I remember back in the day when life was so much simpler. When my younger brother and I would walk down the halls of our school and sing various back and forth duets like the Cookie Jar song and Anything You Can Do. He is a year and a half younger than me and is the only one of my many siblings who I have ever consistently gotten along with. He knows more of my secrets than my other siblings do, he knows about more of the jobs that I’ve had and he has never judged me. That has always been the case. We have always been very close. Back in High School, that meant that when I was doing Teacher’s Assistant work in my brother’s Special Ed class, where he was placed only because he’s Dyslexic and the teachers hadn’t come up with a better plan for him, yet, we were able to distract the kids in class at times by singing back and forth through the class room. I could start off with, “Hey, J___, Anything you can do, I can do better! I can do anything better than you!” His reply was often more enthusiastic than my singing as he replied, “No, you can’t!” And the duet would continue, with us singing it again afterward in switched roles.
But this post really isn’t about my younger brother and his relationship with me so much as it is about a very controversial topic. I mention my brother only because my relationship with him led me to an interaction with a girl who once offered me a little insight into this debate (though, unintentionally). Once upon a time, my brother, J___, had a girlfriend who was more than just a little crazy. You couldn’t really trust most things that she said and, even though she was crazy, my brother worshiped her as if she was the reason flowers bloom in the spring and ladybugs have spots and cow poo makes good fertilizer. J___’s girlfriend happened to also be honest only when she was drunk, sometimes. This was the only time I could tolerate her and this was also the time she usually picked to tell me everything she couldn’t tell anyone else. It was at one such moment that I got to hear what she said was her deepest secret. She had, according to her, had four abortions.
I have been pro-choice for a long time and I have done my part in advocating a woman’s right to choose. T’s stories made me even more so. T had two babies before she had her first abortion. Both babies were given up to the state because T had a substance abuse problem that led to her neglecting her children. T’s first abortion was something she wasn’t entirely coherent for. She was addicted to meth (by the time I had met her, it had rotted her teeth out) and she was high when she checked in for the procedure. For her second abortion, the details are less clear, but T had stated that her ex-boyfriend had pressured her into it, him not wanting to have a baby and for some reason, she remembered no other details. Her third abortion was something she said she was sober for and was done because she felt she couldn’t handle having another baby. Then, at a time when she had finally cleaned up and was off drugs and alcohol for a while, she had a baby with my brother. After that pregnancy, she decided she didn’t want any more children and wanted to be sterilized. This led to the last abortion. An accident by a careless doctor who neglected to test if she was pregnant before the sterilization procedure.
I don’t tell T’s extremely paraphrased story to give the reader something to base a stereotype on. I tell it, instead, because T’s story contains several stories that get encountered frequently in the great abortion debate. It is not uncommon for people to mention the girl who gets an abortion unwillingly and for that to be used as a scare story in the debate. It is also not uncommon for stories of people making the decision to abort because it is the responsible thing to do. And, every once in a while, there is a story of someone who experiences an accident and ties it (irrationally) to the abortion debate. There is more to T’s stories, though. T was not entirely pro-choice. Sometimes, she claimed to be pro-life because that’s what her god wanted and sometimes she claimed to be pro-choice. Furthermore, T was a story teller and it makes it difficult to know which of her stories were true and which were not. T could very well have been telling me these stories because she knew about my work with other feminists and because my family seem to perceive me as a militant, man-hating feminazi* and T liked to be important.
Regardless of where T’s story comes from, it allows us to ask some questions about abortion to test our own limits on what we accept and what is rational to accept in the abortion debate. I should mention here, for the sake of complete honesty, that I’m 100% pro-choice. I have a bias. I’m not opposed to people trying to alter my position, but they would have to give me a pretty damned convincing argument and I’m doubtful that such a thing will happen. That admission being out of the way, I still think my stance is the most rational one to have and I’m going to use some of T’s experiences to back it up. For this particular post, I’m going to argue against the pro-life arguments on this about.com list. I know there is already a set of pro-choice arguments on the same page, but I feel that those points don’t really do justice to the claims that are made. Please do make note of them, though, if you’re particularly serious about this subject. I’m also using it because it appears to be the least biased presentation that I’ve found and I like to give the opposing side a fair shake.
1. Since life begins at conception, abortion is akin to murder as it is the act of taking human life. Abortion is in direct defiance of the commonly accepted idea of the sanctity of human life
Firstly, life begins (began) long before conception. Life began billions of years ago. The creation of sperm is not a stopping point for life and neither is the development of an egg. By definition, these are elements of life. There is no magical point at conception where the egg and sperm suddenly begin life again after previously having been not alive. There is also no point in which an egg or a sperm produced naturally by a human’s sex organs is not human. So modern human life, having begun some 85-150,000 years ago, does not begin again every time a sperm and egg dance the dirty chicken in a pelvic theater. That being said, something being killed while existing as a human life doesn’t mean that a murder has been committed. There are lots of instances where human life is terminated and it is accepted and not murder. If I get gangrene in my finger, for example, there is no ethical problem in me having a doctor cut it off and essentially kill that part of me. If I get cancer, which would share my DNA and would likely kill me, there’s not an ethical problem with me having that removed and killed, either.
The definition of murder tends to be related to law and killing of a human, but it can also mean to kill inhumanely. While the above quote from about.com is careful in its wording, it is not uncommon to hear pro-life arguments that claim directly that abortion is murder. So, I’m going to quickly examine that as well. Because the word murder is a reference to law, an abortion can’t logically be murder unless the law specifies that. This means that the argument equating abortion to murder is already logically flawed unless they are constantly using the verb ‘murder’ to describe a barbaric act. This is also problematic because if they were using that definition, they would be using it in a grammatically incorrect manner, at least. Instead, they are actually using what is known as the fallacy of the Ambiguous Middle. The term ‘murder,’ in this case has more than one possible meaning which can carry the connotation of one meaning while being used as the other. This fallacy is also being coupled with an emotional language fallacy. I’m assuming the arguers want the two to mate and have baby fallacies to abort, but I digress.
The problem that people have with the sperm and egg version of human life is that they separate it, conceptually, from other parts of our body. They consider it another entity. This is not unjustified as, for some time (not very long, really) the blastocyst created by the sperm and egg really is a separate entity. But even though it is genetically not the same as its host and it spends a little time floating about in a flow of host-slime, it also fast becomes a part of its host again. It doesn’t stay a separate entity.
Sometimes this entity is unwelcome. Based on the above idea, this unwelcome entity should be protected based on what they consider a commonly accepted sanctity of human life. As mentioned above, though, not all human life is worthy of protection. Instead, we have to select, hopefully through some logical means, what human life is worthy of protection and what human life is not. The above argument doesn’t do that.
So what about T’s situation? T believed in the sanctity of life according to her religion and her position on abortion varied by situation. Sometimes, she expressed remorse when discussing her abortions because her religion said that she did something wrong. Sometimes, though, she considered her situations to justify at least two of her abortions. The time when she made the most sense, though, was when she said that the two abortions that mattered the most to her were the two where she clearly didn’t make the decision. The two cases where she didn’t even get to make the decisions for herself, when her ex boyfriend pressured her into an abortion and when the doctor accidentally aborted her pregnancy, she felt sadness. This was mostly because she didn’t get to make the decision and in the case of the accidental abortion, she said she would have liked to have carried out that pregnancy, had she known about it.
Recently, intention to maintain a pregnancy has become a matter of courtroom debate,
redefining what is murder and what is not. These cases are loosely related to what happened after T’s accidental abortion. After the doctor’s big mistake, T was able to sue him for malpractice, which they settled out of court for a few thousand dollars (I don’t know how much it was, exactly, as T broke up with my brother shortly before the settlement). In her case, her possible intention to maintain the pregnancy played a major role in her argument that she had suffered a loss. So she lost a pregnancy that she didn’t know existed, but may have wanted and it had an actual monetary value for her. This happened not long after the trial of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of the murder of his wife and their unborn child. The intention of keeping the baby played a role in Peterson being convicted for second-degree murder of the fetus. T’s stance on her pregnancy had to be considered, according to her lawyer, as an unknown. They could prove a potential loss, but could not really prove that there was a certain loss because she was unable to make a decision. This also meant that while the doctor accidentally killed a fetus that she might have wanted to keep, there was no potential for a murder trial, especially since it happened as a result of sterilization. T’s case was not murder, it was simply malpractice.
So, while abortion can be murder, it is not, by definition, murder.
2. No civilized society permits one human to intentionally harm or take the life of another human without punishment, and abortion is no different.
No human society except every society that has ever existed, you mean.
There has yet to exist any society that protects us all from harm from others. There has yet to be a society that has existed that didn’t have rules about circumstances when they thought it was perfectly ok to destroy a human life. Be it a matter of war or punishment; ethnic cleansing or sacrifice, humans have made it a habit to kill human life in the context of every civilization ever known. To claim otherwise is simply a blatant lie.
T’s position in the abortion debate was pretty unstable. However, whenever she took the stance that abortion was absolutely wrong, she would often justify her own situations. The one where she was the most defensive were the cases where she felt she simply couldn’t be a parent at that time. She had already lost the children that she had and she felt that the pregnancies were badly timed and she simply didn’t want them. At times, she told me, she even felt like they were a punishment. She was irresponsible, had already suffered the consequences of that irresponsibility and two children had already been forced to suffer with her for at least a few years. T felt she was an exception to the rule because she didn’t feel that other women were facing the same problems as she. Selfishly, she could not extend her realm of understanding beyond what happened to her and she certainly couldn’t reconcile the actions of others with her religious belief when her own battle existed. Even in her most dogmatic mindset, though, alongside using herself as an exception, T also felt that there were instances where abortion was justified, like in cases of rape and incest. Societies have exceptions for when they feel it is ok to kill humans and T had exceptions for when she thought abortion was ok.
I will note that this particular set of points doesn’t really make a statement as to if abortion is or is not ethical, it simply highlights that the about.com argument is, at least, wrong. Other points on this page will discuss ethics further.
3. Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion and accomplishes the same result. And with 1.5 million American families wanting to adopt a child, there is no such thing as an unwanted child.
Adoption does not accomplish the same thing as abortion. There is a big difference between finishing a pregnancy and ending it before it shows. Furthermore, just wanting to adopt a child doesn’t mean that a person is capable of taking care of that child or that the family who adopts a child is particularly skilled as a parent or that the child will have a wonderful life. Adoption guarantees nothing. Furthermore, in the cases where abortion involves a problem with the fetus, such as a deformity, the chances that child will be adopted are significantly low. Adoption rates also vary considerably when one considers issues such as race, appearance and location. So, while people wanting to adopt a baby may be common, that doesn’t mean that every stopped abortion can result in a child being adopted out to a healthy, loving family. There are already plenty of unwanted and uncared for children out there that serve as ample evidence that adoption has already failed to eliminate the problem of unwanted pregnancies.
T, again, has an experience that relates to this argument. T’s first two pregnancies happened when she was just a teenager. Young, naive and already dabbling in the use of drugs and alcohol, her children were taken from her, as babies, and turned over to foster care. I have nothing negative to say about the parents in this foster home, I simply don’t have any information about them. However, T’s babies were both very pretty children with blond hair and blue eyes. In other words, the matched what is the easiest phenotype to adopt out in the United States. Looking like little, big-eyed elves with shiny-blond hair, they are the very stereotype of what this culture prefers in children. Other children, sadly, don’t always see such a bright future. Non-Caucasian infants and children in the U. S. have to wait to be placed with families and some end up never finding a home. In fact, the older the child gets and the farther away they are from Caucasian, the less likely they seem to be to find a home. Adoption may have been a good option for the two older children that T had, but it certainly isn’t always a fairytale ending.
4. An abortion can result in medical complications later in life; the risk of ectopic pregnancies doubles, and the chance of a miscarriage and pelvic inflammatory disease also increase.
Complications from abortion in a safe and legal clinic are actually pretty rare. Complications from pregnancy are actually significantly higher. From bleeding to blood pressure issues, Pregnancy is not a pretty thing for a woman’s overall health as compared to abortion. Also, do you know what the highest risk factor for ectopic pregnancies is? Pregnancy.
Let me note, for those of you who may be hyperventilating at my highlighting the risks that are involved with pregnancy, I’m not anti-pregnant, I’m anti-deception. It is deceptive to portray abortion as so dangerous when the thing that abortion stops is far more dangerous. By the way, if you want to know about just the minor side effects of pregnancy, see this skepchick post (seriously).
I would use T as an example here, but her pregnancies were pretty much uneventful. Her three abortions prior to having my niece didn’t seem to affect her pregnancy when she had my niece and she seems to suffer no health problems from either her abortions or her pregnancies. She did, however, lose all her teeth due to meth rot. So, drugs are bad, mmmkay?
5. In the instance of rape and incest, proper medical care can ensure that a woman will not get pregnant. Abortion punishes the unborn child who committed no crime; instead, it is the perpetrator who should be punished.
Firstly, there’s not a way to ensure that a woman doesn’t get pregnant by rape or incest. You can reduce the risk tremendously, but it can still happen. Furthermore, in cases where pregnancy is the reason that the rape or incest is revealed, that usually means the pregnancy is already there and is, therefore, not something you can ensure won’t happen. Funny how things like that work. Unless you can travel through time and force the person too-evil-to-even-be-worthy-of-a-clever-insult-from-me to not do what they did, you can’t really ensure no pregnancy will occur. So, until Robocop can turn up and shoot all potential rapists in the crotch like he did in that one scene, in whichever Robocop movie it was, pregnancy will happen sometimes as a result of rape. In fact, in one controversial study, rape seemed to result in pregnancy more often than in instances of consensual sex. This finding was so controversial, though, researchers have hesitated to study the possibility more because of the possible implications.
While I agree that the person who rapes or sexually harms any non-consenting individual should face the consequences for their actions, to claim that aborting a pregnancy is somehow harming a “baby” that doesn’t even posses the capacity for pain or the ability to even conceptualize cause and effect in a way that could lead to them taking the experience of an abortion as a “punishment” is absurd. This is another case of the appeal to emotion fallacy I mentioned earlier. It may be persuasive to use words like “baby” and “punishment” when arguing about abortion, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve made a case that the fetus is a baby, that it has a value that means it should be saved or that it is being punished by the abortion procedure.
6. Abortion should not be used as another form of contraception.
Another version of this argument that I have seen is “Abortion should not be used as birth control.” I’ll address the concept of abortion as contraception, first. By definition, contraception means to prevent conception and implantation. In other words, contraception means either preventing the sperm from entering the egg or preventing the embryo from implanting in the lining of the uterus. These things happen long before an abortion can even be considered! It is logically impossible for abortion to be a contraceptive.
By definition, Birth Control is a way of preventing the birth of a baby. As a result, every abortion is a form of birth control. It does not matter if it happens once or twice or a hundred times. Every time a person has an abortion, it is birth control.
Usually, the abortion as birth control argument crops up when someone makes a claim that some lady had multiple abortions. The usual presentation of this problem implies that the woman was irresponsible and, so, should not be allowed to abort every time she gets into trouble and gets pregnant. I know it is not the best way for me to present my argument, but I’m going to say it anyway. The concept that a woman should have a limit on abortions because she’s irresponsible is a theory that I like to call fucking stupid. Even if a woman is that irresponsible with her girl parts, why the hell would someone want to force someone that irresponsible to be responsible for another human life? If she was so forgetful regarding taking her pill or using a condom, what makes anyone think she’s responsible enough not to forget to take her child out of a shopping cart and bring him home after a day at the grocery store? Clearly, while the girl may have been irresponsible with the pill or condoms, she’s taking a responsible action in understanding that her faults mean that she’d make a shitty parent, and who are we to disagree with that?
Furthermore, just based on what we know about probability, some poor lady could very likely be on the pill and use condoms every time she has sex and still end up getting pregnant four times in a row and needing an abortion. Because when it comes to sperm and eggs starting their pelvic parties, they don’t stop to count how often a girl has had similar such parties in her before.
If a girl is going to have an abortion, her previous abortions shouldn’t matter anyway. If someone has the right to do something, why would the number of times they do it make a difference in later times that they want to do that thing, anyway? If I have the right to breathe, does the number of breaths I take matter in if I should be allowed to take the next breath? How about my other rights? Does the amount of time I spend practicing free speech somehow count against me so that I someday won’t have that right?
T had four abortions, one of which was certainly not her choice and another which she was pressured into. She is an example like those that often are used in support of the ‘abortion as birth control’ argument. Right now, she has had all three of her children taken from her. She’s not allowed to be a parent to her children because she’s not responsible enough. If she somehow managed to get pregnant again and wanted an abortion, it seems like she should have it.
7. For women who demand complete control of their body, control should include preventing the risk of unwanted pregnancy through the responsible use of contraception or, if that is not possible, through abstinence.
Control and responsibility are two different things. Even then, sometimes birth control fails. It isn’t terribly common, but it does happen. In the case of T, one attempt at birth control resulted in an accidental abortion. I’m not going to talk about abstinence other than to say that some studies a few years ago found that even abstinence-only approaches to birth control were not 100% effective in preventing pregnancies or the spreading of STIs. Surprising? Yes. The biggest concern in these studies revolves around non-consensual sex, but other factors include contact with genitals in non-sexual encounters or in erotic play that doesn’t lead to actual sex and sometimes, people’s willpower is simply just not that strong (innate drives are simply difficult to turn off).
By the way, T was raised in a family that promoted the abstinence-only plan. She said she didn’t start taking birth control until after her first pregnancy.
8. Many Americans who pay taxes are opposed to abortion, therefore it’s morally wrong to use tax dollars to fund abortion.
Many Americans who pay taxes are opposed to eating vegetables, NASCAR, immigration, universal health care, welfare, the government, taxes and wearing white after labor day! Just because people are against something doesn’t mean it is immoral or that tax dollars shouldn’t pay for it. I wonder how many white dresses Michelle Obama has in her closet.
By the way, T is anti-interracial marriage, to the point that she and my younger sister ruined my chances of dating a guy that I was once interested in, who happened to be black. I’m glad that I’m now far enough away from them that they can’t do that now, and that their votes are unlikely to prevent the people from marrying outside of their own race.
9. Those who choose abortions are often minors or young women with insufficient life experience to understand fully what they are doing. Many have lifelong regrets afterwards.
According to Guttmacher, the age group with the most abortions is aged 20-24. They’re not minors, at all. In fact, they are women who are old enough to live on their own, make their own life decisions and build careers. Not children. 33% of abortions are performed on this age group. That being said, even if these were irresponsible young women who didn’t understand what they were doing, do you think that they have the life experience to understand fully what they are doing as a parent?
As for regrets, there aren’t many studies on this other than case studies. Of the case studies, most of the regrets that women claimed to have were related to religious ideas and changed opinions in the abortion debate. There isn’t, however, a study showing that there are greater regrets with abortions than pregnancies. That information simply doesn’t seem to exist (yet). So, while you may be able to find people that experience regret over abortions, there’s nothing that shows us that this is a significant problem in women who obtain abortions or that it happens more often than regrets surrounding pregnancy (which also happens, but not in significant numbers).
T did express that she regretted two of her abortions, but what she claimed to regret seemed to be the lack of power she had in the decision-making process. She also experienced regret in association with her religious beliefs, which added an element of guilt. When she wasn’t feeling particularly religious, she didn’t seem to have regrets and claimed she made the right decisions.
10. Abortion frequently causes intense psychological pain and stress.
So does pregnancy.
Abortion is a sensitive topic for most people on either side of the debate. I am 100% pro-choice, but the reason has to do with our rights to our bodies. How can one say that we own our bodies if we do not have the option of removing something unwelcome like we can have someone removed from our homes who is not welcome? While I may not like that some people have abortions in certain situations, that doesn’t mean that I, or anyone else, should have a say over their actions regarding their own bodies.
There is so much more to be said on this subject, so feel free to comment and I will try to address the topic again in the future.
Note: My brother has custody of the child, S, that he fathered with T. She is an adorable child, with the same blond hair and blue eyes that her siblings and mother have. My brother is an excellent father and his wife and he are quite happy with their family. My brother’s wife had two children when they got married, so S has two siblings that she gets along with quite well. My brother has made it a point to sing songs with them whenever it seems like a good distraction.
*With a few exceptions, my family doesn’t really know me well.