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Jul 07 2013

Pregnancy is sacred and women are monsters

There’s this website called The Irish Catholic, where you can read a guy called John Waters explaining how horrible women are. He starts with a little thought experiment by someone else.

‘What is the difference, in human rights terms, between a situation in which a distraught male goes in to his doctor and says that his partner is making him suicidal and that he fears that unless he/she (the doctor) arranges to have the partner killed he will kill himself, and a situation in which a distraught female goes to her doctor and says that her unborn child is making her suicidal and that she fears that unless he/she (the doctor) arranges to have the child killed she will kill herself?”

I received this single-sentence letter last week from a reader, who had sent it out to several newspapers in the previous week, in a fruitless bid to have it published.

The letter is interesting, and the refusal to publish it equally so. But even more interesting is the emotions I intuit it to generate in the average reader, who, if he or she is anything like me, will instantly comprehend why it was not published, and may even be inclined to feel that the intuited reasons for its non-publication are, at the very least, not entirely outrageous. In other words, something about the proposition contained in that sentence seems unreasonable, and this sense of its unreasonableness is probably very widely shared, if not universally held. Even people who consider themselves ‘pro-life’ will stop somewhat short of endorsing the comparison made in the letter, perhaps feeling it to withhold sympathy from the ‘distraught female’ referred to. And yet, if you think that an unborn child is a full human being from the moment of conception, there is no wiggle-room, and no absurdity in the question above, because there can be no moral distinction between the idea of killing an adult woman and killing an unborn child.

No, that’s not “interesting.” None of that is “interesting.” It’s disgusting, but it’s not interesting.

You don’t get to “think” that a fertilized egg is a full human being. You don’t get to “think” that a cat is a dandelion or that a corn muffin is a luxury yacht. You don’t get to think that one thing is a completely different thing. You don’t get to treat obvious nonsense as a reasonable claim. A fertilized egg, even a fertilized human egg, is simply not a full human being. It’s something that will over time develop into a full human being (unless there is a miscarriage or abortion), but that isn’t the same thing as actually being the thing it will develop into. A marigold seed is not a “full” marigold. A newly-laid eagle egg is not a “full” eagle. Catholics don’t get to make up their own ontology just because they’ve been pumped full of dogmatic “beliefs” by a guild of celibate men.

Waters says a lot more and ends up with his explanation of why women seek abortions.

Selfishness 

There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved. In the vast majority of the very limited number of cases in which this is not so, the factors underlying the difficulty usually relate not to objective circumstances but to either intuited societal disapproval or selfishness on the part of the woman involved.

I wonder if John Waters has ever actually met any human beings.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    machintelligence

    Not an original thought, but worth repeating:
    If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

  2. 2
    Forbidden Snowflake

    Aborting a pregnancy that is making you suicidal is not like killing a spouse that is making you suicidal, because with the spouse, unlike with the pregnancy, there are less aggressive ways to get rid of the problem right away.
    Also, selfishness is a perfectly good motivation when it comes to medical procedures. Indeed, it’s the only conceivable motivation for most of them (voluntary altruistic actions like marrow donation or giving birth excepted).

  3. 3
    Corvus illustris

    I wonder if John Waters has ever actually met any human beings.

    Maybe he’ll meet a couple down there in the footnotes to literary history. Waters is a professional Catholic-turned-atheist/agnostic-turned-Catholic-again. He writes about this, and shows up on the RTÉ website occasionally. This sort of thing is not playing as well in Ireland as it once did.

  4. 4
    A. Noyd

    It’s my body, I’m allowed to be selfish with it. And, in fact, it’s because I’m a deeply selfish person that I consider it moral never to have children. Aborted fetuses die, sure, but they don’t suffer for having selfish mothers. Even if they did, it would be brief. But actual children? They’re up for eighteen years or more of suffering.

  5. 5
    Josie74

    WTF! Words fail. Not for long though I’m sure.

  6. 6
    Marie-Thérèse O'Loughlin

    You don’t get to “think” that a fertilized egg is a full human being.

    John Waters in a 2012 Irish Times article on abortion, said: “But there is another unspoken category of overlooked humans here also: the might-have- been fathers of those obliterated children.”

  7. 7
    MrPopularSentiment

    I don’t like the “fetuses aren’t people!” argument, mainly because there just isn’t enough of a difference between a fetus the day before it’s born and the baby the day after its born to warrant so much ado over the distinction. And a fetus does display signs of individual temperament (when my son was born, I was rather shocked by the continuity of his behaviours as a newborn from the behaviours I could feel from him before he was born).

    But the salient issue here is that a man feeling suicidal because of his involvement with his wife can leave. If he can’t leave on his own because she’s some terrible monster keeping him prisoner, she can be arrested, he can be freed, and no one has to die. This is not the case in a pregnancy where separation is not possible without fetal death (unless you’re past the point of viability, obviously, but the number of women who get abortions after the point of viability for reasons that have nothing to do with fetal health is obviously very slim – if it ever happens at all).

  8. 8
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Not an original thought, but worth repeating:
    If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

    It WAS a sacrament, back when women were property.

    See Numbers 5:16-22.

    If the man suspected his property was pregnant due to someone else’s penis, he could take his property to the priest and have him give her a magic potion and say a magic spell. If the baby was not the husband’s baby, the pregnancy would be aborted.

    No doubt that that counted as proof that she was unfaithful, and then could be properly put to death.

  9. 9
    John Henning

    Invariably we reap what we sow. Can a man abort the child support he is paying just because he didn’t want the child? Please accept the consequences of your actions, everyone!

  10. 10
    iknklast

    MrPopularSentiment – congratulations on knocking down a straw man. Ophelia was not arguing about a baby the day before it was born; she actually used the term “fertilized egg”. If you can’t see a difference between a fertilized egg and a newborn baby, you obviously have never seen a fertilized egg. Please don’t muddy the water by pretending that abortions that take place before 24 weeks (the legal cutoff) are aborting the equivalent of a newborn baby.

    And there is one big difference between a fertilized egg (or an embryo) and a baby – one is living inside the woman’s body, depending on her bodily functions. This is a huge distinction.

  11. 11
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved. In the vast majority of the very limited number of cases in which this is not so, the factors underlying the difficulty usually relate not to objective circumstances but to either intuited societal disapproval or selfishness on the part of the woman involved.

    I’m wondering how my selfishness or societal disapproval caused me to vomit up every single food item I ate during the first three months of my second pregnancy. Or the pain like being stabbed whenever the fetus lay in a bad position on the bands.
    And let’s not forget the great joy of tearing halfway up to my asshole while giving birth.
    Maybe it’s just a language issue and all those years I had a very wrong concept of “joy”

  12. 12
    Fiona Hanley

    Ophelia, you must have come across John Waters piece because I linked to it in the blog I sent you. Many thanks for RTing mine. I’m going to link here to my response to him as a fellow Irish Catholic just because it’s worth noting that not all of us think like him. http://datbeardyman.blogspot.ie/

    In fact most Catholics I know in real life are liberals through and through including on abortion. The rightful disgust at horrible views like John Waters has the effect of silencing moderate and liberal Catholics so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the Catholics one sees most online are those obnoxiously orthodox ones who think their faith codifies their instinct to horsetrade in other people’s human rights. The rest are quiet. Horribly embarrassed by people like John Waters and of course unable and unwilling to defend the indefensible.

    People like John Waters make it very difficult for people like me to be Catholic. I read your “Does God Hate Women” piece, it was an extract in Nick Cohen’s book. It struck a huge chord because while my experience of prayer is so real that I could be almost Jungian in certainty, it is that point you expressed so powerfully which yanks me by the nose right back to a practicing agnosticism i.e. that maybe/probably the whole supernatural thing is rubbish, maybe deep meditation just induces a spiritual sublime state during which the brain just tell the self exactly what it wants to hear. That for most people this is a beautiful positive message ‘from God’, but of what God tells some deeply unpleasant people one can only shake one’s head at the obviousness of the hypocrisy and ask “Does God Hate Women?” I had your words in mind when I wrote “For me, no part of being a decent human being and no part of being a Catholic demands that I persecute vulnerable people and make them suffer”. So thanks for that and thanks for forcing me to think.

    I loved Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book because while he’s vicious with religious oppressors he unfailingly makes the distinction between fanatics who use their faith to justify harming others, and religious liberals who are as badly affected by that behaviour as everyone else is. As a Catholic I’m in a better position to bring influence to bear on my fellow Catholics than atheists are but today was my first day back on Twitter. I had to leave in February because the prejudice expressed by atheists towards the religious is rampant and unchecked. Do, do please carry on doing what you’re doing tearing down the intimidators, shit-stirrers and loudmouths of religion. Thank you for all you’ve done so far, it’s amazing. I would love to be a part of that but I can’t, or felt I couldn’t, when so many atheist activists in the liberal internet circles I was in make it clear how much they despise and enjoy belittling people like me. Which when you think about it is not very liberal because freedom of religious expression (nb: as long as it’s not hurting anyone else) is another of the universal human rights it’s not ok to horsetrade in.

    Incidentally John Waters has met another human being. He and musician Sinead O’Connor have a daughter together but are estranged. Sinead is a devout Catholic and an ordained priest (as far as I’m concerned she is a priest). She’s also a survivor of the Magdelene Laundries, the system too awful to go into in detail here of female religious orders who took in Ireland’s ‘problem’ women. She remains one of the first people most singularly responsible for breaking the silence on child abuse within the Catholic church. You may remember this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCOIQOGXOg0

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Fiona, you’re right, that is how I saw the John Waters article, thank you very much for pointing it out to me.

  14. 14
    gwen

    —-There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved.—
    This is the only sentence I agree with, then his reasoning goes to the shits….

  15. 15
    patterson

    “Invariably we reap what we sow”

    What do we reap when we sow idiotic analogies?

  16. 16
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    A fertilized egg, even a fertilized human egg, is simply not a full human being. It’s something that will over time develop into a full human being (unless there is a miscarriage or abortion)

    Even more than that. It’s not just a matter of time. It takes actual work on the pregnant person’s part for that process to result in a human being. Forced birthers often talk as though unless there’s intervention, a baby is magically inevitable, but in fact (and we ought to stress the fact), it takes her intervention, her energy, her body’s resources to construct a human being.

  17. 17
    karmacat

    This man clearly doesn’t understand depression and suicide. If a woman is that suicidal, she will kill herself and the egg/fetus. Mental illnesses can be fatal diseases. It is like telling a woman who is about to have a heart attack, that she can’t do anything to stop it. Bipolar illness can be even more tricky to treat if the woman is pregnant. A few of those medicines can cause serious birth defects. If a woman gets pregnant on Depakote, Lithium or tegretol, she may well have to have an abortion. to make a child suffer spina bifida when you can prevent it is just cruel

  18. 18
    Ophelia Benson

    That is a very good point.

    If the pregnancy is at all dodgy it could take her virtual imprisonment for several weeks.

  19. 19
    dianne

    There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved. In the vast majority of the very limited number of cases in which this is not so…selfishness on the part of the woman involved.

    Wait, what? If pregnancy is always a “source of joy to the woman involved” how is ending a pregnancy selfish? Wouldn’t the more selfish thing be to get pregnant ove and over again, regardless of one’s ability or interest in raising the children that result from the pregnancy? If pregnancy is a “joy” then surely abortion is a selfless act. If “selfish women” end pregnancies, then the pregnancy must not be a source of joy or at least not only a source of joy.

    I’ve been pregnant once. I did it deliberately and for entirely selfish reasons (I wanted a baby) but happy as I am with the kidling, I would never call the PREGNANCY a source of joy. A source of 9 months of unending nausea more like. And life endangering obstructed labor, a lower abdominal scar, and hemorrhoids.

  20. 20
    smrnda

    “There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved. In the vast majority of the very limited number of cases in which this is not so, the factors underlying the difficulty usually relate not to objective circumstances but to either intuited societal disapproval or selfishness on the part of the woman involved.”

    Because a 15 year old rape victim is *totally* being selfish not to want to carry the pregnancy to term and completely change her life around because of something that wasn’t her choice. A woman who already has 2 kids and is barely making it (and, if we’re in the US, can be fired for being pregnant – it happens) is selfish for not undertaking the raising of another child she can’t afford because she already has 2.

    But besides the point, a trick lots of religious people play is to paint any actions where you actually *want one thing and not another* as ‘selfish’ – as if not wanting to be pregnant (which entails a pretty significant risk to the woman involved) is unreasonable. I’ve actually run across Catholics who think that any notion of ‘rights’ is immoral, which tells you what sort of mentality is driving these people.

    I mean, if you want to call *not wanting to be pregnant* selfish, that’s a type of selfishness I think we ought to be entitled to.

  21. 21
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Have you seen the latest horror, from Chile this time? I have no words for my rage.

    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/07/07/2261731/chile-rape-victim-abortion/

  22. 22
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    That man is sullying the good name of John Waters.

    Alethea,
    How can people be so cruel?
    That poor little girl.

  23. 23
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Gwen @14:
    Why do you agree with that sentence?
    Being pregnant is not some magical state of automatic bliss for women. Sure, some enjoy it. Others, such as rape victims impregnated by their rapist often do not. Some women get pregnant accidentally and are financially incapable of supporting a child and dread the thought of bringing one into the world. Some women who get pregnant never desired children.

    There is no universal emotion felt by all women when they get pregnant. To make any such statement ignores the reality of countless women across the world.

  24. 24
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    John Henning @9:
    Ah, so being pregnant…having a child is a ‘consequence’? Your view of children is duly noted. So too is your opinion of women (women better not have sex, or you pay the price; men get off scot free). I find that disgusting.

  25. 25
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Being pregnant is not some magical state of automatic bliss for women.

    This.
    All my pregnancies were wanted, all my children are wanted. But after my first pregnancy failed, the following two were anything BUT joy. Apart from the physical stress it was horrible for me because I was fucking afraid every waking minute that anything would go wrong. The pregnancies were horrible exactly because I wanted a baby.
    And now?
    Having another child would simply be stupid.
    I’m in no position to raise a third one. 18 months of hard work to get my life back on track would be wasted with no chance to ever get it back again. Another pregnancy would probably drive me into full depression and afterwards we’d all be stuck with a life none of us wanted. Not just me and my husband who had some choice in this, but also my two living, breathing children. And not to speak of the child who’d have to grow up in shitty circumstances with the unfair burden of being the one whose existence ruined it for everybody else.

  26. 26
    Morgan

    I imagine Ophelia probably knows this already, but I think it’s worth pointing out that The Irish Catholic isn’t just a website, but the website of a newspaper – though I can’t confirm whether this article appeared in the print version. I find that a little more depressing than if this were simply a blog post or similar.

    dianne @19:

    Wait, what? If pregnancy is always a “source of joy to the woman involved” how is ending a pregnancy selfish? Wouldn’t the more selfish thing be to get pregnant ove and over again, regardless of one’s ability or interest in raising the children that result from the pregnancy? If pregnancy is a “joy” then surely abortion is a selfless act. If “selfish women” end pregnancies, then the pregnancy must not be a source of joy or at least not only a source of joy.

    Ah, but pregnancy is a source of joy precisely because it’s selfless, don’t you know? It’s a woman’s joy to give of herself, and miserly women who selfishly hoard such things as their health, bodily integrity, or lives are short-sightedly closing themselves off to joy.

    …That was meant to be sarcastic but I think I’ve Poe’d myself.

    Personally I’m trying to make sense of:

    There is no reason to assume that a pregnancy ought to be anything other than a source of joy to the woman involved.

    …Who’s assuming anything? I certainly agree that if I run into a pregnant woman on the street, say, there’s no reason to assume her pregnancy is unwanted or that she’s not pleased about it (absent other evidence than the simple fact that she’s pregnant, at least). But what does that have to do with acknowledging that many pregnancies are not, as a matter of simple fact and not assumption, “sources of joy to the women involved”? This seems like another instance of “you pro-choicers just hate babies and think all pregnancies should be terminated!”, much like “why do you feminists hate housewives?”.

  27. 27
    Sili

    Scary but not surprising that a Catholic’s first thought is to have his wife killed rather than consider divorce. Very telling.

  28. 28
    atheist

    ‘What is the difference, in human rights terms, between a situation in which a distraught male goes in to his doctor and says that his partner is making him suicidal and that he fears that unless he/she (the doctor) arranges to have the partner killed he will kill himself, and a situation in which a distraught female goes to her doctor and says that her unborn child is making her suicidal and that she fears that unless he/she (the doctor) arranges to have the child killed she will kill herself?”

    GEOMETRIC LOGIC!

  29. 29
    atheist

    I suppose, if we were to make the mistake of looking at his example rationally, one important difference would be that in the case of them man who wants his partner dead the partner could exist without the man. Whereas in the case of the woman who wants an abortion, her fetus can’t exist without her. Of course it is a mistake to look at his example as anything but a pile of intellectual dog shit inside a burning bag, placed on someone’s front door just before the bell is rung.

  30. 30
    atheist

    Luckily, of course, if this thought-experiment is ever actually published, most normal readers will just think: “What is this craziness?”, and then go back to their business. Mr. Waters is wasting his own time.

  31. 31
    LykeX

    I don’t like the “fetuses aren’t people!” argument, mainly because there just isn’t enough of a difference between a fetus the day before it’s born and the baby the day after its born to warrant so much ado over the distinction

    Nobody is proposing to kill fetuses that are viable. It’s not even an option. The method of abortion in such a case would be an induced birth. You can’t do a D&E with a fetus that large.
    I’m pointing this out because this is a common strategy for anti-choice activists; equivocate between a tiny mass of cells and a fully grown child. They love doing that and we shouldn’t help them.

    Other than that, I agree that the “fetuses aren’t people” argument is problematic, mostly because we’ll have a very hard time convincing those who disagree and it isn’t necessary. I prefer using the bodily rights argument, since that neatly side-steps that tedious discussion. It usually gets bogged down in untestable ideas and “I just believe that”, anyway, so it’s not very productive.

    The simple fact is that, human or not, nobody has the right to use another person’s body without their explicit and ongoing permission. This is a standard which is entirely uncontroversial in every other aspect of life, even if it means your death, so if somebody thinks it shouldn’t apply to pregnancy they need to make an argument for why.

  32. 32
    LykeX

    Hell, it even applies after death. We don’t take people’s organs unless they or their families given consent to it. Not even if another person’s life could be saved by it. We don’t even allow it in cases where the invasion and the risk is obviously less than a pregnancy, e.g. blood donation.

    This is a very firm principle and if they want to ignore it in cases of pregnancy, they’ll have to give a very solid argument for why. I’ve never heard any.

  33. 33
    hypatiasdaughter

    As noted above, normal healthy wanted pregnancies and births can be painful and unpleasant.
    But a fair number of pregnancies aren’t normal and healthy. They cause serious, sometimes fatal illnesses, in the women.
    People like Waters don’t even think twice that a body part, such as a heart or even teeth, can go bad and need radical invasive treatment to preserve health or save life.
    But they create this fantasy that pregnancy is an idealized biological phenomena that never comes with inherent risks of failing and putting a woman’s life at risk.

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