Sunday, March 05, 2006

Question of Abortion

Not to steer the blog away from its current analytic maelstrom, but here's something I thought interesting to consider. I'm working on little sleep, so maybe I'm wrong and it's not. Digby has a series of posts about a woman who got pregnant, already has two kids, and can't afford a third. Had an abortion. He then posts a response from a pro-life, anti-left blogger, and disagrees with its conclusion, that sex is a choice, and like other choices, cigarette smoking, fast-food scarfing, you suffer the consequences (I'm oversimplifying -- read the response). If you can't afford to get pregnant, the logic goes, "don't fuck." Digby responds with an argument along the lines that sex is elemental, you can't expect the poor, etc., to not fuck. And that such an expectation deprives people of their humanity.

Well, now let me say that I am one-hundred percent for legal abortions. I think they should be legal under almost any conceivable circumstance, and you just can't have a judge, senator, etc., providing oversight on anything like this. However, I find Digby's argument weak, and it actually makes me a little queasy. A lot of it is based on the idea that we humans have a sex-drive, and that it is just basic, and while we are not just humping animals, as Digby's interlocutor implies Digby implies, "sex is elemental." Well, yes, I guess it is, on an evolutionary sort of level at least.

But the idea that the ability to have sex when we want it, knowing that we will be able to have abortions if necessary, is an ability which if interdicted leads to the death of our "humanity," I think is overblown. People abstain from sex. Some folks are celibate. Some folks only have sex once in a long while. (And lots of folks are gay and don't face the same sex/pregnacy question). I'm not trying to be a prude. And I certainly sleep/fuck better at night, knowing that abortions are legal. As they should be. But to me the abortion argument should begin and end in an individual rights framework. Arguments that start arguing for the moral necessity of abortions based on human sex-drive, or some other quasi-biological factor, put the Left in the position that the technocratic right (see Steve Pinker, Larry Summers, and much worse) is embracing these days. Don't start arguing morality on the basis of naturalistic descriptions of drives, impulses, etc.

On a basis of individual liberty, I disagree with Digby's respondent. And in no way am I going condemn anyone for getting an abortion, least of all a mother of two, who can't afford to raise another. I do not have the moral authority, nor do I think anyone else does. More power to her. But I'm not really going to get into it with someone like Digby's respondent on a moral framework. Individual responsibility in a case like this seems to be a moral issue that I can differentiate from the basic point that the woman should do what is best for her, and I'm not going to get up in her business. But I am unwilling, and especially in the context of an ineluctable "sex-drive" argument, to boldly attack the respondent's moral framework. Notice he/she doesn't say the woman should not be allowed to have an abortion -- only that he/she doesn't think it's a moral thing.

I don't think we should get in the business of telling folks like that they are wrong or immoral. Just gently point out to them a few things in the New Test. about casting first stones, etc. And let the moral issues work themselves out in the margins.

Of course, if this kind of moral rhetoric is used to pursue abortion restrictions, then blast the hell out of it, and call the whole lot of 'em fascists. That's what I do.

UPDATE 1: Amanda at Pandagon takes Digby's view, and even more elaborately. I'm not insensitive to the point at all. I am just not comfortable, on a theoretical and on a practical level, in taking as axiom #1 in the abortion debate that everyone needs/wants to have sex all the time.

UPDATE 2: I want to clarify something in my "argument" above. My attempt to create a dichotomy between an "individual rights framework" and a "moral framework" is specious. My belief in the supremacy of individual liberty must itself be acknowledged as a moral position. I don't have any strong confidence in the type of juridical hand-waving that, via pathetic fallecy, identifies a non-moral basis of belief in written law. So I am asserting the supremacy of a morality of individual rights over any specific moral position in the debate about the morality of abortion qua abortion. I just don't think that the morality to which I would refer can be articulated in the language of a subordinate morality that deals with abortion in particular.


At 12:49 PM, Anonymous elderfairy said...

The whole thing about abortion. Am sitting on the fence, being a woman and understanding both sides...but it has to be said that some people get pregnant when they really - REALLY - are capable of not getting pregnant. Whatever the arguments, abortion should not be used as a Plan B. It's a gross operation to have performed on your body and there's no getting away from that. A woman with two kids is still entitled to make mistakes, but really if we know about how easy it is to fall off a log then, should be more careful in the first is within our power. Generally I have a lot of sympathy for women who have had to undertake abortion, but sometimes the reasons why just don't hold water.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Elohimus Maximus said...

I couldn't agree more. sex does come with consequences...but its not only the mother that will be affected. If the abortion is a matter of convenience, than I say we ban restrict abortion. But if the baby will grow up in a single family home, with a mother who is an alcoholic, and be malnourished becuase the mom can't afford to feed the baby, then I would consider an abortion a resonable choice. Its when not having an abortion affects the baby that things get serious. I wrote about this on my site if your interested. please feel free to comment.

At 12:13 AM, Blogger A Girl From Texas said...

I agree that the argument regarding abortion has to be based on individual right. Either the woman has total control of her body or a fetus at any stage and under any circumstance must be protected. It's one or the other.

Rape and/or incest have no place for either position.

It can't be a "circumstantial" thing. The court can't be expected to rule on each circumstance.

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abortion Kills Your Sex Life Says UK Doctor in Times Column (link below)

LONDON, May 5, 2008 ( - In the May 2 installment of his regular health feature in The Times, Dr. Thomas Stuttaford responded to a reader who complained of a loss of interest in sex following an abortion. "Though my boyfriend and I agreed it was the right thing to do, I feel guilty and I've gone off sex," wrote the questioner. Dr. Stuttaford responded by saying that loss of libido after an abortion is "so common that it can almost be said to be expected".

Asked if the feelings would pass, Stuttaford wrote, "It is possible, but by no means inevitable, that the changes this will have wrought in the way you feel about a future together may have irretrievably undermined your relationship."

Indeed, Dr. Stuttaford observed that in "years of experience with patients" has "reinforced the teaching I received in my early medical life that even the most ardent affair may not survive an abortion, although both partners often remain good friends. Frequently, there has been too much emotion around, even if there have been no spoken recriminations. The shadow of the decision to have the termination, and any doubts one or other may have had about this deep down in their psyche, means that sooner or later they will be tempted to start again with, as if it were, a clean slate."

Stuttaford referred to a study, authored "about 15 years ago," that he said showed that although "nearly all" women suffer feelings of guilt and grief following abortion, the effects usually passed within a month.

"My own opinion," he writes, "is that the American research workers were unduly sanguine in expecting women to jettison guilt and overcome their feelings of loss - the grief response - within just a month."

Statistical research by the Elliot Institute shows that, in many cases, the emotional effects of abortion are still discernible eight weeks after an abortion. In one study, two months after their abortions, 44 percent of women complained of nervous disorders, 36 percent had experienced sleep disturbances, 31 percent had regrets about their decision and 11 percent had been prescribed psychotropic medicine by their family doctor.

But Dr. Stuttaford quickly assures his questioner that "neither of you should assume blame or feel guilty."

The Times health feature was followed by comments from Suzi Godson, a journalist and a graphic designer who has recently published a book titled, "The Sex Book" who exhorted readers, "Be kind to yourself, and your partner, and be grateful that you live in a country where abortion is both safe and legal."

In her comments Godson, like most supporters of abortion, dismisses post-abortive stress syndrome as a "pseudo-scientific condition" put forward by the pro-life movement. But loss of interest in sex is, as Stuttaford admits, is a well-documented result of abortion. Godson points out that the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry has concluded that abortion in young women "might be associated with mental health problems" and that the Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends updating abortion information leaflets to include mention of the risk of depression.

The Elliot Institute study showed that thirty to fifty percent of women experience sexual dysfunction, of both short and long duration, beginning immediately after their abortions.

Fr. Timothy Finigan, a Catholic priest and founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, commented on the column, saying that Britain is "a country where abortion is presented as 'safe'," and where possible consequences of abortion are seldom mentioned to women.

"Where this life has been crushed by abortion, it is surely only natural and to be expected that the urge to engage in the same life-giving activity should be muted," he observed.

But for Fr. Finigan, the woman was asking Dr. Stuttaford the wrong question. It is not loss of libido that is the danger, "it is the secular sanctification of libido that has brought about the destruction of so many millions of human lives."

"Nevertheless it is another feature in the whole sorry story of routinely available abortion. I wonder how many women are told about this 'expected' phenomenon before they consent to an abortion?"


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