First, before I get into any of what is going to be a very long story: we have a podcast on the topic of abortion, later on today, in which I’ll be participating (and probably telling a much briefer version of this story). If you’re free then, please watch the livestream and ask questions! For those who don’t get to watch it live, the recording will remain up at that link.
On to the post.
I’ve mentioned before that, in my late teens, I was strongly pro-life – as in, anti-abortion – for about a year and a half, eventually changing my mind and becoming pro-choice. That’s a story I’ve been meaning for a long time to tell, and so I’m going to tell it now.
Some thoughts first:
This is a really long post, but after thought I decided to leave it as a single post rather than splitting it up. Thanks in advance to anyone who chooses to read it all.
A quick note on terminology: I will mostly be using the term ‘pro-life’ for the anti-abortion position. I’m extremely well aware that there are many anti-abortionists for whom this term is hideously inappropriate, but there are also a lot of anti-abortionists who genuinely hold that position because they care about fetal life, and I was one of them. Also, although there are good reasons to use the term ‘pregnant people’ rather than ‘pregnant women’, I’m writing about my views back in the ’80s when awareness of transgender issues was vastly behind where it is now; as such, I use the term ‘pregnant women’ throughout because it represents the language I used at the time when thinking about the issue. Finally, since I’ll be talking about my former pro-life views I will sometimes be using the phrase ‘unborn babies’ because, again, that was how I thought at the time.
Finally, you guys are good at keeping it civil and respectful in comments. Keep that up! As always, I will enforce if needed. Feel free to ask anything you want about my beliefs then or my beliefs now; but keep it polite. Thank you.
How I became pro-life
“Sarah, I HOPE,” my classmate declared, appearing in front of me, “that when you’re a doctor you’re not going to be one of the ones that KILLS POOR LITTLE UNBORN BABIES.”
“Er…” I said, or something equally articulate. It was first thing on a schoolday morning and I’d just walked into the Upper Sixth common room, thinking about homework or Venture Scouts or whatever I thought about in the mornings; whatever it was, it probably hadn’t been the upcoming school debate on abortion. But two of my classmates (both Catholic, although that wouldn’t occur to me until much later) had taken the opportunity to go for full-on pro-life campaigning, so next thing I knew I was sitting down and reading through a stack of leaflets.
It was early 1988, two decades after abortion was broadly but not universally legalised in the UK by the 1967 Abortion Act, and I was seventeen. Like many people, I hadn’t previously had a definite opinion one way or the other on abortion beyond “it’s complicated”. I could see that unwanted pregnancies could make life really difficult for women, and didn’t know how best to balance that against vague ideas that ‘killing unborn babies’ was not a great thing. This was the first time I’d read all-out arguments for one side.
I read the fetal development screeds, with their heavy emphasis on the cuteness and fingers and toes. I read the arguments as to why each human life started at conception and was thereafter a continuum with no logical place after conception where a line could be drawn. I read the scare lists of horrible risks and side-effects. I read the claims about how easy, how obvious a solution, it was for women with unwanted pregnancies just to put their babies up for adoption by a couple from the queue of couples desperately longing to be parents. I read the whole kit and caboodle of arguments aimed at simultaneously appealing to and bypassing my sense of logic. Naive and unfamiliar with the tricks of propaganda, I was a pushover.
Despite my classmate’s best efforts at passing the same leaflets round the debate audience, the pro-life side lost resoundingly (51 – 13, according to the diary I kept sporadically at the time), but she’d made at least one convert; I was utterly convinced.
What happened next
Well, next I pretty much forgot about it for a while.
I had plenty of other stuff on my mind; my A-levels coming up that summer, the ongoing worry over whether I should convert to Christianity/Judaism/neither, the ongoing stress of being an insecure social misfit despite my best efforts. Then, on one of my regular bookshop browses, I came across a book called ‘Two Million Silent Killings’, which, as you can possibly deduce from the subtle clue in the title, was a virulently anti-abortion book. It all came flooding back. The unborn babies being killed! In horrible ways! With alarming-sounding risks to the pregnant woman! When clearly it would be easy and straightforward to instead have those babies adopted! The logical arguments in favour of life starting at conception! I think the phrase we’re looking for here is ‘hook, line, and sinker’. I was a committed, hardcore, no-exceptions-except-for-life-of-the-mother pro-lifer.
Fortunately, I never got round to doing anything practical about this; it never occurred to me to join a pro-life group or do any campaigning. Instead, my new interest manifested itself in hate-reading anything I could find on the pro-choice side so that I could think smugly about how wrong they were; I diligently checked every feminist book I found (quite a lot) to see what each one had to say about abortion. Unfortunately, every author I read took their readership’s pro-choice beliefs so much for granted that it didn’t occur to any of them to debunk any of the claims from the anti-abortion movement. My smug Sense Of Rightness was fueled further; clearly they didn’t know what they were talking about, and I was entirely correct to continue as a pro-lifer.
However, over the course of the next however-long-it-was between me reading ‘Two Million
Vocal Attempts At Blatant Propaganda Silent Killings’ and the summer of 1989, various things happened that… didn’t alter my view, but certainly rocked it somewhat. I can’t remember in what order they happened, so I’m just going to list them, and the order might or might not be correct. None of them changed my mind at the time, but, looking back, all of them contributed.
The multiple choice book
One of our neighbours was a GP who, enthusiastic about my plans to go to medical school, gave me some of her old textbooks, including a book of practice multiple choice questions for medical students. It was in a different format from the O-level and A-level multiple choice papers I’d done before; instead of a choice of five answers, the book presented a series of statements that had to be marked as true or false. The other side of each page listed the answers, with a brief explanation of each.
I flipped it open for a look. Most of the questions made no sense whatsoever to me at this pre-medical-school stage, when even the parts that weren’t literally Greek to me were very much metaphorically so. However, one caught my eye, because it was about abortion. The statement that had to be marked ‘true’ or ‘false’ was that early abortion carried lower maternal risk than a full-term pregnancy.
OK, that had my attention; I turned over the page to check out the answer. ‘True’, the book stated. The explanatory line informed me that the risks of a full-term pregnancy were always higher than the risks of early abortion.
I had, of course, read all the scary things the pro-life books had to say on the risks associated with abortion. It hadn’t occurred to me until this moment that they hadn’t had anything to say about how these compared to the risks of not having an abortion. And now I realised that they hadn’t directly lied (well, actually, knowing everything I’ve learned since then about the level of dishonesty in anti-abortion propaganda they probably had, but I didn’t know that then)… but they had deliberately left out an important part that significantly changed the interpretation of this particular information.
It was, I think, my first encounter with the way that propaganda can mislead you. While it didn’t change my mind, it did make me realise that things weren’t quite as clearcut as I’d thought. And it made me realise that I hadn’t been told the whole truth.
One thing that had been stressed in the pro-life arguments I read was the folly of declaring abortion all right up to a certain point and then illegal after that. How could viability be a logical reason for drawing a line? Or birth? Or any other stage of fetal development? The only logical place to draw a line, they assured me, was conception. If we drew a line at any place not backed up by solid reasoning, then what was to stop a series of slippery slopes moving it further and further out until it was five minutes before birth, then five minutes after birth, then a free-for-all on infanticide and probably wholesale murder of any other groups society found inconvenient as well? The logic was unassailable; it convinced me completely.
Until one day, apropos of nothing much, I thought “So… when is this supposed to be happening, then?”
I realised that abortion had, by that point, been legal in the UK for over twenty years. That seemed like more than ample time for the slippery slope effect to kick in. By now, surely the limit ought to have edged out at least to the infamous Five Minutes Before Birth point, with campaigning mobs all ready to push it that last step of the way into infanticide. What was actually happening, however, was that we still had exactly the same time limit as we’d had back in 1967, with a distinct lack of anyone marching up the local streets demanding that it be changed.
I was quite confused by this; after all, the pro-life argument as to why this extension of time limits would happen seemed utterly watertight. But I couldn’t really dispute the fact that it clearly wasn’t happening. The hypothetical future I’d been taught to fear came smack up against reality, and that’s an encounter in which reality holds the trump card.
If you’ve read many pro-life arguments, you get familiar with detailed descriptions of embryonic/fetal development that put a lot of emphasis on the cuteness aspect. They would always take care to mention just when the fingers and toes would develop, and how early this was. I didn’t think to ask what the hell fingers and toes had to do with the right to life. But I wasn’t meant to, was I? I was meant to absorb the whole description in a general haze of adoration for the cuteness/lifeworthiness of the fetus, and I did that just fine.
Until I started thinking about what it would be like to be in the very early weeks of an unwanted pregnancy, and my mental spool of all those compelling developmental features faltered. While there’s plenty of developmental stuff going on in the earliest weeks after conception, it isn’t the kind of stuff that bypasses logic to grab straight onto emotions in the same way that the fingers-and-toes screeds do. (Let’s face it: ‘formation of the neural tube and branchial arches’ just doesn’t seize the heartstrings in the same way.) Thinking about a creature that didn’t yet have such basics as a properly-formed face or brain… well, it was harder to find justification for the idea that a woman at that stage of pregnancy shouldn’t have an abortion at any cost.
I still believed it, mind you. After all, I reasoned (or the anti-abortion arguments in my brain reasoned for me), if you don’t draw the line at conception, where do you draw it? There are no other clear and logical lines in development. I thought of it as the Sherlock Holmes argument; however improbable it was that an embryo should be treated as a human with rights from the one-cell stage onwards, it was impossible to find any other clear lines to draw. It just didn’t feel as obvious as it once had.
‘Benefits‘ is a feminist novel by Zoe Fairbairns, written back in… goodness, 1979. I recall it as being a pretty good novel, but what’s relevant here is one specific line; I can’t remember the exact wording, but when the protagonist is thinking about her reasons for not wanting an abortion if she finds she’s pregnant, there is a passing mention that she’s read all the anti-abortion propaganda with the pictures of dead fetuses and it leaves her cold.
That startled me. Up until that point, I’d assumed that the reason people were pro-choice was because of general ignorance on the subject of fetal development. Surely they just hadn’t read the arguments against abortion and would change their minds if they did? But here was an author describing someone who hadn’t reacted that way at all (yes, this was a fictional character, but the author clearly thought this viewpoint was realistic). That must mean that there were people out there who’d read pro-life arguments and didn’t find them convincing. While I still didn’t fall into that category or understand people who did, it did seem to indicate that the arguments weren’t quite as unassailable as I’d thought.
The kidney analogy
Which is, of course, now something of a cliché, but was a new thought to me when it first occurred to me. I was thinking about the issue and realised that a pretty close analogy to abortion was being required to donate an organ in order to keep someone else alive; hard on the heels of that, I realised that that analogy didn’t really come out on the side I’d wanted it to. We don’t expect people to donate organs to keep other people alive, because we accept that the right of people to make important decisions about what does and does get done to their own body is so fundamental that it even outweighs the obligation to keep others alive. I’m sure my mental phrasing at the time was less eloquent, but I definitely recognised, in that moment, that kidney donation wasn’t compulsory and that there was a rather worrying contradiction between that and my views on abortion.
Maybe I’m projecting back… but I do have a clear memory of pausing and thinking “Now what do I do with this one?” Because it was comfortable, having at least one issue in a confusing life on which my mind was made up and I knew which side I was on. I’d thought about it! I’d read about it! The arguments were clear! And I didn’t quite know how to cope with the idea of changing my mind or accepting I’d been wrong about something of which I felt so comfortably sure. So, in a classic case of cognitive dissonance, I shelved it and moved on.
How the hell did I find out about Operation Rescue? I have a clear memory of reading collated photocopies of articles about them, stapled together into makeshift booklets; I just don’t remember where I got the articles from. Maybe I’m lumping two memories together and the booklets came from later on, after I’d changed sides and joined a pro-choice group; yes, that’s more plausible, now that I think about it. But how did I find out about Operation Rescue back in my pro-life days? Oh, well, my parents have always subscribed to the Guardian (moderately left-wing UK broadsheet), the paper probably ran an article on the subject which caught my eye.
Anyway, however it happened, I remember that at some point during my pro-life days I learned about Operation Rescue, the US anti-abortion group that got, um… proactive about their beliefs. Actually, looking back, what I learned was a strongly edited version. I’m not sure whether the rose-coloured glasses came from whatever my source was or from me, but somehow or other I came away with the message that, apart from the occasional shooting or firebombing which I successfully rationalised to myself as being the work of a few nonrepresentative extremists, their regular activities consisted of stopping women outside abortion clinics for polite discussions about why abortion was wrong.
Which… seemed like it should be a good thing, surely? Giving women the information to help them make decisions? Explaining to them what abortion was really all about before they made the decision to have one? Why did the thought make me feel so uneasy?
I realised that, however good I felt about my reasons for being against abortion when the whole subject was comfortably theoretical, it felt distinctly different to think about taking the argument to actual women who would be struggling with actual problems as a result of being pregnant. And this time the issue wasn’t something I could just push aside, because of my future career plans.
Those future career plans
Under British law, abortion is only legal if two doctors agree that the woman fits at least one of a list of criteria. Since the criteria in question are broad enough that in practice they cover everything short of the mythical third-trimester-abortion-for-convenience that never actually happens outside the minds and propaganda of pro-lifers, it’s easy, in practice, for a sympathetic doctor to authorise an abortion whatever the details behind the request; on the other hand, it has also been rather too easy for a doctor opposed to abortion to stall a request. These days, the NHS avoids that problem by commissioning services from clinics run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who will allow people to self-refer; as far as I know (though I’m open to correction), this applies across the UK, meaning that no-one has to go via their own GP at all. However, this wasn’t the case back in the ’80s. Unless a woman could afford to go to a clinic privately, she would have to get referred by her GP to a gynaecologist who would also have to agree, and so an anti-abortion doctor had quite a lot of scope for making things difficult.
And I’d applied for medical school. I was planning to become a doctor, and I anticipated (correctly, as it happened) that there was a fair chance I would want to be either a gynaecologist or a GP. I was going to be in a position of deciding whether requests for abortion should or shouldn’t be granted.
So, once Operation Rescue had got me thinking about the morality of trying to talk women out of abortions, I found myself thinking about how this particular aspect of my chosen career was going to work in practice. I would be in the position of deciding for a woman that she had to stay pregnant, while both she and I knew damn well that I wouldn’t have to take any further responsibility for her problems the moment she walked out of the door, that she was the one who’d be lumbered with all the consequences of that pregnancy. I believed, logically, that stopping abortions was what I should be doing, the right thing to do… so why did this prospect feel so wrong?
And this was where I was up to by the summer of 1989.
The turning point
Just after I turned 19, I holidayed in the US, and the reading material on the plane was some sort of news magazine. Topic: abortion.
If anyone has any idea what magazine this could have been, by the way, I’d love to know; I checked out the covers of Time magazine back issues and it doesn’t seem to be any of them. It would have been in July or August of 1989, and the cover showed a pro-lifer at a march, holding up a sign that said “Unborn women have rights too: Baby had no choice!” I remember that cover, all right, because it summed up everything I felt about being pro-life. I felt my shaken beliefs rise up and rally one last time. Yes! Of course unborn babies had a right to life that trumped everything else! Of course abortion was wrong! How could I doubt it?
Then I opened the magazine and read one of the stories in it.
It was a first-person story by a woman who’d had an abortion in a clinic picketed by Operation Rescue. She’d become pregnant when she and her boyfriend were both students and in no position to be able to take care of a baby, and, although she’d have liked to give birth and give the baby up for adoption, there was a further problem; she was taking lithium, which has a high chance of causing cardiac abnormalities in a developing fetus. She knew that babies with disabilities, unlike healthy babies, were unlikely to be adopted. This was the first time I could remember seeing anyone address the ‘why don’t women just have their babies adopted?’ argument, and, because I hadn’t at the time been able to work out for myself why giving away a baby after nine months of pregnancy might feel impossible or why even going through pregnancy and birth might in many cases be too much of a burden, this argument had always been one of the trump cards that had kept me believing. But here was the story of someone who’d thought about that route and couldn’t do it.
I read how she felt when she found out about the protestors picketing the clinic; not only was she going to have to have an abortion when in better circumstances she’d have wanted to proceed with the pregnancy, but she was going to have to run a gauntlet of people screaming and ranting at her while she did it. I read how upsetting it was for her to hear a protester shouting “Why don’t you just have your baby adopted?” when she would have loved to do just that, had it been a feasible option for her. I read what she said about the other clinic patients; about the irony of protestors screaming “Don’t punish a child for the sins of its parents!” when one of the patients was a twelve-year-old whose pregnancy might have been the result of rape by her own father, about another patient muttering “Are they going to take care of this baby for me so that I can go to college, then?”
I don’t remember the rest of the story. I just remember recognising that that was it; I could no longer support the idea of trying to stop women from getting abortions. The wobbling needle finally swung round the full one hundred and eighty degrees. I was pro-choice.
All of this had a couple of lasting effects on me besides, of course, the fact that I was henceforward pro-choice with the passion of a convert (a convert who tended to get pretty passionate about things even without the ‘convert’ factor).
Firstly, I’d learned the extremely valuable lesson that, even when a group’s arguments sound superficially convincing, it’s still worth hearing the other side before you make your mind up. (This was one of the things that would, later, save me from falling for creationist propaganda.)
And secondly, I’d learned that it’s possible for people to hold a completely opposing position for entirely well-meant, even if utterly misguided, reasons. And this plays a large part in my lifelong commitment to keeping discussion civil (well, all right, sometimes snarky, but my aim is to avoid stooping to insults or ridicule) and to explaining why arguments are bad or inaccurate instead of just trying to be the person who yells the loudest. I fully accept that in most situations this just isn’t going to work and that there need to be a lot of people out there who do keep yelling loudly, or equivalent. And I’ve learned that, in individual situations, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away and not engage. But I think there’s an important place for people who say “This is why I disagree with what you say” and take the time to explain why.
I hope this post has gone some way towards doing that with this particular issue, and I’m happy to keep doing the same in the comments. If you made it this far, then thank you for reading.
Pierce R. Butler says
I often like to call anti-choicers by the old anti-communist libel: “Well-meaning dupes of a sinister international conspiracy.”
Very nice article. Thanks for posting it. I do identify with some of your descriptions of youthful smugness and passion. 🙂 I don’t think I was ever anti-abortion (though I had a brief proselytizing phase of Christianity that makes me wince). Still, in art class, when we were making linoleum print blocks, I made a “Choose Life” one. Oh dear, I had no idea that was a forced-birther slogan. I thought it was an anti-suicide message! smh Well, I suppose my heart was in the right place.
Have you noticed that (at least in the USA), the most anti-choice people are men who will never have to risk their health and even their very lives in pregnancy and childbirth?
It is very interesting to hear from someone who went through such a journey. Abortion was legalized in Israel in 1977 when I was 11, and that was when I became aware of it – so I got exposed to the debate as it was happening. I remember hearing over the radio a woman reading a ‘diary of a fetus’ where the protagonist described how fun it was to grow and develop in the womb, until the shocking moment when they found out their parents wanted to murder them. It felt so over the top to 11 year old me I could never take the anti-abortion position seriously. It was very easy for me to empathize with people who were pregnant when they did not want to be so – pregnancy was something I feared, and there appeared to be just so many stories in the news and in literature about the poor outcomes of ill-timed pregnancy, whereas the idea of empathizing with a fetus felt ridiculous.
in retrospect, I think I may have had a somewhat anomalous childhood…
I grew up in a really conservative, rural, homogeneous, area (long before access to the internet was easily available, let alone common). I was raised Roman Catholic (it didn’t take…). I also really liked dinosaurs, slightly before they were generally widely popular, so I ended up reading about them in books aimed at adults. And in the process, got a pretty early exposure to things like the concept of evolution, natural selection, plate tectonics, age of the earth, and even a bit of really simple cosmology.
Anyways… so, back to the being raised Roman Cahtolic thing, I just accepted a lot of what I was told, and tried to be a good little kid. I was told that abortion “killed babies”, and that it was bad, and that was about it, and not being terribly interested in the subject, just accepted that “killing babies” was bad, and considered myself “pro-life” when the topic came up…
I think it was sometime in middle school (age ~11-14? I think?), we covered “debates” in some class or other, and had to pick a controversial topic. I think the big, common, ones were abortion, the death penalty, and gun control? (I dunno, it was a long time ago…). For whatever reason, I settled on the topic of abortion. Part of the assignment was to read up on opposing viewpoints, and build counterarguments against them.
And, for the first time in my life, I read about coathangers… And immediately did a 180. Changed my stance from “pro-life” to pro-choice, literally overnight. Rewrote my arguments and everything. Still considered myself Roman Catholic (even went through Confirmation (while thinking I was too young for it…)), despite getting kicked out of Sunday School repeatedly, until my mid/late teens, when I was old enough to just start skipping it. Although it wasn’t until college that I decided I wasn’t Roman Catholic anymore, and a few years more before I decided I wasn’t merely “no religious preference” or “not religious” to recognizing I was atheist.
But, yeah, in the following years, aside from recognizing how harmful to women bans on abortion were, I also began to realize that the same people who opposed abortion, also tended to oppose the best things to prevent the need for abortion – stuff like comprehensive sex ed, or easy access to contraceptives. And that’s when I started to pivot to the camp that generally viewed those trying to ban abortion as being not concerned about abortion itself, but more about controlling and punishing women.
And, in later biology courses, I learned about how their is a very large amount of instances of conception produce non-viable zygotes, and are spontaneously aborted so early as to not even be detectable by most people.
At some point, probably a good decade or two after my initial realization and conversion to the pro-choice stance, I ran across the argument for bodily autonomy, explained via scenarios with forced organ transplants or blood transfusions, and how that’s not even allowed when the donor is already dead, even if they were the direct reason for the the recipient to need an organ transplant (granted, this is a very unlikely hypothetical, but I think it serves as a decent though experiment, and as a way to explain and explore the rights involved), like if the proposed donor was driving drunk and caused a collision requiring an occupant in the car they struck to need a blood transfusion…)
And later, I had a friend and coworker talk to me about their ectopic pregnancy, and the harassment they endured, just to get a diagnosis, prescription, and fulfill that prescription to save their life, all because a bunch of misogynists and religious nutjobs are more interested in punishing women’s sexuality than in actually saving lives or caring for children.
started at “killing babies is bad”, read about coathangers, switched to abortion is maybe not good, but women dying is worse, realized the hypocrisy, slid further left to holding the stance that those against abortion are really more interesting in punishing/controlling/oppressing women, and then later embraced the bodily autonomy argument (and can anyone really have any rights, if they don’t have a right to bodily autonomy?)
I really appreciate hearing these stories. Thank you.
For me, I don’t remember ever being anti-abortion. It just never came up as an option.
I do have a story though.
My mother developed pre-eclampsia at week 34 of her pregnancy with me, and was rapidly becoming septic. So I was delivered by emergency caesarian and given a 50/50 chance of surviving while they were told that she would survive if I could be delivered right then.
So, you could say that, given the year and the location, I was a late-stage abortion, because 34 weeks was barely viable there, then (1968).
My mother was told that she should never become pregnant again, but was refused an hysterectomy (by men).
I am very happy that they chose the emergency caesarian. It would have been devastating to my father and my two older brothers (then 5 and 3) if his wife and their mother had died because of the complications experienced during my gestation.
Had I died that day their loss would have been far less traumatic than also losing a wife and mother.
My mother is still alive. To my knowledge she never became pregnant again, but being an atheist family, the choice to abort, while no less difficult a decision to make, would have been the only correct one for her to make and my father to agree.
And, yes, I have ‘fathered’ an aborted pregnancy. Many years ago when a child would have been a disaster for my then girlfriend and I. She made the right choice. I supported her decision then and would again now. It was not easy for her to make (she was raised a catholic – incidentally her catholic father had undergone a vasectomy during her early teens, the cheeky devil!) . But she went on to have two children, as did I (not the same two children mind). Sadly she died of cancer when her children were 12 and 9.
Slightly OT, but my lovely partner (mother of our two) has suffered debilitating endometriosis all her life. The only times she was free of the agony was during pregnancy. So, after laparoscopic investigation and diagnosis, she was offered a slow-release IUD which led to almost complete aleviation of her suffering. She does not use it for contraception. I had a vasectomy instead as it seemed the only fair approach. .
Where I grew up, it was the fundagelicals/Southern Baptists/Evangelical Lutherans who ran around screaming about the “babies” (at 12 weeks when 99% of all abortions are performed, it’s not a baby) and yelling vicious names and threats at the women who wanted bodily autonomy (so–pro-life, not so much).
As a child, I knew a woman who died in childbirth. Mormon, had 8 kids, died giving birth to the 9th. That day filled me such horror that once I learned there was a way to avoid that, I was all for giving women that option. There are just so many horrible ways a pregnancy can go wrong, and forcing someone who never wanted to be pregnant to risk their life doing it seems like it would be against the Geneva Convention.
Thank you. Everything is more complicated than it first appears. I take the “safe, legal and rare” approach, which satisfies neither extreme, but satisfies me.
Raging Bee says
I know that would never satisfy the forced-birth extreme, but why wouldn’t it satisfy anyone on the pro-choice end?
Forced birthers are still pushing the slippery slope argument, after all these years. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana asked Dr. Yashica Robinson of the Alabama Women’s Wellness center if she would approve an abortion if “the child was halfway out of the birth canal”. Robinson replied that that was beyond her comprehension and she had never faced such a situation.
Jim Balter says
“there are also a lot of anti-abortionists who genuinely hold that position because they care about fetal life”
Your own story says otherwise:
“I read the claims about how easy, how obvious a solution, it was for women with unwanted pregnancies just to put their babies up for adoption by a couple from the queue of couples desperately longing to be parents. I read the whole kit and caboodle of arguments aimed at simultaneously appealing to and bypassing my sense of logic. Naive and unfamiliar with the tricks of propaganda, I was a pushover.”
No one “genuinely” accepts these arguments without question.
“my new interest manifested itself in hate-reading anything I could find on the pro-choice side so that I could think smugly about how wrong they were”
There’s nothing “genuine” about such behavior.
“I diligently checked every feminist book I found (quite a lot) to see what each one had to say about abortion. Unfortunately, every author I read took their readership’s pro-choice beliefs so much for granted that it didn’t occur to any of them to debunk any of the claims from the anti-abortion movement. ”
a) This simply isn’t true and
b) It’s a blatant ungenuine double standard … compare to “I had, of course, read all the scary things the pro-life books had to say on the risks associated with abortion. It hadn’t occurred to me until this moment that they hadn’t had anything to say about how these compared to the risks of not having an abortion. ”
The forced birth movement is rooted in intellectual dishonesty (much of which is inherited from religion).
“The logic [of the slippery slope fallacy] was unassailable; it convinced me completely.”
Ok, also an inability to reason. There are people who are *genuinely* cognitively inept … but it still takes intellectual dishonesty to cross the line. But somewhere in there you had a core of intellectual integrity that pushed its way to the surface … kudos for that.
Jim Balter says
“I take the “safe, legal and rare” approach, which satisfies neither extreme, but satisfies me.”
There’s only one “extreme”, and that is the forced birth position that favors criminalization of women and doctors. There isn’t a pro-choice person on the planet who isn’t satisfied by “safe, legal and rare”.
Selling abortion can only be done on an emotional level, NOT on a moral level, NOT on a rational level.
Geeky Humanist admits her essay is long and the essay has to be long for she needs to lead the reader into the rabbit hole. The rabbit tunnel has to long enough, tortuous enough to increase the change that the reader may lose its rational bearings, may lose its moral bearings. Think Alice in Wonderland.
Feelings are more important than morality. The essay used “feel” 5 times amd “morality” once as in “morality of trying to talk women out of abortions”. It is moral to try to talk women out of abortions. The life of an unborn human is at stake. Geeky Humanist makes a big deal about being a GP (medical doctor) and – yet – does not mention once the “hippocratic oath” on the issue of abortion. First, do no harm. No harm to all humans. No harm to any human. Dr Mengele was a medical doctor who rejected the hippocratic oath.
Geeky Humanist shows shallow reasoning. She writes “…made no sense whatsoever…” when she should be writing “…that I do not understand…”. Empathy without understanding leads to foolishness, often leading to consequent evil.
Geeky Humanist is a bit imprecise. What are the “…scary things the pro-life books…”? What is the nature of “…dishonesty in anti-abortion propaganda…”? She does not say.
Geeky Humanist makes a point that the death rate from abortion is less than the death rate from childbirth. Absolutely true for the mother. Absolutely false for the child for the death rate from abortion is 99.9% for the child. Geeky Humanist might as well recommend not saving a drowning person for the death rate from the rescue attempt is greater than from doing nothing at all. She is also advocating abortion on economic grounds for abortion is cheaper – timewise, moneywise – than maternal care. Geeky Humanist might as well recommend fathers to abandon their families since being a deadbeat father is cheaper than being a responsible father. An appeal to abortion is an appeal for irresponsibility, for egocentrism, for self-indulgence.
Geeky Humanist seem to have lived a sheltered life. She gets emotionally tied-up in the distressing accounts by some patients, not knowing that there are many others in similar circumstances who did not go the abortion route. Yes, the abortion-seeking patients have problems to a certain degree. Problems nonetheless. Mother Teresa on abortion: “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”
Geeky Humanist does not spend much time on morality. Just because something is legal does not make it moral. Cultures of death embrace abortion. Cultures of life reject abortion. Jonathan Haidt (NYU prof) did a study on the 5 pillars of morality and surveyed many people in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia. Those who self-identified as liberal embrace 3 of the 5 pillars (and it is the same 3, irrespective of continent). Those who self-identified as conservative embrace all 5 pillars. Morality has 2 components: personal and societal. The dehumanization of the child by the abortion advocates display the absence of social morality in said abortion advocates.
Morality is based on feelings — and/or the lack of feelings.
Well, that’s how you, personally, feel. But your feelings are based on an indifference to the feelings of the one who has to actually experience the consequences.
And how is that not an appeal to feelings?
Even outside the case of abortion, sometimes doctors do have to weigh the life of one set of human cells over another set of human cells. The human cells in a cancerous tumor over the human person they are inside of. The damaged human cells in a limb over the human person they are attached to.
Or, more tragically, the actual case of one fully born conjoined twin over their sibling. Post-birth triage is an actual thing.
Poisoning the well and guilt by association are methods of argumentation based on feelings.
Yes, like demanding that raped children be mothers to the babies of rapists. Or denying people medication that they need because it is merely possible for that medication to be used to cause abortion.
Or forcing people to gestate any embryo until it kills them and the fetus (ectopic pregnancy).
Or forcing people to gestate any embryo even in a normal pregnancy, which still has a chance of killing them.
Equating a fertilized egg or an embryo or even an early fetus with a child is an argument based on feelings.
To the best of my knowledge, no-one forces an untrained person to perform a rescue. Even a trained person failing to perform a rescue isn’t held criminally liable.
Your feelings are preventing you from coming up with a better analogy.
I just skimmed the article, and didn’t see that particular argument. Are you sure your feelings didn’t cause you to make that up?
Your feelings are causing you to make up a gross distortion. However, even if the above were true, doesn’t that mean that such a person would be a bad parent, and should not be bearing children anyway?
Mother Teresa actually approved of poverty, in other people.
I’m sure that Mother Teresa would have approved of deaths from ectopic pregnancy or other complications, or of bearing a rapist’s child, as long as the pregnancy was not her own (hypocrisy was very much her thing).
Or rather, the humanization of embryos and fetuses by forced-birth advocates displays the absence of social morality in said forced-birth advocates.
Raging Bee says
I see friedfish is using word-counts to judge the content of the OP, instead of actually dealing with what the OP said. No, little fish, the number of times the word “moral” or “morality” is used do not automagically mean the author is amoral. (What’s the minimum number of times the word should have appeared?) Did you also use word-counts to “prove” that Donald Trump can never be called a racist?
Because, yes, GH’s position here is about morality: specifically, the [im]morality of stripping women of their most basic rights in favor of nonsentient clumps of cells that are nowhere near being actual persons. Seriously, can you really address the specific harms done to women by abortion bans and say such treatment is in any way “moral?”
Raging Bee says
Mother Teresa on abortion: “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”
First, Mother Teresa was a sadistic religious fanatic who glorified the suffering of dying poor people as some sort of wunnerful gift from God, and left them to die in crappy hospitals while buggering off to REAL hospitals to address her own medical needs.
And second, is is “poverty” to decide that a tiny clump of nonsentient cells must die so the fully-formed, sentient and responsible woman carrying it may live AT ALL?
Raging Bee says
The dehumanization of the responsible adult woman by the forced-birth advocates displays the absence of social morality in said forced-birth advocates.
Raging Bee says
Geeky Humanist might as well recommend not saving a drowning person for the death rate from the rescue attempt is greater than from doing nothing at all.
This analogy fails because the drowning person is not inside the body of the rescuer.
Jim Balter #12:
Unless my reading comprehension has failed me badly, Dr Sarah is describing how her views changed about a particular topic as she acquired access to more information about it. And how she came to recognize that some early points she’d taken as a given were quite effectively countered and contradicted by information she learned later. Your suggestion that she’s not being genuine would only make sense if she had all the information she acquires by the end, but the tale is really about the journey to get that information and process it.
I don’t mean this as a big criticism or anything. It just feels to me like taking that stance with someone could discourage them from continuing to move toward your side of an issue. It doesn’t seem like good advocacy.
I think I personally started in the anti-abortion camp because I grew up with very conservative parents who sent me to Catholic schools for all of grade school and highschool. I’m not sure if I ever heard the argument about forced organ donation when I was learning about this topic and changing my mind around 17-20ish (don’t recall exactly).
What compelled me to change my mind were a handful of things.
First, learning to view it as something that happened in the real world with all the mess that entails rather than some vague thought experiment. The idea that a rapist would have the implied right to force you to have their child was not a concept I was prepared to accept on any level, in any variation.
Second, I had friends who I could have intellectual conversations with. We didn’t always agree but one of the concepts they caused me to really think about involved laws and governments. Between that, reading about it in news stories (probably opinion pieces), and growing up with very authoritarian parents, I came to realize laws are a blunt instrument. They are not surgical. If you do not allow for extraneous circumstances to affect enforcement, you can easily have well meaning laws that cause grave injustices to happen.
An example of that would be if we looked at murder in the same simplistic way anti-abortion legislation looks at abortion procedures (comparisons in parentheses). Self-defense would in theory be a viable defense everywhere but in practice it would vary widely. Some states would not let you testify that you acted in self-defense because legislators would just assume you will lie about it long befeore your incident even happens (no rape/incest exceptions). In some states the police would not intervene because they could be held liable if they do and something doesn’t go quite right (abortion ban with exception for health of the mother). Which would greatly increase your risk of dying or bad outcomes. In some states tasers and mace would be seen as great non-lethal methods of protecting yourself while in others you might be criminally liable for using them on your would-be murderer (outlawing IUDs, abortion pills, or fertility treatments that may involve multiple fertilized eggs). Some states would allow your friends to be sued by anyone in their state, with the sole exception of your would-be murderer, for having anything to do with you acquiring mace or a taser to defend yourself (Texas civil suit law).
Our current legal system is very imperfect and has widely known limitations and flaws. But if you compare how it actually works, where a judge or jury have the leeway to decide your case based on your specific circumstances? It is vastly superior to the sketch outlined above. If you prefer our current murder laws you are supporting the exact same thought processes that justify access to abortion with legal guidelines but primarily between a doctor and patient. If you want to argue that a fetus isn’t trying to kill you, think of it as assault and battery instead. If you want to argue that a fetus isn’t trying to beat you up either, please look at the effects of pregnancy on women and consider its intent to be born will have an effect on the mother, its host.
Ultimately I don’t think the anti-abortion groups are being at all honest. If they wanted less abortions to happen, they know how to do something about that and support the children they say they care about: campaign for better access to healthcare. Push for measures that reduce child poverty like school meal programs, government funded daycare and bigger child tax credits. Data on why people get abortions has been available for decades and finances are a significant factor. But the supposedly pro-life groups that say they care so much about children don’t do any of these things. I don’t know any other way to read that than to conclude that they’re lying about their goals.
Raging Bee says
I hear someone’s introduced a bill in the NC lege making it okay to kill a pregnant woman in order to defend the life of her baby. I guess the niggly details of how you’d “defend the life of the unborn” without killing the unborn will get hashed out in committee…either way, even if they’re “just kidding,” this certainly shows how hateful and anti-woman the so-called “pro-life” folks can get. I guess they figure that with Roe gone, they no longer have to keep their respectable masks on straight…
friedfish2718 would likely be fine with abortion during fetal development while the fetus expresses characteristics of Its fishy past. Well, as long as the aborted material was then fried up, of course.
Dr Sarah says
@Jim Balter, #12:
You know, I read your comment and thought ‘Looks like I should have left in that line I cut about how rants about the stupidity of my past beliefs would be fairly pointless under the circumstances’. Then I realised that it wouldn’t have made a difference: I did leave in the line telling commenters to be respectful, and you still went right ahead with mansplaining my own experiences and beliefs to me, so it seems you’re quite capable of ignoring what someone has to say when it suits you.
I get that you disagree with my past beliefs, and that’s fine. After all, the entire point of the post is that I also disagree with my past beliefs. Your level of indignation seems a little excessive for ‘per-son naively believed some stupid stuff over thirty years ago as a teenager’, but if you want to get that worked up about it to yourself then that’s your business. But, if you’re going to try comment-ing on here again, do so politely and respectfully, or you’ll end up barred.
Dr Sarah says
Firstly, just to be clear, the requirement to be polite and respectful does apply to you as well. At the moment, you’re already sailing rather close to the wind for somebody who’s already down two strikes.
Since you go on to throw in Dr Mengele’s name in a way that suggests you’re using it as an attempt at an argument, I take it that arguing things on an emotional rather than rational level is not actually something to which you object. But if you want a moral and rational argument, by all means: Forcing people to use their bodies against their wishes is immoral, which is why we don’t have forced organ donation even to keep other people alive and which also covers forcing someone to keep an embryo inside their body to gestate it against their wishes.
That’s a very strange way of arguing. I take it you weren’t able to address the actual points made, then?
I understand that you feel that way. I do not think it moral to try to persuade someone, against their wishes, into a course of action that will have huge impact on their life as well as significant implications for their health and wellbeing.
However, a more practical point which you might wish to consider is that it’s not a very effective way of stopping abortions. It doesn’t do anything to address whatever problems caused this person to seek abortion, and so at most you’re going to get a few people persuaded to go ahead unhappily with pregnancies in difficult circumstances, which is not that great an outcome. People who really want to prevent abortions are a lot better off working actively for good economic conditions and an excellent social safety net, not to mention widely-available contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place wherever possible. So I hope you’re supporting those things as much as you can.
Because it didn’t play a part in my decision and because it’s irrelevant to the morality of abortion in any case. The Hippocratic Oath (it’s grammatically correct to capitalise it) is a 2500-year-old oath that would also prevent doctors from doing cholecystectomies for gallstones. It was probably groundbreaking in its time, and the principle behind it (that ethics are of vital importance for doctors) is certainly still relevant and always will be. But that doesn’t mean we have to be hidebound by the specific details of what one doctor did or didn’t consider moral two and a half millennia ago, and it doesn’t make it moral to make someone go through with a pregnancy they don’t want.
Really? OK, let’s try that sentence your way:
‘Most of the questions that I do not understand to me at this pre-medical-school stage…’
…er, no, friedfish, I think your syntax is severely off there.
Very probably, but also rather irrelevant to the fact that I couldn’t understand medical jargon prior to going through medical school, which, although it seems to have escaped you, was the point I was actually writing about in that sentence.
Correct. Even if I did remember the precise details of what I’d read on the subject at the time, I wouldn’t bother putting them in here; a) as you pointed out, this post is already long, and b) I’m sure pro-lifers can manage their own misleading propaganda without me helping them. Moot point, anyway; no, I don’t remember the details thirty-five years and multiple encounters with misleading pro-life propaganda later. I do, however, remember the realisation that none of it mentioned how these supposed risks actually compared to the risk of pregnancy. That was somewhat eye-opening, though unfortunately only somewhat.
Interesting you brought up this analogy, because we don’t force people to save drowning people. As a society, we take other steps to reduce drowning risk: lifebelts, safety barriers and no-tices, funding lifeguard and coastguard services which people can decide whether or not to take. What we don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t do is make anybody risk themselves to save a drowning person.
Wait; did you seriously just flat-out invent something I hadn’t said and criticise me for saying it? Tell me you can’t address the actual arguments without telling me you can’t address the actual arguments…
That was fairly true of me back in my teenage years when this all took place, yes; I was fortunate that way.
I wouldn’t say I was particularly ‘emotionally tied up’ (why the hyphen, BTW?) in the accounts. I did recognise that it wasn’t OK to leave people to go through those experiences in the name of protecting embryos and fetuses.
Oh, I did know that; I just never believed that ‘Other people have survived that so you have to go through it as well’ was a particularly good argument.
…this would be the same Mother Teresa who thought poverty was an excellent thing, so that might not quite be making the point she wanted it to make. She’s also the same Mother Teresa who was happy with letting children – as in, children who were fully capable of experiencing pain and distress, unlike nearly all aborted fetuses – die so that she could funnel most of the donations she received to the church. You might want to think twice about using her as your moral compass. However, to address her actual statement, I consider it poor morality to think a person’s body can be used against their wishes and disregarded and that the impact this has can be dismissed as the person just wanting ‘to live as they wish’ as though their wishes were insignificant.
Out of curiosity, do you have any sort of objective criteria for what you define as a ‘culture of life’ or ‘culture of death’, or is this a tautological statement where legal abortion is what you define as a ‘culture of death’? Also, do you understand the difference between ‘allow’ and ‘embrace’?
Sounds like you might not have understood it that well? https://behavioralscientist.org/whats-wrong-with-moral-foundations-theory-and-how-to-get-moral-psychology-right/ has some interesting comments on it. Do you consider ideals of ‘purity’ to be important for the sake of it? Do you consider it right to respect authority just for the sake of it? Those are the two ‘pillars’ that liberals typically feel are of far less importance than such things as doing good to others, avoiding harm to others, and treating people fairly.