Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Abortion Post

Meera left some a comment in the thread below on India's abortion of girls, and I her comments necessitated a response in its own post.

I suppose I could have responded to the anonymous commenter's thoughts with something less crass than "blah, blah, blah," but I really did feel her comments were nothing new. Let's be honest with ourselves: There have been very few new abortion arguments over the last umpteen years. I've been debating with people over abortion for 10 years, and the issue has been fiery and divisive for even longer than that. I just don't have much patience for the arguments that come straight from bumperstickers.

Let's look at Meera's arguments individually:
pregnancy can be a choice, but it can be something that is forced upon a female.
is that EVER forced upon a male? have you or will you EVER be in a situation
where your body is being used like that without your consent?

This is the "you are male, therefore you have no say in abortion" argument. Even simpler, it is the "you are not X, therefore you cannot have a say in Y." This argument comes in all forms, such as, "You are not military, therefore you can't be pro-war," or "You are not a scientist, therefore you cannot be against stem cell research." In every case, it is a logical fallacy.

Simply because you have not experienced something does not mean you can have no opinions about it. What would our public policy on drugs, terrorism, murder, the death penalty, etc. look like if only those who have committed or directly experienced those things could have a say? That's not how it works.

The argument can be reworked as, "Because men don't carry the baby, they can have no say about abortion." This, too, is fallacious. Yes, men do not go through the physical or emotional roller coaster that is pregnancy. Does this mean that a man can have no emotional involvement in said pregnancy? Is the purposeful death of his unborn child supposed to be beyond his care because it is not incubating in his body?

Meera made several more arguments. They are as follows:

The Rape Argument
Meera brought up the argument about conception brought about by rape. Statistically, this is a small number of abortions, though it is probably underreported. Still, I think it is within 5% of all abortions.

Still, the case of rape is a horrible situation. I imagine it must be painful to carry around for 9 months the reminder of the crime perpetrated against you. The rape itself is traumatic enough.

And here is where I must tread lightly; I do not want to come off as callous or insensitive in any of these arguments. That is not my purpose and I do not intend to sound that way. Still, I must preface my thoughts so as to prevent all possible misinterpretation.

When I was growing up, I was taught that "Two wrongs do not make a right." I still find great wisdom in this simple philosophy.

As I view it, abortion kills an unborn child. To have an abortion is to cause the death of an innocent, to commit a horrible crime against your very own son or daughter. Rape is a horrible thing to have happen to you, and I would never wish it against my worst enemy, but aborting the child conceived by rape is not a real solution. Is it that innocent child's fault for how it was conceived? Will killing it cause the rape to have never occurred? "Two wrongs don't make a right."

The counter-argument is that bearing the child, regardless of whether it is given up for adoption or not, is simply too much of a trauma to expect of a woman. I must address this argument in two parts.

First, it is not entirely evident that it is ultimately so horrible to bear that child. Victims and Victors is a book comprised of interviews with women who bore children conceived from rape and with people who were conceived by rape. I cite the book because the people interviewed for it overwhelmingly agree that abortion was not the solution, and would not have solved their problems. Anecdotal? Indeed. But to me it indicates that it is not as cut-and-dried as pro-choice arguments make it seem that abortion is the best solution to rape-induced pregnancy.

Second, simply because bearing the child is a furthering of the trauma of rape, does not mean that abortion is a good solution. Statistics do not bear this out. The pain of that rape is not going to magically vanish if the child is aborted. This being so, would it not be best to err on the side of life? To allow that child a chance at living? Additionally, it's possible that abortion may only compound the trauma. More and more women are coming forward to report post-traumatic stress syndrome related to abortion. This is understandable, given that abortion is a very intimate act of violence between a mother and her child. If abortion is leading to such a condition, why would this help a woman overcome the trauma of rape? "Two wrongs do not make a right."

Life-Threatening Pregnancy
If a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, I can support abortion under very limited circumstances. Relevant questions, however, have to be answered, such as, "Is it possible to save them both? Are the lives of both the mother and the child in danger? Can only one be saved? Will aborting the child significantly increase the mother's chance of survival?" These are important, and I suspect that such a strict limitation only accounts for a very small number of abortions that are performed.

Moreover, abortions for the life of the mother are also a very small portion of abortion statistics. This is even with the buffer of the vague "health" phrase. While many argue for aborting to save the "health" of the mother, this is often interpretted as vaguely as just "mental health." It often means whatever a person wants it to mean.

If Abortion Becomes Illegal
The common version of this argument goes that if abortion is made illegal, women will die because they will simply seek back-alley abortions. Legal abortion is safe abortion. Statistics do not bear out this argument.

If Roe V. Wade is reversed, then the abortion laws for each state come into effect. Currently, the split is relatively even between states which would have legalized abortion and states which would not. Abortion would still be somewhat available. But this argument requires that 1) the law would not deter anyone from having an abortion and 2) women would have back-alley abortions anyhow, despite the risk.

It's beyond the scope of this post to talk about how law acts as a deterrent, but the "back-alley deaths" argument is, again, fallacious. In the years before Roe V. Wade, women did die due to illegal abortions. How many? Statistically insignificant numbers. Less than 100.

Not that this makes abortion any safer itself. Abortion is still more dangerous than full-term pregnancy to the health of the mother, and 100% more dangerous to the health of the child.

Back to India
This brings us full circle to the original post. In India, the problem is that women are using abortion to selectively abort the girls, which is resulting in a demographical problem that will become a crisis if the trend continues for a few more generations.

I acknowledged in that post that women were culling their girls before abortion was legal in India, and would probably continue to do so if abortion became illegal. This is largely a cultural problem.

However, abortion here acts as a catalyst. Its availability has sped the rate of this trend up considerably. Were abortion unavailable, this would certainly not take place at the rate that it does. Infanticide is a much harder thing to commit than abortion.

I conclude this post with an observation: There are many pro-choice politicians in America who say that they just want abortion to be "Safe, legal and rare."

Rare. That is a very interesting thing. What is it about abortion that it should be rare?

I realize that this post solves very little. I gave citations for none of my statistics, simply drawing them from memory. I wrote, though, because I could not let those questions go unanswered. I could do no less.


Steve the Troll said...

Hal, these embryos that people are aborting are not cognizant. Your stance makes me wonder if you would be against sex because 99.9% of the sperm that are ejaculated die before reaching the egg.

It's just a ball of cells, no different really than a wad of your snot after you blow your nose.

I just have to say, yet again, that your stance is not very scientific.

And seriously, what's the big deal with removing a ball of cells that has not yet developed a brain? It's like having a tumor removed. If you are against abortion, then you should be against cancer treatment. Preganancy is the effect of a cause, just like cancer is the effect of a cause. We're playing God in either case when we intervene.

Just like you lost a friend to cancer and now you want to cure it, I think if you got raped and fertilized, you would be pro-choice. Since the abortion thing doesn't apply to you, you seem to have taken the religious view that you were assigned.

Hal said...

Cognizance is the measure of life? That's a pretty tall order to fill.

Steve, you're the unscientific one here. No different than a wad of snot? Like a tumor? Hardly. That embryo is a developing organism. It is constantly growing, consuming energy and forming itself into a full grown infant. From the host it inhabits, it has an entirely separate genetic code. Given enough development time, that embryo will be birthed as a child, and eventually have a personality, distinct physical appearances, a voice, thoughts, desires . . . need I go on? Snot and tumors do not do that.

Sperm itself is simply potential life. Its value is meaningless next to that developing child, which by all definitions of life is alive (metabolism, growth, reproduction, response to stimuli).

Does that sound like a religious view to you, Steve?

Steve the Troll said...

I think you missed my point. An undeveloped embryo is no different than a tumor or snot. Yes, it has potential to become something, but so what? We're short on space (not short on people). Science has achieved emergency contraception, so as a scientist, I am all for it. I recognize the potential of the embryo, but as a scientist, I know that overpopulation is a huge problem already, and will only get worse. For this reason, you should be okay with others having abortions. Seriously, what difference does it make to you if people you don't know have abortions? It's totally fine if you don't have one.

You wrote: "metabolism, growth, reproduction, response to stimuli." Funny, I can't tell if you meant tumor cells or an embryo.