Sunday, April 09, 2006

No Longer So Sanguine As To Entertain Moral Arguments

It was horrifying to read this week's NYT magazine article on how El Salvador enforces its total proscription on abortion. Horrifying--and yet, not so shocking. The anti-abortion rhetoric in this country has, for the past few decades, been clanging on the barriers to power. They haven't had to articulate exactly what their vision of an abortion ban would look like; instead, they talk among themselves, often online, derivating absolutist policy lines on stem-call research, IVF, and emergency contraception. From the outside, they've consolidated an absolutist, unrealistic goal.

It seems as though mainstream journalists woke up about six months ago and realized that the anti-abortion movement was not only very serious but about to dismantle reproductive choice as we've known it. If I hadn't spent so much time online in the past few years, I might've been similarly blinded.

As long as the "pro-life" case was being made as an ethical plea, I was rather sympathetic to it, and particularly so when I was young, had rarely had sex, and had never known any poor or depressive people. But even after I'd come to understand the stakes better, what I saw as a minority moralist movement seemed an interesting factor for debate. Because I was convinced that the public health grounds for a permissive abortion policy could not seriously be debated.

Roe was already the precedent by the time I came into political consciousness. As the granddaughter of a nurse who had good reason to be vehemently pro-legalized-abortion, I'd never seriously considered the possibility that the moral ambiguities about potential life, arguments with which I had some sympathy, could be made into binding law.

The moral arguments are much more palatable in the moral sphere; they make for terrible law. The more I read and listen to anti-abortion writers, the less willing I have become to entertain their concerns.

"Principles won't do," wrote Conrad in A Heart of Darkness. Hilzoy in her recent post at ObWi has done an excellent job in countering their nebulous first principle of "life" with a more scientifically helpful ethos of "sentience," but in the political world, I'm beginning to get much more worried about consequences.

Every anti-abortion politician should be asked about El Salvador's policy. They should be asked whether they would support such measures, if not, how would they justify falling short of such. Federal-level candidates should be asked their opinions about the rights of tribally sovereign lands to host abortion clinics, about a nation-wide abortion ban.

It's time to bring the abortion debate out of the shadows. I am one-hundred-percent fine with exhortating women not to have abortions or to use contraception, as long as that exhortation doesn't interfere with sensible public education or amount to harrassment of private individuals. Everything else, the chipping away tactics, the criminalization of often-necessary medical procedures, churches' buying out private hospitals to eliminate abortions, oh it goes on--that is starting to make me very very worried. Paranoid, even.

So just what is it you want, ye who are against abortion? And what consequences of your doughty first principles are you willing to oversee?

The above rant was first ranted here.


Anonymous I don't pay:

I was already an older student when I went to law school in the early eighties. The dust had just cleared from Roe. I would have liked then to have thought the step irrevocable, which was a notion, never expressed but implied in the general journalistic air then. Yet in law school I became aware of profound discontents, from people I was aware would not rest until it was overturned. Not just students. There are few views or arguments on this that are not familiar to me, as related to what I first heard then.

As a result, I have for twenty years known how tenuous it was. I have had the double vision that NARAL was a pressure group whose business was to declare abortion rights were in perpetual danger and the fact that in fact, abortion rights were in perpetual danger. I guess I've always known this day would come.

4/09/2006 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I'm coming to the quesion from exactly the opposite side. I was born in 1977 to parents who assumed that abortion rights were a public good that nice girls didn't use. In my church-upbringing I learned all the moral reasons not ro abort a child.. Those seminars were big on guilt and sentimentalism, btw; as a rationalist, virgin believer, I was utterly turned off by the display of guilt for a sexuality that was at that moment totally hypothetical.

Ach, I won't turn this into a coherent political argument before I'm done.

If there's one thing I would hope for, it's that we all would stop and listen to each other on such difficult, personal matters as sex.

If we are willing to legislate on sex, we should first be able to talk about sex...

4/09/2006 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger The Modesto Kid:

What drove me wild reading that article was the role of the Church in El Salvador. I was pretty involved, during college, in political protest of US policy in El Salvador; and I really admired the liberation theologists like Oscar Romero, to the point where I came to think of the Catholic Church in Latin America as a potentially progressive force. I haven't really paid attention to news from there in the intervening decade-and-a-half, and reading about Fernando Lacalle was a bit of a slap in the face.

4/10/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

There is a kind of clarity when wheat-from-chaff time finally arrives. We'll have to console ourselves with that, even if it would have been better to head off the day. I welcome none of the suffering, and the anger only to the extent it's productive. Now that it's here, we'll be forced to choose.

4/10/2006 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I noticed that little detail too, TMK. Chilling.

I agree about the clarity of our current moment, IDP. Time to get every politician on the record and not just about their "principles"--get 'em on laws, enforcement, and consequences.

4/10/2006 09:30:00 AM  

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