Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The queasy prochoicer

HT: Jill Stanek

I knew where I stood on abortion. But I had to rethink.

I'll have to beg to differ with a lot of what she says, but kudos for having the courage to re-examine her beliefs! A staunchly prochoice broadcaster, Miranda Sawyer, did some soul searching.

A few snippets:

I spent some time thinking about the precise point when our baby came into existence. Was he there before I did the test? Something was, or the test couldn't have come up positive. But what? A person? A potential person? Life? What was life exactly?


I wonder how many prochoicers even ponder the issue. Many that I've met are simply reflexively prochoice, because everybody they know is. Others discount that the ZEF has any relevance whatsoever, beyond being unwelcome. It could be fully sentient, composing symphonies in there or coming up with a Grand Unified Theory, and it wouldn't matter. And it sounds as if this woman was at one point on of those prochoicers who had simply never given it any thought. Until reality struck in the form of two lines on a pregnancy test.

Sawyer reflects on her grandmother's final days, and on how that raised new thoughts:

At one point, when my mum and I were sitting with her, Granny suddenly began moaning, clawing at the tubes going in and out of her body. I looked into her face. She gazed back, distraught, still grabbing and waving, imploring. I suddenly became convinced that she wanted me to pull out the drips. She needed me to help her to die. And I thought about doing it, but I just couldn't. No matter how much I loved my Granny - and I did - and no matter how horrible the situation she was in - and it was - I couldn't end her life. I told her so. I watched her flail in frustration for a while. Then she stopped. She died two days later.

Skip forward two years - during which I got pregnant and gave birth to a son, Patrick - and I am making a television documentary about abortion rights in the United States for More4. But what I'm really doing is trying to answer the questions that my Granny's death threw up for me. Is it ever morally right to kill? What if you love the person you're killing? Does it make any difference if you don't want them to die? What if they're a long way from being a full person - independent, full-facultied, vital - should that affect your decision?


Again, did she ponder those questions during all the previous years she'd been prochoice?

Like most women - at least most British women - I have always been firmly in the pro-choice camp because I've spent nearly all of my sexually active life trying not to get pregnant.


Here I'll beg to differ. Polls show women more polarized on abortion than men, but equally likely to find it abhorent as to want it available.

I personally consider it slander to say that being female makes me "prochoice." To me, you might as well note my German ancestry and assume in all earnestness that I'm a Nazi sympathizer who laments that the ovens at Auschwitz were shut down. Imagine for a moment people honestly believing, say, that being white automatically meant that you were a member of the KKK and that you kept a rope for lynchings in the trunk of your car. How would you feel? That's how I feel when people assume I'm prochoice. I consider abortion to be the most loathsome, heinous crime against humanity a person can commit, and it's an insult to everything I am and everything I believe in to presume I would in any way condone it for myself or anybody else. Spit in my face if you will, kick me, kill me, but never put the label "pro-choice" on me. It's an assault on my basic human dignity.

When I got pregnant so soon after my Granny's death, it felt weird. My mind kept returning to the pregnancy test. If my reaction to those fateful double lines that said 'baby ahead' had been horror instead of hurrah ... then I would have had little hesitation in having an abortion. But it was that very fact that was confusing me. I was calling the life inside me a baby because I wanted it. Yet if I hadn't, I would think of it just as a group of cells that it was OK to kill. It was the same entity. It was merely my response to it that determined whether it would live or die. That seemed irrational to me. Maybe even immoral.


To prolifers, that's a big, DUH!

A civilised society should allow us to have children if and when we desire them.


Which I would not argue with. It's the killing ones that already exist that I have a problem with. The very fact that a fetus is so small and dependent cries out for protection, not for aggression.

They include Roy McMillan. I hung out with Roy outside the clinic as he confronted young, mostly black, women coming in for a termination and tried to persuade them to turn back. It wasn't a comfortable morning. 'Shame on you, coming in here with a cross around your neck!' Roy shouted at one poor girl. 'Are you going to nail your baby to the cross?'


I do have to say I find Roy's behavior appalling and counter-productive.

If I'm honest, it seemed that everyone - philosopher, politician, crank - just takes a stance and then justifies it.


If Sawyer only recently started asking herself the questions, she, too, spent most of her life having simply taken a stance and then justifying it.

Lord, this was confusing. If an embryo can survive being artificially created, being frozen, being FedExed hundreds of miles and then implanted into someone else's womb, then surely the anti-abortionists were right? Life does begin at conception. So, I agreed with two conflicting arguments. Life begins when a sperm hits an egg, but women should have the right to abortions. I appeared to believe that women should be allowed to kill.


Well, I'd say that it's not what you apprear to believe, Ms. Sawyer. I'd say it's what you actually do believe. As you've articulated it yourself.

Unlike Norma, I don't want to be the kind of person who changes her beliefs according to her circumstances: like people changing from Labour to Conservative as they become richer.


Actually, Norma's circumstances changed after she changed her beliefs. Her beliefs changed while she was still working in an abortion clinic. After they changed, she left and the rest of her life had to be changed to fit her beliefs. I marvel that Ms. Sawyer didn't learn this while conversing with her. And if Ms. Sawyer changes her beliefs on abortion, it won't be due to a change in circumstances. It'll be due to having taken into consideration questions and information she'd never taken into consideration before. That's called "being open minded." Which I'd hate to think she'd balk at.

And I don't want to tell other people - other women - what to do.


Opposing abortion isn't telling other people what to do any more than opposing arson is telling other people what to do. It's standing with a society that says that certain acts are unacceptable because they hurt other people.

But when you see women's abortion rights whittled away as they have been in the US, you can't help but get angry.


Oh, can't you? A lot of us -- including a lot of women -- are delighted to see "whittling away" of "abortion rights". We find it hard to see anything that women don't want to do as a "right" to be protected and embraced.

In the end, I have to agree that life begins at conception. So yes, abortion is ending that life. But perhaps the fact of life isn't what is important. It's whether that life has grown enough to take on human characteristics, to start becoming a person.


Remember when she said "If I'm honest, it seemed that everyone - philosopher, politician, crank - just takes a stance and then justifies it."? This is exactly what she did. Ms. Sawyer desperately wanted to remain "prochoice" on abortion, and she hunted around for a way to be able to do so.

How intellectually and morally honest is that, really?

All in all, kudos for at least articulating so much. But to simply fall back onto, "I don't want to be a person who opposes abortion, so I've come up with a new way of making myself comfortable with endorsing the practice" is a cop out.

27 comments:

L. said...

Funny -- I always thought about those things, that she describes. And experiencing a pregnancy, and becoming a mother multiple times, made me MORE pro-choice, not less. Much, MUCH more pro-choice, in fact. Exponentially so!

And I didn`t understand her final point to be, "I don't want to be a person who opposes abortion, so I've come up with a new way of making myself comfortable with endorsing the practice" at all. I thought it was a far less wishy-washy conclusion, like, "Despite pondering things that didn`t occur to me before, I am still NOT a person who opposes abortion."

Christina Dunigan said...

See, that's extra troubling to me, that a woman can experience the new life growing in her body, hold her baby in her arms, and come away more determined that killing these little ones is an acceptable thing to do. It's like somebody telling me that they'd made close friends with a Black co-worker and it made them even more supportive of the KKK. It's counter-intuitive.

Christina Dunigan said...

L, it seemed to me that what she said was along the lines of, "I struggled with these new found relizations and desperately didn't want to go where they were leading me. So I found a way not to go there."

L. said...

Well, what you see as "counter-intuitive," I see as the opposite. I hated being pregnant, I hated giving birth, and I hated breastfeeding -- and I did all of it willingly, more than once. But my experiences convinced me that no woman should ever have to go through all that against her will.

I wonder why you think the author of the article was so "desperate" not to go somewhere -- it seems to me that her opinions are very much like my own. I`m no fan of abortion -- no one has one for fun. I truly have always believed that abortion ends a human life, and yet I continue to believe that it should be permitted, as long as women seek them and doctors are willing to perform them.

L. said...

When you ask, "How intellectually and morally honest is that, really?" -- you obviously think there`s only one right answer: abortion is horrible and it should never happen.

I know you disagree with what I (and the author) believe -- that abortion is horrible, and yet it should be allowed to happen -- but even if you disagree to your very core, I hope you realize that some of us are indeed "intellectually and morally honest."

Christina Dunigan said...

L., it's the fact that she confronted the fact that her opponents are right about the most crucial questions surrounding abortion, but she didn't want to be one of "those people" who opposes abortion, then she fished around for some way she could remain one of the "enlightened" people in the prochoice camp. That's what's intellectually and morally dishonest. That ultimately the reason she remained prochoice was that she wanted to be in the same group of people she'd always been in and sought a justification for it.

L. said...

But WHY did she want to be in their camp? WHY did she want to stay pro-choice? See, I, too, agree with my "opponents" about what you say are "the most crucial questions" surrounding abortion, and I`m still not pro-life, and it has nothing to do with not wanting to be "one of those people," since I have many dear pro-life friends and family (and certainly when I was younger, it would have been far easier for me to remain pro-life).

Ah well -- we are both basing our observations simply on what she`s written -- who knows what she really thinks. And obviously both of our interpretations are affected by our opinions!

Tlaloc said...

"I do have to say I find Roy's behavior appalling and counter-productive."

You say that just after having compared the prochoice movement to both Nazis and the KKK.

Anonymous said...

I should add that a rapid succession of "scares" during my wife's first pregnancy were an integral part of my pro-life conversion. She experienced bleeding many times during her first trimester. Each time, we'd go to Kaiser for an ultrasound. And each time, we were desperately hoping that the ultrasound would show us a healthy child.

Enough repetitions of that, and it forced me to wonder exactly why I cared so much about that little blob on the ultrasound screen. Then the answer became obvious: The little blob was my child. Not "potential" life, but just-plain life. My son's life, although we didn't know his gender at the time.

Quick question for you: All those you did not start life as a ZEF, please let me know.

I was once a ZEF, and so was my wife, and so were each of our kids. Shockingly, everyone I know was once a ZEF....

Christina Dunigan said...

Tlaloc, you have to remember that from my perspective, the prochoice movement is about abandoning women to despair and children to death. I'd be a monster if I wanted people thinking I supported it.

Tlaloc said...

"Quick question for you: All those you did not start life as a ZEF, please let me know.

I was once a ZEF, and so was my wife, and so were each of our kids. Shockingly, everyone I know was once a ZEF.... "

And?

I mean really what does that mean? You were once (and in fact still are) Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, et cetera. You were once a separate egg and sperm. So what?

You are not the sum of your parts. Nor were you "you" before you developed into a human being. You were just a blob of tissue. So was I. So was everyone.

Christina Dunigan said...

Naaman, when dealing with Tlaloc, you're talking to somebody who can look at a preemie in a NICU and see something that's not even an organism, much less a person. I'm not even sure he considered the post-paralysis Christopher Reeve human, since Reeve needed a vent 24/7 to breathe.

He couldn't see the humanity of the unborn if he was present during prenatal surgery. Logic won't work. He needs an epiphany and that's the job of the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Christina contributed:
Naaman, when dealing with Tlaloc....

Why deal with an obvious troll? Honestly, I would have hit him with the Ban Hammer a long time ago if I were you....

FWIW, I ignore Tlaloc, and I will not respond directly to him.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I finally read Ms. Sawyer's column, and I think y'all are being too hard on her.

Yeah, her column has a lot of bad logic in it. But what did you expect, really? For many (most?) people, questions of Life and Death are not wholly rational. That's why ultrasounds are so effective in convincing women not to abort, after all. There's something about that little picture that reaches right past all of one's carefully-constructed pro-choice logic and cries out to the heart.

And let's be honest: Pro-lifers aren't always the best with logic. Ms. Sawyer catches us in an example of our own illogic:
If Roy believes that abortion is murder, and I - having listened to his arguments - nevertheless decide to have an abortion, then surely I should be arrested and tried as a murderer? Or at least tried for paying someone else to commit the murder for me. But Roy pulled back from this, saying it's the abortion doctors who should be prosecuted. 'They are,' he declared, 'the pushers of abortion. Women are the victims.' Like we're abortion addicts.

Maybe it's my own conversion experience, but I read Ms. Sawyer's column with a lot of hope. No, she's not quite right yet, but at least she's asking the right questions. It's very hard to throw off a lifetime of beliefs, y'know. Give her time.

The pro-life arguments are the Truth. Anyone who approaches the issue with an open mind will -- sooner or later -- accept the Truth. Have some faith! :)

L. said...

Well, except for those of us who approach with an open mind and conclude that the pro-choice arguments are the Truth. :)

Christina Dunigan said...

L, I can believe that of, say, Tlaloc, because he doesn't think that fetuses, preemies, or severely disabled people are even alive in the first place, so he doesn't believe you can kill them. I think he's wrong, but I think it's an intellectual bindness, nor moral fogginess.

Anonymous said...

L opined:
Well, except for those of us who approach with an open mind and conclude that the pro-choice arguments are the Truth. :)

Yes, well ... you're wrong. See, the thing about truth is that it's objective. When two people disagree about the truth, at least one of those people must be wrong.

(It's always possible that both people could be wrong, but that starts to spiral out of control.)

I believe in the pro-life position because:
1. ZEFs (see, I can use the pro-choice terminology!) are innocent human beings.
2. Deliberately killing innocent human beings is wrong.
3. Therefore, deliberately killing ZEFs is wrong.
4. Therefore, abortion and embryo-destructive stem-cell research are both wrong.

Your turn! :)

L. said...

Hee hee -- like all kinds of killing, or actions in which death is the result for some involved, whether abortion is right or wrong depends entirely on the circumstances, so forbidding it all together is not the answer I would ever pick. But you knew I was going to say that! ;)

Christina Dunigan said...

Naaman, I actually have had some pretty good exchanges with Tlaloc. I value him here.

L., you'd have to search long and hard for a circumstance in which one person choosing another person's death in order to further his or her own life plans was acceptable.

L. said...

No, Christina, I wouldn`t -- I think it`s acceptable to choose a course of action that will lead to another person`s death if that person happens to be inside your body, posing risks to your health. But that`s just my opinion!

Anonymous said...

L. added the following to our discussion:
Hee hee -- like all kinds of killing, or actions in which death is the result for some involved, whether abortion is right or wrong depends entirely on the circumstances, so forbidding it all together is not the answer I would ever pick.

Killing is right or wrong depending on the circumstances? You don't really believe that.

Example: Can you provide a set of circumstances that would make it "right" for Andrea Yates to drown all of her children in a bathtub? What would those circumstances be?

And if you (somehow) think your way through that one, I have a dozen more waiting for you. The morality of killing cannot be relative. If that were true, then it would be very hard to see any form of objective morality at all. After all, if killing is relative, then why not theft? How about rape?

Some kinds of killing are wrong, no matter what circumstances might be. I believe that deliberately killing innocent people is wrong. Andrea Yates did a bad thing. And so did Amy Richards.

--

L. further added:
I think it`s acceptable to choose a course of action that will lead to another person`s death if that person happens to be inside your body, posing risks to your health.

So, an innocent human being can be killed based on:
1) location, and
2) risk to other human beings.

On my way to work a few days ago, a driver cut off my commuter bus on the highway. He (or she) jeopardized the lives of 50-odd people in that bus, not to mention the probable "pile-up" effect of a high-speed highway collision.

Would that combination of location and risk to other human beings justify killing? If not, why not?

What is unique about being located inside a woman's body that deprives an innocent human being of his/her right to life?

What is unique about the dangers of pregnancy that deprives an innocent human being of his/her right to life?

L. said...

So, an innocent human being can be killed based on:
1) location, and
2) risk to other human beings.


YES!!!!

L. said...

"Killing is right or wrong depending on the circumstances? You don't really believe that."

Oh yes, I do.

"Example: Can you provide a set of circumstances that would make it "right" for Andrea Yates to drown all of her children in a bathtub? What would those circumstances be?"

Nope -- I would say what she did was wrong. But if she were pregnant with quintuplets and the pregnancy threatened her health, then I would say it would be fine to terminate the lives of all five babies.

Anonymous said...

L. provided the following wisdom:
So, an innocent human being can be killed based on:
1) location, and
2) risk to other human beings.


YES!!!!


Okay, then let's explore that with the questions I asked above. On my way to work a few days ago, a driver cut off my commuter bus on the highway. He (or she) jeopardized the lives of 50-odd people in that bus, not to mention the probable "pile-up" effect of a high-speed highway collision.

Would that combination of location and risk to other human beings justify killing? If not, why not?

What is unique about being located inside a woman's body that deprives an innocent human being of his/her right to life?

What is unique about the dangers of pregnancy that deprives an innocent human being of his/her right to life?

"Killing is right or wrong depending on the circumstances? You don't really believe that."

Oh yes, I do.


Really?

"Example: Can you provide a set of circumstances that would make it "right" for Andrea Yates to drown all of her children in a bathtub? What would those circumstances be?"

Nope -- I would say what she did was wrong. But if she were pregnant with quintuplets and the pregnancy threatened her health, then I would say it would be fine to terminate the lives of all five babies.


You just contradicted yourself. Why was Andrea Yates wrong to kill her children? She was suffering from severe depression. She would not have been a good mother to them with her condition. Furthermore, her depression put her at risk of suicide, a risk that was aggravated by being a mother to five kids.

Who are you to judge her? Those five kids were in her home (location) and posed a threat to her mental & physical health (risk). By your own standards, Andrea Yates was within her rights to kill her children.

L. said...

Pregnancy makes the difference, and renders your examples meaningless because they don`t compare. And there is no situation perfectly analagous to pregnancy -- even the oft-cited Siamese twins and organ donation analagies fall short.

You will never think that pregnancy makes any difference at all -- a baby is a baby, and killing one is always wrong. I think a pregnant woman has the right to remove -- hence killing -- something growing inside her own body, if it threatens her. I see a difference. You do not. We can argue this until we are blue in the face.

By the way, my grandmother finally died last week, after my family issued a "do not hydrate" order.

Anonymous said...

L, my condolences on your loss. :(

You wrote:
Pregnancy makes the difference, and renders your examples meaningless because they don`t compare.

See, now, I asked that question already. I understand that pregnancy makes the difference to you. What I don't understand is why.

So, let me try again:
What is unique about being located inside a woman's body that deprives an innocent human being of his/her right to life?

What is unique about the dangers of pregnancy that deprives an innocent human being of his/her right to life?

You will never think that pregnancy makes any difference at all -- a baby is a baby, and killing one is always wrong. I think a pregnant woman has the right to remove -- hence killing -- something growing inside her own body, if it threatens her.

Aha, that's interesting! A pregnant woman has a right to an abortion if the ZEF threatens her according to your words above. Does that mean you oppose purely elective abortions or the oft-decried abortions of convenience?

We can argue this until we are blue in the face.

I probably won't convince you, and you probably won't convince me. That much is true. However, we can learn something about each other (and ourselves) by hashing out these issues.

Frankly, it's a pleasure to debate with a pro-choicer who doesn't simply resort to screaming slogans at me. "Keep your rosaries off of my ovaries!" Yeah, I don't even own a rosary, being Baptist and all.... ;)

That said, I'm leaving for a retreat weekend tomorrow, so we'll probably have to call it quits for now. :( But I'd love to pick up this discussion with you when I return.

L. said...

We`ve had this discussion before, on your blog. I do support "elective" abortions, when the health of the mother isn`t physically threatened -- in fact, if I were raped, I do believe I would definitely have an elective abortion myself. No one should have to endure pregnancy and childbirth unwillingly, even if it results in the death of the unborn. It is noble and charitable -- even heroic -- to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, and it`s great to encourage it, bu not to require it. You know I don`t believe the unborn -- or any of us -- have any right to life. Life is a gift, not a right.

Have a great retreat, Naaman!