The argument that changed me from pro-life to pro-choice

In a discussion on this blog a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I used to be pro-life. Someone (Joe?) asked at that time:

Amp — you haven’t said what changed your mind. Facts? Arguments? Hanging out with a new set of friends? Hearing people’s stories? Pictures? Any chance of an answer there?

Okay-dokey. Here’s the argument that changed my mind on abortion. (This isn’t the approach I’d necessarily take nowadays, however.)

In my youth – up to age 16 or so – I was abortion-agnostic. I didn’t really have an opinion one way or the other.

In late high school and early college, I was mildly pro-life. My argument was that it wasn’t possible for us to know for certain when “personhood” begins. Given that we are stuck with uncertainty, I thought it was logical and humane to err on the side of preserving life. Therefore, I argued, abortion should be illegal except when needed to preserve the mother’s life.

What changed my mind was reading an essay by some philosopher (alas, I no longer know the name of the author or the essay).

The author of the essay argued that, to judge abortion, we need to balance harm done to a woman forced to give birth, against harm suffered by an aborted fetus. However, in order to be harmed by the loss of its future, a fetus would need to have valued its potential future at some point in its existence. To value its potential future, it must have a history of

a) Awareness of itself as a being which exists across time, into the future.

b) Anticipating and preferring its own future existence.

If a fetus is not capable of both those things, then it is not harmed in any meaningful way by being aborted. All that it loses is a future it has never valued.

So that was the argument that switched me from being pro-life to pro-choice.

* * *

Now, I can anticipate three objections to this argument, none of which are very persuasive.

1) “What about the mentally disabled”?

Mentally disabled people, contrary to what is implied by this question, do have a sense of self extending into the future, and do anticipate their future.

2) “What about people in comas or asleep?”

First of all, it’s inaccurate to assume that people in comas have no brain activity; being in a coma is not the same thing as being brain-dead. They merely have no way of expressing brain activity, which is not the same thing.

More importantly, a fetus has never experienced a sense of self across time, or anticipated a future. A person in a coma has done both these things. Therefore, the person in a coma would be harmed by being killed in a way a fetus is not.

Consider, for instance, person “A,” who just loooooves chocolate pudding. A walks into a room where there is set out a dish of chocolate pudding for him to eat. A says “Oh boy! Chocolate pudding! I can’t wait to eat it!”

Just then, Stephen Sondheim walks into the room. Naturally, A is overwhelmed by the presence of the worlds greatest songwriter, and all thoughts of chocolate pudding escape A’s mind.. During this period, I enter the room and eat A’s chocolate pudding.

Have I done A harm? I think I have, because he was anticipating eating his chocolate pudding, and (once Mr. Sondheim wanders away) A will be hurt and disappointed to discover his puddingless state.

Now, contrast this with person B. Person B doesn’t like chocolate pudding – he hates the stuff, and always will. Furthermore, B didn’t even know that chocolate pudding was available.

Now suppose I again eat the chocolate pudding. Has B been just as harmed by this as A was? No. A and B are not in parallel situations; A is being deprived of something A values, whereas B isn’t being deprived of anything B values.

3) “Aren’t you providing a justification for infanticide?”

The third likely objection is that this logic may justify infanticide. This is a “woman? What woman?” argument, and considering how the woman is affected will clear it up.

Before birth, there is a conflict of rights between the fetus and the mother. The rights of the fetus to its future must be balanced against its mother’s right to control her own body. A fetus has only a weak interest in its future, since it doesn’t know or care if it has a future or not. Put against a woman’s strong interest in owning her own body, the interest of the fetus in continuing its life is easily overwhelmed, justifying an abortion.

However, the same thing is not true once an infant has been born. Since there is no longer a conflict between the infant’s right to life and the mother’s right to control her own body, infanticide cannot be justified by appealing to the mother’s interests in bodily autonomy. Therefore, once it’s born, the infant’s right to life takes precedence.

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202 Responses to The argument that changed me from pro-life to pro-choice

  1. 1
    Robert says:

    Until he pays for the pizzas, he’s dead to me.

    The special thing that happens at fertilization is that the genetic matrix that accounts for a big chunk of who a person is, is established at that instant in time and no other.

    Until that instant occurs, we cannot say what will happen. We cannot simply assert that they will form an embryo. Maybe the merger won’t work. Maybe you will sneeze and tip over the petri dish. Once the instant has occurred, however, then you no longer have a sperm and an egg. You have a fertilized single cell, made out of two other cells, and indissoluble.

    Yes, the embryo could die or be damaged or be killed subsequent to that moment – but the moment would have occurred, the fusion would have occurred. It’d be a done deal. There’s a difference between a done deal and a potentiality, however close the potentiality is to actualization.

  2. 2
    activistgradgal says:

    Well it’s my hypothetical, so by definition I can stipulate anything I want. And I stipulated that the egg and sperm are indeed going to meet in one mili-second, and *by stipulation* nothing can stop it other than my lazer gun. We do know what is going to happen, because I stipulate that we know it. The egg and sperm are going to meet, and the fertilized egg will develop and (I stipulate) nine months later a healthy baby will result and then (I stipulate) twelve years later a healthy pre-teen.

    If it is wrong to use my lazer gun to destroy the fertilized egg (thus destroying the potential twelve year old), then I can’t see any reason why the it wouldn’t also be wrong to kill the sperm that hasn’t yet met the egg (thus destroying the potential twelve year old).

    Take this hypothetical. The sperm and egg have indeed met in my petri dish and the genetic material has begun to combine. I stipulate that with my sci-fi tools I can tell with 100% accuracy that if left alone the ferilized egg is going to split and form two identical fertilized eggs which will eventually become identical 12 year old twins (Beth and Jane). I can stop this division with my lazer gun, in which case only Jane will result. If what matters morally is the mixture of genetic material then it seems that stopping the division with my gun is just as bad as killing the fertilized egg which would become Beth outright, since both acts make it the case that Beth will never exist even though the genetic material for Beth was already mixed and actually in existence in both cases.

    I anticipate the objection being that Beth isn’t a done deal until the ferilized egg has divided. But why not? Her genetic material is all there.

    I suppose we’re just going around in circles with each of us firmly entrenched in our own positions. Your statement that: “There’s a difference between a done deal and a potentiality, however close the potentiality is to actualization” implies that you think the mixture of genetic material is what gives a human being its moral status, hence conception results in an “actual” morally significant being. I think that an actual morally significant being is not in existence for quite some time after conception, and that the status of that being’s genetic material is irrelevant.

  3. 3
    Robert says:

    OK, given your stipulations, I suppose you’d be doing the same thing as aborting the children in question.

  4. 4
    FoolishOwl says:

    Ampersand’s argument, that abortion is acceptable because a fetus does not understand or value its own future, reminds me of an argument I cooked up, years ago: that something couldn’t be considered human unless it was self-conscious, and that self-consciousness required the knowledge of an external reality that one could influence, and that couldn’t possibly happen until after birth.

    I related this theory to a friend of mine, in a lull when we were on the street arguing with people about some issue related to abortion rights. Why don’t we use this argument?

    She said that she thought it was irrelevant. Because even if a fetus *was* a person, requiring a woman to carry a fetus to term against her will is depriving her of her freedom, and that cannot be accepted.

    I realized I accepted her argument. Any restriction on women’s right to control their own bodies means reducing women to slavery. No person can be allowed to reduce another person to slavery.

  5. 5
    bilbo says:

    Amp said-
    “What changed my mind was reading an essay by some philosopher (alas, I no longer know the name of the author or the essay).

    The author of the essay argued that, to judge abortion, we need to balance harm done to a woman forced to give birth, against harm suffered by an aborted fetus. However, in order to be harmed by the loss of its future, a fetus would need to have valued its potential future at some point in its existence. To value its potential future, it must have a history of

    a) Awareness of itself as a being which exists across time, into the future.

    b) Anticipating and preferring its own future existence.

    If a fetus is not capable of both those things, then it is not harmed in any meaningful way by being aborted. All that it loses is a future it has never valued.

    So that was the argument that switched me from being pro-life to pro-choice.”

    Amp, you’re a sharp guy. I expected something more philosophical than that. Not that you’re entirely wrong…but…why does the fetus have to establish its own value? Are we ourselves unable to grasp it’s potential? Does it have to actually prove itself as being a viable and worthwhile organism? You and I both were there at one point in our lives. I should think that such things should be left up to humans with a bit more experience. Do we disagree that, that fetus, if left unaborted, would come to value itself and adopt a survival instinct? A desire to live in a world that it had been allowed to develop enough to understand? haven’t all of us passed through that stage and developed self-esteem and a (partial for me) understanding of space-time? I think it is a bit heavy-handed to use this as a litmus test for validating a life when all of us here would surely have failed such a test at that stage(through which we all passed), and yet were spared, and grew to understand such things in such time that humans do. Aspirations aside, none of us has the ability to place a true “value” on the future. And, what does “preferring it’s own future existence really mean”? It may not cry out in pain, but I would bet that it would shrink from exposure to harmful stimuli(i.e.alcohol) and display some basic survival instinct, even at such an early stage- although I am no biologist! Why do people expect so much of early-development humans?! Glad I wasn’t put on the block at that age!
    Happy New Year to all…

  6. 6
    Amanda says:

    Foolish, I tend to fall into the forced pregnancy is slavery camp. However, nuance is necessary. For instance, as Robert tried to trick everyone into saying, one’s right to the products of one’s labor are never completely yours, especially when another person’s life is at stake. I reject the notion that a fetus is a person, so there’s no conflict there. But I accept that taxes should go to pay feeding and sheltering the homeless, since they are people.

    Of course, it’s belabored to say that paying taxes is even remotely as close to forced labor as forced pregnancy is. For instance, you are free to abort you time at work if paying taxes is too onerous for you. But that doesn’t change the fact that a fetus’s conception of itself should be taken into consideration.

    One way or another, I find most pro-lifers who go on about a fetus’s consciousness (before it has a brain?) to be hypocrites in the extreme. Animals have far more consciousness than a 3-month-old fetus and I have yet to meet a pro-lifer who is an adamant vegetarian. If they are lurking here, please speak up.

  7. 7
    activistgradgal says:

    bilbo,

    The point of the argument, I assume, is not to say that a thing must establish its own value. I have heard similar arguments in philosophy courses (though, I admit, not this one in particular, so I might be mischaracterizing it by assuming it’s meant to run like others I’ve encountered). The point is that what makes a person (like me or you) valuable is our ability to be self-aware and perhaps to have a particular future with our own plans. As I’ve always understood similar arguments it is not stating that “X must value its future” in order for X to be valuable. If that were the case then severely depressed people (who had never in the past valued their future) wouldn’t count as persons. Instead, the argument (at least as I’ve understood a similar one) claims that in order for X to be valuable “X must be *capable* of valuing its future.” So a fetus doesn’t have to *do* anything; it just has to be a certain way. And you’re right, if we let the fetus develop normally (most likely) it will become a person who is capable of all of these things. But the property of “will be a person in the future” is not the same as “is a person now.”

    You’re right that we can (and do) see the fetus’s value–we can see that it’s not a person because it doesn’t have any of the characteristics that persons have. We can do the same of animals–see that they are not the same as human persons. It doesn’t follow that animals and human fetuses have absolutely no value. I think most people admit that animals have value, but they still have no problem having them killed and eating them for dinner, and animals are much more like people than fetuses are in terms of everything we value about people (self-awareness, emotions, rationality, future plans, consciousness, etc.). So we can, of course, admit that sure the fetus has a lot of potential and that’s vauable, but no where near as valuable as being a person. And thus, when balanced, with a woman’s bodily integrity the value of the fetus is overridden. Just like, for most people, the value of a cow is overridden by their desire for a hamburger.

  8. 8
    FoolishOwl says:

    I suppose, as far as “nuance” goes, that I still do believe the argument I came up with about a fetus not being a person. There are circumstances under which I’d bring up some variant of that argument.

    But *not* when arguing for the right to free abortion on demand. The argument needs to be about women’s right to control their own bodies, exclusively.

    I think it’s a mistake to make the point of contention the fetus. That’s the argument the anti-choice right keeps trying to draw everyone into, and they’ve largely succeeded. When you’re in a fight, you need to choose what ground you’ll fight on, and simply conceding to the right that it’s an argument about the fetus means accepting the ground the right’s chosen. That ground is the one where they counter philosophical arguments about identity and biological arguments about neurological development with pictures of something that looks almost human and movies of involuntary reflexes — and, of course, they can always fall back on the argument that the soul is attached to the fetus at conception, which is purely imaginary and thus undisprovable.

    Even though we can counter those arguments, that’s not the best ground to fight upon.

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    FoolishOwl, do you believe in the right of the state to conscript people to fight?

  10. 10
    FoolishOwl says:

    No, I don’t. Yes, I do think conscription is slavery.

    Way off topic, but… you know the old canard about “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre?” I think I read about the origins of that expression in Howard Zinn’s work somewhere. In WWI, a sozialist* agitator was arguing that conscription met the legal definition of slavery, and that it was therefore unconstitutional. He was prosecuted, and his defense that he had the right to free speech, was countered with the “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre” line. I think Clarence Darrow’s response was, that this was a case of shouting fire in a theatre that was, in fact, on fire.

    * Intentional misspelling to get around overzealous spam filter.

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    Foolishowl, as I said, this is the initial argument that convinced me, many years ago. This isn’t entirely how I’d argue the case today.

    For a while I tried pointing out that, as a means of reducing abortion, goverment bans are ineffective. It’s an undeniable fact that the countries with the world’s lowest abortion rates (and lowest by a large margin) all have legal abortion combined with a lot of “use two or three kinds of birth control at once” education and generous social support programs for children.

    However, I’ve yet to meet a pro-lifer who shows the slightest interest in preventing abortion if it might cost them a few extra tax dollars or if it doesn’t include getting to use government force to restrict women’s choices. (Sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s also the truth.)

    So sacrificing women’s freedom to save fetal lives – that’s okay with them. Sacrificing some of their precious money, or the strategy they’re married to, in order to save fetal lives – they won’t even CONSIDER that.

    Sorry if that’s harsh, Rob, but it’s entirely the truth.

  12. 12
    Robert says:

    Well, it’s the truth from your point of view, Amp.

    It’s true that we reject the kind of irreligious, hedonistic, and societially suicidal policy of the Scandinavian countries, and other countries like them.

    And it’s true that we don’t think tax expenditures are the proper way to increase natalism.

    So yeah, we don’t want to spend “a few tax dollars” bolstering childrearing – largely because of the unmitigated disaster that kind of state charity produces.

    Instead, we spend tens of billions of our own money voluntarily, without having the state force it out of us. That we fail to conduct our strategy in ways you approve of, and that we don’t endorse your sexual values – well, you are welcome to criticize us on those grounds, but why should we care? Do you care what (say) Dobson thinks of your strategy or values?

    On another note -

    Y’all seem very fond of the phrase “use government force to restrict women’s choices”, and variants thereof. I think that’s a phrase that shows bad faith in argumentation.

    Would you classify “use government force to restrict women’s choices” in the context of it being against the law for women to go on killing sprees? No, of course not. The phrasing would be accurate – it’s just that it would be tendentious and stupid. Of course it’s a “restriction of choice” to stop someone from committing murder – that’s a choice we’ve decided to disbar for everyone.

    You don’t think abortion is killing a human, granted. But we do think abortion is killing a human. Of course we support using government force to restrict that choice – just as you support using government force to restrict choices that would hurt you. You just don’t phrase it that way when it’s a choice you don’t approve of.

    So what we have is a disagreement over what the moral consequences of a particular choice are, and whether that choice should be one allowed by the state or not. Characterizing one side of the discussion as acting from a desire to restrict choice – when you know that we consider that choice as being tantamount to murder – is disingenuous at best, an act of bad faith at worst.

    If I characterized all so*ialists as desiring to “use government power to destroy people’s freedom”, you’d think I was a jackass. I know perfectly well that isn’t your motivation, and it’d be asinine of me to characterize your views that way. It certainly wouldn’t add anything to a mutually respectful discussion of economic systems.

    But it would be a good propaganda piece. So whaddya say, Amp? Are we having a discussion here, or are we shouting propaganda at each other?

  13. 13
    Phil says:

    Government support for single parents is hedonistic? Or has Scandinavia instituted a new 2 drink mini-single-mums policy? (sorry, just the idea of any scandinavian country being described as ‘hedonistic’ cracked me up, unless hedonism simply involves porn and snowboarding all of a sudden…)

    So sacrificing women’s freedom to save fetal lives – that’s okay with them. Sacrificing some of their precious money, or the strategy they’re married to, in order to save fetal lives – they won’t even CONSIDER that.

    You forgot “Sacrificing women’s lives” as well, as attempts to seriously criminalise underage sex, while funding only abstinance based sex ed, and making abortion illegal will scare off teenagers from seeking suitable medical help, which will up the rate of mortality for pregnant mothers (and their un-born children btw).

    Would you classify “use government force to restrict women’s choices” in the context of it being against the law for women to go on killing sprees? No, of course not. The phrasing would be accurate – it’s just that it would be tendentious and stupid. Of course it’s a “restriction of choice” to stop someone from committing murder – that’s a choice we’ve decided to disbar for everyone.

    But before you can legally equate abortion with infanticide you first have to prove, both legally and scientifically, that a collection of multiplying cells that have cutesy little toesie woesies are in fact children, two things “y’all” pro-lifers have so far failed to do.

  14. 14
    Robert says:

    I’m not trying to equate it legally here, Phil. I’m explaining that tens of millions of people equate it morally, and their beliefs cannot be handwaved away with a rhetorical turn of phrase. (Just as the beliefs of tens of millions of pro-choicers cannot be handwaved away as hating motherhood.)

    You (collective, broadly speaking, handwaving “you”) are welcome to be as disrespectful of others’ beliefs as you like; it’s a free country. However, you might want to examine why it is that support for the pro-choice side of things has been slipping over the decades. It’s darn hard to proselytize from an attitude of “my position is the only valid or possible one”.

  15. 15
    heydt says:

    “It’s darn hard to proselytize from an attitude of “my position is the only valid or possible one”.”

    Did you actually manage to write this with a straight face?

  16. 16
    Robert says:

    Oh, I know I’m not much good as a proselytyzer, Heydt. I like to argue more than I like to evangelize. Still, it’s always helpful to know the memes the other team is playing with. (And of course, my side is winning. So they don’t need me evangelizing all that much, either.)

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    Here’s the thing. I am prepared to accept that pro-lifers believe that a zygote is just as good, and just as worthy of life, and just as much a person, as you or me. It seems irrational to me, but no more so than many other beliefs held by many Americans.

    Anyway, I have to admit that it could be true. It’s possible that every fetus has a soul, and that killing a fetus is morally identical to killing a person. You could be right, I could be wrong.

    That’s not my problem with the pro-life movement.

    My problem is that none of the pro-lifers I know – not one of them – seems interested in what strategies have in practice brought about low abortion rates in the real world. And it’s hard for me to understand how anyone can be serious about preventing abortion if they’re not interested in that.

    Show me the evidence, Rob. Show me the evidence of a country that has used the combination of an abortion ban, abstinance-only education and private charity to bring about an abortion rate as low as 150% of Belgium’s.

    At that point, you have a case that the pro-life movement’s committment to a strategy of abortion bans, abstinence-only education, and private giving has something to do with a rational approach to preventing abortion. But unless you can provide that evidence, it’s hard for me to understand how supporting current pro-life strategy is anything but ideology.

    Yes, I understand that you don’t like Belgium’s tax policies. I understand that you don’t like the “hedonism” (even though I don’t think teens in Belgium – or in the Netherlands – are actually more likely to be having sex than their American counterparts – but I could be mistaken about that, and I’m too lazy to look it up at the moment).

    But the fact is, Belgium’s abortion rate is less than a third of the USA’s. If we could get our abortion rate that low, we’d be preventing around 800,000 abortions a year.

    Now, if someone told me that there’s a possibility of trading off a tax structure I don’t like (say, a flat tax) combined with a moral structure I don’t like (say, a widespread belief that premarital sex and gay sex are both sinful); and in exchange, 800,000 people who would otherwise be brutally murdered would be saved every single year; I’d be interested. Maybe I’d decide it wasn’t worth it, but I’d at least want to consider the idea seriously (and, frankly, I think I might go for it). Yes, a flat tax is immoral, and so is sexual repression; but are they really more important than 800,000 lives every year?

    It would be one thing if I thought that pro-lifers were merely disagreeing with me after giving the matter careful thought. But I know damn well, from having bounced these ideas off many pro-lifers, that they don’t give it serious thought. The overwhelming majority don’t give it any thought at all.

    The idea that by compromising with (gasp!) liberals, they might prevent 800,000 abortions/murders a year is of absolutely no interest to the vast majority of pro-lifers. Isn’t that stunning? It amazes me.

    I don’t doubt that many pro-lifers believe that fetuses are children. But because I don’t doubt that, the pro-life committment to a strategy that, in the real world, doesn’t seem to prevetn many abortions compared to alternative strategies, is bewildering.

    * * *

    Robert: Y’all seem very fond of the phrase “use government force to restrict women’s choices”, and variants thereof. I think that’s a phrase that shows bad faith in argumentation.

    Tell me something, Robert: If you hear a pro-lifer say “abortion kills a genetically distinct human being,” do you call that “bad faith in argumentation”? I bet you don’t.

    And you shouldn’t. It’s the truth. It may be the truth cast in a way that sheds unflattering light on the pro-choice position – but as long as it’s truthful, it’s arguing in good faith.

    Abortion bans are, literally, the government forcing childbirth on unwilling pregnant women. That’s the truth, and I maintain that telling the truth – even telling it in a way that sheds unflattering light on the pro-life position – is arguing in good faith.

    Part of my point is that – although pro-lifers would like to sweep it under the carpet – their are moral consequences to banning abortion, as well. Women being thrown in jail, for example. Women being injured or killed because they’re afraid to go to a hospital after an illegal abortion goes bad. Vastly increased single motherhood. And, yes, less freedom for women.

    Pro-lifers talk as if banning abortion will magically make abortion go away – poof! – no muss, no fuss. Pointing out that it’s not that simple is legitimate.

    * * *

    I used to think I could have rational discussions with pro-lifers, back when the disagreement was about what is or isn’t personhood, is outlawing abortion enslavement of women, etc.. Those are all things I believe rational people can in good faith disagree on.

    However, that pro-lifers believe abortion is murder – but are nonetheless unwilling to even consider what policies are, in the real world, associated with low abortion rates – has profoundly shaken my faith in the idea that pro-lifers are open to rational discussion.

    And of course, my side is winning.

    Your side is winning?

    There’s no sign that US abortion rates have gone down more than the usual fluctuations, and there’s some evidence that abortion rates in the US have gone up in recent years.

    What’s clear is that the US is nowhere near having a truly low abortion rate (one comparible to Belgium’s or West Germany’s). And there’s no reason to think the US abortion rate ever will be that low.

    So if “winning” is defined as preventing as many abortions as possible, Robert, then no, your side isn’t winning.

    But of course, that’s not how your side defines “winning.”

    And that is my problem with the pro-life movement.

  18. 18
    mythago says:

    And of course, my side is winning.

    “Saying so to make it so” is worthy of Derrida, but not of serious consideration.

    The majority of people want abortion to be available for them, and they have contradictory and irrational feelings about abortion for everybody else. (“Irrational” is about the nicest way I can characterize a position that says a fetus is a human, except when it’s conceived through rape, and then you can kill it.)

    Now, the handy thing about that majority is that you can point to their support for some abortions (the ones they want) and call them pro-choice, or point to the ones they don’t want (slutty welfare mothers) and call them pro-life.

    You show an enormous amount of bad faith in argumentation, Robert. Can’t you enjoy arguing without playing dumb?

  19. 19
    Robert says:

    Abortion rate (abortions per 1000 women) isn’t the appropriate statistic to compare countries. Belgium might have a low rate because it’s full of senior citizens. The appropriate measure is abortions per 100 pregnancies.

    If you’ll accept that measure, I’ll be glad to do some analysis of the international data and see whether anyone else reaches the Belgian/German yardstick.

  20. 20
    Myca says:

    Prevention of water deaths is the single most important moral issue of our time.

    Of course, I’m idealogically opposed to teaching our children to swim, funding lifeguarding programs, the coast guard, life perservers, or even safety signs, but HOW DARE YOU question my opposition to water deaths?

    I’ll have you know that I’m more than happy to oppose them in my own way by criminalizing lakes, rivers, seas, and oceans.

    That’ll show ‘em.

    —Myca

  21. 21
    activistgradgal says:

    Robert,

    Here you go:

    Table 2. Measures of legal abortion, by completeness of data, country and data year
    Completeness and country

    Country Ratio*

    Australia, 1995–1996 26.4
    Belarus, 1996 61.9
    Belgium, 1996** 11.2
    Bulgaria,1996 55.2
    Canada, 1995†† 22.0
    Cuba, 1996 58.6
    Czech Republic,1996 34.0
    Denmark, 1995 20.3
    England & Wales, 1996‡‡ 20.5
    Estonia, 1996 56.0
    Finland, 1996 14.7
    Germany, 1996 14.1
    Hungary, 1996 42.1
    Israel, 1995 13.1
    Kazakhstan, 1996 41.3
    Latvia, 1996 53.9
    Netherlands, 1996‡‡ 10.6
    New Zealand, 1995 19.1
    Norway, 1996 19.1
    Puerto Rico, 1991–1992 23.0
    Scotland, 1996§§ 17.2
    Singapore, 1996 22.8
    Slovak Republic, 1996 28.8
    Slovenia, 1996 35.7
    Sweden, 1996 25.2
    Switzerland, 1996*† 13.3
    Tunisia, 1996 7.8
    United States, 1996 25.9

    *Abortions per 100 known pregnancies

    From http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/25s3099.html

  22. 22
    activistgradgal says:

    Actually there’s lots of other data in the table including, but none of it is simply # of abortions per 1000 women. There is a measure of # of abortions per 1000 women AGED 15-44. I suspect perhaps those are the #s some of us are quoting when we talk about the “abortion rate.”

    But your measure of abortions per 100 pregnancies obscures the great differences in pregnancy rates from country to country. If nobody is actually having unplanned pregnancies then the # of abortions for 100 pregnancies might be very low because they were all planned pregnancies. But of those who do get pregnant by mistake the # who choose abortion might be 100% if economic/social support for young single mothers is severely lacking. So I think we need to have data on how many people have unplanned pregnancies in the first place.

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    Mythago: You show an enormous amount of bad faith in argumentation, Robert. Can’t you enjoy arguing without playing dumb?

    With all due respect, Mythago (and I respect you a lot), the above line is a direct personal attack, which is something I’d prefer people not do on Alas. (The rest of your post I agreed with 100%).

    * * *

    Robert wrote: Abortion rate (abortions per 1000 women) isn’t the appropriate statistic to compare countries. Belgium might have a low rate because it’s full of senior citizens. The appropriate measure is abortions per 100 pregnancies.

    First of all, Rob, the standard statistic I was referring to wasn’t “abortions per 1000 women.” It’s “abortions per 1000 women ages 15 to 44.” So it is absolutely impossible that Begium has “a low rate because it’s full of senior citizens.” So your one and (so far) only reason for calling this measure “inappropriate” is completely baseless.

    (Incidently, even if you restrict the comparison to abortions per 1000 female teenagers, Belgium’s rate is still much lower than ours. Whatever causes the difference, it’s not age differences).

    Second of all, even if we use your measure, I doubt you’ll find a country where bans, abstinence-only education, and an emphasis on private charity have brought about results as low as Belgium or the Netherlands. (Thank you, ActivistGradGirl!)

    But thirdly, it doesn’t matter, because your proposed measure is inappropriate. It has the effect of completely eliminating the abortion-prevention effects of birth control. A statistic that ignores birth control entirely is failing to measure the real world accurately.

    Since my contention is that people who want to reduce abortion as much as possible should be paying attention to what’s going on in the real world, rather than taking an idealogical approach to eliminating abortion, your “let’s ignore that birth control exists in the real world” measure is inappropriate.

  24. 24
    Ampersand says:

    Whoops, I cross-posted with activistgradgirl. :-)

    By the way, Happy Christmas to all who celebrate it.

  25. 25
    heydt says:

    “Oh, I know I’m not much good as a proselytyzer, Heydt. I like to argue more than I like to evangelize. Still, it’s always helpful to know the memes the other team is playing with. (And of course, my side is winning. So they don’t need me evangelizing all that much, either.)”

    I didn’t say you were proselytizing, Robert… I was pointing out that your original statement was inherently laughable. To say that proselytizing and a position of moral certainty were incompatible was ridiculous.

    Especially coming from your side of the debate.

  26. 26
    mythago says:

    “Oh, I know I’m not much good as a proselytyzer, Heydt. I like to argue more than I like to evangelize. Still, it’s always helpful to know the memes the other team is playing with. (And of course, my side is winning. So they don’t need me evangelizing all that much, either.)”

    This is the bad-faith argumentation I was referring to, Amp. I certainly don’t think Robert *is* dumb.

  27. 27
    Robert says:

    Amp – My apologies. I misinterpreted what the abortion rate figures represented; I thought they were raw numbers. You’re right about the effects of birth control on the per-100-pregnancies figure, too. (Free admissions of error – merry Christmas. Don’t say I never got you anything.)

    However, it seems like the abortion rate measure would be unpredictably distorted by differences in other fertility variables. If the rate drops from 15 to 10, did it drop because birth control became more widely available? Because of a demographic embrace of abstinence? Because radiation sterilized everyone? Because all the abortion clinics were shut down by protesters? Hard to say without more detailed information. Behavioral surveys would be very useful, but I don’t know of any that are cross-national. (Come on, Guttmacher, get off the pot here.)

    I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit today. The main insight my rumination brought me is this:

    Belgium is a tiny and homogenous country. All of the low-abortion countries on the Guttmacher list are small to smallish, except for Germany. They’re all relatively homogenous, too.

    The US, on the other hand, is gigantic and extremely varied. I wondered what I might find if I looked into by-state figures, or by ethnic group figures, or other breakdowns. (A Swedish economist once said to Milton Friedman “there is almost no poverty in Sweden”. Milton’s response was “there is almost no poverty among Swedes in America, either.”) There are a lot of variations.

    And WOW, are there a lot of variations. According to Guttmacher, the low state on the totem pole is Wyoming, with a rate of 1 per 1000. The high state is DC, with 68. That’s almost a 70-fold variation. If we throw out the low and high outliers (which we should), the low is Idaho with 5.3, and the high is New York with 39. That’s still almost eightfold.

    There are variations by race. Black women have a rate about three times higher than white women. For Hispanic women it’s about 2.5 to 1.

    Religious differences are a little tricky. Protestant women are 43% of those getting abortions; Catholic women are 27%. (Don’t know about other religious groups.) In terms of rates, Protestant women are a little below the curve and Catholic women a little above it (probably because of birth control issues).

    So what does all of this mean? Well, it means that a simple comparison between Belgium and the US probably isn’t very meaningful. There is a huge pile of data sources, however, and I bet there is some really revealing stuff in there. If I get a chance this week I will put some correlations together and publish them over at LTF.

    In terms of our respective positions, I think there is likely some support for your position that access to birth control is a huge factor in the abortion rate. Perhaps people on my side of the fence should examine that more closely.

    Unfortunately for your position, although I haven’t done a detailed analysis, it also appears likely that in places where it’s hard to get an abortion (which is a reasonable proxy for abortions being illegal), the rate is very low. Are people in Wyoming more careful with contraceptives, knowing that the only clinic is a hundred miles away? Could be, could be. It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s definitely worth looking into.

  28. 28
    mythago says:

    it also appears likely that in places where it’s hard to get an abortion (which is a reasonable proxy for abortions being illegal), the rate is very low.

    Rate of what?

  29. 29
    Robert says:

    The rate of abortions per 1000 women age 15-44.

  30. 30
    mythago says:

    I admit I’d like to see more than “also appears likely” as evidence. (But then, I actually have a dog in this fight–it’s more than a fun exercise in debate for me. I’m so silly!)

  31. 31
    Ampersand says:

    Robert, is it a problem with state-to-state statistics that it’s relatively simple for most folks to cross a state line if a neighboring state has better abortion availability?

    (For comparison, it seems to me that if you measured prevalence of gun ownership by looking at how many guns are purchased in each state, you might conclude that state-level gun bans are very effective. However, my guess is that there are actually many more gun owners in the gun ban states than such statistics show.)

    * * *

    There’s also a problem comparing anything medical – but especially something people have reason to keep secret – between a country with socialized medicine and states in the US (or the US as a whole). States with socialized medicine tend to have extremely good record-keeping and record-reporting. (That’s one thing centralized rule-making is very good at.)

    The US’s record-keeping and record-reporting is much more haphazard; especially when talking about something people have reason to keep secret, like abortions, this probably leads to undercounting in the USA.

  32. 32
    Robert says:

    Amp -

    Yes, you’d have to take the ability to cross state lines into account. (Probably by creating regionalized averages weighted by proximity.)

    The records problem I can’t really address. Take it up with Guttmacher; they seem to be pretty confident in their data.

  33. 33
    mythago says:

    The rate of abortions per 1000 women age 15-44.

    So in places where it’s hard to get an abortion, women have less of them? That seems rather a no-brainer, especially if you take into account the likelihood that women in such areas may underreport.

    The problem, Robert, is that you then try to slide by with the idea that this is a measure of unplanned pregnancies. That is, you extrapolate backwards: if a woman doesn’t have an abortion, it’s because her pregnancy was planned and wanted. I know you know better than that.

  34. 34
    Robert says:

    You might want to put off criticizing my conclusion until I actually have a conclusion, Mythago. I realize that “It’s hard to say for sure; but it’s definitely worth looking into” reads exactly like an ironclad statement of truth, but consider the possibility that by “it’s hard to say for sure”, I mean “it’s hard to say for sure”.

  35. 35
    mythago says:

    Robert, c’mon. Floating a hypothesis and then appending “but it’s hard to say for sure” does not mean that nobody is allowed to say anything about your hypothesis because, geez-o-pete! you didn’t say it was an “ironclad statement of truth.”

  36. 36
    Robert says:

    I presented one hypothesis: that one possible explanation for a low abortion rate is that the knowledge that abortion is difficult to procure (involving a long trip, in the case of Wyoming) might lead people to be extra scrupulous with birth control. Which it obviously MIGHT – it’s entirely plausible and certainly jibes with my own experiences – but it isn’t certain whether it does, or what the magnitude of the caution factor is. Thus, “it’s hard to say for sure”.

    From this, you criticize me on the basis of a subject that I did not address, or even mention intending to address – that I am making assertions about wanted vs. unwanted slash unplanned vs. planned pregnancies.

    I therefore assume that you are criticizing on the basis of what you imagine my conclusion will eventually be, and I ask you to refrain from that argument-in-bad-faith tactic.

    Perhaps my assumption is misplaced. You could easily demolish it by simply quoting whatever element of my original statement leads you to believe I have expressed a view on the question of planned vs. unplanned slash wanted vs. unwanted pregnancies.

    These discussions are very difficult and for many people are very emotional. I find it helpful to try to focus on the semantic content of what people have written or said.

  37. 37
    mythago says:

    I therefore assume that you are criticizing on the basis of what you imagine my conclusion will eventually be

    No, I am criticizing the hypothesis you presented. Why you think this is “bad faith,” I truly cannot fathom, unless you are saying that it’s just bad form to discuss a hypothesis until the person suggesting it dubs it a conclusion?

    I mean, on the speculation front, I could guess that it would be likely that infanticide “could be” more common in areas where abortion is hard to obtain. Inflammatory and conclusory? You bet. I’d expect to be called on that one, and I wouldn’t expect that saying “It wasn’t a conclusion” would buy me an out.

  38. 38
    Robert says:

    My hypothesis concerns caution in the use of birth control.

    Will you please explain the connection you see between this hypothesis, and the question of planned vs. unplanned / wanted vs. unwanted pregnancy?

  39. 39
    Kit says:

    1) Concept of self in time and having a future. Some have said that this isn’t present in young babies or other animals, however it is easier to see if we look upon an early sign of it as an instinct to survive. This applies to many non-human animals (any arguments with this, please refer to squirrels storing nuts for the winter). It also applies to humans after a certain time. This is certainly not possible before the cortex has formed, but is clearly present in babies (personally, I’m not sure exactly when it begins, but I can see two points between which it must start, and thus know that at this point it cannot have started) as they are hungry, have an instinctive desire for survival – nourishment, sleep, warmth, etc. – even if they can’t do anything about it yet (thus they cry as they know this leads to food!).

    1b) AMANDA SAID: “One way or another, I find most pro-lifers who go on about a fetus’s consciousness (before it has a brain?) to be hypocrites in the extreme. Animals have far more consciousness than a 3-month-old fetus and I have yet to meet a pro-lifer who is an adamant vegetarian. If they are lurking here, please speak up.”

    Too right! I’d even go so far as to say that many non-human animals have a much higher level of consciousness than a month old human baby! Which reacts to its name?

    2) Pregnancy as a natural result of sex and thus to have a baby is “taking responsibility” for this action. If you truly think this, then I hope you think about it every single time you have sex. Even if you use a condom and/or the pill and/or a coil and/or so on… Because no method of contraception is 100% reliable. However, using one or more is having sex responsibly: you are doing what you can to make this action as safe as possible. You know the risks of walking down the street (more dangerous than you’d think), yet you choose to do so because they are small (the risks, not the roads!) and further reduced if you take precautions (eg, not walking in the middle of a busy road, looking before crossing the street, etc). If, Gods forbid, there was an accident, should doctors refuse to treat you, save your life, because you knew the risks and still did it? In this case, dying from your injuries is your responsibility for your actions. Interesting argument you have there.

    3) ROBERT SAID: “Yes, the embryo could die or be damaged or be killed subsequent to that moment – but the moment would have occurred, the fusion would have occurred. It’d be a done deal. There’s a difference between a done deal and a potentiality, however close the potentiality is to actualization.”

    I’m afraid you’ve rather shot yourself in the foot there. An embryo only has the potential to be born and live outside the mother. Until it is actually born, this is only potential and you do not know whether or not it will reach this until it happens. The mother could naturally miscarriage at any stage of the pregnancy, she could die before birth, she and the foetus could die during birth, the baby could die during birth, the baby could be born but have some disorder previously undetected that means it cannot survive and thus dies immediately. Only after birth, when the baby is surviving independently of the mother is it “a done deal”. Until this point it can have any level of probability of happening (rising significantly towards birth), just as the sperm and egg have a level of probability of meeting (rising significantly through intercourse/isolation in a petrie dish). By your own argument, either to stop sperm and egg from meeting is ok (because you’re only stopping the potential), thus stopping an embryo reaching its term is ok (because you’re only stopping that potential), or neither is ok (because all stopping potential is wrong). If you’re going to base an argument on potential, then please ensure it agrees with the rest of your points.

    4) Someone earlier said that modern scientific advances mean that we can look at fairly early embryos (I believe they said something like 3 month old ones) so closely that they look like new-born babies. Just because something looks like something else does not mean that it is that other thing. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that, at risk of sounding patronising. An even earlier embryo looks like a tadpole. It is not a tadpole, of course, but it looks like one. The embryo that looks like a born baby is not one, there are things going on inside that make it very different. Again, I don’t mean to be patronising, but sometimes a counter-argument needs to be given simply to point out flaws in the original argument. The pro-life lobby like to prey on people’s emotions rather than win moral or logical arguments, and this “it looks just like a new-born child” is exactly that.

    I am afraid I’m not up to my usual standard of communication right this minute – it’s 7am and I should’ve gone to bed hours ago, but I found this debate so interesting I’ve read almost every post and now find myself writing this – so apologies for any point that is not clear… Need sleep…

  40. 40
    mythago says:

    Which it obviously MIGHT

    Well, as we lawyers say, anything’s *possible*. Whether it’s plausible, or probable, is another matter.

    As the head of the American Life League says, birth control means you didn’t want to get pregnant, therefore if you used birth control and got pregnant anyway, it’s a pregnancy you would want to abort. Which fits into the variant of your hypothesis I’ve observed among pro-lifers: namely, that those lazy sluts don’t bother with birth control or keeping their legs crossed because they could nip off to the abortion clinic, and if we stop letting them have abortions, they’ll be more responsible.

    A more plausible hypothesis, assuming that abortion rates *are* lower in areas with no access, is simply that women carry to term pregnancies they would, given the choice, have aborted. This was certainly the case in Michigan in the mid-1990s. Shortly before I moved away, the pro-lifers got a ban on publicly-funded abortions passed, by claiming that data showed that when you cut that funding, people were “more careful” and stopped having and aborting all those babies.

    Predictably, when the media followed up a year later, adoption agencies in Detroit were overwhelmed. Seems as though people weren’t any more careful about their birth control after all. The Catholic family-service agencies were shocked, shocked, because they had NO IDEA, you see, that people would magically stop getting pregnant if you stopped paying for abortion.

    Now, Robert, as somebody who’s said he mostly just enjoys the whole debate-team aspect here, that’s a win for your “side”: the irresponsible sluts are being forced to carry their babies to term, as God intended. If you in fact care about the unwanted pregnancies in the first place, it’s not such a great outcome.

  41. 41
    Robert says:

    OK, mythago, I am still confused.

    Perhaps I’m being stupid; it wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last. However, I do not understand how you get to the idea that I’m expressing an opinion about whether pregnancies are wanted or unwanted from what I’ve said here.

    Would you mind explaining it to me as though I were a little child?

  42. 42
    Robert says:

    Oh, one other point.

    “As the head of the American Life League says, birth control means you didn’t want to get pregnant, therefore if you used birth control and got pregnant anyway, it’s a pregnancy you would want to abort.”

    This may be true for some people; not for all. Real life counterexample: my wife and I use birth control. We don’t want to get pregnant. If we did get pregnant accidentally, we would keep the child joyfully. Abortion would not be on the table.

    (When we were pregnant with Stephanie, our doctors were great about understanding that abortion wasn’t an option, and identifying procedures that could thus be foregone, like the amnio.)

  43. 43
    Q Grrl says:

    *cough*

    There is no such thing as “we” being pregnant. No such thing.

  44. 44
    R says:

    Q Grrl, you are certainly welcome to your opinion.

    However, it carries no weight in our world. Your perspective is irrelevant, and uninvited. In fact, it’s specifically excluded from this very private area of our lives.

    We raise our children, we love our children, and we get pregnant with our children.

  45. 45
    Q Grrl says:

    Well, given that it is a biological and physical impossibility for “we” to be pregnant, I’m definitely more leary about your opinions on abortion then. As a feminist, I would rather not be objectified to the point where men feel comfortable co-opting my body, even if it is just a linguistic co-optation. I know that socially it is permissable an quite chic to co-opt the physical and psychic bodies of women so that men feel that they level out this particular difference/ambiguity between the sexes. I mean, God did it with Mary, why can’t mere mortal men make the same mistake?

    It might be a private part of your life, but it strikes me as delusional. And that this delusion hurts women, especially when abortion is politically on shaky ground.

  46. 46
    mousehounde says:

    Real life counterexample: my wife and I use birth control. We don’t want to get pregnant. If we did get pregnant accidentally, we would keep the child joyfully. Abortion would not be on the table.

    I am sorry, but I don’t understand the *we* got pregnant thing. In that scenario, your wife is pregnant. You helped get her that way, but *you* are not pregnant. Where does the *we* part come in? At delivery time can you take her place? Can you say “No dear, you got the last one, let me do it this time.”? Is it going to be *you* in the delivery room risking their life to have the baby? I do not understand when men say *we* are pregnant. It just seems wrong.

  47. 47
    Robert says:

    When it comes to our children, we are a partnership, not two individuals. We get pregnant in the same sense that IBM gets awarded a contract.

  48. 48
    Q Grrl says:

    There is no sense to pregnancy. It is pretty concrete.

  49. 49
    Q Grrl says:

    There is no sense to pregnancy. It is pretty concrete.

    … when you were getting your wife pregnant did you say “look Sweetie, *we* have a hard-on”?

  50. 50
    Q Grrl says:

    oops. Double post. Sorry

  51. 51
    mousehounde says:

    When it comes to our children, we are a partnership, not two individuals. We get pregnant in the same sense that IBM gets awarded a contract.

    You feel that you and your wife are as *one* when it comes to pregnancy. You feel comfortable saying *we* are pregnant. What if during the first trimester of an unplanned pregnancy it turned out that for health/financial reasons that the best thing for everyone is that the pregnancy should be terminated? For example, bringing the baby to term would harm your wife, or both of you lose your jobs and will not even be able to support the children you have now without difficulty, or the child is determined to have birth defects that will render it non viable or to need permanent, drastic care. In this worst case scenario, should your wife decide that abortion is the best option to preserve her health or the current family’s security would she be allowed to abort? Or would your wishes override hers?
    I understand that you think that the *we* being pregnant thing truly means both of you. But when it comes down to it, doesn’t it just mean your wife? Isn’t it her decision? And if it isn’t her decision, doesn’t that mean that she is not in control of her body? That you, the man, are?

  52. 52
    Robert says:

    We would make the decision together. I can’t speak for Tamara, but from previous extensive conversations, there are no ordinary circumstances under which she would abort, and only one extraordinary circumstance (if carrying to term would kill both her and the child).

    If there was a disagreement between us, then her decision would control.

  53. 53
    Q Grrl says:

    I have no problem with you sharing decisionmaking with your wife. Or childrearing. I just think that saying “we” are pregnant is a convenient way for men to maintain a level of control over something that they have no intrinsic control over in the first place. It’s a kinda yucky smarmy liberal feel good icky thing to me (you see how I feel!). Men can’t get pregnant. ever. I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now. :p

  54. 54
    Robert says:

    I don’t care whether you have a problem with it or not. As stated previously, your opinion was not solicited and is not interesting or important to us.

  55. 55
    Q Grrl says:

    ? This is a pro-feminist blog, no? Of course if you write something that verges on the outrageous you are in fact “soliciting” opinion.

    Your stance on the “we” thing also frames your stance on abortion. Or should I say weakens it? You might not think it important, but it is, and you aren’t willing to justify it — although you are willing to tell women what to do with their bodies. Hmmmm.

  56. 56
    zuzu says:

    Count me in on the hating the “we’re pregnant” convention. *She* is pregnant. *We* are expecting a child.

    By the way, Robert, do you announce every 28 days that *we* have our period?

  57. 57
    Robert says:

    Who gets to frame the way y’all handle your relationships? You and your partner(s), or me?

    Who is in charge of my wife’s pregancies, and how she conceives of them, and what family model she puts herself into? Her, or you?

    It is ironic, although entirely unsurprising, that some of the same people who throw an absolute fit at the notion that some wicked patriarch is going to come along and require them to speak a certain way, or think a certain way, or act a certain way – nonetheless think that the private intricacies of other people’s relationships are their business. You worship choice – as long as nobody chooses something you find objectionable…

    Well, humbug. It’s none of your business how my wife and I frame our pregnancies. If we want to say “we”, then we will say “we”, and if you don’t like it, you’re welcome to file your complaint at the Department of MYOFB.

  58. 58
    mythago says:

    This may be true for some people; not for all.

    I know that, and you know that, but the American Life League (and its fellow travelers) believe that’s why contraception is wrong too.

    I don’t think you need to have it explained as though you were a little child, but: you floated a hypothesis. I explained why I thought it why it should be round-filed before you spent a lot of effort on it. That’s all.

    We get pregnant in the same sense that IBM gets awarded a contract.

    IBM is a single entity; you are two people. Yes, you are a partnership, and as parents–when the child is born–you will share equally in the rights and responsibilities of parenthood.

    But if you go with the IBM analogy, it’s more like IBM being told that it will be awarded a contract once one of its business partners does all the work of putting together a business plan. Only one of you is actually gestating.

    (And yes, I know that “we’re pregnant!” is pretty much just a way for most couples to say that they consider themselves partners in rearing children. I have to say it’s not as cute on those occasions when dad-to-be thinks running to the store for ice cream at 2 a.m. is just as onerous as BEING pregnant.)

  59. 59
    Robert says:

    No, Mythago, I think I do need it explained as a little child.

    Would you please explain to me how my hypothesis that a low abortion rate might be partially explained by cautious use of birth control, means that I am expressing an opinion about whether pregnancies are wanted or unwanted / planned or unplanned? I really don’t understand your thought process, and I want to.

    As a reminder, this is your statement: “The problem, Robert, is that you then try to slide by with the idea that this is a measure of unplanned pregnancies. That is, you extrapolate backwards: if a woman doesn’t have an abortion, it’s because her pregnancy was planned and wanted”

    I don’t see where I do that, and I would like you to explain where or how I do. Thanks!

  60. 60
    Robert says:

    To address the rest of your points, Mythago:

    IBM is a single entity, and so are my wife and I, in some very important respects, parenthood among them. Your own relationships might not fit this model, and that’s cool. But my wife and I do.

    Secondly, we become parents when our child is conceived – not born. Again, YMMV – but we’re not talking about you, we’re talking about me and my wife.

  61. 61
    mythago says:

    and so are my wife and I, in some very important respects

    In some very important respects, such as whose body the baby gestates, your wife is on her own here. That’s a separate issue from joint parenthood, of course.

    I’m not seeing why you don’t follow the statement. Presumably, a woman who has an abortion is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. People who don’t want to be pregnant have one of two options: obtain abortions if they get pregnant, or try to prevent pregnancy in the first place. Your hypothesis seems to be that if option #1 is not possible, people will rely more on #2. Correct?

    The corollary to that is that in abortion-poor areas, women who DO get pregnant must want their pregnancies to go to term. Since, after all, the people who don’t want to be pregnant are being extra-careful, thus reducing unwanted pregnancy. See?

    Though, as the example of Detroit in the mid-1990s shows, people don’t seem to take extra care when abortion is scarce.

  62. 62
    Robert says:

    No, I don’t see.

    The first part is a fair restatement of my hypothesis. However, the corollary is purely original to you. I don’t say anything like that, nor do I believe it to be the case. YOU have made this corollary, and while it may be a theoretically conceivable corollary to draw from the original statement, it isn’t one that I drew.

    You are making claims about what I am saying, that turn out to be not the case. It’s not a legitimate argumentative tactic to draw corollaries from someone’s statements and then attribute them to the original author. You can say “a logical corollary of your statement is XYZ and here’s why that’s wrong” – although it’s a lawyerly and weak tactic – but that’s not what you did here.

    You specifically accused me of making the corollary. You specifically stated that I was extrapolating in a certain direction. Neither of these is the case. You were making the extrapolation, and you were the one drawing the corollary.

    It seems that my original belief, that you were arguing with what you thought I would eventually say rather than with what I actually said, is correct. You’re arguing in bad faith.

  63. 63
    mythago says:

    Now, Robert, using your own standard, I can easily say that you’re arguing in bad faith, since you’re accusing me of doing something I did not in fact believe. What’s that saying about not hiding under a bed….

    You say that’s not what you in fact were arguing: fair enough. It certainly seemed to me that’s what you were arguing. And it’s not a “weak tactic” to point out a logical corrollary to an argument. (Though again, there you go with the game terminology–sides, tactics. Is it that abstract to you, really?)

    I’ll happily admit it’s lawyerly, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Taking your game analogy up here, in chess it’s not good enough to look at the move your opponent is making; you have to see ahead several moves, or you lose.

  64. 64
    Robert says:

    There’s nothing at all wrong with arguing a few steps ahead – when you state that’s what you’re doing, as in “the corollary of your argument is such-and-such, and here’s why that’s wrong”. I specifically cite that tactic as legitimate.

    The problem is that you directly stated that I had said something which I did not say. The quotes: “you then try to slide by with the idea…” and “you extrapolate backwards…” – things that you, Mythago, said that I, Robert, had said – but that I hadn’t.

    The source of my confusion was that I couldn’t believe you would just make up something I had said. I was sure that I must have given the impression inadvertently somewhere, and so while you dodged and weaved, I kept asking you to show me how you derived it from something I said, or where I said what you attributed to me.

    Turns out, the answer is “nowhere”.

    Now the question is whether you’re going to acknowledge making this error, or continue to insist on the legitimacy of your tactic.

  65. 65
    mythago says:

    I couldn’t believe you would just make up something I had said

    Which is to say, you’re not accusing me of being mistaken. You’re accusing me of lying. The fact that you keep making comments about “dodging and weaving” and “lawyerly” (O, the insult!), you’re merely reinforcing my earlier contention that one of us is acting in bad faith, and it’s the one whose name ends in a consonant.

    I’m happy to say that if that’s not in fact what you were thinking, I was mistaken. Of course, then you’d have to admit that you didn’t forsee a logical corollary of your argument. Five points off Slytherin!

  66. 66
    Robert says:

    The problem isn’t that you argued against what you “thought I was thinking”. The problem is that you argued against something that you said I had done. You specifically misrepresented my words. And you have yet to admit it.

    It’s very simple to find out which of us is acting in bad faith.

    You said: “The problem, Robert, is that you then try to slide by with the idea that this is a measure of unplanned pregnancies. That is, you extrapolate backwards: if a woman doesn’t have an abortion, it’s because her pregnancy was planned and wanted.”

    All you have to do to show that I am arguing in bad faith is to quote back the text of mine, in which I do these things. I don’t need to show you arguing in bad faith; you’re doing a fine job of that on your own.

  67. 67
    mousehounde says:

    We would make the decision together. ::snip:: If there was a disagreement between us, then her decision would control.

    Thank you for explaining, Robert. I think that the “*we* are pregnant” thing is just one of those things I will never understand men saying. There are any number of things that are a *we* thing when one is married. *We* bought a house. *We* are in debt. ::g:: *We* got a new puppy. But being pregnant is not a *we* thing, no matter how close a married couple is or how much they agree on pregnancy issues. Something that physically affects only one person in a partnership is not a *we* thing. If I, or my SO, were Diabetic, *we* do not have Diabetes. If one of us is handicapped, *we* are not handicapped. If one of us is Deaf, *we* do not have hearing problems. Same thing with being pregnant. There is no *we*. *We* might be expecting, but *we* are not pregnant. If I were 7/8 months pregnant and my back hurt, my ankles were swollen, I had to pee every 5 minutes, I would have to whack my partner upside the head with a brick if they ever said *we* are pregnant. Because unless they can get up and pee for me, and let me stay on the couch, there is no *we*. ::g::

  68. 68
    Q Grrl says:

    Robert: So, pregnancy is a privacy issue? Good. Then you have no basis for forming an opinion on abortion. Done deal. It’s none of your business what any woman does other than your wife.

    And it’s none of your business how and when women decide a fetus is a part of her body and when it becomes human.

    By your own standards.

  69. 69
    piny says:

    Wow, Robert, it’s like you’ve never encountered a forum before. Would that I could use the, “I didn’t ask for your opinion and totally don’t care what it is,” rebuttal in all my online debates.

    So, if you and your wife believed that it was your wife’s duty to submit graciously, would the women on this blog have no right to complain about _that_ arrangement, since it would just be you and your wife’s relationship?

    No one was proposing that it be illegal for you to describe you and your wife as pregnant. You and she get to make whatever choices, linguistic and otherwise, you like. Then we get to criticize the hell out of them.

    And “we are pregnant,” deserves criticism; it obscures the very real fact that pregnancy is something that happens to women, and only to women. Your wife, and only your wife, would be carrying a child. Since we live in a society where too many people believe that (a) there are no serious physiological and psychological issues wrt pregnancy and (b) individual women have no special interest in their own pregnancies, your language choice is a dangerous one.

    Would you feel the same way if another husband or partner said of his wife’s assault, “We’ve been raped?”

  70. 70
    Anne M. says:

    I find “We’re pregnant” to be annoyingly twee and pwecious.

    If I, or my SO, were Diabetic, *we* do not have Diabetes. If one of us is handicapped, *we* are not handicapped

    Well, the handicap and the diabetes are presumably not due to the actions of one’s SO. I can kind of see the thought process in saying “We’re pregnant,” but I think it’s just poorly worded shorthand for saying “I impregnated her” that is meant to sound more balanced and inclusive. The fact remains, obviously, that the woman is the only one who is actually pregnant.

  71. 71
    Amanda says:

    I’m so saying, “We have a hard-on,” next time I see one. Granted, it will probably make the aforementioned disappear, but I just can’t not use such a joke.

  72. 72
    Amanda says:

    For the record, anyone who claims that there isn’t a mine, a yours, and an ours in relationships is lying. For instance, if I find a hairball on the carpet, HIS cat is throwing up on MY carpet.

  73. 73
    Q Grrl says:

    *wink*

    In my case, the hard-on’s are detachable, so we do get to say “we” or is that “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”?

  74. 74
    Robert says:

    Piny, you’re welcome to use the line. Any time the context is how you frame your relationships and someone tells you that you can’t do it that way, feel free.

    You are (collectively) attempting to close down debate on a topic by unilaterally deciding that the matter is a closed question. “Pregnancy is something that happens to women, and only to women”. This is certainly a point of view; however, millions of people think that pregnancy is something that can happen within a relationship, that it is not a purely individual phenomenon. You are not obliged to sign onto this view, but neither are you empowered to invalidate it in the lives of other people.

    Amanda, as far as I know, nobody has claimed there isn’t a mine, a yours, and an ours. What’s in contention is whether pregnancy can ever be an ours.

  75. 75
    Anne M. says:

    This is certainly a point of view; however, millions of people think that pregnancy is something that can happen within a relationship, that it is not a purely individual phenomenon

    Um, of course it happens within relationships. But it IS only the woman who IS pregnant! Geez. It’s a simple biological fact.

  76. 76
    Robert says:

    Gosh, I’m hearing an awful lot of biology=destiny from y’all.

    Does your belief in the absolute primacy of biology over socially-constructed relationships extend into other areas, as well?

  77. 77
    zuzu says:

    So it’s really only a social construct that men can’t get pregnant and carry the child to term? We’re going to have to get on that one.

    Presumably, a woman who has an abortion is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

    Not necessarily, in the case of an ectopic pregnancy or one with a severely malformed fetus. Though there, the conception might be welcomed, if the idea of continuing with the pregnancy was not.

  78. 78
    FoolishOwl says:

    Gender roles are a social construction. Pregnancy is not a social construction.

  79. 79
    Robert says:

    “Gender roles are a social construction. Pregnancy is not…” she said, while assigning pregnancy to one gender role only. Tomayto, tomahto.

  80. 80
    FoolishOwl says:

    Interesting. So, if I take on a female gender role, I can get pregnant, despite my lack of a uterus?

  81. 81
    Robert says:

    I beg your pardon, FoolishOwl. I thought you were a pregnancy-enabled construct, not a pregnancy-disabled one. My bad.

  82. 82
    Robert says:

    You tell me.

    If gender roles are constructs, then by taking on a gender role you should be able to everything that gender does.

    Right?

  83. 83
    Q Grrl says:

    You should do your homework on gender roles vs. sex roles before you spout out more gibberish.

    For example: a gender role would be something along the lines of what you are doing right now… a man creating a classic reversal out of what women say so that he looks like he is the victim.

    Pregnancy is a biological fact, not a social construct. It becomes a social construct when men such as you say that “we” are pregnant. But you aren’t really grasping that concept, are you? You’d rather bully the women. Bravo for you.

    At this juncture, you’re simply not making sense any more.

    It is also politically salient to note your male insistance on the “we” in pregnancy. It is the same frame of mind that can’t grasp that it is a woman’s body and a woman’s choice to either carry a fetus to term or to terminate it. As long as you muddy the line of bodily integrity and try to claim that you too are pregnant it is much easier for you to take the psychological jump and make determinations based on your politics on what a woman can and cannot do with her own body. That is why your semantic twists are disturbing and up for criticism.

    And it really gets my knickers in a wad that you don’t know what gender roles are… Argh.

  84. 84
    Robert says:

    OK, I think I’m starting to understand the view.

    When biological truths, gender roles and social construction favor the privileges and prerogatives of men, they are evil, bullying, oppressive, disturbing, etc.

    When biological truths, gender roles and social construction favor the privileges and prerogatives of women, they are rooted in biology, unchangeable, obvious, self-evident, etc.

    Attempts by women to negotiate with the men in their lives to share privileges and power (often at the expense of male dominance of an area of interest) are heroic and noble.

    Attempts by men to negotiate with the women in their lives to share privileges and power (often at the expense of female dominance) are muddying, political, and disturbing.

    Have I got it about right?

  85. 85
    Sheelzebub says:

    Tell ya what Robert. When we develop the technology, we will implant our fetuses into you. Then you get to make the choice, and suffer the consequences and physical problems of pregnancy. Although, once that happens, I’m willing to be that abortion will suddenly be declared a sacrement.

  86. 86
    FoolishOwl says:

    No, you don’t have it right, of course. Although you may win an award for abuse of the logical operator “and.”

  87. 87
    Ampersand says:

    No, you haven’t gotten it at all right. You have shown a mastery of right-wing stereotypes about feminism, however; and also a mastery of using ad homs instead of intelligent argument.

    I don’t buy that you’re so stupid that you can’t understand why “women should do the nurturing, men should bring home the bacon” is an example of gender roles, but “women get pregnant and men don’t” is an example of a biological difference.

    My guess is that you’re just pretending to be a moron to bait the other posters here. But I’m not interested in providing a forum for right-wingers to bait lefties; if you’re going to keep on posting here, I’d ask you to drop this crap and stick to substantive argument instead.

    * * *

    On the other hand, Q Grrl, to describe what Robert is doing as “bullying” is not only inaccurate, it trivializes the very real suffering that actual bullying causes.

    * * *

    Could everyone please cut the ad hom arguments out? Please? Until a few days ago, this was an interesting thread; now it’s gone all to hell.

  88. 88
    Q Grrl says:

    When biological truths, gender roles and social construction favor the privileges and prerogatives of men, they are evil, bullying, oppressive, disturbing, etc.

    When biological truths, gender roles and social construction favor the privileges and prerogatives of women, they are rooted in biology, unchangeable, obvious, self-evident, etc.”

    Believe it or not, I do think you are close to some part of the truth (as I see it). Gender roles are not about biology or sex or even social constructs (if you believe that social constructs are flexible and cover a range of ideas). Gender is about power; specifically a power hierarchy where certain biological characteristics, no matter how they are manifested, are endowed (pun intended) with power and others are not. Gender is a system, dynamic and sometimes in appearance open ended, while in reality close ended. It is a dichotomy of who holds power in society and who doesn’t. It seems to be predicated on biology, when in fact biology is just a convenient marker for delineating which and whose bodies will be in positions of power.

    So yes, when talking to feminists, you are going to run across us criticizing current male gender roles as “bullying” or oppressive; while at the same time trying to show more truth to the lives, the lived realities, and the biological functions that make us unique *****on our terms***** rather than on the terms set forth by a patriarchal power hierarchy.

    That is why, in a thread on abortion, I had problems with you saying “we” are pregnant. It cuts out key parts of women’s lives that are on the political and social chopping block right now, and I’m not capable of taking it lightly.

    Do I think it is wonderful that you and your wife share this view of her pregnancy and your combined devotion to childrearing? Yes. Politically, and especially when debating politics, I am going to challenge your semantics and the ideologies behind them.

  89. 89
    Robert says:

    Amp, I’m not trying to be a moron to bait. As for the right-wing stereotypes, well…just because it’s a stereotype doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

    I understand the difference between gender roles and sex roles. I understand that a woman has a child in her uterus, and a man doesn’t. I also understand that “pregnancy” in the broader sense is a socially-mediated construct – as someone like Q Grrl would be the first to insist if a patriarch was attempting to set boundaries on a woman who was pregnant. “Just because you construct pregnancy to mean that I am feeble doesn’t mean that…” It seems to me that if something is constructed, then it’s flexible, and we can change it if we want to. (Whether that change is a good idea or a bad idea is another question.)

    I find it baffling that people who insist on their right to redefine social norms and constructions are absolutely adamant that those same norms must remain pure and unchanged when it provides a tactical political benefit to them. My wife and I can’t say “we” because that might have some downstream implication for abortion rights. OK, I say that two men can’t get married because that might have some downstream implication for issues that I care about. Is that a valid counter-argument? Or is it just me trying to maintain hegemony over the discourse?

    Q Grrl wants to redefine certain sports by making them bi-gendered, affecting tens of millions of people. Yet if my wife and I want to redefine pregnancy to be something that encompasses three people instead of two, we’re not allowed. It isn’t that we’re criticized or mocked, which would be fair – no, you guys are telling me that it’s impossible for that to be the case – only women can be pregnant! You sound exactly like the troglodytes who say “God didn’t make Adam and Steve” (only man + woman is a marriage!) and think that settles everything. Sorry, your attempt to change a social value is impossible because of biology. Do you hear yourselves? Isn’t changing social values that have historically been controlled by biology exactly what feminism is all about? If you genuinely accept that it is, then isn’t the appropriate response to a change that you don’t personally approve of “well, I don’t approve of that, but if it works for you…” rather than “that’s impossible!”

    As far as ad homs go, after reviewing this thread (whew!) I don’t see myself making any. If I have, my apologies. I do see an awful lot of people telling me what I think, telling me what I want to do, etc. Interesting, that. (Although for the amusement award, I have to go with Q Grrl’s assessment of one person arguing with a dozen people: he’s a bully.)

  90. 90
    Robert says:

    “Gender is about power; specifically a power hierarchy where certain biological characteristics, no matter how they are manifested, are endowed (pun intended) with power and others are not.”

    OK, let’s stipulate the validity of this belief. It seems from my vantage point that many feminists (by no means all) are not intent on overthrowing this system of power. Instead, they are intent on replacing “penis” with “vagina” as the characteristic that has power, upending the hierarchy and emplacing a new one with them on the top instead of on the bottom.

    I see no reason to believe that a matriarchy would be any more conducive to happy living than a patriarchy; there would be no change in net human happiness. Accordingly, such a feminist is the enemy of all men; she wants to take for herself the power that we derive from the gender hierarchy, without giving us anything in return. Accordingly, I would expect only women or self-hating men to embrace this flavor of feminism.

    A different kind of feminist might be intent on overthrowing all hegemony and finding a non-hierarchical way of relating. In theory, such a system might increase net human happiness by making everyone better off. Such a feminism would have a lot to offer both men and women; it would be saying “give up your power and control, and instead live a happier life.” The downside here is that non-hierarchical systems seem very vulnerable to becoming hierarchical. Whether it’s built in to the human animal, or whether dark forces are constantly conspiring to seize power, I don’t know, but it does seem to work out that way an awful lot.

    A third type of feminist (again of either gender) might believe that hierarchy and power are unavoidable, and attempt to reform the existing hierarchy rather than overthrowing it. Acknowledging that there will be power imbalances, trying to decrease those imbalances where practical, creating ways to route around excessive power where it can’t be defused, etc. This third type of feminism would have much more modest goals than the other two types, and would have to settle a lot more.

    What kind of feminist are you? Are you one of these three types, or do you have some other view?

  91. 91
    drumgurl says:

    I’m a feminist, and I rather like the “we” are pregnant thing. If I got knocked up, you’re damn right my fiance would be “pregnant” too. I’m not doing all the work myself.

    However, my fiance is very pro-choice, moreso than I. In fact, I used to be extremely anti-choice. But HIS arguments finally convinced me that I was being too judgmental, and that abortion is not a black/white issue. So I guess if “we” got pregnant, I would not feel that he was controlling my body by saying “we”. I would instead feel like he’s taking responsibility.

  92. 92
    Q Grrl says:

    Hmmm. Comparing sports to pregnancy doesn’t quite capture it though. Sports by nature are social activities, so they already involve more than one person. Pregnancy is uniquely female, although the experience is shared to a certain degree. There are things that are uniquely male too — just not sports!

    I’m not sure I’m any of your feminists as listed above, but I know for certain that just changing up penis for vagina does nothing, as that systems is still based on a binary of power and social interaction.

  93. 93
    zuzu says:

    Just curious, Robert: where does the co-opting of your wife’s body begin and end? Does it begin the moment of conception, when “we” get pregnant? Do “we” experience morning sickness and pre-eclampsia? Do “we” have contractions? Do “we” get our perineums snipped and sit on a rubber donut?

    Does this “we”-ness end at birth, or does it continue into nursing, since, after all, she wouldn’t be lactating if it weren’t for your contribution?

    As for pregnancy being a social construct that can be shared: If “we” are pregnant and you die, the pregnancy continues without you. If “we” are pregnant and your wife dies, the pregnancy does not continue. That fact can’t be socially constructed away.

  94. 94
    Sheelzebub says:

    Yep. “We” don’t run the risk of fistula, gestational diabetes, a lacerated uterus, or any of the other hazards of pregnancy. She does.

  95. 95
    Ampersand says:

    I understand the difference between gender roles and sex roles. I understand that a woman has a child in her uterus, and a man doesn’t. I also understand that “pregnancy” in the broader sense is a socially-mediated construct – as someone like Q Grrl would be the first to insist if a patriarch was attempting to set boundaries on a woman who was pregnant. “Just because you construct pregnancy to mean that I am feeble doesn’t mean that…” It seems to me that if something is constructed, then it’s flexible, and we can change it if we want to.

    The trouble with this is that it suggests an all-or-nothing thinking – “either pregnancy is constructed, or it’s not” – which is inaccurate in this instance.

    Some aspects of pregnancy – like the idea that all pregnant woman are weak while pregnant – are socially constructed. Other aspects of pregnancy – like the fact that, using the dictionary definition of “pregnant” (“carrying developing offspring within the body”), then human women but not human men can be pregnant – are not socially constructed, but biological.

    It’s not at all contradictory or hypocritical to say that “pregnancy=feeble” is socially constructed, but “pregnancy=woman has offspring in uterus” is not.

    Now, in one sense you are right: what the word “pregnancy” means is socially constructed. You’re defining “pregnant” to mean something other than “carrying developing offspring in one’s womb.” That’s okay, but I do think that redefinition of words – especially away from the most commonly understood meaning of a word – is fair game for criticism.

    And in the end, all you’ve been offered here is criticism. No one here is proposing to pass a law forbidding you or your spouse from referring to her pregnancy as “our pregnancy”; people here are simply disagreeing with your characterization (and what they see as the pro-life implications of it). No one is suggesting that the legal ability to decide how to refer to pregnancy should be limited to one particular gender ideology.

    Which is why I think your comparison to the SSM issue holds no water. No one is suggesting that your legal rights should restricted or less than the legal rights of people who wouldn’t refer to a pregnancy as “our” pregnancy. Nor is being pregnant or not something that requires civil recognition.

    By the way, just for the record, I think the comparison is not only ridiculous, but trivializes the same-sex marriage issue. “Waaah! Someone criticized my use of the word pregnancy! That’s just as bad as if I wasn’t able to enter my wife’s hospital room without her parents’ permission, or if I didn’t have inheritance rights, or if my marriage wasn’t legally acknowleged in any way! Waaaaah!”

  96. 96
    FoolishOwl says:

    I believe society should be restructured so that a woman can choose whether to become pregnant, whether to continue a pregnancy, and whether to give birth, in complete freedom, and with the certainty that any child receives all the support the child will need, whether or not that woman has a partner.

    While I can admire dreamgurl’s partner’s commitment to supporting her through her pregnancy, it’s unjust that a woman should *need* that commitment.

    The problem with the “we are pregnant” idea is that it implies that dreamgurl’s partner has an equal right to participate in decisions about continuing or terminating the pregnancy. From what she’s said, I don’t think that dreamgurl’s partner is likely to abuse that right — I don’t think that most men do. But, some do abuse that right, and that’s why the right of men to control women’s bodies must be revoked.

  97. 97
    Ampersand says:

    Drumgurl wrote: I’m a feminist, and I rather like the “we” are pregnant thing. If I got knocked up, you’re damn right my fiance would be “pregnant” too. I’m not doing all the work myself.

    I just wanted to acknowlege this post.

    I think the “we are pregnant” thing can legitimately be taken to refer to the idea that “pregnancy is creating a major change in both our lives; we refuse to let it be solely the woman’s problem in our relationship,” rather than to the idea that both the woman and the man are physically pregnant.

    And, frankly, I think that’s pretty much what Robert means by using the “we’re pregnant” formulation.

    Robert’s already acknowleged that if he and his wife were to disagree on whether or not to abort a pregnancy, the decision-making power rests with his wife. So to say that he’s using the “we are pregnant” thing to take a pro-life position that he has the right to prevent his wife from obtaining an abortion isn’t a fair interpretation of his views.

  98. 98
    Amanda says:

    My boyfriend just told me that he’s pregnant–not “we”, since it may not be mine.

  99. 99
    FoolishOwl says:

    Er, I meant drumgurl, not dreamgirl. My apologies.

    I had forgotten that Robert had said that the final decision is his wife’s. I think Amp’s characterization of Robert’s position is about right.

    Still, my objection to the “we are pregnant” phrase is that it tends to support the right of men to dictate what happens to women’s bodies. And I think it’s a mistake to take the nuclear family as a given.

  100. 100
    Ampersand says:

    And I think it’s a mistake to take the nuclear family as a given.

    Well, I’m not sure the phrase “we are pregnant” does take the nuclear family as a given. I can’t see any reason why the folks in a three-way relationship couldn’t use that phrase, for example. And if I recall correctly, Alison Bechdel had a lesbian couple in “Dykes to Watch Out For” use that phrase, too (the phrase “nuclear family” doesn’t usually include same-sex couples).

    You and I actually crossposted last round – my post wasn’t intended as a response to your post. But it worked moderately well as a response, anyhow. Funny when that happens.