Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."



  • 74%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?





  • Google

Blogs I love and/or learn from

« The Exorpsychiatrist | Main | The Great American Blog-off »

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c638553ef00d83458216869e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The AmbivAbortion Rant, Part II:

» The AmbivAbortion Rant, Part II from Booker Rising
AmbivaBlog, a moderate site, discusses the moral gray areas in the abortion debate and what is an individual: "To me, early abortion exists in that twilight zone. It is a moral gray area that grows blacker with each day of gestation, as the embryo... [Read More]

» The Unbearable Grayness of Life and Choice from Restless Mania
Amba over at Ambivablog has continued her AmbivAbortion Rant, and posted Part 2. Both Part 1 and Part 2 recount her philosophy and reflections on abortion, because she had one. The AmbivAbortion rant stakes out, as some of the braver politicians and ... [Read More]

» Catching my eye: morning A through Z from The Glittering Eye
Here's what's caught my eye this morning: Amba of AmbivaBlog has posted the second installment of her AmbiAbortion Rant. A how-to exercise from Gerard Vanderleun of American Digest on The Fine Art of Slant. Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine has one... [Read More]

» Abortion - Understanding what's at stake from Business of Life™

Only someone older, who’s taken a step back from the life cycle, can point out to you the reality that “a baby” will, barring misfortune, become a young adult, a middle-aged person, an old woman or man....  But I do think I h... [Read More]

Comments

david

This is more than your means of mourning. This is (for me, anyway) a new way to look at an issue too insanely emotional and divisive -- and peripheral in my life (or so I've thought) -- for me to have examined. I wish more parents understood even half as much as you do about being a parent. J, I've often thought, would've made a great father -- but isn't it possible that our propensity to keep our family tree from budding further is itself a genetic propensity? One you yourself struggled with, then saw, only later, from a radically different perspective...?

This is a book.
d

ashli

first, i would like to offer my deepest sympathy at the loss of the author's child.

that being said...

if abortion is a bad, human life ending thing, then it should be banned. if it is not a bad thing, then it should be legal, and women should engage in it, and all the "benefits" it has to offer, as much as they possibly can. if it is not a bad thing, then women should be able to engage in it whenever they want, 1 week or 40 weeks. otherwise we get into ageism, discrimination, and that would be bad, and abortion is legal, so it can't be bad. rape is bad, and it's illegal.

the whole first trimester limitation business is subjective. the idea that a person is only a person when they are attached to someone else is just a belief, because even attached children do not always survive pregnancy, so the rate at which people survive can not be used to determine personhood. afterall, everyone has a 100% chance of dying, does this mean we are not people? one may live 80 years, another 80 minutes. is this how we define the value of a human being? is this what we use to determine life?

while i'm thankful that the author is thinking, i find quite a few inconsistencies and even some contradictions.

the cells of a human being begin to divide and grow at conception; that is when the spark of life begins. science confirms this. the child is not a potential child but a child with potential, deserving of protection.

there is a world of biological evidence supporting the fact that life begins at conception, so it is surprising how "grey" the area of human biology is for the author... yet she is totally convinced that her child was a boy when there is no evidence whatsoever to back that up.

i'm a woman. i've been pregnant and had gender dreams so strong that i didn't ask to know the sex of my child, because "i knew". and i was wrong.

science wouldn't say the author knew the sex of her baby because of hormonal signals. science would say she didn't know the sex of her baby, and the baby died and was disposed of before that could be determined.

i don't mean to be offensive here, but we can't base the subject of whether or not we are killing people on ideas or emotions or beliefs. an issue as important as abortion needs to be determined by a microscope.

it is unreasonable to suggest that we can convince society that abortion is a bad thing while concomittantly sanctioning it as a nation.

dividing human cells mean and prove a lot more than dreams and nuances; more credence should be given to science.

amba

ashli,

sorry to make you angry. But as I said, I am setting out to convince women who are "pro-choice" not to have abortions, and not to get pregnant carelessly in the first place. Absolutism will only close their ears and make them defiant. It's absurd to say that abortion is either against the law, or it's good. Right now abortion is legal. You go on working to get it banned, and in the meantime, I'll try to prevent some abortions too.

annie

Michael

Hello Annie,

I, too, have some nitpicks.

When you talk about an embroyo - you state 'we all know' -- That it’s human.

Do we? We certainly know it's -potentially- human - but the question of its humanity is, I think, at the core of the abortion debate.

I think Ashli (and learn to capitalize, Ashli, it would make your writing much more readable!) is correct when she states: "if abortion is a bad, human life ending thing, then it should be banned. " (although I think the rest of her paragraph is somewhat silly...).

Let me modify her statment a little: If abortion is the taking of an existing -human- life, it should be banned.

And, given that I see implicit in your entire post the idea that an embryo -is- a human being, that's the crux of the question that I think you miss.

Before hitting that in detail, I'm going to visit other points in your post.

You said: "Yet among the casualties buried in that non-place are not only my son’s whole life, and the mother I would have been, but also the friends who never knew him, the cousins whose whole generation would have been reshaped by his presence, the lovers who would have loved him, the children he might have fathered, and also his ancestors on his father’s side, who are now entombed in the past, with not even a tendril to the future."

I had a vasectomy after my second child was born. What potential children -don't- exist because of that? How many empty spaces are there? In the end (although by no means to I mean to belittle -your- specific feelings here) doesn't this become the catholic argument against birth control? Each child my wife and I -didn't- conceive because of birth control was a unique individual that -could have had their 80 years- and their tendril to the future. All the genetic material for those unconceived children was inplace, it was -my- human choice to not allow them to exist.

You also state: "(Let’s face it: "abortion on demand" is a clean-up operation for sexual "freedom.")" - and then you talk of your mother's two abortions (when they were illegal!). Were hers a result of 'sexual freedom'? Why is it that in European countries where 'sexual freedom' - widespread sex outside of marriage is, if anything, even more common than in the US, abortion rates are -lower- than in this country? I think the issue of abortion as birth control is far more complex than you portray.

And, I'm going to call 'Bullshit' on your entire paragraph that starts with the sentence "The only "choice" that matters, it seems to me, is whether we aspire in this sense to be "part of God" and you don’t have to believe in God; Buddhists don’t or whether we’re satisfied to be part of nature. And this is a live by the sword, die by the sword proposition."

I'm one of those folks with a secular, naturalist world view, who tends to think human beings are a result of natural, and to some degree random, processes. That doesn't mean I think our lives are 'disposable' (indeed, because I tend to think it's so transient, I think our consciousness is -particularly- precious). I would suggest that's -your- blind spot when you look at a 'naturalistic' world view. It's not something inherent in the naturalistic worldview itself.

And that gets back to what I view as the critical question - "Does abortion end a -human- life?" It certainly stops a beating heart, but when I had my -ham- wrap for lunch today, I was responsible for doing that (and I'm not intending to be flippant here...).

One can argue about the existance of the 'soul' endlessly. That argument to me seems pretty useless for defining when an embryo is humam. By about 24 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus has basically it's full complement of nerve cells, and recognizable human neurological activity - I think that fetus is fully (not potentially) human. At the end of the first trimester, there is -not- anything recognizable as human neurological activity.

In current medical pratice, the measure of neurological activity is one of the things we use to define the death of a human being - I think it may be a good reference point for defining the start of a human life. Given that, I'm comfortable with keeping first trimester elective abortions legal.

I spend a fair amount of time about a decade ago examining my own beliefs on abortion after a fundamentalist Christian asked me 'Are you sure we are not, by legalizing abortion, legislatively defining a human being as -not human- for our own convenience?' While the answer I came to was not what he would have hoped, I became much more conservative on the issue.

This issue is not simple, nor does it lend itself to easy answers. There are the rights of one -certainly- human being (the mother) and one -potentially or fully- human being at stake, the child.

I appreciate your passion, and your willingness to bare your soul in this discussion, even when I disagree with you.

Christina

I'll respond piece by piece as I find things to respond to.

"When the fetus takes human form?"

Actually, the fetus always has human form. It just has the form of a human at an age younger than we're used to being able to see humans. Our failure to recognize that form as human reflects our ignorance, not the fetus' humanity.

Imagine somebody who was shipwrecked as an infant, along with a bunch of adults. The shipwrecked folks are rescued 30 years later. The person that was a baby when shipwrecked wouldn't recognize a baby as having "human" form, having never seen a baby. He'd have to be told what this odd, squirming, big-headed, toothless creature was. It wouldn't look like a person to him, since he'd never seen a person at that developmental stage before.

Christina

What I do know is that there is a huge hole in my life, a sort of Ground Zero, where my 21-year-old son would now be standing tall.

There but for the grace of God go I. My son is 21, and I "knew" I had to have an abortion because I already had a baby I couldn't afford to feed. Fortunately a friend saw a way out for us that involved apartment hunting, not abortion. But when I think of my son, I also think of how close I came to being robbed of him because of despair -- paralyzing despair that was based on the mistaken belief that the pregnancy was the problem. It was our finances. To be specific, it was which apartment we were renting. Once that was fixed, everything else fell into place.

This is why I have such a heart for post-abortion women. There but for the grace of God go I. I have no idea why I was spared when so many others weren't. Hugs, hugs, hugs and prayers.

Christina

That this overture fails an unknown percentage of the time, "up to 50%", either because the embryo isn’t fully viable or because the woman’s body is not receptive. Life really begins only with relationship. Before that, there is only potential life – a seed.

I'd have to disagree with this. After all, the blastocyst is already going about its business dividing. It's more analogous to a seed that has sprouted on a wet paper towel on the kitchen windowsill. The sprout will die if it's not planted, because it needs the earth to continue to grow. The fact that the blastocyst will die if it doesn't implant only means that life needs relationship to continue. Think of another parallel: "failure to thrive." Babies that are given food, warmth, all their immediate physical needs, but who aren't held and cuddled, will sicken and die. Love is a necessity, like air and water. The fact that you'll die without it doesn't mean that exposure to air and water is what caused you to be alive in the first place. That was something within you.

Christina

That it has a drive to live and to become. How sensate or aware it may be at this stage is a mystery. That it intends with every molecule of its being to survive and fulfill its design is not. In fact – and it is a fact -- that drive is powerful enough to propel it eighty years into the future.

Very well put!

Christina

And when I think about a new embryo, and our “choice” to uproot it or harbor it, I don’t only, or even mainly, see an “innocent child.” I see that what we hold in our hands is the power to greenlight or to cancel – to make nothing -- a potentially eighty-year human life.

You've expressed this so poignantly! Wow!

amba

Michael:

1.) There is a huge difference between the genetic material in sperm and eggs, most of which by definition can never be actualized, and an already conceived individual. I think it's disingenuous to equate them and to compare abortion to birth control. I am all for birth control, since I believe sexuality has other legitimate uses than reproduction. I understand the Catholic position that every act of sex should be open to life; I think it's quite beautiful in one sense, and rather anti-sex in another. If people choose to adhere to that , God bless 'em, but even a majority of Catholics do not.

2.) Europeans may have widespread sex outside of marriage -- because they don't much believe in marriage any more -- but I have the impression that much of it is still within relationships. Correct me if I'm wrong. It's well known that American puritanism and guilty promiscuity are closely related, and that if you're matter of fact about sex, and less obsessed with it, you can deal with it more rationally.

3.) If all people with a naturalistic world view were like you, there'd be no problem. To many people, a 'naturalistic' world view means that good=adaptive. Nothing has value in-itself. Everything is grist for the survival mill. . . . . When I say "be 'like God'" I mean be aware and cherishing as much as possible. That's one of the higher human characteristics, and you're right, it doesn't require religion. But I agree with Richard that religion helped us get there. Perhaps it was a scaffolding. Or perhaps these insights actually come from a spiritual dimension, however you understand that.

4.) On the question of whether an embryo is "human," it belongs to the human species. It is to an adult as a seed or seedling is to a tree. Stopping its life is like flushing a seed, or pulling up a seedling, as opposed to chopping down a tree. Just don't forget that you were such a seed.

Michael

Hello Annie,

Some responses...

You said: "There is a huge difference between the genetic material in sperm and eggs, most of which by definition can never be actualized, and an already conceived individual. I think it's disingenuous to equate them and to compare abortion to birth control. "

Yet many of the folks who oppose birth control do precisely that. Birth control still denies the existance of human being -who could have been-.


You also said "It's well known that American puritanism and guilty promiscuity are closely related, and that if you're matter of fact about sex, and less obsessed with it, you can deal with it more rationally."

I agree fully with this.


You said: "On the question of whether an embryo is "human," it belongs to the human species. It is to an adult as a seed or seedling is to a tree. Stopping its life is like flushing a seed, or pulling up a seedling, as opposed to chopping down a tree. Just don't forget that you were such a seed."

And this is where I disagree - a seed is -not- a tree, only the potential for one. If, indeed, and embryo is fully human, then I would agree with those who call abortion murder. For me, it is this definition of 'human' that is the center of the debate. As I implied, at one point I support the right to elective abortion throughout pregancy. I've gotten rather more conservative on the issue after thinking hard on this question.

That doesn't mean I think first Trimester abortion is a wonderful thing - I don't. But - if I thought it was murder, I could not in good conscience support its being legal.

Christina

But I do think I have a chance of convincing at least some of the “pro-choice” that women should be as terrified of risking accidental pregnancy now as we were back when abortion was illegal – not out of fear of the law or the dirty scalpel, but out of understanding of what’s at stake. And that is something so much more substantial and consequential than this moment’s burning sex, even though when you’re in love, or in heat, or in need of pleasing or appeasing a male, it feels just the other way around.

This is a great was of expressing how momentous pregnancy is, and how momentous the decision to end it. I wish you Godspeed in convincing people of it in this oversexed culture. A chaste adult is a freak on a par with a two-headed snake! Trust me, I am one! I've actually been introduced as "the woman who hasn't had sex in six years!" Step right up, folks! You won't believe your eyes! (Not saying being chaste is the only way to avoid unintended pregnancy, or that avoiding pregnancy is my only reason for being chaste! Just making a point about how oversexed we've become, when an unmarried, chaste woman is an aberration.

Christina

There are reasons to avoid abortion like the plague that neither contradict religious reasoning nor depend on it, and that may speak to people whose ears and minds close the moment they hear “God” and “child-killing,” because they fear that a much larger agenda lies in wait.

This is triggering a thought I'd never had before. I'm struggling to articulate it; would that I were as eloquent as you!

Are you postulating that some people are afraid to call abortion wrong because they see that as a "religious" stand? That they fear that if they reject the practice of abortion, they must then also reject the religion of the highly visible antiabortion people?

That makes sense to me, and I'm really glad you said what you did the way you did. It really gives me something to chew on!

Christina

To me, early abortion exists in that twilight zone. It is a moral gray area that grows blacker with each day of gestation, as the embryo’s hold on life, and the blood bond between it and its mother, grow steadily stronger.

I'm seeing this in contrast to your earlier statement: I see that what we hold in our hands is the power to greenlight or to cancel – to make nothing -- a potentially eighty-year human life.

Aborting earlier in the pregnancy doesn't change this fact. I'm interested in seeing how you resolve this. You're doing so much cogitating, mulling, pondering, weighing. Maybe this will be addressed in the next "rant!"

amba

"Birth control still denies the existance of human being -who could have been-."

And abortion denies the existence of a human being who already was. But "in the bud," which to me is not the same as "murder" -- destroying a fully realized human life.

Christina -- thank you. Both -- I want to hear it all!

Christina

An individual is a tapestry woven by the shuttle of experience on the warp threads of DNA.

Wow! Powerful image!

Christina

It’s the simple fact that each life stunningly and uniquely impacts the lives closest to it, and these impacts ripple outward, interacting to make the complex and particular patterns we call the world. Add or remove one individual, and you change everything – not only the sight and sound and story of the world, but its inner dimension, too. A human being displaces a lot of nothingness. .... When someone who was going to be here isn’t here, the air stays sealed at that spot... without even an x to mark the site of amputation. A whole world that would have opened up within the world remains forever closed. Am I making any sense?

Yes, very much so.

Christina

The irony, and the tragedy, is that women and young girls are often faced with exercising this life-or-death power at just the moment when they themselves are most powerless: physically, emotionally, or culturally coerced or conned into trading sex for survival or love. Female empowerment and self-empowerment, still a half-built shambles at best, is an important part of preventing abortion. I’ll come back to that in Part III.

Preach it, sister!

Christina

"The Choice" has so much meaty stuff in it, but I'll tackle this:

If you’re over 40, you owe your existence at least partly to a society that kept sex on a much tighter rein, making sure life struck as often as possible in the tight bull’s-eye of a marriage and not somewhere in the exposed outer rings. (Let’s face it: “abortion on demand” is a clean-up operation for sexual “freedom.”) And that was, for all its strictures and failures, a way of looking out for everyone – of trying to emulate God, or the idea of God. If you’re under 40, well, you’re just one of the lucky ones. In its sexual aspect ... society came to be patterned much more on the idea of nature – of a tumble and clash of powerful, blind forces that affords no one any protection, or any intrinsic value worth protecting, beyond what they can seize for themselves or coax from another storm-tossed human.

That's a really powerful image.

How about a third option? "Becoming" God. We, as a species, have evolved to the point where we alone of all species can afford to care for our sick, our elderly, our injured. We've moved beyond needing each person to be strong or fast or smart. We can now evolve in new directions that don't include the same traits that are necessary for sheer brute survival. We can now become something that goes beyond mere survival of the species.

Christina

The only “choice” that matters, it seems to me, is whether we aspire in this sense to be “part of God” – and you don’t have to believe in God; Buddhists don’t – or whether we’re satisfied to be “part of nature.” And this is a “live by the sword, die by the sword” proposition. If we regard other lives as accidental and disposable, that must be true of ours, too. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t live in a universe that is meaningful when it suits us but meaningless when it dosen't’t – unless we accept that others have the same power to throw us out with the trash. .... Either everybody comes with a destiny, or nobody does.

There are those, though, who would argue that life has meaning only when you become able to imbue it with meaning yourself.

Christina

And I have to say that one factor was the culture. The law would not have stopped me from having an abortion. The culture might have – if it had told me the truth.

I'd love to see you start a movement, "Prochoicers Against Abortion." Keep it legal, make it unthinkable?

Christina

Michael, you say, By about 24 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus has basically it's full complement of nerve cells, and recognizable human neurological activity - I think that fetus is fully (not potentially) human. At the end of the first trimester, there is -not- anything recognizable as human neurological activity.

You seem to be confusing "human" with "adult." Just because we're only accustomed to seeing and dealing with humans of a certain age doesn't make younger humans NOT human. A baby doesn't look, behave, or relate to the world the same way a toddler, teenager, adult, or aged person does. A human fetus has the characteristics of a human at that stage of life. Just because we're not used to seeing it doesn't make it any less real.

Christina

Ambi, I'm enjoying this SO MUCH! Thanks for your provocative and insightful writing.

I get very frustrated that many prolife people divide the world into "prolife" and "people who want to kill babies." There is a very, very wide spectrum of thought on abortion. Politics and sloganeering have left people with the feeling that they have to stick their flag in one piece of ground or the other.

A lot of prolifers probably want you to step over into "our" camp. But I think you're so powerful right where you are. "Prochoicers Against Abortion." Making abortion unthinkable. And let's face it, all the laws in the world will only curtail abortion, not stop it, until society comes to view abortion as the momentous decision it really is.

Michael

Hello Christina,

You said: "You seem to be confusing "human" with "adult." Just because we're only accustomed to seeing and dealing with humans of a certain age doesn't make younger humans NOT human."

No, I'm not confusing human with adult. I suspect you are confusing something that -does not experience- with a human.

In other words, I don't think a 12 week old fetus is human. You may disagree - but your foundation for defining human is, I think, different from mine. What defines being human is, I think, perhaps the core issue in this entire debate.

Oh, and I am -not- thrilled with abortion at any point in pregnancy, and would like us as society to work on teaching folks to take more responsibility for their sexual activities to begin with.

But, even there, what about victims of rape or incest? What about the case where the pregancy has a high risk of killing mother or child, or both? Or, do we really want to go back to the time of the back-alley abortionist, and it's death-toll on adult women?

This ain't an easy issue.

Christina

Michael, every living thing has to belong to a species. A human woman can only concieve a human fetus. If you want to quibble over semantics, choose "person," not "human."

And since you place such a high value on experience, why does a woman have a right to deny another entity of the homo sapiens species the opportunity to ever experience anything at all?

amba

I've been thinking about ashli's contention that keeping early abortion legal means society says it's "not as bad as" rape; and about Michael's arguments about whether or not the embryo is "human" (which Christina quite rightly amends to "a person" -- of course it's a human).

Clearly, what society IS saying by making rape (and murder) illegal and early abortion legal (whether you agree or not) is that the violation of a fully manifest and independently living individual is worse than "nipping a human life in the bud" -- destroying a life before it is fully (or even very far) realized or has full possession of itself. This exception, which nobody (in their right mind) feels very good about, is made because bringing a human infant into the world is such a huge commitment of resources, material and emotional, which sometimes just aren't there (or aren't perceived as being there; here's where the leap of faith comes in). Only an affluent society could even consider bearing every child conceived. Chinese women who had a child they couldn't feed, or out of wedlock, used to commit infanticide. Greeks "exposed" them on a hillside. Surely early abortion is a lot less cruel than that. And yet we have the wherewithal to avoid it.

Richard Lawrence Cohen

Amba,
You're performing a real service by putting out in the open your anguish and your logic about abortion (and giving me a kick by quoting me!). Your commenters are making the discussion even more valuable, spontaneously illustrating the process by which intelligent, sincere people using their powers of reason can disagree because of (I assume) different starting points in personal history and emotion.

I'm no expert on the abortion issue and thankfully I've never been involved in an abortion. Your commenter Michael's position is the one I come closest to: abortion legal during the first trimester. I accept the idea that a fetus at that stage does not demonstrate recognizably human neurological activity. Christina argues philosophically about how we recognize what is human, but it seems to me that this could be an infinite regression: we could go further back into time and end up recognizing our kinship with one-celled organisms. For my part, I can more easily recognize "human" traits in a chimpanzee or a dolphin than in a week-old fetus.

It seems to me that one reason many people in the middle have trouble accepting the anti-abortion view is a discomfort with the idea that abortion is murder. Murder is an extreme word. If a fetus were a full-fledged human being, then of course abortion would be murder. But that's the crucial "if." It seems to me more defensible to say that abortion is killing. There are many forms of killing that fall short of murder. Some of them are justified by society and some are not. We justify killing in self-defense. We justify killing in war. We justify killing heinous murderers. We justify some accidental killings. We justify killing perfectly innocent animals for their flesh and their hides. We don't justify accidental killing with a vehicle. We consider some homicides more heinous than others, and punish them accordingly. And so forth.

So I think the argument might become more honest on both sides if we admitted that, yes, abortion is killing -- but killing of what? And on what side of the line of justifiability? There would be many different answers to this -- the same range of opposition and support that we already have -- but at least the issue would be frankly stated. Personally, I can accept killing a fetus in the first trimester, just as I can accept killing my sperm through a vasectomy. I can't accept killing older fetuses. Some might consider that to be an arbitrary dividing line, but as far as I know there is scientific justification for believing -- and I admit it's a belief -- that a first trimester fetus is not a viable person.

Here's an anecdote to show how difficult it is for anyone to think about this issue objectively. On Sunday afternoon I was in a cafe with a friend, a father like myself, a fine and mild-mannered person, a liberal academic who makes an important contribution to a constructive field of knowledge. In the cafe an after-church party was going on, and there were anti-abortion leaflets being handed out, an anti-abortion folksinger at a microphone, etc. The two of us hung out in a corner and minded our own business. At one point, in mild disgust, my friend said quietly to me, "If they think abortion is wrong, they don't have to have them. And people who don't think it's wrong can have them. Is that so hard to understand--that it's a choice?"

Of course there was something this Harvard Ph.D didn't understand, something very basic: if you think an action is evil and murderous, if you think someone is killing someone else, you don't say, "Oh, let them have the choice to do so."

I felt like asking him, "Is that so hard to understand?" But I didn't say anything, because I know that in liberal circles (and I am a liberal in most of my political positions) you can lose a friend that way. What gave me pause, too, was the feeling that this very intelligent, articulate friend of mine had never really thought independently about the issue. He was only verbalizing what his social group had taught him.

Christina

Richard, I've seen a lot of parroting on both sides. That's part of why I like this blog!

I just find it interesting that when polls were done to find out what Americans really think and know about abortion, there was a strong link between being misinformed and being prochoice -- and the more certain the misinformed person was about his or her "facts," the more strongly he or she self-identified as "prochoice."

The misinformed were wrong about such things as how many abortions there are a year in the US, at what stages of pregnancy they are available, the reasons women give for seeking abortion, and other verifiable facts. The more strongly "prochoice" the person was, the more likely they were to grossly underestimate the number of abortions, to insist that abortions are only legal in very early pregnancy, and so forth.

Naaman

I admire the thought that went into this "rant", and I am in stark admiration of your writing skills.

However...

Like ashli, I disagree with your conclusions about the power of making something legal. Legality is not necessarily an endorsement, but it is a powerful statement that society believes an activity to be acceptable. Drug use in all its forms is a good example here. Alcohol and tobacco are legal (if restricted) drugs. Society has said that using alcohol and tobacco is acceptable within certain limits. We recognize that these two drugs have certain negative consequences, but we have decided that those consequences are manageable, and that they would pale in comparison to the harm that we would inflict on individual liberties by making them illegal. Heroin is not legal. We have decided that the consequences of using heroin (or other illegal drugs) are so severe that we are willing to sacrifice some of our liberties in order to restrain their use. It should be no surprise that alcohol and tobacco are both used with much greater frequency than any of the illegal drugs, showing a correlation between legal restrictions and people's actions. No law will ever eliminate an undesirable activity with complete effectiveness, but the cudgel of governmental authority can be very effective at limiting our behavior.

Also, you have created a false dichotomy between cultural disapproval and legal action. In reality, the two can go hand-in-hand. For example, all states have laws against drunk driving. When activists (MADD and others) raised the concern that the laws were not stopping enough drunk drivers, society followed up with public-service announcements and other forms of cultural pressure to reduce drunk driving. We didn't repeal the laws. We added cultural pressure to legal action, and drunk-driving has decreased.

If abortion is truly wrong, which you seem to believe it is, then what sort of wrong is it? Is it an "acceptable" wrong, or is it unacceptable? In your post, you seem to argue that abortion is unacceptable. If you truly believe that, then the logical conclusion is that we should oppose abortion with all of our resources, both cultural and legal.

Julie

Yup - what Naaman and Ashli have said.

In my own humble words, the laws of a culture are, in theory and at least in part, made to reflect its morality.

Sometimes they are there to protect us from our own actions, as with drug use, which Naaman points out so well. We can and do legislate morality, we can and do legislate issues of health and welfare, and we can and must legally restrict abortion. The argument that people will do it anyway is not sufficient. People do everything under the sun regardless of whether it's illegal, unhealthy, or immoral. For the culture to reflect the idea that abortion is unthinkable, it must in some way build that in, by some active mechanism. How else will people understand? Simply frowning on it hasn't stopped new cigarette smokers from lighting up or made vast numbers of smokers quit, for example. So - many areas have passed legal restrictions on smoking in public, in an attempt to protect society.

Sometimes we have to start with law and the cultural attitude will follow. Back to Naaman's excellent examples, drunk driving is the best. Decades ago, it was normal for people to drive around sloshed, and it was even the subject of jokes. No one laughs at drunk driving anymore, and it started with legislation.

amba

Naaman -- you say, "It should be no surprise that alcohol and tobacco are both used with much greater frequency than any of the illegal drugs, showing a correlation between legal restrictions and people's actions." But alcohol and tobacco aren't widely used because they're legal; they're legal because they've always been so widely used that prohibiting them is futile (as the brief experiment of Prohibition proved).

You also say, "We recognize that these two drugs have certain negative consequences, but we have decided that those consequences are manageable, and that they would pale in comparison to the harm that we would inflict on individual liberties by making them illegal." The decision to make abortions legal was also based on a judgment of "the harm that we would inflict," in this case on women's health, safety, and liberty, "by making them illegal." Women always have and will have abortions anyway. Should they be punished by sepsis, sterility and death?

That's why I think culture is a more powerful tool here than law. If the numbers of abortions skyrocketed when it was legalized, that had as much to do with the change in sexual mores (which, in turn, had more to do with the Pill) and general mores (which became more self- and pleasure-oriented) as with the legalization of abortion. We need to drive the numbers way down, to convince people that impulse is not a legitimate reason to conceive and convenience not a moral reason to abort, and to assure that those women who cannot be dissuaded from abortion do not get butchered.

amba

Julie - "No one laughs at drunk driving anymore, and it started
with legislation."

But as Naaman says, MADD had to come into being because legislation wasn't doing the job. Admittedly I do not know the figures. But I think the thing that REALLY affected the drunk driving rate was the "designated driver" and "don't let friends drive drunk" movement. You will notice that anti-drunk driving ads are not aimed at drunks, but at their friends. Drunks will drive drunk until their licenses are taken away, and then without their licenses, if peer pressure and the voluntary responsibility of others around them does not stop them.

achromic

What an increbile post. I'm extremly pro-choice but I didn't find anything you said offensive or anything like that. I expecially apprecate your call to speak of this without religion. You sound like you are a person of great words and wisdom. I hope you will help both of "us" find a reasonible middle ground that we are in such desprate need of.

Julie

Yes, Amba, you are right. It is a combination of cultural mores and the legal framework within which those are displayed that ultimately changes long held behaviors (think slavery and how long it took to enforce equal citizenship). Didn't MADD succeed, after all, by getting stricter and more enforceable legal restrictions on drunk driving and tougher sentences for offenders? Didn't they use the law to achieve their goal to protect the innocent public?

But the biggest problem with legalized abortion as opposed to legalized drinking and tobacco smoking is that abortion kills an innocent human being every single time - that is it's purpose. We don't drink or smoke to intentionally kill other people, so some level of tolerance by society is acceptable - the behavior is not restricted if it doesn't interfere with the lives of other citizens.

Tamar

I was very very sad to have an abortion.

Pro-Choice is about women's rights.

Killing is complex. All are moral issues.

Let's stop all killing immediately, shall we?

Wars, children in wars, people on death row...animals for food...all.

Lay down your arms - Ban all weapons everywhere. Ban guns everywhere. Stop killing deer, squirrels, rats and mice.

And then - I'll give up my right to choose.

Abigail

Quick point: when you compare abortion to the moral "gray areas," like war and its collateral damage, or self-defense, you leave out a salient feature of abortion: the woman is killing her own child. You talk about sacrificing innocent children, but the picture's radically different when the innocent child you're sacrificing is your own daughter.

Julie

I hope at least some commentators here watched "In the Womb" on the National Geographic channel last night. If not, it will be repeated this Friday, March 11th.

As Ashli pointed out, technology is going to clear up many misconceptions about fetal development. 4D imaging allows us to study fetal behavior and development more closely.

For example, did you know right or left "handedness" begins to develop in the womb, at around 11 weeks of gestation when the fetus begins cultivating the sucking reflex with his or her thumbs? Scientists used to think it developed in early childhood, and they were wrong.

What else are they wrong about? Are we so arrogant as to think we know all there is to know already? If we are wrong, and we often are, why can't we err on the side of life for a change?

Naaman

But alcohol and tobacco aren't widely used because they're legal; they're legal because they've always been so widely used that prohibiting them is futile (as the brief experiment of Prohibition proved).

Well, this is an interesting argument, but the data doesn't support it. As Julie pointed out, recent legislation that severely curtails the "rights" of smokers can be correlated with a decrease in smoking. Prohibition also worked, by the way; per-capita consumption of alcohol dropped sharply (some statistics show a 30% decrease, while others show a decrease of more than 50%), arrests for public drunkenness and other drinking-related crimes dropped, and the American people generally remained supportive of the anti-alcohol ban for several years. What ultimately killed Prohibition was the government's failure to provide adequate resources to enforce the law. Inadequate enforcement contributed to the rise of bootlegging, speakeasies, and all of the other things that people normally cite as proof that Prohibition "failed".

FYI, I don't think that Prohibition was a good idea, so please don't interpret my argument that way. However, Prohibition did actually prove that legal pressure can have a significant impact on personal behaviors, which supports my point about abortion laws.

The decision to make abortions legal was also based on a judgment of "the harm that we would inflict," in this case on women's health, safety, and liberty, "by making them illegal."

Yes, and the decision ignored and/or was un aware of abortion's harmful effects on women, such as: post-traumatic stress disorder, sterility, increased risk of breast cancer, and possible death. Of course, that risk pales beside the known fact that every "successful" abortion kills at least one human being.

Even if we accept NARAL's claims about 100,000 women being maimed and/or killed by illegal abortions per year (a claim that has no supporting evidence and has been discredited by a former NARAL member), how does that compare to 1,000,000+ children killed every year by "safe and legal" abortions? Obviously, any death is tragic, and we should try to prevent all of them. But any solution that prevents one person from dying at the cost of ten other deaths is not an acceptable solution.

Women always have and will have abortions anyway. Should they be punished by sepsis, sterility and death?

This point sounds compelling, but it is ultimately illogical. People who choose to break the law run certain risks when they make that choice. Rapists risk getting a faceful of pepper spray from their victims, burglars risk being attacked by guard dogs, and muggers risk being shot by persons carrying concealed weapons. Should we legalize rape, burglary, and mugging in order to reduce these risks? Of course not, because we recognize the greater harm that is done to the victims by allowing these crimes to proceed without challenge.

That's why pro-lifers take every opportunity to remind people about recent advancements in ultrasound, fetal surgery techniques, etcetera. Science is finally catching up with faith, and the unborn child is being demonstrated to have a valid claim on humanity and personhood. That's also a big part of the momentum behind the post-abortion movement and their fight for recognition. As soon as enough people realize that abortion is not a solution to any problem, but actually an act of terrible violence that kills one person and wounds many others, then we can begin to fight it as a unified society.

That's why I think culture is a more powerful tool here than law.

Use both. It's not an "either/or" decision.

If the numbers of abortions skyrocketed when it was legalized, that had as much to do with the change in sexual mores (which, in turn, had more to do with the Pill) and general mores (which became more self- and pleasure-oriented) as with the legalization of abortion.

Your concern about our cultural decay is well-placed. Many (not all) pro-lifers also agree with various programs to restore some sense of sexual morality to our society. I think that your conclusion is flawed, though, because abortion wasn't legalized until the Sexual Revolution was already underway. If cultural pressures had created the "need" for abortion as you argue, then we should have seen a big increase in pre-Roe arrests for illegal abortions. There is no sign of such an increase.

We need to drive the numbers way down...

YES!

... to convince people that impulse is not a legitimate reason to conceive and convenience not a moral reason to abort...

YES!

... and to assure that those women who cannot be dissuaded from abortion do not get butchered.

Sadly, no. If the costs of protecting women from the dangers of illegal abortion is to continue to allow legal abortion, then the cost is too high. Far better to concentrate our efforts on:
A) Providing meaningful alternatives to abortion, both adoption and increased assistance for new mothers.
B) Holding men accountable for the children that they have a part in creating, so the woman is not left with the sole responsibility.
C) Countering the sexual libertines in our culture. Sex should be a significant act, not a throw-away experience. Sex should be part of a lifelong relationship, not a fun pastime for near-strangers. Pregnancy is not a consequence to be feared, but a bona-fide miracle of creation.
D) Prosecuting back-alley butchers to the fullest extent of the law.

Naaman

Sorry ... butchered the formatting there....

Consider it fixed.

amba

Naaman, I agree with so much of what you say -- let me start with where I disagree. You say:

People who choose to break the law run certain risks when they make that choice. Rapists risk getting a faceful of pepper spray from their victims, burglars risk being attacked by guard dogs, and muggers risk being shot by persons carrying concealed weapons. Should we legalize rape, burglary, and mugging in order to reduce these risks? Of course not, because we recognize the greater harm that is done to the victims by allowing these crimes to proceed without challenge.

I continue to believe that abortion (and the whole realm of bearing children) is morally more akin to war than it is to crime. Not that it involves an enemy, but that if you're not on the front lines, you have to judge with great care the actions of someone who is. I said it as well as I ever will in a private e-mail to Julie Shockley:

I really do think of pregnancy and childbearing as "women's equivalent of war." We are placed in the awful position of mediating between men's imperious drives, not to mention our own drives and emotional needs, and the optimal conditions -- economic and emotional -- for nurturing a child. I don't think this context is talked about enough. It's why women, sometimes by being fallible damned fools, and sometimes by being victimized or intimidated, get into situations where they have to make these terrible life-and-death decisions. And in that sense, the decisions (up to a point) are women's business. These are women's front lines. You've seen what's happened when the home front tries to tell combat soldiers what they can and can't do in war. Yes, we have to set limits, and we do, but then there's that gray zone. (Remember the soldier who was caught on tape shooting the apparently unarmed wounded enemy combatant in the mosque?) And the women who are least able to support children are also the ones whose children are the least likely to be adopted.

One thing I intend to do before writing Part III is read EVERY story on I'm Not Sorry and see what kinds of circumstances, decisions and relationships surrounded these women's choice to have abortions. I've taken enough of a look already to expect to be appalled. A lot of carelessness, a lot of emotional desperation, trying to buy love with sex. A combination of women's time-immemorial low self-esteem (which is still far from healed) and the new sexual marketplace mores, which in fact exploit the former!

And then there are decisions like mine, which was based on a combination of lack of faith and lack of understanding.

And now to the agreement! You said:

That's why pro-lifers take every opportunity to remind people about recent advancements in ultrasound, fetal surgery techniques, etcetera. Science is finally catching up with faith, and the unborn child is being demonstrated to have a valid claim on humanity and personhood.

YES! That's one of the places where science is powerfully influencing culture and should change a lot of minds. Seeing that fetuses smile in the womb was a big turning point.

(By the way, there is a lot of confusion in the use of the terms "embryo" and "fetus." Here is a definition:

The term embryo applies to the product of conception up to the formation of organs, i.e., until the end of the eighth week of gestation. From that point until the end of pregnancy, the product of conception is called a fetus. )

That's also a big part of the momentum behind the post-abortion movement and their fight for recognition. As soon as enough people realize that abortion is not a solution to any problem, but actually an act of terrible violence that kills one person and wounds many others, then we can begin to fight it as a unified society.

As one of the wounded, I must agree.

A) Providing meaningful alternatives to abortion, both adoption and increased assistance for new mothers.

YES!

B) Holding men accountable for the children that they have a part in creating, so the woman is not left with the sole responsibility.

YES! (I've argued this a bit sardonically from the other side, though: "If you're going to compel women by law to bear every child they conceive, then bring back shotgun weddings, too!")

C) Countering the sexual libertines in our culture. Sex should be a significant act, not a throw-away experience. Sex should be part of a lifelong relationship, not a fun pastime for near-strangers. Pregnancy is not a consequence to be feared, but a bona-fide miracle of creation.

YES!

D) Prosecuting back-alley butchers to the fullest extent of the law.

I'd sure like to go back in time and get the one who made a pass at my poor grandmother in her time of distress.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan had a fine essay in TIME about how pro-lifers and pro-choicers who agree about as much as we do can work together in the very ways you recommend to "drive the numbers way down":

Both sides can still fight to keep abortion legal or illegal. But both can also work hard to reduce the moral and human toll of abortion itself.

(Sullivan's essay has gone into the TIME archives, but I'm going to write and ask him to post a live link to it -- or else let me post it here!)

Naaman

I really do think of pregnancy and childbearing as "women's equivalent of war." We are placed in the awful position of mediating between men's imperious drives, not to mention our own drives and emotional needs, and the optimal conditions -- economic and emotional -- for nurturing a child.

I really don't "get" this. Okay, I'm not a woman, but I am married to one. We have two kids, ages 4 and 2. I've been through pregnancy with Mrs. Naaman twice, each time ending in a c-section for breech position. I also have no direct experience with war. I have known a few combat veterans, but their war stories are as close as I've ever come to combat.

Are you trying to say that pregnancy and childbirth are difficult? Sure, no kidding! That they involve sacrifices? Absolutely, although I will humbly suggest (and my wife agrees) that raising children is a bigger sacrifice because it never, ever ends.

[NOTE: I have no experience with problem pregnancies, either. When I think about what ashli suffered (HG), I just don't have anything that I can use for comparison.]

Are you trying to say that pregnancy and childbirth sometimes justify the taking of innocent life, as we reluctantly accept the inevitable civilian deaths in a war? If so, I just don't agree. Even if I did, there's a world of difference between civilian casualties in a war (which we try hard to prevent) and the deliberate killing of an unborn child. Your analogy might be better if our military was randomly executing civilians to "maintain order" in Iraq, but of course that's not happening. If it was, it would be condemned by nearly everyone.

I'm sorry for my own density, but I just don't understand the point that you're trying to make by comparing pregnancy/childbirth to war. It's probably me, not you. :(

Naaman

Both sides can still fight to keep abortion legal or illegal. But both can also work hard to reduce the moral and human toll of abortion itself.

That's a tempting claim. Unfortunately, the reality of most "common ground" arguments is that they involve compromises that are unacceptable to one side or the other.

For example, much attention has been given to Senator Reid's "Putting Prevention First" bill. NARAL sent an open-letter to pro-lifers, asking us to join with them in supporting the bill. Many pro-lifers will not do so (myself included), for two main reasons:
1. The proposed method of preventing pregnancy is pushing birth control at every available opportunity. But birth control fails, even when correctly used. Worse still, pushing birth control has led to the cultural decline we agreed upon earlier. And Senator Reid's bill specifically recommends killing abstinence-only education, which is the only method that's been proposed to halt the slide.
2. The Reid proposal also makes much of so-called "emergency contraception" (EC) to prevent abortions. EC prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, thereby causing the death of that fertilized egg. For those of us who believe that human life begins at conception, EC is really just an early form of pharmaceutical abortion. Preventing abortions with more abortions isn't a compelling strategy.

Basically, this is not a new strategy. It's just more of the same thing that got us to where we are today, disguised as a "moderate" proposal. More thoughts on the "common ground" arguments are at my blog.....

Julie

Amba, I, too, was a little confused about the comparison between war and abortion, and Naaman expressed it best - in war we do make an attempt to avoid killing the innocent. Abortion always targets the innocent. I also don't feel as victimized by my biological make-up (anymore) as I think some feminist thought would like me to feel.

To build ourselves up as women we must stop trying to reject what it is we were biologically designed to do in order to perpetuate the human species. To do otherwise implies to women that there was something lacking in the way they were formed, and that is simply not empowering.

Lastly, I don't think we can succeed in convincing others that the creation of life is a marvel to be treasured while we use terminology that equates conception of the innocent child with an attack on the woman.

amba

Naaman and Julie -- of course I don't mean to make an exact analogy between childbearing and war, that would be absurd. I mean that when it comes to sex, men, the difficulties of relationships (especially given many women's emotional fragility) and the possible consequences, women are on the front lines, up against it, the way men traditionally are in war. And the decisions made in those situations are morally difficult and too easy to judge from the sidelines. You cannot underestimate the difficulties that women, especially poor women, go through on that front. To repeat myself, the women least able to support a child will also often have the children least likely to be adopted. Pretty much the only way a woman could stay off those front lines would be to be 1) celibate or 2) happily married. By all means, let's shift society back that way, but how far? (If a woman doesn't behave virtuously enough, there's always honor killings.) Meanwhile, why reject initiatives that would reduce abortions because they aren't "pure"? That's the part I don't get (and Andrew Sullivan, who's pro-life, doesn't get). Are the fetuses that are aborted while we're squabbling with each other "martyrs for the cause"?

amba

As for terminology that equates "conception of the innocent child with an attack on the woman," here's what I said about that:

"It is a kind of self-defense – one life in precarious progress fending off a blameless hijacking by another barely begun – yet it presents the stomach-turning conundrum of self-defense against the defenseless. To define this act as either a crime or a right is too simple. It‘s a tragedy" . . .

I'm trying to "stay with the gray" because I feel that that is THE TRUTH about abortion -- as much as each side would like to resolve it one way or the other. It is NOT SIMPLE and it cannot be MADE SIMPLE.

As for birth control and sex ed, I think we should be studying the examples of other countries that have lower unplanned-pregnancy and abortion rates. I suspect we will find that the availability or unavailability of information about birth control is not what makes the difference -- that culture makes the difference, and that the very extremism of American culture on sexual issues is part of our inability to handle them rationally and successfully

Julie

Dear Amba - you do an excellent job covering the myriad shades of gray. Forgive me if I sound as if I think it is simple. That's not at all the case. It's simple in theory, and so difficult in practice, but we must often do what is hard. I appreciate that you listen so well and respond so openly - these are the discussions that may at least decrease the number of abortions, and yes, I want them decreased!

Please understand that I would never underestimate the struggles of an impoverished woman who is unexpectedly pregnant. I am the daughter of one who used abortion to solve her problem, and since it didn't make us wealthy, I was one myself at age 16 - young, uneducated, from a poor working class father-less family, small town, no resources, etc. No, I never underestimate these things, and I can speak from experience when I say that these abortions didn't solve the problem. We became poor women who had killed their children for money and some perceived sense of security.

Wasn't poverty alone bad enough? Did we have to have that tempting choice in our faces, too, especially my mother, who sacrificed one child to feed her others, and then fell apart as a result, leaving those other children unattended and uncared for? No one was saved and many people were hurt.

Then there's the obvious reality that not every woman who gives birth to her unwanted child is condemned to a life of poverty as a result, even if that's where she began. It is hard to see the alternatives when one is in the midst of a crisis pregnancy. What we perceive as unbearable very often is not in reality. We think we can't handle this or that, but when it comes time, well, we simply do.

How often I have wished I could go back and change what I did because even immediately after, I knew that whatever I would have suffered in order to have the child would have been worth it. Anything was better than giving in to an abortion. Anything. But when you're in fear, that's hard to see. We do nearly nothing as a society to help women in such need except offer to help them kill their children.

Abortion is simply an abuse of impoverished people when they feel forced to sacrifice their own family members in order to survive. We must embrace each other and do what we can socially to give all people the opportunity to make a decent living. Yes, that's hard! Abortion is so much easier.

Julie

Regarding Mr. Sullivan's essay, I read it, too, and did not dislike it. If the birth control method used does not involve the destruction of the fertilized egg, then I say it's between a person and his or her God. As a Catholic, I choose not to thwart God's will in the matter, but I don't expect everyone else to do the same. However, when life is destroyed, society must step in to protect that citizen.

We need to determine when the unborn's civil rights kick in, and at this point, IMHO, there is no scientifically sound moment in time other than that moment of conception when the unique and unrepeatable DNA of the new human being is created. Every other bar set in the past has shifted - viability used to be 28 weeks - now it's 24. Were the 25 and 26 week old fetuses aborted ten years ago somehow inferior to today's fetuses? No, it was just technology marching along, and it marches viability closer and closer to the moment of conception. Scientists now agree that there is no developmental difference between the 33-week old fetus and the newborn child, or as I heard it said on National Geographic's "In the Womb," "birth could be a relatively insignificant event in developmental terms." Birth cannot be the standard then, either.

It isn't simple, but it is necessary for us to determine when life begins and then when civil rights begin as a result. It wasn't easy to end slavery, either, but no one argues anymore whether it was necessary. Many people suffered as a result, too - the economy of the South was destroyed, and, while I'm no expert and hope to be corrected if I'm wrong, I don't think it has returned to its pre-Civil War prosperity even today.

Thank you for the discussions, Amba, and for sharing your deeply moving and personal story.

Ronni

It concerns me here, among all the hair splitting on when/if a zygote/embryo/fetus is worthy of being considered human/viable and whether abortion is a killing or a murder that every one of you has ignored Tamar’s comment. Scroll back up there – it’s the one that has a line space between each sentence.

I had two abortions, one while single, the other while married; one illegal and one legal. Trust me, if you choose to do this, legal is better.

Now. Dare I say what will undoubtedly, in this discussion, be judged aberrant:

I never had a twinge of regret after my abortions. No sadness. No dreams. No second thoughts. There was not a moment of angst preceding my decisions. In fact, it was not even a question of debate with myself. I knew I did not want a child in both instances and the only difficulty was finding a responsible abortionist for the illegal one. Had I not been able to locate one, I would have gone with some version of the coat hanger route and perhaps not be here today.

In the decades since then, I have followed the abortion issue closely. I have reported its developments in my work. And I have wondering sometimes, as I listen to the pro-life people and the pro-choice folks with doubts, if I am, in having no twinges, missing a morality gene that marks me as depraved, or at least inhumane.

After some consideration, I rejected that idea: I’m as kind and moral – or not – as the next person. Average. I do not doubt the rest of you are too.

Most of the discussion here boils down to a question of the value of life at differing points in its development. Science has pretty well proved that by the time any woman realizes she is pregnant, the new life, left to nature’s devices, is viable and I believe that to allow abortion at week 10 or 15 or 26 and not after, is still killing. So the only question is whether the society wishes to sanction this particular kind of killing. For the moment, it does.

Most reasonable people today agree that killing is immoral – that is, except for the ones society sanctions. Which ones those are shifts dramatically through history. Not so long ago, based purely on then acceptable religious superstition, women were killed for being witches. Until a few days ago, we executed people for crimes they committed as children. In some Arab countries, women are stoned to death for infidelity. What kind of killing is considered immoral or not depends on when and where you are born.

With the discussions here of souls (which most people believe are unique to mankind), and unborn children reaching out from the other side, an underlying assumption is that human life trumps all other life on earth.

No one but PETA members questions the killing of food animals nor the recreational killing of birds and deer nor the “culling” of bears in New Jersey each year. Is that not murder? Do animals have less right to life than humans? I’m not willing to concede that, though it doesn’t keep me from enjoying of a good steak.

As a society, we make choices about what is morally acceptable and in the U.S., we have decided that we will tolerate certain kinds of killing while others are designated reprehensible. We flatter ourselves, in our distinctions, that we are morally superior to civilizations past. We are not; we only hide our acceptable killing from public view.

In the open debate our society allows, each of us must decide where, along the fault lines of moral acceptability, we lie. Until we approach all killing with as much minute hair splitting as the abortion issue here, I claim my right, with Tamar, to choose.

amba

Masahiro Morioka, a male Japanese bioethicist, has written about the work of Japanese feminist Mitsu Tanaka, which unfortunately has not been translated into English. Here's a startling excerpt:

Tanaka believes that it is women that determine whether to have an abortion or not. However, at the same time, she doubts the way of thinking that abortion is acceptable because a fetus is not a human person. Tanaka goes on to say that women have a self-consciousness that cannot be persuaded either by the idea that a fetus is not a human person, or by the idea that women have a right to abortion. Tanaka calls it the self-consciousness of a "fetus killer". She writes as follows.

    If people call a woman who has an abortion a "killer," I take a defiant attitude and say that yes I am a killer, and then I want to choose abortion. Gazing at the chopped up fetus body, I admit that I am a fetus killer, and then I am going to make every effort to accuse our society that made me kill the fetus.(3)

    Tanaka thinks that a woman who has an abortion sways between two kinds of consciousness, that is, the consciousness that it is her right to determine whether to have an abortion or not, and the consciousness that she is going to be a fetus killer. Tanaka concludes that women should face this "confused self" swaying between these two kinds of consciousness, because this "confused self" should be the basis of the women's movement and the coming new philosophy of life. She stresses that the most important thing for us is "the sway of confused self" because this sway of confused self leads us to encounter others who are also swaying between another type of dilemma in their own lives. The real encounter is made possible only between people with swaying and confused selves. Hence, what Tanaka was aiming at was not bioethics in the narrow sense of the word, but real philosophy of life through which we contemplate the meaning of life, seek to encounter others who have existential suffering and pain in their hearts, and try to find ways to change this society into better one where people can live their own lives, in other words, society where nobody becomes anybody's victim or slave.

As a man, Morioka concludes:

[M]en have to think deeply what is their own "sway of confused self." Men have escaped from facing the fact that men's mentalities are full of grave confusions and contradictions. By "theoretically" rationalizing this, men have turned their eyes away from their inner confusions and contradictions. If men sincerely face this fact, they may find a narrow way leading to a truly meaningful discussion with women who are running ahead of us.

amba

I should add that while I approve of the grim honesty of that (Tanaka) -- it's a real no-euphemism zone -- I take exception to the buck-passing: "Society made me do it." Society does play a part, but we still have a "CHOICE."

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

New on FacTotem, my Natural History Blog

Jacques' Story: Escape From the Gulag

The AmbivAbortion Rant

Debating Intelligent Design

Ecosystem


  • Listed on Blogwise

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 08/2004