On Abortion III: Miscarriage, Privacy, and Abortion

When the Berger Court decided Rowe v Wade, the justification for it was in regards to the implicit right to privacy found in the 9th Amendment, not gender equality or in how to define the life of a fetus. These are obviously not unimportant questions in regards to abortion as these form the central points of public discourse on the permissibility of abortion, but they are not the questions answered when the decision to have an abortion in the United States was made legal and perhaps that’s an important thing to which we should revisit. All of this is not to say that there is not a legitimate interest that sometimes impedes on privacy (i.e. most violence occurs in private spaces rather than public) and that we should depoliticize interpersonal relations, but privacy always regards a question of power. Not only is it an issue of access to information about a person’s life, but it is a question of actionability on this information. For example, the Patriot Act was not vainly to exhibit the right to access to information (something surveillance paranoiacs should remember) but about the right to access information to guide responses to supposed threats. This is not to justify infringements on privacy such as the Patriot Act but to say that just invoking privacy is not enough, but it is important in determining whether the state is exhibiting power and if this exhibition is justified. These arguments are not emotionally satisfying I am aware but they are relevant especially given its legal history.  

How does the right to seek an abortion protect privacy?

Much like Griswold v Connecticut, Rowe v Wade relied on a patient and her or his doctor having the right to make decisions as they see fit between them, independent of the public’s opinion of this, an essential premise on which liberal and minority rights are based (though they obviously can never fully escape this). Privacy is presumed in this case because the decision can be limited down to between a doctor and his or her patient, with no need for wider recourse in making the decision. The person seeking the service and the person providing the service are the only ones who have power or the right to information over the situation. Now, this extent of privacy can lead to coercion or exploitation (e.g. Kent Gosnell) but this is not unique to this specific private decision except in that it affects different aspects of someone’s life than other decisions might. However, this decision being private also prevents the coercion of the state in the decision. Now, this may be trading one form of coercion for another and private coercion and public coercion are not unique except in the extent and direction of force. For this reason, anarchists, libertarians, and the anti-surveillance left are probably more likely to buy this aspect of argument than the socialist and feminist left that doesn’t reject the state in itself nor believe that privacy unto itself is always a good. However, where these views may start to buy this is where it approaches autonomy. Obviously the privacy, given the right, non-exploitative conditions, allows the space in which someone may freely decide whether or not to have an abortion. But this isn’t an issue of information, but an issue of power. What about privacy in itself?

If the state has no recourse to prevent someone from seeking an abortion under many conditions than it also has no interest in demanding information on pregnancies. Now this has not stopped the government from attempting to do so given attempts to prosecute women over pregnancy outcomes because of possible drug abuse and the like, but it does hamper the abilities and justifications to do so. This information may be kept private (though perhaps not given how good Target and other companies have gotten at directing advertisements to pregnant women) in some capacity from the government if one wishes. Also, the privacy afforded pregnancy information as medical information may prevent harassment towards women who may be pregnant for any multitude of reasons. Again, this falls into the societal problems of slut-shaming, Malthusian and populist classism directed at the poor, abuse relevant to pregnancy status, and many other things. For this reason, the privacy to control the information about pregnancy that legally allows someone to seek an abortion also affords some protections to other pregnant women not just ones who seek abortion. (Now, privacy also does justifiably grant the right to abortion itself in a legal sense because if the state has no right to know of someone’s pregnancy and therefore this person is indistinct before the eyes of the law then this person also does not have her choices made unique before the eyes of the law, of which an abortion would be one.) But the issue of abortion particularly provides a shield to a very specific set of women who become pregnant: those who miscarry.

Abortion and Miscarriage

Given the cultural context of Rowe v Wade, if it were overturned, given the public awareness of abortion, the suspicious eye of the state could be directed at miscarriages. In fact, in the case of a medication abortion, miscarriage and abortion are not visibly distinct. The only difference is that the abortion was intentional and the miscarriage was not. Now, a point to be made here is that this is not insignificant in regards to numbers of pregnancies and therefore I am not appealing to some comparatively rare hypothetical. About half of all zygotes, independent of intentional abortion, result in miscarriage and 15-20% of all known pregnancies not intentionally aborted end in miscarriage. Ultimately this is not to say that the legality of abortion prevents all women who miscarry from being imprisoned, but what it does do is allow for in such an event as a miscarriage, which for many is traumatic, is privacy. There need not be any inspector to question, no doctor to report, no police to detain in regards to a miscarriage if there is none for an abortion. Because they are not distinct to those who only know a pregnancy status, but not much more intimate detail of someone’s life, these eventually become confused and require juridical management which ultimately cuts into the privacy of both those who may seek an abortion and those who may have gone through something such as a miscarriage. Both the conditions that lead to an abortion may be traumatic and a miscarriage may be traumatic. They also might not, but the state cannot distinguish between who to question in this case. Rightfully so, many people would say that it would be intrusive and callous to force someone who is having a hard time dealing with a miscarriage to vindicate herself before the law. Ultimately, the right to seek an abortion prevents this in the case of the state, though perhaps not in more private settings as with a sexual partner or family. Again, this is not to say that all women who have a miscarriage would be shipped off to prison if abortion were made illegal, but it would lead to a level of intrusion due to the law, whether by medical professionals, social workers, police, or harassment by suspicious family. And for those who do not believe that unjust intrusion on reproductive lives by the state is far-fetched, forced sterilizations are found throughout the 20th-Century of the United States and even occasionally the 21st-Century.[i] Forced sterilization may not be the same as preventing abortion or questioning the honesty of an account of miscarriage, but it is a related intrusion into the privacy of person and rights regarding reproduction.

[i] http://mic.com/articles/53723/8-shocking-facts-about-sterilization-in-u-s-history

Advertisements

On the Intelligibility of Trans Identities

To start, transgender people exist. If we admit this, we’re already ahead of the game, though not exactly a good sign that that is ahead of the game. There is a problem of many issues with how transgender people are made intelligible to people of different frames of mind, the first of which is that they don’t exist, but there are many more problems. Now, I am a socialist feminist which gets much of its hermeneutics from radical feminism, which has the most problematic relationship within the Left towards trans people, which is why much of this post will be heavily criticizing this, as I see it as a heavy burden which feminist communities need to own up to and turn away from. Let’s begin.


Gender Essentialism

Gender essentialism is a term to describe permanence to gender. There is an “essence” to it. Gender essentialism is primarily thought of as, though is not limited to, equating sex and gender. The feminine gender is as much a part of the female sex as ovaries or two X-chromosomes per cell. In short, a vagina is a signifier of woman and a penis is a signifier of man. Now, this carries further in effect in many ways beyond this by bifurcating between a “morals for men” and a “morals for women” because of the perceived endowment of a certain purpose associated with each gender which is perceived as affixed to an embodied sex. Men are a certain way and their “morality” is associated with whether or not he properly abides by this and women are a certain way and their “morality” is associated with…and so on. Obviously, there are problems with this in how trans and intersex people are understood by society. Since female is woman is feminine and male is man is masculine is the logic of society, bodies, minds, and preferences that don’t match this can misunderstanding at least and outright hostility at most. Ambiguous genitalia (in regards to a male-female dichotomy) are often “fixed” to a proper sex soon after birth, a seemingly drastic solution for a purely aesthetic difference, but in the face of a cultural context in which things like that don’t exist and a rite of passage for parents is picking out colors for nurseries, an all too common one. For the record, this practice is one the Intersex Society of North America pushes to end. Now, one might think that this is a rare occurrence but given that this occurs in over 1% of births, it might be advisable to consider your options (of which I would agree with ISNA that perhaps having a child that is intersex shouldn’t be considered some horrible thing to be prevented by surgery against a child’s will).[i] So the seeming lack of option for gender without an embodied sex seems to be frightening to people, perhaps not surprising given we only understand the world as male men and female women. Now, I would suggest intersex conditions should tell us a lot about how tying a personality (i.e. gender) to a body should be insufficient if we really believe in the “liberal individual” and damning towards those who can’t understand this. But maybe the anxiety does tell us a little about trans people.

Transgender people come in many different bodies and genders, but carry one common characteristic: they don’t fit the body-mind-personality framework that gives two options in which all three of these characteristics is super-imposable. They are people who defy the embodied form of gender essentialism directly. They are the other that should be scary to those who wish to understand people in a gender dichotomy. However, why are we scared of this? Only because it challenges what we’re taught. Now, radical feminists fear it for a different reason: that it reduces gender to being performative and not powered. This is not true because a) some trans people feel it is their true “essence” or “inner self”, not unproblematic for anti-essentialists such as radical, socialist, and Marxist feminists, but nonetheless at least indicates it’s not all about life being an absurd theater of gender, race, and class in which we have existential agency and b) because being performative is not exclusively separated from being powered. Let’s start with the problems of radical feminism in understanding trans people.

Radical Feminist Interpretations of Trans Identity

Okay, first, radical feminism sometimes errs on an oddly essentialistic side sometimes. Second, it has a history of raw transphobia that would make hate speech scholars shudder. Janice Raymond, a prominent radical feminist, once wrote that all transsexual “she-men” rape women’s bodies and Sheila Jeffreys has also said things on a similar ground that radical politics should more readily understand as hate speech. However, what I believe Raymond means, instead of suggesting all transsexual women are rapists, is that transsexual-embodiment of trans women is appropriating women’s bodies. Now, she’s wrong but here’s where the logic comes from: to be able to fully understand women’s experience, one has to be born a female and understood as a woman in our powered and essentialistic framework. I.e. if you were born a male and made a boy because of this, you have been given privileges in society that you could not understand were not part of the different girlhood and therefore, by your own agency given to you as a man, you are inappropriately entering the unique space of womanhood and the female body if you live as a woman and transition to a female body. Here’s why it’s wrong: nobody universally experiences their gender. There are powered trends, yes, but not universally applied modes of power and gender can’t be extricated from it’s experience among the experiences of gender, class, and gender-related identities such as sexuality. (I.e. the oppression gay people face, though is very highly related to our understandings of gender and is related to patriarchal power [compulsory heterosexuality as necessary to delineate gender and provide power of men over women for example], cannot be fully subsumed into “gender”.) In fact, gender, race, and class produce the modes of power among each other and contribute to related oppression. Bell hooks rightfully criticized radical feminism for its erasure of race and class (hence her treatise Ain’t I a Woman?) and how race, class, and gender are coproduced. There are different womanhoods and manhoods because, well, there are rich, white, straight men  and poor, black lesbians and everything in between. Multiple considerations for how agency and power are experienced in their lives that imprint across each of their identifying markers. For example, a black manhood can’t be understood as a “black” experience+ “man” experience= “black manhood”. For the reason of all these ambiguities and intersectionality, there is no reason to universalize womanhood in such a way that shapes trans women into “invaders” and “appropriators” and trans men into “women embodying their own self-hatred” and genderqueer people into “vain performers”.

Sexual Frauds, Gender-Betrayers, and Freaks

This is the primary way of understanding trans people within patriarchal society. A powered production needs to regulate when people can “cross” the boundaries and when they can’t. By being trans in any way, someone is violating the “codes” of gender that society wishes to have which gives a few results. Because women are understood as female-bodied, a misogynistic and trans-erasing presumption, when a trans woman has a rapport going with a man in a romantic or sexual sense they are perceived as fraudulent and violating of such a code as to deserve rejection, be perceived as a liar, or even face violence. This has a strange intermingling of homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia that ultimately are heavily interconnected. By perceiving someone as a “woman”, the straight cisgender man who is likely on the other end of such an interaction, is presuming the right to know that there is a “vagina” and by presuming that “penis” means a “man” he perceives it as a homoerotic encounter that threatens his heterosexual status, ultimately a threat that is apocalyptic to some. The “reveal”, however it happens is a very risky endeavor because of the many ways it can be taken, few of them good. Living out the sexual lifecourse for trans women isn’t only complicated, it’s dangerous, emotionally and physically. Take Trainspotting and The Crying Game for examples here. (Ewan McGregor’s narrative over this event in Trainspotting is a beautifully radical understanding of gender by which I was pleasantly surprised.)  How it can also be understood is as “betraying” your gender. “Choosing” to be a woman, however that’s understood, hypothetically threatens the hegemony of men’s status, because if it is so much better why would one ever leave it? “Choosing” to be a man, ultimately means you’ve given up on your sisters. “Choosing” to be genderqueer means rejecting everyone, because friendship is predicated on common identity more than we’d like to think. This is how different trans identities are understood because gender is somewhat tribal (which is hardened by compulsory heterosexuality, which is why it is necessary for many variants of patriarchal productions). Being a freak is ultimately what this comes down to for others. It makes people uneasy. The idea that you can look at a man and he could have a vagina, but you gave him the status of “man” scares people. The gendered lifecourse is so associated with forever and always being perceived in the same way that any aberration makes it ultimately scary to think that perhaps it could have been different. Everyone is a feminine, female woman or a masculine, male man and any aberration ultimately melts this one sureness of the world that all of us know. This is why we owe trans people so much. They make us grow if we can look them in the eye and accept their identity. We learn much more the ambiguities of the world.


This doesn’t even begin to describe all of the unique experiences of trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming people and am only wishing to show some of the problems with how they are understood among an essentialistic, patriarchal society that cannot comprehend them in a comfortable way. I do not wish to appropriate them for others’ purposes or my own. I only wish to describe parts of why they are unfairly treated.

 

[i] http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency

On Capitalism, Culture, and the Individual

In the 1940s, neo-Marxist cultural critic Theodor Adorno proposed a model for interpreting signifiers of culture and described it as the culture industry. The culture industry is used to mean the facets of culture that arise directly through capitalist means of production: television shows, fashion, niche food tastes, etc. (I’m participating in it right now as I am eating at a Qdoba restaurant in Miamisburg, Ohio). Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School saw the arising of the culture industry in a greater media age in which information could be more readily distributed through radio, movie theaters, television later, etc. as a technology of passivity and a threat to “high art.” This is not exactly an appeal to obscure or unavailable history as most of this is summed up in the first paragraph of the article on culture industry on Wikipedia. Now, in my view, this is not so incredibly unique from other cultural production as they might make it out to be as all culture is in some way patently artificial because it comes down to decisions from people in the mix of response to exploitation, desire, friendship, hatred, etc that exists without capitalism, late capitalism, or postindustrial capitalism, but there is some insight: the individuality that late and postindustrial capitalism supposedly offers is ultimately mediated and buffeted by the market.

For those that have the means, capitalism does in fact confer the freedom of motion that capitalism claims to offer. You can go to the mall and select from a dissolving assortment of products. You can mark out your taste for different brands of cars by driving the one you like; in fact, in our culture, this supposedly says something about you: whether you drive a foreign make or a US make, a truck, a minivan, or a sedan, and so on and so forth, serious debates about “values” in some circles. You can wear Levi’s if you’re the rugged American man; you can wear American Eagle if you’re youthful and up-to-date but not flashy; you can wear Guess if you’re stylish. However, what does this really mean?

This is one of those issues where the Left unavoidably sounds like moralistic older people chastising the younger generations for “materialistic vanity” and “a culture of things”, but it’s important to note there is a very different ideological basis for this and it is with an incredibly different goal in mind. It is not about unifying a society. It is not about chastising people who are inundated in marketing for wanting certain things. It is about asking: “How meaningful is individuality if it’s only signified through what I buy?” It is about offering agency towards greater individuality, not collectivizing the celebration of a “more moral country” or any other vain subsuming of the participants in culture for culture reified and, in my view, driving a few aspects of “societal  fracturing” deeper down the rabbit-hole.

Now a point to start with is this, to harken back to radical feminism: the personal is political. For this reason some of our market participation can be somewhat subversive, but it has to be conscious in a kind of way that is intentional and not limited to mere taste. (A beautiful example of this is the monokini for breast cancer survivors who wish to show their mastectomy scars, in spite of being judged as “crass”, or girls unashamedly wearing fishnets despite that being perceived as “slutty” fashion. What makes these subversive is that there is a price to pay socially that most consumption does not. In other words, resistance is part of the decision related to market participation.) However, ultimately, most of our choices in the market are depoliticized (but not made unpolitical) and limited to mere taste. The depoliticized nature of taste indicates collective similarity, not individuality. Even when consumption is not depoliticized, if our political and/or individual expression is only marked through market consumption, then ultimately individual difference is only limited to how one spends her or his money rather than any further difference. The commodification of identity, political efficacy aside, means that the only meaning signified by consumption is the consumption itself. Ultimately, people who think of themselves as different from “those others” ultimately is not that different in effect beyond what they wear, what they drive, what they eat, what they watch. (Hipsters are a prime example as they only seek that which signifies them being different: what they consume. The group that thinks it’s different ultimately just hasn’t learned the truth of “Whatever” unlike most other people, meaning they don’t realize they’re just annoying, not different.) Now does this mean that a great harm on the individual is occurring? Probably not. But what it does mean is that, independent of other forces towards social collectivization that cooperate with consumption behaviors such as economic coercion and imposition of demand, the market just doesn’t do that good of a job of providing the individuality it celebrates.In the market “being you” just doesn’t matter except when it comes to what you buy.

On Abortion II: The Act in Context

On Abortion II: The Act In Context

 

I do not wish to appeal to palatability, because that gives more credence to solely aesthetic, emotive politics like the politics of disgust, which are in fact relevant to the very issue I am talking about. However, it is unavoidable for the purpose of providing a more satisfactory justification than just ontological argument and I wish to delve into the real reasons some women get abortions. I wish to make the point that they seek them for reasons other than the God-complex and selfishness of which they are accused. To this matter as well, even in a case that I may not like that does not grant me the privilege to take their rights away as many circumstances are multilayered. I will go in the direction of what are perceived as more palatable cases to less palatable as I think they are viewed in society. I am also not saying that people do not have far more complex experiences than these cases seem to indicate that lead to them deciding to have an abortion or that they universally experience abortion during and after the fact the same way.


Life of the Mother

This one appears to go without saying that this is okay. If the choice really does come down to the life of the mother or the child then making abortion impermissible is the same as forcing an abortion. In either case, a life is being systematically chosen over the other (if you perceive a fetus as a life). It would be equally valid to say that one would be killing the mother for the child if abortion is killing the child for the mother. (Also, if a pregnancy could be lethal to a person, the fetus surviving through the point of birth is also far short of a guarantee.)

Rape*†

Here comes the appeal to mental health and bodily autonomy:

1) If someone is pregnant due to rape, she may not feel she is mentally fit to handle a pregnancy. Pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a child or an adoption search can be stressful and, given the damaging mental health effects some rape victims experience, an abortion might very well seem overwhelming to the pregnant woman and her healthcare providers.

2) How the pregnancy in itself is perceived matters to the pregnant woman. If she perceives the fetus as just another part of the rapist rather than neutrally as “any other fetus”, the prospects to the pregnant woman  of giving birth to the legacy of her rape very justifiably might be terrifying to her.

3) The pregnancy can be perceived as the extension of the rape itself. Rape is about taking control of a body and a person and if the pregnancy is forced to continue without the option of terminating it, there is quite literally bodily control occurring as well as continued circumstances under which other people may feel extra-justified in judging one’s personal choices, such as nutrition, whether or not to drink alcohol, whether or not to drive, etc, possibly reminiscent to some of the explaining away of rape through victim blaming. One’s social and bodily autonomy is hindered by pregnancy so the effect of rape was not only the loss of one’s self-ownership, sense of mattering to another human being, possible loss of social trust, sense of existing that many rape victims feel during and immediately after the fact but the continued feeling of these losses. The bodily extension of the rape stays. Bodily self-ownership, getting to decide what is and is not within one’s own body, is eliminated by not getting to choose whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. The sense of existing may be lost because in some circles her existence is only about her pregnancy. The loss of social trust may continue because a victim may feel judged for considering an abortion or not wanting to continue the pregnancy, a reality many rape victims who seek abortion face today given people’s views on abortion.

4) Some rapists have sought custody of children conceived through rape and some of those have even succeeded. To many rape victims, the thought of having to face their rapist again in a court of law even in a rape trial where they may see them found guilty and punished is too much to bear. The thought of being sued and losing the case to one’s rapist might be a horrifying thought, let alone having to relinquish one’s own child to someone who’s done such a severe crime against one is also rightfully so the thought of which might be too much to bear.

5)If abortion rights even in the case of rape are removed then this may open the door to targeted forced pregnancies through rape as is a known war crime throughout the world.

For many rape victims who become pregnant due to their rape, they seek an abortion and, for many, they carry through with the pregnancy. Neither one of these choices needs to be judged, as they are both clearly reasonable. For many, not having to worry about a pregnancy is an incredible sense of relief in the midst of circumstances that relief is not common to use for some. For others, a pregnancy and raising a child may be something they feel might help continue with their life after a traumatic event. In either case, the choice offers some control over circumstances to which they have been unwittingly subjected.

An Abusive Relationship

To head this criticism off, being abused by a sexual or romantic partner is not the fault of the victim. “Just leaving the relationship” is not as easy of an option as one might think from both psychological and economic perspectives. I will just leave that as an axiom, because I just do not want to indulge anyone as heartless as to lay blame on a victim. (And yes, marriage celebrators, spouses can be abusers too making the process of leaving even harder, partly due to you.) Issues at hand:

1)Control of contraception: some women are in sexual relationships in which they may not control contraception. This can be for a few reasons. A) The man does not like condoms therefore will not use any barrier method or is not responsible for even low effectiveness birth control like coitus interruptus (e.g. the Blue Valentine example). B) Though not related to abuse, high effective birth control like the pill or IUDs may not be feasible due to medical or financial circumstances. C) Moral opposition by the male partner. Yes, seeking sex while unilaterally not permitting contraceptive use for your partner is abusive.

2)Control of timing or frequency of sexual intercourse: many abusive partners have very strong control over when and how often sexual intercourse occurs. The ability to not have sex without facing physical violence or emotional abuse may not be an option. In this sense, some circumstances of abuse might be very similar to rape or might even be rape even if one or both partners don’t recognize it as such. (As such, the pregnancy might be similar to the rape case.)

3)Raising a child or going through a pregnancy while in the relationship: this may be dangerous or damaging to the abused partner or potential child for a number of reasons. A) many who abuse their spouse or partner also abuse their children. B) if the partner does not want the child, he may become angry and even more abusive or blame abused partner. (Yes, this also, faces the danger of coerced and forced abortions. From a safety perspective, if the partner might try to beat the partner into terminating a pregnancy, it would be much safer to have an abortion, an incredibly safe procedure. Also, if the abused partner knows she will be forced to get an abortion, as exploitative and abusive as that is, it may be safer or more palatable to her to just get the abortion without the pregnancy ever being known.)

4)Mental health: even in the case of an nonviolent but abusive partner who would be willing to go through with the pregnancy, it might be too much to bear to go through with a pregnancy in the perspective of the abused partner.

Pregnancy for abuse victims can be a very complex and sometimes dangerous thing. Some very well might use the prospect of raising a child or going through a pregnancy as a motivation to leave the relationship but this is unfortunately not an option for some. Is an abortion selfish if one did not have the control over the circumstances of becoming pregnant? Is an abortion selfish if it’s to survive or not face greater abuse? Is an abortion selfish if it’s to avoid one’s possible child facing abuse? I would say no.

Undue Suffering to the Child

(Okay, this is pretty controversial so I reaaaaaaallly ask that you read my footnote on this.)

Now in the pantheon of the wonderful medical technologies and techniques we have today is amniocentesis. Through this we can determine the possibility of medical conditions that a child may have postnatal. In a few rare instances, a condition will be found in the fetus that means an incredibly painful, short life will be lead. This is about the case of considering abortion in that instance.

Seeking an abortion to prevent incredible suffering, even if it is misguided in the eyes of some, is not done for selfish reasons. I’ll be ad hominem on this one: if you have an inkling of compassion you should at least be mildly sympathetic choice. Furthermore, if the suffering is to be considered undue, meaning there is no reasonable justification to cause it, then having the child, maybe, perhaps…though I am sympathetic to wanting to have the child…if it’s to keep one’s hands clean of the supposed immorality of abortion…this might be selfish. Now obviously undue is an unclear word, but if undue applies, an abortion might be justified out of mercy for the possible child.

Teen Pregnancy

1)Issues of teen sexuality: Teen pregnancy does not have to be traumatic and nor does it have to be the end of the world unto itself. However, for some, it is due to social circumstances. Bullying and shaming are common surrounding issues of sexuality in teenage years as we have all known to be the case. Teen sexuality amongst fellow age cohorts in a consensual, non-exploitative fashion does not have to be some horrible thing that moralists suggest as it is a part of the life-course most people experience. However, given between judgmental parents who might think otherwise, who feel they have a right to control over their daughter’s sexuality, and classmates might shame them for “being a slut” or for being “so stupid as to get pregnant”, it only makes sense that covering up the evidence of sexuality, i.e. the pregnancy, through an abortion would be a preferred option. Some parents even want to force their daughter to marry the father over the result of, possibly, a one-time thing or a dysfunctional relationship or a “youthful indiscretion”. This is not to say that all teen pregnancy is experienced in such a way (there are a lot of more understanding parents, more understanding classmates, more understanding friends fortunately for some, more understanding boyfriends) or even that some who do might wish to continue with their pregnancies, but it is to say that it does make sense that some who face unfair circumstances like this might wish to not continue a pregnancy under such circumstances.

2)Issues of realizing some circumstances with a pregnancy or a child: Going to school can be a difficult thing to do when in high school or college and one has a child. The very things that might determine one’s own financial trajectory that might in the future make it easier to be a parent are heavily affect Having a child also, obviously, costs money. At an age that is often a financially vulnerable time, putting the money together to take care of a child can be very difficult if one does not have the support of family or even in families that might have difficult financial circumstances. Responding to the financial circumstances of one’s own family isn’t a selfish thing to do even though people may perceive abortion as a selfish choice. The reason for doing so in such a circumstance is not a selfish one.

Many teens are loving parents. I am not shaming “teen moms” or an “overly permissive culture” or “teen pregnancy glorifying MTV”. It is okay to be a teen mom or teen dad and they deserve all the social support the world over just as everyone else does, but unfortunately we fall short. My generation is not uniquely “depraved” or immoral because we don’t shout down every instance of teen sexuality we know of as horrid. In fact, we are less so because of it. But in a society that might not be socially conducive to healthful pregnancies and parenting experiences for teenage women, maybe an “out” such as abortion is so dismissively referred by some, might in fact be a more than reasonable option. So, to those who think teen pregnancy is immoral and comprehensive sex education is immoral and should be prevented and that abortions are immoral, you might want to look in the mirror as to your complicity in participating in what you like to call “the culture of death” and the circumstances that lead to some abortions.

Poverty

Pregnancy can be expensive. Having children is expensive. This is the crux of this case. In a context where getting regular checkups is expensive, pregnancy, though it may not be perceived as justifying abortion for many, is a burden. For those who would not consider an adoption, providing childcare can be incredibly expensive. In the context of obviously needing a job to provide financially when in poverty, being a stay-at-home parent is not an option, therefore indicating the need for childcare.

Furthermore, for those who might be willing to have a child, they also do not feel they should because they have other children for whom they need to provide. So, it might be difficult to provide for their children financially with another child in the home. Even, if they are willing to seek adoption, the pregnancy itself, given children, might be difficult because of time off work that might make financial circumstances temporarily even harder as well as the additional cost of medical pregnancy care.

“I Just Can’t Have Another Child”

For some women who already have children, even if financially well-off enough to not be considered about providing another child, another child is a devastating thought. Some prolife people have a very rosy picture of motherhood, but let’s say that, though in a different time, The Feminine Mystique, The Second Sex, and Sylvia Plath were not complete aberrations. Given some women live in circumstances where they may feel pressured to continue to have more children, despite motherhood not being very fulfilling or hard on some women even though they love their children, abortion might be something that is sought because of this context. Also, it, again, might be done out of love for her children and out of a sense of responsibility, as in a society still where mothers are given disproportionate parenting duty (a really, truly heartbreaking and maddening reality), it might become too hard to emotionally care for all of her children and would undercut the care she wishes to provide for her children. As much as we like to vainly talk about “the hardest job in the world” as a celebration of motherhood, if it is in fact “the hardest job in the world” (which is not true and ultimately insulting to victims of child labor and other circumstances) it might be too hard in some circumstances

“I Can’t Have a Child Right Now”

The age at which women are most fertile, pregnancy is safest, and when they’re most likely to get married is also when they are shaping their careers. Pregnancy and again undue cultural burden directed at mothers instead of fathers can really provide a roadblock to the period of time that might direct the financial trajectory of middle class and upper class women in the US. (Unfortunately, many poor women can’t even worry about their “career trajectory” but again they face even more extreme burdens than middle and upper class women who have careers to worry about.) Also, in the US paid parental leave is not required by law. Some employers provide it, but many do not. So in the months after the birth, period of time, when mothers and fathers are most likely to stay at home with their child, they very well might have reduced financial means or, possibly, no means at all.

“I Just Don’t Want Children”

Let’s lay this part out. It IS okay to not want children. I can’t really justify this to prolife people, in the case of seeking an abortion, but it is okay to not want children. Let’s make this clear, if there is an offense it is the abortion (which obviously I do not feel this is either) but not wanting children is not also an offense. It is not selfish to not want children, because you’re not sharing your life with someone who does not exist and for parents who want to pressure their children into have their own children, this does seem selfish to me.

Covering up an Affair

My point here is not to dismiss cheating in expressly understood monogamous relationships. However, given there are many circumstances around cheating seeking an abortion for yourself because you cheated, because you wish to save a marriage or a relationship because you slipped up one time is a situation for which I have to be sympathetic if I believe compassion and forgiveness should be meaningful in our lives. If it happened once, and you realize your transgression and don’t want to cause undue stress to your spouse or partner because you  re-learned your steadfast commitment to and love for your spouse or partner in the process I can’t say this is a bad justification. Life is hard and people screw up. Saving meaningful people in your life undue stress is not a selfish reason even if you did something selfish and screwed up.

*Remember: most rape is not stranger rape in the US. I am not giving a pass to people who might be compassionate to the rich white woman violently beaten and raped by the strange black man and let her have an abortion but will not feel the same towards the teenage girl raped by a supposed friend when she was too drunk to say no or the woman who said yes under threatening circumstances when she didn’t know she could say no. I am also including all sex abuse like parent-on-child incest.

†I also don’t want to say this should be a justification for coercing women who were raped into getting an abortion either as a mental fitness issue or because of the “shame” of getting raped and wishing to cover it up for convenience or for hiding a rape as has happened before.

‡I do not want to make this as construed as having a child who is disabled mentally or physically as a fair justification for abortion under most circumstances. I will write a post on how disability and disability discrimination complicates circumstances regarding pregnancy, end-of-life issues, and other circumstances where undue suffering might lead to a unique action that otherwise might not be justifiable. Just because the parent thinks disability might not be worth living through “because they’d rather die than not have legs” or that they’d be ashamed they have a child who has an IQ of 64. This would be as discriminatory as sex-selective abortion. I am talking about undue suffering to the child such as extreme, debilitating regular pain and a short life.


In conclusion, above all, I believe in the right to abortion out of compassion, not in a paternalistic sense, but because people have many life circumstances that lead to different needs and choices. It is not because of some empty to appeal to liberty! Civil liberties are only realized in context and the right to control pregnancy requires a more healthful sexual lifecourse under which social coercion of all kinds are not present, full access to the knowledge and materials of contraception, and, yes, abortion. Abortion is a resort that for some is desperate and others is not, but it is necessary towards trying to achieve a more autonomous and equitable sexual lifestyle.  Furthermore, I have to say, within the US we do a very poor job economically, politically, socially, and culturally of providing a context under which people who might not otherwise wish to have an abortion won’t feel like they need to. Poverty persists. Lack of education about contraception persists. Rape persists. Stigma about being a pregnant teens persists. These are things which contribute to people deciding to get an abortion among those who otherwise might not consider it. As a prochoice person, I am really pro choice and know that it is a hard decision between having an abortion and having a child for some. I do not find abortions in themselves as a bad, but necessary evil. They are a choice that can be made and should be able to be made without stigma and should not be something anyone who feels they don’t want should feel they need. But as long as certain conditions persists Under the context of Rowe v Wade remaining the law of the land as it likely will, prolifers might want to listen to the occasional liberals within their ranks when they talk about changing the circumstances under which people might feel the need for an abortion such as poverty, stigma about sexuality, etc. as well as the hypocrisy of the same political block who wants to stop abortions in the name of saving life being the population from which many people support for cutting antipoverty programs, free markets at all costs, supporting wars uncritically as their patriotic duty, supporting the right of the state to execute people, ignoring or denying climate change, fighting expanding Medicaid, and other things that not only affect lived experience of people but whether or not they live.

On Using the Word “Poor”

Okay, time for a diatribe. For many people when they use the phrase “I’m poor” it’s at the end of the phrase “I can’t. I’m poor.” Everyone gives a chuckle. (“He-he I’m in poverty!”) For many this would be a legitimate phrase to use if they wished to be blunt about why they cannot do something due to financial circumstances. However, when an upper-middle class 20-year-old college student can’t pitch in for beer money or just needs someone to cover them for dinner while they go out because they happen to not have money on them on a particular night, this is not poor. Or when a family member hands to you $20 off-hand to have some recreational cash and he or she says, “Oh take it. You’re a poor college student. Have some fun”, this is not poor. By saying this, people diminish the struggles some people who do not have the same means as them go through, much like when a celebrity compares some possibly over-the-top intrusiveness to rape. (Sorry Kurt Cobain.) If you have a roof over your head, you’re getting a college education at no expense to you, you’re well-fed, you have health insurance, and the only concern you have about money is how much recreation you can do with it you’re not poor and you shouldn’t use that word to describe your situation. Now, I’m not saying this to get everyone into a relativity scale of wealth and income, but that maybe we shouldn’t compare not having enough cash on hand to go out to eat one or two nights while still knowing we’ll eat, still knowing our bills are taken care of, still knowing where we’ll sleep, without worrying about the job we don’t have to get up at 4AM for, without worrying whether we’ll be able to have gas in the tank, without worrying whether the daycare will be gracious enough let us wait for the next paycheck to pay for us to keep our kid there, without worrying whether we’ll be able to put that elderly relative in a retirement home if that becomes necessary, whether we’ll be homeless if that boss we’re on thin ice with fires us or any other myriad of circumstances that some poor people face that is grossly exaggerated by poverty.

This is all not to say that it’s not justifiably uncomfortable when your friends want to do something and you won’t have cash for a few days and so you have to say either no or ask to borrow money. This is not to say that all of who I mean by the poor want to be pitied or even want to be known as “the poor.” This is to say: maybe we shouldn’t compare a small hiccup, inconvenience, or awkward interaction to the anxieties and real problems faced while living in poverty. Also, there are poor college students. Don’t insult your classmates by using the same word that might to describe their life circumstances for not being able to do something that in those circumstances might not be foreseeable for some time, or maybe not even imaginable.  

On Using Animals for Sport

On Using Animals for Sport

 No one denies the cruelty of activities like cockfighting or dogfighting and few would argue they should be legal. These are distinctly different from legitimized forms of animal-related sports because they involve “competition” that is designed to kill and maim animals. However, just because other animal-related sports do not reach this level of cruelty, does this mean they are justified?

To begin: no.

As a feminist and a man, I have a strange relationship with sports. There is something to a physical, nearly-violent struggle that is appealing even to me, someone who is sympathetic to pacifist ideologies. However, there is a culture of sexism and homophobia surrounding sports that I will state axiomatically for now. Sometimes this culture has bullying and violence in it at lower levels like the sexual assault known to be meted out on lower echelon teammates or even at the most prestigious levels. One need only look to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin affair. I am making this statement to establish that sports and the culture surrounding sports are not unambiguously good and sometimes do not meet the standards I will use for this argument about animals and sports. That being said, even if sports themselves can be considered a societal good, the good only exists inasmuch as participants are consenting to their participation,* something animals cannot do.

Decadent…

Okay, decadent is an aesthetic choice, but one which I will justify for describing animal sports to appeal to the socialists who sometimes are too sympathetic to the pastoral romanticism of animal usage or animal sports themselves (e.g. Ernest Hemingway). Decadent has an upper-crust sound to it, a word Marxists like to throw at the capital class meaning un-useful, done for a  spectacle, and perhaps exploitative depending on context. Animal sports are in fact this. Now, un-useful might not be the right word in some contexts because participating in animal sports can mean participating in cultural production, as in the case of bullfighting. However, animal sports are in every sense a spectacle. It is a show without determining value relevant to the unwitting participants, the animals. It proves nothing amongst the participants in society. Animals are not participants in society. However foolish and masculinist the value of physical prowess may be, in society amongst people participating in sports, at least this value is being laid against those who participate in society. The animals are participating to an end they cannot see or from which they can benefit, much like the class manipulation all manner of leftists abhor. The relationship between audience and participant is not of seeing willing and rewarded participants struggling, but of, to use a more exaggerated sense (though maybe not if you really want to feel uncomfortable) gladiatorial games. They may not be considered slaves (though…again…) and they may not be fighting each other to death, unlike animal fighting, but they are doing work, even suffering, to no use value, only entertainment. It is an exhibition of the status of human over animal, as decadence in an exhibition of privileged over unprivileged. It is to mark a distinction. If you can make someone do something for nothing other than your entertainment, knowing no use, you are exhibiting your power, perhaps not in a juridical or administered sense, but ultimately in a sense in which you have the power to influence outcome. Now, I do not wish to enter into Lacanian psychoanalysis of culture as this is too essentialist automatically assigning meaning on a societal level, a mistake many on the Left like to make. What I am saying is that the power relations are comparable and that decadent is perhaps the right word.

Depraved.

Again, this is perhaps purely aesthetic at worst and contextually value-centered at best. On this second point that’s the best of any ethical basis. Sorry to get frighteningly existential, but rest assured we can more rigorously establish the implications from values. (E.g. we know what compassion is and it’s not content-neutral. It’s not compassionate when someone decries or even “nicely” speaks out against homosexuality. The only guard against this societally is to say “Compassion is a value to which we adhere”, but yes, adhering to this value means that that someone is wrong if they adhere to this value which is one most would be remiss to say they don’t.) Depravity is not meant here in the way that moralists like to use it as something disgusting, but is meant as cruelty and lack of empathy here. So let’s get at this on the most accepted and culturally ubiquitous form of animal sport in the US: horseracing.

Is the Kentucky Derby cruel? Well, it depends on who you ask. Sure, by making horses run you may be preventing them from languishing or even providing them enjoyment. “They are fulfilling what they are evolved to do.” Well, first rebuttal to this is that the exceeding ability to run might not be as “natural” as they perceive it to be. Particularly within the racing populations of horses, they have been artificially selected and bred which may not be wrong, but again not as fitting with the naturalistic fallacy we like to apply. (I have a dog myself, another prime example of artificial selection.)  My second rebuttal is this: the switch. Is the use of the switch on the animal to make it stretch its limits, possibly to a lethal or injurious extent as is known to happen, cruel? Well, if by cruel we meaning causing pain without purpose to the recipient of the pain, then unequivocally yes. The horse does not desire to win the race in the same way the jockey does or the owner does, however much people want to presume that the animal loves its circumstances (much like us pet owners like to think pets fully understand us on our terms even though this would be a rather spurious claim). One can say the jockeys, owners, and trainers love and care for their horses all you want, but they clearly suspend this love and care and compassion ultimately for a period of time and not just a period of time but during the activity which was the purpose of the horse’s existence to the owner.  

Again…consent.

Animals cannot consent to participation in sports, however much people want to justify it. The central motif of team sports beyond effort and athleticism is that through continued participation a participant is continuing his or her consent by continuing without enforceable punishment.‡ No one in  an acceptable sporting environment will be whipped to prod him or her into performing better or beaten mercilessly if he or she refuses to participate. Consent is how sports operate on a “perfect” level of what sporting means. Teamwork, the most celebrated value of sports, is predicated on agreement i.e. consent. Teamwork is agreement to do one’s own part to achieve the maximum end, but nothing forces one to do that if that is to be considered genuine teamwork in a sporting sense. If values like teamwork are to be considered central to sports, animal-based sports like horseracing fall incredibly short. In a more comparable sport, running, the participant is maintaining agreement rather than being prodded along with a switch. The runner may stop at any point yet with each step whether from psychological inertia or from consciously forcing the next step being decided consensually. If one has to be prodded, as in horseracing, the subsequent action, such as running faster, cannot be considered consensual.

Ultimately, despite all the argumentation and rhetorical construction, it comes down to this: the animal can’t be considered to have agreed to participation. For those that that isn’t convincing in saying perhaps that’s unethical, it is cruel despite to the animal despite how it may be perceived by the audience, a conclusion one might draw if one is willing to take postmodern thought to a truly meaningless extent. But as you and I know my thinking in itself does not change how you feel, only in how it affects my actions as you perceive them. Furthermore, as in the case of decadence, the relationship is done to a vain end, not in that the goal is to show the animal the power of humans over it, but as creating a show of entertainment as it arises out of the powered relation of humans over animals within the perceived realm of human society.

 


 

*I know there are exploitative relations such as poverty, the pressuring parent, etc. but hypothetically given the right conditions people could actually exhibit consent whereas a nonhuman animal could not.

†I am drawing the rhetorical construction from this part of the argument from Hunter S. Thompson’s essay “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”, an essay I have not read. I am only drawing from the title itself.

‡There may be enforceable punishment in a financial sense say for professional athletes who are violating their literal, written contract. Also, under some circumstances athletes have faced violence for performance or lack of performance in addition to the myriad exploitations that could affect an athlete’s decision to play or not play.

 

On Abortion I: The Act In Itself

On Abortion I: The Act in Itself

To begin, I unequivocally believe that abortion should be a right and not in a purely civil liberties view in which, if one has the means, they may do so. If a right is to be meaningful, it has to be stated within a context within which it may be realized. Abortion must be made affordable or provided free for all who may seek it if the right to elect for an abortion if one chooses is to be meaningful. In other words, I do not support abortion rights only to a libertarian or liberal extent but in a definitively positive rights sense. This first post is about the act of abortion, stripped of context. I am not one to wish to engage in ontological argument, because it universalizes meaning and removes the ambiguity of real life, but I will do so here because the understanding of abortion in our society is ontological in many ways. Another problem with ontological argument is it appears to be cold and distant in such a way as to appear dismissive at times. I will elaborate in later posts as to what I view as the more convincing arguments for the right to abortion, at least in a more affective sense, not in a logical sense. What is important to remember is that affect, logic, and rhetoric are all produced from each other and can’t be uniquely isolated for ethics and politics and for this reason I will approach these issues subsequently as well as what religious liberty means in regards to this. Again, for now, I will limit this to ontological issues.


Once, my brother, who is prolife, asked me, “This won’t happen, but, if I could unequivocally prove to you that a fetus is an individual human life, would that make you prolife?” Here is my attempt to answer that:

The permissibility of abortion is an issue of which people feel unilaterally drawn to one end. Many believe, however, that the view one holds is limited to how one defines the fetus. I.e. prochoice people believe the fetus is part of the woman’s body and not a life in itself and prolife people believe that the fetus is a human life unto itself. (Now in views of each other prolife people think women who get abortions are “baby-killers” and prochoice people think prolife people are misogynists bent on taking women’s freedom.) My response to this is that a fetus cannot be unambiguously defined as a life or not a life. Yes, a fetus is a necessary precursor to a child obviously. Also, it IS part of a woman’s* body, within it, attached to it, supplied from it. It is also, genetically not wholly distinct from the mother as the fetus has two genomes, the nuclear genome and the mitochondrial genome. 23 of its 46 chromosomes come from the woman carrying the fetus and its entire mitochondrial genome is entirely the woman’s. Now, I am not wishing to essentialize motherhood to genes here and do not wish to establish that, to a certain extent mothers “own” their children because of their genes, but it is an illustrative point in showing how fetus and mother are intimately intertwined in such a way that indicates a fetus is not wholly its own while still in the uterus. So no, a fetus is not unambiguously another human life.

But what if I’m wrong and it is?

The Libertarian Argument

 Judith Jarvis Thomson wrote a very famous essay called “A Defense of Abortion” performing a thought experiment reframing a comparable circumstance to a pregnancy as a, say, famous violinist who is ill and needs a surrogate cardiovascular system attached unwittingly to a person in such a way that he or she could not detach him- or herself from the famous violinist for 9 months or do anything that would kill the violinist over the course of the 9 months (such as taking a poison that would kill the violinist but his or her own body could handle, much like a mifepristone abortion). This should sound familiar to you: it’s dialysis, except the machine is a human body. Obviously, in this case, the violinist unambiguously has his or her own life. That is, unless you want to enter into a messy argument on the fungible way in which life is defined. So, this situation is more like a pregnancy resulting from rape or abuse, minus the actual trauma of such an awful event (not a mild consideration in the least in how a pregnancy is interpreted for a rape or abuse victim deciding whether or not to terminate the pregnancy). The thought experiment is isolated to the individual act of deciding what to do in regards to whether or not one can detach oneself from the violinist.

Now, there are some strong ideological suppositions imposed here on this thought experiment. The primary one, which is why the violinist is not an arbitrary but very intentional selection, surrounds majoritarianism. The violinist holds a very special skill that would be lost to the public if he or she were to die. In this case, even in lieu of the public good, can a person be made by the public to surrender one’s bodily autonomy to this end?  To return to the grounding of the abortion as a public debate, even if a baby is its own human life, has a right to its life if it were independent, can the public or the state intervene to make someone not remove a fetus unwittingly attached to her body (e.g. in a forced pregnancy or rape scenario)? A rigorously libertarian view would say no. One cannot be forced to support something in one’s personal life that one did not agree to support in this view even if the fetus being born is considered a public good in addition to having its own right to life. Now for prolife libertarians who may buy that in the exact circumstance of this thought experiment, one could remove oneself from the body of the violinist, but that still does not mean that abortion is permitted. In this view, detaching oneself and letting the violinist die is distinct from actively killing a person as an abortion is perceived. This is similar to saying that one cannot be forced to feed a person who will starve otherwise but one also is not allowed to actively kill someone. Now, there is a clear issue with this. Negligence and indifference are clearly NOT distinct from active violence to the victim (besides, perhaps, the psychological impact of perceived malice) and the difference for the perpetrator is only psychological and, in the negligence case, this difference is permissive in such a way that would allow him or her to kill when otherwise he or she would not be willing to do so. So in some sense, structurally, this is more insidious. So here’s where this gets messy for the left.

A Left Response

 Socialists do not hold positive and negative rights as distinct, which is why many tendencies of socialist political views advocate both rigorous negative rights and positive rights. One’s right to life means both  that one has a right not to be murdered by a malicious hand , but also means that one has a right to be provided the circumstances of survival (food, healthcare, etc.) if one does not independently have access to those resources. So, if a fetus is a life, how can socialists and other positive rights proponents support abortion rights when they have an EVEN MORE rigorous stance on what constitutes obligations to life than pro-capitalists do? Well, one would be right to say this can get sticky.

First, absolutely, the left should be suspicious of such a libertarian-sounding argument as Thomson’s. Common to many feminists (particularly from liberal and radical schools)  in arguing for abortion rights is to say “I have a right to do what I want with my own body, independent of what you think is in my body.” I would say: that’s true to a certain extent, but this needs to be parceled out a little more. To start with some verbal gymnastics: what left-feminists (radical, socialist, Marxist, cultural, etc.) argue for is autonomy, not liberty per se in the face of society. This is not distinct from the rest of the left. Liberal leftists, for example, in the face authoritarian government, racist populism, and/or the effects of a neoliberal global economy, argue very much for cultural, geographic, and economic rights to autonomy for indigenous peoples. Democratic socialists and the labor left both argue that better economic conditions and the time necessary to enjoy these economic benefits are necessary to create the conditions of realization and not exploitative dependency so that liberal rights are meaningful, real parts of people’s lives. Autonomy goes a step further than liberty in meaning. Autonomy means the conditions under which one’s own or a group’s defined space, places, and means are meaningful enough so as to allow that the conditions under which one makes decisions are not coerced. (Obviously this means that there is no such thing as perfect autonomy, and, therefore, no such thing as perfect agency. ) Liberty is ultimately meaningless to lived experience because this means that one can always be a victim of circumstances without recourse. For example, one may have a right to work, but if there is no work, that does not mean anything. So they may be arguing they are free to do what they want or need, but more distinctly they are arguing they should be free to be able to do what they want or need, which means their bodies may not be forced to carry a pregnancy if they do not wish to do so because pregnancy can be a hindrance, or even oppressive in some circumstances (such as hardening the tie to an abusive relationship because of financial circumstances).

Second, bodily autonomy is a first and foremost rights issue. So despite the fact that Thomson’s argument is excessively libertarian there is some use if we consider that bodily autonomy even to the extent of abortion may be reasonable without buying the excessive “I get to do what I want” logic of libertarianism that some leftists lazily buy despite thinking that there should be some social controls on what people do with money or property for various reasons. Now, this being said, I still do not think the argument is sufficient† as I believe as long as there is not malicious or systemic or repeated targeting of the dialysis-person or a population that perhaps there is an obligation to keep the violinist alive. But as there are many circumstances and restrictions on bodily autonomy associated, this is by no means unambiguous, if we believe in bodily autonomy. This gives us the supposition that, though I may not have established that abortion is permissible, it is not impermissible unambiguously so either.

Pulling the Plug: Exceptions to Preserving Life  

 So despite the fact that the primary argument against the permissibility of abortion is that it takes a life, there are exceptions to taking a life that most find reasonably acceptable. “Pulling the plug” or removing life-support from someone who is in a vegetative state is not without controversy obviously, the Terri Schiavo case for example. However, here’s the reason people support the right to remove life-support by those with the power of attorney: the person is, as they say, brain-dead. In a similar way, though with some complexities which I will address, a fetus, at least before a certain point in pregnancy, is not sentient. Being brain-dead is lack of sentience as well.

The difference is this: being brain-dead is the same as being irreversibly not sentient, whereas a fetus has the potential for becoming sentient. So, true, the permissibility to remove life-support does not automaticallyestablish that abortion is permissible, but it does open the door. The pro-life movement adeptly recognized this when they jumped on the “Save Terri Schiavo” train. Given that the case for abortion may need to be more rigorously proven it can be thoroughly said that if pulling the plug is impermissible it very well may be true that abortion is impermissible. However, there is a reason for the phrase “s/he’s a vegetable now”.

A plant is very much in fact living yet we do not question (except when wider ecological, economic, and wildlife issues are at stake) the right to kill a plant. Ultimately the “experience” of life of someone in a vegetative state is no different: physiologically living, yet not experiencing anything, hence “vegetative”. This does not mean the act of removing life-support is the same thing; emotional attachment, anxiety over the slightest of slight hopes that the person has a possibility of awakening, very ambiguous and ambivalent stages of grieving, etc. However, the different experience of removing life support and the different meaning of doing so does not make it unjustified. Ultimately the ability to perceive and the right to determine life-course have been removed meaning no change in the “personhood” before and after removing life-support beyond legal considerations of proxy.

But the fetus…

In the case of someone removing life-support from a loved one, ultimately they have been compensated partially by getting to experience life which is why it may be justified to remove life-support while still not permitting abortion. However, let’s temporarily presume that a fetus does not experience anything before birth. Would not a parent be permitted to remove life support from the brain-dead newborn? In both cases, the aborted fetus and brain-dead newborn have been equally “robbed” of experience and the right to life so far as we mean sentient life. What makes them appreciably different as far as experience goes?

But the potential for experience…

 True. The living fetus has potential for experience whereas the brain-dead newborn does not. However, any living fetus (if defined as a zygote to birth) hardly has more than a 40% chance of being born alive when a pregnancy is not intentionally terminated. So by potential we really do mean potential not guarantee. This might not be super meaningful to some but is an important distinction as many perceive the fetus as innocent perfection that will come into this world. This is a place where I have nothing more to say than that. But, if a fetus is aborted before a certain point (of which will always be argued), experience is not being interfered with.

On Singer and the Interests Argument

Peter Singer argues the justification for abortion is that a fetus cannot lay claim to interests which is true, because perception is necessary for interests. However, not to divest someone from the consistency of his or her ideological viewpoints, I have a bit of a bone to pick with this one. He extends justification to very early infanticide. However, given the infant’s ability to perceive albeit limited, though perhaps not contemplate in any meaningful way does confer onto it interest. I.e. it may not be a moral agent, but is a moral agent (a la Tom Regan). Also, many animals particularly non-mammalian species might have a similar lack of claiming interest so I find his blanket prohibition on killing of sentient animals inconsistent with justifying infanticide as an infant has a vested interest however autonomic in not experience pain and being fed.

 

*I only chose this language to not sound stilted with the use of “female”. I do not wish to erase trans men, fertile intersex people, and genderqueer females who might experience pregnancy or trans women or infertile cisgender women whose womanhood cannot be defined by pregnancy.

†By“sufficient” I mean consistent and holds for the whole of the situation described. I do not mean that the ethics of an act can be wholly determined stripped of context as these are not the “real” experiences in which people make decisions.


I know that arguments about soul and religion are part of this, but this is not part of this specific portion of argument and will be approached in a later post on religion, society, and abortion. Furthermore, timescales on comparative permissibility (e.g. late term vs. early) of abortion are not part of this but will be saved for later. Also, what I perceive as the positive societal good of the choice being available to pregnant people will be approached in a more distributed way amongst other posts. For this one, it was only about the permissibility of the “act in itself”.