A couple of weeks ago, I posted something here about the progress of a handful of Bills working their way through the Oklahoma legislature that would, among other things, require that women have an unnecessary scan – potentially internal – before being allowed an abortion.
I think that the proposals are pretty much indefensible. Not everyone does, though. Kathleen Parker, of the Washington Post, describes herself as pro-choice, and has a crack at defending the indefensible. Charitably, one might say that she’s… um… missed the point a bit. I mean: you know what you’re in for when one of her opening statements is that
My own view, both pro-life and pro-choice, has been that abortion truthfully presented would eliminate itself or vastly reduce its numbers. Once a pregnancy is viewed as a human life in formation, rather than a “blob of cells,” it is less easy to terminate the contents of one’s vessel.
She’s already given the game away here: she’s interested in making it less easy to have abortions. Now, it might be that she thinks that that’s the same as reducing the number of abortions, but it isn’t. After all, a society in which women have maximal control over their own bodies and in which everyone has access to contraception and birth-control information is likely to be one with fewer abortions, because it’ll be one with fewer unwanted pregnancies. Yet this is compatible with having easy access to abortion for those women who do find themselves unexpectedly and inconveniently up the stick. Making abortions harder is a very crude way of reducing their numbers, analogous to aiming for a reduction in drownings not by providing swimming lessons, but by keeping intimidating dogs at the entrance to the pool. (Parker gives a hint – though unverifiable – at the awful standard of understanding among some women in Louisiana. But this doesn’t tell us a thing about abortions: it tells us about the genuinely scary circumstances in which some – presumably poor – women in the deep South find themselves.)
You can’t simply advocate making abortions harder generally if you have even a minimally subtle understanding of the situation of the women who want them. And I’m tempted to think that you can’t make a minimally decent moral decision without that understanding.
“Anyone considering, say, gall bladder removal,” Parker babbles on,
will be told each and every detail of what will happen, what is likely to be the result, what consequences might be expected and so on. Doesn’t it make as much sense to provide women with a view of what’s going on inside their bodies before they take the leap that can’t be undone? […]
Shouldn’t pregnant women also know what their healthy fetuses look like before they hit delete?
Now: I have a stock reply when my students abandon argumentation in favour of rhetorical questions in essays. It’s that the danger with rhetorical questions is that someone might answer them. I’m going to answer Parker’s. Nope.
For one thing, the analogy with gallstones doesn’t do the work she wants. If I have a gallstone that I want removed, I trundle along to the doctor and ask him for assistance. That gives a good indication of consent, though he might well be expected to run through the basics of the procedure with me – what preliminary tests he’ll have to do, whether I’ll be anaesthetised, how long I’ll be in hospital and so on – and to be prepared to answer any questions I may have. But that’s as far as it goes. I ask him to get the thing out of me, he says okey-dokey, and that’s it. If he does an ultrasound – or whatever it is that gall-doctors do – that’s for his information; the validity of my consent doesn’t depend on him having talked me through what he can see on the screen.
As with a gallstone, so with a foetus. If a woman has decided that she wants this thing out of her, then that’s pretty much the whole story. She ought to know the basics of the procedure – what’ll go where, and have the opportunity to learn more if she wants – but the idea that she has to know what her foetus looks like is as ridiculous as my having to know what my gallstone looks like.
And as for abortions being the same as simply hitting delete on a keyboard… Really? In all honesty, I don’t think that it should have to be all that traumatic decision to end a pregnancy like that, and I can imagine a perfectly decent woman simply, cooly and straightforwardly deciding that now is not the right time for a pregnancy, and that she has to end it. I don’t see why this decision has to be too big a burden. (In a similar light, think of Penelope Trunk’s remarkable tweet about how her miscarriage was a relief.) But I’m also aware that, for a lot of women, the decision to abort is not simple, and it frequently brings all kinds of feelings of angst, guilt and so on. That they’re morally unnecessary is neither here nor there. Parker is here simply piling on the guilt by telling women that they’re being glib.
So with this in mind, when Parker says that her rhetorical question is “lacking in sinister intent,” I believe her. But when she adds that
What is sinister is the proposition that ignorance is better — and the implied hope that women won’t choose to reconsider. [… A]s an advocate for informed choice, I can’t rationalize ignorance or denial as preferable options for women in need of sound counseling.
I find myself holding my slowly shaking head in my hands.
Oh, well. On the bright side, I’ve found myself a great example to give to students of how not to try to defend the indefensible.