Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rethinking abortion

I'm going to preface this with a summary because this is such a hot button issue, that it's likely to get misunderstood. The position described by this blog entry is this:

I am pro-choice, despite misgivings about the morality of abortion. I consider the legalization of choice important, but there are issues I care much more deeply about, that are more black and white, and my support for those latter issues overrides my support for the first.


There aren't many reasons for a liberal to support the Democrats these days. The Democrats have anti-liberal policies in most spheres. They're pro-war. They're pro-torture. The TSA has continued to grow and become more draconian under Obama's watch. They support the war on the drugs, even going so far as to undermine state initiatives to curb the excesses of that war. They care little, or not at all, about the unemployed until it's a year or so before the next election and realize that lots of unemployed people equals lots of votes for the other guy. And I get into arguments with like minded liberals online, and usually, after a large number of statements like:

  • Yeah, but they ended the war in Iraq
  • You mean they kept to the timetable Bush agreed to? And they attacked Libya, illegally!
  • But... they passed healthcare reform!
  • Yes, but the reform they went for was anti-liberal. Now we're forced to buy insurance from the same abusive assholes who caused the problem in the first place, and with one or two exceptions, the same crap still exists. How is this better?
  • But, uh, Bush!
  • Can you point at a Bush policy of importance that Obama hasn't ultimately continued, or even extended?
the issue of the Supreme Court comes up. If we allow a Republican to win, says the reluctant Democrat, they'll appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court, tipping the balance and causing abortion to be banned!

And because I'm a liberal, and I support choice, that's usually the point at which I sigh and get frustrated. If the Democrats can always rely upon liberals to support them, even when they're anti-liberal, then how do we get the Democrats to actually stop being anti-liberal?

But as I've thought about it, I've become more and more convinced it's a bad argument anyway. Abortion is an important issue, but there are a hell of a lot of important issues. And for some reason, it's OK to throw our children under the bus in pointless wars, our dissenting voices and whistle-blowers under the torture bus, our cancer patients and other people in severe pain under the drugs war bus, our unemployed under the foreclosure bus, and our general freedoms under the bus, but it's not OK to "throw women under the bus" - or rather, a small number of women who, rightly or wrongly, end up in the doctor's chair wanting to end an unwanted pregnancy.

What's wrong with that picture?

Does it do liberalism any good if only one issue is fought for? And wouldn't it take care of the choice issue long term if there was a major political party willing to fight for liberal principles - that was scared of losing the liberal vote?

And, hold on a moment, but is this really the most important issue liberals should be fighting for, to the exclusion of everything else? Those Democrats who are considered liberals rarely spend as much effort fighting, say, the war on drugs, as they do the war on abortion, and yet there are significant similarities between the two, obscured in some ways because the war on drugs is current and criminalized by definition, and the war on abortion is not.

The war on drugs causes both "good" and "bad" uses of proscribed drugs to be banned. So both dope using cancer patients and stoners both end up criminalized. It's not entirely clear that many states would ban abortions in all circumstances, but despite that I'd agree with most assessments that both rape victims and "abortion as contraception" users would end up suffering under the ban.

The war on drugs makes matters worse for those who plan to take drugs anyway. Supplies become unreliable and unregulated, making them dangerous. Those who sell the drugs are criminals by definition, which means an above average interest by the criminal element in managing the distribution chain. Sellers have reasons to push overly addictive drugs, knowing there are no sanctions for doing so that don't apply to other drugs. Likewise, a cynic would probably wonder how many anti-choice advocates have shares in companies that sell wire coat-hangers.

Both the war on drugs and war on abortion are ultimately wars on the body, a belief that government has the right to intrude upon an individual's ultimate right to decide what their body can and cannot do. Governments have every right to help individuals make the right decisions - and obviously has every right to minimize the danger of one person's choices to others - but there are lines that should not be crossed. But, actually, in many ways the government has a stronger right to regulate abortion than it does drugs. At some point - the religious might argue around two weeks after the LMP, others would look at the development of the zygote, embryo or fetus and point at something significant such as brain development or a heartbeat - one has to come to the conclusion there's another body involved.

In our zeal to protect a woman's right to choose, it's become obvious that equal or greater principles have been thrown under the bus. More-over, it's not clear to me that simply the addition of a conservative to the Supreme Court would cause permanent, irreversible, damage to the cause. A conservative might overturn Roe vs Wade, but it would still be necessary for states to take the next step, and it's not immediately clear many would be successful. Free movement would also make it difficult for such laws to be effective. This is not to argue that a state could not cause hardship in its zeal to ban abortion, but a Republican winning an election does not mean an immediate, draconian, nationwide abortion ban.

Liberals should not focus on one issue to the exclusion of every other issue at each election, and especially not on this one. The Democratic party should not be allowed to think that its support for one issue - and the Republican's polar opposite opinion - should guarantee support for it from the liberal bloc. If the Democrats are ultimately an anti-liberal party, they shouldn't have our support.

1 comment:

  1. True. As always, humans make decisions based on emotion rather than logic.

    See also


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