Monday, March 18, 2013

ABORTION! Now that I've got your attention: abortion

OK. Fine. Right. Abortion, yeah?

I don't really like writing or talking about abortion, because...well, who does? Anytime you express an opinion on abortion you're likely to get someone calling you a monster or a Nazi or demanding to know how YOU would feel if you'd been aborted, and then you have to give them a lesson about logic and it goes on and on forever.

But look I've been thinking about abortion, and much like a mushroom sprouting from soil, an opinion has burst out on top of my head, so feel free to pick it.

The reason I'm thinking about it is because it's in the news a bit lately. Tasmania has introduced a bill to finally decriminalise abortion, and there is a bit of speculation swirling regarding the fact that in Victoria, the Liberals rely on the vote of rabid pro-lifer and perks-enjoyer Geoff Shaw, and that if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister he may have to rely in the Senate on the DLP's pro-life, pro-insanity Senator John Madigan.

So it's a bit topical. And really, it's always topical, because there are always people who won't let go, and keep trying to wind the clock back.

But here is the thing: I feel like a lot of the arguments go in the wrong direction, and they tend to go in the wrong direction because the anti-abortion lobby knows just which buttons to push. I think there is a line of thought which is not used often enough, and this is important because to me the real battle to defend abortion rights isn't in trying to convince pro-lifers to change their stance, but in the big middle ground of "don't-knows", the people who maybe haven't put much thought into it, but are ripe for the convincing by a pious-looking politician with a sincere-sounding speech.

First, we have to recognise that "pro-lifers" fall into two broad categories: real pro-lifers and fake pro-lifers.

The real pro-lifers are a minority - most "pro-lifers" are faking it. Real pro-lifers are the people who genuinely believe conception is the beginning of, not just life, but personhood. They sincerely believe that a foetus is a person with all the concomitant human rights that you or I have, and that aborting a foetus is the same as killing an actual child. They really believe the rubbish they spout about "the rights of the unborn child", and they won't listen at all when you point out that this is an oxymoron and there is actually no such thing as an "unborn child", given a "child" is someone who has been born. They also won't listen if you tell them that abortion can't be "murder" because murder is by definition illegal. Basically they won't listen to anything, so it's pointless to even try with these people.

And that pointlessness is, in fact, the point. The REAL pro-lifers are batshit insane. These are the ones who end up bombing abortion clinics and shooting doctors, and why wouldn't they? If you heard that down the road there was a government-sanctioned facility where doctors were shooting five-year-olds in the head, wouldn't you say some pretty extreme measures were needed to stop this? Wouldn't you, even if you lacked the courage to directly attack the child-killers yourself, heartily applaud those who did? How could you look negatively upon someone who stepped in to prevent children being slaughtered?

Well, that's how real pro-lifers see it. They are insane, and therefore their insane actions seem perfectly reasonable. And so naturally, there's no point trying to reason with them. They're fringe lunatics: we don't need to argue with them, we need to ignore them.

But then there are the fake pro-lifers. These are the ones who claim to be concerned about "the rights of the unborn child", but when faced with what is purportedly a nightmarish holocaust of kid-slaughter, say things like "safe, legal and rare", or demand that Medicare funding be removed.

I mean, imagine! Imagine believing that children are being murdered, but wanting it to be "safe, legal and rare"! Imagine saying, "Child murder is OK, but don't use taxpayer's money on it"! Come on.

Look at the debate that flares sometimes over instances of rape or incest. If you genuinely believed that foetuses were people, how could you make exceptions for rape or incest victims? "I don't think we should kill children except when their father's a rapist - babies need to be punished for that!" Please.

But a rape-incest exception, in fact, betrays a fake pro-lifer for what they are: a woman-punisher. The reason many "pro-lifers" are willing to entertain exceptions is because those exceptions deal with women whose pregnancy is not their fault.

And there is the key. The vast majority of "pro-lifers" are frauds who are simply out to punish women for having sex. They don't care about the "unborn children", or else they'd be marching with burning torches in the streets, storming abortion clinics daily. They will say their concern is for the poor dead babies, but then they'll go ahead and push for measures that allow abortion, but make it more expensive and difficult for a woman to access. Or they'll push to make it illegal, but exempt those women who came by their condition through "no fault of their own".

It is quite clear what these people are about. They are about ensuring that women don't "get away with it". They are about ensuring that if a woman DOES have the irrepressible audacity to have sex, she damn well better suffer for it. Either through a pregnancy or making abortions so difficult, expensive or dangerous that it turns her life upside down. The important thing is that women are made aware that their sin will not go unpunished. The important thing is that women NEVER feel free to enjoy sex without the threat of dire consequences.

And so what I say is, let's call these fake pro-lifers out. Every time a politician or a commentator or an activist claims they want to stop the killing of unborn babies, let's point out just how hypocritical they're being. Let's point out that if all they're willing to do is talk about it, call for cuts to funding or reductions in the numbers, they surely cannot be serious about considering these to be actual children.

And let's make sure those in-betweeners who haven't made their minds up and are just now looking curiously at the issue realise that the "pro-lifers" they see in the papers and on TV are full of disingenuous and malicious cant, and that if you want to be a pro-lifer, you can either join the lunatics or the liars.

Call 'em out, guys. The only way to make sure women retain control over their own bodies, is to make sure the other side doesn't get away with pretending that's not the field we're fighting on.


Amy said...

This piece presents hideous generalisations about those people you call "pro-lifers". By trying to lump everybody whose opinion is not the same as your own into only two groups, you are over-simplifying a very serious issue and overlooking the diversity of the pro-life demographic. Rather than approaching this issue with any form of evidence or informedness, you've resorted to low attacks on those you see as your opposition. It hardly needs to be said that your portrayal of this demographic is harsh and unrealistic. I myself am fervently anti-abortion, yet I don't feel you've encapsulated any of my feelings or approach to the issue. I am not religious; I am not a politician; I am not manipulating anyone or being manipulated; I am not ignorant; I am not a liar and I am certainly not a lunatic. I am a 20 year old woman and a feminist, and I have spent a lot of time forming my opinions toward this issue because I recognise its seriousness. I am a very big fan of yours Ben, I am not disappointed that your point of view differs from mine, I'm disappointed that you chose not to try to understand my point of view.

Susanna Duffy said...

So clearly put, Ben. I wish I could have put it so well myself. I'm afraid that I lose my temper when I'm confronted with 'pro-lifers' (most of whom support war). Thanks for your clear and rational summary

Jonathan Maddox said...

Amy, perhaps you could do us the favour of articulating this carefully-considered opinion of yours, that there ought to be a law against each woman making her own choice about whether she carries her pregnancy to term?

Kate Bender said...

Amy, can you please explain how you can be a feminist but do not wish other women to have the option of choosing for themselves? If you were in the unfortunate position of having an unwanted pregnancy and did not wish to have an abortion -fair enough. But what on earth gives you the right to decide for me? I cannot fathom an argument that does not fit Ben's opinion piece.
I look forward to being enlightened.

Amy said...

I'm absolutely willing to explain my thoughts, although I don't expect or even hope to change the way anybody else thinks about this issue. My critique of Ben's writing was not the opinion he presented, which I happened not to agree with, it was the way his arguments characterised people who are pro-life. I don't think it was a totally accurate portrayal and I don't think it is a fair way to argue a point, by personally attacking your opposition rather than presenting your own case. My opinion towards this issue is completely personal; I don't seek to impose it on anybody else, and I would never try to make anybody's decision on their behalf. What I hope is that people consider the issue from my perspective too. I am a feminist because I strongly believe that women are entitled to the same rights as men are. However, I am also a humanist. Personally, I am not religious in any traditional way, but I have always felt an obligation to search for meaning and beauty in life, which is a personal choice, and one I am entitled to. I find the meaning in life within other human beings. Humans have the potential to be funny, intelligent, artistic, original and awe-inspiring. I believe that human beings are flawed but perfect. To me, they are the meaning and the beauty in life. I won't debate about when a human becomes a human because the question is so philosophical that it really is impossible to answer with any certainty. However, I feel that the deliberate abortion of a life, or a potential life, is a tragedy that is sometimes under-appreciated in our society. Once again, this is my very personal opinion; it has been formed based on my own life experiences, and I don't ask you to agree with me, but to respect me. Ben, I appreciate and do not contest your right to your own opinion; I also understand the reasons you feel the way you do. I however choose to feel differently, and I hope you will allow me to do so.

Mephitis said...

Amy, if you are truly a feminist, you should understand that women have the right to bodily autonomy and you should wholeheartedly *trust* them to make their own decisions regarding what happens to their own bodies.

If 'giving life' is something that would cause that woman harm - and it does actually - it used to be said that it was a tooth per baby, and believe me, I can point out the particular scars, gum problems, etc - each of my *wanted* children has wrought upon me, then surely she gets to choose when and where she goes through with it.

A potentiality of a life doesn't outweigh the rights of a real life human woman.

The vast majority of abortions are performed before the first trimester. Late ones are usually caused by enforced delay by stupid providers or abnormality/risk of death of foetus or mother.

Dan said...

And how many of the real and fake pro-lifers support capital punishment? Most I'd guess. Seems there's a difference depending on what end of the life stage you are at.

Michael said...

I think Christopher Hitchens is the only person I've ever seen capture more than the two camps view of abortion.

Amy said...

Well of course I don't support capital punishment. I think that's a preposterous idea and it speaks to the point I made about generalisations. I appreciate all of the counter-arguments raised around this issue, but for me they aren't enough to change the way I feel. I don't believe that women shouldn't have the right to choose; it's obvious that women deserve to make the final decision for themselves. I do however wish that not so many women would use that right to choose to abort their pregnancies, because it's an idea that seems backwards for me. I don't see any point debating the topic any further since I don't feel my critiscisms are being heard, or that my point of view is welcome here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Amy, I'm with you and I'm impressed you gave it a shot here. This issue IS extremely complex and for some reason Ben and some others on this forum cannot accept that even informed women (who consider themselves feminist) have objections. We should be allowed to say an abortion is a tragedy and the after-effects rarely discussed.

I'm outraged at writer 'Mephitis' with the ridiculous tooth analogy that 'giving life' causes harm. So an end of life doesn't cause harm?? Then comments about first trimesters versus later ones discounts the real pain and grief women face which is not measured by the weeks in the womb.

I've had and lost beautiful babies, I don't appreciate the simplification of this argument. I'm sad that our society reduces discussion about abortion to a discussion about rights not tragedy, difficulty and pain and dare I say life itself. And I'm not brave enough like Amy to put my name out there, that I don't need the rude retorts.

Angela said...

Amy, its great you've got such a positive outlook on life, but just because you think all babies are beautiful and formed from dewdrops doesn't mean every woman does.
I am an alcoholic with bi-polar and would almost certainly drown my own in the bathtub in a depressive state if my government forced me to be a mother. We don't live in a one size fits all world.

Trung said...

I'm a pro-choice but really this article does misrepresent people who are pro-life

You seem to think that the "real" pro-life are just people who think personhood is the same as conception

YOu see there is a third category

People who don't think personhood starts with foetuses but still think foetus has value

We don't consider dead people to have personhood and yet their are laws preventing desecration of corpse.

We don't consider animals to have personhood and yet their are laws on humane treatment of them

Believing that foetuses don't have personhood and hence aren't equal to babies who are born and therefore non-equivalent to murder. Doesn't mean that killing foetus is then ethical. It's not equal crime to murder but it cna fit logically into someone who is a pro-lifer to say it's still unethical even if it's a lesser crime than murder.

That's why those pro-lifers can be more flexible in terms of exception such as rape.

After all their are people who are against animal cruelty but make exceptions for animal experimentation for medical and drug research because in that case the ends justify the means etc.

You can't just see the world in this sort of black and white mentality

I'll just say that although I'm pro choice

Trung said...

I'll just say that although I'm pro choice. I don't consider the foetus to be nothing but a collection of tissue. That an abortion has to demonstrate a real genuine need. In most states in Australia abortion is legal if there it is demonstrated that there is a physical or mental health issues and hardship related to abortion which gets the balance right.

After all if someone assaults a woman to deliberately kill the unborn foetus

Should the person just be charged with assault or should the death of the unborn foetus be considered an additional crime?

If another person kills an unborn foetus, surely using your logic that a foetus is either all (equal personhood to a born child) or nothing. Then it shouldn't be considered anything more than just assault.

A foetus has value, whether the value of the foetus is big or small enough to allow the voluntary death of it is what up to debate.

The debate doesn't help by painting the scenario in this black and white way.

Ben Pobjie said...

A foetus only has value in its potential to become a person. A woman who loses a wanted foetus loses that potential: that is the value that has been lost. An unwanted foetus does not have the value that a wanted foetus does.

Trung said...

"A foetus only has value in its potential to become a person. A woman who loses a wanted foetus loses that potential: that is the value that has been lost. An unwanted foetus does not have the value that a wanted foetus does."

I agree with that as I am pro choice that a wanted foetus is worth more than an unwanted foetus

Irrespective to whether the foetus is wanted or not, I don't believe the foetus equals nothing (after all it had the same potential as anyone else and there are enough stories of people born in poverty or even abusive parents and made a success of their lives). If there is an abortion, it's a tragedy even if it is a necessary for the well being of the mother or society as a whole.

In any case I rather not get into too much debate on someone who I already agree on this issue but my main point is that a fair amount of pro-lifers I met (and debated) don't view abortion to equal murder (they view it as still immoral but a lesser crime) nor do they give equal personship of a foetus to be the same as a child. It's just that they view foetus to have enough value (even if it's less to normal person) to be protected similar to how we have laws protecting many things that don't involve personhood. Something doesn't have to be a person for it to be valued and protected.

IppyHooray said...

The thing that always gets me about this issue is people's inability to separate their personal choices from their political views. Politically, I see it as necessary to fight for every woman's bodily autonomy on this issue. I agree with Ben's view that an attack on abortion access and legality is an attack on women's rights.
Despite this, personally I have always been of the view that I would not have an abortion. I recognise that I have privilege with regards to education, access to medical advice and contraception that have made this personal preference possible. I also recognise that my personal preference is not 'more correct' than anyone else's and shouldn't be reflected in law.
Since having a (planned) baby 5 months ago, I have become even more fervently pro-choice. Raising a baby is HARD and no one should have this event forced upon them if they are not ready, willing, or otherwise 100% on board with this massive change.

Kerryn said...

IppyHooray I agree. I personally may not have an abortion, and I personally value the life-potential of a foetus. But I only speak for myself. Politically my commitment is that women have a choice. Whether their pregnancy has come about through rape, through the failure of contraception, through the lack of contraception, through divine intervention, I don't care, I want all women to have the choice to bring a child into the world or not. My personal opinion about their circumstances, their potential competency as a mother, the way society/men/God should have treated them doesn't come into this at all.