So…Richard Dawkins is still insisting on Twitter today that his comparison of fetuses to pigs and talking about their relative pain is critical to the abortion debate, more important than talking about the actual pregnant person involved.
He’s not saying why his is the better argument. He’s ignoring all the people who are telling him that an argument based on lack of pain opens up several other cans of worms. He’s just claiming his argument is better because…reasons.
He certainly doesn’t respond to Ana Mardoll’s excellent post yesterday that has already explained why his position is wrong.
From a consequentialist standpoint, a woman’s right to bodily autonomy outweighs fetal pain not because the fetal pain is or is not arguably less important than pig pain, but because the fetal pain is demonstrably less than the woman’s pain. Abortion is safer than childbirth. If Dawkins wishes to make the point that pain matters when discussing the morality of abortion and that relative pain is relative, then he should focus on the pain of the women carrying an unwanted and potentially unsafe pregnancy rather than invisibling that woman in order to focus on farm animals. To suggest that we once again effectively erase pregnant women from the discussion about the rights of pregnant women is to suggest that they are the least important entity in this on-going debate. That’s not consequentialism; it’s rank marginalization.
I wish I’d written that post. I wish Dawkins had read that post and taken the time to think about it. (Yes, I’m assuming he did not. If he did, and he simply restated his position today without addressing that post, that’s far worse behavior.)
Why do I wish this? Because erasing women (as a rough proxy for people who are or are capable of becoming pregnant) from the discussion of abortion has serious consequences. I’m not just talking about consequences for who can get abortions and who can’t. I’m talking about consequences to women’s health care in general. When we allow people to treat abortion as anything other than a women’s health care issue, with thinking on the topic centered on the women in question, you end up with decisions like that made in Texas.
The Planned Parenthood clinics that anti-choice legislators booted from the state’s Women’s Health Program serviced nearly 50 percent of the program’s patients. Along with contraceptive counseling, the clinics provided basic screenings for cancer, hypertension, and other key problems. There’s no shortage of need: women in Texas suffer high rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies compared to national figures, and the state ranks 50th for diabetes prevalence in women. Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers went after the clinics in 2011, thanks to their long-standing beef with the organization, and forfeited tens of millions in Medicaid reimbursements to the Women’s Health Program so they could defund Planned Parenthood clinics without breaking any federal rules governing how states have to spend Medicaid money.
Despite losing its highest-volume providers, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission insists the revamped, wholly state-run and state-funded Women’s Health Program can reshuffle all the displaced patients and keep providing the same levels of care as before. But last October, researchers at George Washington University examined five Texas counties and found that in order to effectively replace Planned Parenthood, other clinics would need to increase their caseloads two to five times.
When we erase the consequences to women in the abortion debate, we end up–intentionally or not–erasing all those consequences. If we allow the debate to be about how many babies or fetuses or embryos are going to be saved, we just don’t talk about what happens to the women. Even when the terrible things that are done to the women in the name of babies/fetuses/embryos have nothing to do with abortion.
This isn’t about winning an argument. It’s not about an abstraction or a philosophical position. This is about real people who suffer real harm and real injuries when we muck this stuff up.
Can we stop doing that already?