Monday, October 03, 2005

Abortion, Public Health, Law, Politics, and a Grand Shut Up Already

A very good friend of mine stayed at my place this last week. She's a medical student, finishing up her rotations. She's at the emergency intake psych ward right now (*shudder*), but soon she'll be moving to a division she's more familiar with: women's health, aka OBGYN and abortions. We talked a lot about the Supreme Court and current abortion law.

I knew that there were areas where it has effectively become very difficult to get legal abortions, but I hadn't really heard that emergency rooms doctors in states like Kansas and Texas were already seeing septic shock cases from back-alley or home-attempted abortions. Even given the legal framework in place now, this is going on under the radar.

All of the elegant arguments from first principles fail to address the problem of public health. Life is an excellent value, one that can be established and debated in boozy late-night arguments until you're convinced that anyone opposed to your argument would rather you, personally, were dead. The idea of public health, on the other hand, requires that policy-makers take a hard look at real statistics and to take measures to reduce actual, measurable harm.

Women dying of septic shock from back-alley abortions counts as a harm. Can we prevent her dying of septic shock? Easily. Would it be right to do so? Unless as a society, we want her punishment for ending a pregnancy to be death, yes, I think it would be.

I would argue that the pro-life movement has had all the success that a rational populace should grant them. Enough people have sufficient moral qualms about abortion that they're either taking birth-control much more seriously or they're bearing their children to term. Enough already. When Senator Coburn tearfully brought up the spector of the 40 million aborted children in the US, my first, crass thought was Good heavens, where would we put all those people? Maybe when we have serious sex education in the poorest districts, maybe when we see contraceptives supported by government, maybe when Plan-B doesn't get axed on the basis of ideological posturing, then maybe feminists like myself will be willing to stop obstructing limitations on abortion rights.

The Platonic value of Life doesn't really register as much on my consciousness as do real women, suffering from real septic shock, from very real attempts to end pregnancies that for one reason or another, the law decided were beneath its notice.

And, yes, while I've been thinking about this all week, it was the nomination of the cypher Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court that determined me to write it out. There are probably only two things we can surmise about Miers: as a Bush insider and White House counsel to this lot, she is sympathetic to executive power, and, as a member of the Valley View Christian Church, she is anti-abortion and skeptical about equal protection laws. Since she has very little paper-trail that won't be explained away as professional advocacy or hidden behind client privilege, it's hard for me to feel as bad as I might otherwise do about tarring her by association.

By the way, for all those who advocate a return of the abortion to the states, here is my most recent, and admittedly somewhat muddled cri de coeur on that idea. Short version: thanks for condemning poor women in backwards states to poverty.


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