Abortion debate in the Varsity… 21 months ago

In clearing out old draft posts, I found this one which for some reason I never published. It was originally written on February 8th… 2008. I offer it to you now, better late than never — it’s not like the pro-choice arguments have changed much.


For those of you that missed this week’s edition of the Varisty, Peter O’Hagan had an excellent article published defending the pro-life view. Morgan Snook’s article, on the other hand, seemed a little off the mark.

Hey, of course I’m going to be biased. But let’s examine!

Anti-abortion advocates claim that abortion is murder. They say that from the moment of conception, the fetus is a living human being. What they don’t know, or at least don’t say, that is that any fetus will not be sufficiently developed to feel real pain until after 30 weeks, well after the threshold where most abortions are carried out.

The argument here seems to be that abortion isn’t murder because the fetus won’t feel “real” pain when most abortions are carried out. I’m not sure what “real” pain is, as opposed to another type of pain, but let’s take this claim at face value. Is painless killing still killing? Would abortion be okay after the alleged 30 week threshold (or after birth for that matter) if it were through some sort of lethal injection? Also, last I checked pro-lifers were quite eager to point out the issue of the fetal pain. Thanks for bringing it up Morgan! Will you stand with us then and, at least, denounce any abortions that take place after the fetus can feel pain? [Edit: And as we learned that fall, it's more like 20 weeks, and the pain experience might be worse than adult pain.]

According to the United Nations, reproductive rights of individuals consist of being able to “decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing and timing of [one’s] children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.” Furthermore, everyone should have the right to make decisions regarding reproduction “free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

Is that a euphemism for abortion? In that case, it would also be wise to quote passages pertaining to the human rights regarding security of the person, if the unborn is human. Otherwise, you’re assuming what needs to be proven for your argument. In other words, you’ve dodged the fundamental point of the pro-life argument: the unborn is a human being and therefore also deserves human rights. But, yes, outside of killing another human being, spot on. There’s nothing wrong with sexual or reproductive health or “making decisions regarding reproduction”, unless they’re euphemisms for abortion. In which case, your statements seem crafted to avoid the question of the humanity of the unborn entirely.

The motive of pro-life groups is to make women feel guilty for having sex, forcing them to give birth to unwanted children. The Roman Catholic Church views abortion as a sin. Pope John Paul II compared abortion to a mass genocide similar to the Holocaust.

Instead of enforced shame, we should show tolerance and empathy for a difficult situation. Providing support and unbiased information to aid women in their decision-making process would obtain better results than shaming them.

Woah, woah. First of all, just because the Catholic Church is pro-life doesn’t mean that one needs to be Catholic to be pro-life. And if you’re suggesting the Church’s motive is to make women feel guilty for having sex, you need to better inform your views. [Edit: start here or here or here] More importantly, that’s just plain false. We’re not trying to make people feel guilty for having sex. We’re trying to defend the rights of human beings who are losing their lives because our society doesn’t want to take responsibility for the consequences of having sex. These aren’t cultural, ethical or moral consequences; they are biological consequences! The link between sex and pregancy isn’t some invention of the Church or the pro-life movement. It’s a scientific fact.

Also, I suggest you check out some feminist view points within the pro-life movement. To suggest pro-lifers are intent on guilt-tripping woman is dishonest.

The point is, the pro-life movement’s motive is not to shame people, but rather to protect the rights of the unborn who are marginalized when convenience trumps human rights. Your comments fall into the category of “assuming what needs to be proven” again. If the unborn is human – we claim it is – unplanned pregnancies involve a third human life.

Each year 70,000 women die because of illegal abortions and slightly fewer suffer serious injuries. A grown woman should not have to risk her life to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Of course, there are also teenage pregnancies. Every year approximately 15 million girls under the age of 18 give birth. These girls are five times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman between the ages of 18 and 25. Not only is a pregnant teen’s life at risk, but also her future. Many schools with pregnant students offer them little choice. Without an abortion, they will be forced to drop out of school.

Illegal abortions and the horrors of unplanned pregnancies are terrible. The pro-life view, however, states that while elective abortion may be psychologically and even practically complex, it is not morally complex. The trend in the article to assume what needs to be proven continues. “Unless you begin with the assumption that the unborn are not human, you are making the highly questionable claim that because some people die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so. Should we legalize bank robbery so it is safer for felons?” (source) If the unborn is human, making abortion safe and legal is hardly an adequate answer to the problem of illegal abortions.

Teenage pregnancies are obviously difficult as well. But, the question needs to be asked: would you kill to get out of that situation? If the unborn is human, that’s what the abortion option is. The answer, then, would be to address schools that offer pregnant teenagers little choice, to make a change there, rather than to encourage a pregnant teenager to end the life of an innocent human being, not matter how difficult her situation may be.

And what about women who have become pregnant after being raped? Can they be expected to carry a child for nine months, a reminder of the sexual assault they were forced to endure? According to Status of Women Canada, over half of Canadian women have been the victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. With such a high degree of sexual assault in our own society, can we realistically expect rape victims to deal with the results of an attack for the rest of their lives?

Rape is profoundly evil. But, we claim, so is abortion. This falls into the category of assuming what needs to be proven and appealing to the hard cases. Morgan, if you use rape to justify abortion, then will you stand with us and denounce elective abortion in all other cases? Otherwise, how do cases of rape pertain to the other 99% of abortions?

Rape victims deserve our care. But how does the case of rape justify the vast majority of abortions?

Women carrying a disabled child should also be considered. Children born with a mental or physical disability require a significantly greater amount of care and place financial strain on their parents. An illequipped mother giving birth to a child with special needs can only choose adoption or abortion. This child is much more likely, if adopted, to receive inferior care. Therefore, her choice is likely to be an abortion.

I froze when I read this. Morgan, you questioned analogies between abortion and genocide, yet a few paragraphs later you yourself provide an example of how we systematically discriminate against segments of the human population through abortion. First of all, as expected, this statement assumes what needs to be proven. But more importantly, even if the humanity of the unborn were considered to be in question, systematic discrimination against the disabled is not tolerated in other places in our society. Why would we allow it in the case of abortion, when it’s a matter of life and death?

Why do many women choose abortion over adoption? One-third of all abortions are performed on unmarried women who not only wish to avoid becoming attached to a child, but also to escape judgment as they carry the child they will be giving up. Most of all, many women do not choose adoption because of the uncertainty of their child’s future. How will they know their child is being cared for?

Is the unborn human? Again, assuming what needs to be proven. Also, how is abortion a better option than adoption in terms of knowing the child is being cared for? Is it more comfort to a mother to know that her child is mutilated in a trash can somewhere? There’s a multi-year wait list for parents to adopt in Canada (which means there are way more would-be parents than children). Obviously, caring for these children is a serious matter. Which is why we shouldn’t kill them, since that would be worse than any attempt at care.

Then there is the issue of contraception. In some places, contraception is not available to the majority of the population, or is too expensive for most to afford. In Canada, youth in rural areas cannot acquire contraceptives or information due to a shortage of sexual health centres. Sexual education in the school curriculum has become a joke, as many teachers are not qualified while some schools lack sex-ed programs entirely.

Rather than opposing abortion, we should be supporting contraception and sexual education. We should improve the lives of the children who are brought into the world, often abandoned or abused.

Students for Life has no position on contraception. Ultimately, no form of contraception is perfect though. Unplanned pregnancies still happen. If we’re only throwing contraception at the problem, what happens in the cases where contraception fails?

Put simply by Michael Jay Tucker, editorial advisor for OBGYN.net, “If the anti-abortion movement took a tenth of the energy they put into noisy theatrics and devoted it to improving the lives of children who have been born into lives of poverty, violence, and neglect, they could make a world shine.”

Update: Michael Jay Tucker stopped by in the comments to let us know that he’s not actually the same Michael Jay Tucker from OBGYN.net
Improving the lives of children who have been born into difficult circumstances is extremely important, and most pro-lifers I know are involved in other charity organizations. But, as a pro-life organization and movement, we also focus on the thousands of children who lose their lives daily, before they are even given a chance for their circumstances to be improved.

A new way to confuse the abortion issue

I don’t want to get too involved with American politics, but this open letter to Sarah Palin (via Feministing) was a bit hard to resist. Lynn Paltrow asks,

Did you know that [changing the law on abortion] not only threatens the lives, health and freedom of women who might want or need someday to end their pregnancies, it would also give the government the power to control the lives of women — like you who — go to term?

What does she mean by that? She goes on to explain how Palin reportedly took over 11 hours to get to the hospital after her water broke during her last pregnancy, then citing cases where C-sections were forced on women or charges were laid against women who allegedly didn’t get to the hospital fast enough because this was considered to violate a fetus’ right to life.

I don’t even know where to start.

Honestly, Ms. Paltrow, are you incapable of telling the difference? There’s a difference between negligence and murder in other areas of the law already. The question of whether a doctor has the authority to say that a C-section is necessary is a different question from whether or not a doctor has the authority to kill an unborn child. The question of how to deliver a baby is a different from the question of whether or not we can kill a fetus.

That there are complications or examples of abuse is extremely troubling and we ought to address those problems, but I fail to understand how that justifies abortion. Women have the right to abortion because without it they might be forced to have a C-section? Seriously? I call bs.

The unthinkable shmashmortion

Two articles (Globe and Mail, Toronto Star) have appeared in Canadian newspapers on the topic of abortion in Hollywood movies (and celebrity lives) recently. Both pro-choice articles attempt to describe something problematic about Hollywood’s recent depiction of abortion. Why hasn’t abortion been portrayed as a happy, realistic or an empowering choice for women in movies like Juno or Knocked Up?

“Babies, babies everywhere,” writes Antonia Zerbisias, as if that’s a problem.

Judith Timson has a curious synopsis of the abortion consideration in Juno (I can’t speak to Knocked Up, as I’ve not seen the film and don’t really plan to).

In Juno, the pregnant-teenager movie that even grandmothers are raving ecstatically about, she runs in horror from an abortion clinic where a pro-life classmate picketing outside informs her that the baby she’s carrying already “has fingernails.”

Sure. Yet she neglects to mention that the pro-life classmate was a source of mockery/humour in the movie as well, being the lone and somewhat awkward protester at the clinic. Juno’s initial response to the fingernails bit was more of “cool *shrugs*” than a “*gasp* you’re right!” Yes, she ending up abandoning the abortion attempt, but the pro-life classmate was portrayed more as a source comic relief than a voice of wisdom.

Ms. Zerbisias blames the “religious hordes” who apparently control Hollywood (uh… what Hollywood is she talking about?) for being “incapable of conceiving a strong woman who chooses not to go to term.” Ms. Timson feels “like [she's] living in a time warp” because of the way pregnancy leads to children rather than abortions in these movies.

What both these writers fail to address is the obvious reasons why Hollywood wouldn’t want to mention abortion in these movies. They are comedies. No matter whether you think abortion ought to be a choice for women or not, abortion is not a positive or happy thing.

And it shouldn’t be. If it is, you’re not talking about abortion. You might be talking about things that are sometimes related to abortion (whether correctly or incorrectly), but you wouldn’t be talking about the direct act of abortion.

What is the direct act of abortion? What is abortion? It’s not simply a “choice.” Abortion is the act of terminating a pregnancy. What do human beings become pregnant with? Other human beings. Abortion is the act of terminating the lives of unborn human beings.

Abortion is a gruesome medical procedure, no matter how clean or how legal. Pictures of aborted fetuses are considered offensive because they are offensive images. Images of human beings that have been killed ought to be offensive! Abortion – even legalized aboriton – is an offensive and ugly act.

Both writers fail to recognize this.

Meanwhile, in real life, a great many teenage pregnancies end at the abortion clinic. Which isn’t to say that doesn’t provide a somewhat happy ending too. (Judith Timson)

“Somewhat” is the keyword here. The only potentially “somewhat happy” endings would all be complicated by the whole human life ending bit that’s central to abortion.

I’d want to be in Canada where choice is still a choice. (Antonia Zerbisias)

Besides the fact that Ms. Zerbisias seems to have a problem with the “choice” made in these movies, the comment begs the question, a choice to do what? That phrase is meaningless on it’s own and vague as a euphemism. Clearly, it’s not just any choice in question here. It’s the choice to have an abortion. What’s an abortion? Back to square one.

How can you possibly coherently lament “the unthinkable shmashmortion” without actually thinking about what abortion really is?

Abortion is one of the trickiest and most personal issues around. In practice, it’s still kept very quiet. Our society still finds it easier not to acknowledge that so many women among us – friends, sisters, daughters, even mothers – have terminated an unwanted pregnancy. (Judith Timson)

There’s a reason why it’s uncomfortable to talk about. It’s comfortable to think about, because it’s a very uncomfortable and unnatural thing. People don’t like thinking about abortion because it’s an ugly thing.

Of course there won’t be any attempts to glorify it, especially in a comedy.