01 September 2011

Family values and progressives, news at 11.

I've seen several of these sorts of posts lately

They lean heavily toward the notion that ideological, and especially political, opponents will tend to not recognize why or what causes their opposition to exist in the first place. Since I don't tend to play in political team-building exercises, this helps. And an issue like abortion rights is, admittedly, very hard to debate rationally. Some points are necessary.

1) Pro-lifers are fully aware that lots of people get abortions. This is kind of one of the reasons they're not very happy about abortions being legal and quasi-readily available (and pass laws attempting to restrict access). Pro-choice attempts to say that "everyone gets these", while modestly true in that there's a large minority of women who have had or will have had such a procedure in their lifetimes, aren't exactly helping this fear.

2) What they're not aware of is WHEN most of those abortions are conducted, a fact which most pro-choice advocates are much more aware. 99% are before the 3rd trimester and 98% are before the SECOND. And most of the last 1-2% there is for health reasons (either for the mother or the fetal development). In other words those disgusting pictures about how terrible an abortion is on a fetus, are mostly ignoring that what is being aborted is a collection of cells and is ignoring that the specific circumstances surrounding the most undesirable forms of abortion are precisely the sorts of excuses and exceptions that all but the most ardent anti-abortion advocates say are acceptable (health of the mother for example). More active consideration for WHY people have abortions as opposed to the HOW is kind of important if you want to oppose them effectively. Same arguments I have with anti-terrorism policies, ask why first. Understanding is not and does not have to be the same as condoning or agreeing with the ultimate actions being taken.

3) Metaphysics still enters into it. I've seen some blog posts and forum comments over the years attempting to declare that yes, a fetus is and will almost certainly become a human being so metaphysics doesn't matter. What I'm aware of is evidence that a) human fetal development is actually pretty hard and thus a large portion of pregnancies terminate for entirely natural reasons. Miscarriages and who they happen to and how common they can be are something that probably requires more popularization than abortions do. As this means that scientifically we're likely far more uncertain about the viability of a forming human being in a fetal state, particularly at earlier stages of development (like the first trimester, when abortions are far more common), than claims like these pretend to be. b) That a large portion of opposition to abortions comes from an idea about the dignity and importance of human life. Disagreement on this point has less to do about something like a "culture of death", as pro-life crowds tend to claim, and more to do with a more boring argument about the relative value of already existing human lives versus still forming human lives. That is still essentially a metaphysical question. It's not as exciting as "is this alive", to ask something like "does that matter?", or "does that matter as much as X", but it's still certainly an important philosophical question. If more uncomfortable.

4) A core selling point of the pro-life movement and its main line of effectiveness has been the argument that indeed it does matter. At least enough to say that we should probably want a lot fewer abortions to occur. There's however an unfortunate confluence within the anti-abortion movement with anti-birth control movements to make some of the easiest means to prevent abortions more difficult. We know a healthy percentage of abortions occur within situations where greater access to birth control would have likely prevented unwanted or difficult pregnancies and thus the abortions themselves (teens, poor single women, some who are already mothers, etc). If this concurrent train of thought were abandoned or receded into the background instead existing at the same volume of intensity as anti-abortion, we'd probably see more success on the goal of "have fewer abortions" and thus protection of human life by these arguments.

5) We do not see such decoupling because that is properly not the actual goal. Anti-abortion exists as a rhetorical cover for other sets of values underlying this general movement. Usually having to do with the relative value and role of women in society, and often implying a lack of basic human sexuality, as shown by opposition within these same groups to various forms of sex work (some of which has valid concerns, such as forms of sex slavery sometimes involved in prostitution) and disturbances at the sexualised nature of female pop stars or popular culture more generally. Certainly you can object to any of these things independently and find the "Hollywood" world abhorrent or offensive. I'm personally confused as to how birth control has much of anything to do with this however. Presumably the argument goes that its use encourages sex, but there is no evidence ever shown to demonstrate this and in fact the most comprehensive analysis available shows that societies which use birth control more frequently have roughly the same amount of sex, same level of promiscuity, and by roughly the same times and ages on average as a society like ours which doesn't embrace birth control. I'd have to say that the average beer commercial probably will do more to encourage sex than condoms and pills ever will. But maybe that's just me.

It would probably also do more to encourage more abortions than condoms and pills ever would too.

In other words, opposition to abortion occurs on several different levels, and many of these are entirely legitimate concerns about human life and its importance to... surprise!... other humans. But its most ardent and politically active forms seem to come more from a sort of revulsion to popular culture and sex. Same reason that varieties of religious fanaticism occur among largely the same group of people. Factual assessments of the population of people who actually get abortions aren't likely to be very helpful anymore than any other means of telling them who and what for until they themselves take interest in the question of "why". I'm not sure we should expect people who take to literal religious interpretations of everything to be very interested in asking deep questions of "why" for others. They're likely to tell us instead that it's a "satanic" punishment and that this (legal abortion) is why we get a hurricane or an earthquake.

Which is amusing. But in a sad, stupid kind of way.
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