Saturday, June 05, 2004

License to kill

What, exactly, are the best arguments for abortion, and how should a Christian respond? Jonah Engle has gleaned seven "talking points" for "freedom of choice," from NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the National Abortion Federation.
Cf. http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030519&s=engle

Let's run through each of these and evaluate them one-by-one. For ease of reference, her numbered points will be put in quotation marks.

"1) Reproductive Freedoms Are a Fundamental Human Right
It is a fundamental right of each individual to manage his or her fertility. Such reproductive rights are an integral part of women's social, economic and political rights, and have been affirmed in numerous international treaties and conventions including CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women) and the Program of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development."

i) Note here, and throughout her talking-points, the studied use of abstract nouns and generic designations. "Woman." "Abortion." "Procedure." But abortion is a "procedure" applied to "pregnant" women. A pregnant woman is a mother. So why not discuss abortion in relation to motherhood? Wouldn't that be more accurate? And an expression like "prenatal infanticide" would be more transparent and accurate than an opaque term like "abortion" or an antiseptic term like "procedure."

But, of course, the reason for the choice of such words is—on the one hand—to dehumanize the object of abortion (the baby), while—on the other hand—to distance the subject of abortion (the mother, abortionist) from moral complicity. Clear communication would weaken rather than strengthen the argument for abortion, so Engle resorts to vague euphemisms.

"Mother" is a very loaded word. Motherhood implies a relationship in a way that "womanhood" does not. What is more, motherhood implies a responsible relationship. Consider the difference between saying that "a woman has a right to an abortion" and "a mother has a right to kill her own child"? Obviously it's easier to sell the first formulation than the second. Yet the second is formulation is what we're really talking about.

ii) Note, also, the euphemism of "reproductive rights." Are prolifers denying women the right to reproduce? If Engle believes in abortion, why is she afraid to say what she means?

iii) To say that abortion is a fundamental human right begs the whole question. This is a tendentious assertion rather than a reasoned argument.

iv) But, assuming, for the sake of argument, that abortion is a human right, then why appeal to international law? A political entity cannot confer a human right, but only a civil right. So either abortion is a human right, in which case international law is irrelevant; or else abortion is a civil right, in which case it is not a human right, and is revocable by the same political process that conferred it in the first place.

v) The appeal to international law is viciously circular. To the extent that abortion is a civil right under international law, that is only because the abortion industry has lobbied to make it so.

vi) We might add that the whole notion of having rights is, itself, a cultural construct of the Enlightenment. So how, then, can this framework achieve the force of a universal norm? Why does Engle canonize the ethical scheme of dead white European males?

vii) Why the abrupt introduction of the male pronoun into the discussion—"his or her fertility." I thought we were talking about abortion. Do men have abortions?

"2) The Denial of Safe, Legal and Affordable Abortions Threatens Women's Health
In rare cases, carrying a pregnancy to term can pose a serious health risk to a pregnant woman. Whether or not abortion is safe, legal or affordable, women still have recourse to it. When abortion is illegal they are forced into having underground and often unsafe operations. This greatly compromises the health and well-being of pregnant women. Each year at least 78,000 women die around the world due to complications from unsafe abortions (13 percent of maternal deaths), and hundreds of thousands more suffer short- and long-term disability. Legalizing abortion helps prevent this tragedy--within five years of legalization, abortion-related deaths decreased 85 percent in the United States."

i) A life of crime can also pose a serious health risk. A sniper may be shot. A terrorist may blow himself up. Are we entitled to do wrong with impunity?

ii) How are mothers "forced" into abortion? The only example I know of are boyfriends who resent the prospect of paying child support. Is feminism siding with the boyfriend? Doesn't sound like women's rights to me.

iii) When I was growing up, which was not so very long ago (I was born in 1959), a defining feature of familial love and duty was that a husband would give his life to save his wife, while a mother would give her life to save her child. But now we've come to the point where the child should die to save the mother—even if the mother's life is not in danger. I would only remark that children tutored in the abortion ethic are more than likely to round out the logical by euthanizing their elderly parents. It is a very short, logical step from aborticide to parricide.

iv) Another unspoken assumption which underlies this argument is that no one should ever be called upon to do the right thing if it entails a personal hardship. But this, once again, illustrates the moral inversion of abortion ethics. For the acid test of virtue is doing the right thing when it does cost you something, when it does entail a sacrifice of your own well-being in the interests of another.

"3) Legalizing Abortion Does Not Increase its Incidence
Statistics show that women worldwide, when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, seek abortions regardless of the legality of the procedure, and whether or not safe services are available. Countries as diverse as Canada, Tunisia and Turkey liberalized their abortion laws without an increase in the abortion rate. Holland, though it has a non-restrictive abortion law and free abortions, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, far lower than many countries where abortion is illegal (e.g., Chile and Brazil)."

i) Statistics also show that wife-beaters worldwide, when faced with an unwanted wife, seek to batter or murder their spouse regardless of the legality of the procedure. So should we legalized uxoricide? There are, in fact, cultures in which wife-killing is socially condoned.

ii) Suppose we were to substitute "unwanted blacks" or "unwanted Jews" for "unwanted pregnancies." Is the value of my life contingent on the valuation of a second-party? Many genocidal tyrants would appreciate Engle's ethical calculus.

"4) Medical Abortion Is a Very Safe Procedure, Especially in the First Trimester (When 88 Percent of Abortions Take Place)
The health risks from an abortion are minimal.
- Less than 1 percent of women experience a major complication.
- The risk of death associated with childbirth is eleven times greater than the risk of death from an abortion."

i) The abortionist is hardly a disinterested source of information. Malpractice suits are bad for business.

ii) In fact, Planned Parenthood and other abortuaries hide behind privacy laws.

iii) Assuming for the sake of argument that the stats are true, so what? Is murder supposed to be safe?

iv) Were it not for childbirth, there would be no abortionists. The radical feminist comes into the world the same way as the prolifer. The only difference is that the prolifer is grateful for the process whereas the abortionist wants to slam the door on those who come after.

v) Statistics show that 100% of everyone born will die one day. Pretty high risk! Should we outlaw childbirth?

"5) When Women Are Not Free to Choose, Children Risk Coming into the World With Parents Who Are Not in a Position to Properly Look After Them"

i) "Free to choose"? Another euphemism. Isn't "to choose" the sort of verb that ordinarily takes a direct object? You'd think we were talking about a woman's right to choose a dress or order an entrée.

ii) Except for victims of rape and incest, most pregnant women have already made a choice. They chose to engage in procreation. That is what sex is. "Sex" is short for sexual reproduction. Pregnancy is the natural outcome of sexual intercourse.

iii) Either Engle believes that women are moral agents, in which case they're responsible for the consequences of their life-style choices; or else she believes that they are like little children who must be placed under the authority of a guardian. If the latter, they don't have the right to make their own decisions, for they are in a condition of diminished responsibility; if the former, then they don't have the right to demand that government protect them from the consequences of their life-style choices.

iv) The child is already in the world. It has been conceived. The child is in its mother's womb, and the mother is in the world. So this would not be an argument for abortion, but—at most—contraception. Abortion does more than put a child at risk—it kills him in the womb.

v) A child is not like a sales' item you can return to the store if you change your mind.

vi) If women were truly autonomous, why would they seek intimacy with members of the other sex. Why not go the lesbian route? Why are there so many unwanted pregnancies unless women need men because they're emotionally dependent on men, just as men need women for the same reason? What the argument for abortion presupposes is not autonomy, but codependency; but, of course, that's an argument against a "woman's" right to an abortion.

"6) Though Abortion Remains Legal, Restricting Access to Abortion Penalizes the Poor, Who Are Less Able to Pay for Such Operations
Despite the fact that abortion is legal in the United States, access is decreasing as numerous barriers have been set up. These include consent forms, extended waiting periods and, most notably, the Hyde Amendment, passed into law in 1977. The legislation denies federal funding for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnant woman's life is endangered) for poor women who rely on Medicaid, disabled women who rely on Medicare and Native American women who rely on the Indian Health Service for healthcare. In addition to these women, federal legislation denies access to abortions for Peace Corps volunteers, women in federal prison, women in the military, teenagers who participate in the State Children's Health Insurance Plan, patients of Title X family-planning clinics, residents of the District of Columbia and federal employees and their families. Only fifteen states make state Medicaid monies available for nondiscriminatory funding of abortion. Abortions in the first trimester without complications start at $250-$350, and can run into the high hundreds or thousands of dollars. Without Medicaid funding, low-income women do not have equal access to a vital and legal medical procedure. Furthermore, welfare laws discourage states from providing assistance for abortions as well as to unwed mothers, placing low-income women in a double bind."

i) A well-heeled Mafia Don can better afford to hire a hit-man than a guy flipping hamburgers for a living. Does that mean that the government should provide hit-men free of charge for those who cannot afford one?

ii) Where is the father in this equation? Doesn't a man have some contribution to make in this process? How does a pregnant woman become impregnated in the first place?

Why does feminism place all the burden on the mother? Why does feminism let the guy off the hook? To listen to Engle, you'd think that every birth was a virgin birth.

Obviously a man shares equal responsibility. But Engle can't bring herself to make that elementary point, for as soon as she concedes that a man has some input in getting a woman pregnant, then—as the father—he ought to have some input in whether to terminate the pregnancy.

But that would spoil the argument for the feminine autonomy. In order for the woman to be an autonomous agent, she must be held solely responsible; in order for her to be held solely responsible, the man must not be held responsible for his actions. This is a paradox of feminism. It "empowers" women by absolving men of any blame, for men cannot be blameworthy unless they're responsible, and they cannot be responsible unless they share responsibility with the woman they impregnate. Isn't it obvious that promiscuous men get the better of this deal?

iii) If there is a moral disparity in play, it is that children of the well-to-do are at higher risk of being murdered in the womb than the children of the poor. If we outlaw abortion, then that will level out the injustice. Abortion penalizes the innocent child.

iv) Is Engle afraid that we have too many American Indian babies? Is she advocating genocide? Would she like to keep them a permanent and infinitesimal minority? Is she disappointed that more dumpsters aren't overflowing with aborted Indian babies? Seems rather racist to me.

v) There is, of course, a financial correlation between poor mothers and unwed mothers. Once again, lifestyle choices have economic consequences. Whose responsibility is that?

vi) In what sense is abortion a "vital medical procedure." Pregnancy is not a life-threatening disease.

vii) I suppose you can call abortion a "medical procedure," just as you could call the gas chambers a medical procedure.

viii) "Teenagers"? "Parental consent"? Well, yes. Even if you believe in abortion for grown women, is Engle such a fanatic that she would insist on privacy laws which prevent the prosecution of statutory rape because it can't be reported to the authorities?

ix) Why should a school counselor or stranger at an abortion clinic—a stranger with a vested business interest—have more input on the decision than the girl's mother or father? For what other major medical "procedure" would Engel leave the decision-making up to an underage girl and her handlers, then bandage her up and dump her back on the doorstep of her own home—without ever notifying a parent of potential complications or emotional trauma? What if the abortion is botched?

It tells you a lot about the level of moral desperation when the "right" of teenage access to abortion comes at the cost of immunity to medical malpractice and statutory rape. With the teenage "right" to an abortion comes the right to be raped and butchered. Feminism is a beautiful thing, ain't it though?

x) If we have too many unwanted pregnancies in the military, that's an argument, not for abortion, but for abolishing a coed military.

xi) Engle overlooks the obvious correlation between the welfare state and a culture of poverty and dependency. But this is only too typical of left-wing social policy. When one entitlement fails, it demands yet another entitlement to prop up the first.

xii) "Complications"? Whoa! I thought Engle had just assured us, under point #4, that abortion was a very safe "procedure." Now, however, she's warning us about the medical complications. In order to make a therapeutic argument for abortion, she must play down the health risk; but in order to make a fiscal argument, she must play up the risk.

"7) The Most Effective Way to Reduce Abortions Is to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies
Western and Eastern Europe have similar abortion laws but the West has far greater access to effective contraception. They also have, respectively, the lowest and highest abortion rates in the world. The Bush Administration's decision to end contributions to the UN Population Fund, which funds family-planning projects in 142 countries, will perversely result in approximately 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths."

i) I have no objection to contraction, although some so-called contraceptives are really abortifacients in disguise (e.g. the morning-after pill).

ii) Engle is deliberately confounding abortion with contraception.

iii) Why does Engle suppose that American wage-earners, who work hard to feed and clothe their own kids, are responsible for funding birth-control measures around the world? Isn't that pretty paternalistic?

iv) Of course, the only "effective" form of contraception is abstinence. So Engle should be advocating abstinence programs instead.

v) Hasn't Engle ever heard of private charity? If feminism is really that compassionate about the plight of poor mothers around the world, why don't Engle and her coterie chip in and start their own fund for the free distribution of prophylactics? They seem to be very generous with everyone's money but their own.

vi) For that matter, if Engle and her coterie feel that tender-hearted about the plight of the poor, why don't they sell their domiciles in Malibu and Manhattan, go live with the poor, role up their sleeves, and apply their social theories about the root-causes of poverty in situ? Or would such a move put a crimp in their standard of living?

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