Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Dropping the A-Bomb

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  • Captiver,

    Thanks for the OP Emma, and good discussion. As @MikeB notes, comments sections on the A bomb issue are usually way scary places. FYI I'm a member of ALRANZ, which has been thinking about and written a couple of discussion docs on the issue of abortion and disability: http://alranz.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/talking-about-disability-and-abortion/ Nice to read Hilary's comments, as I know she has engaged with us on this issue which has helped everyone work toward grappling with what's involved (or trying to). The roots of the current law, namely the Royal Commission on Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion, are very discriminatory toward disabled people, something BOTH feminists/pro-choicers and anti-abortion people pointed out at the time. But this 'reason' for allowing abortion was clearly seen by politicians in the 70s as politically palatable, whereas what they called reasons of 'social convenience' (yes, their catch-all phrase for reasons they imagined women might want an abortion) were not. One would like to think we've moved on on both counts, I.e. We don't want offensively targeted laws, and we want to respect the reasons/choices of the person who is pregnant. Ergo: no 'reasons' should be mandated.

    Since Jul 2008 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Captiver,

    One would like to think we’ve moved on on both counts, I.e. We don’t want offensively targeted laws, and we want to respect the reasons/choices of the person who is pregnant. Ergo: no ‘reasons’ should be mandated.

    Yes. Even here, we've been talking about distinctions between pregnancy as a result of contraceptive failure vs carelessness, which gets us into "deserving poor" territory. It shouldn't matter.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Nikki Whyte, in reply to Sue,

    Hey,
    I know I've posted this elsewhere but I think it's a really good look poem for abortion and grief. Emma's so right in feeling like you're betraying the cause when you grieve for a lost opportunity but no one should ever feel bad about that grief. And it's absolutely not the same thing as regret, as you mention.
    Anyway, the link, How to forgive abortion when you are the aborter: http://thefeministwire.com/2013/09/how-to-forgive-abortion-when-you-are-the-aborter/
    Thanks for the post Emma.
    x

    Auckland • Since Nov 2010 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    You’re in peril of mansplaining there, Craig. Hilary is a woman and she is firmly pro-choice. But this does have really difficult resonances for people with disabilities and their parents.

    First, I’d like to extend a sincere apology to Hillary (and everyone else) for coming across like that. It’s really self evidently absurd to anyone who has known her for a nanosecond to question her credibility on either front.

    But, FFS… I spent a very large chunk of my childhood being fostered in a family where my oldest foster sister is severely intellectually disabled and my foster parents never had it easy. I love her and am profoundly thankful she’s part of my life and anyone who thinks the world would have been a better place if she’d never been born can keep it to themselves.

    But that doesn’t change my view my foster mother should have had the meaningful choice of a safe, legal termination and so should her daughter, my sister, without anyone else getting audit privileges over her motives and character. (Can we both grant “eugenic” is a term that has a lot of very ugly baggage?) Just as, since we’re on the subject, I could go get a vasectomy tomorrow without anyone else’s approval being either required or desired.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    The thing that I have always struggled with in the debate is the fact that people can decide that the rights of a possible human are more important than the rights of an actual human.

    Embryos frequently fail to develop into humans, there is no guarantee of survival to birth and no guarantee of survival after birth to the point where the child genuinely becomes a human that contributes to society. No guarantee that that human will even contribute positively to society. Yet all the anti-abortion nutjobs stand around and proclaim that this embryo has some magical divine potentiality, which is bollocks.

    Meanwhile there is an actual fully developed human who is casually ignored. Her rights and choices are dismissed. It makes me a bit grumpy when that happens.

    That our (old, male) politicians can waffle on about how the law kinda works is yet another mark on how our political system fails to select decent human beings to manage this country for us.

    Sigh.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Oh and as for drumming up comments - I strongly suspect your more fun focussed postings generate vastly more comments :P.

    Although I kinda think the fun focussed postings often communicate serious issues very elegantly.



    hmmm where are the "blatant suckup" tags.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    without anyone else getting audit privileges over her motives and character

    We’ve been re-watching The West Wing over the last year or so. (It’s depressing how little has changed in everything but LGBT rights.) Abortion is a big issue in the last series. Santos has an argument with a Pro-Choice woman in which he says, “Do you support abortion to choose the sex of a child? Then you support limits on abortion.”

    And this time around, I thought about it for a while. Whatever a woman’s reason for wanting a termination, if you refuse her access, you are forcing her to continue a pregnancy she doesn’t want. That’s a pretty terrible thing to do to someone, and then what does the future for that child look like?

    In the end, for me, it has to come down to practicality. Back in 77, legislators deliberately chose to not include a rape exception, because they believed that if they did, women would lie about having been raped. Now they just lie about being crazy, which is actually better. If you have a list of proscribed reasons for abortion, women will lie to access it.

    So yeah, let’s deal with these things with education, with changing social attitudes, outside of our abortion laws.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Oh and as for drumming up comments – I strongly suspect your more fun focussed postings generate vastly more comments :P.

    Heh, I deliberately framed the argument so it focused on people, which eliminates people's favourite bullshit debate points, like arguing about whether it's Life or not, and what you're allowed to call it.

    I haven't even had any hate mail. It's most peculiar.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The thing that I have always struggled with in the debate is the fact that people can decide that the rights of a possible human are more important than the rights of an actual human.

    It's even more complicated than that, though, because the rights being compared are not the same rights. The rights of everyone but the fetus come down to things like right to choice, right to happiness, etc. But the right of the fetus, if it has any rights at all, are a far more powerful right, the right to life. Were it an adult that clearly had rights, it would be clear that the right to life overpowers those others in most cases. We don't even grant the right to voluntarily terminate human life here, much less involuntary/non-consenting terminations.

    So if rights is the analysis that we want to apply, then the question of whether the steadily growing organism has any, at what point, and how much those rights apply or not, are vital.

    I'm not personally a total convert to rights analysis in the first place - it's one of many ways of examining moral choice. It works very well in a big organized society because rights can have a close relationship to laws. But I think that we typically decide whether a right is a good one or not in the first place on moral principles outside of those rights. We are in total control of what we call a right, and to whom they apply*. Different societies do it differently, and it's often very hard to even comprehend their point of view if you take rights themselves as the starting point.

    *At least that is my opinion. It isn't impossible to view rights as a priori. I just personally don't think they are, not even in people who think that. The reason is because they are so damned complex in their interaction that people are constantly changing their minds about what rights apply where and when, and to whom, that I can't help but to think we do that to make rights fit morality, rather than to make morality fit rights.

    A discussion like this is incredibly dry and abstract, on a thread in which people share personal experiences about actually going through the point in question. I still feel rather conflicted, despite being pro-choice. I can only offer the experience of a man who didn't even have to have the surgery, but may have had a teenage human to look after right now if the surgery had not taken place. I don't torture myself with "what-ifs" most of the time, but on this question, I can't avoid it. My life would have been totally different. In balance, I don't think it would have been better - everything was wrong with how it unfolded then. But I can't know that things might not have been very different afterward.

    With that personal experience in mind, the dry process of ratiocinating about theoretical ethical positions leaves me cold. I know it needs to be done, but I don't really want to do it. To me it is a stark example of why I was always an ethical non-cognitivist. I felt that we make decisions about things like this with our hearts before our minds, and the mind is the slave to the heart, desperately trying to fit a theory to what we already know we want.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    a far more powerful right

    Nope. Everything humans do on this planet shows that the "right to life" is meaningless.

    Also you miss the key point. It isn't a fetus, it isn't a human, it is the possibility (not certainty) of a human. They are assigning a right to a statistical chance that there will be a human. And in the process denying the right of an actual real human.

    It is the dismissal of the real person in the balance of morals and rights that I object to. The woman, whose choice this is, is casually ignored. Her rights are dismissed as "less than".

    Yet she is real, she is loved, she loves, she has thoughts and opinions and ideas that are real. And she is the real person harmed by our current laws.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    ...that issue of Canta

    In case anyone wants to read Mr Uffindell’s calculated piece…
    An Open Letter, the one where I upset everybody

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7889 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Bart, rights are a complicated idea, which I think you are oversimplifying. They conflict all the time, and the resolution of that is to prioritize or weight them. They’re a human idea, a construct we impose to enable us to make moral choices. I dispute that they are objective facts at all. So to say that the organism isn’t a human (when it comes to rights), or that the right of the choice belongs to the woman, are the very points in contention. You can’t prove them by asserting them. You’re not making scientific claims here. You can make all sorts of very sound claims about what the state of development of the growing organism is, but the question of whether it has rights is simply a line in the sand that you can draw at one point or another.

    It is likely I draw it at the same point as you do. I weight the rights of the woman very highly. When it happened to me, I weighted those rights much more strongly than my own rights.*

    *ETA: And I weighted the rights of the organism as close enough to non-existent as to not matter.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Without wanting to go too far down this rabbit hole, I think many lawyers would argue that rights do exist and can be objectively determined (by a court of law) and in some cases can inform and influence, if not overrule, laws duly passed by parliament. A point of view widely held by Catholics, among others, is that there is a natural law that overrides human-made law (and therefore, no abortion); a point of view that's held sway in the US is that the Constitutional right to privacy overrides states' attempts at prohibiting first trimester abortion (and therefore, legal abortion).

    I'm not sure I buy this approach myself, since these natural laws are still discovered and interpreted by human beings, and the ones affected by those laws are still underrepresented among those making/discovering them one way or the other. I believe not a single one of the handful of female MPs in 1977 voted for the law as it currently stands here.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    If we allow that a fetus is a potential person, and we decide we should advance the rights of potential people, we are in danger of finding contraception morally wrong. And from there, every sperm is sacred, etc...

    I fundamentally believe a woman should not be forced to bear a child against her will, whatever her reason.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    I'm not denying we weight rights all the time. Moreover we assign humans variable rights based on development and knowledge on a continuous scale all the time.

    What I am saying very simply is that when weighing rights you should weigh the rights of the being that actually exists as more valuable than the rights of a being that may never exist.

    There is a finite (and surprising large) probability that an embryo never becomes anything. That is not opinion. I am making a scientifically valid statement.

    To me, that is a very simple point.

    However, I would say that even if you were somehow magically able to know with absolute certainty that a given embryo would become a human I would still assign the decision to terminate a pregnancy to the mother.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to B Jones,

    I’m not sure I buy this approach myself

    I don't either. Legal positivism suffers from the problem that it means there can be no such thing as an immoral law. It would, in this context, quite literally mean that what all us pro-choicers think is irrelevant - abortion is wrong because it's illegal. It's a crazy idea.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    If we allow that a fetus is a potential person, and we decide we should advance the rights of potential people, we are in danger of finding contraception morally wrong.

    Yup, although we could find it to be such a weak wrong as to not outweigh wanting to avoid pregnancy. If we can't weight wrongs, then it goes even further than your problem, to saying that we are morally bound to procreate at every possible opportunity. That is if we say potential persons have identical rights to mothers.

    That's not clearly true. It's the question at hand. I don't actually know if they're potential persons or even actual persons at that time. It's a line in the sand. It seems to me that they become more and more strongly potential persons every day, and the point at which they become actual humans is quite blurry. We could draw a line at birth if we wanted to, although I do understand that in other contexts, where abortion might be completely impossible, that even birth might not make that boundary. I can understand infanticide as a horrible choice when resources are overstretched and abortion and contraception are not available. Not a choice likely to be faced in NZ.

    Practically we draw the line well before birth. The reasons seem sound, as the organism becomes steadily more and more like humans we clearly do value, babies. We have to pick a line. I don't even know what it is in Australia. Some magic number. We'd have to pick one for here, too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    IUDs and the morning after pill don't prevent conception, they prevent implantation. It's the difference between a zygote and an embryo. If we can argue about the importance of that, it's a very short step to arguing that contraception is wrong.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Lilith, that's not actually true. Both work primarily by preventing ovulation and therefore conception.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    There is a finite (and surprising large) probability that an embryo never becomes anything. That is not opinion. I am making a scientifically valid statement.

    It is a statement that assumes it was nothing in the first place. I'll give you for sure that it becomes "nothing" from a rights point of view in a great many cases, when it stops being viable. But to say that it was nothing before that is picking a position. You have every right to do pick that position, and it's similar to mine, but it's not a scientific position. It's a moral choice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to B Jones,

    Lilith, that’s not actually true. Both work primarily by preventing ovulation and therefore conception.

    I was meaning the non-hormonal IUDs. Even the hormonal ones don’t reliably stop ovulation. They may help prevent conception by providing a hostile environment for sperm; they definitely prevent implantation (they have a 99% rate of success when inserted post-coitally as an emergency contraceptive).

    With the morning-after pill, I think it’s debatable. It can prevent ovulation if it hasn’t already occurred, but it’s postcoital contraception taken when a woman’s most likely to be fertile. Nobody seems to know for sure what the mechanism is:

    To make an informed choice, women must know that ECPs—like the birth control pill, patch, ring, shot, and implant, and even like breastfeeding—prevent pregnancy primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation and inhibiting fertilization, but may at times inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    I am posting two links which are really upsetting, if you are not feeling too strong don't go to them.

    I agree with Hillary Stace that women deciding about abortion needs way more, and ongoing, support, to make the decision and to live with the consequences of their choice. Arohanui.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ISme5-9orR0

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16029301

    Since Mar 2010 • 378 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    If we can argue about the importance of that, it’s a very short step to arguing that contraception is wrong.

    Yeah, and I don't even think the rights analysis makes sense so I'll leave off here. I think it leads with implacable logic to hair splitting about the sentience of zygotes. It's not my reason for being pro-choice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    To make an informed choice, women must know

    Citation? The thing is, it's really really difficult to reliably tell when a fertilised egg is created but does not implant, so it's hard to tell if it's happening that way. People who emphasis the implantation mechanism tend to be of the sort who think that preventing fertilisation is morally different in an important way to preventing implantation, ie, prolifers.

    Just because contraception is post-coital doesn't mean it's post-fertilisation. Fertilisation, which is incredibly hard to detect in vivo, happens a day or two after the main event.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Heather Gaye, in reply to BenWilson,

    Practically we draw the line well before birth. The reasons seem sound, as the organism becomes steadily more and more like humans we clearly do value, babies. We have to pick a line. I don't even know what it is in Australia. Some magic number. We'd have to pick one for here, too.

    ..I've started thinking of termination options as a spectrum, rather than an ok/not-ok line, which also aligns kind of well-ish with the affects of a procedure on the woman in question:
    * contraception: encouraged
    * morning-after pill: fine, slightly unpleasant experience
    * RU486: fine, unpleasant experience, needs some support
    * abortion: progressively narrower window depending on how far along the pregnancy is. Early = ok, lots of support; late-term = only if the woman's health is seriously compromised by continuing the pregnancy
    * infanticide: only if the infant is very clearly satan (horns, pointy tail, red glowing eyes)

    Morningside • Since Nov 2006 • 532 posts Report Reply

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