Wednesday, March 08, 2006
A Reply For Koba

From the comments:

Where is the consistency of argument on both sides? Liberals want to be able to murder fetuses and the conservative right wants to save fetuses and kill murders.

If you're going to be pro choice, then why not be pro death penalty? Talk about no logic. "It's OK to kill the three month old fetus, but by God, no, you can't kill that man who killed 5 people. Two wrongs don't make a right.

I was wondering when you'd drop by again. :) That's an excellent question, and one worth addressing properly. I shall do my best.

First, I do make a distinction between a blob of incognizant tissues (which is the state in which the vast majority of aborted fetuses exist) and a human being who has lived in society. This, of course, is where the idea of God enters and leaves the debate, and where that 5% I spoke of previously resides: some people view that blob as a human being; I, generally speaking, do not. Philosophically, I believe a blastocyst/embryo/fetus becomes a human being at a) the moment it becomes independently viable or b) the moment the woman carrying it decides it's a human being; I don't simply accept the argument that "life begins at conception." So that's one element, with which you can agree or disagree. (This certainly leaves some grey-area regarding late-term abortions -- although that grey area exists almost exclusively in the domain of theory, since late-term abortions are essentially never performed except in cases of major risk of death to the mother or the absolute inviability of the fetus. But if we stick purely to theory, you still have some room to wiggle there.)

But mostly, I just think the death penalty is inefficient and unecessary. As far as I'm concerned, a murderer locked up for life without chance of parole is as good as a dead one -- as long as the offender is removed from society and unable to do harm to anyone else, what's the point of killing him? It's never been demonstrated to be a deterrant to crime; furthermore, it's more expensive to the taxpayer to execute a prisoner than it is to maintain him (which is really more of a value-for-money issue.) And frankly, if punishment is the goal, then you've removed the prisoner's meaningful life regardless of whether or not you actually kill him. All you've got left, then, is revenge, and I don't put a lot of stock in vengeance as a punitive measure. Revenge is the real impetus behind the death penalty, whereas in abortion it's a woman's self-preservation, and the preservation of her existing (or perhaps future) family. It's perhaps a fine distinction in some minds, but I think an absolutely crucial one.

So I'd suggest that the far more apropos analogy here would be to compare a woman aborting a fetus to a woman shooting a threatening intruder in her home. I don't have a problem with killing someone if your goal is to preserve the wellbeing of your own life and the lives of those for whom you are responsible -- do you? The birth of an unwanted child can be enormously, overwhelmingly destructive to the mother and her existing/future family; the process of gestation and childbirth itself can be as physically damaging as a physical assault. To force that kind of harm on a woman against her will is, as far as I'm concerned, ethically not that far removed from the kind of harm your imprisoned murderer has done. Now, obviously, in one case the intruder is culpable, while the fetus is blameless -- but then, when self-preservation is involved, it's not really about blame or guilt. It's about protecting that which you already have against harm.

Like I said in my previous post, if we lived in a society in which the birth of a child did not carry the risk of such enormous financial, emotional, and physical damage -- to the mother, to her existing children, to her future children, to the child who will come into the world unwanted and unwelcome -- then I personally would certainly be willing to reconsider my position. To a woman who wants a child, these risks are worthwhile; to a woman who does not, a birth can be as traumatic as a death. As a wise man once said, "abortion may be murder, but it's murder in self-defense."

And, finally, I do believe that abortion should be, as we say, "safe, legal, and rare." I think it should happen as rarely as possible (hence my strong emphasis on contraception as the most valuable way to prevent it and the insanity/maliciousness of opposing both abortion and contraception), but that even under the best circumstances it will ocassionally be necessary. I do not assume that I (except where I myself am concerned) have any right whatsoever to judge when "necessary" has been reached. It's for the woman, with the advice of her doctor, to decide. Contrary to the beliefs of some, women don't rely on abortion for convenience -- there's nothing convenient about it. It's a terrible thing to have to do, but sometimes you have to do it.

An interesting side-note to all this:

There's a video making the rounds today (without broadband I haven't actually been able to watch it myself, but you can find a link and discussion of it here) which apparently depicts various anti-abortion activists being posed the question, "so, if abortion should be illegal, then what should be the punishment?" I have to admit, it never occurred to me that the people pushing these laws might not have considered that question (even I gave them more credit than that), but indeed it looks like by and large they haven't given it much thought -- they all seem to assume that someone else will figure that part out. That surprises me, but I don't think it should -- in all the years that this debate has been going on, I can't recall anyone ever suggesting any serious answer to that question, but you have to admit, it's pretty goddamn important if they're going to start changing the laws.

My assumption, of course, is that the punishment will be ridiculously inflated -- look at the War on Drugs and then tell me it won't be. On the other hand, a simple fine would essentially be nothing but a tax on abortion, albeit in a really creepy, ass-backwards way.

So what shall it be, anti-abortionites? Prison? Death? Torture's very much in vogue in those circles... or maybe hard labor? (Ha! I made a funny.) Will it be the doctor that's punished (hardly seems fair, since the mother's the one doing all the "pre-meditating"), or the mother only (hardly seems fair, since she couldn't do it without an accomplice), or both? Will they be punished equally or not, and if not, on what basis do we distinguish between their punishments? Do we just punish the women who have abortions after the laws are passed, or does it apply retroactively? How long is the statute of limitations? In short, how far have you thought this through?
6:41 PM ::
Amy :: permalink