22 February 2012

Speaking of the mess

This cropped up on my social networks. I have some friends who are, in their own view, in the squishy middle, are usually parents themselves, and whose personal stances on abortion are disgust and dismay (but are still fine with the prospect that someone else may make a different choice). "Arguments" like this are therefore occasionally persuasive or common to circulate approvingly.

There are numerous bones to pick. For starters. 60% of abortions are conducted by week 8, with 80% by the end of week 10. So that means for the most part, abortions are closer to #5 than to #6 in appearance (indeed, scientifically speaking, we're not even talking about a "fetus" at all until week 10). They look more like this in real life.

I suddenly have a desire to eat some peanuts personally rather than any relative emotional attachment to this figure as a human being. It looks more like a future puppy dog than a human being in that shot actually. Which is not the best lights I admit.

And I could also admit I don't have much relative emotional attachment to other humans anyway (most of them at least). But I am still reasonably fond of dogs.

Cherry picking the imagery further, they could have gone with week 12 (after which only about 10% of abortions occur). When there's fingernails growing and the photoshoot produces what looks (more) like a human face instead of a recognizable head.

This then means that the shot in frame #3 is not recognizably what is generally produced by an abortion (much less emergency contraception). More over, it should be possible to place by that disturbing image an equally disturbing image of a dead young woman. Since after a point where such a gruesome sight could be produced, we're talking often about health of the mother issues where death is a possibility. The trouble with the shots #3, #5, and #6 being used here then is that we're talking past each other in the hopes of grossing each other out or presuming a level of disgust that should take precedence over other concerns. Disgust has often very questionable use as a moral indicator because it is not universal in all cases. We are not all disgusted by the grisly and gruesome imagery of death and corpses at their various ages. I don't particularly care that this is what a reasonably advanced dead fetus looks like afterward, because I could have other considerations that take precedence (what a dead human woman looks like). It is therefore not a convincing argument to raise.

The most interesting shot is the one in frame #4. I think however that people should acknowledge that women don't always think this and that offering it up is nothing more that a tautology rather than an interesting and engaging argument. While it would be nice to hope for a scenario where every pregnancy is desirable, and there are no unwanted events, there are plenty of women who react with horror, fear, or other negative emotions to the discovery that they are pregnant. Seeing a "gift" is scarcely associated with these feelings. To be sure, not all of them end up getting abortions (and not all of them end up carrying to term for many other reasons), for various reasons. But all this image does is insist that they should feel this way when there are various reasons that they might not. They might already have children, be very young or older, on birth control or not, may have been raped, might discover some physical or mental deformity developing, and so on. Perhaps these reasons are unpersuasive to people who think they should feel very good about it. But to me these reasons are just as valid, if not as persuasive, as when a putatively happy couple doesn't have the same strong feeling that they should have particular colours for their wedding as you do, or the same desire for expensive diamond rings as you do, and so on. A child who is not wanted, for any particular reason, however silly you think it is, is going to suffer the consequences of being unwanted. You cannot compel people to love someone they don't want to in other words. That's a you problem. You would, presumably, wish to love this being as it forms and grows and eventually becomes a live baby boy or girl. They do not. The world is not just yours. You don't get to tell everyone else how to behave just as you would given similar circumstances that you yourself often didn't actually live through.

The image in frame #2 suffers from both the cherry picking problem (it would be just as possible to post an image of the dead George Tiller or the Olympic bombing in 1996 to show what pro-life advocates have done, and just as intellectually dishonest as this image already is) and the tautological assumption present in #4, and really the same problem all of them suffer from. That is, a metaphysical transference of our own desires and wills upon primitive organisms that human beings do all the time (to dogs or other pets for instance). Personhood, and any accompanying legal and moral dignity involved, is not something we can arbitrarily impose upon human beings prior to their birth with equal value without lots of messy consequences involving things like miscarriages or still births. Even assuming that we could do so, it is a further assumption to presume that a) a developing fetus has demands and wants of its own, a generally free will desiring of existence in the first place, b) that these are similar to those of other living human beings and not altered by their own peculiar circumstances into less recognizable demands, c) they are in possession of all available information that we are relative to their potential for existence and flourishing therein when they are clearly not capable of ascertaining much of anything for most of their development. All of these are questionable assumptions.

So, at best, that leaves us back with frame #1 as useful. I'm not sure that this is the case that all people who have abortions feel that this choice involved denying the basic humanity that pro-life people seem to wish to impart upon primitive human development in utero, but it is among the closest approximations involved for how and why our legal system treats abortions the way it does, with questions over viability, sustainable life cycles, and why most women probably get them so early as a result. That doesn't help us address the question of why they get them at all really, but it is at least more useful than showing us deceased fetal remains and pretending that we should all be equally grossed out by that as you presumably are. Sorry. I'm not grossed out. Or showing us happy and cheerful protesters for pro-life causes and presuming that we should all be on their side because of their glee in defence of life. I'm not all that convinced that all human life is equally valid and worthy of preservation at all costs and for all reasons in the first place. But I'm really not convinced that the formation of human life is some mystical sacred process, unrepeatable, unplannable, and so on. Perhaps where it contains uncertainties, I am willing to share your misgivings, but these uncertainties are legion and do not all involve the creation of life so much as the safe delivery of that created life into a functioning and screaming infant with substantial needs of its own prior to having a sustainable life of its own and all the attending demands that this might place upon women, both throughout their pregnancy and into motherhood (or adoption). Presuming these are negligible or costless events is to presume a set of values that is not universal but is rather based upon your own private preferences. This is about as useful as "disgust" as a result.

It would certainly be invalid to argue that women should all be forced by the state or some other agency to have abortions at some other will and time than their own. It might be possible to relate some sort of universalizing morals here but we would have to acknowledge these universalizing morals only apply to very specific circumstances and aren't therefore preventing women, and by extension human beings, from ever generating new human life. So I'm not sure what is gained by arguments like this. We're back to the normal, every day experience, in which we actually live, and not in the sort of dystopian fantasies imagined in our weaker moments.

Perhaps it would be best if we tried to understand why the world we live in looks like it does as a result instead of presuming a level of malevolence upon our political opponents in comic book versions of our views like this.
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