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All Right, Peter: I’ll Bite

1 Nov, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Over at the CMF blog, Peter Saunders has a slightly peculiar post.  He begins by criticising Today programme presenters for not being hard enough with someone whose husband had gone to Dignitas; but then turns his attention – via a jibe at the rights made-to-order all-purpose bogey man, the “liberal elite” – to what he calls ten questions that you never hear asked in the media about abortion.

Here they are:

1. You say you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception. Are there any restrictions you would approve of?

2. In 2010, The Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female?

3. In many states, a teenager can have an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge but cannot get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental authorization. Do you support any restrictions or parental notification regarding abortion access for minors?

4. If you do not believe that human life begins at conception, when do you believe it begins? At what stage of development should an unborn child have human rights?

5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down’s Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?

6. Do you believe an employer should be forced to violate his or her religious conscience by providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception to employees?

7. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that “abortion is the white supremacist’s best friend,” pointing to the fact that Black and Latinos represent 25% of our population but account for 59% of all abortions. How do you respond to the charge that the majority of abortion clinics are found in inner-city areas with large numbers of minorities?

8. You describe abortion as a “tragic choice.” If abortion is not morally objectionable, then why is it tragic? Does this mean there is something about abortion that is different than other standard surgical procedures?

9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?

10. If a pregnant woman and her unborn child are murdered, do you believe the criminal should face two counts of murder and serve a harsher sentence?

Some are easy to answer; others require a bit more argument.  I’m not in the media, I’m more left than liberal, and anyone who’s read any of my work knows I’m miles from being part of an elite.  But I’m not going to let that stop me.  Maybe others could offer their answers in the comments, either here or on the CMF site…

1. You say you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception. Are there any restrictions you would approve of?

Yes: of course there are.  Abortifacient drugs probably should be harder to buy than Toblerones.  Terminations should only be carried out by qualified medical professionals.  I could go on.  There is a whole range of ways that I think that the abortion should be regulated.  If you want to call that a restriction, then fine.
As to the idea that contraception should be restricted… Of course it shouldn’t.  Encouraged, if anything.

2. In 2010, The Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female?

Yes, it’s a problem.  Noone should feel any pressure to terminate a child for being of the wrong sex.  A person has the right, though, to be in control of their body; and since a woman is a person, that means that a woman has that right, too.  That means being able to end a pregnancy if that is what she genuinely wants (and those genuine desires might be related to others’ desires because a pregnant woman is human, damnit, and human desires are permeable, none of us being an island entire of itself… but that doesn’t matter); it means being able not to end a pregnancy if she genuinely wants not to; it means being able to take steps not to get pregnant in the first place.

Abortion for reasons of sex-selection gives us a reason to look at, and maybe to intervene to alter, the social conditions that generate such pressures; it’s not really a reason to curb a pregnant woman’s right to control her body.  In fact, it’s completely in tune with it.

3. In many states, a teenager can have an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge but cannot get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental authorization. Do you support any restrictions or parental notification regarding abortion access for minors?

It’s really not that simple, though, is it?  Suppose that a teen has got pregnant, and genuinely fears her parents’ reaction.  That does happen.  Maybe they’re religious, and their religion meant that their daughter couldn’t get sex education in the first place.  That happens.  What then?  Maybe it was Daddy who got her pregnant.  That happens, too.  What then?

And what if the parents don’t consent?  What then?  That’s their daughter’s life potentially ruined because of someone else’s preferences.

Look: it’d be great if teens were never in the situation in which they needed an abortion, and never felt the need to keep it from their family if one was being considered.  But it does happen.  A policy built around the kind of world in which we’d all prefer to live, rather than the one in which we do live, is likely to end in disaster.

And I don’t care about asprin, frankly.

4. If you do not believe that human life begins at conception, when do you believe it begins? At what stage of development should an unborn child have human rights?

I’m happy to accept that life begins at conception – though whether the conceptus counts as human, or a pre-human life, is open to debate: after all, some of those cells will form the umbilicus and placenta, and they’re alive and (biologically) human, but not human life.

But… yeah.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s allow that life begins at conception.  As to the rights: well, it depends, doesn’t it?  A right may only be prima facie – it’s sometimes permissible to kill an adult, notwithstanding their human rights, if that’s the only way to save your own life.  (Think of all those thought experiments about fat men in flooding caverns, and whether it’s OK to blow them up to facilitate your escape.)  Whatever rights the foetus has – even allowing for the sake of argument that it has any at all – they have to be considered alongside the rights of everyone else.  You can’t just abstract like that.

5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down’s Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?

Resemblance isn’t identity.  Within the space of two sentences, you’ve gone from the woman’s choice to some vague notion of societal permission to live.  That’s cheating.

But since we’re here: if a woman decides she doesn’t want to continue with a pregnancy, then that’s fine.  If she’s being told that she shouldn’t continue with it, that’s not fine.  See answer #2.

6. Do you believe an employer should be forced to violate his or her religious conscience by providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception to employees?

I think medicine should be socialised, and if your employer thinks that he has the right to decide what healthcare you can or can’t have, that employer can go and shove his contract up where Ra’s chariot does not venture.

I also think that, if a woman is legally entitled to something, employers shouldn’t be able to prevent that access.

7. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that “abortion is the white supremacist’s best friend,” pointing to the fact that Black and Latinos represent 25% of our population but account for 59% of all abortions. How do you respond to the charge that the majority of abortion clinics are found in inner-city areas with large numbers of minorities?

“Someone who was related to someone said something” isn’t really enough to ground an argument.

Maybe it’s straightforwardly that minority groups are disproportionately highly represented among the people with the least education and access to healthcare and the fewest resources to raise yet another child, and that those people are those most likely to want an abortion.  Just a thought.  Also, the better off a person, the more likely they are to live in the kind of area that’s not easily accessible by public transport, and with higher land prices, and all the rest of it – that is, the more likely they are to live in a daft place to put a clinic.  That makes it a class issue, rather than a race issue per se.

8. You describe abortion as a “tragic choice.” If abortion is not morally objectionable, then why is it tragic? Does this mean there is something about abortion that is different than other standard surgical procedures?

This is a stupid question.  I sincerely doubt that anyone wakes up in the morning and smiles at the thought of all those abortions that’ll happen.  It would be better if there was none.  It would be better if they were unnecessary, because the contraception was there, and the social support for mothers was there, and all the rest of it.  Still, abortion is often the least bad option.  It’s not objectionable that someone should be able to access the least bad option.  It is objectionable that the least bad should be the best thing available.

(In just the same way, it would be better if there were no appendectomies – I’d rather live in that world than this; but that doesn’t amount to a claim that access to appendectomies ought to be restricted.)

9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?

Yep.

10. If a pregnant woman and her unborn child are murdered, do you believe the criminal should face two counts of murder and serve a harsher sentence?

Nope.

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  • http://twitter.com/christianmunthe Christian Munthe

    Just i little query on the 9 answer, since termination of pregnancy and death of the fetus/baby (we would call it a baby in case of a spontaneous abortion at this stage) do not necessarily coincide in case of viability. Do you mean yes to legal termination (and then keeping the fetus/baby alive on the same principle as in a case of spontaneous abortion at the same gestational age), or do you mean yes to legal termination of the pregnancy and then routine withholding of neonatal life-saving measures that would have been provided in otherwise similar cases, or do you mean yes to legal termination and further actions to ensure that the fetus/baby dies, whatever the prognosis of neonatal life-saving measures?

  • http://www.law.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/staff/iain_brassington Iain Brassington

    Oooh – nice question.
    I suppose that, were there to be a situation in which delivering the child alive and then having it adopted would be the means of ending the pregnancy that was the least invasive/ traumatic/ whatever, then there might be a moral case for a live birth being preferable to killing the foetus. Whether or not that’d ever be enforceable – morally or practically – is a different matter.

    I guess my general thought would be that the case for not killing becomes stronger as the pregnancy progresses. But I’m not sure about translating that moral argument into a defensible legal one.

    I guess there’s a parallel with the recent Catt case here. Viability might mean 24 weeks or so; in that case, I’ve a fairly powerful intuition that the foetus’ claim to life is fairly minimal. At 39 weeks, though… well, it might be stronger. But I think it’d always be rebuttable in principle.

    Things get a bit more complicated if we go a bit sci-fi. Suppose that there was an incubator that could maintain a foetus from – say – six weeks, and that removing it from the womb alive and suitable for incubation was no more invasive than ending its life and removing it. In that case, there’d be no extra cost to the woman incurred by maintaining life: the procedure would, from her point of view, be just about the same. She’d still have the right not to be pregnant and to control her body – which is what I take the pro-choice arguments to be about: the question’d be how to remove and what to do with the thing with which she was pregnant. In that case, I think that pro-life arguments might potentially have more traction – not because the foetus had any particular right to life, but because ending its life seems arbitrary, and arbitrary actions that result in any death, be they to humans or mice, strike me as being morally iffy.

  • Lindsay

    Interesting comment there, some I agree with, some not. Thing about employers, though, that’s just bonkers. One of the fundamental principles of employment law is that employment does not equal serfdom. That is why courts don’t compel performance employment contracts (although they will award damages for failure to perform). You say you are going to work, and you don’t and as a result your employer’s business closes until she hires a replacement, you will pay for the losses you caused, but no one will make you work–that would be slavery. The idea that employers should be able to determine what you do outside the employment relationship (barring a few special, justifiable circumstances strictly related to your employment duties) is just offensive.

  • http://www.law.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/staff/iain_brassington Iain Brassington

    Yeah: these questions are taken originally from a US site, and there is a few cases of employers – who pay health insurance as part of the benefits package – stipulating that it won’t cover abortion (or, in some cases, contraception – think of the Rush Linbaugh brouhaha a few months ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_Limbaugh–Sandra_Fluke_controversy .) That’s the access provision, I think.

    in effect, it does mean that people who aren’t paid enough lose access to birth control because of their employers preferences.

  • Lindsay

    I realise that Iain. I also recognise that a lot of employment practices that are common in the US but not so much here (but for how long?) seem to go against the principle. Think about drug testing of employees (where they don’t relate directly and immediately to, say the operation of heavy machinery), policies against tattoos (even if they are covered up at work) etc. etc. But I would be surprised if such a principle were not recognised in employment laws of US states as well. Also, I believe the Affordable Care Act give short shrift to employers who don’t want to pay for certain types of care–it is just that people are upset about that fact.

  • livingdonor101

    A US judge (appointed by a republican president no less) ruled that since employers cannot control what employees do with their paychecks, which may result in said employee purchasing goods/services that the employer may find objectionable, and since health insurance is part of an employees’ compensation package (and since employees also pay for part of their insurance), employers could not deny coverage for health services they found objectionable.

    Of course,she’s only one judge, and I’m fairly certain this mess will end up in front of the Supreme Court eventually, but at least there has been some lucidity in the judiciary about the matter.

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