Abortion Post Alpha
I feel like I’ve been abnormally serious here lately, what with the politics and the politics and the what-all. I almost had a bit last week on the disgusting way I clear my sinuses, but just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for a good old-fashioned TMI yuck-fest. This isn’t supposed to be a serious blog, but, you know, fuck it.
Hearing/seeing progressive men talk about how, in light of political realities, preserving abortion rights should be carefully weighed against preserving the constitutionality of the New Deal just makes me break out in a cold, Handmaid’s Tale sort of sweat. True, if push came to shove, the overall harm caused by back-alley abortions and/or forced childbearing would probably pale in comparison with the harm caused by destroying OSHA, the EPA, etc etc etc, but jeebus! For one, I don’t think this is a reality-based dichotomy – in what backwater of the judicial pool will you find someone who would uphold Roe v. Wade but overturn everything else? – so it’s a creepy way to frame a discussion.
For two, I happen to have a pet angle on the question, which would solve everything if only it could gain some traction in the debate. Or if not everything, at least the problem of pro-life “feminism”. Below the fold, I am right and everybody else is wrong! Except Patricia Beattie Jung, who is way ahead of me.
We all know by now that anyone who wants to prevent abortions down here in reality-land will busy themselves with effective birth control and strong social welfare systems, but we also know that lots of people are trying to prevent abortions on the Platonic Realm of Forms. Let’s take a break from reality and join them – the Realm of Forms is where all the juicy political action is these days anyway!
A rich symphony slowly fades to a Philip Glass-inspired harp solo as we rise through the bubble of our illusions to reach the Platonic Realm of Forms. Welcome to the Realm of Forms! says an attractive composite person, Is your cheese-fœtus dead or alive?
There are two things, here in the Realm of Forms. One is the problem of when to start giving tiny proto-humans moral weight. I’m not inclined to do this before serious brain-knitting starts, and I very much scoff at those who insist that the unique genetic code of a wee zygote is sufficient to ensure ensoulment* – but I’m also not inclined to pretend that it’s possible, or even desireable, to reach consensus. The law isn’t built for gray areas like this, but I’m sympathetic to the argument that we should extend the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.
But here’s the second thing: even if we finished the argument about moral weight and gravity, we still wouldn’t be done! Whatever moral or legal weight we grant to fetal life, it needs to be counterbalanced against the moral/legal weight we grant to bodily integrity and individual medical autonomy.
Fine! you cry** we’ll make exceptions for the life, health, or convenience of the mother, as appropriate for the system of weights and measures we have established in your first stage of rhetoric! But no. You are still missing the full context, the broader context, the only plausibly non-misogynist context for this argument.
You’re missing the man who won’t donate bone marrow to save his little leukemiatic kid. Because this is the question: When someone else’s life depends on your body, just how far up shit creek are you allowed to leave them?
In all the relentless march of medical technology and the proliferation of possible analogies to pregnancy, the answer has been as far as you want. We unthinkingly accept the right of a dead person to have their now-useless bodies treated as we think they would have wanted, even though this comes at a cost of N lives per corpse.*** We feel a bit weird even asking people to register to possibly be asked to give bone marrow, because it might be too much “pressure” on the donor.
Why is pregnancy so different from bone marrow donation? It’s more common, it involves a longer duration of discomfort, it may be somewhat riskier****, and oh yeah, it only happens to women.
I can’t read about shit like this***** without wondering what would happen if I started up an insurance company and withheld coverage from those who fail to donate blood often enough, or refuse to sign up for the marrow donation registry, or keep two kidneys just to maintain their selfishly dehydrated lifestyle. Or even if I refused to cover hospice care for terminally ill patients who decline the option of organ donation. Loss of taxpayer funds wouldn’t be the half of it!
Why aren’t more people making this comparison? Particularly people who would like to remove the scare quotes from the phrase pro-life “feminism” – as long as the implicit assumption that a corpse has a lesser obligation to provide bodily support than a pregnant woman remains unadressed within the anti-abortion movement, I’ll feel pretty comfortable waving around a copy of Handmaid’s Tale and yelling about the patriarchy. A well thought-out argument on the general principle of bodily support wouldn’t turn me into a pro-lifer per se, as there would still be that bit about assigning moral weight to zygotes, but I think I’d feel less threatened.
Update update update: If you found this page by Googling for “homemade abortion” – find yourself a reputable abortion provider instead. Please.
* And by “scoff” I mean “Oh yeah? Tell it to this set of intimidatingly well-muscled identical twins!” which could theoretically rise to the level of legitimate debate, but in practice doesn’t.
** You dirty dialectique, you!
*** The only source I could find for N was a plagiarized essay-bank, which claims that N=5.
**** I found an analysis of the risks of marrow donation here, but couldn’t find a similar study on the rate of serious complications from pregnancy and/or childbirth. So I compared death rates: 5-6 deaths per 100,000 live births vs. 0 deaths per 9,282 marrow harvests studied. It’s not quite what you’d call a solid piece of epidemiology, but it’ll do for now.
****** Link via Dr. Bitch but Lilith has the better rant.