Abortion: Morality & Politics (proceed with caution)

· Political

No brevi explanation of an intelligent opinion would adequately summate the full extent of my thoughts on abortion. There is no religious influence behind it either. The issue is far too complicated to be catalogued in terms such as “pro-life” or “pro-choice”. I hate both of these sides, but I hate them for different reasons.

The pro-choice side is silly, childish, morally repulsive, and intellectually & scientifically dishonest. And the pro-life side is religiously overzealous, and politically short-sighted.

The inevitable question associated with this debate is “when does life begin?” Not to be glib or anything but I prefer the George Carlin answer – life began a long time ago and it is merely a continuing process. As human organisms, our individual lives as we know them begin with the sequence of conception, carrying, and birthing – all of which are invaluable steps to visible realization of live offspring. The very nature of the question of when in determination of your opinion is arbitrary, ignorant, and inconsequential. The answer is probably conception, but I prefer to analyze abortion through the lens of a more specific question – at which stage in the process does the birthing of a new human being become inevitable, as well as consciously known?

If life begins at conception, the implication there is that if that fertilized egg is flushed out of the woman’s body during her period, she’s just had a miscarriage. But she wouldn’t have known – no one would have known. It’s the tree falling where no one hears it phenomenon. The answer is – yes, it makes a sound, but, practically and realistically speaking, it doesn’t matter because no one heard it. Yes, a fertilized egg was flushed out, and maybe it qualified as an organism, but no one would ever know so it’s ultimately moot. This potential life form can be destroyed by the natural functions of the human body and absent our conscious control. In other words, women may unwittingly kill human beings through their own menstruation cycles, but neither they nor we would ever know if or when it happened. Therefore, in accordance with my requirements above, the morality of abortion cannot be judged on the basis of whether or not life begins at conception. The point of no return must occur at a later stage.

Some say that the point is when the child is able to survive without being sustained by the mother. But sustenance is broader than tubes, fluids, and bodily shelter. A born infant abandoned in the street cannot survive on its own, for it does not have the wherewithal to seek out the resources it needs. A baby that is born early and dies due to an underdeveloped lung still lived in the brief moments of life it had. There is a difference between something being a potential life and something being potentially born. Sperm cells are potential lives, as are unfertilized eggs. A fetus is unborn, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t alive.

Human Fetus

Here are the facts: Approximately 8 – 10 days after conception, if it isn’t flushed out, the egg travels to the uterus. Once it reaches the uterus, it begins to develop. The first sign of electrical brain waves comes at approximately six weeks after conception. The heartbeat ignites about two weeks after that. At twenty weeks, an unborn child can feel pain. All of these things are necessary (and arguably sufficient) conditions for a human organism to indeed be living. Before that, it’s just a cluster of meiosing cells (which indeed represent a unique and living organism, but is not yet guaranteed to go through the rest of the process). Not only that, but women who are pregnant, usually find out 4 – 6 weeks after conception. Once the egg has hit the uterus, its first trimester of development (another arbitrary idea of pregnancy phasing) has begun, and then there are only two things that can stop it. One of them is yet again an accidental miscarriage. The other is a deliberate and forceful act that brings the process to an abrupt halt.

If a man dying of a heart attack is reaching for his medication and you withhold it from him/obstruct his path, and the man then dies, you have committed an act of murder. Those pills could/would have saved his life (even if you don’t know for sure) and he was denied that chance to live because of you. Mirrored reasoning can be used here: Once the process of birthing becomes inevitable, if that process is road blocked deliberately by the woman and/or her doctor, you cannot possibly say that a murder has not just occurred. This child might have been killed by a miscarriage later on, but you would never have known. QED: Abortion is murder.

But even murder has its rare justifications – self-defense being the main one, which opens up abortion to be considered if the mother’s life is in danger. In the case of rape, when it was truly not only an accident, but a severely traumatic experience for the woman whose choice was taken away from her that resulted in a set of circumstances completely out of her control, abortion, as terrible as it is, IS justified. It seems like you’re blaming the child for something a rapist did, but the truth is – as long as this product remains in the woman, not only might she be continuously reminded of what happened, but her liberty will bear that limitation for the future. It must be restored to her. I would hope that she would be strong enough to recover from the rape raise and love the child, and perhaps go on to write a book about it, but that is not a realistic set of expectations.

And for those on the other side screaming “my body, my choice”, that too is a broken, shallow, and intellectually inferior argument. When you have a product of procreation growing inside of you, that which is developing into a member of the human race (and one that will never again exist in that unique genetic form ever again), it isn’t only your body anymore. To attempt to justify it on those grounds is akin to stating that I can strangle you to death with my bare hands – because I’d be using my body.

As a woman, you may be responsible for the welfare of the baby while it is inside of you, but you don’t have a choice (morally speaking) because you never had one to begin with. Women and only women are built anatomically to carry children – have been since the beginning. Unlike rape, this is not a question of having a freedom forcibly taken from you by another person; this is simply acknowledging a choice that women never actually had.

You didn’t choose your gender. You are what you are. It may be an inconvenient state of reality, but there is a difference between having real choices taken away, and never having a choice to begin with – and the implications of action for each of these two things are very different. The fact that you are still an agent of your own body even when there is another human being growing inside of it does not morally excuse the murder of that human being.

Pro Choice Protests

The abortion issue is a big deal for modern feminists whose hypocrisy runs as deep as any other super-serious group bent on framing the argument in Bush Doctrine language. As muddling as they’d like the pro-choice side of the issue to be, with the presence of poverty and race, in the overall equation (and I’ll even concede that these factors do complicate the issue more than pro-lifers want them to in terms of the generally delusional justification given), none of them belie the fact that what you are promoting is the murder of human beings with reasoning that is selfish, scientifically disingenuous, intellectually fraudulent, and reeking of entitlement. Whether you like it or not, the pro-life side, however distasteful their methods of demonstration may be (and yes, I hate it too), have the moral high ground on the issue of abortion. And liberals have the moral high ground on capital punishment, because if we are to believe that the sanctity of life applies to the unborn, we must believe that execution by the state is just as morally contemptible.

So there you have it – a secular case as to why abortion is an unforgivable evil.

I could talk more about the fact that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and opinion written by Justice Henry Blackmun were composed with the intention of protecting doctors and practitioners of medicine from being liable for having committed abortion under the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment and had little or nothing to do with the woman herself and her right to seek such a thing. I could have mentioned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg – an emphatically pro-choice advocate on today’s Supreme Court – admitted that the case made in favor of abortion rights is irreparably flawed and poor in quality even if she still agrees with the conclusion. And I could probably get away with mentioning the fact that the federal legalization of abortion as justified by the Bill of Rights was an artifice the majority created out of nothing, which may or may not be justified pending your opinion of jurisprudential interpretation, yet nonetheless provided the meat behind Byron White’s famous dissent (even though he personally agreed with the majority’s valuing of the convenience of the pregnant mother over the life and welfare of the person she carries). But I don’t think I need to go there.

I may also be wise to mention that abortion, while having become the standard-bearing issue of American feminism, is, when you think about it, an extremely anti-feminist idea. Regardless of what you think of gender roles, women are the only ones who can bring a newborn into the world – biologically wired that way. It’s one of the biggest functions that distinguish women from men, and it’s arguably something that makes women better than men. Women have always been cherished and valued not only for their nurturing abilities, but for their not-so-cavalier attitude towards human life. What do history’s favorite feminine heroes all have in common? They took initiative, took responsibility for their actions, and they won our hearts because they benefitted human lives in some form or another – Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Pocahontas, Catherine the Great, Sacagawea, Louisa May Alcott, Susan B. Anthony, Marie Curie, Mother Theresa, just to name a few. What does history say about the role of women in every society? They were invaluable everywhere even if they were politically nowhere to be seen.

Factors like these make the issue of abortion not only a sophisticated social and ethical maze that requires deep contemplation, deliberation, and discussion (despite how many people do so little to deserve a place as valuable contributors to such discussions), but also a place where arguments cannot (with intellectual credibility) shorten to stocky little catchphrases and sound bites.

Whether you agree with me or not (and I’ll understand if you weren’t convinced on the moral grounds – very few people are likely to read an essay like that and go “wow…I was completely wrong. I’m going the other way now. See ya!”), abortion is morally decedent. I despise the fact that it exists, and I despise even more the fact that such a fruitless tarnation of human life and liberty is given sanctuary by our nation’s legal system. Even more detestable is the fact that many states and pro-abortion advocates cry out for public funding for abortions. Abortion is a demonstration of everything loathsome and despicable about the human race.

And yet, in spite of all of that, the possibility of abortion not being allowed by law is even worse. Banning abortion will not rectify a morally unbecoming state of being. It will inevitably present the illusion of having done just that, but there will be no real difference.

This probably sounds like hypocrisy, but the fact of the matter is, abortions happen. We can create a law that bans the practice of abortions, shuts down all abortion clinics, and declares that life begins at conception – even a law that punishes doctors that perform abortions, not women who ask for them. But no law and no police force of any kind can stop a woman from getting drunk and tossing herself down a flight of stairs or off the roof of her house to kill her child. No law, no matter how well enforced, can stop a woman from going underground, behind an alley, or through the black market to get that ostensibly bothersome problem off her hands.

Women who do these things subject themselves to intolerable conditions that may damage their health, or worse, destroy their ability to conceive again at another time. There are some that say that women who would do such a thing own that action and must bear the responsibility, but if we are to establish ourselves as a nation that values human life and hold that the unborn has the rights and dignities equal to that of everyone else, we would be delusional to think that allowing women to destroy their bodies and their lives in attempt to kill their unborn children does not run counter to such a moral system.

Even worse are the political ramifications banning abortion would bear for the pro-life movement (and the American Right in general). The anti-abortion movement has grown strong over the decades. Roe v. Wade (and to a greater extent – Planned Parenthood v. Casey – the true law of the land on the issue) is in some way, the best thing that ever happened to the Right. It created a visible enemy for those who were appalled by abortion, it woke the public up as to the cloudy morality of the abortion issue, it slowly converted the apathetic to the battlefield, and gave the Republican Party a growing human rights movement to champion. It’s debatable how much public opinion on the issue has actually changed, but right now, about 48% of Americans identify as pro-life and 45% identify as pro-choice (Gallup). But the numbers are strikingly different over the question of whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned – 29% of Americans believe it should be and 60% believe it should not be, with both sides displaying at least some division over whether or not they believe abortion is morally wrong (Pew).

Pro Life Protests

But the pro-life movement is more than just a tangible voting bloc. It’s an essential base for an entire political party. The Republican Party has been able to thrive off of the votes of pro-life conservatives to ascend public offices and affect our nation’s discourse and lawmaking. The legalization of abortion has overtime, galvanized a significant portion of the population into voting a certain way, and that has consequences, not only in what modern policy looks like, but in how politicians and candidates behave. A cause and effect of that kind of largely grassroots mass voter mobilization effort is an advancement of the moral case against abortion. It has only been strengthened by modern science, proper articulation of the facts, and with more than a little help from gruesome photos of dead fetuses and horror stories about Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

The banning of abortion wouldn’t just replace one social demon with another. It would compound an existing act of moral negligence with an additional one. Even worse, there would be no way to fix it without widespread legislative and legalist acknowledgement that illegal abortions actually happen. Abortion is our country’s greatest catch-22 not only because declaring it illegal will create more problems than it will solve (and will barely mollify the trending plague of abortions in existence already) but because two other things will happen on the political side.

  1. The moral high ground that the pro-life Right has won over the decades will be flattened and erased almost overnight. The horror stories about monstrous abortion doctors tossing babies in buckets, suffocating them, snapping their spines and necks, etc. will be replaced with horror stories like that of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland – a country that is currently on the cusp of legalizing abortion in the case of the mother’s life in danger, in large part because of what happened to her. The gruesome photos of mutilated infants will be replaced by videos of women subjected to the kinds of conditions in back-alleys et al. that I mentioned earlier. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women will cry in front of the cameras and make their pleas heard loud. The public (with its opinion still likely to remain what it is) will bend in their favor through sheer force of pathos rhetorical weathering. The pro-choice movement will galvanize its supporters and milk that until the ruling is reversed again. The issue will be seen as a loss of an essential freedom for women everywhere and the words of Ronald Reagan (those who have once known freedom and have lost it, have never known it again) will be hijacked to inspire fear and rage. The pro-choice movement will become to the Left what the pro-life movement became to the Right. The only difference is, once they get what they want, it will stay that way. The Democratic Party will be defined as the party of abortion rights, a vanguard of liberty against the misogynistic hell spawn of the Right. If this sounds redundant to you, it’s because you’ve been paying attention, but picture this noise amplified tenfold.
  2. The Republican Party will not win another presidential election (and will, more likely than not, squirm beneath a continued Democratic Senate majority) for the next three terms, and possibly longer. The public will show greater appreciation for the president’s power to appoint Supreme Court judges in their considerations for whom to vote for. Hillary Clinton will become President in 2016 and will be everything Obama was not (in a good way for Democrats). Her successor following her inevitable second term will blaze through on her coattails for at least one term. And this country’s financial and military empire as well as its propensity to continue existing as the envy of the world will be all but demolished.

Some explanation for item #2 is warranted.

As it turns out, there are other issues far more important than abortion. The most critical among them is the economy. Equally important (though seemingly less so in downtrodden times) is foreign policy. Historically, philosophically, and practically speaking, there is only one party whose chief intellectual elite is properly equipped and qualified to juggle the immeasurable and insurmountable tasks of managing and executing the affairs of the greatest and most powerful nation on the globe. There is only one party whose best and brightest have (in astonishing success rates) created difficult but much needed policy through tough negotiations & deal-brokering and then effectively and creatively enforced such policy with the kind of care, precision, and prudence it takes to keep a nation like this one stable and prosperous, and has done all of these things to a degree surpassing the other party by legions. That party is the Republican Party.

Part of the reason for that is because its engine of ideas for efficient government runs on a cohesive theoretical backing that has never been historically proven to fail. Conservatism, (mistakenly viewed by too many as an ideology of litmus that ought to be taken as scripture) is – in the words of close friend and intellectual peer – not merely some utilitarian or libertarian calculus. There are central values inherent in conservatism, as it is as much about the soul of a people and their culture as it is about pure governance. It’s about building and fostering national and cultural institutions that help society govern itself and its conduct. It is not some stalwart ideology that stands affront progress yelling, “Halt!” It is an idea of organic and sensible growth as the best means of achieving progress. And it is an idea of continuously engaging with the values that allow us, as a people and a free society, to endure.

In essence, Conservatism is built around an understanding of complex and indeed imperfect social mechanisms that makeup the body and soul of a nation, but it is not an ideology built only around itself. Those Republicans that understand such ideas and boldly work to keep the wheels spinning and the structures standing have always been the best policymakers. They succeed where progressives fail.

If you want evidence of this, all you have to do is spend some time reading up on the dozens of actual alternatives that conservatives have proposed against the Affordable Care Act. All you have to do is look up the history of America’s financial system and gain an understanding of how complex it is. Then maybe you’ll understand why the mass subsidizing of loans at below-market interest rates can only end badly for the people you’re actually trying to help, and why countries that bankrupt their monetary reserves while pretending to have resources in the amount of infinity are sure to eventually torpedo their middle class and future generations of taxpayers. Maybe you’ll understand why countries that worry more about inflation always wind up in better shape economically when calamity ensues than those that worry more about deflation.

In general, progressives understand only some of these problems, and many of those that do, understand them only at the surface level. They ride on the beasts of change but they then find themselves frustrated, hopeless, alienated, and alone (see Obama).

This is not to say that conservatives always get it right, or that conservatives aren’t prone to screwing up and screwing up huge, or that progressives on the whole are incompetent in every field of lawmaking and public service. There are exceptions to every rule and you shouldn’t think for a second that I trust my party in always doing the right thing. The actual effectiveness (or lack thereof) of today’s GOP in its showcasing of sufferable candidates is a conversation for another time.

However, when it comes to running a country: picking up the pieces of a global meltdown, mending ailing industries, reallocating resources, kick-starting an economy, maintaining law, order, and stability, continuing friendships, partnerships, trade agreements, alliances, and relations, keeping dangerous powers that threaten the safety of the world in check, asserting strength, conducting diplomacy, making impossible decisions where there’s no clear winner, and so many other tasks that require the strongest and most dedicated leadership far beyond the limits of human rationalism, they don’t come any better than the (albeit generally rare) gem the Republican Party now and then creates.

And we need that kind of leader now more than ever. America cannot tolerate pathetic excuses and bipolar politicking for much longer. It cannot tolerate a president that only knows how to give good speeches and doesn’t know how to make good decisions for much longer. It cannot tolerate bad policy, especially in a time where “recession” is still the generous word used to describe public welfare. And it most definitely can’t sustain another brainless egalitarian ideologue obsessed with giving you and your cat free money for your electoral patronage for another four years.

America has never needed the Republican Party at its best, standing as constructive alternative to the malaise of Obama’s presidency, more than it does today.

And that, my friends, is why abortion must never see a legislative ban.

The Republican Party’s pro-life base is too important to be lost. For the time being, without the issue to ensure a high turnout at the polls for the GOP, the Democrats are sure to win. Keep this up long enough, and the whole country will find itself asunder.

This point is particularly important, as it is, without question, the most distressing thing I’ve ever said: pro-life conservatives need to keep believing (for now) that their efforts in electing Republicans to office will succeed as a means to the end of abortion. They need to keep believing this until their presence becomes too superfluous to matter in the grand scheme or they find themselves given another equally (if not more) compelling reason to vote the same way.

But God help us all if abortion ever became a nationwide felony.

Politically allied very fervently on one side of the aisle as I may be, I am an American first. I want my country not only to succeed, but to stay on top, where it belongs. I want our industries to roar, our middle class to thrive, our military and defense network unbreakable, our resolve strong, our people content but evermore thirsting for the future, our morals virtuous, our visions returned to the stars, and our kids in tip top shape to continue carrying the torch of progress in our wake. There is no other country that can be trusted to shoulder the troubles of the world and set an example for moral evolution and human achievement than mine. There is no country I want to see eclipsing the United States of America at anything. And there is no political party more groomed, prepared, and predisposed to the task of keeping us there than the Republican Party. Leadership and public service is all about sacrifice. Abortion is the issue upon which conservatives must be willing to make that sacrifice if America is to stand tall, mighty, and glorious as the shining city on a hill that it was always meant to be.

–        Vivek

7 Comments

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  1. John Funk

    Your “blocking aspirin for a man dying of a heart attack” analogy doesn’t quite work though, because it ignores the principle of bodily autonomy – that is, your body is your own and nobody can force you to do anything with your body without your consent.

    A better example: A man is dying of a rare disease and needs an organ transplant badly. You are the only exact match available. If you refuse to consent to the procedure (maybe your family has a history of liver/kidney/whatever disease and you’re worried you’ll need it in the future), have you committed murder? Can the state physically compel you to go through with this procedure; can the state tie you down, administer anesthesia and cut the organs out of your body?

    No, of course not. You have bodily autonomy. To suggest that you can be forced to give up your body for an organ transfer is madness.

    So why is it NOT madness to suggest a woman can be forced to give up hers?

    • Flying V

      Hi John,

      For one thing, thanks for reading this. I have no idea how you found it, but I’m glad you took the time.

      As to your example, you are correct, but I would argue that the analogy still works because morally speaking, you have bodily autonomy if you’re a woman and have a human being growing inside you, but it’s not really just your body anymore. That was the greater point behind that analogy that obviously isn’t accepted by everyone but is less understood than I wish it was.

      But it is interesting that you bring that up, since a fellow progressive who edited this note made a similar analogy to yours where he said that a man is dying of a heart attack and asks you to get him his pills, but you are technically under no obligation to do so. There’s an ostensible ideological divide whose bare bones might be rooted in such attitudes about how much the life of the unborn child matters compared to the convenience of the woman carrying it. I say “convenience” cautiously since it’s far from a perfect word to describe the woman’s situation. But I nonetheless hold that as long as the “thing” growing inside of her is a human being, it can’t be considered only her body anymore and more importantly, the willful termination of that child ought not to be considered morally justifiable unless there are other more urgent and lethal factors present.

      I’m going to be out of the country over the next two weeks, so my ability to respond will be limited. But I look forward to your thoughts and I’m sure we’ll wind up talking about this on Twitter another time. 🙂

      All the best,

      – Vivek

  2. brainsnorts

    interesting points. well said, and said, and said, and said, and said, and…

    • Flying V

      Thanks, Rich. I didn’t have half the brevity skill I have today, but even if I did, I’m not sure it would have made that much of a difference.

      • brainsnorts

        i have to admit, i’ve been staunchly pro-choice, but i haven’t given enough attention to the idea of when life starts. it’s a worth aspect of the whole pile of crap that this issue has devolved to.

        also, when a tree falls, there is no sound. sound only exists in your brain. if a deaf person is nearby, a crash of air molecules collides with his possibly defective ears, but no sound waves are translated by his possibly defective ear drums, thus no “sound” in his brain.

      • Flying V

        That’s not true; sound waves are proven by science. There’s a famous torts hypothetical where if I’m blasting death metal out of my convertible 100 yards away from your home, where you’ve just built a house of cards that you’ve spent months working on, and your house of cards is then destroyed…are you allowed to sue me because the sound waves from my car speakers caused your house of cards to collapse? And the purpose of the “tree falling” hypothetical is to illustrate the finer point of pragmatism. If no one is there to hear it, then it might as well not make a sound, because even though it does make a sound, no one heard it, and therefore no one knows that the three fell.

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