Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a war on women?

A lot of people are upset about the law recently passed by the Virginia legislature that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound before giving women an abortion. The law also requires that the doctor ask the women if she wants to see the image and then enforces a waiting period before the abortion can be done.

For liberals, this is harassment, anti-women, and so on. To someone on NPR yesterday, it is "state-mandated rape." At issue is that since many abortions are performed so early, the required ultrasound would have to be vaginal, obviously a potentially uncomfortable and humiliating situation.

There are all sorts of situations we can imagine in which this seems cruel. A woman who was raped. A woman who is not healthy enough to carry a pregnancy to term. It could feel like psychological torture to jump through these hoops. Perhaps exceptions for such circumstances could be written into the law.

And yet, these kinds of painful situations do not describe the vast majority of women seeking abortions. The average woman seeking an abortion is simply choosing, without duress, not to have a child that she could have. For this majority of women who are not in catastrophic or crisis circumstances, the state should not look with indifference on their choice.

It is a good thing if abortion procedures force women to feel that what they are undertaking is serious and difficult. It should not be easy to get an abortion. Yet for all the talk about how abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare," liberals seem to oppose nearly everything that might cause pregnant women to choose to keep their child. In fact, this Virginia law ought to be perfect. It doesn't diminish safety, it keeps abortion legal, and perhaps makes it a little more rare. Liberals should love it!

But of course they don't because a lot of their rhetoric is not in good faith. It is meant to soften the edges around the astonishing moral evil that is at the center of a women's right to choose. How do you reason your way to a place where you're more outraged by an uncomfortable medical procedure that takes an image of a fetus than by the subsequent procedure that terminates that fetus?


  1. "Perhaps exceptions for such circumstances could be written into the law."

    Inherent problem:

    "Hi, miss, please prove you were raped."

    The staggering number of unreported ones is accompanied by personal fear associated with admitting aloud/disclosing the fact of it. Requiring it by law as a means of NOT humiliating or traumatizing likely to humiliate or traumatize them.

  2. You're absolutely right. I cannot readily think of how to make that work.
    I still maintain, though, that in more usual, non-crisis abortion situations, those who reserve outrage only for what the women involved have to go through are failing to acknowledge the profound moral questions raised by terminating a potential human being.

  3. I can only speak for myself, my family, and the friends with whom I've spoken on this issue, but I think we assume that women are capable of engaging with a hard moral question without the assistance of twenty to thirty minutes of vaginal probing.

  4. That's obviously true, but that's not relevant to the point I was making. What bothered me was the level of outrage over this proposed law, much of it coming from people who don't appear able to muster any such outrage over the snuffing out of potential human life.
    So what is the argument? Is it really the case that ultrasound laws do not reduce abortions at all? Because then, yes, such laws would be outrageous. But they do reduce abortions, even a little, then it's a trade-off, not an outrage. Intuitively it seems to me that ultrasound requirements would cause a slight reduction in abortions, but my intuition has been wrong before!

  5. Have you ever talked with a woman that has had an abortion? I can only conclude that you haven't based on how you talk about a woman's decisions and feelings when seeking an abortion. There is, already built in to the process, something that forces women to feel that what they are undertaking is serious and difficult, it's called "having an abortion." They are not fun, even early term pharmaceutical abortions are stressful and physically draining and painful. Finding a woman who 'simply' chose to have an abortion is much rarer than you seem to think.

    On a separate point of order, you've been listening to too much NPR, "safe, legal and rare" is not a "liberal" position, it is a middle-of-the-road to slightly conservative position. You can tell because Southern Democrat Bill Clinton is the one who popularized it. Liberals agree with safe an legal, but we trust women to know what's best to do with their bodies and whatever parasites might come to inhabit them. Maybe you need to talk with a few more liberals as well.

    Finally, what would you call it when the bar to receiving a perfectly legal procedure is the mandatory shoving of a rod into one of your orifices, other than "state-mandated rape?"

  6. I will give one more comment and then bow out:)
    While I don't have personal experience with abortion, many critics of positions like mine seem equally insulated from the many women who cannot imagine having an abortion, and can back that up by the excruciatingly difficult pregnancies they endured. Am I naive in some respects? Sure. But pro-choice folks regularly pretend that "women" are a homogenous group that is uniformly happy to have the right to choose. It's just not true.
    I would only add that, having worked in group homes with kids who are wards of the state, I've seen first hand why abortion makes sense. It does. When 15 year olds are having kids and you know, you feel it so deeply, that that little child barely has a chance in life at all, then yeah, abortion looks really appealing. So I recognize the difficult calculus that is often made. In spite of all that I remain horrified by abortion. I can't imagine feeling otherwise. Those who take my view, however, need to get real and advocate for a much more robust social safety net, childcare, daycare, etc, so that no potential mom ever has to feel financial pressures to abort.

  7. "Is it really the case that ultrasound laws do not reduce abortions at all?"

    Considering that outlawing abortions completely, full-stop, does not significantly reduce abortion rate (indeed, countries that have banned abortion are correlated with higher abortion rates than countries in which it is legal), I'm going to go out on a limb and say that obviously we don't have the numbers but probably not. Especially here where crossing state lines to avoid overbearing laws like these is relatively easy.

  8. I just realized that in your previous comment you referred to a fetus as a "parasite." If, as I assume, that was not your intention, feel free to clarify. If, on the other hand, that was your meaning, then there cannot possibly be any understanding between our positions. You've made my point for me better than I ever could. I remain horrified.

  9. I'm sorry, I didn't want to bully you into silence on your own blog. I was just looking for a proper argument, one where we trade information and insight and, even if no one's mind is changed at the end, we're both the better for it. The fact is, you are completely right that "safe, legal and rare" is a completely faulty position; it's either the product of not really thinking about the issue or deliberate pandering.

    I wanted to point out that there were some real problems with what you wrote, most importantly the thought that degradation of women is a tool that should be available to the state to regulate legal behavior (with the poisonous underlying assumption that a woman is too stupid to know what an abortion is when they go to get one.) But pointing that out isn't to shut you up, it's to see how you respond.

  10. I think I've made ample clarifications of my view and brought out some depth and personal experience that lies behind it, while acknowledging some of the weaknesses pertaining to this specific post (such as: do these laws really accomplish anything of value at all? we probably don't have good data on that). The only reason your comments carry weight is because in looking over the original post, I can see that it lacked grace and humility, especially in regards to the variety of situations women face.
    I simply don't enjoy pursuing a discussion to the point of uselessness. I want to grow in my understanding; you want to "see how [I] respond." I just don't see the point in that. It seems to me that it is enough to take my experiences and the beliefs I've shared and ponder them long enough to understand why your language about parasites would horrify me, just as I understand why my views are offensive to you.

  11. I will clarify:
    Of all the animals give birth, our birthing process is the most dangerous for both mother and child, due to the having such large brains and such small hips for upright locomotion. Dying in childbirth is almost unheard of in other animals but is quite common in humans.

    Of all the mammals, we have one of the most dangerous pregnancies. We don't win (lose) like with our births, but we tie with only a handful of other species in having such an aggressive fetus (when it comes to extracting oxygen and raw materials from a mother's bloodstream). In fact, the fetus (technically the placenta) is so aggressive that we need to build up a uterine lining before the fetus even gets there to keep the mother from dying from the strain, resulting in the otherwise profoundly wasteful and dangerous process known as the menstrual cycle, which is also quite rare among mammals.

    I'll admit I used the term parasite as a bit of a joke, but it has a core of truth. Our fetuses are built to be greedy. Greedier than in the case of any other species on this planet. Next to a fetus, the cost of hosting say, hookworms, is actually quite mild. Of course, a hookworm will never become a child and that is a fundamental difference. But even the best of pregnancies is not value neutral, and I think any woman is well within their right to decide that that burden is not for them.

    I'll do my best to keep from deliberately ribbing you like that in the future, but I would understand if you would prefer me gone and will go elsewhere.

  12. Reading this person's comments makes my toes curl and my knees shake. The reasoning he/she uses to arrive at the conclusion that "I think any woman is well within their right to decide that that burden is not for them" is a prime example of where "higher education" and our wonderful evolving society (sarcasm) has led us. Unbelievable, and yes, horrifying.