John Scalzi gave us this rather disturbing post, which highlights all the ways in which the GOP’s current legislation around reproductive rights, and their rhetoric about rape, empowers violent men to control women’s lives. Think Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Roger Rivard, and most recently, Richard Mourdock. If you have experienced any level of sexual assault, I advise you to proceed with EXTREME CAUTION. It’s a very effective post, but for the same reason can be triggering.
I don’t really have anything to add to Scalzi’s analysis. If you think that it would be so much nicer if all those women who are made pregnant by rapists could just have the babies adopted, rather than terminate the pregnancies, I suggest you read the post. Think adoption makes everyone happy? Seriously: read the post.
Scalzi’s focus is on the relationship between sexual violence and reproductive freedom (or the lack thereof), rather than a comprehensive argument in favor of abortion rights, and the comments are mostly very pro-choice and pro-woman. There are some comments, however, that want to convince us of why Abortion = BAD. I want to show you one of them, and I want to respond to it.
I don’t understand why so many people have decided that a woman having rights to make decisions about whether or not she wants to manage the uncomfortableness of pregnancy somehow outweighs killing a human being. I spent the vast majority of my life as a Pro Choice proponent, until I actually really thought about it; ever since then it has seemed crazy to me to watch Pro Life proponents spend so much time missing the importance of the issue by fighting for the rights of women. I am a woman. Women deserve equal rights, and those rights are most certainly worth fighting for, but the fight for women’s rights does NOT exist in *this* issue. This is an issue of death. Intentional death of humans. Intentional killing of humans by other rational humans. Some being scientific humans even, and these are the ones I am really surprised by. It should be quite obvious to them that abortion is extinguishing life. And it seems like it should be appalling to all humans to disregard that they are extinguishing a life in exchange for a woman to feel more empowered. It really seems like a women’s rights crusade run amok, and this just isn’t the place for it. I am very surprised lately by why so many thinkers that I hold in high esteem are so free to throw so much support into the abortion issue. I keep trying to figure out what I am missing, but so far no one has provided me with anything convincing. It seems like so much groupthink or like perhaps this issue about women’s rights has become so important in others areas of society that the intensity of that issue in itself has somehow formed a callous over the core of the abortion issue (death), which has resulted in desensitized women’s right’s supporters who haven’t yet realized that this is an issue of death, not rights.
I certainly don’t support rapists and they deserve to be punished for their crimes, and you have done an AMAZING job getting across just how severely destructive rape is for all women, impregnated or not. It never goes away. But my hope is that you can see how that can non-moronically be viewed as a separate issue. Not that I have been able to whole-heartedly support either side on this issue. It is a tragedy in far more ways than one, but an abortion doesn’t really lessen the horror of the incident by much – and it doesn’t reduce it at all if, after getting an abortion, you realize that your response to getting raped was to murder someone else. This issue is really not about what this article makes it out to be, you really seem like someone who would want to understand that.
Right. This is what I’m going to discuss today.
The commenter whom I’ve quoted without editing managed not to say anything to the effect of “don’t have sex if you don’t want a baby,” though if we continued to press her* on the ways in which women’s lives are restricted if they cannot control their reproduction, she probably would start telling us that most unwanted pregnancies could be avoided if women just kept their knees together.
This person DOES, however, resort to the oft-cited canard that women feel guilty about their abortions, and it’s worded in a way that implies that many of them simply don’t realize what the decision entails. Here’s what we’re dealing with: 35% of American women will have at least one abortion before they lose their fertility. You know several women who’ve had abortions. You may not know which ones they are, but they are in your life. Of that number, most actually do not feel bad about what they’ve done. That is a hell of a lot of women who have “killed babies” and calmly gotten on with their lives.
Does that mean that something like 30% of American women are either murderous sociopaths or too dim-witted to be aware that the “products of conception” they had flushed out of their uteri would have eventually become sweet chubby babies? I’m going to dismiss the second idea based on Hitchens’s Razor: what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. We all know that the embryo is alive and human and an abortion causes it to die. We know that abortion is not the same thing as contraception.
The phrase “women’s rights crusade run amok” is going to run through my head for weeks, I swear. (It would be a great name for a rock album.) I will give the commenter kudos for this much: this is what the pro-life movement would like mainstream society to believe about their opposition to abortion. This is how they would like to frame the debate, before we provoke them into flapping their arms about the selfishness of non-procreative sex**: women’s right to reproductive freedom is trivial next to the tragedy of KILLING PEOPLE. The implication is that women “should” have rights, but in reality they only have rights that do not interfere with their being constantly available for babymaking, to pass on the genes of any man who manages to get sperm up their vadge, from menarche to menopause. When we think about such things as the possible complications of pregnancy and birth, workplace culture, school accommodations, and abusive relationships, it becomes clear that women really do not have equal rights with men if they are compelled to carry every pregnancy to spontaneous completion. If that’s the case, then I guess women just have to accept restrictions on their rights because the alternative is that PEOPLE ARE DYING.
The connotation of using such words as death, dying and murder when talking about abortion is that the death of an embryo has the same impact on society as the death of an already-born, biologically independent person. Like when Ann Coulter joked that George Tiller was terminated in the 203rd trimester, the pro-life movement would like us to feel that the termination of a pregnancy has the same result as shooting a grown person in the head.
That is the idea which I will scrutinize today.
I would like you to think about what exactly it is that bothers us when a person dies.
Why is it that we hold funerals?
What is the purpose of life insurance?
Why do obituaries end with a list of people in the deceased person’s family who are still alive?
Why do gravestones frequently identify the deceased person’s family relationships, such as “Beloved Wife and Mother”?
Why do we allow family members to decide whether and when a comatose, vegetative or dying patient should be taken off life support?
I would argue that the answer to all these questions is that the tragedy of death is not for the dead. The tragedy is in the loss of relationships to the people who are left behind.
Life insurance does no good for the policy-holder, except to assure him that his family will have something to pay the bills in the event of his death.
Funerals are not for the benefit of the dead. Obituaries do nothing to help the deceased. Cemeteries and gravestones offer nothing to the ones who have died. These things are all for the edification and healing of the living people who knew the deceased while they lived.
When an already-born person dies, there are nearly always family members left to mourn. Depending on the stage of the person’s life, there could be friends, co-workers, clients, employees, and other relationships that are curtailed.
That woman’s gravestone is inscribed with “Beloved Wife and Mother” because her husband and children miss her. The young man’s gravestone says “Beloved Son” because his parents have to live without him.
It would be remiss of me to write this post without acknowledging the fact that some pregnancies end spontaneously before viability, and those pregnant women and their partners experience a loss. When a woman (and her partner if applicable) is upset about having a miscarriage, the following conditions apply: a) they were aware of the pregnancy, and b) they were making plans for a baby. The miscarriage means their expectations have been severed and they must change their plans. They were picturing a baby in the near future and that picture has suddenly been altered. If they share the news of their loss, their friends and family may be upset because they sympathize with the grieving parents.
However, there are also women who miscarry and are not upset about it. These are women who didn’t want to be pregnant, and their reaction to the loss is a feeling of relief rather than bereavement. These are often women (and their partners) who already have children and are glad not to have another because they need to focus their energies on the ones who are already running around and demanding their attention. It is possible to experience miscarriage as a blessing rather than a tragedy. The women who are relieved to lose their pregnancies are not inhuman, child-hating monsters; they simply know what their limits are.
If a pregnant woman miscarries, she and her partner may be upset, but if they don’t tell anyone else about their loss, then as far as the rest of the world is concerned, there was never a baby to be expected.
And that brings us to the question of what exactly is lost when a woman terminates a pregnancy. Most abortions are procured in the first trimester, when the woman doesn’t even look pregnant. At that stage, she can go about her life without letting anyone else know there’s a potential baby inside her. She can have an abortion and keep on going about her business without anyone knowing the difference. The effect of an abortion on the rest of society is the same as if she never got pregnant in the first place.
Think back to that 35%. There are some women in your life who have had abortions to your knowledge, and others who have had abortion outside of your knowledge. You might think differently of the ones that you know have aborted, but you are not affected by the babies they declined to have any more than you’re affected by the pregnancies that never got started.
Am I saying, therefore, that there is a hierarchy of tragedy depending on the stage of life? Why, yes, I am saying there is such a hierarchy. If making such a distinction means I’m “dehumanizing” the unborn, then, honestly, I’m okay with that. When we mourn the loss of a fetus—ESPECIALLY if it was someone else’s child—we’re not mourning a person. No, we’re really not. We’re mourning the loss of an idea, an expectation, a picture in our heads. It’s not the same thing as mourning the loss of a baby who has already sat in other people’s arms, squinted up at their smiling faces and wrapped his little hand around their fingers. If that baby dies, we can mourn the baby he really was instead of the baby that might have been.
The deaths of embryos and fetuses through induced abortion is NOT comparable to the deaths of autonomous individuals through homicide. The core issue of abortion is not death. I think the core issue is women’s rights in owning their lives, but if we want to zoom out to the societal level and look at the babies who don’t get borned, the core issue is a reduction in birthrate. If you equate that reduction to “killing of humans by other rational humans,” one might get the impression that you aren’t all that invested in the lives of people who are already here.
*I remain skeptical that this person is a woman. I remain more skeptical that she used to be pro-choice before she “actually really thought about it.” It’s the sort of thing that anyone can say in order to make their position seem more convincing. On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dude who’s been in favor of forced childbirth all his life.
**When we talk about things like blood, bone marrow, kidneys and other life-saving body components that people can donate without killing themselves, and that some people need to get from others in order to live, the clock starts ticking towards the moment at which we are told that unlike blood donors who can say yes or no to saving other people’s lives, pregnant women are uniquely obligated to give their embryos safe passage to live birth. We are inevitably told that pregnancy is different from other ways that healthy people can sustain life for other, vulnerable people, because pregnancy begins with sex.