A Friend Responds to Anti-Choice Legislation.

by: dirkster42

Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 19:05:56 PM EST



The following is a piece that a friend wrote last year in response to a spate of anti-choice legislation.  She and I went to seminary together; she's now seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ.  

I posted it with her permission on Daily Kos last year.  It seems pertinent again with the recent open attacks on birth control, and women's reproductive freedom generally.

dirkster42 :: A Friend Responds to Anti-Choice Legislation.
"Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them." Genesis 1:26-28
I would like to know, in your mind, when I become expendable.  I would like to know when the value of my person ceases.  We were created in the image of God and I would like to know when, in your mind, I no longer reflect that image.  At what point am I no longer a part of God's creation?  Is it when an egg is fertilized inside my body and begins a journey that has a less than 50% chance of ultimate success? Is it when that fertilized egg has a heart beat?  Or, did my life become expendable when, long ago in my mother's body, I became XX instead of XY, and my genetic coding programmed me for breasts, a uterus, a vagina, estrogen and progesterone.  Did my expendability, my non-value, begin for you then?  How, in your mind, is it conscionable to claim that a hospital is ethically within its rights to deny me care if a pregnancy is killing me or ravaging my body? Why is it your place to mandate what the value of my life might be?  If life is life "from conception to natural death", why is my death preferable to that of the unborn? If my pregnancy is in crisis, or where medical advice dictates that the baby is endangering my life in some way - why is my life expendable to you?  When I present at an emergency room bleeding, in so much pain that I am raking my nails across my face, with depleted iron and a dying child, why is my life and well being so worthless in the eyes of God that I should be denied needed medical care?  When exactly did the spirit of God leave me?

I hope you do not have daughters.  If you do, have you looked them in the eye and told them that your wish for them is to live in a world where their lives are expendable, where it is ethical and God's will to allow them to die in a situation where they could be saved?  How dare you play God with the lives of women and girls?  If this is not about hating women, please point out a medical scenario involving a man where it would be ethical not to do anything to save his life if it were possible.  Can you look me in the eye and tell me at which point my right to live is null and void?  And, please explain why.

Please show me the new evidence obtained by the Georgia legislature that proves when life begins.  I don't think that "life" as God created it means that a woman or girl should suffer sexual slavery and then further harm by being forced to carry a child to term - particularly if the pregnancy is a threat to her physical safety, and these circumstances will destroy her emotional well being. We should all be careful about claiming to be God or claiming that God rests only in our view. The spirit of God rests in all girls and women (and men). Existence is not life. If we believe that God's spirit lives in women then we must fight for their lives as well. Conception itself does not guarantee life. Pregnancy IS a medical condition and even the most healthy pregnancies strain the body of the mother. I don't believe that the presence of God's spirit leaves a mother when she becomes pregnant so that her life is subordinate to a potential life. And I will never subscribe to a vision of God that allows woman to suffer a life of despondency because she was raped and became pregnant.

A woman who has had a miscarriage is suffering physical, emotional and psychological trauma.  She probably blames herself because most women do.  This does not mean she was responsible.  Her hormones are imbalanced from the pregnancy and from the loss of the pregnancy.  Her mental state is not balanced.  To require this woman to register this miscarriage and prove that she didn't cause it is inhumane and un-Christian.  To require a criminal investigation for a natural condition is disgusting.  Especially when fully 1-5 pregnancies end in the first trimester - often before a woman even knew she was pregnant.  Are you claiming that, due to the biology of our bodies, we are inherently murderers? Is this why your bill contains language that will dissuade hospitals from saving the life of women whose pregnancies are killing them?  What is murder is allowing a woman to die because she needs one. What is torture is to allow a woman to be denied an abortion because the fetus is dead or will die at birth. What is unconscionable is degrading the lives of women and girls such that we equate reproductive and gynecological health care with abortion, and decide it is not worth funding. People who have been born have value, and that value is not negated if they are pregnant.

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Ack, the A Word. (2.00 / 3)
Is there additional legislation on the table (again), or is this regarding the current GOP pantomime of being (not really [but really]) against contraception?

The Abortion debate is quite a cycle. On the one hand we have eloquence like that expressed above about the freedom and dignity of life, and on the other hand we have..

...similar eloquence about the freedom and dignity of life.

.McSigh.

It is, if nothing else, the perfect (perhaps ultimate) example of the need for compromise. It is quite impossible that we will ever accept a definition of Life that requires every man and woman to procreate unbounded following Love's First Kiss. It is equally impossible that we will all agree that Personhood begins only 270 days after conception.

Two sincere and inarguable arguments are inextricably intertwined. The demand for personal liberty - "It is my body!" - pitted against the demand to protect the weak - "It's their body!".  The first person being definitively present from the beginning of the debate, the moment of arrival of the second person therefore encapsulates the entire debate.

But the verbiage, ah the verbiage.

"Excuse me, ma'am, we're doing a survey. Mind if we take a moment of your time? Thank you very much.

"Now, would you mind telling us whether you are you anti-choice or anti-life?"

...and off we go to have a nice, sane debate...

But there aren't any good words, are there? "Pro Abortion" doesn't really describe anyone, but "Anti-Abortion" includes more that "Pro Life" is meant to.  "Pro Motherhood by Rape" doesn't sum up a lot of folks, either, but then "anti motherhood by rape" is a larger group than "Pro Choice", too. Since virtually every word used on the topic is intentionally inaccurate already, may was well stick to those for the moment.

The "anti motherhood by rape" side of the house has a fact on their side: that the mother is a person who deserves protection. The "anti abortion" side trails on a technicality: the quantum-child waveform collapses at some point before Day 270 (-1? 100? 240?...) bringing the Other Party into the conversation.

We may never, ever, resolve the debate about the arrival time of the second party. The very definitions of "arrive" and "alive" may defy being pinned down. Is it really the day the DNA is written (more than two non-conservative non-Christian non-Republican friends have mentioned to me that they have surprised themselves by ending up at that conclusion), is it the day the brain forms, the day consciousness arises...? After at least forty years of contemplation, I sit here with less of an answer to this question than I started with.

But at least we can accuse each other of callousness and hatefulness. We'll always have that.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


Well, (2.00 / 5)
pitting eloquence about freedom and dignity against eloquence about freedom and dignity may not resolve an issue.  But, eloquence about freedom and dignity is absolutely not something I am willing to cede to the anti-choice argument.

I reposted because the whole current contraception thing and the recent Planned Parenthood debacle weren't just anomalous. In 2011, state legislatures introduced more than 1,100 health provisions.  68 per cent of the proposed legislation would have restricted access to abortion in various ways.  That represents a major spike in legislative activity against the right to choose.  I'm having trouble opening the link that I got that information from, or I'd provide it.

If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X


[ Parent ]
There is freedom and dignity argued by both sides. (2.00 / 4)
Both argued well (not by all, but no topic is that well-served).

The topic deserves all (well, most) of the impassioned argument it gets.

There are today women who suffer in situations of rape, incest and personal risk who almost everyone would agree should be allowed to free their bodies.

There are today abortions performed which cross the line of "life" as it is either defined by most people or (if as above it could ever be truly defined) in actuality.

Quite a large number of people - not all of them either Christian or conservative - consider the moment of conception the moment Life begins. For those with that view there is nothing to be done but to struggle to save what they honestly believe are children.

Some people - not nearly as large a group as the latter - believe the Personhood argument is moot, that the choice of the mother trumps the actual or potential life of the child.  For those there is no choice but to resist infringement of that personal choice.

The vast majority of people smear across the middle or approach the edges of this space. "Two cells may not be a person, but exactly how many do?", balanced together with: "Abortion a moment before birth is murder, but how long before that is it just a medical procedure?"

I do not claim to have any answers. My part to play is among the confused and concerned. Neither extreme is acceptable, and no place in the middle is likely to be comfortable.

What do we do?

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
There is no question that a zygote is alive. (2.00 / 4)
Indeed, the sperm cell and the ovum are alive even before conception occurs.

Three hundred and forty-four years ago, Francesco Radi disproved the theory of spontaneous generation: the theory that a living organism can arise spontaneously from non-living matter.

http://www.microbiologytext.co...

The real question is whether a zygote is a person, endowed with Constitutional rights.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a zygote is a person, a body and a soul, and that the soul is infused at the moment of conception.  The RCC did not always teach this.  Thomas Aquinas, one of the leading theologians of the Medieval Church, followed Aristotle's theory that a soul is infused at the 40th day after conception, in the case of a male, and at the 80th day after conception, in the case of a female.

English and American Common Law have never recognized that a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is a person endowed with human rights.  In the Common Law, if one caused the death of a fetus (e.g., by striking the mother) after quickening and prior to birth, the actor could only be charged with feticide, not murder.

I understand that Roman Catholics and others are opposed to abortion on moral grounds.  They see the struggle to outlaw abortion as similar to the Abolitionist Movement of the 19th Century.

Although I respect their moral beliefs, the problem is that there is not a consensus on that position.

Even some people who believe that a fetus has a soul are not opposed to abortion in, e.g., a situation where the pregancy must be terminated to save the life of the mother.  The RCC, on the other hand, opposes abortion in all circumstances.

The latter makes one wonder about Rick Santorum's bona fides.

Rick Santorum did tell the Inquirer that "if that had to be the call, we would have induced labor if we had to," under the understanding that the fetus was going to die anyway and intervening would save Karen's life. And it is accurate to say that the direct experience of a life-threatening pregnancy and a tragic loss did not leave Rick Santorum with any empathy for women who do have to make those difficult decisions in extremely murky circumstances.

http://www.salon.com/2012/01/0...


[ Parent ]
The position of the magesterium (2.00 / 4)
is not the position of all Roman Catholics on this matter.

There's an organization called Catholics for Choice

A volume containing the full range of positions in the Catholic church was published in the 1980s, Abortion and Catholicism: The American Debate

More recently, two Catholic theologians presented a defense of abortion, without any recourse to feminist thought on the matter, simply on the logic of church teaching, A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion.

If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X


[ Parent ]
For those who study ancient mythologies that is very interesting, (2.00 / 2)
for those who follow them it is perhaps important, and for the rest of us they give us hints as to how the superstitions of those around us will influence the choices we have.

But it doesn't have much to do with the actual topic.

Ancient thinkers - armed with the knowledge that the world is flat, the sky an inverted bowl and that illness was caused by magic creatures fiddling with our Humours - argued about whether insects spontaneously popped into being when people weren't looking (or not). Their insight into the moment when a cell becomes a human is only interesting inasmuch as it influences the living humans walking around today enacting laws that my family has to live by.

Oddly, it wasn't the Catholics I was thinking about at all. Their leadership has interpreted their own thoughts as having been guided by the invisible hand of a supernatural father figure who taketh away the burden of knowing the answer. It was non-Catholics I know - and atheists - who believe that personhood begins at conception (I presume many Catholics are in the same boat, regardless of what the Pope thinks god told him).

For me, there are two parts to the topic:

1/ A healthy fertilized ovum will develop into a very specific person.

2/ At some point during development and before birth, the potential person becomes a real person.

1 - The first one may not ever be resolvable from a visceral or spiritual level. Is a zygote a person? Left to its own devices it will answer the question on its own, and the eventual answer is "yes". Whether or not some arbitrary moment of "personhood arrival" could be placed on that timeline, the other people involved (mother, father, friends, family) are forever left after an abortion with the image of that latent and now missing person for the rest of their own lives.

My own not-thirty-years-old offspring has not left my mind since I was informed of its/his/her abortion. If the birth had been desired and the abortion was spontaneous I would have the implied sympathy of having "lost a child". As it is I wasn't consulted in any case (fatherhood being without value in these conversations) - which makes that whole thread of contemplation extra-specially reaffirming - and have been called a pig for even broaching the topic in pro-choice conversations.

2 - Having closely watched the development of three children in utero the question whether Personhood begins before birth is as asinine as every parent knows it is. Each of the personalities that kicked against my hand months before we met continues to demonstrate themselves every day. I don't need a Ph.D to tell me that my children each existed as the people they are today quite some time before they translated down the birth canal.

Abortion at 8.5 months is murder. At seven months. At six months. Anyone who chooses to argue that one has an incredibly high wall to scale before I will consider their points as anything more than desperate efforts to win a debate.

Five months? Four? Three? Two? One? Two weeks, one, five days, two...?

I don't know, and I wish I did.  

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
The Convention... (2.00 / 2)
That a human "life" begins sometime in the mid second or third trimester probably has more to do with the traditional likelihood of the pregnancy going full term from that point than anything else.  In spite of improved medical technologies perhaps they were on to something in regards to the sensibilities of the mother and the acceptance of the pregnancy and birth in the family and community.  Isn't our law meant to reflect "natural law" and culture in these regards?  

I fail to see what's wrong with this sensible approach.  The number of things which can go wrong in the early stages of a pregnancy are legion and it is a very private matter, it seems to me, for a variety of sound reasons.


[ Parent ]
My wild guess is that a Person appears somewhere around three months. (2.00 / 2)
Based on as little (and as much) as any other opinion, I fear.

The other thread that Dirk started is more fertile, as you suggest here. Leaving aside whether there is a Person there or not, many pregnancies will not result in a birth at the end for a variety of reasons. Most that do not, occur naturally (or at least spontaneously). Of those left, those that are result of violence against the woman in question are the moral responsibility of the man who committed the crime, as is the related emotional harm to the woman.

Accidental pregnancy that is terminated early should imho bear the social limits that it already does: you better decide quick; and you need to take it as seriously as it is. Abortion as birth control should not be socially acceptable, and it isn't. Aborting a child that kicks should not be socially acceptable, and it isn't.

If we need to wrestle as a culture with the topic, we should spend our time on the very small percentage that falls outside acceptable social norms. That's what democracy is, and democracies make life and death decisions all the time. Let's focus on the women whose lives are so messed up that they would choose abortion over contraception, or who are so depressed that late-term abortion even makes sense.  

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
I was responding to (2.00 / 2)
Rashaverak's statement
I understand that Roman Catholics and others are opposed to abortion on moral grounds.


If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

[ Parent ]
Sure, I'm not picking on you. (2.00 / 1)
Or others of faith.

I do not believe a jot of it other than as a reflection of human history, but I don't think people are idiots for believing any of it. There are too many smart people who believe in mythologies (I used to be one [not smart, a theist]).

It is an Elephant in the Room topic, however. To anyone who isn't a theist the whole notion of arguing the details of mythology sounds exactly like this sentence does. There is no difference between Zeus and Yaweh and the Easter Bunny, unless you already believe in one of them.

To have to patiently factor in the dramatic influence superstition plays on modern life would make for a truly unbelievable novel in a world without it.

Synopsis: the leader of the world's most powerful country must perform rituals to honor the gods to keep the world safe. His opponents think he is performing the rituals incorrectly, and are willing to destroy the world to stop him.

It's not even a 50s B-Movie SciFi plot. You couldn't sell a script like that without George Lucas on board.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
What do we do? (2.00 / 4)
I'm wary of terms like "extreme," simply because of Overton Window issues.

My experience of listening to women talk about abortion has been a combination of hearing a vast range of emotions, sometimes conflicting, about the personal decision combined with a strong demand for legal availability.

I think what we do is separate the legal and the ethical questions first.  

We give people authority to take human life - Congress has the authority to declare war.  Most people do not argue against taking that power away from Congress, though we may argue about the ethics of a particular war (WWII is one that tests the limits of my ability to affirm in an unconditional way that "all war is wrong").  In those cases, we give a few people the authority to risk many, many lives.

Only one person has the full range of information about the situation in which an abortion is sought.  Without that full experience of the situation - no one else is in a position to really judge the full ethical implications of situtation, which leaves me saying that "choice" is not as trivial a word as it sounds like.

All that could definitely be thought through more.

If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X


[ Parent ]
I agree about the extreme terminology, (2.00 / 2)
but in some cases it fits and this is one of them.

The extreme on one side is that a fertilized ovum is a person. The other extreme is that personhood only starts after birth. Those are the kind of razor-sharp lines that call for such terms.

I also agree that this debate is pragmatically easier to handle by deciding how we authorize the taking of life. As you say, we already have means for that. You and I are both authorized by our laws to take life under certain circumstances, and we give that authority to various authorities today as well.

The Moment of Personhood issue does not influence my opinion, for example, on whether a rape victim should be allowed to abort the result ("Yes"). If I recognized that aborted fetus as a person it would, however, influence the penalty for the crime. The pregnancy and any results from it are the criminal's responsibility, nobody else's, and if anyone dies from his actions it is his responsibility.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
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