Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice... But Choose Correctly

Today has been designated, due to it's historical significance, "Blog For Choice Day". A few local bloggers, such as 2 Political Junkies and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents have already made their posts in support of reproductive choice. I might as well throw my hat into the ring as well. But I doubt that there is anyone on either side of the debate who is likely to be very happy with what I have to say on this issue.

So let's get my policy perspective out of the way. Outlawing abortion would almost certainly be a disaster. Abortions would be drastically curtailed, and that would be a very good thing indeed. But the costs, and especially the unintended consequences, would be enormous. This genie has been out of the bottle for more than a generation. People have counted on abortion's availability, even if they haven't made use of it, and it would be almost unthinkable to go back. Like it or not, women have grown accustomed to having this choice available. Taking that option away would lead to all kinds of chaos in ways that none of us can easily predict.

So while I stand with those who wish to allow choice, I also understand, in a very human way, that abortion is all but universally the wrong choice for any woman to make. It is wrong. It is evil. It is bad. And for far in excess of 99% of all pregnancies, it should never -- never -- be pursued.

My best friend since my high school days was born in 1969 and adopted by the people who we all refer to as his parents. If abortion had been permitted in 1969, chances are that I would have had to find another friend. I would have had other friends. I would have gone on with my life. But there would be a hole in my life that I never even knew about. And I would be a lesser person because of it.

The swimming coach whose lessons have shaped my entire life and continue to guide me to this day was born in the early 1950s and adopted by another family. If abortion had been permitted then, chances are that I would never have become the man that I am today. I would still be here, but I would be a very different person.

One's religion doesn't really matter here. I am Catholic, so religion shapes my view on when life begins. But even those who have no religious faith of any kind, and who do not see conception as the beginning of life, cannot be blind to the human potential which forms at that precise moment. Whether you see conception as the creation of life or merely the point where life's potential begins, it is clearly a very important starting point for us all. For me, based on the teachings of my faith, abortion is the destruction of an innocent human life. For others, the morality may not be as well-defined, but abortion remains nevertheless the destruction of our human potential. Either way, it cannot be seen as a good thing. It cannot be seen as a good choice.

It is striking to me that so many so-called-liberal voices, who rage at the sacrificial deaths of our volunteer soldiers, seem to have no criticism at all for those whose immoral choices destroy so many (potential, if you insist) little lives. Or that those who scream about the injustice of the death penalty never exhibit even the slightest condemnation of those who choose to end a human life merely so that it never inconveniences their own. I grieve for each soldier lost, having been one myself. But they, like me, reached adulthood and volunteered for that path. I am no enormous fan of the death penalty. But those who face it have usually volunteered for the path that brought them to that point, and in any event have the benefit of judicial review before their life is taken from them. The aborted child, whether real or potential, is never asked to volunteer. It has no access to judicial review. There are no appeals for it to pursue. It faces death before ever seeing the light of day and before even drawing its first breath. And thus its destruction is far more tragic than either of these more celebrated liberal causes.

Many will see me as another paternalistic asshole who is trying to tell women what they should do. It's an easy claim to make. I'm a man, it is physically impossible for me to find myself facing the desperate and emotionally wrenching decisions that are brought about by an unplanned pregnancy. In many ways, this is an incredibly fair criticism of my position.

But no matter how desperate the circumstances of any pregnancy, there is still a life -- real or potential, a life -- at stake. My position on this might disgust some as crass paternalism, but compared to the loss of a human life, such criticisms seem very small indeed.

Abortion should remain a legal option. But it should be choice that is made far, far, far less frequently than it currently is. By all means, choose. But choose life.


Anonymous said...

Actually, it shouldn't be a choice. The procedure in which a fetus is killed is being used as birth control by far too many women.

The Burgher said...

I've always felt that Democrats articulate the issue poorly. Your somewhat closer to what I believe cause I've always felt Dem Rally's where a candidate says "I support choice" and the crowd cheers sends a message that Dems feel abortion is value neutral.

I don't believe in criminalizing everything that my faith teaches is immoral -- say, for instance, Divorce -- and I recognize not all religions share my catholic values.

As a practical matter, legislation overturning Roe might as well be called the Canadian Tourism Amendment.

Although, choice advocates should fight for what they believe -- especially in light of the fact the fundamentalist right views overturning Roe as the first step along a path that will ultimately outlaw all birth control -- we should remember that abortions should be safe, legal and rare.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Thanks for commenting, Anonymous, although you may be the one of the few who to do so. Abortion is such a dangerous subject for discussion, and most people shy away from even opening their mouths about their own views. No matter what position you take, it it going to piss off somebody. So most people keep their opinions to themselves.

You are to be commended for offering yours.

Obviously, you and I agree that abortion is used as a means of birth control far too often. Where we part ways is in your feelings that abortion should not even be available as an option. Presumably, this means that you would prefer that abortion was unlawful.

Two central arguments can be made against abortion being illegal. The first is simply that we live in a democracy. Our laws, and especially our criminal laws, have to reflect the views of the wide majority of our people. After a generation of abortion being legal, there simply isn't the popular support necessary for making abortion universally illegal.

Polls do suggest that there might be enough support for making some forms of abortion illegal. But a blanket ban on abortion does not seem to enjoy anything close to the level of support needed to support its inclusion in the criminal code.

The more powerful argument against making abortion illegal is what I would call a libertarian one. Let's say that, even with strong public support, we could pass a relatively innocuous little law that declared abortion illegal, but with a very minor penalty such as a $10 fine for a woman's first offense, up to a $500 fine for a fourth or later offense. To make it even more innocuous, there would be no penalty at all for doctors who perform abortions.

Now think about all the various kinds of actions that the state would need to take to enforce even this very weak anti-abortion law. Would they require doctors to report their patients so that the fines could be awarded to them. That would breach confidentiality, big time.

But how else could they find out which women were obtaining abortions? Stop them outside the clinic doors, demand identification, and issue a ticket for the $10 fine? That's hardly something that is the hallmark of a liberal democracy? Raid doctor's offices to obtain their medical records. Horribly unthinkable!

Those are the kinds of actions we would have to take in order to make abortion illegal. And I just don't see them being either accepted or acceptable in our modern democracy.

Richmond K. Turner said...

You and I seem to be in agreement, Herr Burgher. I also would not criminalize everything my faith proscribes. That being said, if anything from those proscriptions were to be criminalized, abortion -- which results in the loss of life -- would be more acceptable than less life-or-death issues such as divorce.

The idea of abortion being safe, legal, and rare is a nice one. But two out of three is really bad. It is currently safe and legal, but almost nothing is being done to make it rare.

The conservatives would prefer to achieve rareness by making it illegal. The liberals don't do jack to make it rare. They honestly seem to believe that securing a 6-year-old child into an automobile without using a booster seat is a greater wrong than killing that 6-year-old before it was ever born.

I like the "safe and legal" part. But it would be nice if they would at least have the courage to say a few words of moral condemnation so that the "rare" part was made a bit more clear.

The Comet said...

That's excellent as far as it goes, Adm. But outside of a few words of moral condemnation, what can be done to make it rare?

Too many pro-lifers (IMHO) want to prohibit access to contraception, or even education about contraception.

When it seems about a skillion times more practical, (if rarity is your goal), to provide easy access to contraception, and info about contraception and sex.

I think that's where pro-lifers go awry: they allow righteousness in re protecting life become sanctimony in re criminalizing sex.


Richmond K. Turner said...

Nice to hear from you, Bram.

Moral condemnation may not seem like very much. But it would be an enormous departure for most Democrats, and it would be an excellent place to start. As things stand right now, we are throwing more moral condemnation at people who smoke in front of their children than we are at those who abort them.

If a public figure would use his or her bully pulpit to say simply, "I will never abolish your right to choose, but that doesn't mean that all of the available options are morally equivalent", it would at least send the message that abortion should be far more rare than it is.

There is no perfect solution here. Liberals would probably resist any inclination to make such a statement about the morality of abortion. For one thing, they don't want to offend their base. But for another, they don't want to give ammunition that conservatives will use. You can be certain that, if a liberal president were to make such a statement, it would soon be followed by cries to enshrine the president's moral concerns into statute. And then there is always the worry that any statement of moral condemnation could give a few wackos the justification they need to start shooting doctors again.

That may be the heart of the problem. Because the extreme ends of the distribution are the prime movers in this debate, no compromise may be possible. There is a middle ground in there. My proposal, at least from my perspective, seems like it occupies the middle ground. But if nobody else is willing to reach any kind of concensus, then the middle ground will remain very unfertile soil.

Jonathan Potts said...

I believe that abortion should remain legal, because desperate women would still seek it, and their lives and health would be in jeopardy. But I also think the Democrats should treat abortion as a tragedy to be avoided, rather than a right to be celebrated.

I also agree with the Comet that the most achievable means of making abortion rare is comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. I realize to social conservatives who believe contraception is also immoral, that's not much of a compromise. But they must choose here between the lesser of (in their view) two evils.

Democrats, for their part, should do as the Admiral advises: send the clear message that not all choices are morally valid, even if they must all be legal.

Anonymous said...

A pregnancy is *always* an economic burden for a woman. Have you ever interviewed for a job during a pregnancy? Pushed for a promotion during a pregnancy? Worked through a third trimester? There is a culture of subtle and not-so-subtle workplace discrimination that assumes a pregnant woman is useless to an organization during her final trimester and for months afterward. A pregnant woman is at a serious competitive disadvantage against men and other women who are not pregnant -- especially toward the end of a pregnancy, when she can't travel, put in overtime, stand for long periods or even sit in meetings for an hour without needing to pee. Have you ever started lactating during a business meeting, or while waiting tables or ringing up customers at a cash register? These things happen to the bodies of women who carry pregnancies to term, whether they keep their babies or not -- and they are a detriment to her viability as an employee. And if she keeps her baby, the burden of caring for an infant while working is a profound drag on a woman's ability to do her job well, and even harder for women in unskilled positions with little flexibility and no support. Need I even mention the hardships a single mother faces? A poor or uneducated single mother? A woman who chooses to carry a pregnancy to term, regardless of whether she keeps her baby or not, faces a risk to her livelihood.

Arguments against abortion that focus on the unborn's potential are invalid when weighed against the same argument for the potential of the parents (particularly the mother). I cringe when I hear comments like "what if so and so had never been born, how would my life have changed?" What about so-and-so's *mother*? She is a living adult with the human right to forge her own destiny. Every month that I don't get pregnant I withhold life from a potential person. Does this make me immoral? Or does it only make me immoral if I'm having sex during that time and using my judgment and available technology to prevent conception? Should I be compelled to give birth to as many children as my body can bear, so that they can have an influence on *your* life someday? Should I be compelled to do this, despite the many things I'd like to do with my life that I cannot do while pregnant?

Arguments for an unborn's potential also ignore the potential of existing children. If I'm supporting myself and my child by working a full-time job in a competitive industry, and I've determined that I cannot support more children with my current income, I would argue that it's immoral for me to put my livelihood and my *existing* child's security at risk by showing up pregnant at work.

I'm horrified by arguments against abortion that focus on the potential of the unborn while utterly ignoring the potential of living people. I'm particularly horrified by such arguments from the mouths of men, who can never know what it's like to carry a pregnancy to term and have to face the decision whether give up a child you've carried or raise it in reduced circumstances. It's *so* easy to offer up "a few words of moral condemnation" about issues that you will never have to deal with yourselves.

Richmond K. Turner said...

By far, the very safest thing for me to do with this latest comment is to simply ignore it. But I think that doing so would be rude. You took the time -- and, given the volume of what you wrote, it was probably quite a bit of time -- to make your comments heared. I love it when people post their comments here, and thus common politeness demands that I acknowledge what you have said.

But my initial reaction to your comments was that you must be trying to wind me up. I thought it had to a preverse joke of some kind. But then, having read further into it, I began to think that you might seriously feel this way. So, whether you are just putting me on or not, I'll just assume that these comments reflect your true feelings.

I guess you and I will have to disagree on this one. If you honestly can't see a fetus as a (potential) human life worthy of our protection, and I honestly can't see it as anything else, then there is no way for us to reconcile our views.

Your arguments, however, will need some serious work if you want them to be taken seriously. You ask me whether I have "... ever interviewed for a job during a pregnancy?" or "Pushed for a promotion during a pregnancy?". Those are not worthy starting points for this debate. I have never had to face the prospect of having to find a job after being released from prison, either. Nor have I tried to find housing after being listed as a sex offender. But this lack of experience on my part does not preclude me from developing my own beliefs about parole, post-incarceration job training, and sex offender residency laws. Nor does it preclude me from publicly stating my opinions.

I fail to see why the mere fact of my gender and my anatomic alinability to face these things should demand silence for me on this or any other issue. It makes about as much sense as saying the the first President Bush should never have been eligible to sign the Americans With Disabilities Act, because he had never been permanently confined to a wheelchair.

You bring up a litany of disadvantages that women face when they are pregnant. The vast majority of them are spot-on-accurate. Is it hard to get a job when you are pregnant? You bet it is, since the prospective employer knows that, at best, they will get only a few months of service out of you before you will be gone on maternity leave. Promotion? Same problem. Not being able to travel or put in the hours needed to get a head are real problems that my wife has faced in her career. So has unexpected lactation at the worst possible moments.

Is pregnancy a professional hinderance? You bet your sweet bippy it is. It really sucks. But you know what would suck even worse than that? Being killed before you ever even get the chance to be born. As bad as all of these professional consequences suck, being dead would suck more. It may be, in your words, "a profound drag" to be preganant. But I fail to see how it can be any more of "a drag" than being denyed the opportunity to ever live in the first place.

By your argument, any woman facing an unplanned pregancy would have been better off to have been aborted months before they were ever born. That would be a far better outcome for them than to have been allowed to reach adulthood and be forced to deal with the "profound drag" of being pregant at an inopportune moment in their lives.

That really doesn't make sense to me.

For some reason, you seem to feel that my position focuses unfairly on the human potential of the unborn, while not paying any attention at all to the potential for the pregnant woman. But these women have had their potential fully recognized. They were born. They grew into adults. They made their own decisions. The fact that they find the outcome of these decisions to be distasteful is very unfortuneate.

You say you cringe when you hear me mention my friends and mentors who would probably have been aborted in the post-Roe world. I cringe when I hear you so callously discuss the killing of another human being whose only crime is to exist at a moment that is inconvienent for someone else.

You note that any mother, "... is a living adult with the human right to forge her own destiny", but are perfectly willing to deny that very same right to her own -- possibly female -- child. And the mother is, as you say, an adult. In this day and age, she has unlimited options tor "forge her own" reproductive destiny. Sex is an optional activity. Unprotected sex is optional activity. Forgoing either of these activities is the moral and ethical means by which one's reproductive desinty can be controlled.

At this point, your are probably dying to roll out the old chestnut of pregnancies caused by rape or incest. But we both know that enormous majority of abortions are sought following voluntary unprotected sexual intercorse.

Finally, you take my argument to an absurd level that I mayself never vocalized. You ask, "Should I be compelled to [bear children], despite the many things I'd like to do with my life that I cannot do while pregnant?"

Again, to be clear, I never advocated any such compulsion. As I stated quite clearly in my original post, I firmly believe that abortion should remain a safe and legal option. But I cannot see it as an option, as you present it, that is morally equivalent to all of the other ones.

Anyway, it's clear that you and I will never come to any agreement on this topic. It's probably not even right for either of us to try to convince the other. But I truly appreciate your comments, and I see a great deal of validity in them. But I just can't see the inconveniences you describe, however onerous they may be, as a justification for killing another person.

If you feel compelled to respond to all of this, that's cool. I'll read what you write with great interest. But I hope you'll understand if I allow you to have the last word on this topic. I recognize that we will forever disagree, and an endless series of back and forth agruments seems fruitless.

Again, thanks for reading and for all the effort you put into your comments.