The Abortion Post

Abortion is not something I write about often.   It is not an issue about which I have strong feelings.  I understand and respect the perspective of those who think that the unborn entity is a true human, with abortion being akin to murder.   (Though to be consistent, they must also just as stridently oppose the use of IUDs for birth control).  I also understand and respect the view that the woman controls her body and if the unborn entity is wholly dependent on the woman’s body, she has the right to eradicate her body of this entity.    I also respect that there are differing views of how deep into the pregnancy this goes.

But I am not a woman, I will never have to make that choice, and if I were ever in a position (e.g., father of an unborn ‘child’, grandfather of an unborn ‘child’) I would try to empathize with the woman, support whatever she decided, and make sure she thinks all things through.   If I were asked to really think through this and decide what I believe she should do, I would make the attempt.  But if I were told to butt out, I would.   The woman has to make the moral and personal call, hopefully in consultation with her doctor and any spiritual or psychological counselors she has.

Yet the shooting of an abortion doctor in Kansas brings home the stark reality that some people want to impose their perspectives on others to the point of killing those they consider immoral.   Now, politics is always at some level about the possibility of imposing ones’ own ideals on others.   In totalitarian systems an individual or small cadre of people can impose their views on others, with the threat of force to back them up.   This anti-abortion shooter was clearly of an authoritarian personality — so certain was he of his moral rectitude, he felt capable of simply taking vengeance out on those he saw as guilty.   Never mind that this would do nothing to decrease abortion and would probably even help the pro-choice movement.

My view on abortion comes from my view of how a Democratic Republic should work.  Laws and infringements on liberty are by definition dubious endeavors.  They are always choices by some to impose their will on others, a pretentious act.  Yet even without governments, people impose their will on others; the strong on the weak, the rich on the poor.  Humans are never truly free but are only free within their circumstances, which includes dealing with the choices of others.

So governments emerge as a flawed but at this point in history necessary way to try to assure social order, progress, and stability.   Places with no government or where government breaks down almost always have anarchy, organized crime and chaos overtake the polity.   People yearn for security and stability, and if it comes, it often comes in the form of some kind of tyranny.   That’s simply the way the world is.   I don’t think that is human nature so much as human habit — the cultural realities humans have created at this early time in our history.

Democratic republicanism is the form of government in the West, and it fits our secular, individualistic culture.  It allows multiple perspectives to co-exist, communicate, compromise and interact.  At its best it protects the right of people of a wide variety of views to make the choices they wish to make, without having the state or other individuals unfairly impede or block their actions.   At worst it can devolve into a kind of tyranny.  The founders warned of tyranny of the majority, but the well funded corporate elite who manipulate media and government can also tyrannize.   Lobbyists, well intentioned activists, and others often seek to impose their will, saying they know better than average citizens.  I heard one colleague argue passionately for a ban on campus smoking because ‘science says it is dangerous.’    That scares me a bit, science can also prove driving a car is dangerous.   The euphemism “nanny state” is used by conservatives to describe this kind of mentality.   Sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn’t, but clearly the state interferes in our lives quite intensely.

Yet ultimately we decide how far and to what extent.  If out of apathy or ignorance we allow too much imposition on our lives, we have only ourselves to blame.   Ideally, however, government would only intervene if: a) there was a domestic consensus that such intervention was morally justified by a greater good (that is, denying the liberty of some is worth while because it serves a higher moral purpose); and b) the process is transparent, reversible, and open to public participation.

This leads me to a pro-choice position because I do not believe there is a public consensus that abortion is murder, or that keeping it safe and legal does more harm than good.  There is no consensus that a greater moral good would be served by banning it.   However, having a Supreme Court decision make this call is troubling.   In part it’s because I’m uncomfortable with the legal reasoning of Roe v. Wade.  The interpretation of the constitution should not be manipulated to bring about a desired outcome.   I do not find a right to abortion in the constitution, and I find the argument of this as an extension of the right to privacy to be weak.

If that decision had not been made, and if therefore states would make their own choices, there might be a more vibrant debate on the issue, and not a one sided one where the anti-abortion/pro-life group has the most energy and volunteers, while pro-choice folk simply feel that the Supreme Court protects them.   Abortions would probably remain illegal in much of the deep south and plains states, but would be legal in the majority of the country.  Moreover, if the argument had been made over time at the state level, who knows where the debate would have gone?

That said, Roe v. Wade has been settled law for three decades, and legally that means it should be not overthrown simply because justices disagree with the earlier interpretation.  Settled law should be maintained unless there is a profound change in conditions; I do not think there is enough to warrant rejection of stare decisis in this case.

Given all the pregnancies that are prevented by birth control, and all the people who die very young in the third world, I have a hard time seeing abortion as a major tragedy.  These entities are not yet born, do not feel pain or understand their condition.  It strikes me as bizarre that people can see such things as tragedies, but still support war and the death penalty, where born people are killed — and in war 80% of the deaths now are innocents, not military personnel.   Such folk are often immune to the vast suffering on the planet, where alive, feeling, thinking humans undergo real pain and suffering. Yet none of that means abortion is right.    I have a hard time seeing vegetarianism as logical, given that vegetables are living entities too, why is slashing down wheat any worse than killing a cow?   But that doesn’t mean vegetarian arguments are wrong; maybe meat is murder.

If I’m not convinced, I’ll not change how I approach this — I have to make my own call.   If there is no societal consensus on such issues, then I think people have to be allowed make their own moral call.   Those opposed who believe they represent God, should not be so presumptuous as to think they have the wisdom to try to impose God’s will on others.   Now, perhaps they can build a consensus for their position, and someday amend the constitution.   More likely technology will make abortions so rare and unnecessary that the debate will go away.   But for me, this is the case where individual freedom has to trump the sincere and respectable beliefs of those are certain abortion is evil.

  1. #1 by Mike Lovell on June 2, 2009 - 19:13

    One thing that has always troubled me with the woman’s body/woman’s choice argument.

    If she wants to abort it, she has full right and privilege to do so, even if the father of the baby actually wants the offspring of his seed.

    However, if the situation is reversed, in that she wants the baby, and he doesn’t (regardless of whether protection was used and failed, or not used at all), she has full right and privilege to harness him with the responsibility of monetary support of the offspring of his seed.

    Your thoughts?

  2. #2 by Scott Erb on June 2, 2009 - 23:09

    I guess that’s the price we pay by getting the benefit of not having to carry the baby! Also, I think overall women have a harder time than men — men can and do walk away, women have to deal with the reality of motherhood or having had an abortion. So, all things considered, I think we men have the better deal.

  3. #3 by Sarah on June 3, 2009 - 14:15

    I followed your post pretty well until you made the leap to vegetarianism. And I wasn’t going to comment until I awoke at 4 this morning with nightmares about live animals being put in blenders. Vegetarianism to me has nothing to do with logic or murder its purely reactionary. Meat was once an animal as dogs and cats are animals as are humans. How appetizing is eating your friends or pets? Now, extrapolate that feeling out to all animals. That to me is what vegetarianism is. The idea of eating meat completely freaks me out, its gross and beyond unappetizing (so are brussels sprouts). This isn’t logical (but I don’t think meat eating is about logic either) and it doesn’t have anything to do with beliefs really, I don’t have a problem with other people eating meat. Sometimes I think a lot of the abortion debate is reactionary instead of logical too.

    p.s. I do of course see the point that meat isn’t necessarily nutritionally healthy for people, and that the modern food lot system is definitely not healthy for animals or the environment, but I have similar beliefs about intensive crop production and clear cutting too.

  4. #4 by Scott Erb on June 3, 2009 - 17:01

    Yikes, now I feel bad for causing nightmares! I was only trying to find another issue to compare where the choice one makes can’t be determined by a clear logical process, but has to be made from the heart or by one’s own personal values/preferences. I do not wish to evoke dreams of animals being shoved in blenders! Sorry! I think you’re right in your “ps” — we’re only beginning to learn the environmental cost of how we’ve been doing things!

    • #5 by Sarah on June 3, 2009 - 20:21

      No don’t feel bad about my over reactive dream life. Would euthanasia as an example be too close to the same thing? I have never understood how euthanizing a pet when its quality of has become horrible is seen as humane but a person with the same quality of life and no hope of recovery can’t take their own life in a humane fashion under a doctors care.

  5. #6 by Mike Lovell on June 3, 2009 - 20:57

    I used to work for Foster Farms, at a turkey processing plant. The building across the street was the eviceration (sp?) plant…basically the blender, only a kinder gentler blender, that killed and de-feathered the turkeys before they made their way over to us where we tore skin off some, sliced different cuts of meat off others, and loaded the waste product up to go off to some place where you could have it turned into balogna or hot dogs, I assume.

    Having worked there, and know what goes on with every little piece of turkey…I still love the stuff. From the mouth of babes comes the truth: Meat rules and veggies suck!! LOL

    • #7 by Sarah on June 3, 2009 - 21:44

      Hey Mike, Thanks for the visual. I won’t get that out of my head anytime soon. I’ll never understand why Mainers so gleefully enjoy grossing out the vegetarian girl. You should hear the stories I get during hunting season. As if what I make up in my own head isn’t bad enough.

  6. #8 by Sarah on June 3, 2009 - 23:50

    Scott, I’m seriously sorry I got your post so off topic. Mike, I was thinking about your comment on my walk home from work and I understand that I inadvertently was asking for a retaliatory response like that. I apologize.

    I find it interesting that abortion seems to be used by the media as a litmus test for judges being considered for the Supreme Court. How they would rule on abortion becomes the defining factor used to assume how they would rule on other cases. And once on the bench this becomes a label to describe them when their name comes up in the news. Which leads me to wonder if the media helps keep the issue alive as much as people’s beliefs.

  7. #9 by Scott Erb on June 4, 2009 - 18:06

    Hi Sarah — I enjoy your comments, no need to apologize. Also, don’t read Mike as being serious or retaliating. He’s good humored and I think just having fun (and he’s posting from Iowa, not Maine).

    I think you are right about the media — abortion appeals to emotions, and emotion sells papers or gets people to tune in. But it does seem a lot of noise without much real change.

  8. #10 by Mike Lovell on June 5, 2009 - 14:13

    Yes, Sarah, Scott is right. I am not here to make retaliatory comments. I find Scott’s blog to be overall a very very civil place on the internet. That’s not to say, I won’t inject a random comment, or my own wierd (twisted? sick?) sense of humor when I see the opening. I can only take seriousness for so long before I have to lighten the atmosphere some.

    So, on that note…the turkeys made it to our plant whole, with the exception of their heads. Would you care to guess what we did with the heads? LOL I kill me!

  9. #11 by henitsirk on June 6, 2009 - 20:23

    My perfect world would be one in which abortions were legal, but most people did not choose them. I think that’s actually what we have right now in the US, but I don’t have the numbers. Same with euthanasia of humans, though that one’s not so legal. Maybe I’m inconsistent, but I am against the death penalty. I just don’t think that taking a life in punishment is OK. With euthanasia, the person is willing; not sure where to go with this regarding abortion.

    As for meat eating, I don’t find it disgusting at all, and in fact I am grateful to all the animals I eat. But I can see where people might feel otherwise. Part of my ongoing desire to have farm animals is to honorably participate in the food-making process, something we don’t get shopping factory-farm meat at the grocery store.

  10. #12 by Mike Lovell on June 7, 2009 - 00:16

    “Maybe I’m inconsistent, but I am against the death penalty. I just don’t think that taking a life in punishment is OK. With euthanasia, the person is willing; not sure where to go with this regarding abortion.”

    So you dont believe in taking a life as punishment (death penalty), but you are okay with taking a life to avoid punishment (abortion)?

    I would be pretty interested to hear more on the psychology behind this.

  11. #13 by Scott Erb on June 7, 2009 - 01:57

    The death penalty takes the life of a human being. Many people do not think a fetus has that same status — especially in the first trimester, when it can just as easily be seen as a part of the woman’s body still, a potential human. Taking that life isn’t much different than using a condom to prevent sperm and egg from meeting (stopping that potential human from being even conceived). Interestingly, the Catholic Church recognizes that possible inconsistency and opposes both. How you come down in defining what “human being” is determines a lot concerning the abortion question.

  12. #14 by henitsirk on June 7, 2009 - 02:11

    Mike, I have no idea what the psychology is, and as I said, I know I’m being inconsistent. It’s more an intuitive, irrational thing, I guess. Partly it could be as Scott says, about defining when a human being becomes a separate being. Part of it is also what Scott said about the embryo/fetus being part of the woman’s body and therefore subject to her control, though I’m not entirely in line with that.

    I know people who believe that it’s not a person until it takes its first breath. I know others who say it’s at conception. One rather ancient view times it at the quickening. I honestly don’t know where I stand on that.

    I don’t look at abortion necessarily as “avoiding punishment,” which I assume you meant as the “punishment” of having to be responsible for a child. I have known several people who were diligent in using birth control and yet still got pregnant. So it wasn’t as if they were irresponsible to begin with and were trying to shuck that responsibility. (One of them did choose an abortion; it was a very traumatic experience. She went on to have two children later in life.)

    I have spiritual beliefs about birth and life and death that I won’t go into here. I will say that those beliefs would make it incredibly difficult for me to choose to have an abortion, in the same way that it is almost impossible for me to see the validity of the death penalty.

    One thing that comes to mind here in the last moment is that the death penalty is the state, the government, having the power to end a life, whereas with abortion it is an individual’s power. Somehow that also makes a difference for me.

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