Thursday, January 06, 2011

A "moral" defense of late abortion

HT: Jivin' J

"A moral defence of late abortion", by Ann Furedi, is subtitled, "The chief executive of bpas urges faltering pro-choice campaigners to rediscover their respect for women’s moral autonomy."

"Women's moral autonomy." As if you are robbed of your moral autonomy by any force outside yourself. Even concentration camp inmates retained their moral autonomy. They could choose to collaborate, to hide, to try to escape, to aid their fellow prisoners, to sink into despair, to fight to survive. They retained their moral autonomy. Regardless of abortion's legal status, women have a God-given autonomy -- an ability to choose good or evil. Legalization only changed the social and political and practical surroundings of women who are pregnant under difficult circumstances. In a perverse way, Furedi is disempowering the very women she claims to be empowering -- by presuming that other people, by passing laws, can somehow render women morally impotent.
Two years ago, many British parliamentarians supporting a (failed) attempt to move the 24-week ‘time limit’ for abortion forward to 20 weeks’ gestation of pregnancy believed that late abortion was unnecessary because it could be prevented.

Earth to Ferudi: All abortions can be prevented. Women can choose to welcome or reject their unborn children. Families and friends and communities can choose to help or turn their backs on pregnant women.
The heated character of the debate around ‘late’ abortion is curious, given that ‘early’ abortion is almost beyond controversy.

What planet does this woman live on? Early abortion is only "beyond controversy" among those who, like her have an enthusiasm for the practice. Even among the self-identified "pro-choice", there are those who would like to see early abortions limited to "hard cases", or performed only after the woman has been shown an ultrasound and given a chance to choose life for her baby. Not everybody, Ms. Ferudi, shares your enthusiasm for snuffing unborn life.
It would be difficult for society to eschew support (at least, qualified support) for abortion and maintain other values it holds dear.

This is a staggering statement that makes it pretty plain that Ferudi lives her life in an abortion-advocacy echo chamber.
For example, society attaches huge importance to the wantedness of children and the responsibility that their parents have for their care.

First of all, nobody's life should hinge upon some other specific person "wanting" him or her. All of us are "unwanted" by somebody -- a love rival, a political opponent, a competitor for the same job. So society does not, as Ferudi asserts, place "wantedness" on some sort of pedestal for worship.

But not everybody believes, like Ferudi, that the "wantedness" of a child is inherent in the initial response to his mother when she learns of the pregnancy. The initial rejection of the pregnant state that leads many women to seek out abortion is normal and typically self-limiting. The mother herself will likely want the child by the time he is born. And even if she is unable to soften her hard heart and learn to embrace her child, he or she is surly wanted by somebody. It's our responsibility to develop hearts that welcome others, not to expect others to die so that we don't have to bother.
At the same time, sex is seen as a normal, healthy part of an adult relationship: most people accept sex is an expression of love, intimacy and pleasure; no longer is it, normally, associated with the intention to reproduce. It follows from this that preventing the conception of unplanned, unwanted children is seen as responsible and moral.

How "adult" is a relationship that kills the offspring it creates? And, intention to reproduce or not, part of maturity -- indeed, of human decency -- is taking responsibility for the children you create. How Ferudi gets from "We want to have sex but not the resulting children" to "so it's responsible and moral to kill the children" -- which is where she's going with this -- boggles the mind.
Given that society believes that unwanted pregnancies should be prevented by contraception, it also follows that, when this fails, society accepts abortion may be used as a ‘back-up’ to prevent an unwanted birth.

This is not a logical progression. It makes as much sense as saying that because we want to prevent maimings by farm equipment, we also accept, as a matter of course, shooting any farmer who loses a limb in a combine accident.
But abortion still needs to be ‘necessary’: even at early gestations, two doctors must certify that legal grounds are met. An abortion is approved because it is the best outcome for the woman and her existing family.

Which means, in short, that doctors have to lie, to society and the medical powers that be, if not also to themselves. There have been no studies whatsoever that show abortion to be the superior "treatment" for distress during pregnancy.
We know that later abortions are necessary because we know why they are requested.

And here we get to the heart of the matter. Ferudi includes as an appendix a summary of the women who approached pbas asking for abortions past the 22-week mark. "We believe," she says, "that these 32 cases provide compelling evidence for why the time limit on abortion should not be reduced – even by as a little as two weeks."

I believe that they provide compelling evidence that pbas cheapens human life, and treats women as if they're totally incapable of coping with challenges.

Ferudi lists the women in the order they came seeking abortions. I'll address the situations I find very telling.

First, let's look at the ones that simply were beyond the legal limit, and one case where they couldn't arrange a hospital abortion prior to the legal limit. These patients were referred for prenatal care:
73125w 1dDrug user on methadone programme. Her medication means that she has no periods so did not realise she was pregnant. Feels that having a baby at this time will ‘push her over the edge’.
132426w 2dHad continued to have period-like bleeds until recently and so had no idea she could be pregnant.
142222w 5dUniversity student. Had continued to have monthly bleeds until recently and so had no idea she could be pregnant. Had complicated pre-existing medical condition that meant it would be unsafe to treat her anywhere other than an NHS hospital; however, none had available appointments. Referred back to her GP to arrange future ante-natal care and adoption.
192925wCouldn’t remember when her last period was. Normally relied on the contraceptive pill,  but says she knows she takes them erratically. Her husband tries to remember to use a condom but often forgets. She had suffered from nausea and vomiting but had put it down to the stress of losing her job.
222523w 5dAlready has four young children. Had monthly bleeds throughout the pregnancy and so didn’t realise she was pregnant. Went to GP when she started to feel fetal movement. GP told her, incorrectly, that she was 14 weeks pregnant and so she didn’t realise the urgency of her situation. 
241724w 2dRelied on the contraceptive pill for birth control. Knew that she had missed some pills several months ago and took pregnancy test when she missed a period.  Pregnancy test was negative and she stopped worrying because she had a period-like bleed. Took another two pregnancy tests when she missed subsequent period, both of which were negative. Lives with father and didn’t feel able to confide in him. Eventually spoke with mother who took her to GP who referred her to bpas.

These women were simply referred for prenatal care and given no further help from bpas. Had they gone to the "anti-woman" prolifers, they'd have been given help in the form of counseling, mentoring, referrals for other services, material assistance, etc. The "pro-woman" bpas just sent them packing. "Sorry. If we can't do an abortion, we have nothing else to offer.

In one case, however, pbas did provide more. Patient #28, who was 18 years old and 30 weeks pregnant: "Thought she was about 18 weeks pregnant. Has an arranged marriage in the Indian sub-continent in the summer with an expectation that she would be a virgin. She had told no one of her situation because of fear, embarrassment and shame. An abortion was not possible because she was over the current gestational limit. Bpas counsellors arranged for her to have help to mediate with her family and potential emergency accommodation, should she need it."

If they were capable of providing help to this woman purely because the law wouldn't let them snuff her 30-week baby, why weren't they capable of providing intensive help to the other women? Like Patient #2? She was 21 years old, 23 weeks 4 days. "Unplanned pregnancy but was going to keep the baby. However, she and her partner have just been served with an eviction notice and they have nowhere to live that would be suitable for a baby."

Couldn't they have helped this family, that wanted the baby, to solve their housing problem? That's what a prolife center would have done.

Patient #31 was 23 years old, 22 weeks 3 days. "Came to Britain as a refugee from East Asia with her husband who has now left her. Is living in hostel accommodation. Speaks no English. Didn’t know where to get help. Feels unable to cope with a baby in these circumstances."

Again, she didn't know where to go for help. Wouldn't referrals to help have been more, well, helpful? After all, once the abortion was over and her baby was dead, she was still a refugee who spoke no English and had no permanent home and had been abandoned by her husband. She needed more than just a traumatic late abortion that she probably can't find counseling to cope with due to the language barrier.

A lot of the other women just reported feeling "unable to cope". So instead of teaching them to draw on their inner resources, pbas reinforced these women's negative self-images -- that they're so pathetic, helpless, and pitiful that a fully formed baby is better off dead than in their care.

There were only what we'd call "fetal indications" in two cases (6%):

103222w 4dHas three existing children. Has been drinking heavily and using cocaine. Would have continued this pregnancy but read about the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the fetus and no longer feels able to go ahead because of her perceived risk of the problems she may have caused.
292322wAlready has two children under seven. This was a planned pregnancy. Severe facial abnormalities were detected during a routine ultrasound scan. The request for abortion was made following discussions with the care team attached to the local maternity unit. The plastic surgeon had said that, if the baby were born, it would need to undergo repeated surgery and face a poor quality of life. The NHS unit was prepared to end the pregnancy but had been unable to give a date for this. The couple felt they ‘needed closure’ and could not cope with the uncertainty. They paid privately to attend a bpas clinic.

So we had one unconfirmed "fetal indication", where the woman merely suspected there might be a problem. Nobody bothered to confirm her suspicion. And if she cared enough to worry about having damaged her unborn baby, perhaps this would have been a good motivation for her to get treatment for her drug issues.

The second case involved a diagnosis we weren't given, some doctors' opinion that the baby would have "a poor quality of life", and a mother "wanting closure". Was this mother still in shock from learning that her planned and wanted baby had problems? Was she given the opportunity to meet with parents of children who had problems similar to those her unborn baby faced? What sort of real help was she given? Or was she just given a horror scenario by this team?

Overall, the cases hardly make a compelling argument for abortion at all, much less for abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy. And Ferudi seems to be arguing for nothing less. To her, there should be no distinction. An unborn human is an unborn human and thus entitled to zero consideration:

To the ‘ethical straddlers’ concerned about gestation we must ask: is there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks? It certainly looks different because its physical development has advanced. At 28 weeks we can see it is human – at eight weeks a human embryo looks much like that of a hamster. But are we really so shallow, so fickle, as to let our view on moral worth be determined by appearance? Even if at five weeks we can only see an embryonic pole, we know that it is human. The heart that can be seen beating on an ultrasound scan at six weeks is as much a human heart as the one that beats five months later.

Since a fetus draws closer to fulfilling its potential from the day it is conceived, and is constantly evolving as it grows, which day - or which developmental change - matters morally? Is it when there is evidence of a beating heart, or fetal movement, or a particular neurological or brain development? Who makes this decision? And why?

Ferudi makes her stand plain:

We either support women’s moral agency or we do not.

But if, as she asserts, we must "support women's moral agency" without question or qualm, then what justification is there for any limits on women's choices? Why draw the line at birth, or indeed at the women's own children? Merely because we, personally, have qualms?

Or maybe, just maybe, supporting "women's moral agency" means raising the bar -- asking them to rise to the occasion and do right by their children.


L. said...

Um...I draw the line at birth, because once a child is outside my body, you can take it away from monster-mama me to prevent me from killing it.

But she asks a supremely stupid question: " there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks?"

Has she never heard of viability? You know, that little aspect that makes it possible for the creatures to live outside the bodies of their monster-mamas?

Christina Dunigan said...

L, do you hold that at viability, society or the state has the authority to insist that the fetus be simply removed, rather than killed, and made available for adoption, since this achieves the mother's desired end of getting the fetus out of her body?

L. said...

Generally, yes, but it's not an easy question to answer "yes, always" to, since in some rare cases there are compelling medical reasons for the mother's health that make it safer to remove a fetus through abortion rather than induced labor or c-section.

Anonymous said...

Attending a bpas clinic.

experience 1.
Your partner has made the appointment and arranged the whole thing for you - there is to be no discussion, he is bordering on being psychotic.

the counselling
You are taken into a room for a 10-15 minute 'counselling' session. You explain that it's your partner who wants the abortion. You, yourself want to keep the baby and explain that you have had fertility problems. You explain that your problem is, that your partner is suicidal at the thought of your pregnancy, because he has a girlfriend. You desparately request that your partner be in on the 'counselling' due to your naive assumption that this really is counselling, or an impartial 'advisory service', and you hope that a counsellor or someone, anyone, will notice the blindingly obvious fact that you are being forced into abortion. Your hopes hit the floor as your request is refused - the reason being that this counselling is 'for you' to 'help you.' You make the counsellor aware that the deal from your partner who is sitting outside, is this - kill your baby or i'll kill myself. The counsellor barely comments on this. She turns 'her attention' to
support from your family after the baby is born, and tries to convince you that you're not going to have any once the baby is born, and that it is going to be very hard on you for the rest of your life with no light at the end of the tunnel, no joy and no happiness. How she manages to do this is wierd, as you have the most supportive extended family you could wish for, but with hindsight you see that she is following protocol and is very experienced. You are past the age of 30 and long for this child. She tells you that you need to be quote "strong" and have an abortion, and starts to tell you about the procedure. To sum up you'll have no support, and your partner is distressed, well you better had have an abortion. The counselling is finished. During that time she has made a few lines of notes, concealed from you as to what she's writing, why she's writing them. You are asked to read through. You do not realise that these are the 'reasons.' It says you're not going to have any support once the baby is born. a) this is a lie b) in reality you couldn't have given a rat's ass about having 'no support.' Your love for the child is the most overwhelming thing you have ever known - already. Not one possible positive aspect is even minutely talked about, even though you do your best to explain. Your total and utter distress at the thought of aborting your own child is not given one seconds worth of her time. The focus is 100% on what she is stating as the negative aspect of keeping your child, which is something that has come from her, and is totally untrue. You are asked to sign. You honestly do not realise that you are signing a consent form. It is not made plain to you. You are sent back out to the person who is abusing you. He politely says thankyou for your time.

Anonymous said...

The scan and attempt at abortion

You leave your partner in the waiting room. Everyone is on the edge of their seat, apart from him. He settles back into his chair with a comedic novel.

When you are scanned you cry, as you have done since you learned you were pregnant YOU CRY BECAUSE YOU OBVIOUSLY, DESPERATELY WANT TO KEEP THE BABY. While being scanned you state clearly that you do no want an abortion, and that you can't do this. The response is, everyone's been like you this morning. You are not allowed to look at the screen or the scan, to see your own baby. You are told that you are 7 weeks pregant. You make to walk out of the building. Your partner all but hits you, and a nurse tries to smoothe things over - before you have even agreed she has arranged another appointment for you for the following week. The nurse smiles at you partner.

Your partner steps up his suicide campaign. You return to the clinic. You whimper like a dog and cannot seem to enter the building, walking up and down and past it many times. Strange noises come out of your mouth, not heard before or since. In the waiting room you think of the lives that you hold in the balance. You would rather be guillotined than abort your child. You say to the nurse that the bleeding is getting worse - no response. The nurse has a picture of your child in her folder, she won't let you see it. She scrapes a business card under her nails to clean them, a bpas card. She says, yes you're 9 weeks aren't you.

You can't do it and rush out of the building.

Your partner continues to threaten you. Bleeding heavily you return to the clinic for a third time. It's insisted upon that you take some pain medication if you are to go through with the procedure. You repeatedly refuse as you don't want to damage your baby with the medication. It's just an anti-inflammatory, and that's all the medication contains, they say. You swallow the pill. You realise that they were lying and that it was some kind of sedative. You are led to the procedure room by two nurses taking your arms one either side of you. You stand inside, there is a radio playing. You see the grime and the dirt. You see the other things. NO comes out of your mouth. You leave, not having had the procedure. You try to run but your feet don't move due to the sedative. You get out of there as fast as you can. You are flooding with tears as you try to run down the street. You bleed heavily and go home. Your partner, who you love can kill himself, you're keeping the baby.

Anonymous said...

One week later you miscarry. You are suicidal at losing your baby. Others are elated, most notably your partner. During the process of your miscarriage he makes himself non-contactable and flies out to another country, you can't contact him. There is something so primal about needing the father of your baby, the man that you are in a relationship with, if he is at all available, when you are bringing his dead child into the world. To be frozen out deliberately when your womb is contracting is quite cruel. But you should have been used to that. He demanded that you kill your miracle child.

Several months later you request your medical records as you need to see a picture of your baby. The clinic is evasive, and won't send them. quoting data protection, they arrive only to say 'no foetal pole', meaning there was no baby. The scan picture shows an empty 'gestation sac' which means that a baby never formed. only a sac for the baby to grow in ever developed but no baby. The clinic knew all along of course, and knew of your mental agony, but decieved you into thinking that you were carrying a baby, so that they could get their money. The clinic is government affiliated. It was inevitable that you would miscarry. They never told you, and allowed you to walk around bleeding heavily, miscarriage imminent, with no medical advice.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for writing this on bpas. As you may remember i am british.

Could i add that yes the legal time limit for abortions in this country is 24 weeks. However, it was exposed a couple of years ago that bpas were arranging abortions for UK women who were past this time limit. The abortions were carried out in Spain via bpas connections with abortion clinics in Spain.