This was originally written in response to pythia_akrypta’s post on the South Dakota anti-abortion law issue. Like pythia, my feelings on this issue are so complex and conflicted that I feel a similar difficulty towards putting them into words. Because of that, this post will be very rambly, and I can’t guarantee that my arguments are going to be well-organized. I’m doing this to talk through the conflicts and confusion I feel, and as such this post will be as messy and complex as I feel the entire situation is.

In no way do I agree with legislating women’s bodies in the way currently being attempted by the SD legistators, especially given all the sex, race and class issues that are conveniently glossed over. But my interest in gender issues not about the categories of male/female. I am not a powerful woman…I am a powerful *person*. Don’t diminish my power by placing me in a category of personhood that has been and is constituted as powerless. My gendered agenda is about extending our definitions of what constitutes human, and how to juggle recognizing the irreducible individuality of beings while still regarding them all as equally human.

Given that this is my critical agenda, I feel a certain level of hypocrisy when I deny the humanity of a fetus. Pragmatically, I consider a fetus to be similar to a parasite, and as such I privelege the rights of a human “host” over the rights of the fetus. But I also recognize that there is a disjunction between this and my larger philosophy. I am not saying that there aren’t other dimensions to the argument against abortion (such as the issues surrounding the conflation of sex and procreation), but I have to accede that on one level pro-lifers are arguing something that I support, which is the extension of our boundaries of what we consider “human”. At that level there is little difference between their demands for humane treatment for fetuses, and my expectations for human treatment for animals (chimpanzees, for example).

Yes…I did just compare a human fetus to a chimpanzee.

While I recognize this disjunction in my own views, and have not yet been able to rectify it, I also recognize the disjunction in the views of the pro-life movement, and this is where (one level) of my disagreement with them emerges. At the extreme of that philosophy, the humanity of the fetus should be recognized over the humanity of the human “host”, and the “host” should have no say in the matter save where their own life is in danger. I do not agree with this moral imposition.

While we do not have consensus on the humanity of a fetus, we do have (at least nominal) consensus on the humanity of a post-birth person. We diminish the humanity of post-birth people all the time…just look at Iraq or New Orleans. The imposition of laws that remove a person’s right to make choices concerning their own body is a diminishment of their humanity. I would not force a person to have an abortion to save their life. It is their choice to determine the humanity of the fetus in their body, and whether they value that life over their own. Equally, I would not force a person to get pregnant. Again, that is a personal choice that I believe individuals must be free to make based on their own philosophy. This is why I support an individual’s right to decide their relationship with a fetus that is hosted in their body, including the humanity of that fetus compared to their own.

It would be my hope that someday we could all extend our perceptions of what it means to be human. This event hinges on a lot of pragmatic changes that would need to take place, including issues of overpopulation; imbalanced distribution of resources (often along racial/ethnic lines); and racial, gender and class inequalities, to name just a few. There is validity to the argument that legal abortion has elements of racial cleansing…the realities of current socio-economic imbalances mean that people who seek abortions are often poor ethnic minorities. There needs to be a worldwide saturation of free birth control education and accessibility so that we can entirely disassociate sex from procreation. Face it, if the only people getting pregnant were people who wanted to get pregnant, then abortion wouldn’t really be an issue. This is the main reason that I adore Planned Parenthood and think Pro-Lifers would better employ their time working towards this end (assuming that the prevention of the murder of an unborn fetus is really their end, rather than the regulation of women’s bodies and sexual lives).

We in no way have any of this yet. I am a highly educated person who was exposed to extensive and reliable birth control education at an early age. I have access to many resources not available to a lot of other people, and I still have difficulty getting regular access to reliable and convenient methods of birth control. While I think the issue of choice is important, and while I think that this issue has as much to do with policing women’s bodies and sexuality as it does with any issue of fetal humanity, I also believe that my efforts are better spent creating a world where abortion is no longer an issue because people are given the education and resources that would allow them to make their choices before they ever become pregnant. That’s a Pro-Choice world I can live in.

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19 thoughts on “

  1. It is my deep suspician that most women who have seriously thought about the abortion issue are conflicted about it in some way. There is so much to take into account, but I feel that the problem with anti-abortion laws isn’t on the individual level. Each person has to decide what is right for them, and some will decide that they are comfortable having an abortion, and some will decide (for any number of reasons) that they are not. However, the law in the U.S. is supposed to be representative of freedom of choice and action, and therefore, whatever we decide, the law should protect us, and that’s why I feel that abortion MUST be legal – when it is legal, the choice still exists, and those who find it objectionable for whatever reason (moral, religious, etc.) can choose not to, but when it is illegal, that choice is taken away from all of those who would have opted to have one.

  2. Before I start, I’d like to disclaim that I have no intent on arguing any point for or against the current political issue. Rather, something you said triggered a question in me, and I’m curious to hear your response.

    When people refer to fetuses as resembling “parasites”, I think I understand why they say that and where they’re coming from. That said, it seems to me (and I admit my perceptions as both a man and someone who has never been a parent may be *radically* skewed here) that a six-month old infant is every bit as dependent on and demanding of the mother as the fetus was during pregnancy. Honestly (and here’s where my ignorance of parenting comes into play) it seems like the infant might be more of a parasite, since it actively requires the attention and care of the parents, while the fetus is just sort of along for the ride (I know that’s an oversimplification, but I hope you take my meaning).

    Which leads to my question re: the parasite comparison. I’ve never in my life heard of *anybody* that’s embroiled in this issue advocating the killing of six-month old children. Is it the birthing process that moves that entity from the realm of “parasite” to “human being,” and if so, why? On the surface, that answer seems obvious, but I suspect it’s much more complicated and tangled than it would seem at first glance, and reading this led me to belive you’d be a good person to ask.

    So…whatcha think? I think part of your answer I can discern from the original post, but I’d love to hear you riff.

    • A parasite, by definition, is an organism that grows in and feeds upon another organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host. It cannot be removed from its environmental conditions and survive. A six-month old baby can be cared for by multiple providers, can be moved about, can survive in an environment entirely removed from the person who birthed it. I tend to be against late-term abortions because at that point the fetus could be removed from the person’s womb and potentially survive and continue development. Frankly, I think we as a society are a lot less concerned about the welfare of many six-month old babies (many of whom are not provided for adequately) than we are about potentially aborted fetuses.

      I would go further to point out that what I said was that while I often draw a comparison between fetuses and parasites, I don’t actually believe this to be the case (hence my awareness of myself as being something of a hypocrite on this matter). A fetus does contribute to the “survival of the organism”, in that it is a potential future human (although with overpopulation, I don’t really think we’re having any supply-side difficulties). I agree that birth is an arbitrary marker for acknowleging a being’s humanity. It is,however, a marker with a strong consensus. As I stated above (in keeping with my pragmatic consideration of fetuses as parasites) for myself that arbitrary marker would be moved to the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb (albeit with medical assistance). Most current laws on abortion are structured around a similar point in fetal development.

      I don’t know what you mean by the answer seeming obvious. I’m a little curious to hear your ideas on this so that we can move into a realm of real discussion. I’m certain you do have ideas regarding this, and it seems coy for you not to introduce them but rather just to question me on my ideas.

      • I wasn’t trying to be coy, honest, and neither was I really questioning your ideas (I find that I agree with you almost point-for-point).

        I meant to ask a related question on the subject, namely, why you thought birth has such a strong consensus despite it being a rather arbitrary marker (and what you thought about it). When I said “on the surface, that answer seems obvious,” I meant that birth probably has such a strong consensus because A) it’s such a dramatic event, and B) because of the definition of parasite, as you outline in your first paragraph. But as I also said, I suspect that the situation is really more complicated, as you point out with late-term abortions, etc.

        I didn’t even mean to imply that you believed fetuses to be parasites (another point on which we agree). Mostly the question just occurred to me, and finding myself in strong agreement with your post (as well as the fact that you admittedly know a great deal more about the issues involved than I do) I thought I’d ask you for your thoughts on the tangent.

  3. I wouldn’t normally comment from over here, but this is an issue that I feel strongly about so I will. I consider myself anti-abortion and pro-choice. Both opinions come from life experiences that influenced me greatly. When I say I am anti-abortion, it is because I believe that abortions(especially the surgical kind performed in the US, opposed to the chemical kind that can be performed in Europe, but are not legal in the US) are traumatic procedures that end in the termination of a potential life and in the psychological scarring of the woman involved, as well as those around her. When I first moved to Bloomington, I shared my small apartment with a close friend from childhood. She got an abortion partway through that year and I spent two months comforting her because her boyfriend (who worked as a guard at a battered women’s shelter)abandoned her. It was a difficult time, as she did not leave the apartment and so I have come to see how painful and traumatic abortion can be, and thus think it is an unpleasant option.
    That being said, I think that abortions represent a breakdown in the desired system. I am of the opinion that in the ideal world, a woman should be able to control her reproductive system from cradle to grave, both in terms of birth control(which no man should balk at), in terms of freedom from undesired sexual interactions(rape, molestation…), and in terms of desired sexual interactions(society should not regulate consensual sex). If girls were taught at a young age that their body is theirs to do with as they please, then I think abortion would only be necessary in the case of a breakdown in the system. As it exists now, the entire system is broken down, thus abortion should be legal.
    So, in other words, I think I agree with you overall.

    • If girls were taught at a young age that their body is theirs to do with as they please…

      Moreover, if society didn’t tolerate and, in its complacence, tacitly condone men’s violence towards women’s bodies in the form of rape and domestic abuse…

    • “in the psychological scarring of the woman involved”

      While I don’t deny that this occurs in varying degrees for women who have had abortions, neither do I think it is an inevitability. I think that the expectation of scarring is a construction that may actually contribute to that self-same scarring.

      • I think in our society it is likely, which is the problem. I don’t think it’s an inevitability, just that it happens with great frequency in our society. It’s the discourse.

      • “psychological scarring… happens with great frequency”

        Can you tell me where you have found this data? Do you have any proof other than your own experiences?

      • 1. my mother used to work as a counselor in an abortion clinic.
        2. my own rambling experiences, which include a number of experiences counseling friends after abortions.

        I don’t think it’s the nature of abortion, I think it’s the way our society treats unplanned pregnancy in general. It’s all a discourse thing, the way America talks about unplanned pregnancy and abortion tends to make people think of it a certain way. That has the effect of creating shame in many people who seek out abortions.

        For instance, most people keep past abortions a secret, as if they are shameful experiences one should not admit to. When they come up, it’s in a somber, secretive and painful way. It’s that sort of thing that I have seen again and again which leads me to the conclusions I have reached.

        I don’t think that it must be this way, nor do I think that it happens in every case, but in general, our society treats abortion as a shameful act which tends to lead to psychological scars.

  4. I still have difficulty getting regular access to reliable and convenient methods of birth control

    Really? I’d be curious to know what kind of difficulties you run into — whether you’re having problems I’m not, or whether our definitions of problems differ.

    • Remember that I’ve gone from being insured to being uninsured to being insured again. When I’m uninsured I go through Planned Parenthood, and have to pay out of pocket for both birth control and my yearly exam (a yearly exam is required to be perscribed BC). While this isn’t a great financial hardship, it is a dent (about $400/year), and it’s something I have to take care of monthly because I don’t often have the disposable cash to take care of on a yearly basis. When I’m insured I go through whomever can draw upon that insurance, but I still have a copay. This also has meant that I’m changing brands of BC every year to two years, which is unreliable and increases the chance of BC failure and the need for alternative methods. So, my access is neither reliable nor convenient, and I’m one of the luckier ones.

      • I guess I see your point there, but at the same time, I’m not sure (without more information) that I’d call the situation a problem. I think it’s probably a good thing to require a yearly exam, though I admit I don’t know if it’s medically necessary. I also don’t feel the cost of birth control pills is unreasonably high, though again I don’t have the data to know how much it’s inflated for the profit of the manufacturer. And there are cheaper, less complicated alternatives (i.e. condoms), though you could certainly argue the finer points of reliability and convenience.

        The problem as you describe it seems to be more a problem of our health care system as a whole than of birth control specifically. (Leaving aside, of course, idiotic situations like the insurance companies that wanted to cover Viagra but not the pill — fuck that noise.)

      • But many women and girls are not even as aware of the options that are available regarding BC. Thus, if she has these problems (and I share her pain in this, though I’ve stuck to the same type of BC for years) what do those that have even less reliable information have to fall back on?

        As to the yearly visits to the doc, that is because BC has known specific side effects that can cause serious health risks (which is why they require a Pap smear every year).

      • Her issues aren’t related to information; they’re related to insurance. I won’t deny that not everybody gets the education they should on this subject, but that seems to me a separate point than the one I was asking for clarification on.

      • I don’t think you can separate the issues of education and access so easily.

        My ability to have the access I do, and my dedication towards maintaining that access in spite of difficulties rely on the extensive education I received on birth control as a child and a teen…an education that came almost entirely from my (registered nurse) stepmother, not from any public source. Much of my birth control education during my 20’s came from me extensively questioning my gynecologists (and really, the only reason I visited a gynecologist as early as I did and as often as I do is because of my stepmother’s influence and the BC perscription requirements). Granted, the internet now provides another resource, but in my experience my students (who have some college education and are internet saavy) do not know how to do adequate research on the internet. Add to that problems of access (including parental blocks and monitoring), misinformation from bad websites and other unvetted sources, and a social atmosphere in many places that aggressively targets proper BC education and promotes abstinence as the only method that children should be trained in.

        Remember also that I live two minutes from my Planned Parenthood facility, ten minutes from the IU Health Center, and have a flexible daily schedule and a car. When I use myself as an example, I’m attempting to show that I have everything working for me, and BC is still a difficulty. How much more difficult must it be for all the women out there who don’t have the resources that I do?

      • Quick note of clarification: Not the insurance companies fault, though the media likes to spin it that way.

        Most group medical plans are offered to the employer by the insurracne company as a cafeteria style plan, in which the BOD of the company chooses what features to make available to the employees based on what the company is willing to pick up as their part of the tab.

        Occurances of that which you are describing are becoming increasingly rare. Bad press and all that.

  5. According to the Supreme Court of the US in the Case Roe v Wade Human beings conceive human beings. At the moment of conception a human being is conceived. So, legally, in the US, humanity is at the point of conception. This was the Supreme Courts acceptance of the scientific evidence. The findings in Roe v Wade were not relative to the humanity of the being conceived, but the point at which that being had “rights” and protection of those rights under the law.

    For the first 5 to 9 days after conception the being is moving and has not yet established a parasitic relationship with the host. This happens to be the zygotic stage of human development. It happens to be in this stage that the highly publicized stem cells exist. If the conception was in a test tube this being does not become parasitic if it is frozen for later use. It is also durng this first week that the “morning after” pill can induce a loss of the monthly womb such that this being cannot establish the parasitic relationship and will pass out of the system and die. While some people do object to pregnancy prevention, conception prevention or inducing a period to prevent the hosting, I doubt the majority of Americans object to any of these choices.

    Having had the opportunity to be reproductively responsible for 9 days with any of the above methods the reproductively irresponsible then allow the establishment of the parasitic relationship of the zygot which quickly becomes an embrio and then late a fetus and, if nothing is done to stop it, the fetus is delivered and that locale change of less than 1 foot causes a name change to baby.

    When Roe v Wade was first ruled the name change did not occur at birth but at a defined viability date established by an expectation at that time of the ability to keep a premmie alive. Initially following Roe v Wade doctors were delivering aborted human beings alive and keeping them alive to use as “guinnea pigs” in scientific experiments. Since these aborted humans did not have birth certificates they did not have rights. Laws had to be passed to mandate the killing of the human during the abortion. At some point since that time the viability date has been attacked such that late term abortions for reasons other than the saving of the life of the mother are an issue (saving the life of the mother has always been a legal reason for abortion since long before Roe v Wade and is a false excuse for allowing late term abortions).

    Personally, the one I find interesting is that the unwilling sperm donors are finally standing up and demanding their right not to have to have a child they don’t want. Yea!!! Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If women can have abortions, the guys ought to be able to have a virtual abortion.

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