “moral”, does not generally come up in the discussion of those public policy issues.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.21.12 at 5:35 pm

It’s a tougher moral dilemma than you think.

I don’t think it’s a moral dilemma; the point is, however: as long as you’re a part of society, you hardly have “the freedom” in anything. The solution is, of course, to move to a desert island, thus reclaiming your freedoms. If you’re not ready to do that, you’ll just have to deal with Other People. You are in Hell.

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rf 01.21.12 at 5:50 pm

Bobbyp

“But yes, I guess you have to be absolutely in favor of the woman’s right to make the choice to maintain any consistency and not also deny women the same degree of moral agency”

Though doesn’t Tedra’s comment at 130

“Broadly speaking I think that restrictions in circumstances where (for instance) there are better protections for women against poverty and abuse than there are here are less morally appalling.”

undermine that point, as it’s an equivocation on an ‘absolute moral position’?

(For what it’s worth I’m very sympathetic to this post. As someone that could be classified as pro choice with caveats it’s added to the feeling that my position doesn’t make any sense.)

178

Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 6:10 pm

“My apologies for being the bearer of bad news. But yes, I guess you have to be absolutely in favor of the woman’s right to make the choice to maintain any consistency and not also deny women the same degree of moral agency, much less reproductive freedom, that men have.”

Huh, and here I thought that “pro-choice” meant “thinks that abortion should be legal”. I guess that these arguments are pretty simple when you get to redefine a phrase to mean what you think it should mean instead of what most people think it means.

It’s too bad that so few people are pro-choice by your definition, since the legality of third-trimester abortion is supported by 7% of Americans as of 2002. But in an absolute, moral sense, those are the only true pro-choice people, so the rest of them should stop using the phrase.

179

RKG 01.21.12 at 6:24 pm

After reading this post, I can say that I trust women, men, and transpeople much less than I did before I read it.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 6:44 pm

But in an absolute, moral sense, those are the only true pro-choice people

Where did I define the term “pro-choice”? I’m talking about consistency and agency. So I shall ask YOU plainly: In the instance of 3rd-trimester abortions, who should be able to make the decision?

…undermine that point, as it’s an equivocation on an ‘absolute moral position’?

I should think that “less morally appalling” is not the same as “approval”, but I defer to the author to expand on her statement. Further, it does not undermine her point that legal impediments to the woman’s power to make that choice, even “humane” ones, essentially deny a class of human beings moral agency in a very profound sense.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 6:51 pm

as long as you’re a part of society, you hardly have “the freedom” in anything.

Perhaps true. It’s a terrible thing the word keeps coming up. Life would be so much simpler without it. On my desert island, it’s a meaningless concept. :)

182

Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 7:03 pm

My personal opinion? I think abortion should be legal in all cases, and the woman’s decision. But since you’re talking about consistency and agency, and not the definition of “pro-choice”, I guess I’ll have to amend my understanding — 7% of the voting population really understands consistency and agency in this case, and the other 50% or so who call themselves pro-choice can call themselves that but their understanding is really defective in some way. They’re just not up to really thinking about it, I guess.

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bobbyp 01.21.12 at 7:22 pm

“….and the other 50% or so who call themselves pro-choice can call themselves that but their understanding is really defective in some way.”

Insofar as those who claim to be “pro-choice” but still leave the door open for restrictions or express “qualms”, I would argue, yes, their position is defective, not lamentable in the sense of the hurly burly of political combat (one need allies, after all), but still flawed nonetheless. She didn’t mince words or use the term “bottom line” frivolously.

I would refer you back to her concluding paragraph. Thank you.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.21.12 at 7:52 pm

Why are you referring me to her concluding paragraph? Your position is admirably direct; the people who don’t think as you do are morally and intellectually stupid, and you know better. The large majority of pro-choice people — not “pro-choice” in scare quotes, but actually pro-choice in its ordinary meaning — including those feminists who theorize differently, are useful allies, sure, but not anyone who you have to actually listen to. That’s the bottom line.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.21.12 at 7:53 pm

I find the concluding paragraph (The fact that abortion is even a debate in this country demonstrates that we do not trust women) and this whole framing in general just as misguided as the idea that racism is the cause of poverty.

There are pregnant persons who want to terminate their pregnancy. That’s the controversy. I see no reason whatsoever to believe that the controversy originates from the fact that these persons are women. As if a half of the pregnant persons were men, the controversy would’ve disappeared.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 7:59 pm

Bobbyp comes like a wave of relief: someone actually read the words on the page. Thank you.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 8:00 pm

179: Rich, seriously. Stop putting words in people’s mouths. Nothing bobbyp or I have said is anything like that. If you want to construct straw women to look down on, don’t do it here.

188

Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 8:07 pm

Responses to a few other things, all at once:

147: I also thought it was possible to be pro-choice but recognize that things get morally murky in the third trimester. And Tedra, all your comments about third trimester abortions on this thread seem to be based on the assumption that the abortion would be a medical emergency. So are you tacitly giving ground on women being legally able to abort right up until the day they give birth?

Again, this is like the “ticking time bomb” argument for terrorism. The entire point of the post is that actual women who are actually pregnant will tend to make decisions about actual circumstances, not theoretical scenarios like “I’m due tomorrow but I’ve suddenly changed my mind; instant abortion, plz.” IOW, my “assumption” is that women who pursue abortions late in pregnancy do so for real reasons: medical emergency, severe psychological distress (e.g., a young woman who kept “hoping” she wasn’t pregnant until she could no longer hide it), etc. I’m unaware of a single *actual* instance in which a woman decided on an abortion late in the pregnancy for a reason that wasn’t, once I read about it, pretty freaking compelling.

120: One reason someone might say that “I support X, but I’m uncomfortable with some possible implication of it” is to underscore how strongly they support it on principle, or how important they think the principle is.

Mmmmmmaybe, but I don’t see it. I think the more usual statement would be “I support X *even though* I’m uncomfortable with…” There’s a difference in emphasis that’s important there.

156: But in the battle for hearts and minds, it may not be the best pragmatic strategy for the advocate to say to the woolly thinker, “you have internalised sexist narratives”

Please spare me the advice about strategy; it seems awfully condescending.

172: “doesn’t Tedra’s comment at 130
“Broadly speaking I think that restrictions in circumstances where (for instance) there are better protections for women against poverty and abuse than there are here are less morally appalling.”
undermine that point, as it’s an equivocation on an ‘absolute moral position’?

Yes, it does. I acknowledged that when I said at the end of that very same paragraph–and in bold print–that I would do so even though such restrictions are sexist.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 8:09 pm

There are pregnant persons who want to terminate their pregnancy. That’s the controversy. I see no reason whatsoever to believe that the controversy originates from the fact that these persons are women.

I’m unable to type a coherent response to this because I am too busy collecting the shattered bits of my jawbone up off the floor.

190

politicalfootball 01.21.12 at 8:33 pm

There are pregnant persons who want to terminate their pregnancy. That’s the controversy. I see no reason whatsoever to believe that the controversy originates from the fact that these persons are women.

I don’t even see gender.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.21.12 at 8:48 pm

I don’t see gender where it isn’t relevant. There’s gotta be a better way to frame a controversy than defining a category of victims and explaining everything by the bigotry against them.

In China, their one child policy that involves forced abortions and female sterilizations is, apparently, supported by 80% (or so) of the population. Should that attitude, held by a billion people, also be explained by misogyny?

192

salacious 01.21.12 at 8:57 pm

“Again, this is like the “ticking time bomb” argument for terrorism. “

This argument isn’t some secret ninja move that defeats all arguments based on hypotheticals. The problem with the ticking time bomb argument isn’t that a ticking time bomb could never happen, it’s that the rare possibility of the ticking time bomb is used to justify torture in a host of other circumstances where there isn’t, in fact, a ticking time bomb.

But that isn’t whats happening here. Noone (at least as far as I see in this convo, altho it has happened elsewhere) is using the existence of “frivolous abortions to justify restrictions on “non-frivolous abortions.”

Here, the hypothetical is being used to draw out whether you are arguing for abortion as a matter of individual rights (in which case your answer in the “frivolous abortion” hypo should be the same as your answer for any other abortion) or for some other reason. That’s a perfectly sensible use of a hypothetical in a discussion.

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krippendorf 01.21.12 at 9:20 pm

Reality check for Mcclaren @145, who wrote, “When 50% or more of the senators are women, I predict the “debate” about abortion will magically fade away.”

From the 2010 General Social Survey question, “Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if [the woman wants it for any reason]?:

Men: 42% yes, 54% no, 4% DK/NA

Women: 39% yes, 57% no, 4% DK/NA

The percentages fluctuate a bit if you ask about other scenarios, but the general point is that in the US, women are more likely to be anti-choice/pro-life than men. I’d guess that the difference would go away if you adjusted for religiosity, but, alas, we don’t adjust our politicians for such….

194

DelRey 01.21.12 at 9:48 pm

Insofar as those who claim to be “pro-choice” but still leave the door open for restrictions or express “qualms”, I would argue, yes, their position is defective,

As far as I’m aware, every advanced democracy in the world, with the possible exception of Canada, imposes some legal restrictions on abortion. This includes the Scandinavian nations that are widely considered among American liberals to be the most progressive societies on women’s rights and equality. I’m not aware of any significant political movement in any country to eliminate all restrictions on abortion.

So apparently, applying your and Tedra Osell’s bizarre yardstick for “trusting women,” even the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes don’t trust them.

195

Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 9:51 pm

Noone (at least as far as I see in this convo, altho it has happened elsewhere) is using the existence of “frivolous abortions to justify restrictions on “non-frivolous abortions.”

As long as we are talking about abortion as an abstraction, rather than talking about actual scenarios, then we kind of are. That’s the entire point of the post.

And in fact the “third trimester abortions up to the day before delivery” is a classic “frivolous abortion” argument. Show me one case where someone has had a third trimester abortion “the day before delivery”.

196

Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 9:52 pm

So apparently, applying your and Tedra Osell’s bizarre yardstick for “trusting women,” even the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes don’t trust them.

See, when it’s “bizarre” to say that “even the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes” aren’t entirely free of sexism, we have a problem.

197

mpowell 01.21.12 at 9:54 pm


WE GENERALLY DON’T THINK WE SHOULD FORCE PEOPLE, THROUGH LEGISLATION, TO DO THINGS WE THINK ARE MORALLY DESIRABLE WHERE THEIR BODIES ARE CONCERNED.

I think we’ve hashed out that from an intellectual standpoint, the defense of the anti-abortion involves contending that this last phrase is irrelevant to the question. In reality, perhaps many anti-abortion advocates are motivated by the sort of thoughts that Tedra attributes to them. I would tend to agree. However, many people are undecided on this issue or confused. And there are always young people growing up and forming opinions. It is important to persuade them! Perhaps some will be persuaded by Tedra’s approach. As a young person myself I was persuaded by such arguments as Shah’s- pointing out the discrepancy in how we would regard something like forced organ donation- and realized that bodily integrity is more important than a fetus’ right to life, if such a thing even exists. It is possible (and interesting) to distinguish between moral judgments that we allow people to reach on their own and those we do not.

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Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 9:55 pm

Sebastian, ad homs aren’t really helpful.

199

Tedra Osell 01.21.12 at 9:56 pm

192: It is possible (and interesting) to distinguish between moral judgments that we allow people to reach on their own and those we do not.

Yeah, a conversation along those lines would be great.

200

Michael Bérubé 01.21.12 at 10:06 pm

Tedra, welcome to the CT comments section! I didn’t really read everything you wrote in the OP, or maybe I did, but I did it quickly and casually, or maybe I did, but I decided to pester and harangue you about your tone, or maybe I did, but I didn’t really understand the parts I wasn’t sympathetic to, or maybe I did, but I don’t see any difference between a fetus and a baby or a fetus and a motorcycle helmet. It’s all a continuum. I just wanted to say that I don’t understand why you women get so defensive anytime someone disagrees with you, and I am dismayed that you are not living up to the exacting intellectual standards I bring to this debate.

201

vacuumslayer 01.21.12 at 10:15 pm

Tedra, I just wanted to say thank you and I agree x 1 kajillion to just about everything you’ve written here.

And I just wanted to add a little something about your “judge-y” comment upthread… People who say “I support abortion but I would never have one” make me want to hit them in the face with a shovel. Let me make this very clear to anyone out there reading this who has ever said or thought this: Until you are faced with a pregnancy, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU WOULD OR WOULDN’T DO. Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

202

John Quiggin 01.21.12 at 11:00 pm

Since I don’t do irony very well, I’ll spell out my thoughts on the point being made by Michael B (@195, but may get renumbered).

In commenting on a blog post, you are, before everything else, engaging in a conversation with the author of the post[1], not exercising a right to free speech. If you don’t like the way the conversation is going here, and you want to have your say about it, there are essentially unlimited opportunities to do so elsewhere on the Internet. If your thoughts won’t fit into FB or Twitter, you can start your own blog in a matter of minutes.

Good discussion about posts can greatly enhance the value of a blog both for the posters and for readers in general, as well as for those doing the commenting. But lots of blogs fail miserably in this respect and it’s become increasingly obvious, at CT and more generally, that gender has a lot do do with this.

Part of our response to this, a while back, was to beef up our rules about comments. But we can’t do everything with rules, we need norms as well. As the discussion above has shown, one norm we need is that commenters (particularly male or pseudonymous commenters) should not complain about the tone or style of female bloggers – perhaps under different social conditions it would be possible to do that in a way that can’t be read as an attempt at imposing silence, but those conditions don’t prevail right now.

While I’m at it, and less specifically related to this post. If your reaction on reading CT (or a particular CT member or any blogger for that matter) is that we are silly, while you are smart, please don’t write in to tell us. Just stop reading. If you feel so inclined, demonstrate your superiority by writing a response somewhere else or, better still, something smarter of your own.

fn1. That can spin off into side conversations, sometimes usefully, often not.

203

LFC 01.21.12 at 11:02 pm

M. Bérub&eacute @195

I’m sure you have characterized accurately at least some of this thread, virtually none of which I have read. But one might do well to keep in mind that it’s only privileged bloggers at high-traffic sites who can afford the luxury of spitting in their commenters’ faces.

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Sebastian(1) 01.21.12 at 11:02 pm

@Lynne 157

“It’s a continuum”—-WHAT is a continuum?

The value of a human life as it develops is on a continuum. The value of a couple of cells a week after conception is much lower than the value of a viable embryo in the third trimester.

Now Tedra brought value of life into this as a relevant question and I really think that’s what makes the post confusing. Had her entire argument been “a fetus is part of a woman’s body, it’s the woman’s choice what she does with her body, end of debate” I think it would have been much less controversial.

But she starts out her argument saying that people who want to ban all abortions, no exceptions whatsoever, have a more logical position than people who believe that the morality (and perhaps legality) of abortion is questionable in some cases. And I just don’t get that.
I think a lot of the other things she says throughout this thread – that a lot of this debate and it’s mere existence is based on deep-rooted sexism, that men’s bodies wouldn’t be legislated over in the same way, that we can’t think of a fetus as separate from a woman’s body etc. make perfect sense. But that wasn’t her argument at the outset. She made a very specific argument about the internal consistency of positions on abortion and she claims there are only two internally consistent positions. And I’m convinced that that specific argument falls apart the moment you accept that the value of life can be on a continuum. Which is why I think that very specific argument is weak.
That’s very different from saying that the case for a “no buts” position on abortion is weak – some of the things Tedra has said in the comments about that strike me as pretty convincing. But none of them require the confusing concession to anti-abortion absolutists she starts out with.

205

Firionel 01.21.12 at 11:03 pm

I realise I’m kinda late to the party, but I still am wondering about whether putting (rather deeply entrenched) restrictions on a person’s right to dispose of their own body (or parts thereof) in a manner of their choosing is really so unique to women.

The legalisation of suicide was a comparatively recent development. And looking at the debate surrounding assisted suicide one may notice that not even when what is concerned is undoubtedly and wholly the body of the single person making the (in most plausible scenarios well informed) decision, we (i.e. society in its present form) are not ready to grant them agency where it has to be brought about by others. (And don’t start talking to me about wire hangers…I’m trying to look at perceived morality of agency concerning people’s bodies, not trying to make arguments for or against the morality or legality of abortions.)

You can sort of try and trace the invisible line where most people start feeling uncomfortable (and yes, I do use this to mean they start considering an action or its consequences as immoral, and will want to consider outlawing it) by looking at different activities of varying degrees of intensity as it were:

There is little opposition to tattoos or piercings and considerably stronger but still these days hardly noticeable opposition to plastic surgery. There are however many people who would flag sex-change operations (and indeed even in European countries where public health insurance will pay for them they are highly regulated) and a desire for amputations which are not medically indicated will get you a psychiatric diagnosis.

I think my bottom line is this: In practice very few people actually believe that a person may unconditionally dispose of its own body. And regardless of whether I believe them to be right or wrong, gender is largely incidental to those judgments.

Don’t get me wrong, I do realise that there are many gender-specific factors at work in the abortion debate, and I realise that they work against women. But at first pass I do not believe that not trusting someone to make moral judgments concerning their own body is restricted to women. Am I missing a crucial distinction here?

Many apologies for the overlong post.

206

LFC 01.21.12 at 11:03 pm

oops that was supposed to be
Bérubé

207

DelRey 01.21.12 at 11:11 pm

See, when it’s “bizarre” to say that “even the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes” aren’t entirely free of sexism, we have a problem.

But you’re not saying that. You’re saying they “don’t trust women,” simply because they regulate abortion in some way. It’s like saying that we “don’t trust parents” simply because we have some regulations regarding how parents can treat their children. What’s bizarre is that you think it’s reasonable to define “trust” in this way.

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LFC 01.21.12 at 11:11 pm

P.s. what I said about MB @195 also goes for JQ, who says:

you can start your own blog in a matter of minutes

Of course “you” can — but virtually no one will read it. That’s why people comment at high-traffic sites instead of starting their own blogs. They know people are reading. Duh.

209

js. 01.21.12 at 11:18 pm

Just wanted to say: the unpacking/clarification at 119 is remarkably helpful. (Some of the specificity there might be useful in the OP itself?) It’s not really possible for any argument to make me more pro-choice than I already am, but I’m not sure I’d quite encountered this sort of argument before. And now that I get it — with essential help from 119 — I do think it’s extremely powerful. Cheers.

210

salacious 01.21.12 at 11:30 pm

MB & JQ:

Why the need to break out the “if you don’t like it, leave?” This conversation has been largely civil, and the closest it has been to uncivil has been (mostly) in comments by Tedra. It’s your blog and all, but I just don’t see any lines being crossed here…

211

Harold 01.21.12 at 11:34 pm

I agree with 189 and 82. Women, men, doctors, and clinic administrators, and so on, are not to be trusted, and that is why we need regulations and guidelines. And, in fact, we have them but are unable to follow them. Abortion is potentially dangerous, which justifies its being regulated in some way. Miscarriages are also potentially dangerous and can lead to sepsis, as is pregnancy itself, which can be ectopic and so on.

The real problem is that because of ignorance and a lack of basic medical care, people are getting abortions after the fourth month, which is too late. And these are (or were) being done in for-profit clinics that ignored the subsequent well-being of the mother of of anything except the pocketbooks of the providers.

As I understood it, under the terms of Roe v Wade, abortion in the first trimester is legal if the mother desires it; in the second trimester it is legal for medical reasons upon consultation with a doctor. In the third, it is comparable to infanticide and may be medically justified only in very extreme and exceptional cases to save the life of the mother.

In an ideal world abortion would not be necessary, because contraception would be available and understood, and people would not suffer from disabling ignorance, embarrassment, and denial about using it. In an ideal world pregnancy would never be unproblematic and there would never be grotesque birth defects and horrible emergencies, not to speak of rape and incest. But we do not live in an ideal world.

212

Sebastian(1) 01.21.12 at 11:48 pm

thanks to js. I just found 119 which I had overlooked before, that does help somewhat, but I still don’t get the distinction Tedra is making.
Why is the moral judgment that all human life is sacred and can never be compromised not the same version of hubris than the imposition of some other moral standard/threshold?
It this, imho completely unwarranted, defense of moral absolutism that really strikes me the wrong way. I think the argument is better without it.

213

Sebastian 01.21.12 at 11:49 pm

“So apparently, applying your and Tedra Osell’s bizarre yardstick for “trusting women,” even the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes don’t trust them.”

See the weirdest thing is that the Swedes obviously trust women FAR LESS than Americans. Swedish restrictions on abortion are dramatically more restrictive than even the very most stringent state in the United States. In Sweden abortions are only generally available in the first 12 weeks. In weeks 12 to 18, if a woman wants to get an abortion she must first talk to a social worker about why she wants to an abortion at so late in her pregnancy (this is at *month 4*). To get an abortion after week 18 she must appeal to and receive special permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare, such permission being given for severe fetal abnormality or severe health risk.

In France the woman must claim to be in a “state of distress” because of her pregnancy. After 12 weeks, abortions are allowed *only* if the pregnancy poses a grave danger to the woman’s health or there is a risk the child will suffer from a severe illness recognised as incurable. If this is the case, two doctors must confirm the risk to the health of the woman or foetus.

The most restrictive state in the United States doesn’t have abortion laws that strict at month 4 of a pregnancy.

Swedes and Frenchman *clearly* trust women much less than Mississippi or South Dakota.

214

John Quiggin 01.21.12 at 11:54 pm

@salacious “Passive-agressive”, “smug” and “righteously rude” are just a few of the things thrown at Tedra upthread.

@LFC The reason (I hope) that this is a high-traffic site is that lots of people like the judgements we make, individually and collectively, about what to publish here. That starts with who we are, and who we’ve invited to join over the years, continues with what we post, and includes how we run our discussions. Comments can improve the site but they can also make it worse both for general readers and for CT members.

As regards effects on CT members, there are topics I won’t touch because I can’t be bothered dealing with the inevitable flamewar that would follow even with aggressive moderation. Fortunately for me, those aren’t topics I really want to talk about, or have much useful to say about.

But we clearly need to talk about gender, reproductive rights and lots of related topics. Read the thread, compare it to the original post, and see if it would encourage you (or, more relevantly, a woman at CT) to write about this topic.

So, commenters on topics like this need to be more careful than if they want to derail a discussion of SOPA by arguing that copying a 7000 page document in 1950 would have been easy (to take an annoyingly silly, but essentially harmless, recent example).

215

RaphaelHythloday 01.21.12 at 11:54 pm

The value of a couple of cells a week after conception is much lower than the value of a viable embryo in the third trimester.

And I’m convinced that that specific argument falls apart the moment you accept that the value of life can be on a continuum. Which is why I think that very specific argument is weak.

Nope. Even assuming that the value of life can be on a continuum, nothing follows for the consistency of radical anti-abortionism. All they need is something like the claim that it’s always wrong intentionally to kill a fetus, which is compatible with your claim that the value of life comes on a continuum. It’s always wrong to tell a lie, even some lies are worse than others.

216

salacious 01.22.12 at 12:04 am

(Preface: Again, your blog, and all that…)

Still, in all three of the examples you provide, people are responding either directly to the OP or to Tedra’s subsequent comments. E.g., David in 127 labeled the post smug because of how Tedra introduced the post. Now, you can disagree with the characterization, but it doesn’t strike me as either (1) sexist/gendered or (2) uncivil. Particularly when Tedra opened up with both barrels by calling the not unreasonable arguments made in the first few comments “patently offensive,” and later labeled another argument “stupid.” I guess all I see here is vigorous debate, nothing more.

Which isn’t to contest your larger point about sexism on the internet. Just whether this is a good example of it.

217

EKR 01.22.12 at 12:04 am

So, commenters on topics like this need to be more careful than if they want to derail a discussion of SOPA by arguing that copying a 7000 page document in 1950 would have been easy (to take an annoyingly silly, but essentially harmless, recent example).

Hmm… I wasn’t planning to relitigate this, since you’d asked people who haven’t read the book, which I haven’t, to stop commenting, but since you raise it here, I don’t think this is at all an accurate representation of what happened. Rather, you claimed that “On the other hand, if Ellsberg had been 20 or so years earlier, he wouldn’t even have been able to make a single copy. ” and ajay pointed out that in fact this was wrong and that you could have photographed the pages, at which point a debate ensured about the feasibility of photographing 7000 pages. I don’t recall anyone saying it was easy. Rather, I recall ajay, myself, and perhaps others arguing that it was feasible.

218

bobbyp 01.22.12 at 12:26 am

The value of a human life as it develops is on a continuum. The value of a couple of cells a week after conception is much lower than the value of a viable embryo in the third trimester.

Prices in the tens of thousands of dollars are routinely paid for those pitiful few cells at the point shortly after fertilization, and I’ve never seen anybody offer so much as a plug nickel for a “viable embryo in the third trimester”, but that instance might be more akin to an options/futures market where the time premium collapses to the current market price as delivery nears. But, but, but….. this “value” is not monetary you say? Oh dear, silly me, confusing value with money.

So how is this ‘value’ determined? Who determines it? How can a “continuum” have a beginning and an end? How does the value jump from nothing to something? Does not human development continue after birth? If so, why does this value appear to decrease with age? How can you explain the observed “value” collapse for males between the ages of 18 and 30? Why does it apparently shoot up again as an elderly life nears death? Is it legal for the State to commit murder? Can we pull the plug on grandma? Is there such a thing as a just war? How many angles did dance on the head of that pin anyway?

It strikes me that at any given point on your continuum the “value of life” can be quite elastic. The continuum posited is of little value when it comes to making moral decisions, but I’ll grant you, given the elasticity of the concept, it’s a great way to justify making those decisions for others. After all, you have created a “market” where only you know “real value”.

Women are human beings. They are the only human beings who can get pregnant. We typically grant adult human beings moral agency.

The choice should be theirs, and theirs alone. Always.

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Meredith 01.22.12 at 12:28 am

In answer to HV @186, “In China, their one child policy that involves forced abortions and female sterilizations is, apparently, supported by 80% (or so) of the population. Should that attitude, held by a billion people, also be explained by misogyny?”
Yes.
Who where did someone here introduce the notion of “person”? Can’t find it now. Might be useful for us to talk that way more as we move into legal territory, since that’s the way the legal thinks/constructs each and everyone of us, and since the legal is also our most binding, all-encompassing social territory.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 12:50 am

@121 Really? You don’t think that the one child policy (and the fact that people agree with it) might have something to do with overpopulation? Just like the taboo on abortion might have something to do with tribal and state leaders’ desire, throughout history, to increase their populations? And not just abortion, any sort of contraception. Remember the Onan story in the bible? He was a man, and yet he was punished by death, the poor bastard.

So, why is it that in this one particular case all the liberals suddenly turn into radical individualists/libertarians and refuse to consider any societal effects whatsoever?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 12:51 am

Sorry, @212, not 121

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DelRey 01.22.12 at 12:55 am

The continuum posited is of little value when it comes to making moral decisions

As far as I can tell, your position is that there is little or no difference in value or interests or rights between a zygote and a mature fetus ready to be delivered. But that there’s an enormous difference in value or interests or rights between a mature fetus ready to be delivered and a newborn baby five minutes later. I consider that position absurd. And I think the vast majority of other people do too.

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js. 01.22.12 at 12:59 am

Why is the moral judgment that all human life is sacred and can never be compromised not the same version of hubris than the imposition of some other moral standard/threshold?

It this, imho completely unwarranted, defense of moral absolutism that really strikes me the wrong way. I think the argument is better without it.

I think the point is that the absolutist position while wrong is at least consistent. Whereas the “abortion is wrong, except…” is inconsistent on its own terms and only makes sense on the assumption that women cannot be trusted to be responsible and discriminating moral agents. That said, I’m pretty sympathetic to the thought that the absolutist position only seems consistent — say, because at the end of the day, it isn’t really about the absolute value of every human life.

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js. 01.22.12 at 1:00 am

Oops. The second paragraph in 216 should also be italicized.

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DelRey 01.22.12 at 1:23 am

Whereas the “abortion is wrong, except…” is inconsistent on its own terms and only makes sense on the assumption that women cannot be trusted to be responsible and discriminating moral agents.

How is “abortion is wrong, except…” inconsistent on its own terms? Most people do not seem to be moral absolutists on abortion. They seem to believe it is moral in some circumstances and immoral in others. I imagine that for most people, as for me, the morality is mainly a question of balancing the rights or interests of the pregnant woman against the rights or interests of the fetus. I fail to see how this way of looking at abortion is inconsistent on its own terms, or inconsistent at all.

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salacious 01.22.12 at 1:51 am

DelRey,

Presumably because most of the conditions that follow the “except” in “abortion is wrong, except…” seem to revolve around how the woman got pregnant–rape, incest, etc. But the way in which the woman got pregnant is irrelevant to the proper balance the rights of the woman and the fetus.

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shah8 01.22.12 at 2:02 am

You know, it’s amazing just how many I.Q. points are devoted into nick-picking things besides the point.

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bexley 01.22.12 at 2:45 am

Coming late to this but I think that Sebastian has invented a new logical fallacy at 82. Instead of argument from authority we now have argument from Europeans:

One of the problems is that it is a continuum. Embryo definitely doesn’t equal baby. Fetus ten seconds before crowning is a baby. Different points on the continuum probably allow for different analysis. Which is why for example in France the woman must claim to be in a “state of distress” because of her pregnancy. After 12 weeks, abortions are allowed only if the pregnancy poses a grave danger to the woman’s health or there is a risk the child will suffer from a severe illness recognised as incurable.

Just because the French have ridiculous restrictions on abortion doesn’t mean that this makes restrictions on abortions after 12 weeks right.

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Witt 01.22.12 at 2:52 am

a question of balancing the rights or interests of the pregnant woman against the rights or interests of the fetus

More accurately, balancing the rights or interests of the pregnant woman against other adults’ interpretation of the rights or interests of the fetus.

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Sebastian 01.22.12 at 2:53 am

The French, the Swedes, the Spanish, the Germans. Nearly everyone has harsher abortion restrictions than the US. That is why abortion is such a big political deal in the US but not in Europe–the European laws are much more in line with current moral intuitions about abortion than the US laws which are *much more permissive*.

And in the context of this post, that means that they are *much less trusting of women* than the US. This would be a surprising thing to discover, and might suggest that the premise of the original post has a problem somewhere.

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bexley 01.22.12 at 3:08 am

@ Sebastian. What about the UK then? My understanding is that you can get an abortion from the NHS up to week 24 with very few restrictions and after week 24 under various other scenarios where the health of the mother is in danger etc. ie this is more permissive than the US. The term limit is higher and its much easier to get access to a provider.

Despite all this, abortion is not a big political deal in the UK even though the laws are not “in line with current moral intuitions about abortion”. Which might suggest that the premise of your argument has a problem somewhere.

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max 01.22.12 at 3:31 am

Damn, Ted, you still possess the old power of B. There should be flashing lights and zooming noises and a shazaamo and stuff when you do it.

198: I’m sure you have characterized accurately at least some of this thread, virtually none of which I have read.

I so dig the outright trolling.

But one might do well to keep in mind that it’s only privileged bloggers at high-traffic sites who can afford the luxury of spitting in their commenters’ faces.

Yes, all the popular bloggers loll about all day bathing a bubbly Calgon bath of comments that brings their skins a shiny glow that the Countess Bathory would have envied. Without those comments bloggers would just dry up and shrivel away in some CGIish Indiana Jones rehash and the internets would slowly drain of content until there was nothing left but the silent sucking sounds of endless oceans of cat pictures.

Anyways, maybe you should just bring a hankie.

max
['Me, I spit in my own face when I comment so some extra spittle just runs off unnoticed.']

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Watson Ladd 01.22.12 at 3:49 am

js. murder is wrong, except in self-defense. Theft is wrong, except for repossession. Lying is always wrong, but telling your sister you like her gift doesn’t land you in jail for fraud. Why is it inconceivable that abortion might be acceptable in some circumstances but not others, and that the woman involved might not be the best judge of this? It seems that the original argument contained a premise that all degrees of moral ambiguity are best resolved by those closest to the argument, a premise that clearly isn’t actually believed by anyone about any other issue. This isn’t to say abortion opponents are right, just that they aren’t wrong for the reasons being proffered.

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Omega Centauri 01.22.12 at 3:53 am

I think a major source of disagreement on the issue within the liberal community, boils down to the difference between binary (boolean) logic, and fuzzy logic. If the result of some test (whether a particular person chooses A or notA), is always the same, that person is displaying boolean logic. A person who subscribes to fuzzy logic, will answer “it depends”, and then maybe supply some decision formula. I am strongly in the “fuzzy” camp. In my limited experience philosophy students strongly tend towards the “boolean” camp. As a fuzzy thinker I would say there are reasons (in every individual case) both pro and con, and they can be assigned numerical values that are contingent upon specific circumstances. Therefore if I had to judge a bunch of cases whose contingencies were spread along some continuum, it shouldn’t be surpising that some come out A and some notA. That does not imply that I (or another fuzzy thinker) is being inconsistient, it implies that we use a judgement mechanism whose result is contigent on some (possibly unspecified) variables. Typically boolean thinkers feel betrayed by fuzzy thinkers who they thought were unconditionally on their side, because they were observed supporting their own positions. When suddenly the fuzzy thinker votes with the opposition, they shout “Oh my God, what a traitor!”

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js. 01.22.12 at 3:56 am

murder is wrong, except in self-defense. Theft is wrong, except for repossession.

Except that if it’s in self-defense, it’s not murder. And if it’s repossession, it’s not a case of theft. By definition, in both cases. I’ll leave it to you to work out the implications.

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jc 01.22.12 at 4:33 am

I agree that the rape/incest exceptions are specious (in terms of moral logic-I suspect they’re allowed mostly as a political concession given that the number of abortions that come after rape/incest are quite small in comparison to non-rape/incest abortions in the age of Plan B).

But I don’t see how it’s sexist to argue that women shouldn’t be allowed to make a moral choice that I think is wrong because it has a negative effect on another person (yes, of course, the personhood of an infant is infinitely debatable-but that just goes to show we’re talking about the beginning of life, not sexism). Claiming that a gender does not have an absolute right to do something that others view as hurting another person is not considered a sexist claim in the context of any policy issue except abortion.

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Patrick 01.22.12 at 4:35 am

The implication is that we often use different words for similar things in order to reflect whether the circumstances make the thing moral or immoral. It is a reflection of our reliance on balancing multiple conflicting moral concerns, instead of relying on a one dimensional rights based moral system.

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Sebastian 01.22.12 at 4:50 am

“My understanding is that you can get an abortion from the NHS up to week 24 with very few restrictions and after week 24 under various other scenarios where the health of the mother is in danger etc. ie this is more permissive than the US.”

In the US we can’t even start talking about serious limitations on abortion until after the 24th week, so it is difficult to suggest that this is more permissive than the US.

And your characterization isn’t strictly right anyway I believe the current law in the UK is:

“Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith -

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or
(b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or
c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated
(d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

Even if we allow for incredibly liberal interpretations of ” the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family” this is still a harsher restriction than even the most conservative state in the US.

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Sebastian 01.22.12 at 4:50 am

And we still aren’t dealing with the fact that Sweden and France apparently trust women less than the US.

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Sebastian(1) 01.22.12 at 5:16 am

I think the point is that the absolutist position while wrong is at least consistent.

yes, I get that, but I don’t see it.
To me the logic, clumsily formalized is as follows:
anti-abortion absolutist:
value of “unborn life” > value of women’s of self-determination over her body.
pro-choice, but-ist:
value of life of fetus at 8month > value of women’s right to choose > value of life of fetus at 6 weeks

I don’t see why one is more inconsistent than the other. Both make a claim to be entitled and able to determine the value of life and weigh it against the freedom of a woman to choose – I think this claim is highly problematic as Tedra and some other have rather convincingly argued in this thread. But why the absolutist definition gets extra points for logical consistency – I just don’t get it.

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Michael Bérubé 01.22.12 at 5:57 am

LFC @ 198: one might do well to keep in mind that it’s only privileged bloggers at high-traffic sites who can afford the luxury of spitting in their commenters’ faces

salacious @ 204: Why the need to break out the “if you don’t like it, leave?” This conversation has been largely civil, and the closest it has been to uncivil has been (mostly) in comments by Tedra. It’s your blog and all, but I just don’t see any lines being crossed here…

First of all, I totally own my privilege as a once-every-sunspot-cycle privileged CT blogger. As max points out @ 224, the Calgon is indeed very bubbly, and every comment on this site contributes 10 points to CT members’ Elite Maximum Sapphire Exclusive Miles program, exchangeable on any virtual airline in the blogosphere (no restrictions!). But more important, I am not saying “if you don’t like it, leave.” That would be terrible and uncivil. I am saying “if you comment frequently and obsessively and dismissively because of general cluelessness or willful misprision or outright hostility, there is always the chance that you will be paraphrased and mocked.”

Thankfully, Tedra is already there.

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Aulus Gellius 01.22.12 at 6:42 am

1. The whole “but this would mean Swedes trust women less than Americans” point strikes me as pretty silly. Laws of different countries come to be through different processes, and interest groups/activists/whoever in different countries have different strategies and priorities; there’s no straight line between “The law of Munchkinland on abortion is X” and “The true feelings of Munchkins about reproductive freedom are expressed by X.” Also, it’s not exactly a bizarre contradiction to say “Swedes (on average) trust women more than Americans in some ways, but not others.”

2. Tedra was clearly (to me at least) not saying “it is wrong ever to think that a woman chose an abortion wrongly.” But once you’ve admitted that, for any given abortion, whether it was right can be a difficult question, then, in making laws about it, you are deciding whose judgment about the rightness of abortions, *in general*, should be trusted.
So: obviously, for example, no woman says “I would like an abortion for frivolous reasons.” A woman might say, “I would like an abortion for reason Y” and then you — or, more to the point, a jury of her peers — might think that Y is frivolous. And you might be right! In fact, of the many, many cases in which you and a woman desiring an abortion disagree, you’ll almost inevitably be right in some. But if you make a law against frivolous abortions, what you’re saying is, “as a rule, a jury or judge’s opinion of what’s frivolous is more trustworthy than the opinion of the woman actually dealing with the situation.” Or, to put it more concisely, you don’t trust women. Making a more specific rule (no multiple abortions, no sex-selection, etc.) is different, and worse: you’re saying that even a broad-brush rule, which doesn’t consider the specific situation, is generally more likely to be right than a pregnant woman actually making a decision.
I’m not totally convinced that rules about late-stage abortions are subject to exactly the same logic. But I don’t have a really coherent explanation of my thoughts on this, plus I’m utterly ignorant about the biology, so best to leave it alone.

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Meredith 01.22.12 at 7:19 am

The logic of various, specific arguments is vitally important, of course, but to find the premises from which to begin to imagine arguments, and just to imagine our larger ends: those are something else perhaps, and just as important.
I was pregnant with our (“planned,” but timing is all) second child when we desperately needed “points” to get the better faculty housing we needed for our expanding family. Boy was I glad that the 2-week-old embryo in my belly (needed a blood test to know that for sure!) counted as a person, in the context of computing housing points.
Several years earlier, when I was flushed with sublime joy after learning that I was pregnant with our first child, I was suddenly and vividly aware, as I leaned over my still flat belly to brush my teeth, of the foreignness of something going on inside me but still unfelt (well, unfelt except indirectly, in the bouts of nausea and my previously inexplicable fatigue). I rejoiced in imagining a baby — a person — forming inside of me, a someone-to-be who was neither me nor my beloved. But I also recognized (strange thoughts that pregnant women have!) that, if I or we hadn’t been wanting a baby, this very foreignness would have made abortion a desirable option. I was glad to think that the law did not require me to treat this embryo as a “person.” It was our choice, my choice, some tender place amidst our and my (the “you” being vague as yet — the true and full reality of that comes only with a baby’s birth). (Lucky me, not being , for instance, a teenager raped by my own father. But I do still remember my brief scare, pre Roe v. Wade, when I had a false positive on a pregnancy test.)
These happy, simultaneous experiences of connection and of otherness…. Perhaps the basis of good mothering and good fathering? Of the sociability in which discrete people are most likely to thrive, and which society in turn will thrive?
I sympathize strongly with men’s dilemma in all of this. Let’s take a hard case, like the responsible and loving husband who wants, in his lovingness, the zygote-embryo-fetus that he has contributed to making to be “carried to term,” but that the wife, for whatever reasons, does not — let’s posit sympathetic and thoughtful ones, including her honest appraisal of her own capacities and her obligations to their other children. Or another hard case, the man who has enjoyed a night of fun, casual sex with a woman who enjoyed the night on the same terms; the man then does not want the responsibilities of fatherhood (the financial aspects of which the law may well try to impose on him, and the financial and other aspects of which the society he keeps may also urge), but the woman decides she DOES want to “carry to term.” Either case is likely to make the man feel helpless, powerless. I find situations like this the difficult ones in the “abortion debate.”
But as for the concerns Tedra raises: a woman in whom a zygote has formed, an embryo or fetus is forming, feels helpless, too, subject to “forces of nature.” Not a bad thing, you know, for each and all of us to experience the limits of our own agency. Not a bad thing, either, to exercise our agency within those limits. The wisdom, or at least the prudence, of women’s exercise of that agency: why do we continue to debate that? Why do people fear that women, on the whole, won’t share in some larger sense with men a vision of purpose and fulfillment?

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praisegod barebones 01.22.12 at 7:33 am

And we still aren’t dealing with the fact that Sweden and France apparently trust women less than the US.

I know nothing at all about Sweden, but it doesn’t seem an especially implausible thing to say about France, given the wAY reactions to the DSK business played out.

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js. 01.22.12 at 7:40 am

value of “unborn life” > value of women’s of self-determination over her body.
pro-choice, but-ist:
value of life of fetus at 8month > value of women’s right to choose > value of life of fetus at 6 weeks

Speaking only for myself now, I think the absolutist position doesn’t actually make a value comparison of this sort. In fact, for both the absolutist positions, this sort of comparison doesn’t make sense. The “values”—if in fact there were two values at stake, which I’m not sure is the way to think about it—would be incommensurable.

This is (I think) related to the “continuum” argument(s), but for reasons well laid out by bobbyp above, “the value of human life exists on a continuum” is a pretty unpromising line of argument. (And yes, I know it’s supposed to be, “the value of human life as it develops exists on a continuum”. Doesn’t actually make a difference.)

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ctte 01.22.12 at 8:11 am

As one of those apparent simpletons who considers himself (my gender invariably disqualifying my opinion from the outset) pro-choice generally, but perhaps willing to support certain restrictions, I hesitate to respond. This is magnified by the fact that in reading this post and many of the responses, I’ve found that it seems I’m also one of those assholes who doesn’t trust women (despite considering myself a feminist and advocating for equality, women’s issues, and doing both prevention, advocacy, and treatment work around rape for decades).

So here’s the deal. I trust women implicitly to do what is in the best interest of those women. However, I don’t necessarily trust women to always do what is in the best interest of both themselves and the fetus, because sometimes I think these interests conflict. Your article is all about women, which given the topic, is fair. However it seems to relegate the status of the fetus, throughout the duration of the pregnancy, to little more than a part of the woman’s body or a ‘parasite.’ I think it’s possible to disagree with this characterization of a fetus without that disagreement constituting a distrust of women, or implicit acceptance of a sexist societal agenda, or anything like that. It just means that some people – myself included – may believe that at some point a fetus merits consideration as a semi-independent entity (or potential independent entity). I don’t even really consider this a moral argument. It’s just the idea that, at some point, it *isn’t just about the woman*. You seem very concerned about whether or not the voices and decisions of women are respected and trusted, and I share those concerns. However, you almost seem to have disdain for the idea that an unborn fetus might, at some point in it’s unchosen journey into the world, deserve a voice to speak up for it – and seem to equate such a perspective to sexism. But I’m not sure that it is. If I’m Buddhist, and I believe that it is wrong to take any life when you can help it, and so tell my son not to stomp on ants – it’s not out of a systematic bias against children. It’s about the ants, and the belief that as sentient beings, their lives are worth protecting (and that my son, overcome as he is with other concerns, may not best have their interests in mind).

So to summarize, I guess that I don’t trust women to always make the best decision for both themselves and for the fetus, because I think those positions sometimes conflict. If it were possible for men to be pregnant, I’d say the same thing about them. Hell, I can easily apply the same reasoning to myself: when my own interests strongly conflict with those of someone else, I’m probably not the best equipped to make decisions about what is in that other person’s best interests – I can’t be objective, because I’m blinded by the potential implications for my own life. Humans are sort of wired up that way. And there are a LOT of potential implications when we’re talking about a pregnancy.

Finally, I do think that in some cases (and the third trimester does spring to mind), the fetus does merit some consideration as an independent entity – on the basis of sentience, mind you, not necessarily biological viability outside the womb. And I’m not sure that this makes me a sexist, or even a moral narcissist. I suppose this whole argument is moot if you are *only* concerned about the welfare of the mother and are completely unconcerned with that of the fetus…but if that’s your position, then I’m banging my head against a wall anyway. IMO, feminism without compassion becomes just another selfish way for a different set of people to look out for “I, me, and mine.” With compassion, it’s exactly what the world needs.

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Salient 01.22.12 at 9:17 am

Meredith’s comments alone made this thread worth reading; thanks for that.

@Tedra — I can literally walk away from an infant. A pregnant woman cannot walk away from her fetus, nor can she transfer the care of it to someone else.

Sweet, I’m glad to be not the only one around here who feels this is common sense. If the only way you can extract the fetus from the mother is by performing surgery on her, then it’s an organ of her body, not an entity with its own partial/full personhood.^1^

It’s a good definition of the exact point at which a fetus assumes the rights of personhood, for those who don’t want to muck about with defining ‘human life’ or whatnot. Physiological dependence doesn’t have to play into it at all, and in fact shouldn’t be a factor — this is about the body of the pregnant woman, not the fetus.

^1^I also support a person’s right to have other tissue (whether organs or whatever) removed. I don’t support or acknowledge the right for a person to *buy* an organ, and I don’t support the right for a person to *coerce* another into giving up an organ (i.e., the normal exception for duress applies).

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Harold 01.22.12 at 9:38 am

An abortion is not surgery. It does not involve cutting.

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Emma in Sydney 01.22.12 at 10:37 am

It’s just as scary as surgery. And you are awake for it, usually. It hurts, and there’s lots of blood. Will that do? And, yes, I have had two. When I already had three kids under three.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 10:57 am

@233 But if you make a law against frivolous abortions, what you’re saying is, “as a rule, a jury or judge’s opinion of what’s frivolous is more trustworthy than the opinion of the woman actually dealing with the situation.”

The jury is also “actually dealing with the situation”. Only in a different dimension, social dimension. And your (and others’) judgement that the “actuality” of their “dealing with the situation” is irrelevant only demonstrates that you’re taking a highly individualistic position here. Which is fine, nothing’s wrong with that, except that it’s not a typical position for American liberals.

Or, to put it more concisely, you don’t trust women.

So, you’re in the social dimension now, and in this paradigm there is no trust in individuals. That’s the whole point of this paradigm.

The society needs new workers (to work and generate profits for the jobs-creators among us) and soldiers (to fight for the resources and new markets). To deprive the society of a new worker or soldier (when it needs them) is immoral, and that’s what morality is all about.

Sometimes a society has too many people (like China these days), and then it becomes immoral to not have an abortion.

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Lynne 01.22.12 at 11:54 am

Tedra, it is morning here and there are quite a few new posts that I will catch up on later. I don’t know if you are still reading, but wanted to say that I misunderstood parts of your OP. First, the part about “I’m pro-choice but I’m uncomfortable with…” I took that statement as being one person’s legal position and emotional position clapped into one sentence. The context for such a statement is important, though—at least, I gather that is your point. That the second part has no place in a public statement of support for the pro-choice position. I agree with you on that.

The second way I misunderstood until I read your later comments: that you believe the choice of abortion should not be cluttered with strings, legally—no caveats about 12 weeks or 18 weeks or health or reasons why the woman does not wish to carry the pregnancy to term.

Thank you for that! I’ve been pro-choice for many years and yet that is a new thought for me. Really, thank you.

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bexley 01.22.12 at 12:25 pm

@ Seb

In the US we can’t even start talking about serious limitations on abortion until after the 24th week, so it is difficult to suggest that this is more permissive than the US.

What? Some states restrict abortion after the 20th week . Moreover there are practical limitations. It is far easier to get an abortion in the UK because it is provided free by the NHS. Compare that with the Hyde amendment in the US.

Even if we allow for incredibly liberal interpretations of ” the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family” this is still a harsher restriction than even the most conservative state in the US.

You literally do not know what you are talking about. In the UK that wording is very broadly interpreted. Two doctors need to agree but in reality this is a formality and if you want an abortion you get one. Which means that abortion provision is available up to week 24 and the NHS will pay for it.

In conservative states in the US it may be legal to get an abortion but there are practical restrictions. South Dakota requires women seeking abortion to speak to the doctor, then wait 72 hours, then get “counseling” at a “crisis pregnancy center” (an organisation set up to oppose abortion). South Dakota only has one abortion provider in the entire state. How anyone can argue that this is less restrictive than the UK with a straight face is anyone’s guess.

And we still aren’t dealing with the fact that Sweden and France apparently trust women less than the US.

1. Earlier you were arguing that the US abortion debate is so heated because the US is so permissive compared to Europe. I’ve just pointed out a specific counterexample (the UK) which kinda knocks a hole in your theory.

2. In the UK despite abortion being legal up to week 24 the vast majority (91%) are carried out before week 13. http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_127202.pdf

This shows that if access to abortion is good then unwanted pregnancies will be terminated early. The later a termination is the more likely it is that the pregnancy was wanted but there have been complications.

Which is probably why women in France and Sweden aren’t kicking up more of a fuss. The restrictions may not have a huge practical impact because the state pays for abortion provision up to 12 weeks and women tend to terminate early if the pregnancy is unwanted and the provision is there.

3. I really don’t get what point you are trying to make here. Lets accept your argument at face value – the French and Swedes trust women less than the US. I’m not sure what implication this is supposed to have for Tedra’s argument. Just because the French and Swedes do something doesn’t make it right surely?

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Peter Erwin 01.22.12 at 12:26 pm

mclaren @ 145:

It’s really interesting to turn it around and ask whether we should have a public debate about whether to pass a law preventing all men from, say, having vasectomies. Males tend to come unglued.

Prior to 2001, vasectomies (and also tubal ligations) were officially illegal in France. They are still illegal in Poland. (And, for what it’s worth, Virginia apparently has a law stipulating a waiting period and a discussion of alternatives prior to obtaining a vasectomy or other surgical sterilization.)

When 50% or more of the senators are women, I predict the “debate” about abortion will magically fade away.

Unfortunately, that rather fails to explain why there isn’t nearly as much “debate” about abortion in, say, China or Japan.

Or the fact that abortion is mostly illegal in Andorra and Rwanda, despite both countries having 50% or more of the legislature female, and completely illegal in Nicaragua (where the legislature is now 40% female).

All of this suggests, at the very least, that the abortion debate in the US is not entirely due to male dominance of top political positions.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 12:40 pm

Let me try to see if I can understant the OP:
Tedra start the (implicit) assumtpion is that abortion is an absolute right of women, and from that she deduces that whose who don’t think that abortion is an absolute right (i.e., that could be restrained only by an equally absoulte right to life of the fetus) are incoherent, and should reexamine their judgement.

Is that a fair description of the OP?
If so, I must say that I find it internally consistent but utterly unconvincing, since it essentially assume the conlcusion (i.e., that the right to abortion is absolute).

The reason why people (like me) where asking about e.g. seatbelts, is thatt we (or, at lest, I) thought he implicit assumption was instead that “disposing of his/her own body is an absoulte right of each person”, and we were pointing out that very few people believe that (and probably Tedra herself does not believe that),.

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dsquared 01.22.12 at 12:48 pm

Oh goody, an abortion flamewar. Just what we wanted.

Ha ha, only serious. In fact, actual discussion of womens’ issues is indeed, exactly what we wanted. It was one of the reasons we invited Tedra, and it was, as John and Michael say above, the primary reason for the new comments policy, which we are now targetting with laser-like accuracy on the subspecies of male commenter who makes dismissive comments about female posters, or who regards himself as being in a position to make judgements on the “tone” which female posters should use in addressing him.

If the above paragraph applies to you, then I am afraid that a full consideration of the facts has been carried out, and the consequent ruination of your CT commenting experience has been deemed acceptable collateral damage toward achieving that aim. So turn it in please.

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dsquared 01.22.12 at 12:50 pm

If so, I must say that I find it internally consistent but utterly unconvincing

No. It is not the case that you “must say” things like that (ie, blanket statements of personal incredulity, unburdened by relevance or argument). You can resist the temptation and frankly we’d rather you did.

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bexley 01.22.12 at 12:57 pm

@ 244

Is that a fair description of the OP?

Nope.

Read comment 119 from Tedra which explains her position is nothing like what you said. Summarising broadly she is pointing out that by dividing abortion into ones for “good reasons” (incest or rape) and “bad reasons” (unplanned pregnancy) you acknowledge that it isn’t about saving the poor fetus at all but really about judging women.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 1:08 pm

dsquared, the argument is the rest of the line “since it essentially assume the conclusion” (hint: the word “since” often introduces an argument).

But you are right abotu the tone, so let me rephrase:
“Is that a fair description of the OP?
If so, I find it internally consistent but utterly unconvincing, since it essentially assume the conlcusion (i.e., that the right to abortion is absolute).”

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dsquared 01.22.12 at 1:35 pm

Thanks Manta1976, let’s have one more try though. I think it might be better if you lost the passage “I find it internally consistent but utterly unconvincing” (doesn’t really add anything to the argument and makes the whole post look quite patronising). Then you can just say

“Is that a fair description? If so, it seems to essentially assume the conclusion”.

This still isn’t, IMO, much of a value added comment, because of course Tedra is starting from the premis that the right to abortion is absolute. But at least it’s baseline consistent with the sexism-in-commenting policy.

I don’t think we can be considered guilty of false advertising here. Lots of people seem to be quite upset that we’re not interested in having a debate about the fundamental issue of whether abortion is morally justifiable. But that really wasn’t what the post was about and I’d cordially invite people to reread it.

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Andrew F. 01.22.12 at 1:49 pm

TO @ 119: But if instead one says “I think abortion is bad *except under these circumstances,” then there’s an acknowledgement—is there not?—that there are some circumstances under which the moral badness of abortion is less morally bad than something else. So now we’re arguing about who gets to make those moral judgments, yes? Either we end up saying “the pregnant woman gets to do so”—in which case, regulating abortion is wrong—or we end up saying “we, as a society get to do so.” And I think that the latter is extremely hubristic.

One question and a couple of comments:

(1) Why is it more hubristic to espouse a moral position that finds abortion should be legally forbidden in some circumstances and not others, than to espouse a moral position that finds abortion should be legally forbidden in all circumstances?

In both cases one is claiming that the government should enforce by law a set of moral propositions. In both cases one is claiming that these laws should be enforced even if some individuals happen to disagree.

(2) Extrapolating from your comments (and my interpretation may be wrong), the crux of your argument is that once one agrees that abortion is not absolutely wrong, then one also has agreed that, with respect to the relevant questions, there are numerous gray areas not susceptible to principled determination. Decisions in these gray areas should be left to the individual, as no one is better placed than she to make the decision.

If this is your argument, then part of the problem is that a non-absolutist position does not imply the acceptance of gray areas with respect to every relevant question.

Different principles of value may cohere into a structure that results in more complicated decision-rules than one would find in an absolutist’s structure, but that more complicated structure is not the less principled, nor necessarily the more accepting of gray areas.

Ultimately, this is an argument about where moral humility should be applied: on which moral questions should we defer to the judgments of others because our judgments are no more likely to be correct. You say that abortion for non-absolutists is such a question; and that therefore those who wish to deny the option to women who would choose differently are accepting the premise, knowingly or not, that women who would choose differently are less likely to be correct in their judgments.

I think that is a tough argument to make. It’s not enough simply to say that a person in the position of having to contemplate whether to actually have an abortion has access to more information, as you do in the post. There must be some showing of why the moral questions at issue either require being in that position to render a good answer, or why the moral questions at issue aren’t susceptible to principled resolution otherwise.

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 2:02 pm

since it essentially assume the conlcusion (i.e., that the right to abortion is absolute).

No. The argument presented is this: IF one accepts the premise that the woman gets to make the abort/carry to term decision under [some] circumstances, then denying that power under arbitrary [icky] conditions as defined by YOU shows that you do not trust WOMEN to make the decision….that your opinion, in these circumstances, are more important than THEIRS.

Ancillary to this she points out that those who oppose abortion under ANY circumstances present an argument (that she obviously disagrees with) that is at least logically consistent, unlike most in the great mushy middle.

If you wish to disagree, that’s OK, but you should at least be honest enough to disagree with what she actually wrote.

And what Meredith said.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 2:15 pm

Thanks for the clarification, but (at least in boppyp formulation) it is a non-sequitur: from “X is permissible under some circumstances” does not follow ” X is permissible in all circumstances”.

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dsquared 01.22.12 at 2:23 pm

There must be some showing of why the moral questions at issue either require being in that position to render a good answer, or why the moral questions at issue aren’t susceptible to principled resolution otherwise.

I’ve always thought that you don’t have to be a thoroughoing Nozickian libertarian to think that there ought to be some boundary to the power of the state, and the cervix seems like as good a start as any.

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shah8 01.22.12 at 2:33 pm

I mean, that’s really kind of it, ya know?

That the state, in all of it’s wisdom, has to demostrate the wisdom of it’s policies beyond a certain point. That in doing so, understands that women are not objects in the prism of public morality.

Of course, I’d just be accused of a lack of humility, if I thought that was all there is to it, but I must ask, who gets to accuse me, specifically?

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for the clarification, but (at least in boppyp formulation) it is a non-sequitur: from “X is permissible under some circumstances” does not follow ” X is permissible in all circumstances”.

If bounded by the condition “pregnant”, yes, it is logical to so argue.

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bexley 01.22.12 at 2:47 pm

Thanks for the clarification, but (at least in boppyp formulation) it is a non-sequitur: from “X is permissible under some circumstances” does not follow ” X is permissible in all circumstances”.

Yeah and why is it permissible in some circumstances and not others? What is it about rape or incest that means that the precious fetus is actually not so precious after all?

The answer is nothing. It’s just an opportunity for society to judge the women involved.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 2:47 pm

I’ll try to clarify better what I mean by an example: does Tedra (and those who find her argument sound) think that selling your kidney must be legal?

Argument:
1) giving your kidney is admissible in some circumstances
2) a real person would not sell his/her kindey for fatuous reasons: he/she would really need the money
3) (copy-paste from boobyp) [denying a woman the possibility to selling her kidney] shows that you do not trust WOMEN to make the decision….that your opinion, in these circumstances, are more important than THEIRS.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 2:51 pm

255: I will ask to add “proof by pregnancy” to this list:

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 2:52 pm

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shah8 01.22.12 at 2:57 pm

If the point of the OP is that there should be no tests, or at best, good justification for test, who really gives a damn about testing the morality of kidney donations. Isn’t that essentially off-topic anyways?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 2:58 pm

…there ought to be some boundary to the power of the state, and the cervix seems like as good a start as any

Nah. Procreation has always been state’s business, and is likely remain so in the foreseeable future. On the bright side, you can still dispose of your toenails (in private, of course) any way you choose.

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 3:15 pm

@255

I have searched in vain for anti-kidney donation legislation.

Example fail.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 3:36 pm

bobbyp,
are you serious?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organ_transplantation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organ_sale
long story short (from some other link): According to the National Organ Transplant Act, a federal law, it is illegal to buy or sell organs . If found guilty, a person and can be punished with up to $50,000 in fines or five years in prison.

Anyhow, my point was not to argue that organ sale should be legal (which I don’t think). My point was: the reasoning in the OP is flawed (at least, in the way I understand it), and could be applied for instance to prove that selling your organs should be legal.

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chris 01.22.12 at 3:40 pm

I think that for the people who really believe that fetuses are morally equivalent to babies (and ISTM that they do exist, although perhaps not all anti-abortion activists fit that description), misogyny genuinely is a red herring. If such people were somehow to encounter a pregnant man, ISTM obvious they would immediately insist on imposing the same restrictions on him, not say “Oh, well, if he has a penis, then of course he can murder all the babies he wants, we’re not going to second-guess HIS decision.”

Because, to people like that, it’s *the decision to kill a fetus* (or to carry out someone else’s plan to kill a fetus) that marks the person making the decision as untrustworthy and morally bad. The fact that such decisionmakers tend to lack penises really is an irrelevant distraction, in this case. Self-appointed defenders of fetuses direct plenty of anger at men involved in abortion, up to and including assassinating them.

Baby killing (if you believe that’s what it is, which I don’t, but some people do) isn’t a matter of trust. It would be insane to trust anyone to make an individual, unquestioned decision whether or not to kill a baby. And of course the “government should get out of my personal decisions” argument doesn’t get very far with people who believe your personal decision is to commit murder — it shouldn’t.

Of course the “fetuses are people too” assumption crashes right into the “absolute right to control things inside my body” assumption and leads to them talking past each other at the top of their lungs, each equally convinced that the other side is disrespecting basic human rights, but that’s incompatible moral axioms for you. I don’t know if this phrasing will be judged sufficiently polite, but maybe Tedra is making insufficient allowance for the possibility that other people hold, in good faith, moral worldviews different from her own?

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LFC 01.22.12 at 4:01 pm

re: max @224
max quotes my 198: “I’m sure you [MB] have characterized accurately at least some of this thread, virtually none of which I have read” and then says: “I so dig the outright trolling.”

This part of my comment could have been a bit clearer and less snarky. What I meant to say was that even though I had not closely read this thread, I was entirely willing to assume, based on (among other things) my previous experience reading many CT threads, that MB had characterized accurately at least parts of this one. I don’t see how that constitutes “outright trolling” or indeed any kind of trolling.

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Harold 01.22.12 at 4:02 pm

Let us accept that women have an absolute right to gynecological care. That they do not have this in the USA is a social crime, and is one of the main reason abortions happen there when it is unacceptably late.

As far as bleeding and hurting — childbirth and miscarriage also hurt and cause bleeding. Such is life. Any procedure that involves messing around with the reproductive organs is bound to be scary and involve one’s deepest feelings. All the more reason why it would be far better to avoid that situation through the use of contraceptions and forethought. Men need to be taught to use contraceptives. Also, many many people would like to have a child and can’t, or would have liked to have a child, had circumstances been different (this includes women who are having abortions — often because the father does not want to have a family) and I think that this is one reason it brings up so many emotions in opponents of abortion.

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 4:09 pm

@261: Apparently the word “donation” flew right past you, but I would agree that organ trafficking is a different matter. I can only point out that the power to make the donate/not donate decision is always left up to the donator. The donator has unquestioned moral agency in this instance.

We do not have forced organ donations. We do have forced bring to full term & birth pregnancies.

Perhaps you could explain to me why it is ok for the pregnant woman to make the abort decision under certain circumstances, but not others. Why cannot you trust the woman?

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 4:15 pm

….but maybe Tedra is making insufficient allowance for the possibility that other people hold, in good faith, moral worldviews different from her own?

She is not questioning their “good faith”. She is questioning the logical underpinnings of their opinion.

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 4:22 pm

Boobyp, I will try to be more explicit: do you think that donating organs for money (i.e., selling your organs) should be legal? If not, would you explain why it is ok for a person to donate organs in certain circumstances (i.e., when he/she is not paid) and not others? Why cannot you trust the person?

I am parroting your post not out of mockery, but in order to highlight the parallelism of the situations: I hope what I am trying to say is now clear(er).

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Peter Erwin 01.22.12 at 4:36 pm

krippendorf @ 188:
The percentages fluctuate a bit if you ask about other scenarios, but the general point is that in the US, women are more likely to be anti-choice/pro-life than men.

Huh. I have to admit that’s not what I would have (naively) thought.

Is that true in other countries?

Some googling turns up the following:

This 2008 Canadian poll (PDF) has 48% of men, vs 44% of women, agreeing that “abortion should be permitted in all cases”, while this 2010 poll (PDF) has essentially identical “pro-life” and “pro-choice” fractions for both genders.

This 2005 “European values poll” surveyed 10 Western and Central European countries. Unfortunately, they only report gender breakdowns for the aggregate, not for individual countries; still it’s kind of interesting. Agreement with the statement “If a woman doesn’t want children, she should be able to have an abortion”: strongly for 44% of men vs 37% of women; strongly opposed for 19% of men and 25% of women.

This Australian survey : “approve of surgical abortions” = 65% of both men and women; “disapprove” = 20% of men, 24% of women

This Argentine survey (PDF): support for abortion is marginally higher among men than women at all levels (“legal in case of threat to health”, “legal in case of rape”, etc.), except for the most liberal case (“should be legal in the first 12 weeks”), where 49% of men agree vs 41% of women.

On the other hand, the British poll (PDF) found a slight excess among women for “legal under all circumstances”: 41% vs 39%. But women were more likely than men to favor reducing the window of legality to something less than the current 24 weeks (58% vs 33% of men).

So, tentatively, it looks like support for abortion rights tends to just as strong — or even slightly stronger — among men, while opposition to abortion rights is perhaps slightly more common among women.

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 4:47 pm

mylanta1976,

If selling my organs was legal, under what conditions would you deny me the choice to make that decision, and why?

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Manta1976 01.22.12 at 5:05 pm

Under all cirumstances: the fact that selling your organs is actually illegal is fine with me; of course, by “denying you the choice” I would mean “vote for laws that make that choice illegal”.
The reason? Because it’s against my morals.

Now your turn: do you think selling organs should remain illegal? If so, how do you reconcile it with the stated argument why abortion should always be legal?

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Omega Centauri 01.22.12 at 5:15 pm

I guess I don’t like the equation of, “not trusting a woman who isn’t obviously mentally ill, from making the sole determination to abort” with don’t trust women, with the clear implication that the holder of such a view thinks women are in some substantial way less trustworthy than men. One can be of the opinion, that in many situations the person closest to, most directly involved in the situation sometimes isn’t able to see the implications as clearly as someone a step or two removed from that situation. I firmly believe that that is often the case (in general decisions not just regarding procreation) , either for reasons evoked by the statement, “can’t see the forest for the trees”, or because the emotions are just too strong for clear thinking to prevail sorts of reasons. A person can subscribe to such a mental model, without it affecting his/her opinion of the relative trustworthiness of the sexes.

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Sebastian(1) 01.22.12 at 5:17 pm

@js (236)

Speaking only for myself now, I think the absolutist position doesn’t actually make a value comparison of this sort. In fact, for both the absolutist positions, this sort of comparison doesn’t make sense. The “values”—-if in fact there were two values at stake, which I’m not sure is the way to think about it—-would be incommensurable.

that seems to be the crux of the matter, then, but I don’t see the incommensurability. If the two were incommensurable, they couldn’t be compared and any position on abortion would be possible. No, I claim this comparison stands at the heart of the matter, and for the anti-abortion absolutist the “right to life” supersedes all other concerns and for the “no-buts” pro-choicer the woman’s right to self-determine what happens with her own body supersedes all other concerns.

This is (I think) related to the “continuum” argument(s), but for reasons well laid out by bobbyp above, “the value of human life exists on a continuum” is a pretty unpromising line of argument. (And yes, I know it’s supposed to be, “the value of human life as it develops exists on a continuum”. Doesn’t actually make a difference.)

I think dismissing this argument so quickly is odd. It’s an argument very common in bio-ethics. For example: If in-vitro fertilization involved throwing out dozens of third-term embryos, would it still be legal? Would we want it to be legal?
I think it makes a lot of sense to think about – and legislate! – the nature and value of human life in a lab situation. (We also do that, btw. with the value of life in general – it’s easy to get permission to do all types of horrific trials on mice, you can’t do them on primates).

Now, Tedra says (paraphrasing): “I don’t care about the fucking lab (and most certainly not about chimps), I care about people legislating my body.”
Which brings me back to my first point – the position starts and ends with a woman’s complete right of self-determination over her body. And, to be clear, I think it’s a very strong argument.
But I think the argument about internal consistency is much weaker and the sort-of grudging “respect” for the anti-abortion absolutists I still don’t get at all.

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Scott Martens 01.22.12 at 5:43 pm

I’ve started comments in this thread three or four times and then decided not to post them, and I’m not sure I should now either. But, I’ve sat thinking about it for long enough, so here goes:

Tedra, I think you’re wrong. Not about abortion rights, but about “discomfort”. I’m more comfortable with other people’s discomfort than you seem to be and I think the existence of people uncomfortable with abortion is much more legitimate than you do.

And I’m going to argue by analogy, and this is the dangerous part because my best efforts to find a different analogy have failed. It’s a rhetorically dangerous analogy and might get me banned, but I don’t see another way to make it.

I’m uncomfortable buying Israeli produce. (**I will not respond to any comment arguing about Israel rather than the matter at hand.**) I am not a totalist who boycotts all things Israeli, or goes to pro-Palestinian marches. I’ve had Israeli profs and for a couple years an Israeli boss, I’ve never refused to attend an academic session because someone was Israeli, or at an Israeli university. I have given positive peer reviews to research directly funded by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. (They’ve invested quite a bit in my area of academia lately.) So my discomfort is not due to an unlimited anti-Israeli stance – I do not shirk from many activities that ultimately support Israel directly and indirectly and I do not think those activities are particularly immoral.

But I know that a significant amount of Israeli produce is grown in the West Bank and I regard that as a considerable moral wrong and a greater wrong than many other spending choices I make that I know contribute to wrongs in the world. I have been known to scold others for purchasing Israeli produce when alternatives are available. I support measures to ban all Israeli produce not certified to have come from within Israel’s 1967 borders and a general sanction on all Israeli produce if they refuse to comply. I do not think it is an issue of personal moral choice in isolation and I do support laws taking the choice out of other people’s hands.

But, I have also been known to buy Israeli avocados when I’m really jonesing for guacamole and there aren’t any others in the store. That happens often enough in Europe. Since the Arab Spring I go out of my way to buy avocados from Tunisia, but until this last year the only place near home that had them out of season was the Algerian green grocer down the block from my office (he sold pork sausages and beer but wouldn’t touch Israeli produce) and his avocados were awful – so bad he apologized for them once. So I would go to Carrefour and just get the ones from Israeli.

Now, if I read you correctly, my discomfort either makes me either radically anti-Israeli and possibly anti-Semitic or else a crypto-Zionist and objective oppressor of Arabs because I a) regard morality as the basis of my opposition to Israeli produce, b) support laws to make it harder to buy Israeli produce, and c) still sometimes judge my need for guacamole to be more important than making a very small contribution to protesting the occupation of the West Bank.

But I don’t think that’s right. I think discomfort with the moral choice of buying Israeli goods versus alternatives is a good thing. I think my discomfort appropriately reflects the moral ambiguity of the issue and the moral ambiguity of the ways I can respond to it. And I think other people’s discomfort about abortion in some kinds of contexts legitimately reflects their ambiguous moral feelings about abortion, just as my discomfort with Israeli produce reflects my ambiguous moral feelings about anti-Israeli boycotts.

You do not share their discomforts and moral uncertainty about abortion. Neither do I. But I am not prepared to condemn people for having morally ambiguous feelings about abortion, just as I am sure there are many (on both sides) who condemn me for having morally ambiguous feelings about boycotting Israel. And I don’t think it’s really about moral trust in women any more than I think buying Israeli produce is about morally trusting consumers.

I do think the anti-abortion movement is often about punishing “sluts”, and in so far as it is, it’s completely morally unacceptable. I do think it’s often about people thinking they can make the moral decision whether some woman “deserves to be let off the hook” for having gotten pregnant. That’s why I think exceptions for incest and rape are so common, and why most people think therapeutically necessary abortions are legitimate. And I think that’s far more profoundly hubristic and condemnable than trying to replace some woman’s judgment with one’s own: It’s actually believing one can judge another person’s moral worth, deciding who “merits” an abortion instead of merely thinking one can judge what’s best for people. But even those kinds of awful people are not really interested in replacing their moral judgement for some woman’s and do not see it as fundamentally about women’s moral capacity to choose things.

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Salient 01.22.12 at 5:56 pm

An abortion is not surgery. It does not involve cutting.

Eh. It involves separation of tissue from the body. My ‘oral surgery’ to have my wisdom teeth removed involved no cutting. It was identified on my bill as both ‘oral surgery’ and ‘extraction.’ But whatever, if you feel that distinction invalidates what I said in spirit as well as in letter, then I don’t know how to respond.

Now your turn: do you think selling organs should remain illegal? If so, how do you reconcile it with the stated argument why abortion should always be legal?

This is getting painful. It’s the buying part, not the selling part, that’s morally reprehensible. In such a transaction, the seller is the victim, the buyer is the perpetrator. It’s wrong to coerce a person into giving up an irreplaceable part of themselves. (If the organ naturally regenerates and its removal does not impede body function, it’s hard to see why it should be illegal. People ought to be able to buy others’ hair and fingernails to their heart’s content.) ((I do chafe at any law that sends the seller to jail as well as the buyer, for basically the same reason I chafe at any law that sends the prostitute to jail as well as the john.))

For the record, I feel consistent about this — I absolutely insist that it must be illegal for someone to attempt to ‘buy’ an abortion from a pregnant woman (that is, illegal to pay a woman in exchange for her agreeing to an abortion). I have no idea if that’s on the books; I would support it. I also absolutely insist that it must be illegal for a person to forcibly abort a woman’s fetus without the woman’s consent, or coerce a woman into agreeing to an abortion against her will (that is, threaten her, put her under duress, etc). That one’s already on the books; it falls under mayhem.

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Witt 01.22.12 at 6:04 pm

the person closest to, most directly involved in the situation sometimes isn’t able to see the implications

Just to be clear here: You are arguing that the state should have the power to force a woman to continue a pregnancy. Is that correct?

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 6:11 pm

Mylanta1776: “Now your turn:”

OK. Abortion is legal.

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Sebastian 01.22.12 at 6:13 pm

“She is questioning the logical underpinnings of their opinion.”

If she’s doing that, she’s doing it in a very odd way. She is trying to smuggle in the assumption that laws ought not be made which violate the ‘trust’ of individuals to weigh things out and make the right moral decision.

In the concept of the original post, that makes for a very interesting moral absolute, but it allegedly gets significantly weakened if it isn’t an absolute principle.

But of course it isn’t an absolute principle for Tedra. She isn’t one of those nasty libertarians that people think are so obviously silly around here. Not all. This has the look and feel of a non-absolute principle which exists largely for the purpose of browbeating a categorical *other* which doesn’t agree with her on every detail of what she wants out of abortion policy. And of course, when you browbeat the *other* to your own community, they heartily agree and you get lots of positive feedback about what a brilliantly logical argument it is. Everyone in your own community gets to have fulfilling community strengthening moment. Rush Limbaugh is the master of it.

But when you try preaching to the choir arguments to non-choir members, they don’t react as well and they start actually inspecting the logic of the argument. And in this particular case, it doesn’t hold up well.

The problem in the (US at least) abortion debate is that various people start from different premises. A small minority of people start from the premise that a fetus is at all times a full human being. Following logically from that, they tend to oppose almost all abortions. A small minority of people start from the premise that the fetus is at no time a human being (or person, or whatever term art they want to use) and thus they very logically arrive at the conclusion that abortion is essentially no more subject to regulation than clipping your toenails, even if it is sometimes messier. A *very large majority* of people think that the legally protect-able person value of a fetus increases over time until it essentially becomes as legally important as a born baby at some time before birth. They very logically arrive at a position where abortion is relatively unregulated early, more regulated in the middle, and maybe totally banned with only very minor exceptions toward the end.

She is not attack their *logic*. She is assuming away everyone else’s *premise*.

And since she is not only assuming away the premise of pro-lifers, but is in fact assuming away the premise of even many people who functionally are pro-choice, she is getting some flak over it. This is especially true when as the conversation developed it became obvious that she doesn’t even believe her own smuggled in premise about the intersection of trust and law.

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bobbyp 01.22.12 at 6:16 pm

A person can subscribe to such a mental model, without it affecting his/her opinion of the relative trustworthiness of the sexes.

Well sure, but only women get pregnant. And it is an unusual moral dilemma indeed where agency is taken for granted some times (the person facing the dilemma has to make a choice), but not others.

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Watson Ladd 01.22.12 at 6:18 pm

js, now you are just splitting hairs. If you want we can use homicide instead of murder. But I think you understand that the distinctions between legally taking property and illegally taking property aren’t left to the thief to determine.

Henri, what part of Roe v. Wade do you not understand? What part of liberalism passed you by? The fact is Margaret Thatcher’s denial of society is far preferable to your illiberalism.

292

bobbyp 01.22.12 at 6:32 pm

And of course, when you browbeat the other to your own community, they heartily agree and you get lots of positive feedback about what a brilliantly logical argument it is.

That must explain the overwhelming number of commenter posts taking her to task.

A very large majority of people think that the legally protect-able person value of a fetus increases over time until it essentially becomes as legally important as a born baby at some time before birth.

I’m going to keep this one for the inevitable instance where we differ but an overwhelming majority of the population agrees with something akin to mine (slim as that chance will ever be).

As for the rest, I certainly hope Tedra responds.

293

Sebastian 01.22.12 at 7:00 pm

Bobbyp I was specifically responding to Tedra at 108:

“103: How many people have to be confused by your meaning before you start to think it might be a problem with how you phrased that section?

My presumption is that there is a problem with people really understanding the extent to which they’ve internalized the cultural sexism that says that women’s bodies are public property. I think I’ve said that very clearly in this piece, which as I said I have reposted more than once. In part because I have received a great deal of positive feedback on it.

Not here, clearly. But given that CT has a recent “new comment policy” specifically dealing with sexist comments, I think there’s grounds for my presumption that the comments, not the article, are the problem.”

Tedra is not only attacking pro-lifers as sexist, she is attacking pro-choicers who get to a pro-choice position in a different way than she does as sexist. If she had restricted herself to pro-lifers, because they are not really a big part of the CT community she would have certainly received much less pushback on the particulars of the post because they would have agreed with the thrust of the post. She is suggesting that she received a great deal of positive feedback so the problem must be with the reading comprehension of the commentors rather than the piece. My point is that different audiences will approach different pieces in different ways. If your audience generally agrees with you, except in very limited situations, they won’t pick apart its problem areas but will instead agree with its tone or its general idea.

I suspect that is what happened here. There seems to be an orgy of misunderstanding about the post. From what Tedra is saying, almost know one here gets it.

294

Sebastian 01.22.12 at 7:00 pm

know = no sigh……

295

Harold 01.22.12 at 7:01 pm

I hate to be pedantic, but oral surgery frequently does involve cutting and leaves the patient with stitches. Abortion done in a safe manner sometimes involves scraping – but not stitches. Invasive, yes. Surgical, no. Abortion in the second and third trimester is a bigger and more risky deal and involves more people than the mother and fetus. No man or woman is an island.This is one reason societies feel justified in regulating it.

I cannot see, myself, how a woman can be said to be have an absolute right to kill the fetus in on the day or even minutes before giving birth in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, but not in the seconds, minutes, hours or days after giving birth, merely because the child is no longer attached to the placenta. A newborn infant is virtually as dependent on the mother as a fetus. That said, societies traditionally do not generally regard infanticide in the same category as first degree murder, because it is seen (doubtless correctly) as a sign of emotional derangement or severe stress, and therefore as a tragedy rather than a crime. (I don’t know why one of my comments above is being held for moderation. I strongly support reproductive rights. Just not absolute ones.)

296

Firionel 01.22.12 at 7:12 pm

I am still somewhat confused by the way this discussion is turning out. The way I read Tedra’s argument she is starting from the assumption that the unborn entity is part of the woman’s body and then claiming that – accepting that premise – she suspects gender bias in societies’ tendency to regulate abortions. (Genuine question: is that a fair broad-brush summary?)

I have only seen a handful of arguments here which I understand as answering to that argument. There has been a lot of criticism of the premise, of course. But I feel pretty confident Tedra is well aware that the assumption that every unborn at every stage of development being a mere appendage of the woman’s body is not exactly a truth universally acknowledged. I don’t understand her post as trying to argue that point at all.

I felt the line of inquiry surrounding paid organ donation was an interesting one that deserves more attention here.[1] Starting from there we might ask whether legislating a person’s relationship to his or her own body is unique to pregnancy[2] and failing that whether pregnancy as a state is so unique as to be excluded from arguments by analogy.

[1]: I think it is worth making explicit that there are people ( I count myself among them) who believe that the state might ethically and legally have the power and the right to order me to donate a kidney or prohibit me from doing so, while simultaneously believing (based on a totally separate argument) that it should do neither. This is not inconsistent or insane per se.
[2]: I consider it to be largely established that it is not.

297

Salient 01.22.12 at 7:16 pm

What do we have to say about the viewpoint that insists the state ought to a woman has no right to an abortion at any point during a pregnancy, unless the pregnancy is the result of rape, in which case an early-term abortion is okay? That’s a common enough perspective, even if none of us here would take it as our own. It’s also a particular case where I think Tedra’s point most clearly holds in its strong form, no matter what you think of its applicability toward other perspectives.

Let’s agree to assume away concerns for the health of the mother or child — in other words, whatever you feel makes sense for the law to be about that case, I’ll temporarily agree. I want to consider specifically the ‘NO… except rape’ perspective.

If you prefer the word ‘coerce’ to ‘force’ substitute as needed. Here’s the nutshell description:

1. Setting aside health-endangerment cases, the state ought to force all other pregnant women to carry their pregnancy to term, by jailing any woman who has an abortion (and possibly by jailing any woman who seeks an abortion).

2. Pregnant women whose pregnancies were conceived in rape ought to receive an exemption from 1., provided they seek an abortion sufficiently early and stuff. (In other words, assume whatever restrictions on 2 that you feel are reasonable.)

Now, okay, like Tedra, I can see some consistency in 1 and 1 alone. But why, of all things, should the pregnant woman having consented to sex figure into it at all? We don’t offer a similar divide after birth. A woman who gives birth to a child that was conceived in rape isn’t allowed to infanticide.

If I were in a feistier mood, I’d propose it boils down to the woman was ‘asking for it’ by consenting to sex, that is, she took on full responsibility for incubating and caring for a hypothetical fetus at the moment of consenting to sex. (Even if she insisted on diligently and correctly using contraceptive protections. In this viewpoint, “I was on the pill and we used condoms” does not prevent an aborter from going to jail, but “I was raped” does.)

Regardless of how it is characterized, that seems like a pretty odious and reprehensible distinction to me. Responses?

298

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 7:22 pm

241: I guess that I don’t trust women to always make the best decision for both themselves and for the fetus, because I think those positions sometimes conflict.

I think this is my absolute favorite comment so far. Let me speak very slowly.

You think–really–that a given woman who is actually pregnant is less likely than you, some random guy who Thinks About These Things, to realize that “at some point, it isn’t just about the woman.”

Really. You think that someone. With a fetus. Growing inside her body. Is not going to agonize over the “interests of the fetus” better than you are able to balance the “interests of a woman” whose name you don’t know and whose face you have never seen against the interests of her fetus which to you cannot possibly be anything more than an abstraction. You think that “women” with unwanted pregnancies, sure, probably they feel these things and all, but not as acutely as you do. That a woman. Who is pregnant. And who is thinking “shit, what do I do now” is less able to consider the moral implications of her actions than some random dude on the internets.

I am not saying that her moral reasoning will be perfect. I would not claim that *my* moral reasoning is perfect. It seems, however, that many people commenting in this thread are perfectly willing to assume not only that their moral reasoning is perfect but that, in their Brilliant Objective Philosophizing, they care more about “the fetus”‘s rights than a given woman who is actually pregnant with that specific fetus.

I honestly cannot imagine how anyone manages to reach adulthood with that measure of shamelessness.

299

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 7:31 pm

275: One can be of the opinion, that in many situations the person closest to, most directly involved in the situation sometimes isn’t able to see the implications as clearly as someone a step or two removed from that situation.

Absolutely. I think that this is often the case.

I also think that women generally TALK TO PEOPLE WHO ARE, IN FACT, ONE OR TWO STEPS REMOVED FROM THEIR PREGNANCIES in the process of making their decisions. You know, friends. Doctors. Generally most women who are old enough to become pregnant have, y’know, read things on the internets about the Moral Issues Involved in Abortion. Pregnant women seldom exist in vacuums.

300

Alex 01.22.12 at 7:34 pm

242 is good – it gets to the important point that in many ways, practice is principle. If the law is more permissive, but the service is unavailable, then the law is eyewash. If the law is maximally restrictive, but the practice is common.

301

Alex 01.22.12 at 7:34 pm

…then the law is pretty much eyewash. Remind you of something?

302

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 7:36 pm

280: I am, in fact, *profoundly* uncomfortable about abortions. I have serious doubts about whether I would ever be able to have one. Every time I have ever had a pregnancy scare (and thank god, they have always only been scares; I have been lucky enough to only have had the one pregnancy)–and in some cases those pregnancy scares were in *extremely* awkward circumstances. Once they were the kind of circumstance that would almost certainly have radically changed not only my life but the life of my son, which is far more important to me, for the worse. With every scare, I have felt that despite all the reasons to do so, I couldn’t possibly terminate the pregnancy.

For me, the fact that I agonized over this kind of thing suggests that most women probably do the same.

For god knows what reason, apparently for many people the fact that *they* find this issue compelling, if not agonizing, somehow suggests to them that women probably *don’t* think things through so carefully.

I don’t know what to call that other than sexism.

303

Alex 01.22.12 at 7:40 pm

to complete the loon triple post trifecta, perhaps the practice/principle duality is as flawed as the personal/political distinction.

304

Harold 01.22.12 at 7:41 pm

I want to insist for a minute on the not cutting. A woman’s uterus is a very soft and spongy organ and sticking anything sharp in risks piercing through into the intestinal wall causing peritonitis (a horrible, horrible way to die). That is why safe procedures first use dilation , which hardens the uterine walls by making them turgid with water, and then scraping. This is also done after a miscarriage, because matter left in after a miscarriage can cause infection and then death, as happened to someone I knew about. Done properly an early abortion is safer and less invasive than a dental extraction. Done improperly, it is much more dangerous.

305

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 7:52 pm

288: Tedra is not only attacking pro-lifers as sexist, she is attacking pro-choicers who get to a pro-choice position in a different way than she does as sexist.

Yes. And the fact that you use the word “attack” is, to me, a signal that saying, more or less, “let’s talk about sexism, which is a social institution, including the sexism in the way that we, people who are after all part of a society that we all agree is sexist (do we not?) reason about things that are uniquely ‘women’s problems.’ Abortion, for example, is hugely controversial and highly regulated in almost every modern country. Most thinking people Have Opinions About Abortion. I propose for consideration the hypothesis that these facts stem from a fundamental sexism that women, as a class, are not fully capable moral agents, and my evidence for this hypothesis is that we almost universally assume that even though it stands to reason (if you just think about it for a few minutes) that a given woman with an unwanted pregnancy is almost certainly going to think through most of the “issues” that unwanted pregnancy introduces–and probably a lot of issues that most of us, not knowing this particular woman and her particular life circumstances, can’t begin to imagine–we still, as a society (and as individuals) think that we need to somehow regulate and serve as a check on her ability to decide what to do just in case she hasn’t considered things like X, Y, or Z” is somehow an Aggressive Act!

Against what? Against our god-given Objective Right to Reason Dispassionately? Against the fact that We Are Not Sexist and How Dare You Imply Such a Thing?

I mean, seriously. The Feminist Boogeyman is only saying THINK. And we’ve got 300 comments of people saying (variously) omghowrude! omghowsmug! omghowsilly! omgthispostisbeneathourstandards! omgthepremiseofthispostisjustridiculous!

Yes, a few people have said, instead, “I’m not sure I follow this line of thought” or “I see your point, but I’m not sure…” And you’ll notice that I have not “attacked” any of those people.

Hmmmmmmmm.

306

Salient 01.22.12 at 7:56 pm

A newborn infant is virtually as dependent on the mother as a fetus.

Uh, no, if the mother dies in childbirth, the kid can live pretty reliably. If the mother dies a day before childbirth, that kid’s a goner unless you carve up the mom’s corpse to extract it, which is IMO on par with carving up the mom’s corpse to extract organs, and best discussed in that context.

I cannot see, myself, how a woman can be said to be have an absolute right to kill the fetus in on the day or even minutes before giving birth in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, but not in the seconds, minutes, hours or days after giving birth, merely because the child is no longer attached to the placenta.

I cannot see, myself, how a U.S. citizen can be said to be have an absolute right to vote in an election in on the day exactly eighteen years after having been born, but not in the days prior to after giving birth.

Whether or not you feel the distinction I proposed is correct or sensible or rightheaded, hopefully you at least agree that the distinction I proposed is a lot less arbitrary than “thou shalt be at least exactly 18 years of age before you vote in elections.”

307

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 7:57 pm

299: MY uterus is soft and spongy, and the entrance to it is extremely sensitive, and the idea of anyone SCRAPING it with ANYTHING is way too fucking close to “cutting” for my comfort, thankyouverymuch.

Yes, done properly, abortion is safer than pregnancy/childbirth. But no, I’m not going to concede the “it’s not surgery, so no biggie” hair-splitting here.

And if anything, the fact that later abortions are more “invasive” ought to be seen as an argument against having to regulate it. I sure as shit am not going to let someone stick instruments up in there without thinking about it pretty damn carefully, even if I think “the fetus” has the moral standing of a goddamn dirt clod.

308

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:01 pm

Follow on to 302: I had missed Emma’s 244, which said exactly the same thing.

309

Salient 01.22.12 at 8:03 pm

Request in advance — Let’s please not rag on me for accidentally slipping into meme-speak and saying “that kid’s a goner” above, where I definitely didn’t mean to say ‘kid’ and meant to say ‘fetus.’ Thanks in advance for not playing gotcha.

The “do we extract a living fetus from a dead pregnant woman in order to try to carry the fetus to term” thing is actually an interesting question. My take on it is, we should do to the best of our ability what we think the pregnant woman would have wanted. In the general case, we can probably be pretty confident the woman wanted to carry the child to term? Maybe? But if a woman (perhaps in her will) specifies she does not want anything harvested from her corpse, well, I think we should respect that, provided we’re really confident that was her preference.

310

js. 01.22.12 at 8:04 pm

Sebastian(1) at 279:

I’m not sure how important any of this is at this point, but let me try to restate what I was thinking in slightly different terms:

For the absolutist anti-abortion position, the life of the fetus (or maybe “life”) is all that matters, full stop. It’s not saying: “Upon weighing the relative values of the women’s interests and the fetus’ interests, the latter are determined to be weightier.” It’s at best unclear how someone could determine—a priori as it were—that the “fetus’ interests” (whatever they are) will always come out on top. So the absolutist position can’t rest on a comparative moral judgment. Similarly for the absolutist pro-choice position: what matters is the woman’s agency, full stop.

311

Jerry Vinokurov 01.22.12 at 8:05 pm

I’ve read every comment of this thread (why? masochism, I guess) and there’s a point which Tedra has made multiple times but has not gotten any acknowledgement. It’s this: in reality, the reasons why women actually have abortions are anything but frivolous. It’s very telling that a bunch of dudes (I am a dude, full disclosure) are sitting around judging the alleged “frivolity” of women’s reproductive choices. I think this is exactly the sort of thing that substantiates the accusation that you don’t really trust women; you’re going to take it upon yourself to judge their life choices without even the barest amount of information about why those choices are made.

Of course, if you really want to know something useful about why women make the choices they do, you can, I don’t know, check out some publicly available research? Hey, let me google that for you: according to a Guttmacher Institute study most women’s reasons for having an abortion are something like “it would make my life massively difficult,” not “OMG PROM COMING UP.” This is even more relevant to the topic of late-term abortions, which, reality check, constitute about 1% of all abortions in the US (88% of which take place in the first trimester). And again, they are pretty much performed only for health reasons or under circumstances where the infant wouldn’t even be viable at all. Read all about it.

All these airy abstractions about “I’m uncomfortable with X” or “I find Y but not Z” frivolous” are proferred in seeming ignorance of actual women’s actual lived experiences. That does, in fact, amount to a mistrust of women in general; you are saying “my squeamishness over some procedure takes precedence over your desire not to die while giving birth or to not give birth to an acephalous infant.” That people are sitting around seriously contemplating the possibility of women having late-term abortions because…. they just feel like it? they totes changed their minds for no good reason? is baffling and disturbing; even if it might happen once in a blue moon, it has no bearing on how or why most abortions actually get performed. All this abstract moralizing hasn’t bothered to take into account these facts, and the fact that people are comfortable throwing them around in disregard of actually taking into account how women live and make reproductive choices is, in fact, a very deep kind of mistrust.

312

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:11 pm

@Mpowell at 10 (which I only just got around to releasing from moderation):

The argument that the anti-abortion crowd distrusts the decision-making ability of women really already assumes the conclusion of the pro-choice movement. Namely that the only person involved in the decision is the woman

No, it doesn’t. My premise is not that the woman is the *only* person “involved” in the decision. My premise is that she is the person who is *most* likely to think through as many paramaters as possible–and that therefore, the presumption that she might not have considered X, Y, or Z is a sign that one thinks that women, as a class, are not real great at this whole moral reasoning thing.

313

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:15 pm

311: BRA. VO.

And further, though I SO want to just applaud and shut up, this: there’s a point which Tedra has made multiple times but has not gotten any acknowledgement.

The fact that I have, indeed, said this repeatedly, and it has not been acknowledged (and I think mostly completely unrecognized) EVEN THOUGH it is the central argument of the OP suggests a real problem on the part of the commentariat with either (a) posts written by ladies; (b) posts about lady topics; (c) posts written by me, personally; (d) reading.

314

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:16 pm

309: That’s an interesting question. I have to admit I totally disagree: I think if a woman is dead, and yet a fetus inside her is still alive and viable, that we ought to operate to remove it and save its life. But then I’m sentimental about babies like that.

315

Firionel 01.22.12 at 8:19 pm

From 312:
[...], the presumption that she might not have considered X, Y, or Z is a sign that one thinks that women, as a class, are not real great at this whole moral reasoning thing.

I can see where you are coming from, and I am not saying that it is a wholly unreasonably thing to say. But as a syllogism it is not very compelling. The word women might (in terms of logic) be replaced by any collective term encompassing pregnant women pondering abortion. Women, surely. But just as reasonably people, primates or carbon based life forms.

And I think there is the rub. Many of us just don’t trust people. It would greatly bolster the argument if you could make more clear how restrictions on abortion are different from other restrictions on agency. (For the record: Forcing me to stay alive seems to me to be one hell of a restriction of my agency.)

316

Manta1976 01.22.12 at 8:21 pm

Tedra, I see what you are saying (or, at least, I think I do) , but I do not agree that wanting to regulate abortion is necessarily sexist, or inconsistent with respect for women.

We, as a society, regulate lots of matters which involve only one individual, or only consenting individuals, from trivial to momentous ones. In those matters we either do not “trust” the individual to make either the right choices, or we deem that the interest of society trumps the authonomy of the person.
I am not saying that we make the right decisions (and with some of those I do not agree at all), only that the opinion that society has a right to legislate over personal matters (and in particular, over abortion) is not (necessarily) a sexist one, is a pretty common one, and that your appeal to the individual absolute right to be the ultimate judge in personal matters proves too much (unless, of course, your actual position is that in all those situations the individual should have absolute freedom).

317

Emma in Sydney 01.22.12 at 8:24 pm

Harold, are you aware that this is a distinction without a difference? Doctors and hospitals in my country regard dilation and extraction to be a surgical procedure. Says so right there in the health benefits schedule. Given that most men of my acquaintance whine outrageously about such ‘invasive’ procedures as a gloved finger prostate examination, I find it almost amusing that some random dude in the internet wants to tell me that a procedure I have experienced twice, which takes days to recover from, and which requires a signed consent form detailing all manner of horrors, isn’t surgery, by some pedantic definition. FFF, you have to give them permission to do a full hysterectomy to stop you bleeding to death.
Tedra@297, yes, abortion was a matter of serious thought for me, as I was blessed/cursed with high fertility. Both the pregnancies I terminated took place despite using barrier contraception (while breastfeeding twins). Part of the decision was a terror of more twins, as my first pregnancy had also started out as twins, one of whom miscarried early. Many years later I had two more children, so the timing, stress of the twins and two-year-old situation, and my own assessment of my endurance and stability was important. But the biggest consideration was the welfare of my existing children. In Australia, most women seeking abortions are already mothers. It is not a calculation only of woman and fetus, but also her existing baby or toddler, her important relationships, and her wider family.
No one can make that calculation for you. Anyone who thinks they can seems to me to misunderstand the way families are built on the very sinews of the women who make them, not just in pregnancy but right through babyhood and childhood.

318

Sebastian 01.22.12 at 8:27 pm

“For me, the fact that I agonized over this kind of thing suggests that most women probably do the same.”

What does that have to with the law? Most men don’t want to rape women either. Most people don’t want to steal money from banks. Most people don’t want to murder their wives. Most business owners want to pay their employees enough to live on. Lots of laws exist to prohibit things that most people wouldn’t do anyway. It is no critique whatsoever to notice that lots of people wouldn’t break the law in question anyway.

“I mean, seriously. The Feminist Boogeyman is only saying THINK. And we’ve got 300 comments of people saying (variously) omghowrude! omghowsmug! omghowsilly! omgthispostisbeneathourstandards! omgthepremiseofthispostisjustridiculous!”

No, the post doesn’t say that. The post says that if Tedra gets to define the disagreement in a really narrow and unfair way, she can also say that people who disagree with her are sexist and don’t trust women *and that they have absolutely no other legitimate reason for their beliefs*. ["...then there is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women. I am completely serious about this."]

That is not only saying THINK. That is combination strawmanning and demonizing your opponents. That is fine rabble rousing polemic, there is a long history of rabble rousing polemic in the world. No one is saying that you should be banned from doing rabble rousing polemic.

But, don’t tell us that is just asking people to think.

319

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:27 pm

315: The word women might (in terms of logic) be replaced by any collective term encompassing pregnant women pondering abortion. Women, surely. But just as reasonably people, primates or carbon based life forms.

No. Because it isn’t purely about logic; the abortion “debate” (and indeed, pregnancy, and childbirth, and reproduction, and sex) are also about *feelings*. What we feel comfortable/uncomfortable with, what we like/hate, what makes us squeamish.

And the primary difference between restrictions on abortion vs. other restrictions on agency is that pregnancy is a specific kind of agency that *it just happens* that only primates-with-uteruses experience.

That’s what feminism means. That we can’t just abstract “people” when there are *particular aspects of the human experience* that specifically and uniquely only apply to lady people. Specifics actually matter.

320

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:32 pm

318: There is a difference between saying most people DO something and saying most people DON’T do something.

Moreover, when the argument in favor of forbidding something is that We Are Worried that People Will Do It Without Considering X, and there is very little (no?) evidence that that ever actually happens, then there is a problem.

As to the rest of it, you know what? If you think that I’m especially mean or stupid, then feel free to ignore my posts. I’m here to provide and hopefully discuss content, not to prove my bonafides.

321

Emma in Sydney 01.22.12 at 8:33 pm

Firionel, I agree that euthanasia falls into a similar place with regard to agency, and I think adults should have an absolute right to end their lives, just as I think women should have an absolute right to end a pregnancy.

322

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 8:34 pm

Emma@317: I have a friend who had two sets of twins less than three years apart even though she was on the pill both times. Terrifying.

323

Salient 01.22.12 at 8:39 pm

There seems to be an orgy of misunderstanding about the post. From what Tedra is saying, almost no one here gets it.

…No kidding. I swear like a solid third of the posts are some variety of the form “No Tedra I most certainly did not misunderstand you.”

IMO: Here’s what’s not the question that’s at hand. Under what circumstances should we jail a woman for drinking sage tea?^1^

You might say “never, except in physical health cases where we’re fairly confident one of the two beings is going to die otherwise.”

Tedra doesn’t seem, to me, to be addressing that case. You might say, “always, except in cases where it’s reasonably likely we could finish bringing the fetus to term independent of the pregnant woman, and the risk of complications from abortion is considerable.” This is the basic justification set for restrictions specifically on late-term abortion, and also not particularly what Tedra seems, to me, to be addressing.

Or you could say “I’m okay with abortion being legal, but the doctors should be required to show the woman a sonogram of the fetus and explain to her what a fetus is.”

Despite that not being anti-abortion at all, it seems to me like one of the perspectives Tedra absolutely is addressing, and criticizing — it takes for granted that a woman is incapable of arriving at a satisfactory decision without intervention.

“Abortion is basically killing a child, if and only if the pregnant woman consented to sex” is likewise the kind of fundamental incoherence that I feel Tedra was addressing, and criticizing.

So, fine, you can insert all kinds of other clauses, like “Abortion {subject to blah blah other restrictions} is basically killing a child, if and only if the pregnant woman consented to sex” — that’s insisting on refocusing on something Tedra’s not trying to talk about.

Whether or not it’s a good idea to insist on that refocus

“It’s a child, not a choice, unless the woman wasn’t asking for it” does not cohere…

^1^It’s known to be a reliable abortifacient at sufficient strength (though with considerable medical complications almost inevitably), and it’s legal to purchase the raw ingredient.

324

RKG 01.22.12 at 8:39 pm

It’s really sad to read over three hundred comments and see how everyone is so steeped in a gender binary that makes this about women vs. men. As we know from Patrick Califia and Thomas Beatie, FTM transmen are getting pregnant and having children with some regularity. We can keep talking about pregnancy and abortions in ways that fight to maintain a rigid gender binary, or we can talk about about it in ways that recognize the reality of a gender-identity continumm. The gender binary that the author of this post and every commenter seems to be fighting to maintain is a major reason why this discussion remains so circular and unresolved.

325

Firionel 01.22.12 at 8:44 pm

I’m getting more confused by the minute.[1]

That we can’t just abstract “people” when there are particular aspects of the human experience that specifically and uniquely only apply to lady people.

Does that mean the literally very same argument might be sexist when made by a man, but not when made by a woman (or by a person in a situation taken to suitable extremes – say a woman actually in an unwanted pregnancy)? [2]

And if so, isn’t that an extremely dangerous line of reasoning?
And if not, are you really suggesting that society may not judge me on my actions, period? [³]

[1] I’m not complaining. Confusion usually sets in right before you learn something (or fail to do so).
[2]Since this is the internet I will be explicit about this: I’m not trying to imply that’s an absurd position. Agents and messages may not always separate easily.
[3] Again, since this is the internet: those are genuine questions. I’m really that strange.

326

jh 01.22.12 at 8:46 pm

Pregnant women seldom exist in vacuums.

Though when they do, the abortion debate becomes essentially moot.

I do not think that the abortion debate being more heated in the US than in Europe has to do with how restrictive abortion is; compare Canada, which has very little effective anti-abortion constituency, has no legal restrictions on abortion, and which covers abortion through Medicare. (There are issues in some provinces with accessibility — PEI, maybe? — and other issues for people who live in the far north, where there is insufficient population to have local abortion available [though they do get flown down for medical care], but overall abortion is not a major part of any party’s planks.)

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leederick 01.22.12 at 8:48 pm

“But why, of all things, should the pregnant woman having consented to sex figure into it at all? We don’t offer a similar divide after birth. A woman who gives birth to a child that was conceived in rape isn’t allowed to infanticide… If I were in a feistier mood, I’d propose it boils down to the woman was ‘asking for it’ by consenting to sex…”

I think it’s quite a natural extension of other things we do. We have laws which allow you to use force in the prevention of crime, and which remove liability should you cause necessary and proportional harm to innocent third parties in doing so. The pregnancy is a continuation of the rape. So even if abortion is illegal, it’s natural that the same reasoning we use to allow people to say speed away from a kidnap even if they harm other road users, legitimises an abortion and allows women to reduce the impact of a rape even though it harms a fetus.

328

Manta1976 01.22.12 at 8:49 pm

Firionel, I read her post as saying that the same argument can be sexist if made about a woman, but not when made about a man; who makes the argument is not really relevant.

I do not agree with it, but that seems to be her meaning.

329

Sebastian 01.22.12 at 8:54 pm

“Moreover, when the argument in favor of forbidding something is that We Are Worried that People Will Do It Without Considering X, and there is very little (no?) evidence that that ever actually happens, then there is a problem.”

But that isn’t the argument. The argument is that people will do it even if the fetus is fully viable, for example. We aren’t worried about them not considering whether or not the fetus is fully viable, we are worried that they won’t care whether or not the fetus is fully viable. And that is where personal projection about things you think and care about can only get you so far.

I have never seriously thought about raping someone. But you know what? Some people not only think about it, they do it! Laws against rape aren’t to keep ME from raping someone, or to punish ME since I’m never going to rape anyone.

Laws against unnecessary late term abortions aren’t for you, Tedra. They are for people who seek unnecessary late term abortions. And don’t say it never happens, the grand jury report in the Kermit Gosnell shows evidence of hundreds of ‘abortions’ of viable fetuses, and laments that they could only charge for infanticide on eight because of statute of limitations issues and because only those were clearly outside the womb at the time he killed them. And yes, those abortions were already illegal. But Gosnell wasn’t performing ‘abortions’ of fully viable fetuses on himself. That is one, single abortion provider in Pennsylvania with evidence of hundreds of viable fetuses killed. It. Really. Happens.

330

Salient 01.22.12 at 8:57 pm

The pregnancy is a continuation of the rape.

(1) The fetus was not responsible for the rape; (2) we don’t allow the woman to commit infanticide in identical scenarios; (3) Therefore, people who insist fetus = child (such as those who say “it’s a child, not a choice”), but who allow for abortion in the case of rape, are being incoherent.

331

Salient 01.22.12 at 9:03 pm

Also, way to define pregnancy as an entirely male thing. “The pregnancy is a continuation of the rape” is an interesting way of saying that in the other cases, a pregnant woman who consented to sex has an obligation to the man who inseminated her to carry the pregnancy to term. It doesn’t make any sense to hold the fetus in any way responsible, and it’s not a bystander — it didn’t even really exist during the attack. The exceptions you mention for murder and theft and etc are strictly in-the-moment-while-the-crime-is-happening scenarios; they don’t apply to the person a day later…

332

leederick 01.22.12 at 9:04 pm

“(1) The fetus was not responsible for the rape; (2) we don’t allow the woman to commit infanticide in identical scenarios; (3) Therefore, people who insist fetus = child (such as those who say “it’s a child, not a choice”), but who allow for abortion in the case of rape, are being incoherent.”

(1) Doesn’t matter, the physical harm to the woman is real and a product of crime. (2) The existence of born child doesn’t cause physical harm, so infanticide wouldn’t remove that harm.

333

Salient 01.22.12 at 9:06 pm

We aren’t worried about them not considering whether or not the fetus is fully viable, we are worried that they won’t care whether or not the fetus is fully viable.

Dude, this is exactly what Tedra is accusing you of saying. You feel that your interest in the matter outweighs their indifference. You don’t care that they’re indifferent; your feelings on the matter ought to veto hers. That. is. exactly. what. the. post. is. accusing. you. of. saying. The content of your response is, basically, “yeah, and?”

334

leederick 01.22.12 at 9:07 pm

“It doesn’t make any sense to hold the fetus in any way responsible, and it’s not a bystander—it didn’t even really exist during the attack. The exceptions you mention for murder and theft and etc are strictly in-the-moment-while-the-crime-is-happening scenarios; they don’t apply to the person a day later…”

I wouldn’t use the word bystander, but it’s still directly physically harming the woman through growth and continuing the assault. Stress on the organs etc during pregnancy are just as much physical harms as being beaten around during a rape.

335

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 9:11 pm

These things seem incoherent to you, Salient, only because you are expecting some absolutist logic there. Think of them as compromises between some contradictory concepts, and it all makes perfect sense, depending on the degree you value individual autonomy vs tribal interest vs traditions, etc.

336

Sebastian(1) 01.22.12 at 9:12 pm

and there’s a point which Tedra has made multiple times but has not gotten any acknowledgement. It’s this: in reality, the reasons why women actually have abortions are anything but frivolous.

To me, at least, the reason for that is straightforward. Tedra sets up her argument as an argument about abstract logical consistency:

because unless you have an absolute position that all human life (…) are equally valuable (…), then there is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women.

I.e. she makes the argument not about an empirical reality, but about abstract logic and internal consistency.
I agree with her on the empirical argument and so I don’t engage with it (I did try to acknowledge it in a couple of posts, though). I also think that the empirical argument is not particularly novel. It’s been a staple of the pro-choice movement for 30+years (for good reason!).
So I engage with what I see as a novel argument, i.e. the internal consistency part of her claim. And I continue to think that’s a weak argument. I see in it the same juxtaposition of logical extremes that Randian-libertarians like so much: Either all taxes are theft, or the government can just take away all your property.
I just don’t see why a position that judges one right (right to choose vs. “right to life”) to be the only relevant one (as js suggest is the case, or to strictly dominate the other, as I suggest) is logically more consistent than a position that sees and judges a trade-off.

337

Emma in Sydney 01.22.12 at 9:13 pm

Leederick, so you are saying that is important for women to actively consent to undergo the physical harm that pregnancy involves.

I agree.

But this consent is not given at the point of the sex or rape that initiates the pregnancy. It is, and must be, a separate act of consent, and that’s why abortion should be the woman’s decision. We are lucky to live at a point in history where such separate consent is possible without great danger and harm, but many still want to use pregnancy and motherhood to punish sexual behavior they don’t approve of.

338

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:13 pm

As we know from Patrick Califia and Thomas Beatie, FTM transmen are getting pregnant and having children with some regularity. We can keep talking about pregnancy and abortions in ways that fight to maintain a rigid gender binary, or we can talk about about it in ways that recognize the reality of a gender-identity continumm. The gender binary that the author of this post and every commenter seems to be fighting to maintain is a major reason why this discussion remains so circular and unresolved.

This has occurred to me, but it’s definitely a topic for a separate post. The more so because the point of *this* post is that the gender binary is real (I am not saying it is biologically “real”; I am saying it is socially real) and that *that is why* abortion is so “controversial.”

I’m kind of in the “if men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament” camp; transmen getting pregnant, I’m afraid–and I am NOT endorsing this, mind–falls into the “that’s freaky and …. somehow we shouldn’t allow it!” hole where abortion is concerned; iow, like gay men, transmen fall into the Not Real Men (and therefore not fully human) camp.

(Consider that the “controversial” nature of sex reassignment surgery is a lot like the controversial nature of the abortion debate.)

339

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:18 pm

Laws against unnecessary late term abortions aren’t for you, Tedra. They are for people who seek unnecessary late term abortions.

Given that I am a woman in my mid-40s and therefore in the “high risk pregnancy” group if I become pregnant, they damn well are “for me.” And I cannot imagine why you think that you–or anyone else–would be better situated than I would be, if I became pregnant, to decide whether my (god forbid) need/desire for an abortion late in a pregnancy would be “unnecessary.”

(Are we going to go into the “well, I don’t mean *you*. I mean those *other*, unreasonable women” direction?)

340

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:19 pm

Sebastian, a question for you:

Why do you think it’s so important to demonstrate the fallacy of my reasoning that you’ve spent several days driving this comment thread over 300 saying so?

341

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:20 pm

she makes the argument not about an empirical reality, but about abstract logic and internal consistency

No. My point is that the logic/consistency of the “pro-choice, but” argument is *predicated on ignoring an empirical reality*.

342

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:22 pm

Does that mean the literally very same argument might be sexist when made by a man, but not when made by a woman

No. Women can be sexist too. What with our being “human beings” and “part of the larger society” and “not raised under a rock” and all that.

343

Brad 01.22.12 at 9:24 pm

Thanks Tedra. I’ve read a lot about abortion, but reading this post and the comments thread has helped my thinking about the issue a lot.

My take on abortion always goes back to Aristotle’s discussion on free choice. He pointed to a class of choices that are free, but in a way are not. The example I recall that he gave is that of a ship’s captain whose ship was damaged, but who might be able to make it to shore if he offloaded his cargo. He does not want to offload his cargo, yet he still chooses to do so. He chooses, but he doesn’t really choose freely. I’ve always thought that women who have abortions are in such a situation (but worse). In light of that, I particularly want to applaud a part of the post that I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments:

“…I also expect you to work your ass off making this a more just world in which women don’t have to choose abortions…”

That has always been my point in arguments with my anti-abortion friends (I was raised Catholic so I have a lot of them). None of them do more than pay lip-service to the idea, if they even do that. If you’re concerned about the unborn baby you won’t save any by banning abortion – women will get abortions anyway if they think they need them. They always have and always will. If you make the world fairer and more just, however, less women will choose to have abortions. The thing that makes me really angry is when people who are anti-abortion hold political positions that have the opposite effect.

Since I’m sure you can do it better than me, and reach a wider audience, I hope you engage with that argument in the future (or if you’ve done so already could you point it out so I can read it?).

344

Sebastian 01.22.12 at 9:24 pm

No, I definitely mean you personally. I strongly suspect that you would get an abortion well before viability.

Tedra, a question for you. Why do you think it is so important to defend the fallacy of your reasoning such that you’ve spent several days doing so?

I submit, it may be the same reason I’ve been trying to demonstrate it. ;)

[maybe we're both stubborn?]

345

Emma in Sydney 01.22.12 at 9:26 pm

Tedra @ 338, yes! Women our age are greatly at risk of thinking that a cessation of periods, fatigue and a bit of weight gain are symptoms of menopause rather than pregnancy, thereby leaving things rather later than young women might.

346

DelRey 01.22.12 at 9:39 pm

Presumably because most of the conditions that follow the “except” in “abortion is wrong, except…” seem to revolve around how the woman got pregnant—rape, incest, etc.

I don’t presume that at all. For me, and I think for most people, the most important condition with respect to the morality of abortion in most cases is the age of the fetus. Abortion of a mature fetus is in general much more morally problematic than abortion of a young fetus (or an embryo, or a zygote). And that distinction is reflected in abortion laws, which generally place much greater restrictions on the termination of late-term pregnancies than on the termination of early ones.

347

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:42 pm

342, see302.Keep in mind, too, that many, if not most abortions late in pregnancy are for problems that were not detectable earlier. (It seems from your “before viability” that you either didn’t know this or didn’t consider the possibility–which gets back to the “why do you think you are better able to reason about this than a woman late into pregnancy who wants such an abortion” question, by the way.)

Also, if I hadn’t written this post myself–and therefore feel an obligation to see the comment thread through–I would have stopped reading it long ago.

348

Sebastian(1) 01.22.12 at 9:43 pm

Salient -
I think your posts are actually very helpful in getting at the main point I’m interested in, i.e. the internal logic part of Tedra’s claim. So let me take you up on the rape exception example:
(preface that by saying that that’s not a position I hold. I think it’s medieval).
Here is what I believe to be a logically consistent position:
1. Abortion is bad. There is value in a growing human life that should be protected.
2. A woman that has been raped has experienced a grave injustice. Giving birth to the product of the rape will further hurt and traumatize her.
3. The concerns for 2.) outweigh the concerns for 1.)

We do this type of weighing of rights all the time, e.g. in free speech cases:
1. Banning any type of speech is bad.
2. Crying “fire” in a crowded theater is likely to cause a panic and kill people
3. The concerns for 2.) outweigh the concerns for 1.)

In the abortion example you can substitute all types of other things for 2.) and maintain a logically consistent position.

349

Alex 01.22.12 at 9:47 pm

311: good.

350

Peter Erwin 01.22.12 at 9:48 pm

Jerry Vinokurov @ 311:
… there’s a point which Tedra has made multiple times but has not gotten any acknowledgement. It’s this: in reality, the reasons why women actually have abortions are anything but frivolous. It’s very telling that a bunch of dudes (I am a dude, full disclosure) are sitting around judging the alleged “frivolity” of women’s reproductive choices.

Is that really a fair characterization of this discussion? As far as I can tell, only two commenters have actually suggested that he or she is worried women might have abortions for what might be considered “frivolous” reasons (Omega Centauri @ 58 and 76 and Sebastian @ 328; faustusnotes @151 alluded to the possibility of “trivial” reasons, but went on to say this was irrelevant: “Either the woman gets to make her own choice, or she doesn’t. It’s not my business to judge her reasons.”[1]) Every other mention of “frivolity” has been in the context of condemnation of alleged arguments invoking it. I don’t doubt that people certainly do make such arguments; but they seem to be rather thin on the ground in this particular discussion.

[1] Actually, I suppose jack lecou (@118) alludes to the possibility as well, but he has the same attitude as faustusnotes: “It’s her right (or ought to be) to make her own decision – and mistakes. And there’s really no reason that it should be any of my business.”

351

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 9:56 pm

347: Yes, it’s fair. Because everyone says “I fully support her right to make the decision but…” Followed by some version of “just for the sake of argument.”

And the point is that “just for the sake of argument” treats people’s decisions as abstractions, when the OP’s point is that that is a very, very silly (sexist) assumption where the decision to have an abortion is concerned.

352

Firionel 01.22.12 at 10:01 pm

Hmmm. I guess I’m definitely not getting it.

I am getting the sense that insulating people from my moral judgments on grounds of my not experiencing (and not being able to experience) the situation they are experiencing is not something I am willing to accept. In fact less than 3 days ago, the mere suggestion would have seemed outlandish to me.[1]

Tedra: It may well be that I disagree very fundamentally with just about everything you have said here. Still, I’ll be danged if I didn’t get a whole lot smarter by considering the arguments (and hopefully continuing to do so). Seeing the immense amount of feedback that has come your way I feel a “Thank you” is in order.

[1]Funny thing that. I don’t think I am ready to make things legal on grounds of “I’m in no position to judge.” I am very much ready to have the appropriate punishment decided in such a fashion. Under casual scrutiny that does appear to be inconsistent. Maybe what’s throwing me here is the fact that women as a category seems to be so arbitrarily chosen. There are many distinctions in people that can be every bit as trenchant as gender, such as material affluence, intellect (yes, I really do mean that), cultural heritage, physical ability, age…

This gets me thinking: Does anybody have a useful book hint on empathy as a precondition for moral judgment or somesuch?

353

Uncle Kvetch 01.22.12 at 10:06 pm

It’s this: in reality, the reasons why women actually have abortions are anything but frivolous. It’s very telling that a bunch of dudes (I am a dude, full disclosure) are sitting around judging the alleged “frivolity” of women’s reproductive choices. I think this is exactly the sort of thing that substantiates the accusation that you don’t really trust women; you’re going to take it upon yourself to judge their life choices without even the barest amount of information about why those choices are made.

I second Tedra’s “bravo” to this comment.

I grew up in very conservative, devoutly Catholic family. My parents were involved in the antichoice movement for awhile in the mid-to-late 70s (they eventually drifted away, finding it increasingly strident and extremist, but they remain firmly antichoice to this day, and vote accordingly). Anyway, being a good Catholic boy at the time, I pitched in and did my part, including attending several Marches for Life in DC with our church.

I distinctly remember that the “frivolity” argument was an intrinsic part of antichoice discourse in those post-Roe years. “These women,” I was taught, were having abortions (“killing their babies,” to be more faithful to the rhetoric) willy-nilly, with no more thought or reflection than one would put into tossing something in the trash. In the pamphlets and leaflets, the procedure was described in gory detail as far as the fetus was concerned, but there was zero attention to what the woman experienced — as far as I could tell, it was no more of a big deal than a routine dental checkup. Otherwise, “those women” couldn’t possibly be so cavalier about it, could they?

Thinking back on it now (having long since done a complete 180 in my personal views on the topic), it is precisely this willingness to “judge their life choices without even the barest amount of information about why those choices are made” that was the most surreal, and chilling, aspect of the whole movement.

354

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 10:13 pm

350: I kind of suspect that both my own discomfort with abortion *and* my insistence on the importance of recognizing that actual women have actual reasons for what they do is about my own vestigial Catholicism. I mean, that’s why confession is a sacrament, isn’t it? We all sin, and our specific sins and temptations are an issue for us and god: religion is about what one does (and continues to do, and continues to do, and continues to do) rather than what one believes. It’s an ongoing relationship/process.

There’s another whole discussion to be had about why I find it really strange, therefore, that Catholics would support *legal prohibitions* on abortion (short version: sexism). Sin is a bad thing, but our ability to sin and repent from sin are such huge parts of what faith *means* in a Catholic context that trying to involve the state in it just seems really weird….

355

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 10:13 pm

I know what you mean, Firionel, 349.

To me, 319: “That’s what feminism means. That we can’t just abstract “people” when there are particular aspects of the human experience that specifically and uniquely only apply to lady people” means that I don’t want any part of it. I always thought that feminism is all about equal rights for all people, regardless of anatomy, skin color, ethnicity, etc.

356

Harold 01.22.12 at 10:26 pm

Emma (317), I don’t know how you can assume that I am male, and, if female, have not had miscarriages, abortions, stillbirths, etc.

People here in the USA are not required to sign a waiver giving permission for a full hysterectomy for obstetrical procedures. That sounds like a puritanical scare tactic to me, designed to intimidate the patient. Three days to recover? Hmm. Never heard of that.

357

Salient 01.22.12 at 10:28 pm

In the abortion example you can substitute all types of other things for 2.) and maintain a logically consistent position.

No, you really can’t. The only circumstance in which you’re allowed to murder a child is self-defense from imminent catastrophic harm. So, if you accept the premise that “it’s a child, not a choice,” as I explicitly included, you’re not allowed to murder the child. And if you don’t accept the premise that “it’s a child, not a choice” then what I said does not obtain.

I don’t see how I’m being the strident absolutist when I’m possibly the only person whose car in the parking lot right now doesn’t have an “it’s a child, not a choice” bumper sticker. (Somewhat exaggerated. But still.)

358

bexley 01.22.12 at 10:40 pm

Aha Sebastian is back. I’m still not sure what your point about abortion laws in Sweden and France was supposed to be (see 252 for more details). How would the fact that they may distrust women more than the US affect Tedra’s argument?

359

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.22.12 at 10:41 pm

You shouldn’t be taking a bumper sticker this seriously, and writing an essay in response to it.

360

JanieM 01.22.12 at 10:45 pm

People here in the USA are not required to sign a waiver giving permission for a full hysterectomy for obstetrical procedures.

I’d like to see a cite supporting the notion that practices across the US are uniform in this way. That is certainly not my experience.

There are 50 states and who knows how many insurance companies and hospitals, each with their own sets of rules, waivers, permissions processes, etc. I have two children, born a year and a half apart in different hospitals in different states, and the hospital rules and the waivers I had to sign were vastly different from one to the other. For that matter, for the second birth I went outside my health plan and paid out of pocket in order to use a doctor and a hospital that weren’t peremptorily against my attempting a VBAC. Even hospitals and doctors a few miles from each other in the same state handle this stuff differently.

361

Harold 01.22.12 at 10:48 pm

Janie,
Did you have to sign such a waiver?

362

Benjamin S Nelson 01.22.12 at 10:49 pm

Regarding your jib, I like the cut of it. I think it’s pretty clear that the anti-choice position indicates a lack of trust in women to make their own choices in this context, and I don’t think it’s misleading to say that.

Still — what do you mean by “distrust”? If by “distrust” you just mean “lack of trust, in that situation”, then the conclusion seems obviously right to me. I would find it peculiar and surprising that anyone would honestly disagree with you, in that case.

But I don’t think ‘distrust’ is the same as a lack of trust. Distrust sounds like it implies some kind of need for a lack of trust. When you distrust somebody, it’s like saying there’s an important obstacle that blocks you from being on the same page, as if you’d resigned yourself to a state of mutual alienation. When Bob McExampleton says to Jane, “I distrust you”, Bob is clearly saying, “You aren’t trustworthy, Jane”. When Bob says, “I don’t trust you”, Bob is not suggesting that Jane is untrustworthy, though it might be implied. Distrust is active, lack of trust is passive.

I think your point is that if a person systematically lacks the trust for women to make their own choices, then that strongly implies that the relevant men distrust women to make their own choices. I think that’s the right characterization; like (311), I think Bob’s remarks strongly imply, but do not entail, that Bob is a gasbag.

But that having been said, if there is a difference between ‘lack of trust’ and ‘distrust’, then (unless you add some premises) your argument will turn out to be inductive, not deductive. If we want to make a lot of hay out of argument form, then that’s going to be an issue. FWIW, I don’t happen to care about argument form, but if some do (like 318), then I suppose it’s a fair cop. Though it’s not exactly devastating to your argument!

Best regards.

363

Harold 01.22.12 at 10:51 pm

Is there anyone here who had to sign a waiver giving permission of a full hysterectomy before undergoing a D.&C.?

364

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 10:53 pm

Harold, are you a man or a woman?

365

Sebastian(1) 01.22.12 at 11:08 pm

So, if you accept the premise that “it’s a child, not a choice,” as I explicitly included

no, I (or rather – my argument for the logical tenability of an anti-abortion-with-exceptions provisions) don’t accept that premise.
I re-read you @297 and can’t find that premise stated. As I have said repeatedly, my argument rests critically on the claim that the value of life grows as it develops.
I’m strongly convinced that that’s a view explicitly or implicitly shared by 95% of the population and commensurable with both a strong anti-abortion and a strong pro-choice position.

366

JanieM 01.22.12 at 11:11 pm

Harold, I asked you for some evidence to back up your sweeping assertion about how things are done in the US. My individual experience is hardly relevant, because precisely what I’m saying is that practices vary widely across the US.

But since personal experience does bear on the general question, I will answer your question this once, and then, if you continue to ignore mine, I will return the favor from here on out.

For the birth of my second child I signed a waiver that was 20 pages long, mostly single-spaced, for every conceivable and inconceivable possibility up to and not including the invasion of space aliens while I was in labor. Unfortunately, that was almost 25 years ago, and even if I had memorized 20 pages of medico-legalistic verbiage at the time, I wouldn’t remember it now.

I do remember the sequence of events quite vividly, because my children’s father and I had a massive battle with a famous teaching hospital over the question of when/whether he would be allowed to be present if I did have to have a second (emergency) caesarean. Despite requiring that we sign a 20-page waiver for all the things they were worried we might sue them over, they refused to add an item to the waiver saying that we wouldn’t hold them liable for anything that happened to me as a result of the father being present at the birth in a situation where I required general anesthesia. That’s why we went “out of network” (as they say these days) to a hospital that had a different set of rules and not much of a waiver at all.

So, are you going to give us some evidence for your generalization about how things are done the same way all across the US?

367

Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 11:14 pm

Sebastian, have you donated to PP yet? I anticipate that your donation will be a nice hefty one, commensurate with your support for abortion rights, which you’ve mentioned more than once in this thread.

368

Emma in Sydney 01.22.12 at 11:17 pm

Harold, look here for an Australian example: consent forms for Dilation and suction curettage
Relevant section:
I understand the procedure has the following specific risks and limitations:
• I should expect some cramping abdominal pains after the operation.
• I should expect some light bleeding from the vagina for a few days after the operation.
• My cervix may be torn during the operation, and may require stitches to repair it.
• My womb may be punctured or torn, and while this will usually heal by itself, it may require further surgery (very rarely a hysterectomy – ie removal of the womb entirely).
• There is a very small risk I may develop an infection in my womb with fever, pain and an offensive discharge, requiring antibiotics.
• Occasionally, if the womb does not contract fully afterwards, heavy bleeding may require a transfusion.
• A blood clot may collect in my womb, requiring another suction procedure.
• If this is being done to terminate a pregnancy, rarely the operation may not remove the pregnancy and a further operation is required.
• Some tissue may remain after the operation (retained products of conception) and a further suction procedure is required.
• Extremely rarely, a woman may die, usually due to reaction to the anaesthetic, a heart attack or uncontrollable bleeding.
I understand some of the above risks are more likely if I smoke, am overweight, diabetic, have high blood pressure or have had previous heart disease.

Totally a fun afternoon, activity, right?

369

Meredith 01.22.12 at 11:22 pm

This is OT.
Emma in Sydney, “In Australia, most women seeking abortions are already mothers.”
According to the US Census Bureau’s survey, pretty consistently year after year, slightly over half of the women in the US who have abortions are already mothers:
http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/births_deaths_marriages_divorces/family_planning_abortions.html
Also interesting: women who have previously had abortions have almost half of all abortions in most years (though there may be a trend away from that). Which suggests to me that birth control is an issue for a lot of women (poorer and younger ones, I’d bet). But also that many women or couples are just very fertile: “He just has to walk by my bed and I get pregnant,” as my grandmother would have said — well, did say. My grandmother, already a mother of two, had two abortions, in the 1920′s.

370

rf 01.22.12 at 11:22 pm

Tedra 302
“I am, in fact, profoundly uncomfortable about abortions. I have serious doubts about whether I would ever be able to have one….. With every scare, I have felt that despite all the reasons to do so….. I couldn’t possibly terminate the pregnancy.”

Then why cant that same discomfort be applied to all without being accussed of:

“I don’t know what to call that other than sexism.”

Personally I dont know why i feel such discomfort, and have begun to come around to a ‘no caveats’ position. But is the discomfort really a result of sexism?

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Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 11:23 pm

362: I’m sorry to say I don’t follow your reasoning…. Wanna try again? Free of charge :)

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Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 11:26 pm

370: Because there is a difference between saying “I’m pro-choice but” and “I’m pro-choice even though.” As I said waaaay upthread somewhere.

As to whether my own discomfort is rooted in sexism, it might very well be. I would have to think about it an awful lot before I could attempt to answer the question.

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ehj2 01.22.12 at 11:28 pm

I’m going to say “thank you” for this post. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to slog through this much mush day after day. Only love could sustain you this far on this journey.

In a world in which the points of separation are diminishing, and virtually everyone knows of someone who has been involved in almost every imaginable circumstance, I’m surprised there are not more adults “here” articulating something akin to adult human empathy on an issue that is on the face of it beyond raw logic.

Yes, the world is the water we swim in and this water (patriarchal culture) is uncannily hard to see — but by “here” I mean a site where probably not one reader is unfamiliar with the term “confirmation bias” and how it unconsciously opposes even our experience of the women we personally know and the life situations that engage them.

The water I live in calls itself the richest country in the world, and it treats its children as not worth insuring and hardly worth educating, let alone feeding (a stunning number live in perpetual hunger). It treats its women as hardly more than children.

I’m one of those who read the original article and saved it because it provided me a rubric about which to view many issues which cut across feelings and logic. It doesn’t pretend to be a syllogism. It’s a compass that points north; it’s a prism that focuses light; it’s an idea that fills a room and maybe even a heart.

I would reverse the premise: I don’t trust patriarchal culture to make decisions about women and children and would prefer that only women could make those decisions. Should women instantiate a law that doesn’t work, I’m certain women will sort it out far more quickly than abstract patriarchal idealist armchair theorists can.

I tire of the syllogism that “chooses” battleships and rockets over substantive support for the work of women and mothers who care more than our “culture” for clothed, fed, insured, read-to kids laughing on the floors of safe schools with spacious libraries and good cafeterias. Just because women do caretaking for “free” doesn’t mean its “free”– and the fact that caretaker work pays the least is an indictment of our culture, not a feature.

These aren’t separate topics but linked threads in this invisible water. It’s a simple question. “Do you trust women or the patriarchy to make decisions about and for women?

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Bruce Baugh 01.22.12 at 11:34 pm

Just because the same tiresome claim keeps coming up in isolation from context…

All the western and European nations, and a goodly number of the others, provide a lot more easy access to contraception and family planning help and prenatal care and postnatal care and shelter and food security than the US does. Whether or not any of their abortion restrictions are desirable, lots of them exist in a context in which a pregnant woman is very much less likely to feel up against the wall in desperate straits than her counterpart in this country.

And, of course, anti-abortion tiraders like Sebastian are always, always there to tell us why we can’t afford anything like that in the US and shouldn’t want to have it for a variety of reasons, ranging from the sadistic to the callous to the merely stupid. You will never see someone like Sebastian post, “I’m serious enough about the undesirability of abortion that I am backing this expansion of pre- and post-natal care, or that mandatory leave bill, even though they’re flawed, because clearly they’d make abortions that bother me seem less necessary.” It’s never enough of a priority to support a candidate one isn’t wild about or to reject one who’d otherwise be a favorite, and it’s never enough of a priority to support real legislation that would institute even a scrap of the European kind of support for mothers and children.

But it’s always enough of a priority to use the European restrictions, stripped of context, as a club against American women and any others who might wish to discuss it in places like this.

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Bruce Baugh 01.22.12 at 11:38 pm

ehj2: I don’t trust patriarchal culture to make decisions about women and children. Right on. That comment, and the stuff around it, made a lot of the dross worth wading through.

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Sebastian(1) 01.22.12 at 11:42 pm

Tedra – note that there really are two of us (with very different points and viewpoints). Hence the number after my name. I think, e.g. that Sebastian’s points about Europe are completely silly.
I like the idea of donating to PP, but I’m rather poor atm and have a very short list of organizations I donate to. Among them ACLU, which does great work on reproductive rights: http://www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom
I’ll see if I can do it.

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EKR 01.22.12 at 11:43 pm

I don’t trust patriarchal culture to make decisions about women and children and would prefer that only women could make those decisions.

I just wanted to highlight this and observe what an incredible argument it is. Without getting into the question of whether men should get to participate in decisions about women (though, frankly, I have no idea what this means; would speed limits count as decisions about women, so that we might have different speed limits for women than men), I’d like to see you offer a defense for the argument that men shouldn’t be allowed to participate in decisions about their own children.

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Tedra Osell 01.22.12 at 11:52 pm

Seb(1): My bad, I was confused by the existence of (apparently) three of you and thought maybe you were all one person commenting from different computers or somesuch.

In any case, the challenge wasn’t meant to make broke-ass people suffer. It was meant to (1) call pain-in-the-ass commenters on their bullshit; (2) raise some money for PP.

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Harold 01.22.12 at 11:54 pm

I never said that in Australia people don’t have to sign waivers. As I said, these waivers are appear to designed to intimidate and I doubt if here (in the US) they would have legal validity. Having someone sign a waiver is about the ultimate sign of distrust! I doubt it made the experience or recovery any less stressful and traumatic, to say the least.

Hospitals do all kinds of things to intimidate their patients that are probably illegal, unconstitutional, and a cause of stress, such as not letting a mother leave the obstetrical floor to go down and buy a newspaper, for example.

On a personal level, my mother and grandmother also had abortions (as mothers), so they could keep on working. My late cousin was a well known obstetrician who supported feminists and midwifes before it was routine to do so.

And I have personally had more experience with obstetrical catastrophe than I would wish on anyone. Everyone has their story.

As far as having control of your body: anyone — male or female — who thinks they do is living in a fool’s paradise — women find this out sooner when they undergo labor, but it happens to both sexes as they grow older and things begin to go wrong.

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ehj2 01.23.12 at 12:10 am

EKR @377

The trouble with any sentence is it can only say what it says and must leave out everything else. But they aren’t syllogisms in lines of logic or mathematics. Like our lives, or any individual idea we can have, they are embedded in the context surrounding them. Of course men must be involved, and in watching them for 60 years, I am persuaded that more and more they are.

But right now the balance of power over how children fair — throughout the world — is in the hands of a patriarchal calculus that undervalues what does not have a price. This calculus is so skewed we declare ourselves wealthy when we cannot feed and clothe and teach our own children.

My comment was to point in a direction, not assert an outcome. But “wear the coat” of that idea, imagine what that world might look like. And then argue if you wish all our lives would not be enriched if the culture shifted heavily in that direction.

Do you really imagine the women in your actual life as you experience it wish less for the children around you than you do? You could not trust this outcome?

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Benjamin S Nelson 01.23.12 at 12:32 am

Hey Tedra (I like your name btw), :)

The important thing is just that ‘non-trust’ seems different from ‘distrust’. When I say I don’t trust somebody, it’s because I don’t think I’m really in a position to defer to the other person; e.g., if I don’t have enough evidence to hand to figure out what they’re thinking/feeling/doing. By contrast, when I say I “distrust” somebody, it seems like it’s the expression of a positive commitment to not trust that other person, as if they weren’t ever worthy of being deferred to. So, e.g., I do not trust random strangers on the street, but I don’t actively distrust them, because they might turn out to be interesting people who generally make sense. By contrast, <a href="the Black Spy actively distrusts the White Spy, because the two of them are pitted against each other and are never ever going to defer to the other.

So I think you have a completely valid/ sound/ cogent argument to the effect that supposedly “pro-choice” people who think there are limitations on abortion also necessarily do not trust women to make their own moral choices in that context. Even fetal rights advocates have to concede this to you, if they’re being totally honest, because they’re effectively trusting themselves as moral deliberators more than they trust the mother as a moral deliberator. That’s totally not trust. You’re 100% right.

But that does not necessarily entail that those pseudo-pro-choice people actively distrust women, in the Spy vs. Spy sense. In order to show that, you’d have to argue that these pseudo-pro-choice people are actively trying to misunderstand the mothers, being intentionally obtuse, treating mothers as if they were less than human, totally and completely disregarding the mother’s dignity, not even inclined to defer to the mother. But some of these people might just be relatively ignorant or aloof, not really in touch with what’s going on with abortion cases, which is just a lack of trust, and hence a totally different sort of thing.

Though, to be sure, there are plenty of people who really do distrust mothers (and women in general) in a Spy vs. Spy kind of way. (Like Nietzsche (131), to take a characteristically hilarious historical example of misogyny.) But you can’t infer a person distrusts you just because they have a lack of trust in you. I think you need to add an extra premise for that argument to work.

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ehj2 01.23.12 at 1:54 am

Somehow interrupted/cutoff by a SOPA screen –

Our actions declare we do not care about the actual children surrounding us. The problem is so entrenched we don’t even see how utterly bizarre this is. If half the national budget was committed to dudely stuff (we’d still have a world-class military) and half given to the ladies, do we believe they’d do less for our communities than we do now?

My notion was a feint, designed to draw a certain kind of attention, just like the original post on the keyword “trust.” Our instant repugnance “is” the instinctive patriarchal stance and in part makes the point — in a patriarchy children are property and patriarchal concern is with “control” not with “what might actually be best.”

My suspicion is that women would make it easier for men to be even more involved.

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Sebastian 01.23.12 at 2:06 am

“And, of course, anti-abortion tiraders like Sebastian are always, always there to tell us why we can’t afford anything like that in the US and shouldn’t want to have it for a variety of reasons, ranging from the sadistic to the callous to the merely stupid. You will never see someone like Sebastian post, “I’m serious enough about the undesirability of abortion that I am backing this expansion of pre- and post-natal care, or that mandatory leave bill, even though they’re flawed, because clearly they’d make abortions that bother me seem less necessary.””

That is a bit of gratuitous mindreading, especially since I’ve written to support for example extending Medicare coverage to all people with insurance in the US. It apparently isn’t enough to disagree with my ideas, you have to invent ideas that are specifically contrary to the ones I hold and hate on them.

I’m sure the choir gives plenty of Amens, but that doesn’t make your words any truer.

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EKR 01.23.12 at 2:07 am

The trouble with any sentence is it can only say what it says and must leave out everything else. But they aren’t syllogisms in lines of logic or mathematics. Like our lives, or any individual idea we can have, they are embedded in the context surrounding them. Of course men must be involved, and in watching them for 60 years, I am persuaded that more and more they are.

But right now the balance of power over how children fair—throughout the world—is in the hands of a patriarchal calculus that undervalues what does not have a price. This calculus is so skewed we declare ourselves wealthy when we cannot feed and clothe and teach our own children.

Well, this isn’t actually what you said and what I reacted to. And in fact I agree with much of it and had you written this, rather than the rather outrageous passage I quoted, I probably wouldn’t have responded.

With that said, IMO the situation is a lot more complicated than you are suggesting here. Men have much more control over society in the large–and hence children because they are part of society–than women do. However, my experience is that on the small scale of the 1:1, women make far more of the decisions concerning how children are treated than men do simply because they are on the spot.

My comment was to point in a direction, not assert an outcome. But “wear the coat” of that idea, imagine what that world might look like. And then argue if you wish all our lives would not be enriched if the culture shifted heavily in that direction.

Do you really imagine the women in your actual life as you experience it wish less for the children around you than you do? You could not trust this outcome?

Well, I generally prefer to leave my actual life out of it, but since you ask: I don’t think my wife cares less about our child than I do. And yes, I do trust her to make decisions concerning him when I’m not around to be consulted. However, I don’t think that it would in fact be a better world if she made every decision about him unilaterally and I had no say in it (which is in fact what you said), because she’s not always right and better decisions get made when we both make them.

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EKR 01.23.12 at 2:21 am

Our actions declare we do not care about the actual children surrounding us. The problem is so entrenched we don’t even see how utterly bizarre this is. If half the national budget was committed to dudely stuff (we’d still have a world-class military) and half given to the ladies, do we believe they’d do less for our communities than we do now?

You might find the Wikipedia page on the US Federal Budget instructive. Rather less than half of the budget appears to me to be spent on “dudely stuff”, given that Defense is only 20% and SS/Medicare together are 43%. Which isn’t to say that the the defense budget shouldn’t be cut, of course.
Incidentally, women’s and men’s views on the relative importance of defense spending versus domestic programs aren’t that far apart. In fact, if I’m reading this correctly, men are more likely to favor cuts in defense spending than women, and only by a slightly smaller margin than they favor cuts in domestic programs.

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Harold 01.23.12 at 2:45 am

JanieM, a VBAC isn’t (or wasn’t) considered in the same class as a D&C or even regular childbirth, but as something experimental. However, I agree with you US hospitals suck and treat everyone badly. When something in our experience went badly, the hospital actually destroyed the first pages of their records. They have an adversarial relation with the patients. That’s our system.

Nevertheless, from where I stand, an abortion or miscarriage in the first month is not a big deal, or shouldn’t be. If things were properly arranged.

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Harold 01.23.12 at 2:52 am

388

Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 3:05 am

Here’s how the “conversation” looks to me (my paraphrases, of course; not actual quotations):

TEDRA OSELL: An underrated argument against restriction on abortion is that it implicitly declares women untrustworthy.
SEVERAL COMMENTERS: That is not a good argument because, taken to its logical conclusion, it would invalidate all sorts of restrictions which we want to keep, like restrictions against slavery and infanticide.
TEDRA OSELL: Those analogies are contemptible because they compare a fetus, which is part of a woman’s body, with people who are not.

What this last rejoinder amounts to is a claim that “if you start with the assumption that ‘pro-choice’ arguments for giving some status and rights to fetuses are utterly worthless, then my argument is a good argument.” But if you start with that assumption, you don’t need the additional argument about trusting women to make choices. It’s just making stone soup.

(I stopped reading around comment #70, so I apologize if this has been said anywhere between then and now.)

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Tedra Osell 01.23.12 at 3:18 am

381: I understand your distinction, but I’m not sure that I agree that people who are “uncomfortable” with abortion-on-demand don’t trust women vs. distrusting them. I mean, yes, some people who are “uncomfortable” with X will, if the specifics of a particular case of X, say “oh, well in that case,” which I guess falls into don’t trust rather than distrust. But part of my argument is that it’s *so hard* for people to see that their desire to decide what abortions are/aren’t okay because we culturally distrust women as a class. I think that if we didn’t we’d default to supporting abortion-on-demand rather than to supporting abortion with X, Y, or Z restrictions.

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Tedra Osell 01.23.12 at 3:20 am

388: TEDRA OSELL: Those analogies are contemptible because they compare a fetus, which is part of a woman’s body, with people who are not.

No. The contemptible analogies are the ones that compare women to slaveowners and rapists (and that is why they’re contemptible). The infanticide analogy is just kind of deliberately ignoring a major fact, i.e, an infant is not actually inside/physically interwoven with its mother, and therefore dumb.

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Steven 01.23.12 at 3:35 am

I’m late to the game here, and there’s been a lot a careful parsing of Tedra’s piece. I am going to take at face value that it is a serious and good-faith effort to stake out a philosophical position on the ethics of abortion and intersecting topics in political philosophy.

That said, I have written and deleted so many things, having tried to be charitable, but I’ve got to come out and just say it: it is really bad philosophy. It is what Brian Leiter might say happens when people trained in broadly Continental philosophy via an English Ph.D. do philosophy. I have carefully read the original post five times now. It is staggeringly bad. It reminds me of the worst student arguments in my philosophy of feminism undergrad class, with all of their puerileness and superficiality, except that it is mercifully short. I was going to catalog and present the lines in Tedra’s argument where it’s possible to just throw your hands up and walk away out of dismissal of it due to its badness, no matter what side of the debate you are on, but there are too many. If you read sentence by sentence, it is every sentence.

When Enrest van den Haag was debating Jeffrey Reiman about the death penalty, he remarked (in substance) that it was fun to read what Jeffrey had to say because it was often interesting to see the new ways in which a person could be wrong. This was not interesting.

Yes, I have made what is at root an ad-homenim attack. It didn’t help that Tedra proclaimed it to be among the Best Writing Ever on abortion. Ban me if need be. I expect better from this blog, having grown very accustomed to receiving it. If anything this is more a protest about this blog being a venue for arguments of this quality on subjects as important as this. You have no idea who I am, or why I feel like I have the right to pass judgment on anyone’s writing. And it’s not my blog, for that matter. All good points. So let my argument face off against my prerogative, or lack thereof, to make it.

It is also fair to ask why I haven’t spent this time at least doing the work of pointing out the flaws in the argument. I haven’t because I insist that they’re so clear to careful thinkers on ethics, political philosophy and philosophy generally that they absolutely don’t bear comment.

Now I will go donate more money to PP.

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Steven 01.23.12 at 3:45 am

“No. The contemptible analogies are the ones that compare women to slaveowners and rapists (and that is why they’re contemptible). The infanticide analogy is just kind of deliberately ignoring a major fact, i.e, an infant is not actually inside/physically interwoven with its mother, and therefore dumb.”

Slaveowning and rape are morally wrong, and people who commit these acts are morally blameworthy.

It is only contemptible to to compare women who have certain types of abortions to slaveowners and rapists if the comparison is unfair on moral grounds. To establish it is unfair, you have to show why there is nothing comparably wrong or blameworthy about these certain type of abortions. It may be a simple matter, but if you can’t, or if indeed you make the positive claim that killing certain fetuses is indeed comparable, then the comparison is not contemptible.

It all revolves around a conception of the value of the fetus at various stages in its development, and this can’t be ignored if you’re going to make the statements you make.

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shah8 01.23.12 at 3:57 am

*Steven* does a surprisingly good imitation of the Comic Book Guy…

Thing is, where is it, in that admittedly ad-hominemy sentiment, is there anything thicker than watered down hominy? Or not corny? You keep trying to invest your readers in your emotions, but where’s the hook? The compelling line?

Now that you’ve done your silverback impression, can you talk about something more interesting?

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Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 3:59 am

Let me try this a different way.

1) If we consider a fetus as having some rights which society is bound to protect, then the argument that “restricting abortion rights is wrong because that amounts to declaring pregnant women untrustworthy” is a poor argument because pregnant women, like all human beings, are capable of sometimes violating others’ rights for their own convenience.

2) If we don’t consider a fetus as having any rights which society is bound to protect, then the argument about “considering pregnant women untrustworthy” is an unnecessary argument.

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Bruce Baugh 01.23.12 at 4:08 am

Sebastian: I am genuinely happy to update my mental map. Beams of sunshine were all extra welcome today.

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Emma in Sydney 01.23.12 at 4:10 am

Or you can consider a fetus as possibly having some rights, none of which override a woman’s absolute right to refuse consent to continue a pregnancy. If the woman wishes to continue a pregnancy, then that fetus might conceivably have rights, via its mother, to, say, decent prenatal care or nutrition. If she wishes to exercise her right not to host a fetus in her body, then not.
In the US it seems, many think that a fetus has more rights than the woman carrying it, although not rights to useful things like prenatal care or nutrition.

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MPAVictoria 01.23.12 at 4:14 am

“In the US it seems, many think that a fetus has more rights than the woman carrying it, although not rights to useful things like prenatal care or nutrition.”

Well said!

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Emma in Sydney 01.23.12 at 4:18 am

Oh and Harold? Surgical abortion (as we call it here) can’t take place before 6 weeks as pregnancies are conventionally measured (from last menstrual period) and it is better to wait until 8 to 10 weeks if the procedure is to be safe and successful. As for miscarriages being ‘no big deal’, well, I am glad yours were so comfortable. The two I had were fucking excruciating both physically and emotionally. Feh.

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Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 4:25 am

Emma: then if I wrote “if we don’t consider the fetus to have any rights of its own that society is bound to protect,” would you still object?

I do understand the argument that “even if a fetus has rights, the pregnant woman’s rights are always superior” (and in fact I agree with it) but I don’t see how this is an expression of “trust,” so I don’t see how the opposite view must be an expression of “distrust.”

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Benjamin S Nelson 01.23.12 at 4:26 am

394 — I assume by “capable” you mean “morally permitted”. Your conclusion doesn’t really follow. If we have a rights-standoff between mother and fetus, and we think that ceteris parabus the treatment of a moral agent as untrustworthy without good reason is morally wrong, then the moral weight is broken in favor of the mother. Unless, of course, you think we have a duty to trust the fetus — but then, it’s not clear that this would make any sense.

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Harold 01.23.12 at 4:30 am

Six weeks gestation — is the same as 8 week from last menstrual period. Some women have much longer cycles, however.

I am sorry your miscarriages were so traumatic, Emma. However people do have different experiences.

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faustusnotes 01.23.12 at 5:12 am

Tedra, returning to your comment at 188, about third trimester abortion, where you said this:

Again, this is like the “ticking time bomb” argument for terrorism. The entire point of the post is that actual women who are actually pregnant will tend to make decisions about actual circumstances, not theoretical scenarios like “I’m due tomorrow but I’ve suddenly changed my mind; instant abortion, plz.” IOW, my “assumption” is that women who pursue abortions late in pregnancy do so for real reasons: medical emergency, severe psychological distress (e.g., a young woman who kept “hoping” she wasn’t pregnant until she could no longer hide it), etc. I’m unaware of a single actual instance in which a woman decided on an abortion late in the pregnancy for a reason that wasn’t, once I read about it, pretty freaking compelling.

I’m guessing that this (third trimester “frivolous” abortions) is the only real ground on which you can actually find yourself in disagreement with the pro-choice feminists you have characterized as not trusting women in the OP. But in refusing to consider this ground, I think you essentially concede Naomi Wolf (to take an example) her point.

This gets me wondering whether or not you yourself have a certain level of not trusting women, by your own definition as penned in the OP: if there ever were some woman who wanted an abortion at 8 months so she could fit into her prom dress, would you still think she was trustworthy to make the moral judgment involved? Or are you hand-waving away the possibility by assuming no such woman would ever exist? Because if so, I think some people here might suggest that this particular type of case could exist, and you’re avoiding thinking about it to avoid being a hypocrite.

To be clear, I don’t know if any such case could exist and I don’t care to judge. But I don’t think most commenters here would be “not trusting women” or being sexist if they were to allow the possibility of such a case. It probably just means they’ve watched more Big Brother than me, and their view of the depth of the human soul has been degraded as a result.

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Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 5:15 am

I assume by “capable” you mean “morally permitted”.

No, I just meant “can and sometimes will” (as in “people are capable of mistreating their pets”).

If we have a rights-standoff between mother and fetus, and we think that ceteris parabus the treatment of a moral agent as untrustworthy without good reason is morally wrong, then the moral weight is broken in favor of the mother.

I am still finding it impossible to see how “trustworthiness” operates in this kind of argument. If we’re assuming that the fetus has some rights, but that the rights of the pregnant woman are always inherently superior, then there’s not really a “standoff” and there’s no need to invoke trust.

If the rights of the pregnant woman are not assumed to be always inherently superior, and if some cases exist in which the fetus’s rights are seen as superior, then it is not an arbitrary act of distrust to prohibit the pregnant woman from having an abortion, it’s just a recognition that pregnant women will sometimes seek abortions despite the superior rights of the fetus.

And if you say this is absurd because it’s not conceivable that a fetus at any stage or under any circumstances could have rights which were superior to the pregnant woman’s right to control of her body, then that’s the only argument you need, and — again — I don’t understand why you need to add “we should trust the pregnant woman”.

Moreover, what does “trust” mean here, exactly? Trust her to act in her own best interests? Of course, that’s the natural presumption and the default assumption in law — people know their own interests. Trust her to act in the way which best preserves both her own rights and the rights of the fetus (assuming the fetus has rights)? Why? We don’t assign this kind of trust unreservedly to anybody. If you think that animals have some rights in themselves, for example, you don’t assign trust unreservedly to pet owners; you want some limits to the ownership rights. Or would you say, in this case, that would be “treatment of a moral agent as untrustworthy without good reason”?

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Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 5:18 am

(And by “then it is not an arbitrary act of distrust to prohibit the pregnant woman from having an abortion,” I meant “then it is not an arbitrary act of distrust to prohibit the pregnant woman from having an abortion in such cases” — cases in which, hypothetically, the fetus’s rights were thought to be superior.)

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Sebastian(1) 01.23.12 at 5:40 am

I’m not sure if Steven is an actual person or a satirical construct, but for anyone who doesn’t know Ernest van den Haag, his apparent intellectual hero, I recommend a look at his Wikipedia page for a good laugh:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_van_den_Haag

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Benjamin S Nelson 01.23.12 at 6:15 am

403 — well, one problem with your use of the word “capacity”, in this context, is that you have assumed the immorality of the choice of the mother by intimating that the case of choosing to abort under difficult and exceptional circumstances is a case of “violating others’ rights for their own convenience” (my italics). As if the heartbreaking and traumatizing decision to abort in strict borderline cases where the mother’s life is at risk were morally analogous to getting cut off in traffic. So that’s… a problem.

Anyway. Let me see if I can make the role of trust a bit clearer, in my view. Trust, here, meaning trust in the mother to deliberate morally about her own business.

Suppose, as per your argument, that the mother has the right to choose. Suppose also, as per your argument, that we also have responsibilities to not harm the fetus after a certain point of development. When it comes to these hard cases, then, we have arrived at what I called a rights-standoff: the mother’s right to choose is pitted against our social responsibilities towards the developed fetus. Genuinely hard, tragic stuff.

But now suppose that there’s also a duty to trust moral agents, all other things equal; and a categorical duty to treat agents as being candidates for trust. Well, it is impossible to trust a fetus, and it is possible to trust the mother. So if you tally up the list of responsibilities, our duties to respect the choice of the mother seemingly outweigh the duties to the fetus. To put it in very crude terms, trust looks like a tiebreaker.

The point is that I have not indicated, at any step of the way, that there is some “inherent” superiority of the right to choose. I’ve assumed, with you — for the sake of argument, and contrary to my own beliefs — that the right to choose starts off on equal footing with the rights of the fetus. But even so, it is not the case that both are equal with respect to all rights, because it makes no sense to trust or distrust a fetus.

If you wanted, you could argue that we do not, in fact, have any standing duties to treat others as candidates for trust. So, you might claim that since women are ‘capable’ of being unworthy of trust, then that shows we have no duty to treat them as candidates for trust. That would be a pretty anti-libertarian (and anti-social) view, but it’s certainly an argument you could articulate, if you’re inclined. And in the ensuing conversation, I would argue that by default you should trust people to take care of their own affairs, because people should be treated with dignity; and we can go back and forth forever. Fine. But my point is that if we have that conversation on those terms, it will be predicated upon the rejection of the dilemma you presented earlier. And whether or not you agree with one of my premises, you should be able to see where trust has a point of entry in the dialectic.

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Salient 01.23.12 at 6:44 am

@Sebastian(1), it was in 323 (para 8) and not 297 that I specified, but on a second read not nearly so clearly as I had thought, and to be honest even I’m confused about what I was saying (probably the result of poor editing, I deleted a lot of paragraphs). I was also definitely confusing you with the nonparenthesized Sebastian, which (also on a second read) seems quite unfair to you. As a kind of apology for that confusion, I covered the $2/comment PP donation for you and I both. :)

@Jeffrey Kramer, re: If we don’t consider a fetus as having any rights which society is bound to protect, then the argument about “considering pregnant women untrustworthy” is an unnecessary argument.

I don’t get why it’s unnecessary. Here’s why I think it is very necessary: There are pro-choice people, who support legislation requiring potential aborters to undergo a mandatory sonogram and lecture from a doctor regarding how gravely grave the grave procedure is. In other words, they feel that even in cases where a woman’s right to {whatever} trumps the fetus’s right to {whatever}, and therefore feel that abortion for that woman should be legal, a woman ought to be punished for failing to endure what amounts to a massive guilt trip.

I can’t read Tedra’s mind to know if this was one of the scenarios she had in the back of her mind writing the OP, but it is basically the main reason why I’m hanging out in this thread and burning $2 bills in the first place. How in the hells are we to explain and justify a law that says abortion in cases X, Y, Z is legal iff the woman is subjected to a condescending-to-the-point-of-humiliating mandatory sermon, complete with PowerPoint visuals of the inside of her own body — as if she didn’t know what was in there?

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Sebastian(1) 01.23.12 at 6:58 am

Thanks Salient, much appreciated. I ‘m going to add another 10$ from my side tomorrow.
As the arguments go, I’ll leave it at that. I’m still not convinced by the argument in Tedra’s initial post, but I feel I got a good deal out of her (and some other people’s) later comments, so at least for me this was time well spend.

I guess I’ll take this opportunity and change my CT name.

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Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 10:31 am

…you have assumed the immorality of the choice of the mother…
I am just assuming something pretty tautological: that if the fetus in some circumstances had rights superior to that of the pregnant woman, then it would not be right for the woman to violate those rights by having an abortion.

by intimating that the case of choosing to abort under difficult and exceptional circumstances is a case of “violating others’ rights for their own convenience” (my [emphasis]). As if the heartbreaking and traumatizing decision to abort in strict borderline cases where the mother’s life is at risk were morally analogous to getting cut off in traffic.
I certainly wasn’t thinking of cases where a mother’s life is at risk, and even if I were considerably less pro-choice than I actually am, I wouldn’t consider such cases at all close to being ‘borderline.’ I meant for example that if a late third-trimester fetus had some rights which society were bound to protect, those rights would need to be protected against a pregnant mother who wanted an abortion nevertheless, even if her own life or health were not at risk. I’m not supposing this would be at all common, but adults kill other adults for shockingly trivial reasons all the time. It’s not inconceivable that some would kill their fetuses for reasons of convenience.

Suppose, as per your argument, that the mother has the right to choose. Suppose also, as per your argument, that we also have responsibilities to not harm the fetus after a certain point of development. When it comes to these hard cases, then, we have arrived at what I called a rights-standoff . . . . But now suppose that there’s also a duty to trust moral agents, all other things equal; and a categorical duty to treat agents as being candidates for trust. Well, it is impossible to trust a fetus, and it is possible to trust the mother.

But even assuming such a duty, that is not obviously the correct way of choosing who to trust. Instead of comparing the trust we can place in the individual woman vs. the trust we (obviously cannot) place in the fetus, we would compare the trust we can place in the individual vs. the trust we place in the moral consensus of society, as expressed in law. Isn’t that the way we balance other rights? To use my illustration again, if we believe that people have the right to own animals and the presumptive right to feed and discipline them as they wish, but we also believe that animals have certain rights, we will legally forbid their owners to violate those rights (e.g. by starving them). Would you agree this is more or less the proper rights-compromise in this case, or would you insist that we have a duty to trust the pet owner, since the pet owner is obviously a moral agent and the pet is not?

Now your answer might be that the duty to trust the individual moral agent enters when the comparative rights are otherwise difficult to judge; only in the hard cases, in other words. But it seems pretty clear to me that what counts as a close or hard case depends virtually entirely on what degree of rights you grant the fetus (or the dog), not what degree of trust you have in the pregnant woman (or pet owner).

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AK 01.23.12 at 11:00 am

I skimmed the thread, concentrating on Tedra’s replies. When I first read the post I thought her original argument was at least overstated, but by the time I got to the bottom I’d been convinced that it makes a difficult and solid point about armchair bloke (<==me) reactions to complicated situations. I like the 'but'/'even though' distinction. I'd probably have said 'but' until I read this. I'm persuaded now that I either need to be practically pro-choice ('even though') or theoretically pro-choice until it gives me the heebies ('but').

It occurs to me that the argument's-sake last-minute frivolous aborters are the welfare queens in this argument: some might exist, because people who make aggressively selfish choices can also get pregnant, but any given woman almost certainly isn't them, and the bottom-line effect of arguing they might be is virulently unpleasant.

I guess I really want to say: comments thread operating as intended.

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Jeffrey Kramer 01.23.12 at 11:07 am

@Salient;

There are pro-choice people, who support legislation requiring potential aborters to undergo a mandatory sonogram and lecture from a doctor regarding how gravely grave the grave procedure is. In other words, they feel that even in cases where a woman’s right to {whatever} trumps the fetus’s right to {whatever}, and therefore feel that abortion for that woman should be legal, a woman ought to be punished for failing to endure what amounts to a massive guilt trip.

I agree entirely that this sort of thing is based on a refusal to treat the pregnant woman as a rational being. And maybe an effort on insisting that women are rational beings would move some on the pro-choice-and-pro-sonogram-sermon side to decide that the process of obtaining an abortion should not be so condescending and abusive. But I don’t think “Your stance demonstrates that you don’t trust women!” would be much of an eye-opener for most such people. If they’re convinced that for certain technical legal reasons, we must accept that the woman in this case has the last word, but equally convinced that a thousand angels rejoice when the woman chooses to have the baby, and all hell chortles when she chooses not to, then they believe that women seeking an abortion are plainly not worthy of trust in pregnancy. Such people often have long, long lists of the ways in which 95% of humanity (female and male) are natural sinners and therefore not worthy of trust on most issues.

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Helen 01.23.12 at 12:11 pm

For heaven’s sake with the Prom Dress argument. If you think any woman would abort at 8 months to fit into a prom dress, you might as well come out with “women are all frivolous things incapable of rational thought”, because that’s where that one is going.

1) Example: I am a young woman somewhere in the world where there are no restrictive abortion laws, whose love of proms and all things for which one frocks up is legendary, and who has no immediate desire to become a parent. I become pregnant, unexpectedly. Do I (a) wait until 8-9 months, after all my workmates and family have become aware of my pregnancy and discussed it/made me a topic of discussion, and my body has been stretched to the maximum and certainly won’t rebound to that nice 6-pack shape before Prom time, and then have a painful procedure requiring a hospital visit? Or (b) do I have an abortion as soon as possible? I would say (b), every time.

This is, of course, just to demonstrate how ridiculous that scenario is, because anyone suggesting that the only reason for someone’s abortion is to fit into a prom dress really has left the building as far as rational discourse is concerned. Sadly, it seems to come up again and again.

2) Given the popularity of that meme, has anyone got statistics to hand – reliable ones – on the number of third – trimester abortions which happen annually with fitting into the prom dress as the reason?

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faustusnotes 01.23.12 at 12:45 pm

Helen, the prom dress is clearly just a rhetorical prop. The point is that most people have a time period after which the definition of “serious” changes, that this is generally in the third trimester, and that most people at this point accept that there’s more than just the woman’s interests at stake. I think Tedra accepts this, which is why all her comments on third trimester abortion have assumed a life-threatening condition as the cause. But this means, I think, that her arguments about third trimester abortion rest on quibbling about the definition of serious – which mean that there will be other “pro-choice feminists” out there who think that Tedra “doesn’t trust women,” because her “serious” is their “trivial.”

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LizardBreath 01.23.12 at 1:26 pm

which mean that there will be other “pro-choice feminists” out there who think that Tedra “doesn’t trust women,” because her “serious” is their “trivial.”

I think you’re misunderstanding Tedra’s point. By saying that the decision whether or not to have an abortion is, if you trust women, best left in the hands of the woman concerned, she is not committing herself to the position that if she knew literally everything relevant about the situation she would always agree that having an abortion would be the best choice to make — the fantasy whimsical prom-dress girl is at least possible in theory, even if she doesn’t exist in practice. She’s saying that if you trust women as a class, the fact that the woman involved is in incomparably the best position to weigh the relevant factors makes her the best decisionmaker as a rule, and if you want to take that decision out of their hands as a rule, rather than to secondguess a specific decision which you have stipulated to be one you disapprove of, you don’t trust women as a class.

(And I agree that this argument applies really only to people who want to limit women’s decision-making power over whether to have abortions because they think that abortion is a complicated, morally-difficult question. Anyone who thinks that it’s easy, that the answer is either always no, or is always no under a clearly objective set of circumstances not requiring any judgment to apply, isn’t really the subject here.)

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bexley 01.23.12 at 1:44 pm

I think Tedra accepts this, which is why all her comments on third trimester abortion have assumed a life-threatening condition as the cause. But this means, I think, that her arguments about third trimester abortion rest on quibbling about the definition of serious – which mean that there will be other “pro-choice feminists” out there who think that Tedra “doesn’t trust women,” because her “serious” is their “trivial.”

I think Tedra’s comments on third trimester abortion have assumed a life-threatening condition/other health complications as the cause because in reality that’s why women have third trimester abortions. Why would you wait until the third trimester for an abortion unless it was a wanted pregnancy where there were complications?

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Peter Erwin 01.23.12 at 1:52 pm

For heaven’s sake with the Prom Dress argument.

I agree. I would only point out that in this particular conversation, the person who brought it up in the first place — in order, obviously, to ridicule it — was the OP (comment 11), and only two commenters have subsequently bothered to take it up at all (a few more have done variations on what you’re doing: condemning it for its stupidity). That’s why I disagree with claims that “everyone” in this conversation has been seriously making the “frivolity” argument (or that the conversation is basically just “a bunch of dudes … sitting around judging the alleged ‘frivolity’ of women’s reproductive choices”), when it’s actually been barely 1 or 2% of the total posts.

(This is not to deny that such arguments may be made in many other circumstances; I found Uncle Kvetch’s post at 353 rather illuminating. Since I grew up in a relatively liberal environment and don’t participate in online abortion debates very often, I’ve clearly been sheltered from a lot of outright stupidity that other people, such as Tedra, have had to deal with repeatedly. And it’s useful for me get educated about that reality.)

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LFC 01.23.12 at 2:34 pm

LizardBreath 413:
That’s not how I read what Tedra has said. Her argument, as I understand it, is that people who support any — any — statutory regulation or restriction of abortion are sexist, b/c they don’t think that women are “fully capable moral agents” (see her 305). And I (respectfully) disagree with her argument. Not that anyone cares, I’m sure, at this late stage in the thread, but since I hadn’t yet stated my views on the substance I figured I might as well.

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Steven 01.23.12 at 2:35 pm

Ernest van den Haag is certainly not my intellectual hero. I don’t think anything I said was in support or endorsement of his actual arguments. He did say some funny things, however.

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Craig 01.23.12 at 3:17 pm

I never know what to do when I am confronted with a terrible argument for a position that I support.

Every law on our books involves a “lack of trust.” At some level, I don’t “trust” parents to look after their children, I don’t “trust” strangers not to rob or kill me, I don’t “trust” adults to assess for themselves whether they can safely drive a car on the public roads, and so on, and so on, and so on.

This is a ridiculous argument. You keep it in your scrapbook to show off on special occasions? You must, by this logic, oppose every law ever written.

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bob mcmanus 01.23.12 at 3:38 pm

If I comment here, do I have to pay $5?

Trust, schmust, the troll-baiting is kinda boring when I am not the troll. And this post is way too “male-logical” and concedes way too much to the pigs who enjoy putting their feet on women’s necks. As you can see, they are legion.

It is not about trust, it is about control. Anyone who wants to put any restrictions on women’s choices want to control women’s bodies with state assistance, wants personal power over womens reproductive and sexual organs.

IOW, the forced-birthers are rapists in a rape-culture. Quit being so nice to them.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.23.12 at 3:40 pm

No Craig, it’s not like strangers robbing you. She thinks that people really hate killing their fetuses, so that if they nevertheless decide to do it, then there must be a good reason.

In a sense, it’s sorta like committing suicide: once I decided to jump off that building, who are you to tell me that my reasons aren’t good enough? But of course they will try to catch me, and they will lock me up in a psych ward, and chances are I’ll get better and live happily ever after.

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Steven 01.23.12 at 3:44 pm

Okay, people have been fair, so I will do some work. Please read on.

It may well be the case that Tedra has done some better philosophy in the intervening 400 comments since the very bad philosophy she did in the OP. It also appears that people have worked fairly hard to do some decent philosophy on her behalf. It is still in defense of a muddle-headed and badly-flawed argument, that runs like this:

1. There are interests that women have.
2. They are an instantiation of the general interests that persons have.
3. These woman may have fetuses in them at some point.
4. These fetuses may or may not have interests as well.
5. Only each particular woman who has a particular fetus may decide what interests that particular fetus has.
6. Only each particular woman can truly understand her own situation and interests.
7. An accurate understanding of her situation and interests is necessary in a valid comparison of interests with her particular fetus for any important purpose.
8. Therefore, only each particular woman can accurately weigh her interests against those of her fetus for the important purpose deciding whether to abort it or not.
9. If you trust women [as in the idea of trusting them as a class of being or natural kind], then as a matter of law this comparison (8) should be the only grounds on which the decision about an abortion may be made; the law may have no say in the matter.
10. If you do not cede total control of abortion at all stages of pregnancy, to every woman, but believe that the law should have a say in the matter, then you do not believe (9) in some cases.
11. If you do not believe (9) in some cases, then you do not trust any woman.

This fails in so many ways.

I will grant 1-4.

(5) is wrong. It is best defended, however, by describing the fetus only as a piece of property. I doubt anyone wants to do this. Once the fetus has interests, however small, that exist independently of how the mother conceives of them, the premise is out the window. Other rational agents are entitled to at least articulate these interests and point out that they may supersede the interests of other beings, possibly including the mother. And so the proper and intelligent debate about personhood begins.

(6) is wrong. It ridiculously privileges the first person perspective in a way that throws so many things we hold dear into the toilet. The idea that every being is living some new and unique experience the phenomenological essence of which is accessible only to her is some weird form of postmodernism that is best quietly ignored. A world of six billion has a lot of repetition in it. People can be pretty good at having a good knowledge of other people’s circumstances in a way that would entitle them to collectively place restrictions on the subject person’s actions, especially if those actions affect some other being with some sort of interests. If this were not the case, we’d have a hard time with any law that prohibits conduct.

(8) would, again, be treating festuses only as a piece of property, or if we don’t, would grant to woman an extraordinary control over the interests of another being that we really don’t grant anyone else in any case. Now I think that the interests of the fetus are small enough most of the time, through most of the pregnancy to grant (8), but not categorically. To take the interests of the fetus off the table like this is to not take seriously the rest of the work we have done to protect the interests of those who are not empowered to articulate them. As in animals, the colonized, the marginalized, the other, etc.

(9) is facially ridiculous once you don’t grant (5) and (6), and suffers badly when you don’t grant (8). There is also a lot of unpacking about the notion of trust, etc. The whole idea of coercive legal structures is about not trusting anyone when they are acting unsupervised and are supposed to consider the interests of others. If the fetus has interests at any point in its existence, then someone has to show me why the law shouldn’t speak about these interests, considering that the law presently speaks about the interests of cats.

(11) might follow from (10) and (9), depending on how charitable you are about ideas of trusting a group based on what you allow particular members of it to do, but many people would object to (10), and (9) is badly flawed, so (11) doesn’t follow.

If she really wants to save her case, I think Tedra should just say that the fetus is indeed nothing more than a piece of living property with no particular moral interests beyond what the mother imparts on it. It is a losing argument, but Elizabeth Harmon made a very similar one in PaPA a few years back. Still, if we don’t trust women to do whatever they want with their own property, then we certainly don’t trust women in general. That much would be true.

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bob mcmanus 01.23.12 at 3:51 pm

421:Best rape slavery justification I have ever read. Irrefutable. Fuck off.

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Steven 01.23.12 at 3:55 pm

And then there is this the fact that Tedra’s argument is just a specific case of this extremely bad argument:

Anyone who does anything that is a serious thing that affects another being with interests must have been rightfully cognizant of that being’s interests and must have thought they had a really compelling reason to override them, so we should allow everyone to act as they please, or we don’t trust people to make these types of judgments, and we are very horrible people if we don’t trust them about these judgments.

OR, she would have to say that the fetus has no important interests at all, at any point in the pregnancy, which collapses her argument back into a property rights argument as mentioned above. All a reasonable person has to do if offer the suggestion that there may come a time where a fetus is not strictly property, and Tedra’s whole argument is out the window, while having done the work of condescendingly told me that I am some sort of ass for even broaching the topic that a fetus might not just be property that any one person, no matter how panicked, distraught, depressed, disturbed or desperate can do just anything she wants with.

As a human being, as a person, as someone who is careful about these matters, I guess I just found Tedra’s argument to be extraordinarily condescending to the point that, when combined with how bad it was, reflected poorly on the quality of CT.

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Alex 01.23.12 at 3:59 pm

421 seems to argue that self-ownership is absolute except when you’re pregnant. I wonder, can you sell yourself into slavery as long as you’re pregnant?

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Steven 01.23.12 at 4:06 pm

424: the whole point is that there may well come a time when the fetus is no longer simply a part of the woman, and that it is possible to take this seriously collectively rather than letting individual women decide when this is the case.

I am arguing that the abortion debate is a lot more complex than Tedra will allow because the state of late pregnancy is not quite total self-ownership and certainly not the case of one person living in the uterus of another. For her is seems to be all property, all the time, at least as far as she is seriously committed to her original post and at least prior to the somehow magical, transformative passage through the birth canal.

I just think it’s quite complex, and you can acknowledge this complexity under the law, by acknowledging the interests of most highly-developed fetuses against most types of abortions, without being some sort of ass who is distrusting all women.

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Lynne 01.23.12 at 4:09 pm

We don’t legislate all our morals.

dsquared says upthread (263):

“there ought to be some boundary to the power of the state, and the cervix seems like as good a start as any.”

Seems worth repeating.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.23.12 at 4:15 pm

Yup, the bumper sticker art is the only genre suitable for this one.

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Steven 01.23.12 at 4:16 pm

“It is not about trust, it is about control. Anyone who wants to put any restrictions on women’s choices want to control women’s bodies with state assistance, wants personal power over womens reproductive and sexual organs.”

Hey bob, Instead of having a serious conversation about whether or not the fetus ever becomes the type of being that has any sort of interests, you regress to tired, political nonsense. Pure nonsense that belongs on a banner somewhere, and not where the smart folks hang out.

I’m sorry that the same type of concern I have for cats, dogs and dolphins makes me at least pause and wonder if the fate of a late stage fetus can be handed over to its mother without any review or oversight by the deliberative liberal democracy that I envision as protecting the interests of beings which cannot always articulate their interests themselves. I know, it’s very post-colonialist of me to say this, but what can I say, that’s just me. I am sorry for being so liberal in this way, for thinking that the law ought to protect the interests of all beings, and that we should discuss whether fetuses are ever beings or not, or just property.

You may resume your cursing.

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bianca steele 01.23.12 at 4:19 pm

Some of the commenters on this thread have begun to remind me of the guy who instructed a tableful of guys in what he took to be the feminist-taught fact that the toxic shock syndrome scare was a plot against women, because women do not use their feminine products improperly. And I don’t see anything wrong with comparing that behavior to the self-declared male feminist who says he’s pro-choice but the propaganda that women don’t use abortion as a form of birth control is false, because he knows of several cases where the women could have easily raised the child.

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bianca steele 01.23.12 at 4:24 pm

Or with the self-declared female defender of women (whether she calls herself a feminist or not, Germaine Greer, I’m looking at you) who asserts that the reason that anyone would want to limit their family size is that they don’t like poor people and other people who aren’t as neat and clean and tidy and who don’t have all the nice stuff that people with more money to spend on each child do, therefore don’t like real people at all.

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Lurker 01.23.12 at 4:36 pm

“421 seems to argue that self-ownership is absolute except when you’re pregnant. ” Can you please elaborate? I think this

“the whole point is that there may well come a time when the fetus is no longer simply a part of the woman, and that it is possible to take this seriously collectively rather than letting individual women decide when this is the case.”

was enough of an explanation as to why what you say isn’t a fair summary of 421. Have I missed something? I do understand the above could be an argument that someone who wants to exert control over a woman’s reproductive organs could use, but that doesn’t by itself disqualify it from debate — distasteful people holding horrible views may support a reasonable argument (to further their own goals) from time to time, do we invalidate the argument because of that?

Also, by the way, out of curiosity, how does this “421:Best rape slavery justification I have ever read. Irrefutable. Fuck off.” get out of moderation?

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James Wimberley 01.23.12 at 5:22 pm

Agreeing with Rich Puchalsky, I wish Clinton had encapsulated the relativist pro-choice position as “safe, early, legal and rare”. Earliness of abortion is I take it uncontroversially something women with unwanted pregnancies want to have available. Also. there are many ways (like realistic sex education and efficient referral) in which health and education services can be organised to favour early abortion that don’t involve taking any regulatory stand at all; and more ways (like nurse prescriptions for RU-486) in which it can be promoted fairly neutrally within a given regulatory philosophy.

Absolutists like Ms Odell deny the legitimacy of any public regulation of abortion, as those on the other side deny the legitimacy of any public tolerance of it. But as a matter of fact most of us follow the continuum line and its implication of a gradually increasing if hazy claim of the foetus on the concern of third parties, which has to be weighed against the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. (Absolute fundamental rights (e.g. not to be tortured) that can never be weighed against other rights and interests are the exception, not the rule.) The evident discomfort (yes!) absolutists on the one side feel with rare scenarios of near-delivery abortion, and those of on the other with criminal penalties and cases arising from rape and incest, suggests that the continuum has considerable grip on them too.

The result of this weighing may well be to leave the decision up to the woman and her doctors; funnily enough, this hardly ever happens. The current freedom of abortion in the first trimester, that holds in the USA and most of Europe, is a political deal made in the sausage factory, and its counterpart is near-prohibition in the third (doctors take the decision more than the pregnant woman). I suggest that Ms Odell’s righteous indignation at the many fellow-travellers (represented by many commenters here) who form part of the coalition that won and defends this grand bargain is unhelpful.

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Harold 01.23.12 at 5:41 pm

Tedra: “I think if a woman is dead, and yet a fetus inside her is still alive and viable, that we ought to operate to remove it and save its life. But then I’m sentimental about babies like that.”

This statement comes off as rather flippant and makes me think that Tedra is not entirely serious in her arguments. But it gets to the crux of the matter. Most people think of a viable fetus is a baby and are sentimental about it and would like to save it — irrespective of its putative “rights” and “interests”. If a dog is drowning, most people would jump in to save it, irrespective of rights and interest, out of simple humanity (sentimentality, if you will). Should a parent (in Ancient Rome the father, here the mother) have life and death power over a baby? In the past they did — and child murder was legal. Now it is not. Most people consider that an advance.

Nature in its prodigality kills off up to a quarter of early fetuses — perhaps more, if you count embryos. Everything is relative. As a couple who ourselves experienced the loss of a baby at four months gestation and a nine months — the former, though traumatic at the time, truly does not seem like a big deal to us at all after the latter, which is still very painful to think about after 28 years. There is simply no comparison. It is also simply true that there is a continuum. People come up and share their own stories after it happens to you; and after it happened to us, we did meet people who also lost babies, during delivery (as happened to us and is more common than you might think) and also in the first week, and in the first year after birth. Those later experiences are even more tragic, if you can measure such things. And even Tedra recognizes it.
As for the idea that hospitals and medical professionals will (or should) do things without protocols, this is not realistic.

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Katherine 01.23.12 at 5:51 pm

Re. new comments policy: I reluctantly stopped reading (and commenting on) Crooked Timber about five years ago because it was clear that the comments threads in particular were hostile to women, both as posters and commenters.

Nice to see that you’ve finally caught up.

This OP I read several years ago on another blog, and it definitely caused me to think hard and change my mind. I would have called myself pro-choice and feminist then, but I had undoubtedly fallen into the subconscious sexist trap of assuming that there needed to be restrictions on third trimester abortions because… etc… etc

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Salient 01.23.12 at 6:40 pm

Nature in its prodigality kills off up to a quarter of early fetuses—perhaps more, if you count embryos.

Wouldn’t it be more accurate, from the continuum perspective, to say that the woman’s body inadvertently kills the fetus at a quite early stage up to a quarter of the time, but also ? Doesn’t it have some right to be protected not just from from this too, at least probabilistically making these cases somewhat less likely, say, by enforcing appropriate dietary restrictions on expectant mothers, with state-enforced penalties for noncompliance?

A human-ish being, though apparently not entitled to the full suite of protections of a child, surely should not be left to starve; don’t we need to ensure the fetus is receiving a diet? As soon as we put invading a woman’s body along a continuum, these issues have to come into play. There’s no coherent reason the fetus’s rights absolutely have to begin and end sharply at ‘no intentional murder except in cases of X, Y, Z,’ right?

I almost think negligence is more coherent to penalize. A pregnant woman drives drunk without a seatbelt, gets into a car crash, loses the fetus to an unintentional miscarriage — if we’re holding the woman to account for intentional harm of frivolous* abortion, surely the woman above needs to be held to account as well, perhaps in a much more minor way, but if we accept the ‘fetus has rights independent of being tissue of the mother’ premise, surely one of the most basic rights is to not be subjected to reckless endangerment, no? We generally don’t forbid intentional harm in cases where we permit arbitrarily reckless endangerment, right?

*So long as you make an exception for abortions that protect the mental, psychological, and emotional health of the pregnant woman, absolutely every prohibited abortion is effectively frivolous by definition, ’cause you’re saying you discount whatever psychological trauma she is alleging she will incur as a result of carrying the pregnancy. If you make a health exception, you’re literally saying “it’s wrong except in the cases when the woman actually needs it to be healthy” and thus all other cases are unnecessary = frivolous. Either that, or you’re defining healthy rather than accepting the woman’s own definition of her health, which to me is honestly even more odious, ’cause at that point it doesn’t just apply to pregnant women…

@any possible responses, please do not make yourself seem dense by asserting we in general don’t absolutely rigidly allow people to declare their own health; I’m assuming the woman is making that determination in consultation with her doctor(s). A woman truly incapable of contributing to her own health assessment would have to be committed to an institution or hospital, and I have no fucking idea what the law should be for that case, so if you want to discuss that extreme special case ok but please don’t use it as a wrench to beat me with.

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JD 01.23.12 at 7:09 pm

Tedra’s premise here is odd, biologically speaking: “A fetus is part of someone’s body.”

The fetus has its own DNA, which is different from the mother’s. In about half of cases, the fetus’s gender is different from the mother’s. The fetus has its own blood supply, which may be a different blood type from the mother’s. The fetus has its own brain, nervous system, set of limbs, etc., etc., all of which are different from the mother’s.

Do you think that, biologically speaking, the mother of an 8-month male fetus has, as part of her own body: 4 arms, 4 legs, 2 brains, 2 genders at once, two sets of different DNA, and so forth?

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Harold 01.23.12 at 7:30 pm

I don’t understand why we are talking of penalizing people at all, or of fetus’s rights. Or of “frivolous” abortions, unless you define abortion as birth control as frivolous by definition. I don’t think it is desirable for many reasons but I wouldn’t call it frivolous– an act of desperation more like. What I am seeing are people who have abortions as birth control (usually for very good reasons) and who later become filled with remorse and declare themselves “pro-life” (as in the original Roe) and / or go on and have babies that they are then unable to care for, thereby increasing the sum of misery in the world. And the main reason for this is lack of medical care and access to contraception and reproductive education in our society (not to speak of access to early abortion) in combination with religious fanatics who manipulate them with guilt trips.

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Emma in Sydney 01.23.12 at 8:15 pm

Harold, you are right that losing a near term or full term baby is worse than a miscarriage, and I agree that this is evidence of some kind of a continuum that most people feel intuitively. I think this is also what Tedra feels, with her comment about surgical delivery if a mother dies.

My take is that some of the difference is a result of an emotional attachment formed with the potential baby, which only happens if thevwoman has given that separate consent to being pregnant that I mentioned unthread. An involuntary miscarriage of a wanted baby is immeasurably different from a termination of an unwanted pregnancy because of a difference in that consent. Once you decide the pregnancy will continue (and that can be before conception if is a planned pregnancy) then you are making a family and a full concern for the rights and well being of that fetus develop. But without that full consent, there is no place for the fetus in your life or family, and it is not grieved in the same way.

I believe that the Japanese have some rituals and places that commemorate such potential people who did nor find a place in the world, whether miscarried or terminated. I think this an interesting and humane to deal with the question.

The fact is that contraception fails sometimes, relationships change, people lose their nerve, and make mistakes. Tedra’s argument is that no one is in a better position to judge her own family situation, physical and mental strength, and ability to undertake mothering a child than the woman whose body is on the line.

Sorry about the typos-I can’t get back to fix them on this device.

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LFC 01.23.12 at 8:21 pm

Steven @429:
I tend to share your view, and Roe itself (whatever its faults, and various people have found many) is premised on a similar view — as someone pointed out way upthread (it was nnyhav @55).

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Salient 01.23.12 at 9:21 pm

@James Wimberley, working to ensure early access to abortion is completely consistent with an absolutist perspective too. Empirically, we’ve good enough evidence that the vast majority of women seeking abortions do not desire to carry the fetus for a long time after making the decision to abort. To be respectful of their wishes, there’s actually some strong motivation to work hard for access to all forms of early-term care. (Respecting the woman’s right to carry the pregnancy includes, IMO, providing access to health care, but that’s not a particular case; I’m a aggressively-low-cost publicly-funded-healthcare supporter.) If we discover we presumed wrong and lots of women *do* choose to carry pregnancies they don’t want until the late term despite alternatives.. uh.. the lack of coercion in an access-oriented approach helps to ensure we didn’t violate their rights (from an absolutist perspective) so it was still the right thing to do.

@ Harold, I don’t understand why we are talking of penalizing people at all, or of fetus’s rights.

My apologies — I made a pretty awful grammatical/phrasing mistake in making that comment sound like it was addressed to you, it really wasn’t at all. (I had had this Steven fellow in mind for the @ paragraph in particular, fearing I’d be blanket-accused of treacherously bad reasoning because healthy is not left to the person’s own judgment so there, or some such thing.)

If we’re not talking about whether or not to (sometimes) impose criminal penalties women who intentionally and knowingly attempt to detach a fetus from themselves, then… ::blink:: …

@Steven,

FWIW, if you wander in to take a swig from the tap and slam your glass against the floor and declare the beer categorically the worstest ever and you’d expect better of even an amateur brewster how could anyone serve this in a respectable establishment such as this, dammitall, … people are not going to be listening to you by the time you start talking about notes and hops. Not cursing you, necessarily, just… turning backs, moving out of earshot.

But, I did listen to you, mostly for the hell of it, while I ponder what kind of homework I want to write up for the upcoming topics I’m teaching… I even temporarily pretended to agree with you emotionally, and assumed you were speaking from a source of wisdom, which is about as charitable as it gets.

For such a dramatic entrance, there just wasn’t much there there. Like, your (5) is completely unsupported. You’re correct that I don’t think of my own body tissue as ‘property’ but that’s mostly because I think of property as a strict subset of stuff-other-than-myself, and it’s a weird characterization. My ear isn’t my property. But how does this mean that my body tissue “has interests, however small, that exist independently of how the mother conceives of them” ? Or are you just assuming me away because, guffaw, ONLY LIKE TOTALLY UNSEEEEERIOUS people would take that view?

If that’s what’s happening, sorry, that’s not particularly impressive argumentation, and if you leap onto the stage to push the original actor off for incompetence and declare even a rank amateur could do better, dude, when the eyes are on you wondering at your sudden stunt, you kinda fucking owe it to us to put up a good show, man. And that doesn’t just mean make a spectacular ass of yourself — Using lots of not-even-particularly-creative superlatives does not make your point any more well-supported or interesting than using bolded text in a long sentence without punctuation does.

P.S. I vaguely remember when Katherine posted semi-regularly-ish at Obsidian Wings & here, and it would be cool to see her posting here again.

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bobbyp 01.23.12 at 11:38 pm

Absolutists like Ms Odell deny the legitimacy of any public regulation of abortion, as those on the other side deny the legitimacy of any public tolerance of it. But as a matter of fact most of us follow the continuum line and its implication of a gradually increasing if hazy claim of the foetus on the concern of third parties, which has to be weighed against the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. (Absolute fundamental rights (e.g. not to be tortured) that can never be weighed against other rights and interests are the exception, not the rule.) The evident discomfort (yes!) absolutists on the one side feel with rare scenarios of near-delivery abortion, and those of on the other with criminal penalties and cases arising from rape and incest, suggests that the continuum has considerable grip on them too.

If one accepts the idea that an unwanted pregnancy is a classic moral dilemma, the idea of a continuum makes no sense if you assign any value to moral agency. Moral dilemmas (google the term) involve a person who is confronted with the necessity of making a binary decision. No matter which choice is made, a moral “wrong” results. There is no role the state can legitimately play in a moral dilemma without taking away moral agency.

The woman is either pregnant or not. She must decide keep or abort. There is no continuum. While I can understand the allure of such a framework, its supporters are using it in order to have some say in the decision and impose outside authority where none rightly belongs. To those of you insist on doing so, at least have the courage to admit you are denying the woman full moral agency. Admit you do not trust her. Own up to your sexism. Presumably you are an adult. Act like one. Take responsibility.

I think that’s pretty much the nub of it.

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Meredith 01.24.12 at 12:03 am

Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet, within in a month -
Let me not think on’t – Frailty, thy name is woman!-
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2, 142-146

Lots of interesting and important issues raised in the comments. Not at all to dismiss them (truly!), but simply to return to (what I understand to be) a basic point in Tedra’s OP.
Our societies and culture are implicated in a very long history of doubting women’s capacity for continence, self-control, prudent calculation of our (women’s) own best interests, much less others’ (men’s, children’s). And this doubt has informed property and inheritance law, marriage law, endless laws and social practices — not least, law and social practices re reproduction and abortion. For thousands of years.
Also for thousands of years, other intuitions and beliefs about women have acted as a counter-force (things were never simple).
But, let’s face it, the doubts about women are still with us all (women, too — even staunchly feminist women! did I day things are never simple?). Which doesn’t mean that the ONLY inclination sustaining our serious debates about abortion need be connected to our collective sense of woman’s frailty. But I think it does mean that we should always be asking ourselves, might “Frailty, thy name is woman” be a more important factor than “we” (people who think they’ve gotten past all that) are inclined to consider?

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 12:50 am

Bobbyp:

There is no role the state can legitimately play in a moral dilemma without taking away moral agency

This statement is surely wrong the moment the decision maker and the state (as representing some embodiment of social morality) disagree about whether the object of the moral dilemma (in this case, the fetus) has rights and interests.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 1:33 am

faustusnotes,

Yes. People may disagree. They may view this as an overriding moral issue. They are free to do so. The state may intervene to do so of their behalf. It has the power. We are a democracy. None of this is denied. However, you cannot simply redefine or ignore what a moral dilemma is. No matter what choice is made, a moral wrong takes place.

By asserting the “interests of the child” you have taken moral agency away from women. You may feel righteous and feel it’s your duty, again, “in the interests of the child”. I understand. But for the love of god admit you, too, have made a binary choice. You have decided your interests are greater that the woman’s. Admit you do not trust her to make the right choice. Admit that you believe, deep in your heart, that women are simply not capable of making the “correct” decision.

Only you are.

I simply ask that you own up to the fact, because denying choice to the woman is denying her responsibility. You have taken that responsibility out of her hands and a moral wrong shall follow. Own it. Is that too much to ask?

Please read (or reread as it were) and think deeply about Meredith’s comments in this thread. They are beyond eloquent.

Thank you.

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Sebastian 01.24.12 at 1:44 am

Other than you, who says that all pregnancies are moral dilemmas?

Or who says that moral dilemma if it exists ought to end in the death of a child’s life?

You’re setting up absolutes without giving us any reason why we should treat them absolutely.

And the idea that the government never inserts itself into moral dilemmas is ridiculous. To take a case I see all to frequently–the question of whether to take a child (anywhere from 1 to 15 years of age) and deal the damage that doing so will cause, or to leave them potentially at some risk of danger because their parents make lots of bad choices. Moral dilemma? Sure. Bad things happen either way? Definitely. But do social workers exist who make that kind of decision all the time? Ummmm, yeah.

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 1:52 am

Thanks bobbyp. I don’t know that this helps with understanding the OP though; originally it’s phrased in terms of this kind of moral dilemma and argues that only the woman can make the decision, but when challenged on it Tedra has suggested that the fetus has no rights or interests (or none that trump the mother) so then it’s not a moral dilemma (for the mother, or for Tedra), is it? I think (without rereading 500 comments) that this dismissal of the fetus’s rights originally came up when the OP’s logic was compared to that of slave-holders or murderers.

The situation only becomes a moral dilemma, from the point of view of the OP, when someone other than Tedra asserts that the fetus has rights and interests. Then it’s a moral dilemma for them as to what should be done to balance the rights of the fetus and the mother; but there’s no moral challenge for them in dealing with Tedra, because she doesn’t respect the existence of rights they consider to be important: it’s essential that they restrain her. (I suppose then the issue is whether the rights they ascribe to the fetus justify the loss of Tedra’s rights in imposing the restraint, but for anti-choicers this never seems to be much of a dilemma).

I think I made the point above that I don’t consider the fetus to have any interests or rights. So there’s no moral dilemma for me. But, as others have observed, we (or I should say, “you Americans” – the rest of us seem to have largely resolved this issue) aren’t going to win the abortion battle against people who, e.g. genuinely believe that a fetus is a conscious human at 8 months, by arguing it has no rights or that they don’t trust women. I think, in fact, that this is the case Wolf is making – and it is Wolf that the OP singles out for criticism.

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Sebastian 01.24.12 at 2:00 am

“But, as others have observed, we (or I should say, “you Americans” – the rest of us seem to have largely resolved this issue) aren’t going to win the abortion battle against people who, e.g. genuinely believe that a fetus is a conscious human at 8 months, by arguing it has no rights or that they don’t trust women.”

Yes the rest of the world does indeed seem to have largely resolved this issue. And even in what you think of as very progressive states (Sweden, France, Germany) they tend to have much more restrictive abortion laws than even the very most restrictive US state. So you all have largely resolved that the fetus does indeed have interests and rights. It is only the US (and partially the UK) that hasn’t come around to that yet. ;)

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Tedra Osell 01.24.12 at 2:11 am

Okay, I confess I have just started skimming. And Steven can kiss my ass; no way am I going to wade through that pedantic nonsense about how I am Letting Down the Fine Standards Here at CT With My Faulty Pure Logic or whatever the hell he’s on about.

Two more things, then.

1. most people have a time period after which the definition of “serious” changes, that this is generally in the third trimester, and that most people at this point accept that there’s more than just the woman’s interests at stake. I think Tedra accepts this, which is why all her comments on third trimester abortion have assumed a life-threatening condition as the cause.

No. My comments on third tri abortions assume some kind of extreme situation *because those are the conditions under which women have abortions late in pregnancy*. In point of fact, not all late abortions are about “life-threatening conditions”: sadly, a reasonable number of them are performed on women, usually very young women, who were in denial about their pregnancies for far too long and, between that and abortion restrictions, end up needing abortions very late in the game. Those women are absolutely entitled to those abortions, and if you cannot make the imaginative leap to think of yourself as a 16- or 17-yo girl in that situation and realize that yes, she does in fact *need* that abortion, well, you can read this. If you still can’t get it at that point then either your empathy or your imagination is sadly compromised.

Re. the ongoing “but we *don’t* trust everyone, that’s why there are laws!” thing. What I am saying is that if *you*, a real specific speaker who “supports abortion but X” thinks that *your* discomfort makes you a better moral arbiter of X than a real specific woman who is actually experiencing X, then again: you lack empathy and imagination. And given that “we” collectively seem to lack a lot of empathy and imagination on this topic, we, collectively, are sexist assholes. It’s pure arrogance to believe that My Dispassionate Pure Logic can and will do a better job of parsing the specifics of a situation *that I don’t know anything about* than the irrational poor philosophizing of an actual person who is actually in that situation and actually knows the specifics.

And with that I am going to probably ignore the rest of this thread, if it continues, because I have Other Things To Do….

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 2:12 am

Sebastian, a better way of thinking about it might be that other countries have a more pragmatic approach to policy, and very little interest in absolutes. Australia has no absolute right to anything, for example (e.g. free speech or guns). Introducing random breath testing was easy here, because no one accepts that anyone has a right to freedom from state coercion that trumps their responsibility not to drive dangerously. etc. So most countries see a bunch of arguments from different perspectives about rights to life, rights to personal control of bodies, etc., and they just whack up a compromise law that everyone learns to live with, or work around. I think in many states of Australia abortion is, strictly speaking, illegal at any time, but it’s largely pretty easy (in the first trimester at least) to get the necessary doctor’s certificates required to do the deed. I think most people just shrug and see it as the cost of living in a society. It seems to be only in America that these kinds of debates have to be “won” in favour of one clear, idealist statement of absolute truth.

Which isn’t to say I don’t want abortion law to be more liberal in Australia; but I certainly wouldn’t want to see the kind of craziness that goes on in America unleashed in Australia in order to achieve that goal.

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Tedra Osell 01.24.12 at 2:13 am

when challenged on it Tedra has suggested that the fetus has no rights or interests (or none that trump the mother) so then it’s not a moral dilemma (for the mother, or for Tedra), is it?

Noooooooo. Tedra argues that *the mother* is going to do a better job of actually considering about and caring about the rights and interests of the fetus than Joe Shmo. Being as it’s *her* fetus.

Dear god, people.

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 2:21 am

Tedra, the fact that you won’t consider “frivolous” abortions in the third trimester tells me you’re uncomfortable about performing them, and at the fag end of the thread you don’t want to admit it. As a result you can’t engage with the more complex issues of late-third-trimester abortions, and it’s this unwillingness to come up with a deeper moral theory that Wolf has criticized.

Even your example of the 16-17 year old in denial remains a good example of quibbling over seriousness: other feminists will surely think that this is not a “serious” enough reason to warrant killing a baby. There’s always adoption!

Also, the idea that laws about third trimester abortion might be being passed to satisfy the “My Dispassionate Pure Logic” of a sexist society is a bit too simplistic. Laws about this stage may also be passed to satisfy the conflicting different moral claims of significant numbers of people in society. Again, your response seems to be hand-waving away the very real feeling that a lot of people have that an 8 month old fetus is a living person, and has significant rights that may, in some circumstances, trump yours or mine. Because anyone who believes this is going to automatically demand laws to protect those rights, and this does not mean they don’t trust all women.

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 2:38 am

Tedra, this is you at comment 75:

your implication is that the idea that a fetus is an independent person is the default position, and that somehow we have to prove that this isn’t the case. But it’s a biological fact that this isn’t the case. The burden of proof that the fetus is an “independent person” lies with those who want to tell women that they can’t do what we want with our own bodies.

You seem to be running a pretty strong line that a fetus is not an independent person and that this is a fact not open to debate.

The weaker position is that the mother is the best person to judge the rights of her baby. But that’s different to making her the only person who can. And the “it’s in her body” argument isn’t a magical argument. Sure, this makes her rights more important, but whether or not they are the only rights that count depends a lot on how we conceive of the personhood of the fetus. I think the argument being put by feminists like Wolf is that we need to concede (in some instances) that personhood in order to develop a more nuanced theory of abortion rights that will actually convince those who are wavering on the issue. And I’m guessing that the consequences of this will be some restrictions at later trimesters.

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Meredith 01.24.12 at 2:41 am

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DelRey 01.24.12 at 2:50 am

This is patent question-begging; your implication is that the idea that a fetus is an independent person is the default position, and that somehow we have to prove that this isn’t the case. But it’s a biological fact that this isn’t the case.

Whether something qualifies as a “person” isn’t a matter of biological fact. Personhood is a moral or legal status we attribute to certain things, not an empirical fact discoverable by science. You can no more prove that a fetus is not a person than anyone else can prove it is one.

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LFC 01.24.12 at 3:09 am

Once Steven got off his initial approach (i.e., this is bad, I won’t say why) and got down to substance, he said some sensible things, so too bad Tedra is ignoring him.

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Belle Waring 01.24.12 at 3:23 am

401: my miscarriage was pretty awful also. I’m still waiting to hear about how Harold’s went.

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Belle Waring 01.24.12 at 3:37 am

“I’m sorry that the same type of concern I have for cats, dogs and dolphins makes me at least pause and wonder if the fate of a late stage fetus can be handed over to its mother without any review or oversight by the deliberative liberal democracy that I envision as protecting the interests of beings which cannot always articulate their interests themselves.” [I think in many ways it's Steven who's the real hero here, what do you think, guys?]

Because the fate of the fetus is obviously in the hands of the State prior to this? Such that some positive action need be taken to “hand it over” to some unqualified outsider, chosen almost at random, such as, oh let’s say just for the sake of example: its mother? I think you need to flesh this out a little more; it’s comically ludicrous as it stands.

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 3:40 am

Belle I think that’s an overly negative interpretation of the use of the phrase “handed over” there. Something really frustrating about this type of debate is the way everyone decides to start second-guessing people’s real motives and opinions (of women, of fetuses, of the baby jesus) from the throwaway phrases that they use.

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Tedra Osell 01.24.12 at 3:46 am

the fact that you won’t consider “frivolous” abortions in the third trimester tells me you’re uncomfortable about performing them

I also won’t consider fetuses in jars. Because they DON’T EXIST.

And really, “There’s always adoption!” This clearly demonstrates a complete lack of respect for women. As if giving birth to a child and then handing it over to strangers is, I dunno, a cheerful easy solution! Yay!

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Boconnor 01.24.12 at 3:57 am

I think if you are going to take away a woman’s decision and make it for them then at least you should bear the consequence of that decision. Because it seems true that the consequence of another child is increased financial pressure including placing families into poverty with all the consequences of that for the parent (s) and other children in the household , for at least 20 years. And this at a time of increading inequality and decreasing social mobiliy.

And by bear the consequence I mean all the financial and other costs so that the woman is in no worse financial position after your decision, for perpetuity or until the child dies.

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 4:09 am

Tedra, saying they’ don’t exist in capital letters doesn’t make them go away. It’s entirely possible that other feminists will disagree with you about what constitutes a “serious” reason. If some other feminist decides that being in denial is not a serious reason for abortion, does she automatically enter your “doesn’t trust women” ledger? Is this true of anyone who decides a reason for third trimester abortion is not “serious”?

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Sebastian 01.24.12 at 4:10 am

“As if giving birth to a child and then handing it over to strangers is, I dunno, a cheerful easy solution! Yay!”

Who said it was a cheerful easy solution? Maybe it is a difficult one that is nevertheless better than killing the child.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 4:22 am

As a result you can’t engage with the more complex issues of late-third-trimester abortions

So much dancing. So little enlightenment. Spend some time and really break down one, just ONE, “complex example”. JUST ONE! I’m with Tedra on this…..Holy Mother of God! The density…it’s dense!!!!!!!!

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 4:28 am

So bobbyp, your answer is to call your interlocutors stupid?

I didn’t say “complex example.” I wrote “complex issue.” The complex issue at stake is that some people think that an 8 month old fetus deserves special consideration. Some of the people who think this are, apparently, feminists. Tedra’s response to this concern – for an entity that she herself admits can live by itself if taken out of the mother – is to say that these people don’t trust women. She is, effectively, dismissing the moral concerns of (apparently!) other feminists and, to boot, a very large number of ordinary women. There is no possibility that an abortion in the third trimester could be done for the wrong reasons, because (by definition!) non-serious reasons for abortion in the third trimester don’t exist (in capitals!)

It’s not possible to have a debate about whether anyone who ever had an abortion in the third trimester did so for a less-than-perfect reason, apparently, because it’s definitionally impossible that this could happen. That’s rather handy, since it means that anyone who is concerned about this period of the pregnancy and wants to assert the state’s right to intervene, must therefore distrust women.

It’s convenient. But it doesn’t advance the cause of the pro-choice movement – especially since the OP is specifically phrased as an argument against members of that movement.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 4:30 am

Sure, this makes her rights more important, but whether or not they are the only rights that count depends a lot on how we conceive of the personhood of the fetus

How YOU conceive? Depends? The only rights? A lot of highly loaded terms there. Why not let the woman decide? It is a very simple question? Some women decide to carry to term. Do you deny them that choice, too? The question is who is in the best position to make that decision and who gets to make it. If you are adult enough to accept the responsibility to condemn a woman to death, pain, responsibilities she is totally unable to cope with, or unnecessary poverty….by all means step up to the plate and admit as much. That’s all I ask.

But at least admit it. Otherwise you are just being irresponsible.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 4:36 am

The complex issue at stake is that some people think that an 8 month old fetus deserves special consideration.

THAT IS NOT A COMPLEX ISSUE. THAT IS A COMMON OPINION.

It’s not possible to have a debate about whether anyone who ever had an abortion in the third trimester did so for a less-than-perfect reason, apparently, because it’s definitionally impossible that this could happen

Less that perfect reason? Cite numbers. Cite cases. How do you know this occurs? Do you have data? NO YOU DO NOT. You have prejudices. And you don’t trust women. I think Tedra stated that. More than once.

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Tedra Osell 01.24.12 at 4:37 am

faustus, I tell you what. You go find me an example of a woman who had an abortion in the 7th month or later for a frivolous reason, and then we’ll talk.

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 4:48 am

bobbyp, I think I stated – more than once – that I have no problem with abortion at any time in the pregnancy, and for any reason, because I think it should be entirely and only the mother who chooses what to do, because I trust women, even though I think that a fetus very late in the pregnancy is probably fully conscious and sentient. I also agree with Tedra to a very large extent about the whole seriousness thing. I am not talking about me here.

The OP has an intended target:

When pro-choice feminists like Wolf, or liberal men, or a lot of women, even, say things like

I’m trying to refer the OP’s logic to the putative arguments of these targets, and refer the consequences of applying the logic as a pro-choice argument in the public sphere.

So please spare the accusations.

I additionally stated above that I think the only area where Tedra’s position is likely to differ from that of the OP’S target (who I characterize as Wolf) is in the debate about third-term abortions. I’ll forgive you having missed most of what I’m trying to get at here because this comment thread is way too long. Please try and extend a little good faith the other way.

The problem comes down to this: if Osell and Wolf disagree on what constitutes a “serious” reason for an abortion at 8 months, is this because Wolf doesn’t trust women, or because there’s a more complex moral debate to be had at this point? And if we refuse to engage in this debate (contra Wolf’s desires, I think) are we helping the pro-choice movement? Because in doing so we’re probably dismissing the concerns of a very large majority of the female population, and in the circumstances this doesn’t seem a good idea. You’re also giving the anti-choice movement rhetorical ammunition, which probably isn’t so relevant since they’re mostly loopy anyway.

But in general you don’t win arguments – even with loopy people – by saying things like “you don’t trust women!”

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 4:48 am

Maybe it is a difficult one that is nevertheless better than killing the child.

The damage this could do to the mother? Of no consequence? Or possibly dying in the process? Of no weight? A woman in this position is simply a napkin upon which you wet your oh-so-moral lips and dispense “rights”? You deny her very humanity and pronounce it good? How easily and supremely arrogantly the scales of moral justice are announced!

And actually there are many who do take the child to term and give them up for adoption. They made, in your moral universe, the “correct” decision. They chose wisely. But this is not a movie about the Holy Grail.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 4:54 am

So please spare the accusations.

OK. My apologies. I have not read Wolf’s statement on this, but it strikes me as a political argument, i.e., she is conceding that the political settlement is more or less permanent and railing against the injustice of forced pregnancy beyond the 2nd trimester is politically a non-starter. Much like the gun control folks have ceded the political ground to the NRA.

Tedra argues this is illogical and sexist. I would tend to agree. Whether or not Wolf is correct in her political analysis is another matter.

Peace, bro’!!!

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faustusnotes 01.24.12 at 5:05 am

Thankyou, bobbyp. I’m guessing (and I think I am in agreement with Tedra here, though I wouldn’t stake a groat on it) that Wolf’s position, and that of the other “pro-choice feminists” that Tedra references in the OP is actually based on their own personal discomfort with late-term abortion. So I’m guessing that they’re happy with the political settlement you describe and looking for a deeper justification for it in feminist theory or moral philosophy rather than just political pragmatism. I’m not familiar with her work particularly but I think there’s a pretty common view among ordinary feminists that they personally are very uncomfortable with abortion but pro-choice regardless; I guess she’s channelling this.

I don’t see these views as necessarily “distrusting women.” I think they’re definitely deprecating the importance of the particular physical relationship between mother and fetus (the “it’s in her body” thing that Tedra is using a lot here). I don’t think that means they’re sexist, or morally repugnant. And so I think the OP isn’t presenting a good way of arguing with these people – I think a better approach is to unpack the “it’s in her body” thing, but at the moment it seems to me that Tedra is waving that argument about like a super-power and not actually explaining its special power to override the rights of a living thing. And it clearly does need explaining, since at least some feminists seem to think the fetus overrides it at some point.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 5:07 am

“because there’s a more complex moral debate to be had at this point?”

I would deny that the moral debate at “this point” is any more complex than it is at earlier stages of the “continuum” of pregnancy. Does the “child” live or die? The claims about “viability” strike me as a dodge to shake the guilt that yes, we have allowed the mother under some ( but by god not all) circumstances, a mother to abort her child. Thus enabling us to feel good about our wisdom.

I derive little satisfaction from that.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 5:14 am

faustusnotes,

I would disagree. This is a very good way to go at folks who are “queasy” about the topic, but otherwise agree that abortion is “OK some of the time”. it forces them to confront the very heart of the issue…..who gets to decide?

Let. The.Woman.Decide. Always.

Never back down. Never. Because to cede ground on the basis of “yes, but” is to declare you’ve lost, and the opponents of reproductive freedom and women’s rights will be emboldened and continue to nibble at the edges to restrain those rights.

Thank you.

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Emma in Sydney 01.24.12 at 5:18 am

People, an eight month fetus delivered alive is called a baby. My twins were born 6weeks early and did not require any extra help. Any woman in an advanced country who needs to be not pregnant for her health at eight months will get a caesarean section and have a baby. It’s pregnancies that need to be ended at or around viability (say 22 to 26 weeks) that cause the horrible dilemmas. Can the mother survive multiple organ failure for the two more days that might mean the fetus survives birth and neonatal intensive care? Can one of the twins be saved without killing their mother? Eclampsia and similar serious conditions kill women every year. Sometimes death can be avoided by ending the pregnancy.
Premature babies born because of premature labour now routinely survive from about 26 weeks gestation.

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 6:29 am

But in general you don’t win arguments – even with loopy people – by saying things like “you don’t trust women!”

The point is to confront those who ‘agree’ with you and point out that their reasoning is logically flawed. Logically flawed reasoning is subject to doubt. Logically flawed reasoning can be quibbled with continuously about the edges. Logically flawed reasoning can be more easily be defeated politically….but these considerations pale in light of Tedra’s basic point: To take the decision away from the woman ‘at certain junctures’ is to show a basic lack of trust of the woman to make the correct decision. Why have the legislation otherwise? If you don’t trust women as a class to make the right call at certain times you are denying them moral agency. Denying adult human beings (who happen to be pregnant) moral agency is to treat them like children. Treating them like children is sexist since, in every instance, a pregnant human being is always a woman.

There is nothing at all complex about this.

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Harold 01.24.12 at 6:40 am

I read the MJ article. I heartily agree with this sentiment:
“Make sure [very young girls] don’t get pregnant in the first place, and not just by preaching ‘abstinence only.’ If they do get pregnant, don’t throw a net of fear, confusion, and complication over them that will only cause them to hide their conditions for as long as they can. Because that’s exactly what they’ll do. You could argue that ‘partial-birth’ abortion is the price a society pays when it calculatedly keeps teenage girls ignorant instead of aggressively arming them with the facts of life and, if necessary, the equipment to protect themselves from pregnancy.”

The writer does not suggest that “partial birth” abortion is a good thing. On the contrary, she insists that the need for it is symptomatic of a sick and uncaring society — a kind of punishment. You might also call it an instance of the “martial law of the soul” or extreme exception that normally ought to be avoided and that proves the rule.

Fortunately for the writer, her mother had a cool head and medical connections. The doctor to whom she took her daughter could easily have been my own obstetrician cousin (once removed — he was my mother’s cousin, really). He used to say he would do an abortion free of charge to any woman who asked — for the reasons in the article, namely what all med students used to see routinely in emergency rooms: very young girls dying in agony of peritonitis. I heard the same from other doctors in those days. And they were as good as their word. That is why after abortion was legalized I was disheartened at the fact that most of the medical profession washed their hands of the whole thing and left it to for-profit clinics to do on an assembly line basis. The doctors who lobbied for it as a woman’s right were more idealistic.

It sounds to me as if the Mother Jones writer was 4- or five-, not seven or eight-months pregnant. The doctor was fine with it. The girl’s mother was fine with it. They could well have acted differently had it been later.

My mother, an early feminist, told me that she had several miscarriages (in addition to several elective abortions), both before and after I was born. “I was very fertile when I was young,” she used to say. She never said anything at all about its being painful. She loved her job and wanted to keep working, and her marriage to my father wasn’t working out. One abortion — my mother said it was twins — was on our kitchen table, done by a woman doctor who was Russian. “We used to do these all the time in the Soviet Union,” she told my mother. This was in the 1940s. My mother, like the writer’s mother mentioned above, was very resourceful and always had women doctors.

My grandmother, a teacher, also had an abortion in order to keep working during the Depression. It was performed by a family friend, my grandparents’ family physician and bridge partner, who had emigrated from Russia in the 1920s, and who still made house calls when I was sick as well.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.24.12 at 6:45 am

bobbyp 476, thanks for spelling it out. Sorry, but in IMHO it has all the hallmarks of Rush Limbaugh-style demagoguery.

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Meredith 01.24.12 at 7:49 am

Harold, in this swirl of comments, glad you read the MJ piece. And for sharing pre-Roe stories — more I could share, too, in my own family/world than my grandmother in the 1920′s. (As could so many people, if we happened to come from families who talked about “such things” — most didn’t.) It’s one thing for “just folks” to know nothing of that world, another thing entirely for doctors to be so ignorant (which many, maybe most, today are). Whether all this is relevant to Tedra’s key points, I don’t know. But one thing I am sure about: supporting Planned Parenthood is almost entirely about the paragraph you quote!

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bexley 01.24.12 at 11:09 am

Yes the rest of the world does indeed seem to have largely resolved this issue. And even in what you think of as very progressive states (Sweden, France, Germany) they tend to have much more restrictive abortion laws than even the very most restrictive US state. So you all have largely resolved that the fetus does indeed have interests and rights. It is only the US (and partially the UK) that hasn’t come around to that yet. ;)

This is just some bizarre framing Sebastian. Abortion started out as being illegal and is now legal with restrictions. It isn’t the case that those countries started with really permissive laws and then introduced more restrictions and the UK hasn’t caught up. Therefore it makes more sense to argue that Sweden, France and Germany haven’t come around as far as the UK yet.

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ptl 01.24.12 at 11:19 am

480 particularly as the UK Act was passed in 1967, on a free vote, and the law has been amended only once, in 1990 (to introduce limits on abortions after 24 weeks) — and particularly as Spain liberalised its law recently.

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Katherine 01.24.12 at 11:28 am

P.S. I vaguely remember when Katherine posted semi-regularly-ish at Obsidian Wings & here, and it would be cool to see her posting here again.

Alas, different Katherine. There are a lot of us about.

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Katherine 01.24.12 at 11:43 am

if Osell and Wolf disagree on what constitutes a “serious” reason for an abortion at 8 months, is this because Wolf doesn’t trust women, or because there’s a more complex moral debate to be had at this point?

You seem to have missed the point again. Osell, Wolf and any other Tom, Diana or Harry can have opinions up the jacksy, and express them, but once anyone tries to legislate their opinions over that of the pregnant woman actually involved, then yes, they don’t trust women.

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X 01.24.12 at 1:38 pm

Mea culpa! I realise now that I have never truly trusted women to make their own decisions. In fact, it’s even worse: I don’t trust men to make their own decisions either! Yes, I admit with shame that I was uncomfortable with a whole variety of private decisions that other people take – from suicide to taking steroids to workaholism to jaywalking. Worse, I was in favour of banning some of the things on that list – and so are many other people! But, thanks to this posting, now I know: not only is it wrong to make laws against private decisions, it’s wrong even to express disapproval of them.

(Whether abortion _is_ a private decision, in the sense of affecting no one else, is a whole different story. Suffice it to say that it’s not very useful to treat a small tadpole-shaped clump of cells with no noticeable brain, and a 7-month-old fetus with a 90% chance of independent survival, as if they were the same thing.)

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bobbyp 01.24.12 at 2:05 pm

bobbyp 476, thanks for spelling it out. Sorry, but in IMHO it has all the hallmarks of Rush Limbaugh-style demagoguery

“I refute it thus!” Nice. Beware though. Cheap tippers get what they deserve, Henri.

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Harold 01.24.12 at 3:29 pm

The MJ story was not exactly the story of a woman who could be trusted to do the right thing. It was the story of someone who was totally lost and running around in circles until by great good fortune she was saved by her mother who thankfully had some hard- won expertise and knew what to do.

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Katherine 01.24.12 at 3:57 pm

from suicide to taking steroids to workaholism to jaywalking

Of course, in those situations the person is harming themselves. Abortion is safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, so not exactly parallel.

Also, I’d imagine you would get quite a few people arguing that the ability to take (currently) illegal drugs, or kill oneself actually should be legal, on the basis of the right to personal bodily integrity. Workaholism isn’t illegal, and I don’t see you arguing that it should be.

And jaywalking is … – well, hell, I don’t know the ins and outs of jaywalking, cos it isn’t illegal where I am.

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ajay 01.24.12 at 4:03 pm

Jaywalking is a bit different because (as any driver or cyclist will tell you) it directly affects other people – if someone steps out in front of you, you swerve or stop, which can be anything from an inconvenience to a danger. Whether or not it’s legal varies from place to place, but I think that making it illegal is justifiable.

Walking along the edge of a cliff, though, is dangerous to yourself but not to others (as long as you don’t fall off and land on someone’s head) and so it’s rightly legal.

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Watson Ladd 01.24.12 at 4:16 pm

Katherine, inside that argument is an assumption that abortion doesn’t involve the interests of another. But that argument already gets you to no restrictions at all. Tedra’s argument needs to be read in a much stronger way: there exist morally relevant reasons not all abortions are okay, but these reasons are automatically appreciated by those involved in making the decision.

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Gene O'Grady 01.24.12 at 4:23 pm

Walking along the edge of a cliff certainly isn’t legal in Santa Monica or Newport Beach.

And when I worked in a medical center one of the patients, given a cancer diagnosis by what must have been a remarkably insensitive doctor immediate threw himself down three stories onto his head; I doubt that the laborers who had to clean up the bloody mess he left felt it had been a private, privileged act.

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Katherine 01.24.12 at 4:32 pm

Katherine, inside that argument is an assumption that abortion doesn’t involve the interests of another.

You have missed my point. A person taking steriods harms themself. A person committing suicide harms themself. A person having an abortion does not harm themself. X’s snarky comparisons therefore fail.

(PS Argh – grammar of themselves/themself here? Help pelase!)

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chris y 01.24.12 at 4:38 pm

And yet suicide and attempted suicide is no longer illegal in any civilised country. Basically, societies took the view that on the whole they trusted their citizens on that one.

You tell me that the authorities in Santa Monica and Newport Beach don’t trust their citizens. There are a few authorities in Britain who take a similar view. On the other hand, North Derbyshire and the Peak District National Park do. Are they wrong?

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Steve Williams 01.24.12 at 4:40 pm

Harold@486

‘The MJ story was not exactly the story of a woman who could be trusted to do the right thing. It was the story of someone who was totally lost and running around in circles until by great good fortune she was saved by her mother who thankfully had some hard- won expertise and knew what to do.’

Okay, that’s true. But I don’t think that does any harm to the OP. I finally finished reading every comment (do I get a medal?) and I definitely recall reading somewhere Tedra saying that of course not every woman will always make a choice wisely or whatever. We don’t have to trust every woman individually, we just have to trust women as a class. We can split women into three broad camps; those who consider their situation, and make the right decision for them (which is a presumably a large majority), then those who need advice from a parent/relative/friend/partner/health care professional/etc, but end up making what is for them the ‘right’ choice (the woman in the article), and then a group who will make a decision they end up regretting, whatever that decision may be. Presumably, however, this group is really small, and as I understand the argument from the OP, they don’t need to be non-existent (although obviously it would be great if this never happened!), it’s just that when women as a class are allowed to make their decisions, there will be many more optimal decisions than when others make their decisions for them. Also, finally, I don’t think the story ‘Woman A didn’t know what to do, until Woman B gave her some good advice’, does any harm at all to the statement ‘let’s trust women to make good decisions’.

That was my reading, anyway. If that’s completely wrong, fair enough. I guess I won’t be the only one whose reading comprehension skills have deserted them in this thread.

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Sebastian 01.24.12 at 4:41 pm

“You have missed my point. A person taking steriods harms themself. A person committing suicide harms themself. A person having an abortion does not harm themself.”

The reason abortion is a contentious question is because a large percentage of the population thinks that (at least in a late term) a person having an abortion harms someone else!

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Steven 01.24.12 at 4:43 pm

Tedra, your old blog often launched sharp-toothed snark at people in the public light who with whom you and your friends strongly disagreed. For example, a reader wrote Slate with a nuanced question, the columnist gave some bad advice, and then your blog chimed in:

“I’ve just read the worst advice column, ever. To the editors of Slate Magazine, I suggest you offer me Prudence’s job. Because she is a terrible, terrible advice-giver. If you like, you may hire me, or any other non-asshole person of your choosing. Because Prudence is an asshole.”

So this is a bit of turnabout, I guess.

I never expected you to wade through all the stiff logic I converted your argument into. That’s called doing philosophy. Making a false argument that consists of a bunch of statements that share the loci of a particular dogma is called something else. Literary criticism, maybe?

And it wasn’t pure logic in any case. I gave you an underlying “pure” (i.e., formal) logic that worked pretty well and led to your conclusions. In any real argument, the symbols of formal logic correspond to conjectures about ideas or states of affairs in the world. That correspondence is where your wheels fall off and your trolley overturns, tumbling crazily down the mountain.

This is free advice to someone who calls herself a “public intellectual,” advice which is worth nothing, and which you will igore. You might want to pick up any recent article about abotion in any mainstream phil journal and give it a read. Then follow its citations back, back through the discourse, reading as you go, until they all converge on “In Defense of Abortion,” written by J.J. Thompson in 1971. After you have surveyed the 40+-friggin-years of careful thought on the subject by bright, liberal people, you may care to rephrase some of your argument a bit, or at least point out where they rest on key assertions that many reasonable people to not accept.

To quickly restate two things: your arugment must conceive of a fetus as property in all of its stages in a way that is not only not accepted by many careful thinkers who would bristle at the accusation that they don’t trust women, but that would lead you, yourself, to conclusions you would never, ever accept in other circumstances.

Secondly, if you substitute “people” for “women,” “use” for “abort” and “property” for “fetus” (something you have already done, in my view), then you have made an argument that nobody here will take seriously. And you can’t show why these substitutions are inappropriate without saying other things that nobody will take seriously.

There is a saying, once uttered by a super-logicky guy in philosophy, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one ought to remain silent.” This is why I don’t blog about blogging.

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Andrew F. 01.24.12 at 5:40 pm

I can’t quite tell which of the following propositions, if any (or all), the argument in the OP endorses:

(1) Whether abortion is morally permissible under a set of circumstances C is a question not susceptible to a resolution in which we can have sufficient confidence to enforce the resolution by law;
(2) Whether abortion is morally permissible under a set of circumstances C is a question not susceptible to any principled resolution; or
(3) Whether abortion is morally permissible under a set of circumstances C is answerable satisfactorily only by an individual actually confronted with the choice while under C.

I’d think (3) is the most supportive of the “if you support stopping any women from having an abortion, then you don’t trust women” line. But (3) is a really tough proposition to argue persuasively.

(1) lends itself to the argument that proponents of restrictions in circumstances C are overconfident in their own conclusions (not the same as lacking trust in women as a class), while (2) lends itself, more strongly, to the same.

But all three simply bring us back to the actual question of the moral permissibility of abortion in circumstances C. The “distrust” accusation is a pungent red herring, imho.

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Uncle Kvetch 01.24.12 at 5:46 pm

This is free advice to someone who calls herself a “public intellectual”

OMG. And there I was thinking this thread was finally played out.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.24.12 at 5:48 pm

@491: A person taking steriods harms themself. A person committing suicide harms themself.

Why don’t you trust people? Your judgment of some hypothetical scenario is more reliable than some person’s judgment about their own, very real, life situation?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.24.12 at 6:10 pm

ajay, 488: Walking along the edge of a cliff, though, is dangerous to yourself but not to others (as long as you don’t fall off and land on someone’s head) and so it’s rightly legal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_legislation

Not too long ago suicide was universally (or almost universally) illegal, but recently in many places these laws have been repealed. In some places, under certain circumstances (for the terminally ill), and after a complicated legal procedure, doctors are allowed to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs.

Sounds familiar?

And a hundred years from now, when world’s population doubles again, there will be a suicide booth on every corner, and not committing a suicide before you’re 70 will be considered selfish and immoral.

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hellblazer 01.24.12 at 6:10 pm

To Steven at 495: if we’re going to nitpick, and use a very literal translation of Wittgenstein (“whereof “being rather archaic last time I spake), it’s “over and above that , one must be silent”. There is a perfectly good word sollen for “should”.

This is free advice to someone who deems himself philosophically well-read. If you’re going to rope in sound bites from the sodding Tractatus, at least do it properly.

And it wasn’t pure logic in any case. I gave you an underlying “pure” (i.e., formal) logic that worked pretty well and led to your conclusions. In any real argument, the symbols of formal logic correspond to conjectures about ideas or states of affairs in the world. That correspondence is where your wheels fall off and your trolley overturns, tumbling crazily down the mountain.

Leaving aside what “formal logic” means here – propositional calculus? intuitionist logic? – I find the 3rd sentence unpersuasive, simply because the translation from the world to an abstracted model necessarily coarse-grain things. Moreover, what the hell is that trolley doing on a mountain? Are we shopping for groceries on the Matterhorn?

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js. 01.24.12 at 6:28 pm

I think at this point, we should all just clear space for Steven The Pure Logician.

Dear Steven, maybe, just as a favor to the rest of us, you could formalize all comments on this post? Please? (Oh, and one small thing: your “pure” argument is invalid. That would be formally invalid. Because, umm, (8) doesn’t follow from what went before. Sure you can fix though.)

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dbk 01.24.12 at 6:34 pm

Harold @ 486: I read the MJ piece and feel that the story’s major take-away message was that even where we have a girl from a middle-class, educated environment with an enlightened parent and no obvious moral qualms, when you’re 17, you need help getting the help you need. If you look at the U.S. statistics/reasons given for late-term abortions (variously defined), they include “wasn’t aware she was pregnant” and “unable to get/locate help” – reasons characteristic of a society where sex education is often inadequate and help is often not available to the poor.

I think some of the discussion here might have focused not just on “sexism” but also on “classism”, a more general issue that bedeviled the first generation of American feminists, who tended to come from relatively privileged, educated backgrounds. But then, where “sexism” is a one red-flag issue, “classism” rates as a many-flagged one, given that officially, the U.S. is classless. The qualms of pro-choice advocates of both sexes about late-term abortion seem at least open to examination for this sort of bias.

For the philosopher/ethicist (?) who attempted to refute Tedra’s argumentation upthread: Arguments of the “whose interests trump whose” type make me uncomfortable here (sorry). Pro-life advocates argue that the interest of the unborn fetus trumps that of the mother (an argument the violinist-variation-of-the-trolley-problem sought to refute), because the fetus’s interest in being born/having a (future/potential) life trumps that of its already born/living-her-actual-life mother. I’d like to see how advocates extend their thinking to the wider environment of the mother and those dependent upon her (spouse/other already living children/ parents – she’s not in a vacuum, after all). How far does the interest of the unborn in being born extend? Advocates of this argument normally insist on the “interests” of the unborn, given that the “rights” of the unborn are murkier. Do the unborn have rights beyond advocates’ claim that they have a (legally enforcible) right to be born? Is the mother’s right to selfhood/self-determination legally abrogatable? If so, what is the legal/quasi-legal status of the mother in this “state steps in to ensure the unborn is assured the right to be born” scenario? Is it one of de jure guardianship? This concerns me, as I see little indication that the state’s interest in an unborn’s right to being born extends beyond being born itself. I feel arguments of this type need to be accompanied by substantial investment in that “future/potential” life following actualization: those things that give meaning to the right to life by providing the core infrastructure for a reasonably good chance of a good life. [Also, I wonder what would happen if your claim that Tedra's position is only supportable (logically) if she assumes that the mother holds property rights over the unborn were altered to "proprietary" rights? Would advocates claim that society's proprietary rights to ensuring the unborn is born trump the mother's proprietary rights here? And if so, on what grounds?]

There’s been a fair amount of “What? Who, me? I’m as empathic as the next guy” on the thread. Empathy can take us far (Tedra has never had an abortion, after all, and she’s a ferocious defender), but we should remember it’s not a 100% substitute for actual lived experience (would that it were). Case in point: I have empathy for those who use medical marijuana, though I have never used any mind-altering substance. Recently, a pinched nerve caused such excruciating pain that I was forced to resort to an addictive painkiller used off-label for sciatica. It (a) made me high (a common side-effect) and (b) after only three weeks, produced significant withdrawal symptoms when I went off it. My empathy continues, but is now better-informed by experience, and stronger, because felt.

Really challenging OP/ensuing thread – extremely tough issues, engaged commenters (some of whom made me gnash my teeth, but hey, that’s why I read CT). It inspired me to review lots of stuff I’d forgotten (including the original decision), and most importantly, it persuaded me to alter my own thinking significantly. Many thanks to Tedra and fellow commenters.

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Salient 01.24.12 at 6:44 pm

By dredging up material from the old blog to indicate he’s hated her for years, I’m pretty sure Steven has now firmly established himself as a class ‘A’ troll, almost verging into class ‘S’. Starting out by acting all surprised and disappointed to find Tedra wrote something you didn’t like, then revealing that you’ve felt that way about her entire corpus of writing for years, is about as rhetorically dishonest as it gets. I imagine we’ll never see an end to it.

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Steven 01.24.12 at 8:29 pm

When all else fails, call a person a stalker troll and accuse him of misogeny. Even if a person can read another person’s internet history today, in ten minutes.

Or, question his translation of the Tractatus.

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novakant 01.24.12 at 8:44 pm

#500

He’s quoting the classic CK Ogden translation, so I don’t think that’s a great way to question his philosophical credentials (that said, the translation is not very precise, since “ought” is too weak and should instead be “must” or “have to”).

A better line of attack might be bringing up the “Investigations”.

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Doctor Slack 01.24.12 at 8:48 pm

Steven, since B.* spared you and took the high road, I won’t: your whole analysis of the supposed logical flaws in her argument boils down essentially to a jibe: “so how can you treat a fetus as property when you wouldn’t do that with a cat?” This jibe, even tarted-up with sloppy verbiage about logic, carefully avoids facing up to the real question, which — aside from being quite wrong about the legal status of cats — is: “Would you rather see fetuses treated as property, or women treated that way?”

The woman’s relationship with the fetus is in fact, and as a matter of biological fact, the former: until the fetus is able to live on its own, its life depends on her choosing to bring it to term. If you are uncomfortable with that fact or with the choices she might make in that regard to the point of wanting to forbid abortion, then you must (try to) replace this relationship of fact with a fictive one, overruling the mother’s rights over her own body to replace them with the supposedly-preferable judgment of another. (And we’re not talking about her rights to get stoned on illegal substances — which is the kind of circumstance in which we do, with albeit not universally-agreed wisdom, interfere with people’s choices about their own bodies — but simply a veto of her rights over nearly as basic a bodily function as she possesses, to carry or not carry a pregnancy to term.) In either case, one entity’s interests are being overruled by the other’s.

Unfortunately, overruling nature in theory doesn’t overrule it in fact: and the fact is it doesn’t matter if you forbid abortion, the mother still in fact can choose whether or not she wants to be pregnant, and can still seek abortion out whether you like it or not. Hence this attempt at disempowerment of women is not ever likely to make abortion go away: only to constrain where it can be had and thereby make it more lethal, more squalid, more abusive and exploitive, and far more of a drain on society (and on morality) than legal abortion. If in the face of all this, you’d still prefer that women rather than fetuses be treated as property, then the charitable conclusion is that you’re unacceptably ignorant, and the uncharitable conclusion is that your real, underlying drive is to see women dominated by the state, and do not really care what the practical consequences of indulging that drive might be.

These are very basic factors in the abortion argument. This is the 101 stuff that you would know if you have done your homework as you’ve tried to imply you have done. Formal logic is worthless without adequate information to work upon: if none of this occurred to you, and it kind of doesn’t look like it did, then you should probably take the advice of that certain “super-logicky” guy in philosophy to heart.

Of course this does not mean that, strictly-speaking, the fetus is as purely a piece of property as a toaster and should be treated that way, an idea I think you’ll find has occurred to more than a few of the women in question. Once you get the likely outcomes of legislation out of the way, there is still a valid and lively moral argument to be had for and against this or that abortion in a great many cases. But the way you have that argument productively is not by banning abortion: it’s by promoting openness and information, providing resources and honest assessments of alternatives, and of course — if you’re all in favour of reducing the number of abortions as an end goal — providing some good old-fashioned socialistic welfare-statery for mothers in order to be sure that all those additional births you wanted to see get a fair shot at a decent life. At any rate that’s, as far as I can see, the most rational set of options for someone claiming to care, like a good liberal, about the disenfranchised and the vulnerable in society. (I don’t believe you’d sign on for any of that, of course, because I think your claim is insincere. But maybe I’m wrong.)

(* Tedra, I mean. I’m still getting used to her not being B.)

507

Doctor Slack 01.24.12 at 8:56 pm

(Oh, and apologies to Tedra, I don’t have charitable monies to hand right now, but I’ll see about seeking out an appropriate Canadian charity at the first opportunity.)

508

Emma in Sydney 01.24.12 at 9:18 pm

Thanks Doctor Slack, for saying that so well. There is a concept of active consent to pregnancy, separate from consent to sex, which I have been trying to raise, and which is consistently ignored, both in this discussion and elsewhere. Especially, though not exclusively, by people who will never be pregnant.

509

Henry H 01.24.12 at 9:35 pm

Thank you, Tedra – for the intellectual challenge of this message.
I have only just broken the 200 mark on the comments I have read – but I have a question that has not been covered thus far:

Can one have a sex-selective abortion that is not sexist?

I have read a few (not a lot of) feminst authors and one of the general notions I have taken away from this is that gender, as a normative power, is an exclusionary power. And that sexism is a part of any system that differentiates based on gender (which leads me to consider that the answer to that question is, no).

What you have written appears to say that anti-abortion laws and coercive social forces are sexist, and must be resisted because sexism is at the heart of “not trusting women to make choices”. However, in the scenario of sex-selective abortion – it seems like the sexist cultural ideas that inform the woman’s decision are not to be questioned because of this trust dynamic.

This means to me that in avoiding one type of sexism (anti-abortion regulations) we have to collude with another type of sexism (sex-selective decisions i.e. the specific destruction of a gendered organsim based on the gender of that organism).

510

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.24.12 at 9:53 pm

Especially, though not exclusively, by people who will never be pregnant.

There is a reason couples say “we are pregnant”, you know. Human beings are perfectly capable of understanding concepts and experiencing emotions without corresponding physiological symptoms. And even of having sympathetic pregnancies. And conversely, real physiological symptoms don’t necessarily produce any deep understanding.

511

Salient 01.24.12 at 10:17 pm

Even if a person can read another person’s internet history today, in ten minutes.

You did a good job here of not lying. We all know you’ve been reading Tedra for years and that this hostility has been an ongoing long-term thing, and here you managed to imply that’s not true without actually making a false statement.

your old blog often launched sharp-toothed snark

Yep, ‘often’ is telling enough — you attempted to imply a lie in response, as if you took ten minutes to familiarize yourself with years of blog posts well enough to find an example post that pattern-matched a comment here. Dude, your bullshit is transparent, and we’re not buying. You’re a stalker troll, and you’re a stalker troll who won’t even dare to claim “I was not familiar with Tedra’s writing until recently and didn’t read her old blog until she showed up here, at which point I clicked around to find her old writing.” (And even that would be pretty stalker-ish; who goes around specifically hunting down the old writing of a person they’re put off by, for the purpose of what, having more to be put off by? To demonstrate your disgust is well-founded? Trying to convince people that your disgust with Tedra is well-justified and trying to convince people that you’ve just been newly acquainted to Tedra’s writing is pretty straightforwardly contradictory; you think those ‘introduction to feminism’ students of yours could handle tearing that b.s. apart?)

512

Patrick 01.24.12 at 10:57 pm

The criticism is that the argument fails in its goal. Purportedly, it offers a series of options.

She offers a flow chart, almost. Either you are for banning all abortion, always, or you think a judgment call exists on what abortion should be banned and what shouldn’t. If the former, end flowchart. If the latter, then you either believe that women who potentially might seek abortion are the ones who should make that judgment call, or else you think society should make that judgment call. If the former, then you are pro choice in the same sense that she is. If the latter, then you are failing to trust women in a morally culpable manner.

That’s not a good argument. The biggest problem is that it isn’t morally culpable to not “trust” people to make their own choices when the choices they are making affect the rights or interests of others. So unless someone believes that abortion does not affect the rights or interests of any other person, they won’t accept the dichotomy presented at the end of the argument.

This means that the argument only works on people who are “pro choice, but…” for certain very specific forms of “but.” If someone’s “but” is that they’re “uncomfortable” with the idea of promiscuous women having lots of abortions because they’re irresponsible (that’s the phrasing certain abortion critics would use, not mine), then this argument will work on them. If someone’s “but” is that they think the rights and interests of a fetus increase as the fetus develops until eventually they match that of a baby, then nothing in this argument makes it inconsistent or even sexist for such a person to believe that there should be limits on how late in pregnancy abortion should be able to legally take place. If someone’s “but” is that they are broadly against abortion for reasons of believing that a fetus has rights and interests, but they also believe that medical exceptions should exist for the life or significant health concerns of the mother, again, this argument does nothing to address their position.

That remains true no matter how much of a bastard you think someone is for pointing it out. Whether the argument is any good is not related to whether you think its conclusion is morally admirable, or its critics vermin. That will remain true no matter how many hundreds of comments this thread reaches.

513

Meredith 01.24.12 at 11:15 pm

And many thanks to dbk for such a thoughtful, intelligent comment.

514

Kat 01.24.12 at 11:43 pm

Doctor Slack: Planned Parenthood is alive and well in Canada. The regional PP whose board I sit on does not provide clinical services, but is often a woman’s only way to get a referral for an abortion. (Which just points out that even in places where abortion is not criminalized, access can be difficult.)

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Doctor Slack 01.25.12 at 12:01 am

Patrick: The biggest problem is that it isn’t morally culpable to not “trust” people to make their own choices

Sure it is, if in the case under discussion you don’t have any better ideas to offer about whom to trust to make the call. If you believe that you can morally non-culpably distrust women to decide whether to end their own pregnancies, this means you are suggesting that there is an external authority — the legislature — that either arguably or demonstrably can make those judgments better and produce better outcomes on the whole, for the women and for society. It’s not like this discussion is being conducted in a factual vaccuum: American law tested that proposition for a full century pre-Roe and it was a miserable failure. It doesn’t matter much whether in the strictly theoretical, abstract sense, you could construct a thought experiment that would get you out of this dilemma. In the context of Roe and the abortion debate in America, the overall consequences of choosing to let outside parties interfere in this decision vs. the consequences of choosing not to do so are crystal clear. You cannot ignore or downplay them without being morally culpable.

The only compelling complaint to be had about the choice of terms re: “trusting” women is that this kind of weighing-out does not quite require “trusting” women as a class, but rather involves distrusting the likely motives and consequences of attempts to intrude with legislation on women’s decision-making, and trusting that whatever mistakes women make are likely to pale in comparison to the mistakes any legislation and enforcement imposed on them will make. Which is about the size of things. But that’s a question of retuning the rhetoric slightly, not of whether the fundamental argument is sound.

516

Uncle Kvetch 01.25.12 at 12:08 am

this kind of weighing-out does not quite require “trusting” women as a class, but rather involves distrusting the likely motives and consequences of attempts to intrude with legislation on women’s decision-making, and trusting that whatever mistakes women make are likely to pale in comparison to the mistakes any legislation and enforcement imposed on them will make.

That’s an excellent way to frame it.

517

hellblazer 01.25.12 at 12:14 am

@novakant at 505: fair point, I’ve not read the Tractatus (but have seen that closing epigraph flung around many times, occasionally in the original German).

That said, invoking Wittgenstein at the end of a sneery “this is how proper people think” comment just puts me in mind of the following Socratic exchange:


‘Apes don’t read philosophy.’
‘Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.’

As for actual matters of substance, I don’t think I can put across my own feelings any better than Dr Slack does at 506.

518

poco 01.25.12 at 12:14 am

Wow!! This is one amazing thread! And thank you, so much, to Tedra for provoking some of the most clueless commentators and responses that I’ve ever seen. As one of those English Phds who get their philosophy through Continental Philosophy and therefore are not worthy to participate in CT, I’ve got to say this thread is eye-opening.

I’ve commented on CT very rarely, mainly because I’ve been a bit intimidated by the commentators –but this is a great thread to get rid of that idea. The number of people who have revealed their inability to read and understand this simple post, even after lengthy and clear explanations by Tedra, bobbyp (misidentified quite a few times as boobyp) Salient, Meredith, etc., makes obvious that this sense of intimidation (on my part) was totally misplaced.

519

Jeffrey Kramer 01.25.12 at 12:43 am

The only compelling complaint to be had about the choice of terms re: “trusting” women is that this kind of weighing-out does not quite require “trusting” women as a class, but rather involves distrusting the likely motives and consequences of attempts to intrude with legislation on women’s decision-making, and trusting that whatever mistakes women make are likely to pale in comparison to the mistakes any legislation and enforcement imposed on them will make.

That’s a better argument, IMO, except I don’t see why the concept of “trust” has to enter it at all. Why can’t we judge legislation simply according to our sense of its consequences rather than according to our sense of its consequences plus our sense of the motives behind it? If some — or even most — legislators supported the Voting Rights Act because they thought it would bring more votes for their party rather than for reasons of equity, that wouldn’t turn me against the legislation.

520

Doctor Slack 01.25.12 at 1:01 am

Jeffrey Kramer: Why can’t we judge legislation simply according to our sense of its consequences rather than according to our sense of its consequences plus our sense of the motives behind it?

In the strict sense of assessing a law’s impact, we don’t have to have any precise sense of the motives behind it. We just have to have a sense of precisely what the legislation is proposing. If a kind of legislation (like an abortion ban) effectively proposes outsourcing women’s judgment to potentially ignorant, clueless or hostile parties, recgonizing that is a key part of assessing it. Which of course is what B.’s “trust” question speaks to.

(However, if one is concerned with understanding more broadly how laws figure as strategic plays by, say, reactionary movements pushing a cluster of interests of which anti-choice legislation is only a part, then understanding motive is relevant there and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.)

521

Salient 01.25.12 at 1:34 am

If someone’s “but” is that they are broadly against abortion for reasons of believing that a fetus has rights and interests, but they also believe that medical exceptions should exist for the life or significant health concerns of the mother, again, this argument does nothing to address their position.

What this is saying is: “I don’t trust a pregnant woman to assess her own health concerns and decide which are significant enough to warrant abortion.”

As soon as you make an exception for ‘health of the mother pregnant woman’ but retain blanket restrictions, you are substituting in your own definition of health for that of the pregnant woman.

About the only exception you can make that saves you from this condemnation is arguing, patronizingly, that the woman ought to have to obtain an assertion from a licensed medical doctor asserting that ongoing pregnancy would indeed adversely impact her health. But you know what? That’s true of every pregnancy ever.

If you look at what a pregnancy does to a body, it’s imposing ~9 months of ill health. Ignore the fetus for a moment, just look at the experience of the pregnancy. Imagine a non-pregnancy case (male or female if you like) where the individual experienced exactly the same set of physical changes and symptoms, but the entity growing inside was not a fetus, just … uh, an inflammation of the appendix or something. (Or hell, assume it’s a fetus guaranteed to die when it exits the body. Surely you see what I’m getting at.)

Women who want to have a child, as a matter of biological necessity, basically have to accept the various illness effects of pregnancy in order to do so (though some of these can be mitigated to some meager extent, and others are actually enjoyed because of context — having something kick you from the inside is clearly an awful ill effect in the abstract, but plenty of pregnant women also derive some joy from this experience… at least the first couple times).

So, yeah. Pregnancy implies worsened health, so if you really actually truly do respect the humanity of the pregnant woman, the “except for the health of the mother pregnant woman” criterion is the absolutist “all abortions legal” position. Period. Full stop. Anything less and you’re demanding a woman endure worsened health for the sake of the fetus, and you’re abandoning the health-of-the clause. (Which has its own problems worthy of discussion, but my comment is getting to be long enough…)

522

DelRey 01.25.12 at 2:01 am

salient

What this is saying is: “I don’t trust a pregnant woman to assess her own health concerns and decide which are significant enough to warrant abortion.”

Seems reasonable to me. That’s why we have highly-trained professionals to evaluate people’s health status, instead of simply defering to self-diagnosis and treatment.

Pregnancy implies worsened health, so if you really actually truly do respect the humanity of the pregnant woman, the “except for the health of the mother pregnant woman” criterion is the absolutist “all abortions legal” position. Period. Full stop. Anything less and you’re demanding a woman endure worsened health for the sake of the fetus, and you’re abandoning the health-of-the clause.

I don’t think this is true at all. Statistically, abortion becomes progressively more risky as the pregnancy progresses. A late-term abortion may pose as great a risk to a pregnant woman’s health as completing the pregnancy.

But even in cases where abortion is clearly the safer option, that doesn’t mean the difference is large enough to override other concerns. That’s presumably why the author of the comment you’re responding to wrote “significant health concerns” rather than “any health concerns, no matter how small.”

523

Jeffrey Kramer 01.25.12 at 3:49 am

If a kind of legislation (like an abortion ban) effectively proposes outsourcing women’s judgment to potentially ignorant, clueless or hostile parties, recgonizing that is a key part of assessing it. Which of course is what B.’s “trust” question speaks to. [Doctor Slack]

Any proposal for restricting abortion rights will necessarily deny to some women the right to act according to their own judgment, and will implicitly or explicitly assert that the judgment of (society, the church, the legislature…) is superior. Nobody is denying this, so far as I can see. But given this, I don’t see how the frame, “don’t you trust women?” acts as an eye opener or an argument-advancer. The frame either is another way of stating the above point, in which case I don’t think it’s necessary, or it’s a way of insinuating that hostility towards women as a class or failure to recognize women (as a class) as equals are almost certainly the only possible motivations for such a proposal, in which case I think it’s flatly false.

It is possible to say “here is one group, whose status and rights are as a practical matter in dispute; here is another group, which is in a position to harm those in the first group; I believe the case for assigning a high degree of status and rights to the first group are compelling; I therefore do not believe the decision on whether or not to harm those in the second group should be a matter for individual choice; I therefore favor a legislative prohibition on causing harm to members of the second group, except in cases where greater harm would come to others as a result; I acknowledge that there will inevitably be cases in which the result of enforcing this legislation will be painful and even unjust, but I believe that greater pain and injustice will follow from not enacting or enforcing it at all.”

At what point in this argument has the arguer expressed hostility towards members of the first group, or implied that they were not truly his equal?

524

Jeffrey Kramer 01.25.12 at 3:52 am

(And if such hostility/condescension is not necessarily at work if the two groups are scientists and chimpanzees, why is hostility/condescension necessarily at work if the two groups are pregnant women and fetuses? Or, to put it another way, is it necessarily the case that a woman who argues for abortion restrictions on these grounds is necessarily a victim of brainwashing or false consciousness?)

525

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 4:28 am

The MJ story was not exactly the story of a woman who could be trusted to do the right thing.

Um, it was a story of a young woman who knew what “the right thing” was and couldn’t get it done BECAUSE IT WAS ILLEGAL AND THE PEOPLE SHE TURNED TO FOR HELP THOUGHT THEY KNEW BETTER AND TOOK ADVANTAGE OF HER LACK OF POWER.

526

Jeffrey Kramer 01.25.12 at 4:41 am

And of course I bollixed the sets. It should have read:

It is possible to say “here is one group, whose status and rights are as a practical matter in dispute; here is another group, which is in a position to harm those in the first group; I believe the case for assigning a high degree of status and rights to the first group is compelling; I therefore do not believe the decision on whether or not to harm those in the first group should be a matter of individual choice among members of the second; I therefore favor a legislative prohibition on causing harm to members of the first group, except in cases where greater harm would come to others as a result; I acknowledge that there will inevitably be cases in which the result of enforcing this legislation will be painful and even unjust, but I believe that greater pain and injustice will follow from not enacting or enforcing it at all.”

Sorry.

527

Jeffrey Kramer 01.25.12 at 4:56 am

I’m obviously having an even worse day than usual getting my own bloody hypotheticals straight. At the end of 524, it should have been “…hostility to the second group” (pregnant women, experimental scientists, pet owners).

More money for PP, I guess.

528

faustusnotes 01.25.12 at 5:01 am

How does the “women are always the best placed to make the right judgment” part of this argument stack up against other feminist work? e.g.

a) Large numbers of feminists want to ban pr0n, and aren’t willing to give much credence to the claims of women who work in the industry or purchase pr0n that they can judge their own interests and sexual desires better than the feminists (and of course, apply this to men who purchase pr0n too). Complaints about the pr0nification of society are based heavily on the idea that women are not in control of their own decisions, or are making the wrong decisions
b) Large numbers of feminists don’t believe it’s possible for a woman to voluntarily enter into sex work, to choose that work over other work, or to enjoy that work; and there is a strand of feminist thought that is strongly prohibitionist on this basis
c) Plastic surgery and the beauty industry more generally is clearly described in feminist work as an example of women not being able to judge their own interests properly. I’m thinking especially here of surgery of the genitals to make them “prettier”, which is pretty commonly derided by feminist critics as being due to male pressure, or false consciousness, or a frivolous decision women will come to regret
d) sexual activity is sometimes described by some feminists as being heavily invested with patriarchal power structures that prevent women from making “good” judgments about who to have sex with, or when, or what to do – e.g. there are debates about whether women are being pressured into enacting more and more elements of pr0n, and the idea that they are choosing to do these things, interested in them, or have a different perspective to their feminist critics is often ignored or belittled
e) Mother’s judgments about whether or not to cut their daughters genitals are, I think, in mainstream feminist thought, always and everywhere considered to be wrong or, if not judged as such, seen as inevitably the consequence of cultural, patriarchal and/or family pressures.

I’m sure there are others. If feminist work is comfortable with questioning women’s motives and judgment in these cases, is willing to accept that women can make mistakes in connection with their own bodies, don’t always understand their own best interests and can make mistaken judgments about their own bodies under general cultural and/or specific patriarchal/relationship pressures, and is willing to proscribe their behavior or access to tools that enable this behavior on this basis, why should we suddenly assume that they can be perfect judges when abortion is involved?

Or, alternatively, is it actually the case that most feminists do not trust women?

529

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 5:27 am

I never expected you to wade through all the stiff logic I converted your argument into. That’s called doing philosophy. Making a false argument that consists of a bunch of statements that share the loci of a particular dogma is called something else. Literary criticism, maybe?

Yeah, see, I’m not a big fan of taking condescending assholes seriously. Go figure.

530

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 5:29 am

To Poco @ 519: Possibly the best comment in this thread from my personal pov. If there is one thing I absolutely loathe it is stuffed-shirt academics pompously harrumphing and intimidating others from participating in discussion with their bullcrap. Glad to do my part in revealing the man behind the curtain.

531

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 5:30 am

dbk @502 and Slack @506: Thanks. Also, Slack, you can have a B exemption, for old times’ sake.

532

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 5:31 am

Also I endorse 516 and 517.

533

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 5:37 am

523: Seems reasonable to me. That’s why we have highly-trained professionals to evaluate people’s health status, instead of simply defering to self-diagnosis and treatment.

Yes. What we don’t do, however, is pass laws about what kinds of medical treatment people with X, Y, or Z condition should get based on our “discomfort” with certain procedures. And also because we recognize that each individual’s case is different and affected by lots of factors besides the diagnosis itself. So we leave it up to individuals, with their doctors’ advice, to decide what to do.

534

Meredith 01.25.12 at 5:40 am

Just a friendly push back against a direction maybe getting going (if this incredible conversation keeps going here! I keep promising myself to turn away, it’s getting exhausting, for all of us, I am sure). “Healthy” and “health” — not easy notions. (I just happened to be reading about something, very tangentially to my own work, and caught an interesting reference to Andrew Schroeder, The Semantics of Healthy, 2012 forthcoming.) What is health? What is healthy, and for whom? Important questions, worthy of our consideration, and possibly very helpful to this larger discussion — ultimately. Lots of groundwork needs to be laid first.

And to respond to Del Ray: “That’s why we have highly-trained professionals to evaluate people’s health status, instead of simply defering to self-diagnosis and treatment.” Well, yes and no. Certainly as patients we rely on specific kinds of expertise possessed by doctors and other healthcare practitioners (god, the sound of phrases like that! do I speak them? but many other people besides M.D.’s play vital roles). But if all they did was simply “evaluate” each of us as a systematic bunch of cells…. It doesn’t work that way, medical people are not trained to think or act that way (that’s why the transition from the first two years of med school — all those slides of cells — to residency are so difficult for med students — a kind of wandering in the dark), and I certainly wouldn’t want them to treat me that way. (Interesting, too, the semantics of “treat.”)

And to thank Tedra for articulating why the MJ essay seemed relevant to her OP. She nails it.

535

Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 5:41 am

in the scenario of sex-selective abortion – it seems like the sexist cultural ideas that inform the woman’s decision are not to be questioned because of this trust dynamic.

509: I don’t see that at all. Question sexist culture all you want; just don’t make laws that forbid women from making quite reasonable decisions about how they are going to live within that culture. Duh.

And yes, I would say that it’s possible to make a sex-selection abortion for (relatively) non-sexist reasons, e.g., one has had a series of boy or girl children and wants one of the other kind. I mean, one could argue that that’s “sexist” in a generalish way, maybe, because it presumes that there’s some innate difference and that balance or whatever is desireable, I dunno. But it seems like a fairly innocuous reason to me. I think people mostly make this kind of decision when they’re pregnant with multiples and have to decide which, if any, they are going to terminate.

536

js. 01.25.12 at 5:44 am

To the “rights and interests of the fetus” crowd: could you perhaps mention some (any!) plausible “interests” that a fetus has? In any sense of interest. (Though do note that the interest needs to be attributed to the fetus itself.) Rights seem like a slightly different matter, but let’s suppose for a second that we agree the fetus has a right to not being terminated. Any other rights forthcoming? Because as far as I can tell, no one’s actually mentioned any specific “rights” or “interests” that they actually want to ascribe to the fetus.

537

Norwegian Guy 01.25.12 at 5:47 am

A man can’t go to a hospital and get them to remove his penis, even though it’s part of his body. Does this mean that we don’t trust men? The same applies to most other parts of the bodies of both women and men. And removing a woman’s clitoris, a form of female genital mutilation, is illegal in many countries even if the woman is a consenting adult. On the other hand, plastic surgery is legal, though some/many feminists perhaps would have liked more restrictions there. So no one is allowed do exactly what they want with their own bodies.

Now this doesn’t mean abortion, up to some reasonable deadline, shouldn’t be the decision of the pregnant woman. But there is a reason why there are more restrictive policies the further you get in the pregnancy, and that abortion is generally banned after viability, except when the woman’s life and health is in danger (i.e. where it is a form of necessity). And, as Chris Bertram pointed out a few years ago this isn’t necessarily because of “disrespect for their female fellow citizens“.

538

Harold 01.25.12 at 6:05 am

The article says that finally, after four months (?) of pregancy: “I thought about doing what I should have done in the first place: calling my mother.”

Knowing who to turn to is a big component of knowing what to do. Though in fact, I can sympathize, a since the doctors she describes were par for the course (not only abortionists but just regular ones, especially how they treated women.) My mother said that one abortionist she went to, the first one, not the jolly Russian one, said, “How dare you scream!” My mother said this as an example of a creepy, bullying attitude, not as a complaint.

What bothers me about the MJ article is the mixture of vagueness and detail, which verges on the manipulative. The author says she got pregnant “in the summer” and by the middle of Sept. had missed two periods. But her search takes place after missing three periods. In October? The reader is left to guess. By all indications this must be a second trimester abortion, not a third trimester one, as implied by Tedra and which people have been excitedly arguing about here. The author also stresses that she was quite lucky. And there is nothing further about the actual abortion which apparently took place without incident.

Second trimester is what people have when the amniocentesis discloses a problem. This happened to us when it turned out our fetus had died and the technicians wouldn’t look us in the eye but said, “Call your doctor.” Or to a friend when she found out her baby had no kidneys.

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js. 01.25.12 at 6:06 am

@537:

But Bertram’s argument there isn’t quite convincing. See his post from a couple (or three) of months back on immigration (I think). IIRC, Bertram there (esp. in the comment thread) is quite happy to override majoritarian impulses in favor of transnational agreements guaranteeing basic rights to “minority-status” parties.

540

Meredith 01.25.12 at 6:32 am

Harold, “What bothers me about the MJ article is the mixture of vagueness and detail, which verges on the manipulative.” Yes, could be “manipulative” in some sense beyond the manipulation intrinsic to any story-telling. I worried about that, too, as I read the piece. But the possible inconsistencies tended to make the narrator seem to me the more honest, or rather, sincere. (Don’t prosecutors and defenders both distrust accounts that are too tidy?) Of course, maybe this is an incredibly cagey narrator! But then, maybe we both need to subject our mothers’ and grandmothers’ and others’ accounts of things to similar scrutiny? (I have a feeling we both had mothers and grandmothers who were very SMART and therefore capable of, though not therefore necessarily inclined to, being successfully cagey.)
But also very LOVING!
I dunno. At some point, it becomes a matter of trust. Which is an investment in past but more an investment in future.

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Salient 01.25.12 at 6:39 am

A man can’t go to a hospital and get them to remove his penis, even though it’s part of his body.

Gender reassignment surgery (or sex reassignment surgery if you prefer) for biological males is legal and ought to be legal.

Does this mean that we don’t trust men? The same applies to most other parts of the bodies of both women and men.

When something is causing you illness, fairly broadly speaking, and removing it will alleviate that illness, we usually trust that the person really is experiencing that illness and act accordingly. (The appropriate ‘act accordingly’ solution in a given situation sometimes involves no surgery or invasive procedure, and sometimes does.)

A medical professional has every reason to believe the ill effects caused by pregnancy will be alleviated by aborting the pregnancy. It’s a medical treatment for relief of symptoms.

That having been said, I acknowledge that a late-term abortion poses substantially greater risk to a pregnant woman than an earlier-term abortion would have, and strongly support the provision of various social services and educational initiatives that will help ensure women have access to, and awareness of their access to, abortion early in pregnancy.

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Natilo Paennim 01.25.12 at 7:08 am

Here’s one of the examples that makes me so angry: An acquaintance of mine was pregnant with her second child. Unfortunately, the fetus did not get enough oxygen, and thus was essentially brain dead by the end of the 2nd trimester. Because of the fascists and their obsession with preserving fetuses, it was impossible for her to have any kind of abortion. So she had to carry a brain dead fetus inside her for months, waiting until “birth” could be induced legally. Who gets thrown under the trolley in that case, Mr. Philosopher?

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Harold 01.25.12 at 8:00 am

Correction — it suddenly came back to me — this was many years ago — my mother said the abortionist said to her, “Don’t you dare scream” not “How dare you scream.” Just to correct the record.

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etv13 01.25.12 at 10:32 am

I’ve read the original post, and all the comments, and I’ve also read two or three of the dysfunctional families threads on Making Light, and call me stupid, but I just can’t reconcile the two. I know there are women who burn their children with irons and cigarettes, and who whip them with electrical cords, and who turn a blind eye while their boyfriends or their priests rape them, or who drown them in bathtubs. How am I just supposed to “trust women”? I’m perfectly willing to believe that the overwhelming majority of women who choose to have third-trimester abortions have very good reasons for doing so — but again, I know there are those women out there who do terrible things to their children. Explain to me, please, why we’re willing as a society to have Child Protective Services take abusive people’s children away, but we’re not even willing to define any standards as to when a third-trimester abortion is permissible, and when it’s not.

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Emma in Sydney 01.25.12 at 10:52 am

etv13, perhaps if some of those women of whom you speak had been allowed to give active consent in their pregnancies, they might not have continued them, and produced children they resented and damaged. Forced motherhood is bad for children as well as mothers, you know. Because a woman forced to continue a pregnancy against her will takes the unwanted baby home without any further supervision, in general. The forced birthers are all about the fetuses, and not so much about the children.

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Walt 01.25.12 at 10:55 am

Forcing someone to give birth against their will is a much bigger state intrusion than taking someone’s kids away. What problem is that bigger state intrusion supposed to solve? Women don’t get third-trimester abortions frivolously. Doctors don’t perform third-trimester abortions frivolously. You want to insert the state into an already-difficult situation, to solve a problem that you have evidence exists.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.25.12 at 11:18 am

“Forcing to give birth” – great rhetoric, man. Right up there with “killing babies” .

548

bexley 01.25.12 at 12:52 pm

Which aspect of it do you disagree with? If you are banning abortions you are either forcing women with unwanted pregnancies to give birth or to have a back-alley abortion.

What’s ridiculous about “killing babies” rhetoric is that 91% of all abortions in the UK (including late term ones for health complications) are before week 13. A 12 week old fetus is around 3 inches long and with minimal organ (including brain) development.

I know which bit of “rhetoric” I find ridiculous.

549

X 01.25.12 at 1:08 pm

Going back a bit, something Tedra said in 98 struck me as very interesting: “what is the point of saying “but I’m uncomfortable with X” if it isn’t to imply support for maybe banning X?”

Tedra is clearly uncomfortable (and more) with people saying they’re uncomfortable with certain types of abortion. Is she taking the trouble to say so, at length, because she wants it to be illegal to say you’re uncomfortable with abortion? Of course not. She’s doing it to discourage people from saying they’re uncomfortable with those types of abortion. Likewise, one reason for people to say they’re uncomfortable with abortions performed in certain circumstances or for certain reasons is precisely that it’s a non-legal, non-coercive way to discourage people from unnecessarily deciding to have such abortions. (Which I realise Tedra thinks is still a bad thing, because even just having an opinion on what she’s doing amounts to arrogantly claiming to know better than her how to manage her own life. Since the same reasoning would debar expressing opinions on people becoming Scientologists, marrying abusive spouses, spending 16 hours a day every day on computer games, wearing swastikas, etc… I find it difficult to accept.)

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X 01.25.12 at 1:11 pm

(Correction to previous comment: even just having an opinion on what she’s doing > even just having an opinion on what someone’s doing)

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faustusnotes 01.25.12 at 1:12 pm

Emma in Sydney:

perhaps if some of those women of whom you speak had been allowed to give active consent in their pregnancies, they might not have continued them, and produced children they resented and damaged

This is too simplistic. Not every abused child was unwanted – people can love their children and hurt them too.

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LizardBreath 01.25.12 at 1:25 pm

Likewise, one reason for people to say they’re uncomfortable with abortions performed in certain circumstances or for certain reasons is precisely that it’s a non-legal, non-coercive way to discourage people from unnecessarily deciding to have such abortions.

That may be one reason, but the primary reason I’ve seen in public rhetoric for such stated discomfort is in an attempt to create sympathy between nominally pro-choice people and pro-life people, in the hopes of creating a political compromise on abortion issues. If the rhetoric weren’t being deployed in service of restrictions that would actually limit the decision-making powers of the woman involved in an abortion, I would certainly, and I think Tedra would as well (given that she’s noted her own discomfort with abortion above) find it much less objectionable.

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Matt 01.25.12 at 1:59 pm

Coming a bit late to this; I’ve been lurking for a while. I should mention first of all that I am fully, unambiguously pro-choice. (I should also mention that I don’t think that should matter for the validity of my argument, but it is clear to me at this point that many of you think it does.) But I respectfully disagree with the suggestion that the pro-life position is inherently sexist or that it inherently involves a distrust of women. I think people can be pro-life because they begin with a different set of premises than you or I do. Those premises need not include “I hate women” or “I don’t trust women.” This is, I think, what logical Mr. Steven was trying to get at, albeit in a rather ham-handed way.

A couple of examples of what I mean. To be clear, I am not using either of these as an analogy for the decision behind having an abortion, so please do not tell me that my analogy is poor. I am using these as examples of “people can disagree with me about matters of great importance without being the devil,” because Tedra’s initial post appears to be arguing the opposite position.

Way upthread there was a brief discussion about organ donation. But I don’t believe anyone talked about selling organs. Now there are laws against selling organs. I happen to think that these are good laws (not great laws, but given the world we currently live in, better than the alternatives that I can imagine). I am afraid that turning organs into commodities leaves their exchange open to a kind of compulsion, where desperate, poor people will find it necessary to sell of their vital parts to pay the rent like some grim, sci-fi O. Henry story. I might, if I wanted to play dirty, accuse someone who disagrees with me of hating poor people. “When you look at a poor person, you just see a bunch of organs for sale!” But someone who disagrees with me could reasonably say to me “You don’t trust poor people to make their own decisions!” Surely one of us hates poor people, and is some kind of Spencerian classist, right? Which one of us is it? In fact, neither this imagined interlocutor nor I is any such thing. It is true that in some sense I want to limit the choices of individuals and my interlocutor does not. In another sense, the opposite is true. I think I am reserving for them the freedom to not sell their organs, and saving them from the compulsion of capitalist exchange. Our differences rest in where we put our emphasis.

Another example. Most of us are probably familiar with Peter Singer’s drowning baby argument. I find it personally quite compelling. And yet here I am on my day off, writing a post on a blog on my fancy MacBook, instead of working overtime or selling all of my worldly possessions in order to donate more money to some public health organization in Africa to save babies from dying of Malaria. Singer’s point is that this decision, to sit here and do nothing while people are dying, involves a kind of callousness. My justification is that I need a certain amount of down time, a certain amount of pleasure, a certain amount of luxury, in order to keep myself sane enough that I can go back to my very difficult and very socially meaningful job tomorrow. The thing is that we are both probably right. We start with different premises and therefore end up at different conclusions. Note that Singer would probably never say that I “hate babies.” Not because he is polite, but because it isn’t true.

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MPAVictoria 01.25.12 at 3:23 pm

““Forcing to give birth” – great rhetoric, man. Right up there with “killing babies” .”

Is it still rhetoric if it is 100% true?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.25.12 at 4:12 pm

I think it’s demagoguery, and definitely not 100% true, simply because the verb “to force” has the meaning, and and it’s used here incorrectly and tendentiously. Just like “babies” in “killing babies”. Something like “…in effect, forcing…” would be easier to defend.

But I’m sure I’m doing it all the time too, without being aware.

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Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 4:34 pm

not a third trimester one, as implied by Tedra

I did not mean to imply such a thing.

Second trimester is what people have when the amniocentesis discloses a problem.

Assuming they can afford it and don’t need to spend some time thinking about options or having follow-up tests, this is mostly true. So?

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Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 4:36 pm

I’m perfectly willing to believe that the overwhelming majority of women who choose to have third-trimester abortions have very good reasons for doing so—but again, I know there are those women out there who do terrible things to their children.

1. Do you “know” that there are women “out there” who have “frivolous” third-trimester abortions? Or do you just imagine that maybe that’s the case?

2. Third-trimester abortions require MEDICAL HELP. Do women who abuse their children do so with the assistance of a medical team?

3. There is a real difference in motivation between abusing another person–mental illness, desperation, frustration, projection–and having a procedure *done on oneself*. Especially, again, with the help of a medical team.

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Tedra Osell 01.25.12 at 4:40 pm

Tedra is clearly uncomfortable (and more) with people saying they’re uncomfortable with certain types of abortion.

No. Tedra is angered by hypocrisy and hubris.

one reason for people to say they’re uncomfortable with abortions performed in certain circumstances or for certain reasons is precisely that it’s a non-legal, non-coercive way to discourage people from unnecessarily deciding to have such abortions. (Which I realise Tedra thinks is still a bad thing, because even just having an opinion on what she’s doing amounts to arrogantly claiming to know better than her how to manage her own life.

Bullshit. I said myself upthread that I am personally “uncomfortable” with the idea of ever having an abortion, and of course I think that people “should” talk with friends and family about all sorts of major life decisions, including unwanted pregnancies. As I have clarified repeatedly, my objection to “I’m uncomfortable with X abortion circumstance” is that it is used to rationalize supporting LEGAL RESTRICTIONS on abortion. Hell, we’ve seen that clearly in this thread.

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etv13 01.25.12 at 5:18 pm

@Walt: How do doctors decide what’s “frivolous” and what isn’t? Must they simply accept that whatever any given pregnant woman wants to do must be okay, or do they employ some set of standards to guide their own judgment? If it’s the latter, what’s wrong with enshrining those standards in law? If it’s the former, then adding doctors to the equation doesn’t really add anything. Also, I don’t think “frivolous/non-frivolous” is necessarily the right standard. If we’re talking 8-month-old fetuses, a non-frivolous reason still might not be good enough.

I used to tell myself that the odds of a woman wanting a late-term abortion for a not-good-enough reason (okay, I think the word I used in my inner dialogue was “frivolous”) meeting up with a doctor willing to perform one were vanishingly small, but then we had the case of the Octomom’s doctor. I still think you’re mostly right when you say doctors don’t perform abortions for frivolous reasons, but I’m not sure I want to leave them to work in a completely unregulated environment. (By the way, I’m one of those speakers for whom “most” and “mostly” imply an overwhelming majority, not a simple one.)

@emma in sydney: Here in California, if you don’t want to take the baby home, you don’t have to. You can drop it off at an emergency room or fire house, no questions asked. I don’t think we need third-trimester abortion-on-demand to reduce the number of abused and neglected children.

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Sebastian 01.25.12 at 5:23 pm

Bertram’s argument linked above is (for those who don’t follow the link) “Whatever else they do, someone who believes that some right-to-life considerations outweigh some reproductive rights is not, by the mere fact of taking that view, showing disrespect for their female fellow citizens. To misrepresent their view as doing that shows a lack of commitment to engage in reasonable dialogue with one’s fellows.”

And that is pretty much what we’ve seen here.

“2. Third-trimester abortions require MEDICAL HELP. Do women who abuse their children do so with the assistance of a medical team?”

I’m pretty sure that you’re aware of the existence of Kermit Gosnell because I would have sworn that you wrote something on the case. But if you aren’t, there is a very detailed grand jury report here and the trial seems to support the grand jury’s findings. The grand jury found evidence that he aborted hundreds of *fully viable fetuses*. He and his medical staff are on trial for infanticide because they were stupid enough to bring at least six of those *fully viable fetus*es out of the womb before murdering them by severing their spines with scissors. The grand jury found evidence of at least a hundred similar cases and was horrified to find that they couldn’t prosecute on them because of the incredibly short statute of limitations. Just as there are in fact women who will abort for unnecessary reasons, there are doctors who will perform abortions for unnecessary reasons.

We don’t have anti-child abuse laws because we don’t trust women as a class. We have them because a certain small sub set of women abuse their children.

The same is true of late term abortions.

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MPAVictoria 01.25.12 at 5:25 pm

“I think it’s demagoguery, and definitely not 100% true, simply because the verb “to force” has the meaning, and and it’s used here incorrectly and tendentiously.”

Henri you can do better. If I am pregant and I am denied abortion services I am force to give birth. Just as if I am in a room with only one door I am forced to leave that door to exit the room.

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bexley 01.25.12 at 5:32 pm

@554 I’m honestly not sure I follow that. Like I said, if you aren’t allowing women to have abortions then you are forcing them to give birth (in a few months). Unless you’re suggesting they hold it in?

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chris 01.25.12 at 5:38 pm

There is a real difference in motivation between abusing another person—mental illness, desperation, frustration, projection—and having a procedure done on oneself.

Oh, come on. 500 comments into the thread and you still can’t acknowledge the existence of people who think the fetus is another person? I don’t agree with that view myself, but if you won’t even acknowledge that it exists, you’re not even pretending to engage with the real issues around abortion.

To people who believe that the fetus is a person, abortion is domestic violence, child abuse, and murder. (None of which are routinely left up to the judgment of the person deciding whether or not to commit them. I guess we, as a society, just don’t trust anyone.) That’s why they react so strongly to it and try to have it legally banned.

The problem with the trust argument is that “Sure, you might believe this is a person, but you should totally trust me to decide whether or not to kill him/her for my own benefit” is not going to convince anyone (nor should it, really). You have to attack the root cause of the disagreement — belief in personhood of the fetus. I’m not really sure how to do that (moral and definitional issues are notoriously nonresponsive to evidence), but I don’t think this thread helps.

You certainly can’t convince believers in fetal personhood otherwise by denying that they believe what they believe in the first place, or casually assuming the opposite of their belief and then going on to discuss the consequences. Someone who rejects your premises isn’t going to be convinced by your conclusion, even if the argument itself is coherent.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.25.12 at 5:40 pm

If I am pregnant and I am denied abortion services I am force to give birth.

If you are denied abortion services, you’re denied abortion services, and that’s all there is to it. You’ll give birth (or not) as if abortion services didn’t exist. And of course you’re not forced to leave through that door either, other than metaphorically.

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bexley 01.25.12 at 5:48 pm

@ chris

Isn’t the entire point of the OP that sure you can believe the fetus is a person and oppose abortion? You can even make an exemption if the life of the mother is at risk/the fetus has already died. But as soon as you also start making exemptions for rape or incest then you’ve revealed that your opposition isn’t really about the fetus. It’s about judging women who want abortions. Want an abortion because you’ve been raped – fine. Want an abortion because you don’t want a child but had consensual sex – sorry should have kept your legs crossed.

In both cases nothing is different about the fetus, so if opposition was based on right to life of the fetus the anti-choicer would oppose both.

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tomslee 01.25.12 at 5:56 pm

Well, 500+ comments in is an odd place to start, but…

Tedra#556: There is a real difference in motivation between abusing another person—mental illness, desperation, frustration, projection—and having a procedure done on oneself.

chris#562: Oh, come on. 500 comments into the thread and you still can’t acknowledge the existence of people who think the fetus is another person? I don’t agree with that view myself, but if you won’t even acknowledge that it exists, you’re not even pretending to engage with the real issues around abortion.

chris. Whatever you think about the personhood of the fetus, the procedure is done on (at least) the woman. I don’t see where your “Oh, come on” follows from what Tedra wrote.

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bexley 01.25.12 at 5:58 pm

@ 563

If you are denied abortion services, you’re denied abortion services, and that’s all there is to it. You’ll give birth (or not) as if abortion services didn’t exist.

Well I’m convinced.

If we ban provision of anti-retrovirals to people who are HIV positive, then people are denied anti-retrovirals, and that’s all there is to it. They’ll develop AIDS (or not) as if anti-retrovirals didn’t exist.

They aren’t being forced to develop AIDS.

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ptl 01.25.12 at 6:11 pm

If you are denied abortion services, you’re denied abortion services, and that’s all there is to it. You’ll give birth (or not) as if abortion services didn’t exist.

Well, yes. We can, if we have the money and the travel documents, travel to another country and pay for an abortion (easy within Europe), we can (if we have the money) pay for a safe or unsafe illegal abortion, “Harley Street” or back street knitting needle, or we can get into a hot bath with a bottle of gin. Even if we come through this safe and sound, we risk prosecution for our actions. Or, we can carry the child to term and give birth. So, agreed, we are not forced to give birth… .

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Sebastian 01.25.12 at 6:12 pm

“Whatever you think about the personhood of the fetus, the procedure is done on (at least) the woman.”

It is done to the fetus, especially a late term abortion. They typically involve cutting the fetus into pieces and/or sucking it through a vacuum or poisoning it until it dies. You can’t really say “whatever you think about the personhhod of the fetus” and just go from their. It makes an enormous difference to the discussion whether the fetus has full personhood, partial personhood, status of an animal, or the status of a misplaced inanimate object that ended up in the womb.

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Salient 01.25.12 at 6:31 pm

Oh, come on. 500 comments into the thread and you still can’t acknowledge the existence of people who think the fetus is another person?

1. Problem: people who claim to believe that assign the fetus no rights whatsoever beyond a right to not be aborted. No other rights are ever specified. There’s no other acknowledged-as-legitimate relationship between persons in which A is allowed to cause B protracted physical illness, yet B is not granted the agency to extrude A from his or her life.

2. Problem: If this is so, a fetus is a very strange person indeed. The only right it has, apparently, is a right to be carried to term. We don’t discuss the right of a fetus to not be starved, e.g. by a weight-conscious pregnant woman. We don’t discuss the right of a fetus to not be exposed to and damaged by substances ingested by the pregnant woman. We don’t discuss the right of a fetus to receive nutrients that are essential for growth. We don’t even discuss the matter of jailing women for full-blown miscarriages, or even investigating them for neglect. We don’t discuss those things because outside of the abortion restriction a fetus is not assigned any rights whatsoever. A woman is apparently allowed to do whatever she wants to the fetus without facing the prospect of jail time, so long as she doesn’t intentionally abort.

It’s a weird being that has exactly one single right that continuously increases in intensity for the first nine months of existence, and then BOOM has all the rights of an infant child. Why just that one right, but none of the others? (Whereas if we don’t think of a fetus as a child, then we can think of the birth as the transition period from fetus to child, and the assumption of rights thing makes sense.)

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Meredith 01.25.12 at 6:46 pm

I absolutely was not going to comment any further, but then I came across this by Erik Loomis, on a bill being introduced in the Oklahoma legislature that would prohibit the “‘the manufacture or sale of food or products which use aborted fetuses.’” Loomis continues: “I love this justification: ‘The senator says that his research shows there are companies in the food industry that have used human stem cells to help them research and develop products, including artificial flavorings.“I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be. What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here,” Shortey tells KRMG’s Nicole Burgin.”’ Loomis comments, “It may be, it may not be, who knows. But we’d better pass a law to make sure. Note that the same principle may also apply to Oklahoma-alien miscegenation. Our women will not commit interplanetary race suicide!”
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/01/i-am-not-the-reason-god-made-oklahoma-and-i-resent-your-slanderous-accusations

Yep, we’d better pass laws, just to make sure.

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Salem 01.25.12 at 7:02 pm

“Problem: people who claim to believe that assign the fetus no rights whatsoever beyond a right to not be aborted. No other rights are ever specified.”

Says who? A fetus has the right to inherit in many cultures. Indeed, Shapur II was crowned Emperor of Persia while still in utero!

More concretely, I think everyone agrees that a fetus has plenty of rights. It’s just that the pro-choice position is that those rights don’t apply (much) as against the mother. All of the rights that you claim we don’t discuss are in fact obviously present. For example, suppose the fetus is “exposed to and damaged by substances ingested by the pregnant woman” (your first example). E.g. suppose the mother took Thalidomide for her morning sickness. Who can sue the drug manufacturer, only the mother? No, the child can too, because although a fetus at the time, s/he still had a right not to be poisoned.

So I think the position is more complex than you suggest.

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MPAVictoria 01.25.12 at 7:56 pm

“If you are denied abortion services, you’re denied abortion services, and that’s all there is to it. You’ll give birth (or not) as if abortion services didn’t exist. And of course you’re not forced to leave through that door either, other than metaphorically.”

This makes no sense. None. Zero, Zip. Nada.

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bianca steele 01.25.12 at 8:06 pm

Tedra Osell @ 525
Um, . . . Amusing as it is to imagine individuals who are as self-centered as it’s possible to be as the self-aware scourges of an angry god, “thought they knew better” does seem to grant criminals and bullies more than I think is wise. They didn’t think they knew better, they didn’t care about anything except (i) cash, (ii) not getting arrested, (iii) not having trouble on their hands, or more accurately, their operating table, and (iv) keeping the upper hand in all their interactions with the women they “treat.” If I have to consider them as thinking they knew better, then it makes sense for me to consider them as actually knowing better, and as actually having reasons relevant to the woman’s decision–and I, as it happens, am not willing to consider that as something I ought to consider even considering.

And then it raises the possibility, which might not be what you want to suggest, even in jest, that Internet trolls (say the ones who apparently “hack” other people’s conversations) are similar divinely inspired scourges. (Worse, in casting about for a reason to distinguish criminals from trolls in this regard, the first possibility I came up with was that the trolls are actually more self-aware, and may be copying the “true criminal scourges” deliberately and thus inauthentically.

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Salient 01.25.12 at 8:31 pm

More concretely, I think everyone agrees that a fetus has plenty of rights.

Really, no, no, they don’t. It’s weird to say “everyone agrees” to a person who has already expressed their disagreement, by the way.

Who can sue the drug manufacturer, only the mother? No, the child can too

A child is not a fetus. The child can sue. A person who has been caused suffering by the negligence of another party is, generally, entitled to seek redress for grievances. This is the right of a human being naturally extending backward into the past, and has nothing to do with fetus status. A child born in a city which was secretly massively polluted ten years before her or his conception, who is now experiencing suffering as a result of that long-ago pollution, has every right to sue the polluter for redress.^1^ Are you suggesting that these rights should be severely curtailed, so that they only extend backwards to the moment of conception or implantation?

^1^There might be statute of limitations problems or some such technical thing, but hopefully we’re in agreement that it at least seems a little moral/sensible to give that child the chance to seek redress, and seems a little immoral/awful to deny them that opportunity for bureaucratic reasons.

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bexley 01.25.12 at 8:38 pm

More concretely, I think everyone agrees that a fetus has plenty of rights.

Not so much. I think rights follow from having a mind. As i’m not a dualist as long as an embryo/fetus has no/minimal brain I would accord it few if any rights at all.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.25.12 at 9:33 pm

MPAVictoria, the quote I objected to didn’t have the passive “forced”, but active “forcing”. By denying you something, I’m not forcing you to do anything; I’m limiting your choices. Of course you might feel that you’re being forced, and my action is a part of the circumstances forcing you (as is, certainly, to much greater extent, your getting pregnant in the first place), but to say that I’m forcing you is not right.

I may, very well, not be giving a fuck about what’s going to happen to you. I might just believe that this particular service should not be provided under these particular circumstances.

For example: a baby is crying all night, for several nights. You’re dying from sleep deprivation, you’re going crazy. You might call a doctor and ask for some drug to stop the baby from crying. The doctor (hypothetically) might deny you this service, because it’s not deemed appropriate, under the circumstances. It might hurt the baby, so no. And yet I don’t think it would be correct to insist that the doctor forced you to toss the baby out of the window. It’s just not the case.

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etv13 01.25.12 at 9:58 pm

@557:

Do I “know” there are women who have frivolous late-term abortions? No, I don’t know that, but given what I know about people generally, I don’t see why I should “trust” that there are none — or rather, that there would be none had we not for the past forty years lived under a legal regime in which the regulation of late-term abortions has been deemed constitutionally permissible.

As to the availability of “medical help” — if you’re going to bring doctors in as guarantors of non-abuse (or, as Walt suggested, non-frivolity), then the doctors must be independently applying some standards in determining what is and isn’t abusive or frivolous. I think it would be good to have some discussion of what those standards are, or should be, rather than leaving doctors to pull them out of a hat.

As to the characterization of a late-term abortion as a procedure “done on oneself,” Chris at 563 said everything I might have thought of to say much better than I could.

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Jake 01.25.12 at 10:24 pm

What I am saying is that if you, a real specific speaker who “supports abortion but X” thinks that your discomfort makes you a better moral arbiter of X than a real specific woman who is actually experiencing X, then again: you lack empathy and imagination. “

I’ve never been punched in the face by a stranger. I feel fairly confident in asserting, however, that my abstract discomfort with the idea of retaliation via handgun makes me a better moral arbiter than the just-punched person’s real and specific feeling that that bastard needs to die.

580

Steven 01.25.12 at 10:37 pm

1- I sometimes think I am being mean without justification, then do some research into a person to see if I have been too mean, then decide I have not. Salient needs to get over the fact that not everyone has been reading Tedra for all these years. Her old blog, enjoyed by many, was irrelevant to my life until I needed to decide whether I was being too mean. I found out she has been plently mean to a lot of people. Believe what you wish in any case.

2- It’s not peculiar to only concentrate on the right to life of a being when what rights it may or may not have are in question. This right is the first one, that comes before the others, and that must be secured before the others are relevant. From there, other rights obtain, in both the instrumental and independent senses.

3- I am now more convinced than ever that no, I don’t trust women. I don’t trust them in the sense of them being a particular case of not trusting people. This distrust is of a well-accepted type, the basis of all law, civil and criminal, and does not accord me any type of blameworthiness. I share this type of distrust with everyone I know. Headline question anwered.

Carry on.

581

Doctor Slack 01.25.12 at 10:45 pm

etv13: Do I “know” there are women who have frivolous late-term abortions? No, I don’t know that, but given what I know about people generally, I don’t see why I should “trust” that there are none

Yes, well, you get to live with that uncertainty whether or not you have abortion bans, since abortion bans don’t prevent women from seeking abortions “frivolous” or otherwise, they simply increase the mortality rates and abuses involved. (Cf. Eastern Europe’s recent experiences with trying to restrict abortion to increase birth rates. Didn’t work.)

563: You certainly can’t convince believers in fetal personhood otherwise by denying that they believe what they believe in the first place, or casually assuming the opposite of their belief and then going on to discuss the consequences.

Have no illusions: in the main, you generally cannot “convince believers in fetal personhood otherwise” by argument of any sort, since it’s hard to reason a person out of a position they weren’t reasoned into. (This is true of most reactionary hobbyhorses, of which at core the abortion ban is a definitive example.) The allure of the position is that really it’s anti-reason, an emotional harking back to the prejudices customs of one’s forefathers that are supposedly under attack by liberal social engineering. That it may periodically be papered-over with things notionally meant to look sort of like arguments should not blind you to this basic fact.

Insofar as “fetal personhood” can be engaged as an argument, it falls apart fairly quickly, for reasons like the one Salient points out in 570. This is for much the same reason that proponents of “abortion as murder” can almost never actually own up to the logical implications of that statement. Typically they have just not thought them through, because they don’t literally believe “abortion is murder,” it’s just a catchy-sounding emotive slogan in which to package a certain form of reaction.

(* A much stronger case can be made that a fetus is morally distinct from either a person or an organ. That’s the interesting argument to have, and the one that might actually intersect with the situations real people face… so it’s not surprising that the “pro-life” movement utterly ignores it. It’s annoying that elements of the pro-choice movement seem to ignore it, too, but they don’t bear primary responsibility for the toxic rhetorical environment all this is taking place in. The reactionaries do.)

582

MPAVictoria 01.25.12 at 10:49 pm

“MPAVictoria, the quote I objected to didn’t have the passive “forced”, but active “forcing”. By denying you something, I’m not forcing you to do anything; I’m limiting your choices. Of course you might feel that you’re being forced, and my action is a part of the circumstances forcing you (as is, certainly, to much greater extent, your getting pregnant in the first place), but to say that I’m forcing you is not right.”

This is so ridiculous I am beginning to think I am being trolled you cheap, not-tipping individual you. If I am pregnant and you make a law forbidding me from accessing abortion services you are forcing me to carry to term a child I do not want. What is the other option? To hold the baby in?

583

Doctor Slack 01.25.12 at 10:55 pm

MPAV: Technically, your interlocutor may only be “forcing” you to seek out abortion by potentially hazardous non-legal means. So, you know, no biggie…

584

MPAVictoria 01.25.12 at 11:00 pm

Doctor Slack:
Good point. No harm no foul.

585

etv13 01.25.12 at 11:25 pm

@580: By that logic, enacting any sort of criminal law is futile, since we still have rapes, murders, people driving under the influence, theft, tax evasion, etc. despite longstanding prohibitions on all of those things. The prospect that some people will have illegal and possibly frivolous abortions in the face of an abortion ban does not persuade me that I should just throw up my hands and say, “Go for it ladies — doctors, you must perform an abortion on any eight-months-pregnant woman who walks into your clinic without regard to her health, sanity, or motives.” Moreover, there is a whole heck of a lot of real estate between wanting to have a reasonably clear set of standards for when a late-term abortion is permissible and wanting to ban all abortions. In favoring the former, I do not think I have stepped on a slippery slope descending inevitably to the latter.

586

Doctor Slack 01.25.12 at 11:36 pm

etv13: By that logic, enacting any sort of criminal law is futile

No, it’s just enacting criminal laws that kid themselves about the biological facts of humanity that’s futile. It’s perfectly reasonable to have laws against murder, and not reasonable to have laws against bowel movements, for this reason. Owing to the biological facts of where pregnancy puts the practical power of decision-making, abortion is closer to the latter category than the former.

As has already been covered up thread, the issue is really not so much whether to trust women to be paragons of justice, it’s whether to trust them to be less bad than laws and enforcement structures enacted by potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious third parties to make judgments about how to manage a basic bodily function. I have never seen anything, anywhere, in any abortion debate that convinced me the law is more trustworthy than women’s own judgment on this issue, and have seen plenty of very strong evidence for the proposition that attempts to substitute state judgment for women’s judgment are a disastrous waste. (Again, pretensions that all this debate is happening in some sort of factual vaccuum are disingenuous. Your insistence on retreating into abstractions does not impress me.) There may be other issues on which we do trust the law to overrule people’s judgement, but this is not and cannot be one of them if one has any pretense to caring a white about positive outcomes for actual humans at all.

587

Doctor Slack 01.25.12 at 11:44 pm

A whit, not a “white.”

588

Tom Bach 01.26.12 at 12:07 am

If those people who want to compare the lack of trust relative to drunk driving with abortion are serious they ought to propose a system in which automobile ownership leads to an absolute ban on motorists buying alcohol. In this case the very real problem of motorists driving drunk hasn’t led to a ban on all motorists buying alcohol while the very unreal problem of women not thinking through the moral implications of abortion is supposed to justify a ban on all women not getting certain kinds of abortions or abortions under some set of circumstances because of someone’s sense that all those kinds of abortions are immoral. Odd.

589

DelRey 01.26.12 at 12:19 am

Tedra, #533

What we don’t do, however, is pass laws about what kinds of medical treatment people with X, Y, or Z condition should get based on our “discomfort” with certain procedures. And also because we recognize that each individual’s case is different and affected by lots of factors besides the diagnosis itself. So we leave it up to individuals, with their doctors’ advice, to decide what to do.

We restrict what people can do in lots of way. The point is that if, as the Supreme Court ruled in Roe, the question of whether a pregnant woman has a right to an abortion rests in part on the effects of the abortion on her health, we need to involve medical professionals in that determination, instead of simply deferring to whatever the pregnant woman herself thinks the effects will be.

590

DelRey 01.26.12 at 12:36 am

Bexley #576
I think rights follow from having a mind. As i’m not a dualist as long as an embryo/fetus has no/minimal brain I would accord it few if any rights at all.

There is little difference between the brains of a fully-mature fetus and a newborn baby. In fact, the brains of some fetuses may be more highly developed than the brains of some premature babies.

Salient, #575
Really, no, no, they [fetuses] don’t [have plenty of rights].

I think that a mature fetus has a right to life, a right not to be harmed, and a right not to be subjected to pain. Do you disagree? If so, why?

591

faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 12:38 am

Salient (570):

Problem: people who claim to believe that assign the fetus no rights whatsoever beyond a right to not be aborted. No other rights are ever specified

I’m pretty sure there are laws in the USA that make it possible to prosecute women for using drugs while pregnant (poisoning the fetus) and although they may not exist, I recall various controversies over the last 20 years over pro-lifers trying to pass laws to prevent mothers mistreating their fetuses. These laws, I remember, sometimes have the name of a mother or a child attached to them, or are based on attacking crack-using black women (I recall reading some papers on the “crack-house” scares and related media beat ups in the 80s). So I think you’re showing a little selective blindness here. One of the oft-commented on problems of the pro-life movement is that they will happily try to pass these laws on the assumption that (even newly conceived!) fetuses have rights equal to people, but then their supporters baulk at charging mothers-who-abort with murder (this has been covered at Pandagon a few times).

So no, the right to life is not the only right that personhood-believers ascribe to fetuses.

The argument doesn’t wash anyway: prisoners also have rights, but they don’t have the same rights as free people. Should we therefore conclude that liberals who support incarceration think prisoners aren’t people?

Doctor Slack at 581:

Yes, well, you get to live with that uncertainty whether or not you have abortion bans, since abortion bans don’t prevent women from seeking abortions “frivolous” or otherwise,

This is an excellent point but the OP is not about harm reduction arguments for or against abortion, and etv31′s arguments are germane only to the issue of trusting women, not to whether or not abortion bans are the best way to act on his/her distrust of people.

The fundamental point raised by Chris and others repeatedly in this thread has still not been addressed: opponents of late-term abortion often oppose it because of fears about the personhood of the fetus, and you can’t accuse them of distrusting women on the basis that you just hand-waved away their real concern that the fetus is a person. And their belief is not, contra some recent commenters, irrational or anti-reason. Some late-term fetuses would be viable if delivered instead of aborted: this is prima facie physical evidence to support their belief. Instead of attacking them in the way Tedra has, this belief needs to be engaged with. Arguing on the basis of balancing interests, and marshalling the evidence Tedra has presented that late-term abortions are rarely/never frivolous, is undoubtedly sufficient to convince almost all good-faith doubters. But this is inevitably going to open the way to laws forbidding late-term abortions for prom-dress reasons.

But pursuing a pro-choice strategy on the basis of Tedra’s hand-waving and accusations of distrust isn’t even going to get you anywhere with the “uncomfortable” feminists, let alone with the majority of the rest of the population. Tedra is essentially suggesting an argument in which pro-choice activists tell most women that they don’t trust women, in order to get their support for laws that affect women. Good move, that…

592

etv13 01.26.12 at 1:01 am

@586: You don’t like abstractions? Well, let’s take a specific example. The “potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious third parties” in the California legislature decided in 2002 to prohibit abortions where the fetus is viable and the life and health of the mother is not at stake. Determining both viability (which is defined as capable of sustained life without extraordinary measures) and the mother’s life and health are left to the “good faith medical judgment” of the physician. I’m not generally real hot on the folks in Sacramento (though I wouldn’t characterize them, as a class, as “ignorant, clueless or malicious”), but this seems fairly sensible to me (as does Justice Blackmun’s opinion in Roe v. Wade). Do you really think that this law is “a disastrous waste,” such that we should repeal it and have completely unrestricted abortion on demand? Do you think we can’t have this conversation in California and wherever you happen to be lest some idiot in Mississippi or Poland gets the wrong idea?

And, you know, we do have, if not laws, at least strong social norms restricting where and when we have bowel movements.

593

C 01.26.12 at 1:06 am

The OP comes close to a very interesting point, which is that even if ending a pregnancy did constitute murder (in a moral sense – not in the sense that it’s already covered by existing murder laws), that wouldn’t necessarily give the state a reason to forbid it. Since the unborn aren’t citizens of the state or any external power, it’s not clear that it has a responsibility to protect them from murder or punish their murderers on their behalf, especially because having murdered one of the unborn usually doesn’t indicate that a person is a threat to other citizens. Instead, the prevention of such murders, if they were murders, should be left up to private conscience, like the prevention of adultery or of the unnecessary killing of animals. (Admittedly, in some places there are currently laws specifically against the destruction of unborn children by e.g. assault on the mother, and against unnecessary killing of animals. I quite like them, even if their existence is unjustified, but perhaps they could be considered as acts of charity towards animals and the unborn on the part of the state, rather than cases of the state exercising its responsibility to protect citizens and administer justice.)

On the issue of trusting others to make choices, I think there are two kinds of trust to distinguish that I haven’t seen distinguished above. There’s trusting someone, before they act, to make a good choice, and then separately there’s trusting that, once the choice has been made, that it is a good one. For instance, consider a mother of a pregnant daughter, with the mother believing that to end the pregnancy would be the wrong decision. There is a great difference between her trusting the daughter to choose not to end the pregnancy and her trusting, once the daughter has chosen to end it, that the daughter’s reasons are good ones (which might involve a sort of suspension of her belief as to what’s the right choice – the mother still has all her reasons, but she acknowledges her daughter’s competence in making decisions and so considers it possible that the daughter possesses countervailing reasons that she doesn’t). The first kind of trust (that the right decision according to an existing metric will be made) is more closely connected to issues like paternalism vs. potential frivolity in decision-making, and the second kind of trust (that the metric actually used is appropriate) is more closely connected to issues about what special evidence pregnant women have as pregnant women when making choices. Of course, the two types of trust are closely connected, and in cases where the person doing the trusting doesn’t have a position on what the right outcome would be the distinction seems to collapse. I don’t know how far the distinction actually affects any argument made here, but it is interesting.

594

Jeffrey Kramer 01.26.12 at 1:10 am

If the “pro-choice, but with limitations” position is one that can only be motivated by distrust of women, that means that all women who hold that position also distrust women. In other words, all women who are “pro-choice, but” are knowingly or unknowingly internalizing patriarchal assumptions. Does this seem likely?

595

DelRey 01.26.12 at 1:12 am

Doctor Slack, #586
As has already been covered up thread, the issue is really not so much whether to trust women to be paragons of justice, it’s whether to trust them to be less bad than laws and enforcement structures enacted by potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious third parties to make judgments about how to manage a basic bodily function. I have never seen anything, anywhere, in any abortion debate that convinced me the law is more trustworthy than women’s own judgment on this issue

So you think we should repeal ALL laws restricting abortion, every last one of them, and allow women to get an abortion under any circumstances at any time from any abortion provider? Seriously?

596

Sebastian 01.26.12 at 1:26 am

“So you think we should repeal ALL laws restricting abortion, every last one of them, and allow women to get an abortion under any circumstances at any time from any abortion provider? Seriously?”

That is the original post, right?

597

Tom Bach 01.26.12 at 1:27 am

So you think we should repeal ALL laws restricting abortion, every last one of them, and allow women to get an abortion under any circumstances at any time from any abortion provider? Seriously?

How about making frivolous, unnecessary, or silly abortions illegal and then prosecuting women who have one instead of asserting that abortions x, y, or z are frivolous, unnecessary, or silly and proving that the abortions were either frivolous, unnecessary, or silly like we do with all other “crimes.” The state would have to prove its case instead of asserting that its case is always already proven because lots of people are either “uncomfortable” with x,y, or z abortions or, like Santorium, know always already that all abortions are immoral and thus need to be illegal.

598

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 1:43 am

594: Of course I do. It’s silly to have legal restrictions on abortion. I live in a country that does not have such restrictions and we have yet to manage to exterminate every single baby by agency of our Monstrous Regiment of Women. If you have moral discomfort about certain abortions as opposed to others, your strategy should be information, persuasion and the support of alternatives, not harmful and foolish laws that by the nature of human biology can only fail to attain their object and whose sole function in the practical sense is to harm women. (And if the fact of those harms fails to move you, then your judgment about what is or is not morally questionable is of limited value at best.)

591: Re: “fetal personhood” and concerns related thereunto, I refer you to my remarks in 581.

599

etv13 01.26.12 at 1:48 am

@597: And yet the original post insisted that I should keep my discomfort to myself, lest I give aid and comfort to anti-feminist pro-lifers by exposing my distrust of women as a class.

600

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 1:51 am

etv13: The OP is about legislation, not moral discomfort. They are obviously not automatically the same thing.

601

Tom Bach 01.26.12 at 1:52 am

And yet the original post insisted that I should keep my discomfort to myself, lest I give aid and comfort to anti-feminist pro-lifers by exposing my distrust of women as a class.
Which is exactly like passing a law banning you from making that argument. Wait, no it isn’t it’s an argument about why you oughtn’t do something the argumenter, if that is a word, wishes you wouldn’t.

602

faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 2:02 am

Doctor Slack, your comments at 581 don’t address fetal personhood at all.

Have no illusions: in the main, you generally cannot “convince believers in fetal personhood otherwise” by argument of any sort, since it’s hard to reason a person out of a position they weren’t reasoned into.

As I and others have observed, once a fetus becomes viable, there is “evidence” to support a claim of personhood. WE already have one person this thread, pro-choice (Emma in Sydney) saying “a fetus at 8 months is a baby.” So there you have it – debate. By necessity (since the moment of birth is not fixed), passing the cervix is not in itself proof of personhood – it must happen at some point before then. As soon as one accepts that fact, there is no inconsistency in claiming that a fetus is a person.

The allure of the position is that really it’s anti-reason, an emotional harking back to the prejudices customs of one’s forefathers that are supposedly under attack by liberal social engineering

Do you think that Tedra’s insistence that pregnant mothers are uniquely qualified to judge the best interests of their fetus is any different? Multiple people here have pointed out that women can be cruel, stupid and violent too; at 528 I listed a series of feminist debates in which women’s ability to make the best judgement about their own bodies is questioned. Tedra is appealing to anti-reason with her insistence that pregnant mothers are uniquely able to judge the interests of the fetus.

Insofar as “fetal personhood” can be engaged as an argument, it falls apart fairly quickly, for reasons like the one Salient points out in 570.

Well, no, because as I pointed out at 591, Salient is wrong. Lots of believers in fetal personhood ascribe rights other than the right to life to fetuses, and lots of believers in the personhood of actual living people (children, prisoners, the mentally ill) accept the restriction of some or many of their rights. Salient’s arguments are wrong.

At least you’re trying to engage the personhood issue, which Tedra is deliberately and carefully avoiding. The only way the OP is correct is if you dismiss the idea that a fetus has rights to be balanced against the woman’s. But this is the heart of the abortion debate!

603

DelRey 01.26.12 at 2:11 am

@596,
How about making frivolous, unnecessary, or silly abortions illegal

I don’t think “silliness” is a very meaningful basis for a law. Roe permits states to restrict abortion on the basis of the viability of the fetus and the effects of the abortion on the pregnant woman’s health. That seems reasonable to me.

@597,
Of course I do. It’s silly to have legal restrictions on abortion

So you oppose legal restrictions even on unsafe abortions, then. You think women have the right to get an abortion from anyone they want, under any circumstances, no matter how risky the procedure or how unqualified the abortion provider. Because, according to you, that would be better than “laws and enforcement structures enacted by potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious third parties to make judgments about how to manage a basic bodily function.”

604

parsimon 01.26.12 at 2:17 am

Slack, while it’s going to be difficult to forget that you said pregnancy is like having a bowel movement, 586 is well said.

605

Tom Bach 01.26.12 at 2:20 am

I don’t think “silliness” is a very meaningful basis for a law. Roe permits states to restrict abortion on the basis of the viability of the fetus and the effects of the abortion on the pregnant woman’s health. That seems reasonable to me.

So fine, “healthiness” is much less amorphous? Health isn’t a black or white issue, as others upthread argued. Should this or that abortion violate the health provision prove rather than insisting that all abortions in which the fetus falls into category x, y, or z aren’t health issues. It can’t be done prior to the abortion unless you insist that this or that fetus’s viability over rides this or that concern re health. More to the point of the post other people than health care providers and the pregnant woman are deciding health issues without knowing what the issues might be after (fill in your own definition of viability).

606

etv13 01.26.12 at 2:21 am

@Doctor Slack at 599: The original post said that if I said I was “uncomfortable with”, among other things, third-trimester abortions, I was hubristic, sexist, and “a conduit for a social distrust of women so strong that it’s almost invisible.” It said I wanted to impose my own personal judgment over the judgment of women actually facing the situation. It was not tied to a legislative context and said nothing about a distinction between enacting legislation and using moral suasion.

607

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 2:28 am

DelRey: So you oppose legal restrictions even on unsafe abortions, then

Oh, I see what you mean. No, Canada does have restrictions on who can legally provide abortions in that they have to be a qualified medical practitioner adhering to certain standards. I oppose legal restrictions on women’s access to those services, not the existence of safety standards for abortion.

faustusnotes: As I and others have observed, once a fetus becomes viable, there is “evidence” to support a claim of personhood.

Okay, I put this badly, so I’ll clarify: there’s a live moral debate to be had about moral status of the fetus at such-and-such trimester, and that can include “personhood” if you like. I just don’t think that those who are using “fetal personhood” to push abortion bans — remember the OP is about legislative debate, not the moral debate, they are not the same thing — are engaging in that debate, or particularly interested in that debate or indeed in debate of any kind. And I think that there are many arguable moral positions to take on abortion and specific instances thereof (the strongest ones will be those that pay attention to context, case-by-case), but that there not many similarly arguable positions to be taken about the efficacy of legislation and whether it’s practical to demand the fetus’ “personhood” overrule the mother’s at any point.

Do you think that Tedra’s insistence that pregnant mothers are uniquely qualified to judge the best interests of their fetus is any different?

Tedra’s insistence AFAICS is that pregnant mothers are uniquely qualified to judge whether they want to be pregnant mothers. If they’re not in for that, the fetus in question is out of luck, abortion bans or otherwise. There is really no way around that, and the effects of legislation that result from it. So yes, Tedra’s insistence being based on the facts of the matter is qualitatively different from a competing insistence based essentially on fantasy.

608

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 2:39 am

605: The original post said that if I said I was “uncomfortable with”, among other things, third-trimester abortions, I was hubristic, sexist, and “a conduit for a social distrust of women so strong that it’s almost invisible.”

On review it’s fair to say I’m imposing much more of a separation between the legislative and the moral debates on the OP than is actually there; that separation is mine, not Tedra’s, and I’ve appropriated her terms of reference to some extent. It would in fact be most accurate to say that I think her argument about distrust works best — with some slight adaptation — as a critique of legislative politics. As a more general critique of moral argument, the question is more open, but it’s pretty fair to say that there are substantial amounts of evidence in support of Tedra’s argument-by-implication, which is not nearly as easy to tilt at as too many have been quick to assume. (And also, you know, welcome to the world. If you want to make moral arguments, you’re going to run into people who think your arguments make you a sonofabitch. So it goes.)

609

DelRey 01.26.12 at 2:48 am

@604,
Health isn’t a black or white issue

So what? Laws are full of standards and principles that are not “a black or white issue.”

Should this or that abortion violate the health provision prove rather than insisting that all abortions in which the fetus falls into category x, y, or z aren’t health issues. It can’t be done prior to the abortion unless you insist that this or that fetus’s viability over rides this or that concern re health.

I can’t make any sense of this statement.

@606,
I oppose legal restrictions on women’s access to those services, not the existence of safety standards for abortion.

Huh? Legal bans, and other kinds of legal restriction, on abortion services that do not meet certain safety or licensing standards are most definitely legal restrictions on women’s access to those services. You can’t access a service that doesn’t exist because it is banned under the law. And what happened to all that stuff about how you think we should trust the judgement of individual women on abortion instead of restricting it with “laws and enforcement structures enacted by potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious third parties to make judgments about how to manage a basic bodily function?”

610

faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 2:53 am

Doctor Slack, that clarification is helpful. I think you’re misjudging the OP a little though. You said, about “moral status” vs. “personhood”

I just don’t think that those who are using “fetal personhood” to push abortion bans … are engaging in that debate, or particularly interested in that debate or indeed in debate of any kind

But the OP explicitly singles out “pro-choice feminists” like Naomi Wolf, etc. as the targets of its angst. I’ve got my problems with Wolf but I’m willing to extend her sufficient respect to grant that she is interested in exactly the debate you think the abortion banners are avoiding. (More generally, I’m construing the OP as being about the attitude of well-meaning liberals of good faith towards contentious aspects of the abortion debate, not some loopy fundamentalist who thinks a dividing cell is a person).

So I think you need to take these concerns at face value, and by dismissing them the OP explicitly rules out negotiating or horse-trading on these issues with other feminists. This strikes me as morally pure but rather counter-productive.

Also I think here (and certainly in my case!) the term “personhood” is being used as a short hand for “the fetus has rights and interests of its own at some vague point.” The latter is somewhat cumbersome to say.

Tedra’s insistence AFAICS is that pregnant mothers are uniquely qualified to judge whether they want to be pregnant mothers.

I think Tedra can only be interpreted this way if you accept the hand-waving away of personhood. Once you stop doing this, then she either has to strengthen this claim to state that pregnant mothers are uniquely qualified to balance their own and the fetus’s rights and interests, or accept that if mothers can wrong their post-birth children, they can make bad judgments about the interests of their fetus. If you accept the former – that mothers are uniquely qualified to balance their own and the fetus’s rights and interests – because, e.g. the latter implies a distrust of women, then you’re back into magical thinking territory, and you can’t attack claims to the personhood of the fetus on the grounds of anti-reason.

Which once again brings us back to the central problem of the OP: it waves away everyone else’s claims to personhood of the fetus, which are undoubtedly ridiculous and illegitimate in the first trimester but are definitely valid claims in the third trimester and subject to a great deal of debate in the second. Once you allow this issue back into the debate, the “distrust of women” attack only really applies to the loopy fundies, and not to the apparent targets of the OP.

611

Tom Bach 01.26.12 at 3:00 am

I can’t make any sense of this statement.
Name me one law that makes a crime impossible prior to its commission. Punishment is retrospective because, as an example, of the possibility that facts surrounding my killing someone make that killing not murder but self defense. Abortions that fall, without consideration of the facts of the matter, that fall afoul of rule x, y, or x are always already crimes. This position assumes that abortion is unique, no?

612

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 3:06 am

608: Huh?

Don’t play dumb. The abortion debate is over legal access to safe medical care, not over women clamoring to be the first in line for a rusty coat-hanger, and not for a solitary second do I believe you are genuinely confused about that.

609: I think Tedra can only be interpreted this way if you accept the hand-waving away of personhood.

No, not really. She can be intepreted this way if you accept that you have a choice between whose personhood is the priority, the mother’s or the fetus’, which practically speaking is the choice you have and moreover is practically-speaking the choice the mother has. You don’t need to “hand-wave away personhood” or pretend the choice is easy, just to be realistic about who is making it and who is likely to have the most relevant information to make it, and whether it’s your place to support and help them or further endanger them.

613

Salient 01.26.12 at 3:10 am

Also I think here (and certainly in my case!) the term “personhood” is being used as a short hand for “the fetus has rights and interests of its own at some vague point.”

Not acceptable, sorry (though thank you for clarifying your intent). A pet (or even a wild animal) has rights and interests of its own at some vague point, but that doesn’t mean it has ‘personhood’ status. Equivocating just inherently leads to smuggling in all sorts of problematic assumptions, even when being as well-intentioned about it as y0u clearly intend to be.

So you think we should repeal ALL laws restricting abortion, every last one of them, and allow women to get an abortion under any circumstances

Yes.

at any time

Yes, though it would be weird for a person to seek an abortion at a time when they are not pregnant

from any abortion provider?

Yes. Better that the operation be performed in a clean facility by professionals who can attend to medical complications than in a bathtub by drinking sage tea and hoping you’ve dilated your cervix enough to survive what’s about to happen.

(And frankly it strikes me as a little sick that anyone would want to encourage that…)

Seriously?

Yes.

Glad we could clear that up.

614

faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 3:17 am

Doctor Slack, there’s an interesting conflict between your belief that pregnant mothers are

likely to have the most relevant information to make it, and whether it’s your place to support and help them or further endanger them

and your insistence on state-sanctioned interference in the provision of abortion services through regulating the dodgy ones (which I thoroughly support, of course). If women are able to do the former (balance the rights and interests of themselves and their fetus) then surely they can do the latter (Judge which abortion provider is safe and best protects their own interests), so no state intervention should be necessary?

Alternatively, do you think ordinary women aren’t able (in the words of the OP, can’t be trusted) to distinguish between a good and a bad abortion provider, but are definitely able (and can be trusted) to make the best judgment about how to balance their own and the fetus’s rights? I agree that this combination of beliefs is possible, but it seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination.

Separately, in your 611, you say:

She can be intepreted this way if you accept that you have a choice between whose personhood is the priority, the mother’s or the fetus’,

That’s fine. But why should I accept that the mother is the best placed (or the only) person able to judge these interests? This is an appeal to anti-reason. Specifically, even if she knows her own interests perfectly (which, as I pointed out at 528, feminists don’t accept is true of women generally), she also has to make the correct judgement about a) what the fetus’s interests are and b) how they are best served. Why does being a mother make her best placed to do this? We know of the existence of mothers who abuse or murder their children, they obviously didn’t make the best judgment. So what argument based on reason justifies the claim that these same women could get it right when that child is in utero?

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Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 3:25 am

613: Doctor Slack, there’s an interesting conflict between your belief that pregnant mothers are . . . and your insistence on state-sanctioned interference in the provision of abortion services through regulating the dodgy ones

I don’t find much of interest in the pretense that this is a “conflict,” sorry. That women have a right to medical services of a certain standard is in no way “in conflict” with their right not to have those services banned and driven underground.

That’s fine. But why should I accept that the mother is the best placed (or the only) person able to judge these interests?

You don’t. You just have to make a case for whatever other party whose judgment you’d like to substitute for hers having a better shot at it. The woman’s judgment does not have to be perect, as I’ve said clearly a whole bunch of times now and as Tedra said quite clearly a whole bunch of times before that. Her judgment just has to have a better chance of producing a good outcome for her, and for society, than a third party’s judgment imposed on her behalf.

If you think you can find a third party that measures up, have at it. Anti-choicers have attempted this for decades and had a century-long experiment with abortion bans in the American context as an opportunity to prove it, and failed miserably, so I frankly don’t believe you can make that case. But fill yr boots.

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DelRey 01.26.12 at 3:27 am

@610,
Name me one law that makes a crime impossible prior to its commission. Punishment is retrospective because, as an example, of the possibility that facts surrounding my killing someone make that killing not murder but self defense. Abortions that fall, without consideration of the facts of the matter, that fall afoul of rule x, y, or x are always already crimes. This position assumes that abortion is unique, no?

Still don’t understand what you’re trying to say. As I mentioned before, Roe allows states to restrict abortion on the basis of fetal viability and the effects of the procedure on the woman’s health. That seems reasonable to me. And apparently to most other people too. If you disagree, if you think these are unreasonable provisions of the law, try to explain, clearly and concisely, why you think that.

@611
Don’t play dumb. The abortion debate is over legal access to safe medical care, not over women clamoring to be the first in line for a rusty coat-hanger, and not for a solitary second do I believe you are genuinely confused about that.

I’m not playing dumb. You’re contradicting yourself. Either you believe that legislators (who you characterize as “potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious”) should be able override the judgement of individual women on abortion (which you describe as “a basic bodily function”) or you don’t. So which is it? To use Tedra’s characterization, do you “trust women” or don’t you?

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Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 3:36 am

DelRey: I’m not playing dumb. You’re contradicting yourself

Well, I guess maybe you are genuinely confused. Too bad, because it’s not a complicated point. Saying that legislators are not competent to judge for all women whether they want to be pregnant is not a claim that the medical profession and government are incapable of decently regulating medical care. You frankly strike me as floundering to find a contradiction where none exists, but whether or not that’s true, I in any case do not feel beholden to whatever purist agenda you’re attempting to project. I believe in free access to well-regulated medical care which includes abortion. If you honestly can’t parse that, there’s really nothing more I can do for you.

This thread is getting too silly for me at this point, sorry folks. I’m checking out.

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DelRey 01.26.12 at 3:42 am

@614,
Her judgment just has to have a better chance of producing a good outcome for her, and for society, than a third party’s judgment imposed on her behalf.

Then show us your evidence that those outcomes would be better if the legal restrictions on abortion allowed by Roe were repealed or struck down, and women were permitted to obtain abortions without any legal restriction.

The fact that abortion is legally restricted in various ways in every liberal democracy in the world — in most countries, more strongly than it is restricted in the United States — strongly suggests that your belief that society would be better off with no legal restrictions on abortion is false. You don’t seem to realize just how extreme and unpopular your position is.

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faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 3:49 am

Salient, that’s fine, dispute the terms, but the fact remains that you’re wrong in either case: the rights and interests of fetuses as conceived (pardon the pun) by the loopy anti-choice movement are pretty clearly defined: the right to life, the right not to be poisoned or tortured, and a set of (fairly exclusive) claims on the behavior of the mother. The targets of the OP (pro-choice feminists like Wolf) are less clear on rights and interests but I think it’s disingenuous to say that therefore they can’t have a clear conception of a fetus potentially having some.

Doctor Slack, I think you’re misinterpreting me. I’m not saying that women’s right to judge whether to give birth is in conflict with the need to drive bad clinics out of business. I’m saying that the need to do this latter thing is based on an assumption that women can’t judge their own interests when choosing medical care. If they could, there would be no need for laws to ban those providers (since women would never choose them). So can you explain how it is that a woman can 100% certainly make the right decision about balancing her and her fetus’s rights, but can’t be 100% trusted to choose between a good and a bad abortion provider? It’s not a false conflict, it’s an example of how you comfortably accept that women don’t always make the right decision about their own interests.

You said:

You just have to make a case for whatever other party whose judgment you’d like to substitute for hers having a better shot at it.

This is a very different argument to the OP, which is that, in trying to find a third party whose judgment I’d like to substitute for hers I am showing my distrust of women. In some sexist sense. You’re also subtly changing the terms of the debate. Tedra’s claims, repeatedly made, were that the pregnant mother is uniquely placed to make these judgments. e.g. at 312:

My premise is that she is the person who is most likely to think through as many paramaters as possible—and that therefore, the presumption that she might not have considered X, Y, or Z is a sign that one thinks that women, as a class, are not real great at this whole moral reasoning thing.

Now, this is magical thinking. It’s on a par with saying a fetus is a person at 3 months “because.” We have no evidence or rational basis for saying this. Which is fine. But you can’t then dismiss other simpleclaims about what rights a fetus might deserve at, e.g., 7 months on the basis that they’re “anti-reason” (your words).

Tedra’s 312 is particularly fantastical given the sure evidence we have that women who have given birth can abuse and/or murder their children. Yet these same women can be guaranteed to ” have considered X, Y, or Z” before the child was born.

Surely there is some contradiction between a feminist position that allows child protection laws to protect born children, but absolutely refuses to allow laws to protect them the week before they’re born?

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DelRey 01.26.12 at 4:10 am

@616,
Saying that legislators are not competent to judge for all women whether they want to be pregnant is not a claim that the medical profession and government are incapable of decently regulating medical care.

I don’t know why you keep going off on these irrelevant tangents. The issue is not whether legislators are “competent to judge for all women whether they want to be pregnant.” It’s whether women should be permitted to obtain abortions without any legal restriction. You first said you believe that they do. Then you said you support legal restrictions on abortion in the interests of safety. So despite your belief that legislators are “potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious,” you apparently trust them more than individual pregnant women and their physicians to decide what is an acceptable level of risk for an abortion procedure. And yet you still insist, without evidence, that with respect to any other possible type of legal restriction we should always defer to the judgement of individual pregnant woman, because that will produce better outcomes.

621

DelRey 01.26.12 at 4:20 am

Salient @612,
Glad we could clear that up.

So you’re another one who opposes even legal restrictions on unsafe abortions. Or are you now going to start backpedalling like Doctor Slack?

622

Harold 01.26.12 at 4:26 am

Tedra has said if a feminist says, “I’m pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with… [third-trimester abortion / sex-selection / women who have multiple abortions / women who have abortions for “convenience” / etc.]” then what you are saying is that your discomfort matters more than an individual woman’s ability to assess her own circumstances.

She also says her piece is about people saying “’I’m uncomfortable with the imaginary scenario where some teenager realizes at 7 months pregnant that the prom is next month so she willy-nilly decides to get an abortion, and therefore I think third trimester abortions should be illegal.’” She continues, I’m absolutely fine with people being ‘uncomfortable’ with abortion; I’m not fine with people trying to fucking legislate when others can and can’t get it because of that discomfort.”

Well, I am a pro-choice feminist. And unlike Tedra I have absolutely, no qualms and am not uncomfortable with first trimester (for whatever reason) and therapeutic second tri-mester abortion. I am am “uncomfortable” — that is to say, I am decidedly opposed to attempts on the part of misguided moralists to legislate restrictions or prohibitions on doctors from performing therapeutic abortion in the second and third trimester, when time is of the essence. I can even see that infanticide might be justified on extremely rare occasions — such as a baby born without a brain.

Most abortions occur because the mother (and also the father) does/do not have the emotional or economic resources to be a parent at that time, though they might at some time in the future. In the case of the hypothetical prom girl, she also probably does not have the resources and judgment, though she might later when more mature. The good news, for her, is that she is fertile. Many people are not. (In reality, in cases like that, the baby is born in the bathroom, and it often does not survive because of lack of post-natal care — or in one famous case it was dashed to death by the teenaged father on the night of the prom.)

As far as being uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable when people eat junk food and become obese, play violent video games, engage in war, become alcoholics, chain smoke, commit suicide, engage in factory farming, and many other things. If people are having multiple (more than 2) abortions, I am uncomfortable with it. It seems like a form of masochism. If young people are having late abortions in abortion mills, then yes, I am uncomfortable with it. Abortion was the standard form of contraception in the early days of the Soviet Union and in Japan, but since there are now legal, safe, and effective methods of contraception, using abortion for this purpose is clearly undesirable. (I was quite uncomfortable in reading about Anais Nin having an abortion in the fifth month as the result of what she claimed was consensual incest with her father and writing about it in a narcissistic way, though perhaps she was fabulating.) I would like to see more people hearing the advice I once heard a very enlightened doctor give: “Make contraception a part of your lovemaking — put it on him — her or let him or her put it on you.” If a woman knows her size, why can’t she buy a diaphragm over the counter? Why isn’t there more emphasis on persuading men to take the initiative in using contraception, to have vasectomies, and so on.

I think the state definitely has an interest in changing behavior — lots of public health issues hinge on behavior. But if one must legislate, the best way to do it is to nudge people to take many small steps, and through regulation, not criminal law. For example the Harvard commission on salt recommended that if manufacturers gradually reduced salt in processed food by five percent over a period of several years, millions of deaths could be avoided.

623

Jeffrey Kramer 01.26.12 at 4:28 am

The argument, it seems to me, has gone basically like this:

OP: There is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women.
CRITICS OF OP: There are many other reasons, such as A, B, C.
OP AND SUPPORTERS: Reasons A, B, C are all readily answerable, as follows….

But even if these are readily answerable reasons, are they reasons which in themselves denigrate women? If not, how does saying “I can refute your argument” show “your argument is based on distrust of women”?

Now I can understand going from “your arguments are unconvincing” to “your real basis is a bigotry which you want to deny” in some cases, if those arguments are not only unconvincing to you, but are the kind of obvious bullshit which you can’t imagine any rational person taking seriously. That’s pretty much the case, I think, for most people’s “arguments” against same-sex marriage. I just don’t think this is at all the case here, and I don’t think anybody here has come close to showing that it is.

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Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 5:50 am

Okay, one more: The issue is not whether legislators are “competent to judge for all women whether they want to be pregnant.” It’s whether women should be permitted to obtain abortions without any legal restriction. You first said you believe that they do.

First, second and always.

Then you said you support legal restrictions on abortion in the interests of safety.

I said I support legal restrictions on safety standards for the providers. This has nothing to do with restricting women’s access to the providers.

It’s sad to watch this, because you obviously think you’ve happened upon some sort of awesome “gotcha” here, and your failure to grok such a basic distinction after it’s clearly explained to you makes you look either doltish or dishonest. I don’t care which of those it is. Just. Stop. Digging. Just stop. You can do it.

And so can you, faustusnotes, although you’re nowhere near as egregious:

Doctor Slack, I think you’re misinterpreting me. I’m not saying that women’s right to judge whether to give birth is in conflict with the need to drive bad clinics out of business. I’m saying that the need to do this latter thing is based on an assumption that women can’t judge their own interests when choosing medical care.

Yes, you’re inventing a false conflict, because in fact nobody has said that women are all medical expertys. What has been said is that women are best-placed to judge whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term. This is not a claim about their blanket medical expertise as a gender, and your confusion about that is silly. Not quite as silly as DelRey’s confusion, but that’s why I’m checking out.

625

faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 6:03 am

That is not what has been said at all, Doctor Slack. See Tedra at 312. Even the way you rephrase this, “whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term,” deliberately elides the possibility of considering the fetus. The woman is not deciding “whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term,” they’re deciding whether or not to destroy a fetus in order that they not bring a pregnancy to term. If the majority of the community believe that this fetus has rights, then they are going to want to ensure laws that make everyone else act to consider those rights – and if they think that some women don’t believe a fetus has rights at any stage – which seems to be e.g. Salient’s argument – then the matter becomes even more urgent, since they know they can’t trust some women to see the humanity of the fetus.

But you’re phrasing it as if those rights already don’t matter. You’re assuming away the parameters of the legislative debate.

And you’re consistently avoiding explaining why child protection laws are okay a day after birth but not a day before birth. Why? Is passing through the cervix a process that imbues a baby with personhood? Because they’re most certainly a person as soon as they have done so. But not a moment before?

626

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 6:10 am

I am indeed phrasing it as if “the rights” of the mother supersede “the rights” of the fetus. I am doing so because that’s the actual, biological reality, whether you like it or not, and abortion bans are demonstrably incapable of changing that, as mountains of data demonstrate by this point. So don’t talk to me about assuming away the parameters of the legislative debate; it’s you who is choosing to do that, not me. (And don’t waste my time with silly semantics like those in 623.1 either, it’s not in the least impressive.)

627

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 6:12 am

(As for where “personhood” begins, show me an anti-choicer who’s willing to set up welfare programs for new mothers before you talk to me about hypocrisy on child protection.)

628

etv13 01.26.12 at 6:26 am

@Dr. Slack at 616: Judging for all women whether they want to be pregnant is not what I take to be the the goal of legislatures or courts when they enact laws regulating abortion. Of course the woman (assuming she is sane) is in the best position to know what she wants. Speaking for myself, I want a couple hundred million dollars and a pony. It doesn’t mean I’m entitled to get them, or that the woman who is pregnant with a viable fetus is entitled to end her pregnancy, and the fetus’s life, just because she wants to. Laws exist, in part, to tell people they can’t have everything they want. Courts and legislatures exist to make these laws. And like DelRey, I find your arguments that legislatures can be trusted to regulate the safety aspects of the provision of abortion, a fairly complex and technical subject, but can’t be trusted to balance the conflicting rights and interests of a pregnant woman and her unborn, but viable, fetus, inconsistent. I am not claiming that legislatures always enact perfect, or even constitutional, laws, but I disagree with you, and with Tedra Osell, apparently, that they are inevitably going to do a worse job balancing those interests than any given pregnant woman, however immature, stressed-out, or downright evil she might be. (And I’m certainly not going to accede to the argument that we have to give her unfettered discretion because if we don’t, she will defy the law and obtain an unsafe illegal abortion. That’s way too much like giving in to blackmail.) The California legislature, in my view, has done a pretty decent job of balancing those interests — and one that tracks Roe v. Wade pretty closely. I have my doubts about the legislatures of certain other states, but that is why we have judicial review.

629

DelRey 01.26.12 at 6:55 am

Doctor Slack,

I said I support legal restrictions on safety standards for the providers. This has nothing to do with restricting women’s access to the providers.

It restricts women’s access to abortion services. According to Planned Parenthood, almost 80% of the counties in the United States don’t have even a single abortion provider. If there were no licensing and safety restrictions on abortion providers, or if the restrictions were more relaxed, there would be more providers. By supporting legal restrictions on who can provide abortion services to women, you are supporting legal restrictions on women’s access to abortion. I don’t know why you keep denying this.

What has been said is that women are best-placed to judge whether they want to bring a pregnancy to term.

For the second time, the issue is not who is best-placed to judge what pregnant women “want.” The issue is whether pregnant women should be permitted to obtain an abortion without any legal restriction. Since you have now admitted that you support legal restrictions on who can provide abortion services to women, you have conceded that women should not be permitted to obtain abortions without any legal restriction.

I am indeed phrasing it as if “the rights” of the mother supersede “the rights” of the fetus. I am doing so because that’s the actual, biological reality, whether you like it or not,

No, rights are not “biological reality.” The right to abortion is no more a “biological reality” than any other right.

630

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 7:06 am

@MPAVictoria, If I am pregnant and you make a law forbidding me from accessing abortion services you are forcing me to carry to term a child I do not want.

It’s irrelevant whether you want the child or not, because you can just leave it in the hospital.

No, I’m not forcing you to carry to term. I don’t know what exactly your options are, because you didn’t give me the exact scenario. But suppose you could go and have a c-section right now, leave the fetus in an incubator, and go home. That would be one alternative to carrying to term. But suppose you prefer an abortion – to avoid having scars on your stomachs. So, in this case I, by denying you abortion, cause you a scar on the stomach, and nothing else. See?

631

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 7:18 am

Ok, ok, etv13: Speaking for myself, I want a couple hundred million dollars and a pony.

Are the couple of hundred millions dollars and a pony part of your body? If not, it’s an irrelevant comparison. The “entitlement” of a woman to end her pregnancy is simply not something you can dispute, and therein lies the disconnect. That “entitlement” is a fact. It doesn’t matter how much that galls third parties, because no amount of legislation will change it… unless, of course, you seriously do propose imprisoning and restraining the woman in question and literally forcing her to bring the pregnancy to term (and good luck with demonstrating that such would be an enlightened approach to “personhood” — hands up, everyone who would want to see such a system enacted on their mother, their sister or their daughter, don’t be shy). If you’re not willing to assume total, moment-to-moment state control of a woman’s body, movements, and life, then all legislation can change is to make abortion more dangerous and more subject to abuse, or less so. That’s the decision at play. Those are the factual parameters of the legislative debate. If acceding to them seems to you like “acceding to blackmail,” then frankly I think you need to do some real soul-searching about Tedra’s trust argument.

I find your arguments that legislatures can be trusted to regulate the safety aspects of the provision of abortion, a fairly complex and technical subject, but can’t be trusted to balance the conflicting rights and interests of a pregnant woman and her unborn, but viable, fetus, inconsistent.

I don’t, because the medical aspects of the question are only one of a myriad of potential factors involved. The medical profession is empowered to make judgments about what procedures work and don’t in what situations. It’s not empowered and by nature of its restricted focus not competent to make a judgment about the woman’s larger situation. The same applies to legislatures. It’s kind of the same reason we have to trust governments to set broad economic policy and standards* but do not typically grant the government the right to micro-manage our finances, decorate our homes and decide which movies to go to or what we buy at the supermarket.

(* Perhaps a bad analogy in the current climate. But however incompetent and corrupt governments prove to be at the macro-picture, it’s absolute peanuts to how incompetent and corrupt they could become if trusted to manage our private lives. If the history of totalitarianism has anything to teach, this surely would be one of the core lessons. And what abortion bans in essence propose to do is substitute, on a blanket basis, government judgment for women’s judgment about their private lives. It should shock nobody that women are un-enthused about this, given all the very-well-documented ways it can go wrong and has gone wrong without even achieving its purported goals.)

632

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 7:24 am

DelRey: It restricts women’s access to abortion services. According to Planned Parenthood, almost 80% of the counties in the United States don’t have even a single abortion provider.

Yeah, don’t even get me started about y’all’s busted medical system. Make no mistake, abortions are happening in those 80% of counties without abortion providers. You don’t like it, make with the socialized medicine, not worthless, impracticable and immoral abortion bans.

633

faustusnotes 01.26.12 at 7:50 am

As for where “personhood” begins, show me an anti-choicer who’s willing to set up welfare programs for new mothers before you talk to me about hypocrisy on child protection

Well, apparently, if the OP is to be trusted, Naomi Wolf and other “pro-choice feminists” who are uncomfortable with [insert X type of abortion]. Also, if the debate in the comments thread is to be believed, most of the European and antipodean nations, which have various restrictions on abortion but socialized medicine and welfare systems that Americans deride as socialism. So no, it is not the case that opposition to free availability of some types of controversial abortion is equivalent to hypocrisy on child protection or wanting to force single mothers into penury, or whatever. Incidentally, I also didn’t accuse you of hypocrisy – I accused you of inconsistency, because *I* am not trying to judge *your* morality. Try to do me the same kindness.

You’re writing here as if I or the targets of the OP are anti-woman or anti-abortion. The OP is at pains to point out that there are women who are pro-choice who are interested in debating the moral elements of certain aspects of abortion. One of the many mistakes of the OP – and a mistake you’re repeating here – is putting this intense moral slant on fellow feminists’ opinions of all women, rather than focusing on the particular element of the debate on which people agree. Not doing this would be better.

Finally,

I am doing so because that’s the actual, biological reality, whether you like it or not, and abortion bans are demonstrably incapable of changing that, as mountains of data demonstrate by this point

It’s not an actual biological reality. Women can’t easily self-abort, they need to procure a service. If the reality was as you say, there would be no debate. It’s because humans have discovered medical means of changing that biological reality that the debate has arisen at all. And this is especially true of the later period of the pregnancy. So again, with the hand-waving away of the parameters of the debate.

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Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 8:15 am

faustusetc: Well, apparently, if the OP is to be trusted, Naomi Wolf and other “pro-choice feminists” who are uncomfortable with [insert X type of abortion].

Well, no, Naomi Wolf is an advocate of moral seriousness about abortion, and is not an anti-choicer. Wolf’s issue is with pro-choicers — and they are out there — who want to pretend abortion is or should be an easy decision on the level of removing a cyst. On this I’m in somewhat in agreement with Wolf, actually, so potentially Tedra and I could fight about it if we really wanted to.

Except in that I think Tedra is basically saying “You might want to occasionally give women some credit.” Which seems fair: in a society where girls are raised from infancy — by the very nature of the toys they’re given to play with and the tacit expectations of those around them — to prize their role in child-care and to look forward to being mothers, I think it’s pretty fair to say that it’s pretty implausible that almost any woman, no matter how fucked-up, has simply not thought at all about the fact that their fetus was a potential person, whether or not their decision to abort was in some degree morally culpable or otherwise.

most of the European and antipodean nations,

Sorry, I did in fact mean in the American, Roe-relevant context. A fair restriction when Roe is in the subject line, can we agree on that?

It’s not an actual biological reality. Women can’t easily self-abort, they need to procure a service.

And if they’re serious about it they will procure it, whatever form it takes and no matter how dangerous it is, whether or not you or anyone else approves. The point is that unless you’re prepared to assume complete control over their movements and decision-making, they have the agency in this scenario. You (“we”) don’t. All you (“we”) can control is how dangerous, ad hoc and/or underground are the circumstances in which it happens.

I’ll be brutally honest with you. (I’ve implied this earlier, but now I’m going to just say it straight out.) And please don’t interpret this as a specific critique of you, since you’re concerned about my judging your morality, it’s rather a general statement about the state of the debate:

I frankly think Tedra’s trust argument is, if anything, over-generous. What really seems to me to be at issue with people who are so determined about this subject is not whether they trust women, but whether they hate women. It seems to me that at root it just galls the absolute fuck out of certain people that pregnancy — being a matter internal to the female body — is a matter over which a woman has a degree of power and control that they do not have, and that they want to see their power and influence demontrated concretely regardless of the actual outcomes for women, or families, or societies.

I’ll be even franker: I understand that gall. I have even had occasion to feel it myself. But it’s not a worthwhile basis for legislation — because it cannot produce good outcomes and that which cannot produce good outcomes isn’t worthwhile as a basis of legislation — and moreover I don’t regard it as moral.

635

etv13 01.26.12 at 8:33 am

Doctor Slack @629: If the entitlement of a woman to end her pregnancy is not subject to dispute, what on earth have we all been doing here for 600+ comments? Entitlements are not “facts,” and however often and vehemently you assert that they are, you will not make them so. And what are these “mountains of data” showing that the sort of restrictions allowed by Roe v. Wade and enacted by the California legislature have led meaningful numbers of women (or any women at all) to seek illegal abortions? I think the choice you posit between total, moment-to-moment control of a woman’s movements and a legal or illegal abortion free-for-all is a false one. Moreover, there is a very big difference between restrictions on late-term, post-viability abortions and an outright “abortion ban,” in intention, scope, and effect.

As for soul-searching, I have done that, and I have come to feel pretty comfortable with the conclusion that I don’t trust women, or men, either, to fully and appropriately consider the rights and interests of other persons in a completely unregulated environment. (I had a professor once who said that the trouble with slippery-slope arguments is that some people get on the slope and say, “Whee!” Tedra’s trust argument has had a similar effect on me.) I think there are indeed mountains of evidence that people of all genders are perfectly capable of trampling all over the rights of other people in pursuit of their own selfish desires, and pregnancy doesn’t generate any magic hormones that make women uniquely capable of appreciating the interests of their unborn fetuses and appropriately accounting for those interests.

Governments intervene in peoples’ private lives all the time, and I am glad they do. I am glad we have laws against child and elder abuse, and agencies to enforce those laws, even though those agencies sometimes make mistakes. I am glad we have laws to prevent my husband from beating me, even though in the specific case of my husband, they’re not necessary. These interventions, and interventions on behalf of the viable fetus, have in common the protection of the (relatively) weak from the (again, relatively) strong. They are a far cry from government “management” of such aspects of our private lives as interior design. (Although, while we’re at it, I’m also glad we have fire codes, and laws governing ventilation and structural soundness.)

636

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 8:50 am

etv13: If the entitlement of a woman to end her pregnancy is not subject to dispute, what on earth have we all been doing here for 600+ comments?

Disputing whether or not it’s okay to legislatively punish women for wanting to end their pregnancies by driving their alternatives for doing so underground. It should have been obvious that this would be my answer if you actually read my comments.

(I was niggardly in acknowledging your support of the California legislature’s decisions in line, roughly, with Roe. I’m hoping it’s evident that to the degree a legislative standard for abortion supports women’s freedom to access the service, I agree with it, and that to the degree it doesn’t, I disagree with it. Feel free to mentally filter my comments accordingly.)

I don’t trust women, or men, either, to fully and appropriately consider the rights and interests of other persons in a completely unregulated environment.

Asked and answered. Again, show me the third party who is more trustworthy to decide the question of a mother’s pregnancy than the mother, and this rhetoric will be worth something. Until then… meh.

Governments intervene in peoples’ private lives all the time

Come on, this is blather at this point. It’s not a question of whether governments interfere with people’s private lives in general, but whether it’s practicable or desirable for them to do so on this issue. Wakey wakey.

Oh wait, didn’t I say I was checking out of this thread? Now I mean it.

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etv13 01.26.12 at 9:09 am

@Doctor Slack @ 635: “Oh wait, didn’t I say I was checking out of this thread? Now I mean it.”

Yeah, that’s civil. To quote you, “Meh.”

638

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 9:27 am

What you call ‘interests (or rights) of the fetuses’, are, in fact, (perceived) interests of the society. It may grant rights to the fetuses today, and remove them tomorrow (or vice versa), just like it does to various categories of real people. Think of the military conscription, for example: what could be more invasive than grabbing some guy off the street and sending him to a camp for a year, or, possibly, to die in a jungle on the other side of the earth? And yet, it’s pretty common. Ferchrissake, they won’t even sell you penicillin without a prescription.

The fetus, if born, will become a part of the society, and abortion under certain circumstances is, at this point in history, viewed, by many, by a large majority, as cruelty, as an inhumane act. Whether you like it or not. So, there is no question that the society is, and should be, a part of the equation. It just is, there is no way around it, people. And it doesn’t matter what anyone of us, individuals, thinks about it. Society is a different category, with its own properties and attributes.

You’re stuck with it, like the people who don’t want to pay taxes (endlessly complaining about the hatred of the ‘jobs creators’ and the ‘most productive members of the society’) are going to have to pay taxes. Bummer.

Of course people with very strong individualist views always have the option of going Galt.

639

Martin Bento 01.26.12 at 12:00 pm

Many people have been accused of misreading Tedra’s post, so let me restate the core argument as I understand it.

Some people object to abortion categorically because they see it as the taking of a human life and therefore a grievous wrong, and hold that no other claim that could come up in a pregnancy can trump this (the latter Tedra didn’t actually state, but it is a necessary premise of the unqualified position). Tedra sees this as a coherent position, but does not agree with it. Other people support a woman’s right to abortion categorically . This Tedra also regards as a coherent position and endorses. In between are people who support the right to abortion in some circumstances but not others, and hold that the state should therefore prevent abortion under some circumstances but not others. Tedra regards these people as hubristic for feeling that society at large can make these decisions more fairly than the women involved because the women have a rich knowledge of their particular situation that society does not and can not have. She argues further that the only possible basis for advocating such state involvement is a lack of confidence in the moral reasoning or integrity of women as a class, and therefore that such advocacy can only be a result of profound sexism.

Is that an accurate statement of the argument, Tedra?

The first question is the standard one for abortion debates: the status of the fetus. Is it a body part or is it something else, and is the answer different at different stages of development? Tedra states in comment 72 that a fetus is part of a woman’s body (part of someone’s body in comment 12) and that this is a biological fact so obvious and incontrovertible that anyone who would dispute it is too stupid to comment and will be banned from this discussion. (“if you don’t know the difference between something that is inside and a part of your body and something that isn’t, you are too stupid to be commenting.”. The work here has to be done by “part of your body” as no one disputes “inside your body”). In this case, there is no interest of the fetus that must be considered, any more than one must consider the separate interest of the liver in deciding on liver surgery. Then, in comment 107, Tedra states that a fetus is a parasite, which means by definition not a part of the body but a distinct organism living off the body. Comment 123 suggests there can be a moral conflict, which implies that we are not simply dealing with body parts.

If we take Tedra’s position that a fetus is a body part, the only basis on which one could want to interfere with the woman’s decision is paternalism – presuming to know her interest better than she does. The legitimacy of paternalism in general is debatable, but there are a lot of paternalistic laws in our society and most are not sexist: laws regarding heroin (most users are male for whatever reason), seat belts, warnings on cigarettes, etc. Most of the restrictions on abortion commonly argued for, however, are not argued on the basis of paternalism. There is one exception: the class of laws mandating counseling, ultrasounds, etc. to accompany abortion. These do fit Tedra’s critique, as they do have the premise that compelling women to receive certain information will influence them to make a better choice.

Most restrictions on abortion, including but not limited to the absolute one Tedra respects, are based on Tedra’s other position: that the fetus is a parasite (or otherwise an entity distinct from the mother. I personally agree that parasite is correct) with rights and interests also distinct from and possibly opposed to those of the mother (possibly opposed to follows from distinct from). These cases are based on the premise that we have two entities with conflicting interests and rights: a mother with the right to control her body and a fetus with the right to live. Some conditions are taken to strengthen the fetus’ claim – lateness of term – and some to strengthen the mother’s – rape. All implicitly argue that society, rather than the woman involved, should make the call, or at least specify parameters within which it will be made. This is what Tedra considers hubristic.

Let’s consider some basic features of law, in general:

1)The law is always very general and abstract. The specific people affected by it will always have much richer knowledge of their situation than the state can ever achieve.
2)Since laws are always written before they are applied, they will always apply to specific situations not even conceived when they were written.
3)Laws cannot be limited to likely circumstances because the unlikely happens every day, and the law must apply to it as well (for those who may wish to quibble. Specific unlikely events do not occur often, but a vast number of events, some of legitimate interest to the law, happen every day, and some of those events will have been individually unlikely).
4)An underlying premise of law is that individuals with an interest in a outcome are less fair in their judgments than those disinterested. The main recent case where a political decision was made to partially disregard this is the attitude that the financial industry should be able to regulate itself because it had greater expertise about its own condition than the state could ever achieve. That no doubt was true, but the negative influence of self-interest swamped any positive one of intimate knowledge.
5)Another premise is that decisions made by society are not the same as decisions made by some arbitrary members of society. It is not a matter of an accused going up to some member of society, or even a judge, and saying “who are you to judge what I did? What makes your judgment better than mine?” The judgment of a particular individual may not be better, but the law privileges judgments made by society as a whole and presumes they reflect greater wisdom than individual members might (which there is some research to support). Precisely because the law is so general, some examination of specific circumstances and some specific judgment is necessary, of course, and that is one of the purposes of judicial procedure. Nonetheless, the underlying premise of law is that society has a right to judge its members on matters of legitimate interest to the law, which, paternalism aside, generally means areas where the rights and/or interests conflict.
If you object to any of this, your quarrel is with law itself.

None of this necessarily means that regulation of abortion is a legitimate concern of the law. But it does means that arguments that the law cannot apply simply because an interested individual has richer knowledge of and greater investment in the situation than state will ever achieve are a non-starter for any but the most hardcore of anarchists.

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Martin Bento 01.26.12 at 12:11 pm

PS, since this seems to be an issue, let me state for the record that I have no history with Tedra prior to her joining this blog. I think I ran across her old blog once, but don’t remember what the post was about, and don’t think I commented.

641

bexley 01.26.12 at 1:43 pm

It’s irrelevant whether you want the child or not, because you can just leave it in the hospital.

No, I’m not forcing you to carry to term. I don’t know what exactly your options are, because you didn’t give me the exact scenario. But suppose you could go and have a c-section right now, leave the fetus in an incubator, and go home. That would be one alternative to carrying to term. But suppose you prefer an abortion – to avoid having scars on your stomachs. So, in this case I, by denying you abortion, cause you a scar on the stomach, and nothing else. See?

@ Henri

Wow. Ignoring your minimisation of c-sections. How about someone who is 8 weeks pregnant and wants an abortion (most abortions happen early). If you have made abortions illegal then you are forcing her to remain pregnant for months before either giving birth or having a c-section or have a back-alley abortion (with attendant risks). But don’t worry, this isn’t a biggie because she can always leave it in the hospital!

@DelRay

There is little difference between the brains of a fully-mature fetus and a newborn baby. In fact, the brains of some fetuses may be more highly developed than the brains of some premature babies.

I think you missed my point. I was replying to someone who said that we could all agree that fetuses have plenty of rights. I disagree because an early term fetus has no/minimally developed brain and therefore I don’t think it has any rights. Any protections it receives all flow from being part of a woman’s body at this stage (ie we don’t allow random strangers to harm the fetus any more than we would allow a random stranger to remove a woman’s kidney without consent).

A fetus doesn’t have rights just because it is a fetus but can only accrue rights as its brain develops. If you want to think of a fetus having rights imo the key part of the brain to talk about is the cerebral cortex which doesn’t start developing until quite late on.

Of course that doesn’t mean that I think that if a fetus has rights those rights trump those of the woman.

642

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 2:05 pm

How about someone who is 8 weeks pregnant and wants an abortion

What about it? It’s not banned.

643

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 2:21 pm

…but, if (god forbid) there is a total nuclear war and only a couple of hundred people survive, then, without a doubt, any abortion, under any circumstances will be banned again. And contraceptions too: new human being become very valuable.

Are you getting the idea?

644

Matt 01.26.12 at 2:46 pm

Jeffrey Kramer at 622 for the win.

So much of what has been written on this thread, especially by Tedra and Doctor Slack, seems to be predicated on the belief that they are capable of knowing what is in the hearts and minds of pro-lifers (or, what they appear to believe is even worse, pro-choicers who are willing to make compromises when it comes to uncomfortable corner cases). In fact, they seem to believe that they know their interlocutor’s hearts and minds better than their interlocutors themselves do. “You don’t trust women.” “Sure I do.” “No, here is an argument that proves that you don’t.” “That is an interesting argument, but it has little to do with my own beliefs, so I’m pretty sure I trust women.” “Fine, then you hate women.” “No I don’t.” Etc. Even if you feel it necessary to guess someone’s “true motivations,” it might be worthwhile to do so from a position of sympathy, imagining that they are, like you, human beings trying to make sense of a complicated set of questions.

The extreme antipathy for people who are willing to compromise with the other side is especially troubling. It is, according to Tedra’s original post, the compromisers who are the most obvious haters of women. But there are a lot of reasons why people might be either pro-choice or pro-life and yet be willing to compromise, besides a combination of misogyny and hypocrisy. Some of them have been mentioned here, but the two most obvious are:

1) We live in a democracy, where laws are ultimately accountable to the public will, which means that most laws touching on contentious issues are formed out of compromise. Because many of us are capable of recognizing this, we are ultimately willing to accept compromises even on issues we care very deeply about. We may not be happy about it, but we recognize that this is our political reality and we are, ultimately, comfortable with it.

2) We have multiple strong beliefs that in certain cases come into conflict with each other, and therefore come up with — yes, awkward and unsatisfying — compromises within ourselves.

Neither of these has a thing to do with trusting or distrusting women.

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bexley 01.26.12 at 3:17 pm

@ 642

You’re right its not banned now. But this all arose because you said that banning abortions isn’t the same as forcing pregnant women to give birth (ie talking about the situation when an 8 week abortion would be banned).

Then MPAVictoria wrote:

If I am pregnant and you make a law forbidding me from accessing abortion services you are forcing me to carry to term a child I do not want.

So we have been talking about what happens when abortions are made illegal (like Brazil has for most cases).

646

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 3:42 pm

” …but, if (god forbid) there is a total nuclear war and only a couple of hundred people survive, then, without a doubt, any abortion, under any circumstances will be banned again. And contraceptions too: new human being become very valuable.

Are you getting the idea?”

What does this have to do with anything?

647

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 3:49 pm

And still banning abortions is not forcing you to do anything; it only takes away one of the options (choices). You could as well complain that the broken condom is forcing you to give birth, or that fifth tequila shot.

648

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 3:59 pm

What does this have to do with anything?

It has something to do with the idea that our reproductive functions are 100% our private matter. They are not. We are but a part of some larger entities (the society, the species) and they will never let you be ‘free’, in the libertarian sense, as a completely unattached individual, acting according to his/her own judgements.

649

bianca steele 01.26.12 at 4:08 pm

Matt @ :
It is, according to Tedra’s original post, the compromisers who are the most obvious haters of women.

I don’t think that’s what Tedra is saying. She is saying the people who don’t reject the other side, who accept bits of it, ought to think more about what they’re doing. Those are not the same thing at all.

I do see that if you read it the way Matt does, it’s not obvious where you can go from there. So okay, I should consider my beliefs to be on the wrong side. What do I do now? I can only get so far by thinking really hard about where I might have gone wrong, and I’m likely to think myself into the wrong place (like old HV here), and find it even more difficult to get out again.

650

bianca steele 01.26.12 at 4:09 pm

s.b. Matt @ 643

651

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 4:20 pm

“It has something to do with the idea that our reproductive functions are 100% our private matter. They are not. We are but a part of some larger entities (the society, the species) and they will never let you be ‘free’, in the libertarian sense, as a completely unattached individual, acting according to his/her own judgements.”

Sure. Fine. That doesn’t change the fact that forbidding a women from accessing abortion services is forcing her to give birth. If society makes a law that I am not allowed to leave my home town I am being force to stay in the place of my birth. If society makes a law requiring me to carry a baby to term I am being forced to give birth. This seems like a simple concept.

652

Harold 01.26.12 at 4:22 pm

It is ironic that my comments have repeatedly be held for moderation for long periods. Apparently, I and Naomi Wolf are being considered “objectively misogynistic”!

653

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 4:22 pm

Semantics, bianca steele. Saying that you are “pro-choice” makes sense to me. Saying they are forcing you to give birth against your will sounds assholish.

654

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 4:47 pm

“Semantics, bianca steele. Saying that you are “pro-choice” makes sense to me. Saying they are forcing you to give birth against your will sounds assholish.”

After debating me on the meaning of “forced” this is pretty rich.

655

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 5:06 pm

Alright. You haven’t addressed any of my arguments and examples, and just keep repeating your mantra. What do you want me to do?

And forbidding you to leave your town is not a right analogy, refusing to sell you a train ticket would be a better one.

656

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 5:10 pm

Not that I’m keen to dragged back into this, but a quick clarification for Matt: See, it seems to me that so much of what has been written on this thread consists of people spouting bromides, blowing smoke and throwing up irrelevancies to avoid dealing seriously with Tedra’s point. And so you can imagine my unsurprise to find someone popping up now to claim that Tedra’s real offense, or mine, is apparently supposed to be in thinking we’re some sort of telepath*. Which strikes me as precisely as profound an insight as most of what has been offered in response to Tedra here.

Tedra can speak for herself, but dor the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been a telepath. I do not care overmuch, for political purposes, what someone claims is in their heart of hearts. I do happen to think it possible to deduce roughly what beliefs matter to people by how they act. Idi Amin may have been a committed procedural liberal in his heart of hearts. Jerry Falwell could have been a secret James Randi fan. Chris Hitchens might have nursed a forbidden passion for Mother Theresa. Marc Lepine’s actions at L’Ecole Polytechnique could have been conceived in his heart of hearts as pro-feminist performance art. We’ll never know these things. What we have to go on is how they acted. So it is with anti-choicers.

(* Yes, I see all the stuff about supposed “extreme antipathy” for compromise, but Bianca already answered it capably and I’d like to do you the small favour of focusing on the less absurd part of your post.)

657

bianca steele 01.26.12 at 5:17 pm

HV:
“Assholish” isn’t something that should be relevant in an academic-style discussion.

If there are two ways of leaving town, plane and train, and you can’t fly because the airline won’t allow you on board because of your health issues, and also the government suddenly orders the train line to shut down, the government is forcing you to stay in the town.

658

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 5:25 pm

“What do you want me to do?”

Admit you were wrong.

659

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 5:32 pm

It seems kinda relevant though. As long as one side keeps saying “you’re killing babies” and the other “you hate me and want to control me” an academic-style discussion is not likely to happen.

And, of course, there are more than two way of leaving town. Other ways may be expensive, inconvenient, dangerous, and so in the end choosing to stay pregnant and give birth may turn out to be the best option, but hey, that’s life.

660

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 5:35 pm

“Other ways may be expensive, inconvenient, dangerous, and so in the end choosing to stay pregnant and give birth may turn out to be the best option, but hey, that’s life.”

List these other options for me please.

661

bianca steele 01.26.12 at 5:46 pm

HV:
Not clear why you think it’s a reasonable characterization. Is the problem that it sounds whiny? Is the problem the word “you”–would it be okay if it said “the government”?

662

Matt 01.26.12 at 5:55 pm

Doctor Slack, 655: Your examples are very amusing, but beside the point. Your writings on this thread are rife with statements about the motivations of pro-lifers that cannot be so easily derived from their actions. For example, at 633: “What really seems to me to be at issue with people who are so determined about this subject is not whether they trust women, but whether they hate women. It seems to me that at root it just galls the absolute fuck out of certain people that pregnancy—being a matter internal to the female body—is a matter over which a woman has a degree of power and control that they do not have, and that they want to see their power and influence demontrated concretely regardless of the actual outcomes for women, or families, or societies.” I can see how it would be useful for you to believe that the motives you ascribe to your opponents are real, as it saves you from having to consider the possibility that they are decent human beings who are, like you, struggling to make sense of complicated issues. But wishing something doesn’t make it so.

I am, by the way, not accusing you of thinking you are a telepath. Trying to figure out what other people’s motives are is an essential part of communication, so I am not really trying to fault you for this. I apologize for not being more clear about that. What I am saying is you are doing a very poor job at intuiting your opponents’ motives and beliefs. This is because you are doing so from a position of nearly zero sympathy for them. It seems to me that the latter (a lack of sympathy) precludes your being able to achieve the former (intuiting other people’s motives). This is why, in case you haven’t noticed, the only people who are agreeing with you are people who already share your views on abortion (though many of these people, myself included, cannot bring ourselves to agree with you despite sharing your views on abortion), and everyone else is repeatedly telling you “no, no, that’s actually not what I think at all.” Maybe there is some reason, besides a devious desire to trick you, that they keep saying this…?

Bianca, 648: Hmmm… I agree that she is, broadly speaking, asking people to rethink their positions. But that is not inconsistent with my characterization of her argument. She is very specifically asking people to rethink their position given her argument that if you are willing to compromise on questions of restrictions on abortion, it is because you do not trust women (her examples of “not trusting women,” you will recall, are both pro-lifers who are willing to make exceptions for rape, and pro-choicers who are willing to make exceptions for third trimester abortions). Note also that Tedra does not appear to have considered the possibility that she might also need to rethink her position.

663

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 6:07 pm

661: I can see how it would be useful for you to believe that the motives you ascribe to your opponents are real, as it saves you from having to consider the possibility that they are decent human beings

Yeah, sorry, what were you saying about poor jobs at intuiting people’s motives and beliefs? Care to quote the part of that post that makes declarations about these people’s “decency”?

Since it appears to have escaped your notice that I have said very little about the direct motives and beliefs of anyone party to this thread, very few of whom have for their part themselves claimed to be anti-abortion, your judgments of what’s going on WRT intuition, feelings and beliefs don’t look to me to be very worthwhile or competent. You are of course entitled to them nevertheles.

664

Matt 01.26.12 at 6:13 pm

Explain to me what I got wrong. Or don’t. But don’t pretend to be having a conversation with me while patently not having a conversation with me.

665

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 6:13 pm

List these other options for me please.

I already mentioned that a viable fetus could be, perhaps, delivered alive before the term, and given for adoption. Others mentioned going abroad, or using traditional methods.

666

Matt 01.26.12 at 6:14 pm

PS: “so much of what has been written on this thread consists of people spouting bromides, blowing smoke and throwing up irrelevancies to avoid dealing seriously with Tedra’s point”

The word “to” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. Should I find another?

667

Doctor Slack 01.26.12 at 6:14 pm

663: Explain to me what I got wrong.

I just did. But you are correct, I am not having a conversation with you. I am ending one.

668

Matt 01.26.12 at 6:16 pm

You have a funny way of doing it.

669

bianca steele 01.26.12 at 6:27 pm

Matt @ 661
It seemed you were saying the OP would put off current allies because it seemed to be accusing them of being on the other side, and refusing to work with them unless they gave up on some of their positions. I think she is presenting an opinion, which I don’t agree with, and don’t see any reason to accept, because it’s pretty far from making sense to me–the help she’s gotten from commenters in this thread had the opposite effect for me, because I disagree with their arguments–but the OP didn’t seem to present an argument, only a position, which is fine, it’s just not a position I hold.

670

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 6:36 pm

“delivered alive before the term, and given for adoption.”

How is this not being forced to give birth?

671

Harold 01.26.12 at 6:55 pm

“Delivered before term” is hardly in the best health interests of the baby!

672

bexley 01.26.12 at 7:49 pm

@ 669 Because you can totes carry out a DIY abortion with a knitting needle. In HV’s world that means you weren’t forced to give birth it just meant you chose not to do something that would be both illegal and dangerous if abortions are outlawed.

673

Meredith 01.26.12 at 8:51 pm

Just to assure you that you weren’t speaking into thin air, thanks for your analysis, Martin Bento. For one thing, it provides a useful framework for examining (via further research) how much paternalism (or “not trusting women”) might (or might not) be at play in today’s debates about the state/laws and third trimester, in particular. (I’m thinking about the state’s indirect role in all kinds of medical procedures, via its licensing of physicians and others — aren’t hospitals and clinics also licensed by the state? — and of the ways society, and the law, often cede to professionals’ judgments. The “it’s between a woman and her doctor” is an expression of both our sentiment about that relationship and our confidence in the professional organizations and institutions of medicine. I hope it’s also an expression of our confidence in women’s judgment.)

674

Martin Bento 01.26.12 at 9:26 pm

Thanks, Meredith.

675

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 10:30 pm

Fine, MPAVictoria, you win.

676

MPAVictoria 01.27.12 at 12:38 am

“Fine, MPAVictoria, you win.”

Page bookmarked.
/ ;-)

677

Gene O'Grady 01.27.12 at 12:46 am

Meredith may be interested to know that apparently, at least in Boston, a leader in professionalization, maternity hospitals were the first part of the medical system to take up licensing and certification. It should be remembered that their clientele were the most easily victimized, given that respectable women gave birth at home — and in fact Victorian hospitals in general were avoided in favor of home care if you could afford it.

I’m sure that my wife is not the only woman to have found “between a woman and her doctor to be something of a sick joke” — hard to get much meaningful conversation when saving time is the end all and be all of the guy’s practice.

678

Meredith 01.27.12 at 1:00 am

Thanks, Gene O’Grady. Interesting history there. And all too true about time with doctors – though I do think an 8-month pregnant woman considering an abortion would get meaningful attention from her doctor(s)! (Btw, now that I think of it, both of my parents were born at home, as were all their siblings, but all of that generation’s children were born in hospitals — the late 30′s and 40′s as a period of transition to today’s practices? I seem to recall, the 30′s also a tumultuous period for the AMA.)

679

DelRey 01.27.12 at 1:11 am

Meredith,

The “it’s between a woman and her doctor” is an expression of both our sentiment about that relationship and our confidence in the professional organizations and institutions of medicine. I hope it’s also an expression of our confidence in women’s judgment.)

The fact that we don’t allow doctors to perform abortions without a license from the government (or, as Doctor Slack would have it, without a license from “potentially ignorant, clueless or malicious third parties”), and the fact that we don’t allow doctors to perform abortions using equipment or facilities or procedures that do not meet certain minimum government standards, and the fact that we don’t allow doctors to perform abortions under certain other conditions set by the government, are all expressions of our confidence in the government to set the boundaries within which a woman and her doctor should be permitted to make the decision.

680

Meredith 01.27.12 at 2:17 am

DelRey, “…are all expressions of our confidence in the government to set the boundaries within which a woman and her doctor should be permitted to make the decision.” Well, yes, but that very decision already lies within the boundaries that I think Tedra takes for granted in her OP and that later she mentions explicitly, in comments (a woman consulting doctors, friends, her own good judgment — and consultation with doctors will be inevitable, since only a doctor with staff, working in the proper clinical setting that only the legality of the activity can assure, can perform a safe abortion, especially in the third or even the second trimester — by that time, we’re way past even imagining availing ourselves of sometimes effective “self-help” remedies).
In other words, why the pile-on of restrictive laws concerning abortion (as opposed to laws that might simply ensure the safety or availability of the procedure)? It’s this pile-on that is so suspicious. Reminds me of the push for laws to prevent “voter fraud,” when there is no evidence of voter fraud as a real problem. You could say, well, no harm done by these voter-fraud laws (beyond the diffuse harm done by having unnecessary laws on the books). But in fact, these voter-fraud laws are harmful, by their crafters’ and promoters’ design: they restrict (certain) citizens’ exercise of their right to vote.

681

DelRey 01.27.12 at 3:07 am

@679,
Well, yes, but that very decision already lies within the boundaries that I think Tedra takes for granted in her OP and that later she mentions explicitly

Then Tedra herself doesn’t “trust women” to decide on the acceptable level of risk to their health from an abortion. If she agrees that the government should restrict access to abortion through licensing and safety regulations, then she’s “trusting” the government to make that call, not women.

In other words, why the pile-on of restrictive laws concerning abortion (as opposed to laws that might simply ensure the safety or availability of the procedure)?

Laws do not “ensure” the safety of abortion. All abortions carry some risk. The laws merely set certain standards of safety. And those standards differ from state to state. In general, the more stringent the safety standard, the more it restricts access to abortion. As I said before, according to Planned Parenthood, almost 80% of U.S. counties have no abortion providers at all. If the licensing and safety standards for abortion providers were relaxed, there would probably be more counties with abortion providers.

The reason for licensing and safety restrictions on abortion providers is the state’s interest in protecting the life and health of women seeking abortions, whether the woman agrees with the restriction or not. The reason for restrictions on post-viability abortions is the state’s interest in protecting the life and health of viable fetuses, whether the woman agrees with the restriction or not. In both cases, the woman’s autonomy is restricted by the judgment of the people as expressed in the law.

682

Jeffrey Kramer 01.27.12 at 3:30 am

The laws merely set certain standards of safety. And those standards differ from state to state. In general, the more stringent the safety standard, the more it restricts access to abortion.

I think you’re missing Meredith’s point, which is that in many cases abortion opponents are abusing the state’s right to issue safety regulations, simply in order to make it close to impossible in practice to open a clinic which performs abortions. These aren’t good-faith efforts to improve safety.

I don’t know whether there are such things as good-faith efforts to improve safety which nevertheless have the unintended consequence of limiting access to abortions. It doesn’t seem to me the sort of question which one can confidently answer based on theory alone.

683

DelRey 01.27.12 at 4:54 am

I think you’re missing Meredith’s point, which is that in many cases abortion opponents are abusing the state’s right to issue safety regulations, simply in order to make it close to impossible in practice to open a clinic which performs abortions. These aren’t good-faith efforts to improve safety.

If that was her point, then she’s not addressing mine. Unless she opposes ALL government licensing and safety restrictions on abortion providers, not just ones she considers abusive, then she’s “trusting” the government to decide on the acceptable level of safety, instead of “trusting” women to make that decision for themselves. Any regulation that prevents a woman from obtaining abortion services that would be available to her in the absence of that regulation is a restriction on women’s access to abortion.

684

Meredith 01.27.12 at 5:15 am

DelRay, I read Tedra as assuming, as given, a certain level of social and legal organization – a degree to which we are all complicit and implicit in the world around us — we are constructed in, from, of and for that world. And, despite her anger and dismay, she’s operating in good faith (the key phrase Jeffrey Kramer invokes). Or rather, her anger and dismay in themselves register her good faith, her continued investment in that world. (She’s not just turning away from it.) That you and she differ, apparently, in some of what needs to change to make that world better (for ourselves, for our children — “our” in the narrowest and broadest senses)…. Well, that’s another matter. I at least understand the sources of Tedra’s anger. I can’t figure out yours. But I’m glad you’re not turning away, either.

685

Merp 01.27.12 at 5:22 am

I don’t even know why I’m bothering, but:

DelRay

The reason the state has to have minimum standards of safety for abortion procedures is because individual consumers can’t make the decision as to which abortion providers will provide safe abortions, and which ones won’t. They don’t have the information necessary to make an informed choice. Fucking Jesus.

Whereas the only thing people need to make the decisions Tedra et al are having them make is the capability of rational thought.

See the difference. Thought you would.

686

faustusnotes 01.27.12 at 5:49 am

Merp, if a woman is making a decision between taking a fetus to term and aborting because of risks to her own or the baby’s health, then she is necessarily making a decision about health and safety – of her own and her child. It’s unlikely she has all the information necessary to make an informed choice. She probably doesn’t have at her disposal the latest research on fetal sentience; she probably doesn’t have a full understanding of the welfare options available to her if she proceeds with the pregnancy; she probably doesn’t have a reasonable understanding of what the relative risks involved are for her or the baby, and how they compare to other risks in life.

I think if you dig just a little you might find that there is a fairly extensive literature on the way patients make healthcare decisions, and how terribly unrelated to “the capability of rational thought” much of their decisions are. You could probably dig further, and look at the available literature on the way parents make complex health and welfare decisions for their own children.

Being pregnant does not make a woman a suddenly perfect judge of what’s right for her fetus. See e.g. fetal alcohol syndrome.

687

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 6:27 am

684: Prediction: DelRey will not in fact see the difference. From the looks of things you’ll need single-syllable words and finger-puppets for that.

Getting close to the same territory with “faustusnotes” too. We covered that medical science is not the sole factor in decisions to abort how many comments ago? And look at that fucking effluent in 685. Jesus.

I keep telling myself to look away, but this is just a morbidly compelling spectacle even by CT standards now.

688

faustusnotes 01.27.12 at 8:07 am

Doctor Slack, I’ve been reasonably polite here and I’ve only tried to approach your comments in good faith, but you really aren’t covering yourself in glory. What’s with misspelling my name deliberately earlier, and then putting it in quotes? Is that meant to make you look smart or something? If you want to complain about other people’s effluent, it would probably help if you weren’t spurting quite so much of your own.

689

Norwegian Guy 01.27.12 at 8:29 am

MPAVictoria @650:

There isn’t always, physically speaking, that large a difference between an ‘abortion’ and a ‘birth’. In most European countries, late-term abortions (+12 weeks) are carried out as medical abortions. The development of the fetus is first stopped with mifepristone, and two days later misoprostol is used to induce labour. The fetus is then delivered through the birth canal.

So you could say that women are “forced to give birth” anyway, by physical necessity. Now for some reason, medical abortions are much less common in the US than in many other countries, but even there you have to get the fetus out of the womb somehow.

690

Aaron Schroeder 01.27.12 at 8:45 am

Okay, I’ve been lurking for most of this ‘conversation,’ and I think, at long last, I understand the dispute. I will say, as a precursor, that the nature of the dispute arises because Tedra does not explain her justification for abortion, and that the reason she disagrees so vehemently with ‘Wolf or liberal men’ and many commenters here is that she doesn’t seem to get that Wolf and liberal men disagree with her about what justifies abortion in the first place. It is at least true that Tedra did not explain in the OP what her justification for abortion is, and given that she’s the one posting, I’ll chalk up to her the responsibility for the confusion.

So. Tedra is arguing something along the following lines:

(1) If, for two sets of circumstances (a) and (b), nothing morally relevant changes between (a) and (b) besides whether you trust a woman to make a decision in (b), then your judgment with respect to (b) is sexist.
(2) In (a) a woman has a first-trimester pregnancy, and in (b) a woman has a third-trimester pregnancy.
(3) ‘Liberal men’ trust women about abortions in (a) and do not trust them about abortions in (b).
(4) The only thing that justifies the right to abortion in (a) is the general right to physical self-determination.
(5) The general right to physical self-determination does not change between (a) and (b).
So (6) Nothing morally relevant changes between (a) and (b).
So (7) For ‘liberal men’, nothing morally relevant changes between (a) and (b) besides whether they trust a woman to make the decision in (b).
So (8) ‘Liberal men’s’ judgement about (b) is sexist.

The source of the confusion, of course, is that ‘liberal men’ must think that something morally relevant HAS changed, or else they are, in fact, sexists. Hence the many and varied attempts to show Tedra and others that the fetus changes throughout the pregnancy; those trying to show this must not think that the unchanging right to physical self-determination is what’s justifying the first-trimester abortions. They must think, instead, that the fact the fetus is undeveloped is what justifies the first sorts of abortions, and since this fact DOES change by the third-trimester, their judgement isn’t sexist, because the morally relevant facts have, in fact, changed.

I don’t see where anyone has put Tedra’s position quite this clearly – not even Tedra – even after nearly 700 comments. If someone had, we could’ve saved people a lot of time, anger, and (by all appearances) butthurt. Congratulations, internets. You win again.

691

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 9:09 am

Don’t matter: they want fiery rhetoric, they should have it. Cantcha dig it?

692

etv13 01.27.12 at 9:20 am

Doctor Slack @ 686: You are being unpardonably rude, and your approach certainly isn’t going to persuade anybody who isn’t already on your side. I was patient when you intimated that I was a “sonofabitch” (“son” didn’t seem a whole lot more farfetched than “descended from a dog”, and I thought it was kinda funny, given that I’m a girl and all) , the “blather, blather” remark immediately followed by ducking out of the conversation was irritating, but “single-syllable words and finger-puppets” in response to DelRey’s perfectly civil arguments is far outside the boundaries of reasonable discourse. Way to win friends and influence people.

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etv13 01.27.12 at 9:29 am

ETA: “fucking effluent”? How charming.

694

Martin Bento 01.27.12 at 10:29 am

Yes, less vitriol all around would be nice. I don’t know if there’s any point in commenting further, since, although I have more to say, the people left in the discussion seem committed to fighting over the side issue of whether saying a woman should be able to make her own abortion decisions means she should be free to get abortions from unqualified people. That’s what it comes down to, right? The issue of licensing abortionists is the same as for licensing other kinds of physicians. It it, to be sure, a form of paternalism, but one of the easiest forms to defend, as most people lack the technical expertise to determine expertise, and, even if they had it, it is much more efficient to let a small group of focused people using standard procedures determine expertise and certify it, than to let each potential patient subject each of their potential doctors to a retinue of tests to try to determine her competence. As I argued in 638, there are fundamental problems with Tedra’s argument, but “if women can make their own abortion decisions, why can’t they go to some quack who’s going to thwack their bellies with a hammer?” is not one of them (sorry for the snark, but I do think it clarifies what is being argued. I do think arguments need to be examined in terms of their extreme implications. The standard liberal answer to the ticking time bomb hypothetical is weak, though the argument itself does not support what those who make it suppose it does). She talking about moral decisions, and all of us who are not sociopaths are moral creatures to some degree (though not necessarily as much as we believe); technical decisions are another matter.

695

etv13 01.27.12 at 3:56 pm

@Martin Bento: For what it’s worth, I would like to hear what you have to say.

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bexley 01.27.12 at 5:33 pm

@ 685

Merp, if a woman is making a decision between taking a fetus to term and aborting because of risks to her own or the baby’s health, then she is necessarily making a decision about health and safety – of her own and her child.

Theres a lot wrong with that post but one obvious thing that has already been addressed (and which is probably why the Doctor is annoyed) is that we’ve tried the system where abortions are illegal. For a view of it look at Brazil – around 1m back-alley abortions a year and 200,000 women who then need medical attention because of the complications.

Trying to argue that the Government has a legitimate interest in banning abortion on the grounds of protecting the health of pregnant women makes no sense because we already know that such bans are monumentally detrimental to women’s health. Doctor Slack has already pointed this out and yet you suddenly spout this stuff again without addressing his points.

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Norwegian Guy 01.27.12 at 8:34 pm

“Theres a lot wrong with that post but one obvious thing that has already been addressed (and which is probably why the Doctor is annoyed) is that we’ve tried the system where abortions are illegal. For a view of it look at Brazil – around 1m back-alley abortions a year and 200,000 women who then need medical attention because of the complications.”

But that’s not what’s being discussed in this thread, where not a single commenter has proposed banning all abortions. But third trimester abortions are illegal in all European countries. Despite this there isn’t a massive number of back-alley abortions going on here. The illegal providers disappeared when early term abortion was legalized. So the current system seems to be working fine.

698

Thrasymachus 01.27.12 at 9:59 pm

Martin Bento @692:

I agree with etv13, and would be most interested in hearing more from you on this issue.

699

Salient 01.27.12 at 10:48 pm

So you’re another one who opposes even legal restrictions on unsafe abortions.

I have no idea how to answer something as pre-loaded as this. I’m definitely adding “So you’re another one who…” to my ‘list of statements that cannot end well.’

Or are you now going to start backpedalling like Doctor Slack?

No, I just gave up a while ago, same way e.g. Martin Bento did a while later. The question you ask here is rhetorically equivalent to, “Whatcha gonna do now, punk?” and in general, when someone behaves as aggressively as that to me, I’ve been practicing just walking away.

…which honestly might be good advice all around at this point.

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DelRey 01.27.12 at 11:38 pm

@684,

The reason the state has to have minimum standards of safety for abortion procedures is because individual consumers can’t make the decision as to which abortion providers will provide safe abortions, and which ones won’t.

This is simply not true. It is perfectly possible for a private organization — the National Abortion Federation, for example — to collect information on the medical qualifications and safety records of different abortion providers and make that information available to women seeking abortions.

But you have completely missed the point, anyway. I’m not arguing that government licensing and safety restrictions on abortion providers are unjustified. I’m pointing out that, like government restrictions on late-term abortions, they demonstrate that we do not simply “trust women” to make the best decision. Restricting women’s access to abortion through safety regulations is justified by the state’s interest in protecting the lives of women. Restricting women’s access to abortion through restrictions on late-term abortions is justified by the state’s interest in protecting the lives of viable fetuses.

If you want to claim that restrictions in the interest of protecting the lives of women are justified but restrictions in the interest of protecting the lives of viable fetuses are not, you’re going to need a more sophisticated argument than some version of “we should trust women to make the right decision.”

701

DelRey 01.27.12 at 11:51 pm

@685,
Theres a lot wrong with that post but one obvious thing that has already been addressed (and which is probably why the Doctor is annoyed) is that we’ve tried the system where abortions are illegal. For a view of it look at Brazil – around 1m back-alley abortions a year and 200,000 women who then need medical attention because of the complications.

But this is a strawman. As far as I’m aware, no one here is defending a broad ban on abortion. The issue is the limited restrictions on abortion permitted by Roe. Those restrictions include a ban on only non-therapeutic abortions after fetal viability. I haven’t seen Tedra or anyone else offer a serious argument for the proposition that states should not be permitted to restrict even that very limited class of abortions. Just endless grandstanding and rhetoric about “trusting women.”

702

bexley 01.28.12 at 2:25 am

But that’s not what’s being discussed in this thread, where not a single commenter has proposed banning all abortions. But third trimester abortions are illegal in all European countries. Despite this there isn’t a massive number of back-alley abortions going on here. The illegal providers disappeared when early term abortion was legalized. So the current system seems to be working fine.

Have to admit I thought that post was defending a broad ban on abortion on the grounds that the Government has a legitimate interest in banning abortion on the grounds of protecting the health of pregnant women. If that wasn’t what the post was about then I withdraw the comment.

The issue is the limited restrictions on abortion permitted by Roe. Those restrictions include a ban on only non-therapeutic abortions after fetal viability. I haven’t seen Tedra or anyone else offer a serious argument for the proposition that states should not be permitted to restrict even that very limited class of abortions. Just endless grandstanding and rhetoric about “trusting women.”

Then you haven’t read the OP or comments very carefully. In the OP Tedra says:

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

Tedra explained what she meant in comment 123:

But I can accept as consistent the idea that, say, in a situation where one life must end—the trolley scenario—the moral position is not to act, i.e., I’m not going to push someone onto the tracks to save a trolley full of kids because that is a positive action that would cause someone’s death. Okay.)

So that kind of a position is at least logically consistent, and I respect that person’s moral clarity, even if I disagree with its basis. So far so good.

But if instead one says “I think abortion is bad *except under these circumstances,” then there’s an acknowledgement—is there not?—that there are some circumstances under which the moral badness of abortion is less morally bad than something else. So now we’re arguing about who gets to make those moral judgments, yes? Either we end up saying “the pregnant woman gets to do so”—in which case, regulating abortion is wrong—or we end up saying “we, as a society get to do so.”

(my bold in both quotes)

Its really very simple. You can argue for bans on abortion on the grounds that the life of the fetus is paramount and be logically coherent (pro-choicers will disagree but at least you are being coherent). You can even allow exceptions where the fetus is braindead or the life of the mother is at risk. However as soon as you start making exceptions for rape or incest then you stop being logically coherent – it becomes obvious that the life of the fetus isn’t all that important in some circumstances and you transition into passing judgement on women who wants abortions.

Tedra explained that in the OP and comment 123. I also made those points in comments 257,266 and 565.

703

Salient 01.28.12 at 5:07 am

If that was her point, then she’s not addressing mine.

.1. She’s under no obligation to ‘address your point.’ None of us are, and it’s really weird to complain that Tedra’s original post didn’t answer your question days later.

.2a. But whatever, I’ll go ahead and ‘address your point,’ with the caveat that I’m staking out a more radical position here, i.e. I can’t speak for Tedra. It’s completely reasonable and rational to say that the government has the authority to regulate commerce, under which medical service provider credentialing procedures fall, while also saying that people have the unassailable right to have complete unilateral authority about what happens inside their own bodies.^1^

.2b. And please, let’s not divert into the “but wut if it’s a free clinic” dodge on the regulate commerce thing. (I’m willing to assert that providing professional services is commerce; e.g. gmail can offer me free email but that’s still a commercial interaction.)

.3a. If this is a conversation about the prospective/alleged/asserted rights of a fetus, then this isn’t about what doctors can or cannot do. At all. The discussion of doctors and licensing and whatnot is entirely incidental in this case. That’s because the doctor’s role is secondary. Generally speaking, a drug-taker can’t get drugs without a drug dealer, so we have to be attentive to both sides of that exchange from the beginning, regulating suppliers. But a pregnant woman can have an abortion by herself, just by ingesting any number of substances that are legal to purchase and known effective abortaficients, e.g. sage tea of sufficient potency — though I am happy to acknowledge the medical complications from this are considerable and scary. Since I brought up a drug analogy for contrast purposes, it’s worth noting that when it comes to drugs which one can easily obtain — e.g. aerosol spray paint — we don’t arrest people for using them. (Though, maybe I’m wrong here? — are there any cases where a paint huffer has faced jail time for huffing? I hope not.)

.3b. If we’re having a discussion about the tension between a fetus’s rights and a woman’s rights, then this is about what a pregnant woman is prohibited by law to do, or to have done, to (tissues/entities/beings within)^2^ her own body, with penalties encoded into law.

.4a. All laws outlawing murder that I’m familiar with have a clause for self-defense. If another person takes you hostage, leeching nourishment from your body while saying they intend to do this for nine months, I assert killing that person would be generally acceptable.

.4b. I assert: if that fetus is a human being in the body, the pregnant woman automatically has a right to abort on grounds of self-defense. While the fetus is not committing the crime of imprisonment, the damage to the body it is doing is continual, and it’s reasonable to interpret that damage as endangerment sufficiently severe to warrant self-defense countermeasures.

(If you don’t believe pregnancy can wreak irrevocable havoc on a body–mayhem–and does so fairly consistently, this might just be a consequence of unfamiliarity.)

.4c. I’ll note that killing in self-defense is not made unjustifiable if we agree that the threatening entity being killed had no moral agency. If someone kills a sociopath who has kidnapped them, even if we agree the sociopath is legitimately too mentally ill to be considered a moral agent — meaning we’d deem them ‘not guilty’ in a jury — we still allow for the self-defense action to be legal.

.4cx. It’s not less legal to kill a threatening/damaging entity if that entity is an animal, someone in a blind rage, someone suffering hallucinations, etc. If anything, we tend to afford a stronger right to not be killed to people who can act as moral agents.

.4d. I would hate to answer “well let’s {put you in similar situation} and see how you like it” in response to disagreement about 4b-c, but I acknowledge it’s subject to dispute. Personally, I think women have a right to never be treated, by any entity whatsoever, in the way that a fetus treats its host (as do men and children). That’s the foundation of my entire stance, so far as I can self-assess.

.5. By arguing for abortion restrictions, I think you’re arguing that women do not have the right to never be treated in that way. That’s what I feel Tedra is getting at in her original post, though from a different angle. In my mind, that raises a few questions worth considering and discussing extensively:

.Q1. Why does a fetus have a right to treat a woman that way, if no other entity does?

.Q2a. Under what circumstances does a woman lose her right to never be treated in this way?

.Q2b. Why has the woman lost the right in those situations?

.Q3. I think this means that the rights of a fetus are not on any kind of personhood continuum. For example, the fetus loses the right to inhabit the body of its mother at the moment of birth: something drastic changes, rights-wise, in that instant. The newborn child has absolutely categorically no right to return to the womb, even if it were medically feasible and necessary for that infant’s survival. Surely we all agree on that? So, one millisecond after birth, the fetus’s rights drastically and irrevocably change, and become the rights we afford one another as human beings. Specifically, the mother’s right to the inviolability of her body categorically supersedes the right of the infant to survive, much less live well.

^1^For the sake of completeness, I’ll note I also support right to suicide including euthanasia, and have nothing but vitriol for the War On (Some) Drug Users. (Commercial exchange of substances is one thing, but we’re really going to jail someone because they have a substance in their bloodstream? Gah.)

^2^Slashes indicating I’m agreeing-to-disagree for the time being.

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Salient 01.28.12 at 5:13 am

Adding, as a quick extension.

You can only support restrictions on abortion if you don’t “trust” the pregnant woman to make a reasonable judgment about when self-defense is warranted. The way I see it, if there’s one thing near-universally true about pregnancy, it’s that it causes suffering and irrevocable changes to one’s body. The legitimacy of self-defense is assumed by default. If it’s really the case that you don’t feel a woman has the right to defend herself from entities leeching off her body, I’m just aghast that you would demand a woman to endure that kind of suffering for any entity’s sake. and you’re aghast that my default position is to believe the abortion is always warranted, and… well, there’s nothing more to discuss, I guess.

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faustusnotes 01.28.12 at 5:33 am

Salient, I don’t think that approach helps, though it’s quite ingenious. Largely because:

1. Your 4a – 4c self-defense examples are treated very differently under different legal systems, so presumably this means that different societies have different ideas about how much they trust people to make those judgments
2. Even conceding that self-defense against a fetus is a valid analogy, the fetus differs significantly from, say, an adult who took a woman captive and did the things you describe because the fetus didn’t choose any of this – it came about due to an act by (or to) the mother (whether voluntary or not), and in any self defense case the treatment of the self-defender would surely be different depending on whether the aggressor was doing it by accident or not…
3. Self-defense doesn’t always and everywhere require murder, and it’s possible for a self-defender to get into trouble for overstepping their rights. If for example you had been taken prisoner and were being force fed chemicals but then your captive left the door open, the car keys out and the car by the front door, and was snoozing in a drug-addicted haze in the next room, it would probably not become you to lock them in the house and burn it down. Similarly, if a viable fetus has a woman hostage[1], abortion is not her only escape route. In fact, your analogy suggests to me that if the “personhood” (or just the “rights”) of the fetus are at all an issue, the self-defense analogy is going to lead to abortion being seen as overkill. Far better, from a pro-choice point of view, to debate the rights or personhood from the start, or to focus on a direct moral dilemma involving juggling the conflicting rights of mother and fetus.
4. The legitimacy of self-defense in any other circumstance is not assumed by default (you at 701). In most circumstances the police charge you with manslaughter and then a jury of your peers decides whether your actions were justified. This line of analogy, far from granting a woman an assumed trust, puts her immediately into a position where society distrusts her motives and/or her decision-making ability.
5. If we were actually to pursue this analogy, we would be going well beyond what most anti-choicers (even the loopy fundies) do: they see abortion as a crime but generally baulk at charging women with manslaughter. Your model proposes precisely this (in theory at least), i.e. it admits the manslaughter nature of the “crime”, but says it’s okay because the self-defense is justified. Given the nature of this debate in the USA, that doesn’t seem to me like a step forward.


fn1: I’m finding writing these things down a little disturbing, but this is what the internet reduces us to …

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faustusnotes 01.28.12 at 5:38 am

And that self-defense point (at 4) is a good example of the problems in the OP. When a woman is assaulted by her partner over many years, then snaps and kills him, she is still charged with manslaughter and taken to trial; similarly a woman who kills a rapist in a dark alley. There is no implicit “trust” for the woman in this situation, even though it should be apparent to all but the most bigoted observer that the woman should be in an ideal position to judge her own interests against those of her attacker, and even though in this situation she is unlikely to know the ins-and-outs of the law as it pertains to self-defense (i.e. while the jury can deliberate on whether what she did was excessive, when she was deciding what to do she probably had no knowledge of what the law considers excessive).

So why do we as a society distrust women in this instance – where their life is at stake in a dark alley, the nature of what is about to happen is very clear to them, and the personhood of the other party definitively known – yet we are supposed to trust her in the other instance?

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DelRey 01.28.12 at 6:09 am

salient,

She’s under no obligation to ‘address your point.’ None of us are, and it’s really weird to complain that Tedra’s original post didn’t answer your question days later.

You are confused. The “she” in this instance is Meredith, not Tedra. And yes, she’s under no obligation to address my point. She didn’t address it.

It’s completely reasonable and rational to say that the government has the authority to regulate commerce, under which medical service provider credentialing procedures fall, while also saying that people have the unassailable right to have complete unilateral authority about what happens inside their own bodies.

No, it’s a contradiction to say that. Either “people have the unassailable right to have complete unilateral authority about what happens inside their own bodies,” in which case the government cannot prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion for any reason without violating that right, including the reason of protecting her safety, or people do not have the right. Which is it?

I assert: if that fetus is a human being in the body, the pregnant woman automatically has a right to abort on grounds of self-defense.

And I assert that that’s nonsense. A self-defense argument only works in cases in which completing the pregnancy would pose a serious threat to the woman’s life or health. And Roe already guarantees the right to abortion in such cases.

708

etv13 01.28.12 at 9:28 am

salient@700-01: while I disagree with much of your reasoning, largely for reasons similar to those set out by faustusnotes in 702, I really appreciate the courteous tone of your comment.

To add a little to what faustusnotes said in paragraph 4 of 702, self-defense is, in all US jurisdictions that I know anything about, an affirmative defense. That is, the person claiming it has the burden of proving that under the particular circumstances, her actions were justified. That’s a far cry from the kind of “trust” the original post asserts should determine our approach to abortion. Also, self-defense generally only entitles you to kill someone if you have a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily harm. You can’t kill someone to avoid a transient injury — maybe broken bones, but likely not a black eye. Your response is supposed to be more or less proportional to the threat. Some pregnancies pose a grave threat, and Roe v. Wade and, e.g., California’s abortion law deal with that issue by permitting even post-viability abortions where the mother’s life or health is threatened. I think the underlying rationale indeed derives from our concepts of the right to self-defense (it’s been nearly thirty years since I last read Roe), but self-defense as traditionally understood in the Anglo-American common law will only take you as far as Roe and the California statute, not all the way to unrestricted late-term abortion.

Please don’t feel obliged to respond, but if you could describe for me what it is you think is the harm resulting from the kind of restrictions contemplated by Roe, I would appreciate it. Do you think the number of women who are prevented from getting pre-viability abortions for reasons beyond their control, and who don’t have health reasons that would justify a post-viability abortion under Roe, is large enough that we ought to adjust our whole legal regime to take account of them?

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G. Mcthornbody 01.28.12 at 10:12 am

Breaking! T.Osell’s gender framework issues preemptively skirted by TV show!
http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070529000018/x-files/images/f/f6/Trust_No_One_tagline.jpg

Difficult realities persist!
http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/746e524dacf54bbdd4a571b537a3c6c590.png

Give up and give in. T.Osell is right no matter how much bold text anyone uses.

710

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 10:44 am

Bringing all these legalisms here (self-defense, hostage, fetus rights, and so on) strikes me as amazingly ridiculous. The laws are not handed down from God, they represent an (often uneasy) consensus achieved through negotiated compromise. Fluid, nuanced, constantly renegotiated. When someone attacks you with a knife and you shoot them dead, that’s self defense, that’s allowed, although there will be an investigation and, possibly, a trial. And what does it have to do with anything?

711

Salient 01.28.12 at 4:33 pm

Your 4a – 4c self-defense examples are treated very differently under different legal system

Fair enough, but I’m not going to let technical laws impact my assessment terribly much. I support as moral human rights, (1) a fairly broad (though probably not ‘universal’ whatever that would mean) right to self-defense of one’s own life and health, (2) an absolute, categorical, inviolable right to have unilateral authority over what happens in one’s own body.

If someone gets sentenced to jail in Burma for self-defense, I’d be pissed about a violation of human rights. If someone gets sentenced to jail in Brazil for having an abortion, I’m going to be pissed about a violation of human rights. The law doesn’t really enter into it; I was only pointing to the law to helpfully/hopefully indicate that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Sorry for the confusion about that, I acknowledge it was unclear.

A self-defense argument only works in cases in which completing the pregnancy would pose a serious threat to the woman’s life or health.

The problem is that somehow, you’ve convinced yourself that pregnancy does not automatically ‘pose a serious threat to one’s health.’ It does. Pregnancy poses grave risks to one’s health — carrying a fetus inherently means allowing an organism to leech your body for months.

From what I can see, is that you refuse to acknowledge that pregnancy automatically poses a serious health risk. I don’t know what to say to that, other than — suppose a woman thinks she is pregnant and is excited. She carries the fetus for six months, and sees a doctor. The doctor says, “uh, you’re not pregnant. There’s some other kind of growth happening inside you.”

That’s the easiest way to understand why the health risk is so fucking patently obvious to me: if it was not a fetus in there, we’d all immediately agree HOLY CRAP REMOVE IT NOW LOOK WHAT IT DID TO YOU. The changes one incurs in pregnancy are, inherently, a health risk compared to one’s pre-pregnancy state.

The protections that Roe granted ought to be absolute. By saying they are not absolute, you’re asserting that you have a better understanding of what poses a serious threat to a woman’s health than she herself does. And by ‘she herself’ I specifically mean ‘she along with the medical professionals, friends, and all the other people in her life that she consults during the decision-making process.’

I would be fine with a law that says: (1) we have a public health care system now, and invasive procedures are free, (2) medical professionals have the legal responsibility to consult in advance with anyone who intends to undergo any invasive procedure, informing them of the nature of the procedure and discussing its risks, provided the patient conscious and able to and etc.

That (2) does sort of sneak a lot of the ‘woman who wants an abortion must see a sonogram’ stuff through the back door, but once it’s free and guaranteed to not prohibit a woman from having the abortion, I can step back and say, okay, what we’re requiring is for doctors to provide additional information to the woman. So (2) would mean she has the legal right to demand that information (as well as the both-moral-and-legal right to refuse it).

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Salient 01.28.12 at 4:41 pm

Also–

Similarly, if a viable fetus has a woman hostage[1], abortion is not her only escape route.

…thank you for being willing to, for the sake of comity, write in terms that are uncomfortable to you; it’s a kindness and I appreciate it. But I’m still left wondering, what are the other escape routes?

After a few days thinking about it, I think, if Henri’s suggested c-section surgery way upthread were to become feasible, I could be okay with replacing abortion with c-section extraction for viable fetuses, at least in cases where extraction is not any more dangerous than abortion. I’m pretty sure that’s still respecting the right of the woman to have control over her own body.

So it’s certainly possible, at least, that I would be willing to acknowledge and accept other ‘escape routes’ that don’t require the woman to continue the pregnancy.

713

Sebastian 01.28.12 at 4:55 pm

“You can only support restrictions on abortion if you don’t “trust” the pregnant woman to make a reasonable judgment about when self-defense is warranted. “

The moral right to self defense still rarely comes down to trust (and btw it is very different in the UK for example than it is in the US). At a minimum you will almost always have an investigation into a claim of self defense, and very often you will have to go all the way to trial if things aren’t crystal clear to outsiders. So from the point of view of the original post, we clearly don’t trust anyone with self defense.

As for the ‘why do we let the fetus treat the woman that way’ formulation, I think the answer is that we believe that parents have special responsibilities to their children. A similar formulation would be “why do we allow unwanted children to extract large sums of money from a one night stand father for 18 years when we wouldn’t allow most people to do that?” The answer is that we think parent/child relationships have special characteristics. And that is where the continuum comes in. We let a woman abort an early term fetus because it isn’t close enough to a person. We might not let a woman abort a viable fetus, because it is at that point viable.

(Not also that viable fetuses don’t always HAVE to be aborted in order to be removed from the now unwilling mother). Yet Tedra’s formulation would have us believe that the woman not only has a right to not be pregnant anymore, but also has a right to make sure the fetus ends up dead instead of a live baby at the end of the process.

And it is no defense to say that no woman would want that, because we have cases where they do. Kermit Gosnell is charged with infanticide for being stupid enough to let some of viable fetuses get out of the womb before stabbing them in the spine. But those hundreds of viable fetuses that the grand jury found evidence for (but either couldn’t prove were out of the womb, or were barred by statute of limitations) all had women seeking abortions.

714

Sebastian 01.28.12 at 4:56 pm

sorry I didn’t see your comment immediately above mine until I posted which changes the color a bit

715

Lynne 01.28.12 at 5:19 pm

@salient “I support as moral human rights…an absolute, categorical, inviolable right to have unilateral authority over what happens in one’s own body.”

Yes. Yes!

I wasn’t going to comment any more in this thread (I applaud your tenacity) but I see people skipping lightly over the fact that by legislating which reasons are good enough for a woman to seek an abortion they are abrogating the woman’s authority over her own body. Any legal prohibitions to abortion are paternalistic in that way.

I would ask that people not ignore the enormity of abrogating that authority. Even if they believe, for various reasons, that it has to be done as the lesser of evils, just admit that such a law does, as various posters here have stated, deprive women of moral agency.

A few hundred comments back I addressed the use of the word “trust”, to no avail, it seems. I can use that word to mean I have confidence in someone’s judgement, or the way it is used, I think, in the OP, to mean that a decision falls outside my responsibility and belongs to others. The latter does not mean all decisions will be right but it means they are not my responsibility. (Upthread I compared trusting a child to cross a street with trusting that same child, as an adult, to handle his own finances. In the former case I’d withdraw that trust without hesitation if need be. In the latter, it is no longer my business.)

I believe that we can so easily discuss interfering with a woman’s reproductive life because of deeply entrenched sexism and misogyny which blind us to the fact that to do so is an egregious violation of basic human rights that should be done, if done at all, with full awareness of what we are about. I’m not seeing that awareness in the comments here about restrictions on third-trimester abortions.

Note that I have not said that I, personally, would not favour such restrictions. I live in a a country where abortion has been decriminalized. I would be interested to know how many have been performed in the second and third trimesters, and for what reason. Is there paternalism in that? If I move to act on it, yes, absolutely there is.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 5:53 pm

an absolute, categorical, inviolable right to have unilateral authority over what happens in one’s own body

This doesn’t help at all in arguing against banning a medical procedure. This only helps in arguing against forced abortions: those would have to be substituted by infanticide.

717

Salient 01.28.12 at 7:14 pm

This doesn’t help at all in arguing against banning a medical procedure.

This is coming back to one of the second-order things that I think we are trying to avoid to stay on-topic, namely, the role of doctors–

That is, (as I understand it) we’re not currently talking about prohibiting doctors from performing abortion. We’re talking about whether we should place legal restrictions on a pregnant woman’s ability to abort a fetus inside of her. We are assuming, for the time being, that we’re not assessing the role of doctors. (If you’re not assuming that, you might have to wait around a while while some of us hash that part out, before anything I say will have relevance to you.)

BTW, I’m guessing the majority of women in the world who get an abortion do so informally with no doctor and only the help of amateurs. So this isn’t a “let’s argue she has a right that could never be exercised in real life” abstract thing.

…And if nobody feels we need to discuss that thing, because we’re all agreeing a woman has a categorical right to abort a fetus inside of her on her own, and we’re just arguing about whether (a) she should be able to have a doctor perform that abortion or (b) she should have to do it herself without the benefits of professional medical procedure providers, that’s a seismic shift in this conversation. I have arguments for why it should be legal for doctors to perform abortions, which elsewhere I’ll be willing to share, but I’m not giving them at the moment, because they’re not relevant until we agree that those abortions should be moral/legal for the woman to have. (Kind of like I could provide some arguments for why euthanasia ought to be legal, but they’re not relevant if there’s disagreement over whether suicide should be legal in the first place.)

Anyhow.

718

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 7:38 pm

I could ban any assistance in aborting a fetus, just like assisting with suicide is banned in most states, – and nevertheless your absolute authority over your body would remain intact.

719

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 7:43 pm

…I mean, at this point the distinction becomes mostly academic. You can still take a very hot bath, and you don’t need to advertise your intentions.

720

Harold 01.28.12 at 7:47 pm

The article referred to above by Jerry Vinokurov at 311 is very helpful
http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/06/02/thirdtrimester-abortions-facts-stories-and-how-you-can-help-0

Wikipedia also has good information (as far as I can tell) about late term abortion and fetal viability.

As far as 644, delivering viable fetuses by Caesarean section and giving them up for adoption — http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101122111508.htm

Where it can be avoided, prematurity is not an ideal option for the child (and neither is being unwanted by either parent).

Also Roe vs Wade was decided by an all-male court.

721

DelRey 01.28.12 at 8:41 pm

salient,
The problem is that somehow, you’ve convinced yourself that pregnancy does not automatically ‘pose a serious threat to one’s health.’ It does.

No it doesn’t. All pregnancies pose some risk to health, as do all abortions. But the mere presence of some degree of risk has never justified claims of self-defense. Roe explicitly distinguishes abortions that are necessary to protect the woman’s health from abortions that are not, and permits states to ban the latter after fetal viability.

The protections that Roe granted ought to be absolute.

Says you and a small number of other people. There’s even fewer of you than there are people who think we ought to ban all abortions. Even countries like Sweden restrict late-term abortions, and there is no significant political movement to repeal those restrictions. You just don’t seem to realize how extreme your position is.

By saying they are not absolute, you’re asserting that you have a better understanding of what poses a serious threat to a woman’s health than she herself does.

No, I’m saying that doctors and medical authorities have a better understanding of what poses a serious threat to a woman’s health than she herself does. You’re back to the absurd position of claiming that we should accept individual self-diagnosis by people with no medical expertise over the judgements of physicians and other medical authorities.

722

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 8:45 pm

Salient,

It seems to me your argument is basically the violinist scenario, briefly invoked by Tedra upthread. This is an old pro-abortion paper from the 70′s, and you may be familiar with it, but in case not, I’ll summarize. A woman wakes up with a great violinist surgically grafted onto her back. If she has him removed, he will die and she will live. Otherwise, both will live, but she will be impaired by his presence. Does she have the right to remove him?

The paper doesn’t actually argue yes, but holds that if we say yes (which most people do, but not everyone), the analogy to pregnancy is close enough to justify abortion at will. What is considered the strength of the argument is that it does not rely on according the fetus less than full human rights, yet still reaches a pro-choice conclusion.

Here’s something I posted about this when it came up here before:

“Well, the Violinist argument has one feature of a genuine experiment: one can tweak the parameters and see if the results change. For example, as Thomson concedes, the problem as stated is analogous chiefly to pregnancy resulting from rape. She insists that most abortion opponents do not distinguish between rape and consensual sex for the purpose of justifying abortion. I’m not sure that was true in her day, and it is certainly not true now. 57% of Americans oppose abortion simply to end pregnancy (with no other special considerations like health threat to the mother), but only 19% oppose it for rape – a 3-to-1 ratio (source). Therefore, at least 2/3 of abortion opponents distinguish between pregnancy from rape and from consensual sex. Which undermines a key claim of Thomson regarding the arguments of the other side: that they are based on the right-to-life of the fetus and nothing else. If this were true, they would not distinguish the case of rape. And it doesn’t seem to be true rhetorically either: Robertson and Warren [abortion opponents Thomson specifically attacks - M] go on and on about personal responsibility, which is obviously, among other things, about the responsibility of the woman for getting pregnant in the first place.

So let’s tweak the experiment to make it more like consensual sex. Suppose you decide to take place in a reverse lottery, set up by the Music Society. Everyone in the lottery gets some moderate reward – $100 say – just as people engage in consensual sex because they get something from it, be it physical, emotional, financial, whatever. You know, however, that there is a chance you will lose the lottery and end up with a violinist on your back for nine months. You lose. Do you have the right to saw him off now? I think most people would say not. Which is consistent with abortion, where most people agree it is justified if the sex was forced and not otherwise.”

This gets back to your earlier question about rape. The notion that the decision to engage in sex involves a decision to accept the consequences is precisely the basis of paternity laws, and the popular rhetoric about “deadbeat dads” suggests that this is indeed a strongly moralistic judgment in our culture. It also has other applications in our culture. As I also wrote:

“And we do not have any problem in other (realistic) cases saying that people who take risks are responsible for the consequences if those risks go wrong. The drunk didn’t intend to run down granma; he may indeed have taken “every reasonable precaution” to prevent it, save, of course, not driving drunk. One can suppose the bankers did not intend to crash the system and tried to avoid doing so, but were still willing to take certain risks, for which they were rewarded, and, thus, they are responsible.”

I would point out also that an absolute right to control what goes on inside your own body was a lot of implications: not just an end to the war on drugs, but an end to prescription requirements.

Then there is the question you brought up earlier about paying for abortions. You don’t accept the legitimacy of paid abortions, but hold that this does not amount to control over what the woman can do with her body because your laws would penalize only the money provider, not the woman. But this, of course, is precisely how virtually all the anti-abortion laws recently proposed work: they treat the abortion providers as criminals, but do not penalize the woman. Abortion proponents routinely regard this as asserting control over the woman’s body nonetheless, because they are making unavailable something that could otherwise be available, and thereby removing an option that woman would otherwise have.

723

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 9:06 pm

There is one debated abortion restriction, as usually argued, that does not come down to a conflict between the rights of woman and fetus: sex-selective abortion. Here the argument is typically that gender imbalance poses a major problem for society and that society has a right to intervene in individual decisions to protect its own interest. Problems with gender-imbalanced societies are not hard to picture, and studies of societies that practice sex-selective infanticide suggest concerns are warranted. Does society have such a right?

Suppose some government or group of multi-billionaires were concerned about overpopulation and offered $5000 to anyone, male or female, between 18 and 30, who would agree to be permanently sterilized. If people have complete control over their reproductive systems, it would seem they could choose this, but it is easy to foresee that the respondents would be primarily the poor, and therefore concentrated in racial minorities, women, the disabled, people living in generally poor areas, drug addicts, and other demographic specificities. Keep in mind that some of these people will believe they will never want children anyway, making this a pure gain, and, of that group, some will be correct. Does society have the right to say we do not want to see our black population reduced by the free choices of their own members? I think it’s a difficult question, but absolute control of your own reproductive system does not treat it as one and leads to an answer I think many liberals would be loathe to endorse.

One might object that the moral difference is bringing money into the equation, but a common – in fact, I would think the most common – reason for abortion is the financial hardship of pregnancy. If one accepts the legitimacy of this, money is already in the equation.

724

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 9:11 pm

Upthread I suggested that most people oppose abortion for consensual sex. I think that is because of the source I was looking at at the time, which had statistics supporting this, but people’s opinions are complicated, so I probably shouldn’t state them as simply as that. This doesn’t affect the argument, though, which is that most abortion opponents distinguish cases of rape.

725

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 9:16 pm

Oh, and I should have said “financial hardship of parenthood”, not “financial hardship of pregnancy”

726

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 9:27 pm

I guess I might as well add that, while I think restricting abortion for consensual sex but not rape is a defensible position, it would entirely fail in practice. Give women a strong incentive to yell rape and they will yell rape. I realize some here will hold that to be a horrendously low appraisal of women, but women risk their lives for illegal abortions. I’m sorry, but I do not hold woman to be invariably so selfless that they will never throw someone they had casual sex with under the bus for something they would risks their own lives for. I wouldn’t trust men to either, if it were possible to reverse the situation. Most people are not saints, Even most of the claimed “saints” are not saints.

727

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 9:34 pm

I guess I should say regarding 720 that I don’t think it’s actually a very difficult questions, but I think the answer is yes: society would have a right to stop paid sterilizations. It’s mostly a gut reaction, though.

728

Salient 01.28.12 at 11:09 pm

It’s kind of interesting, reviewing this thread, how there seems to always be exactly one person carrying the openly-hostile-to-OP-and-its-defenders torch along. (And plenty of much more reasonable comments that disagree with the OP with enthusiasm but not aggression.) That’s probably not meaningful, but it’s a bit striking. If I were in this for the combat and not the conversation, I’d describe it as Whack-A-Mole, but given that I’ve almost certainly been that one person before and might actually be the counterpart to that person on this thread now for all I know, that hardly seems fair.

which brings me to
@DelRay

C’mon. By the time we’re in “Yes it does.” / “No it doesn’t.” back-and-forth, then we’ve got a sense of one another’s perspective and have even isolated a specific principle which we disagree on, so there’s really just nothing more to talk about, right? I mean, we could try to trip each other up, back and forth, but we disagree over something so fundamental that the rest is just quibble-details.

Not to mention, I haven’t heard the “Says you” comeback since middle school; that and “You just don’t seem to realize how extreme your position is” were both good for a laugh, or at least a half-smile; the ‘Salient stakes out an extreme position’ phenomenon is nearly a universal constant.^1^ It’s just who I am, it’s not confined to this one topic.

BTW, “trying to trip me up” is a near-perfect description, to wit: You’re back to the absurd position of claiming that we should accept individual self-diagnosis by people with no medical expertise over the judgements of physicians and other medical authorities.

What is this shit? Diagnosis? Are you serious? You’re telling me you don’t trust a woman to verify she is pregnant? Are you suggesting that my position about abortion implies that a woman can’t receive a pregnancy test from a doctor? Is our entire argument over whether a woman needs to be diagnosed as pregnant before she receive an abortion?[long row of interrobang characters goes here]

No. Wait. What am I doing. Nevermind. Just never mind. We’re done talking. I won’t respond further to you, and won’t read any further responses from you. I should’ve left well enough alone from the start. You win, or something. +10 points to you.

729

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 11:20 pm

One more thing: the first two comments in this thread made perfectly valid arguments that Tedra dismissed out of hand bacause they compare pregnant woman to slaveowners and rapists. Gandi and Hitler were both major political figures of the 20th century. I have just compared Gandi to Hitler in a perfectly valid statement. Basketballs and the sun are both approximately spherical. I have just compared the sun to a basketball, far-fetched in most respects, valid in this. There exists no A and B such that all possible comparisons of A and B are invalid. Try and come up with such a pair. Rapists and pregnant women are both homo sapiens. The validity of any comparison has to rest in part on the nature of the comparison and not simply the nature of the things being compared.

The comparisons in the first 2 comments are to other situations where society overrides the moral judgment of people involved in an act in the belief that the act harms other people, whether the person performing it believes so or not. One strength of the comparisons is that slavery and rape are both cases where the perpetrators sometimes argue that what they are doing is not immoral (“slaves are bettter off” or “she really wanted it”). This belief in overriding judgment of involved parties to protect other parties is the same that underlies non-parternalistic objections to abortion, which, as I pointed out in # 638, is most of them. One can argue that the belief is false, or that other considerations are of greater import, but the comparison of the proposal where we would let women be the sole arbiters of whether what they are doing is criminal to other situations where we could but do not allow this is perfectly valid. Taking offense on the basis of other differences between the things being compared is not an argument. There will always be differences in comparisons of unlike things, and these differences may be important, but that does not necessarily mean they are important to the comparison at hand.

730

DelRey 01.28.12 at 11:29 pm

salient,
Not to mention, I haven’t heard the “Says you” comeback since middle school

You’ve missed the point again, which is to demonstrate how extreme and unpopular your position is. The fact that no liberal democracy in the world, including the ones generally considered the most progressive on women’s issues, has eliminated all legal restrictions on abortion, or shows any sign that it is likely to do so in the foreseeable future, strongly suggests that your analysis of the issue is seriously flawed. Your continued misrepresentation of the doctrine of self-defense, as it has always been understood and practised our legal tradition, is but one example of your errors.

Diagnosis? Are you serious? You’re telling me you don’t trust a woman to verify she is pregnant?

No, I’m telling you that doctors and medical professionals are in a better position than individuals with no medical expertise to evaluate the risk of pregnancy to a woman’s health. Again, I stated this very clearly. I don’t know why you keep responding to me as if I had said “whether she is pregnant” rather than “the risk of pregnancy to her health.”

731

Martin Bento 01.28.12 at 11:32 pm

DelRey wrote (about Salient)

“You’ve missed the point again, which is to demonstrate how extreme and unpopular your position is. The fact that no liberal democracy in the world, including the ones generally considered the most progressive on women’s issues, has eliminated all legal restrictions on abortion, or shows any sign that it is likely to do so in the foreseeable future, strongly suggests that your analysis of the issue is seriously flawed.”

No it doesn’t. It just shows her position is unpopular. Many positions today uncontroversial – wrongness of slavery, etc. – were once unpopular. Thomson made the same error in trying to dismiss that her example was a better characterization of rape than most sex on the claimed basis that few of her opponents made much of this distinction. Whether it is a valid position is not a function of how many people hold it.

732

DelRey 01.28.12 at 11:50 pm

@728,
No it doesn’t. It just shows her position is unpopular. Many positions today uncontroversial – wrongness of slavery, etc. – were once unpopular.

So what? Beliefs about morality change with conditions. Conditions are very different today than they were when slavery was generally considered to be morally acceptable. If salient’s analysis of abortion is valid under today’s conditions, why do so few people accept it?

733

Salient 01.29.12 at 12:05 am

@Henri, @Martin Bento

I appreciate your replies, here’s my response–

I could ban any assistance in aborting a fetus, just like assisting with suicide is banned in most states, – and nevertheless your absolute authority over your body would remain intact.

True. I’d certainly protest that law if it were to be enacted, but for entirely different reasons than what I have proposed here. That law would be robust against the human rights arguments I’ve been making in this thread.

…I mean, at this point the distinction becomes mostly academic. You can still take a very hot bath, and you don’t need to advertise your intentions.

Are you suggesting that we not follow up on miscarriages to investigate whether there was intent to abort? Seriously, if the entire argument is that a woman is entitled to abort, but not entitled to medical assistance, then… well, that’s just a different thing, and I’d have to offer entirely different arguments.

Presumably, under the hypothetical law we’re discussing, if someone knows you were pregnant and are now not, they should report that incident to the police so they can conduct an investigation. The thought of that honestly sickens me, but I’m not the only one who finds themselves in uncomfortable territory, and I’m trying to be as non-vitriolic as possible when pondering this out.

The paper doesn’t actually argue yes, but holds that if we say yes (which most people do, but not everyone), the analogy to pregnancy is close enough to justify abortion at will.

The claim of similarity in the first place struck me as poor logic. I can’t remember if I ever went back and read the original paper, but I’ve read enough summaries similar to yours for me to be able to respond to the summary. The logic there doesn’t appeal to me at all. Without the overarching principle that we have the absolute right to have control over our own bodies, comparing these scenarios doesn’t make any sense to me. I appreciate both your patient summary and the ideas that you derive from it, but I can’t see enough similarity between the examples. To use the usual analogy, without the overarching category of ‘fruit’ there’s no particular reason to compare apples to oranges.

Also, I’ll acknowledge again that I perceive myself to be in a distinct minority, and I accept that. That kind of sweeps away the mention

I have things I could say about the relationship between sexist patriarchy and holding women ‘accountable’ for sex by enforced pregnancy, but I’ll outsource that to Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon.
http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/its_about_punishing_all_the_ladies….all_the_ladies
http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/reproductive_rights_and_the_power_of_the_secret_ballot
http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/the-anti-choice-fight-for-dog-women
http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/biology_isnt_telling_anyone_to_deprive_women_of_access_to_reproductive_cont

while I think restricting abortion for consensual sex but not rape is a defensible position, it would entirely fail in practice. Give women a strong incentive to yell rape and they will yell rape.

Following up on this, literally two-thirds of my close female friends (6 of 9) have been raped. None of the rapes were prosecuted; most were reported without charges ever being filed. In a city I used to live in, a DA categorically refuses to prosecute any rape charge filed by a woman who had consumed alcohol the same day as the rape, citing low rates of successful prosecutions as the only reason why. There was this one guy who was a member of a particular church, we confirmed had raped five people in the church; he still came to service and when we got up to say our peace-be-with-yous and refused to acknowledge him and turned our backs, we were chided for being unwelcoming by people who knew the victim’s description of what had happened and thought of themselves as friends of the victim but didn’t trust the victim to know if it was ‘really’ rape or didn’t trust the victim to have expressed lack of consent strongly enough. These kind of excuses made for rapists disgust me, but they also indicate to me that there’s no way to fairly adjudicate a rape clause. Basically, even if women were all honest, we’d still be fucked, because a huge number of people basically just don’t believe in date rape, in practice if not in theory.

(And I agree that adjudicating a rape clause might well increase the number of accusations of rape. But just as importantly, people would be less likely to believe actual victims of actual rape — “oh you’re just saying he raped you so you can get an abortion” would become a standard assumption.)

One might object that the moral difference is bringing money into the equation, but a common – in fact, I would think the most common – reason for abortion is the financial hardship of pregnancy.

I’d welcome data on this. My assumption is that the most common reason for abortion is because she doesn’t want to carry a fetus to term and have a child. English sentence structure makes that sound snarky, but I mean it as non-snarkily as possible. My assumption is also that the second most common reason for abortion is because maybe the woman does want kids, but she doesn’t want to have kid(s) with the person she presumes or knows is the father.

…OT, but it just occurred to me that we don’t have a word for a man corresponding to ‘pregnant woman’ in our language. I almost typed ‘father’ unthinkingly.

734

Salient 01.29.12 at 12:09 am

@Henri, @Martin Bento

I appreciate your replies, here’s my response—
I could ban any assistance in aborting a fetus, just like assisting with suicide is banned in most states, – and nevertheless your absolute authority over your body would remain intact.

True. I’d certainly protest that law if it were to be enacted, but for entirely different reasons than what I have proposed here. That law would be robust against the human rights arguments I’ve been making in this thread.

…I mean, at this point the distinction becomes mostly academic. You can still take a very hot bath, and you don’t need to advertise your intentions.

Are you suggesting that we not follow up on miscarriages to investigate whether there was intent to abort? Seriously, if the entire argument is that a woman is entitled to abort, but not entitled to medical assistance, then… well, that’s just a different thing, and I’d have to offer entirely different arguments.

Presumably, under the hypothetical law we’re discussing, if someone knows you were pregnant and are now not, they should report that incident to the police so they can conduct an investigation. The thought of that honestly sickens me, but I’m not the only one who finds themselves in uncomfortable territory, and I’m trying to be as non-vitriolic as possible when pondering this out.

The paper doesn’t actually argue yes, but holds that if we say yes (which most people do, but not everyone), the analogy to pregnancy is close enough to justify abortion at will.

The claim of similarity in the first place struck me as poor logic. I can’t remember if I ever went back and read the original paper, but I’ve read enough summaries similar to yours for me to be able to respond to the summary. The logic there doesn’t appeal to me at all. Without the overarching principle that we have the absolute right to have control over our own bodies, comparing these scenarios doesn’t make any sense to me. I appreciate both your patient summary and the ideas that you derive from it, but I can’t see enough similarity between the examples. To use the usual analogy, without the overarching category of ‘fruit’ there’s no particular reason to compare apples to oranges.

Also, I’ll acknowledge again that I perceive myself to be in a distinct minority, and I accept that. That kind of sweeps away the mention

I have things I could say about the relationship between sexist patriarchy and holding women ‘accountable’ for sex by enforced pregnancy, but I’ll outsource that to Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon.
[links redacted to dodge auto-moderation filter]

while I think restricting abortion for consensual sex but not rape is a defensible position, it would entirely fail in practice. Give women a strong incentive to yell rape and they will yell rape.

Following up on this, literally two-thirds of my close female friends (6 of 9) have been raped. None of the rapes were prosecuted; most were reported without charges ever being filed. In a city I used to live in, a DA categorically refuses to prosecute any rape charge filed by a woman who had consumed alcohol the same day as the rape, citing low rates of successful prosecutions as the only reason why. There was this one guy who was a member of a particular church, we confirmed had raped five people in the church; he still came to service and when we got up to say our peace-be-with-yous and refused to acknowledge him and turned our backs, we were chided for being unwelcoming by people who knew the victim’s description of what had happened and thought of themselves as friends of the victim but didn’t trust the victim to know if it was ‘really’ rape or didn’t trust the victim to have expressed lack of consent strongly enough. These kind of excuses made for rapists disgust me, but they also indicate to me that there’s no way to fairly adjudicate a rape clause. Basically, even if women were all honest, we’d still be fucked, because a huge number of people basically just don’t believe in date rape, in practice if not in theory.

(And I agree that adjudicating a rape clause might well increase the number of accusations of rape. But just as importantly, people would be less likely to believe actual victims of actual rape—“oh you’re just saying he raped you so you can get an abortion” would become a standard assumption.)

One might object that the moral difference is bringing money into the equation, but a common – in fact, I would think the most common – reason for abortion is the financial hardship of pregnancy.

I’d welcome data on this. My assumption is that the most common reason for abortion is because she doesn’t want to carry a fetus to term and have a child. English sentence structure makes that sound snarky, but I mean it as non-snarkily as possible. My assumption is also that the second most common reason for abortion is because maybe the woman does want kids, but she doesn’t want to have kid(s) with the person she presumes or knows is the father.

…OT, but it just occurred to me that we don’t have a word for a man corresponding to ‘pregnant woman’ in our language. I almost typed ‘father’ unthinkingly.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 12:09 am

I don’t see any strong reason to assume prevailing moral views are correct. Even if they are, if they are imperfect, the only likely way they will be changed is by challenge from opposing views no currently popular. So unpopularity cannot be a basis for dismissing opposing views, unless you think prevailing views are beyond improvement.

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Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 12:16 am

725: No. Wait. What am I doing. Nevermind. Just never mind. We’re done talking.

I’d just like to reiterate my earlier remarks about finger-puppets, single-syllable words and communication with DelRey. Some denounced the sentiment as “unpardonably rude” at the time, and to be sure, it is — but unfortunately it’s also an accurate description. Sometimes the truth is just unpardonably rude.

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Meredith 01.29.12 at 12:19 am

Thank you for the further analysis, Martin Bento. I’m too spent to add anything here — and don’t really have anything to add in any case,not at least until I’ve thought through more and lived more. Your comments give me much to think with and through.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 12:25 am

Previous addressed to Delrey

Salient wrote:

“But just as importantly, people would be less likely to believe actual victims of actual rape—“oh you’re just saying he raped you so you can get an abortion” would become a standard assumption.”

I agree with this, so trying to thread this needle would probably lead both to more false accusations and to more true accusations not being believed. Bad all around.

Would many women submit to dangerous illegal abortions to avoid the ordeal of pregnancy? For healthy and especially young women (which is who has most abortions), illegal abortion must be more dangerous, and more likely to produce long-term problems than pregnancy and childbirth. Whether the ordeal of an illegal abortion is worse than the ordeal of birth is beyond my knowledge, but I would think it varies a lot by specifics (abortion technique, how mature the fetus etc.). So I just don’t see many women reaching for a coat hanger or for sage tea because they are afraid of the 9 months or the delivery room. If that were the case, you would expect seeking illegal abortion to not correlate with things like financial stability, and I’m under the impression there is such a correlation. Also, you would expect young women to be less likely to have abortions, as they are (beyond the age of 16 or so) better equipped to withstand pregnancy and childbirth.

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Salient 01.29.12 at 12:29 am

Sometimes the truth is just unpardonably rude.

I don’t know about that, but there does seem to be some bizarre insistence that growing a leeching growing mass of flesh in your abdomen is not a state of chronic unhealth. If I have a tumor, I go see the doctor, and while they may run tests to see precisely WTF it is, they are as sure as hell going to remove it. That’s almost certainly true even if the tumor is entirely benign and we have a reasonable expectation it’ll go away eventually in a cataclysmic painful flush-out. (To which I’d say, “if the flushing-out part is inevitable let’s do it now.”

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Salient 01.29.12 at 12:38 am

Would many women submit to dangerous illegal abortions to avoid the ordeal of pregnancy?

We’re in roundabout agreement. Pregnancy is an illness which some women are willing to endure in order to have a biological child. People don’t want to have a biological child for all sorts of reasons, and I’m happy to presume along with you that one consideration for that is almost always financial stability. But the question is, still, do I want a biological child badly enough that I’m willing to endure 9 months of illness in order to have? If that part wasn’t a huge and omnipresent consideration, the “carry to term, then give to adoption” option would suffice.

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Harold 01.29.12 at 12:46 am

This post has been suffering from conceptual confusion since the beginning about what constitutes “late term”. Some people are talking about second term abortion and some people about third term (after the 24th month). But according to the Guttmacher Institute third term account for less than one percent of abortions, whereas the US has the highest rate of second term abortion in the world, performed disproportionately on impoverished teenagers who have no medical care, let alone continuity of care, and who are required to pay for the procedure out of their own pocket (as is true in no other industrialized country, where it would be provided free of charge.) As shown in these two articles pointed out by poster ehj2 on another thread:
Part 1
http://bigthink.com/ideas/42097?page=all

Part 2
http://bigthink.com/ideas/42197?page=all

These articles show that there are economic incentives to force women to have abortions in the second trimester when they would prefer the first, because they can charge more for 2nd trimester abortions. Also teenagers are less regular and less in a position to find out they are pregnant early. The people who are passing laws (such as in the state of Texas) restricting access to abortion, are not liberals like Naomi Wolf who are “objectively misogynst”, but political opportunists and fanatical right wingers, the usual suspects. All this talk about the prom, and the violinist and so on, is really a terrific red herring.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 1:36 am

Harold, people are talking about many aspects of the abortion debate, not just term. I don’t think the original post addressed term at all beyond claiming it irrelevant. You want to talk about term, fine, and thank you for the links, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are confused or throwing about red herring because we are focused elsewhere.

BTW, do you mean 24th week? If a woman hasn’t given birth after two years of pregnancy, I would definitely advocate surgical intervention.

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Harold 01.29.12 at 2:03 am

Yes, I mean 24th week!

I don’t agree with you Martin, even though your example above of the hypothetical billionaire giving money to people to abort babies of a specific gender was quite interesting. (Billionaires in Washington D.C., are, as we speak, donating money to Washington, D.C. public school teachers to be paid as “bonuses” [sic] of $20,000 each to give up their pension and employment rights. So it is not all that far-fetched a scenario.)

Nevertheless, there have been many references here to term and lateness, with reference to the increasing discomfort it supposedly causes in people. Tedra mentioned specifically a teenager in the 7th month. Another poster, Norwegian Guy, called a pregnancy “late term” meaning after the 12th month.

For myself, I am rather heartened that the discussion seems to have moved in a more liberal direction than what one would have heard when I was young (aeons ago). Most people now really do believe, or at least will publicly admit to believe a woman has a right to end a pregnancy in the first trimester. That is a big change– even though they are not yet willing to provide funds to make health care accessible, but maybe even that is slowly changing.

(I am sorry I don’t have the ability to proofread as much as I probably should)

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 2:37 am

Harold, what are you talking about? I brought up a hypothetical aobut billionaires paying young people of either gender to become sterilized. Salient brought up people paying for abotions. Don’t misrepresent me.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 3:28 am

I could use some proofreading too. In any case, maybe Harold meant that I had projected that such sterilizations would disproportionately affect the poor, who are disproportionately female. But we’re talking sterilizations, here, not abortions, and we’re talking a statistical effect some might predict, not what people are being paid to do. I designed that hypothetical specifically to factor out a) the rights of the fetus, since there is, as yet, no fetus, and b) sexism, as the sterilization could apply to either gender.

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Harold 01.29.12 at 3:57 am

Sorry Martin!

747

Harold 01.29.12 at 4:14 am

I ought to have been reading and writing (and proofreading, not my strong suit) at a less busy time in my household — still, the idea of injecting payments of money in a deregulated environment is an interesting one.

748

Meredith 01.29.12 at 6:03 am

I really meant to be quiet, and I don’t set out to find ways to inject David Graeber (or any number of others who have studied and written about gift economies/societies and pre-monetary exchange economies/societies very different from our own), but. Maybe the ill-ease many people tend to feel when money is injected into attempts to construct moral equations involving their own or others’ bodies (bringing a fetus to term, abortion, sterilization, kidneys) is due to something — well, call it atavistic wisdom or call it foolish nostalgia — that resists thinking in terms of barter and exchange, much less the modern monetized versions of those transactions.
A gift is given by a willing giver and received by a willing receiver. Which isn’t to say giver and receiver aren’t part of a larger social network — quite the opposite — or of a network which slyly insists its pressures and obligations on all parties, sometimes so that they’re not entirely happy about giving or receiving — in fact, they may be quite unhappy about it — or that elaborate power games, diffuse or pointed, aren’t involved in the act of giving or receiving — usually, they are, maybe always (at some level). But it IS a different kind of economy, and one that may have a lot to do with how many people tend to think, even today, about sterilization, pregnancy, and so forth.
Btw, I’m not at all discouraging using modern modes of economic exchange as part of the analysis of the questions being raised here — quite the opposite. Already it’s been productive, I think.

749

DelRey 01.29.12 at 7:29 am

@731, Martin bento
I don’t see any strong reason to assume prevailing moral views are correct.

I don’t see any strong reason to assume that ANY moral view is “correct,” as opposed to “incorrect.” What is it even supposed to mean to say that? How could anyone ever discover whether a moral view is “correct” or not?

I ask again, if salient’s analysis of abortion is valid under today’s conditions, why do so few people accept it? Do you think they’re blinded by some kind of prejudice? Ignorant of some crucial fact of biology? Or what?

@735, salient
I don’t know about that, but there does seem to be some bizarre insistence that growing a leeching growing mass of flesh in your abdomen is not a state of chronic unhealth.

One of the ironies of the far left and the far right is how similar they are in their blindnesses. Extreme anti-abortionists tend to dehumanize pregnant women. When they mention the woman at all, she is usually characterized as merely a kind of container or incubator. Their focus is entirely on the rights and interests of the fetus (or “baby,” as they usually call it). Similarly, the extreme left tends to dehumanize the fetus, just as you do above, characterizing it as merely a mass of tissue, blind to its similarities to a born human being.

750

Salient 01.29.12 at 8:41 am

DelRay, kindly do fuck off.

I’m saying this as straightforwardly as possible, because you seem to be struggling with some blindness problems yourself. In fact, let’s be as clear as possible: Fuck off. Kindly or no. We — you and I — are not talking anymore. Responding to me in any form is at this point, and has been for some time now, the online rhetorical equivalent of chasing me down the street shouting further invective after me.

So this is me turning around, in the middle of the street, and saying, as unambiguously as I can: Fuck. Off. Hopefully that’s clear enough to bypass any blindness filters you have; in any case I feel like I’ve fulfilled whatever responsibility I have to be unambiguous. I’d still like to be able to visit this thread to listen in on the current Harold – Martin exchange without having to put up with you flinging shit at me. thanks in advance.

751

Salient 01.29.12 at 8:45 am

…which is not me requesting utter silence from you, by the way; just me requesting that you cease attempting to talk to me. & I’m perfectly happy to reciprocate.

752

etv13 01.29.12 at 11:29 am

Salient @736: “Pregnancy is an illness” — No. Pregnancy is not an illness; it’s the perfectly healthy way all mammals reproduce themselves. A fetus in a normal pregnancy is not analogous to a tumor in any meaningful way. Given the etymology of the word “hysterical,” I hesitate to apply it to characterizations of fetuses as tumors or parasites, but I do find those characterizations really overblown and troubling. In the vast majority of pregnancies that don’t spontaneously abort, these “tumors” and “parasites” go on to become our children. I can’t speak to anybody else’s experience of pregnancy, obviously, but I never had the sense in my own that I was sick (even though I had gestational diabetes), and it was after my daughter was born and I was breastfeeding her that I had the occasional feeling that my own substance was being exhausted in the effort to nourish her.

Also, we aren’t discussing a “hypothetical law,” or one that is about a woman’s right to abort a fetus all on her own. In Roe v. Wade, the 40th anniversary of which was the occasion for the original post, the right to an abortion was held to derive from both the privacy rights of women and the professional judgment of physicians. In the decision, the two are closely interconnected. Roe isn’t about a woman’s right to abort her own fetus; it’s about her right to make decisions guided by the professional judgment of her physician. You can certainly argue that the rights that Roe recognized are too narrowly circumscribed, but that’s the existing law that we’re dealing with, as is the California statute I described upthread. There’s nothing hypothetical about them.

Finally, I just don’t get this hostility toward DelRey. It seems unjustifiably nasty to me. Then again, I don’t understand the hostility on this site toward Stephen Pinker, either, so maybe I’m just an outlier.

753

Salient 01.29.12 at 12:20 pm

Pregnancy is not an illness; it’s the perfectly healthy way all mammals reproduce themselves.

The physiological symptoms experienced over the course of pregnancy, if experienced by a woman (or indeed a man) who isn’t pregnant, would be categorized and investigated as some kind of very worrying illness. That kind of change doesn’t happen in a healthy body for no reason.

I do wish I had an overarching way to talk about body response to the introduction of a foreign substance that encapsulated both responses to viruses and to semen, a larger category that would contain illness and pregnancy and probably other body responses to foreign substances. The semantics of “pregnancy is an illness” are hardly ideal. I just don’t know what the larger category should be / could be.

For women who want to have a child, the word “symptoms” is a quite bizarre way to describe the experience of the body changes. But for women who don’t want to have a child, the word “symptoms” is actually a quite useful description of the body changes they are experiencing.

…I really should go pull my copy of Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child off the shelf and see if she had a better description in there somewhere.

Finally, I just don’t get this hostility toward DelRey.

To be honest, neither did I, at first. It really wasn’t until #727 or so that I made sense out of it. When someone justifies their use of middle-school-bully language because “the point” of the conversation, from their point of view, is “to demonstrate how extreme and unpopular [my] position is” — that sounds to me like a person rather openly admitting their goal is to bully/intimidate me into curling up in a corner and shutting up. I don’t see any reasonable alternative interpretation of the exchange from that point forward. (Whereas the exchanges with you, Harold, and Martin Bento clearly have entirely different purposes, and I’m getting a lot out of reading them — as an admitted extremist when it comes to rights over one’s own body, I do feel it’s certainly incumbent on me to understand as well as possible less extreme perspectives and try to isolate where I disagree.) But when I tried to concede to DelRey, honestly and sincerely straightforwardly acknowledging I have been staking out an “extreme” position which is not held by very many people, I conceded the “your position is extreme and uncommon” point entirely; this did nothing to satisfy DelRey. Why? Presumably because I wasn’t being good and shutting the fuck up.

Also worth keeping in mind (though it could be unhappy coincidence) that in that other thread DelRey’s been staking out a rather extreme position about Islam and religion; I don’t know if it’s entirely coincidence that DelRey upped the hostility after I mentioned attending church, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but it’s certainly a little unnerving to read strong and sweeping condemnations of entire categories of people as evil extremists on one thread and find similar language deployed against me here. (But this “also worth keeping in mind” bit is not necessarily DelRey’s fault; it could plausibly just be unhappy coincidence.)

754

Steven 01.29.12 at 6:18 pm

By way of the pure pettiness of myself and others, and having nothing to do with the argument…

The Tractatus translation I used above was derided by someone as the choice of a person who pretends to be scholarly, but who is not quite erudite enough to be a scholar.

Well, fools travel in pairs. Some light weekend reading revealed it was also apparently the choice of that renowned ignoramus Amartya Sen, in his most recent “The Idea of Justice” (p. 31). Presumably we’re both people without access to a wide range of translations, the grad student labor to hunt them down, and fellow scholars with the expertise to recommend one over the other. Then again, from what I know Sen doesn’t seem to comment on blogs much so he’s probably oblivious to the high scholarly standards that prevail in these quarters.

In case erudite readers are wondering, I was using the version of “Idea” published on the subcontinent. He may well have used different phrasing in his Continental or US versions, sensitive to the apparent demand for more modern translations of Wittgenstein there.

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Steven 01.29.12 at 6:21 pm

Over time I have noticed a certain lack of humanity in Salient’s humanism.

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Harold 01.29.12 at 6:40 pm

I don’t know what other people think about Steven Pinker, but I agree with Louis Menand ( see, http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002/11/25/021125crbo_books )

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when they debated each other.

Isn’t it funny how this thread is beginning to converge with the Atheist Temple thread. I, for one am disappointed with DelRay’s position on Islam and on Dawkins’ position on Margaret Mead. But it just goes to show, you can’t be right about everything.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 8:36 pm

Del Rey,

OK, so I take it you are a strong moral relativist, and therefore hold that no moral position is “correct” independent of context, but only “valid” for certain societies at certain times, is that right?

Fine. So we are to have some sort of moral evolution then, since societies change and their moralities must change too. As with other sorts of evolution, the mutations will be very small scale at first and spread gradually as their superiority is demonstrated (or do you suppose some other way for moral evolution to happen). If you’re viewing this as a vaguely Darwinian process, fitness is always subject to challenge from future mutation that might create greater fitness. So the fact that Salient’s view is unpopular would mean only that it is a mutation whose viability is not yet determined. Over time, it may come to be more broadly accepted, or it may be that competing societies that accept it will prove to be more “fit” in some respect. Or it may never go anywhere. But there is nothinng to be concluded from unpopularity per se.

758

Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 8:48 pm

Salient, I don’t think it is sensible to categorize natural functions of the body as illness. If there were any such function that could be so categorized, it would have to be aging, which, unlike pregnancy, is ultimately fatal in all cases. And we may conquer aging (we have already reversed it in laboratory rats). But aging is not an illness, it is part of how the body works. And so is pregnancy. Other bodily changes would be considered illness or biological disorder if they occurred outside their natural parameters, but not within them. If a 4 year-old went through the signs of puberty, for example, the symptoms would suggest a serious physiological disorder. But within the normal context, they do not. It is a major disruption, but it is part of how the body works.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 9:17 pm

Welcome bank, Steven. I wasn’t in the thread when you were here before, but I think your analysis in 422 was very unfairly abused. I might quibble about the uniqueness of human experience, but, as I argued in 638, belief in the legitimacy of law requires the presumption that such uniqueness is not sufficient to preclude judgment and coercion.

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Martin Bento 01.29.12 at 9:25 pm

Meredith, I hope to get time to read Graeber soon. It sounds very interesting and everyone is talking about it. In a general sense, I agree with you that this atomized sense of transactions is not morally intuitive for most people because it does not reflect how our species has generally behaved, which is a bit more communal than that. However, the argument given here is highly individualistic (It’s my body and society has nothing to say about what I do with it, regardless of whether fetus has interests too), so it is consistent to compare it with other such arguments, I think. Indeed, Belle’s response to Steven above specifically claimed that tthe woman’s indiv