Thursday, June 11, 2009

a reminder:when abortion was illegal

Watch When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at

I saw this at the internet archive(here), but I find their embed protocol is a bit buggy when you re-write the html to prevent it from going into auto-play, so here it is via Veoh instead. Then again it may just be my html skills are the problem.

Anyway, the disgusting murder of George Tiller (while attending church) barely two weeks ago reminded me that I've been meaning to post this.

[cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.]

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At June 12, 2009 1:48 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

The documentary is a sad statement of what happens when the state goes too far. All the suffering caused just so a predominately white male society can feel moral and superior. And I’m always impressed by the convictions held by pro-lifers that inspire them to murder which is entirely understandable considering they believe so strongly in the sanctity of life. It’s a bizzaro world.

At June 12, 2009 4:03 PM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Bizarro world indeed! Good reference Rob.

I'm torn on abortion for reasons that aren't of the GOP Whacko sort, but I acknowledge that women will seek them and as long as they're illegal, then abortions are deadly. It's bad enough that a fetal life is being extinguished -- the mother carrying that life shouldn't be extinguished as well.

The moralists want to condemn a woman who seeks an abortion. I'd prefer to improve things so that abortions seem less attractive a course of action. I'm not saying they are attractive to start -- not at all. I acknowledge they involve moral wrestling on the woman's part and can create psychological, existential, spiritual agony long after the procedure is complete.

Personally I would prefer that people take more serious responsibility for procreation's power. People who want to be casual about their sexual behavior need to be prepared, it's quite simple. I'm not exactly clear on why people treat that procreative power so flippantly. I've never understood the "unwanted pregnancy" deal. Don't want it? Don't go without contraception!

However, I don't think the solution is to punish people by making abortions illegal. My jurisprudential view suggests that laws should be practical, not condemnatory. A society should be informed and educated. Contraceptives should be more readily available, not the source of shame or embarrassment.

But that's not our America, is it? As you said, Rob -- we're in Bizarro World!

At June 12, 2009 4:54 PM, Blogger rob payne said...


I always feel uncomfortable with the abortion issue. Basically I believe that your body is yours and what is done to it or not done to it is no business of the government. So I guess I would say that it should be left to the woman to make her own decision and the state should not interfere with it. If the state does anything it should provide counseling to women with unwanted pregnancies by helping them know what choices they have.

On the unwanted pregnancy issue consider that there are circumstances that lead to it. A pregnancy resulting from incest or rape comes to mind. Also when pregnancies threaten the life of the mother or say the mother is 13 years old. Also if it is known that the child would be born with serious birth defects to the extent that the child would require expensive medical treatments for its entire life and the mother cannot afford the medical treatments for a child with birth defects it seems to me that an abortion would be something that would and should be seriously considered.

I don’t think anyone likes the idea of having abortions yet sometimes it would seem that there are circumstances when having one might be the best for all concerned. I think that the ultimate decision must lay with the mother. It’s her body and her future after all.

Yeah, the world is bizarre, and it just seems to get weirder all the time. Sometimes I think I have lived too long but then I realize this country has always been way weird.

At June 12, 2009 5:27 PM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Rob --

I do indeed understand what you're saying. But as I have said in other discussions re abortion and the woman's body/woman's right question, there arises a serious conundrum:

when does the woman's right end?

if she can destroy a fetus, why can't she destroy a newborn?

if she can destroy a fetus, why can't she destroy a year-old?

if she can destroy a fetus, why can't she destroy a teenager?

they all arose from her body. they all would not be here without her body's carriage.

empathy isn't the end-all. empathy for a woman's desire to control her own body... shouldn't include her ability to terminate human life.

at the other end of the spectrum is the battle over whether a fetus is a human life, or just the potential for such life. personally, I think that the only question on a fetal / embryonic life is whether it's going to survive, not whether it's human. the genetic complement insists that it is human. it can't be anything else.

unfertilized egg?

not human.

wasted sperm?

not human.

those are clear cut distinctions.

developing embryo, not so clear cut.

imagined necessity (economic circumstances, i.e.) doesn't change things.

now, as to rape? of course. that is forced creation of life.

voluntariness is the pivotal point for me. if a woman decides she can risk getting pregnant, she must then also accept the consequences of that risk, and it is not moral or ethical for her to later decide it's an OOPS.

I don't see it any differently than if a woman kills her own child now out of her womb and living in her household. the same "necessity" arguments can be made for a separate, living child. the same "inconvenience" arguments. the same "quality of life" arguments.

I just don't understand how it can be any other way, except under an inconsistent double-standard that magically gives a woman free reign over the fate of a child. the child didn't ask to be created. the woman's acts created the child. the woman should be responsible for those acts. desiring that the child shouldn't be there? that's something to encounter at the time of horniness. vaginal intercourse is not the only way to achieve sexual bliss. lots of women don't need a penis inside them to have orgasm. so what's the point?

At June 12, 2009 8:19 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

It is difficult to discuss this without my sounding like a hypocrite. I think you are putting too much blame on women. After all it takes a member of both sexes to create a baby. On the issue of responsibility I can recall my teenage years, which not only makes me shudder, but also leaves me wondering how I managed to get through those years. I think expecting a young teenager to understand and fully appreciate what getting pregnant entails with all its implications may be expecting a bit too much. But that isn’t really the issue. The real issue, as you have framed it, boils down to -- is abortion murder? And this, according to your argument, hinges on -- at what point does an embryo become a full human being?

And of course this where my hypocrisy comes into play. I have been writing about the imperialism of the U.S. decrying the needless deaths and suffering caused by our military adventures while on the other hand here I am saying that I believe that in some cases abortion is justified. You may be entirely correct and your view may be the only truly moral position to take. However I don’t agree with that view even though it sounds hypocritical of me, indeed is hypocritical if you consider the embryo to be human during all of its stages of growth.

Whatever the truth may be I am deeply wary of blanket statements such as all abortions are bad or all abortions are good. I don’t think anyone would consider killing a one year old child to be an abortion. Though I am not a legal expert I would hazard a wild guess and say that anyone caught murdering a one year old would most certainly be accused of murder and arrested.

So is abortion murder? I don’t think it is.

I could be wrong.

At June 13, 2009 2:44 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Jonathan Versen said...

Charles F, you must realize you are tilting at straw men here, as most moms don't try to kill their teenage kids, and most women who "choose" abortion do so under trying circumstances at best, or under theat to their lives at worst.

(Like the first woman that documentarian Dorothy Fadiman talked to, who said that if she didn't abort her second unborn child, who would take care of her first child after she died?)

Fadiman's discussion of how the church did not object to abortion in the early 19th century is instructive, along with her argument that doctors started the anti-abortion campaign as an effort to marginalize midwives and increase their own power and influence.

I suspect that many God-fearing Americans from 150 years ago would have been befuddled by our modern day preoccupation with the moral dimension of abortion, given their regular familiarity with infant mortality and women dying in childbirth. They might even see it as the decadent hypocrisy of people who live lives protected from those kind of grim realities that they routinely faced.

In your earlier comment you say you'd like to improve things so that abortions "seem less attractive a course of action."

Is this really such a big problem? There are less than 2,000 abortions a year in the US, which is a pretty small number for a country of 300 million plus.(I know, the forced-pregnancy nuts would have you believe it's millions of fetuses a year.)

In fact, I'd say it's an especially low number for a country where the private sector and whacked-out social conservatives conspire to limit access to health care, and the conservos in particular are hell-bent on limiting access to meaningful knowledge about birth control.

At June 13, 2009 8:11 AM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Rob and Jonathan --

You are both turning this into an argument where you attack me as if I am what you imagine the GOP Whackos are.

Such a tactic is childish and betrays both of your senses of comfort in this dimension.

It is murder, just like war is murder, just like we say war is not murder we say abortion is not murder.

When you can see that, please contact me.

Otherwise, I'll leave you both to attacking the straw man you imagine every GOP Whacko to be.

No tilting at anything here. Women murder their children all the time. It's simply called "abortion" when they do it.

Ah well, liberals and progressives need their delusions. And that's why I'm neither a liberal nor a progressive.

Squashing bugs is murder too.

So is eating meat.

But if you're comfy with it, then you can find justifications for it.

At June 13, 2009 8:26 AM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

I'm going to do an essay to explain this situation more thoroughly -- mainly because I don't appreciate being attacked with arguments you'd use against an imbecilic cultural troggo.

If you want simply to lecture me on my provincial views or what you imagine as my theocratic moralism, you need to troll up some doofus like Bill O'Reilly and stop imagining me to be that person.

Your rapid swap from discussion to lecture was rather startling, Rob.

And Jonathan, you argued things totally irrelevant to my points that were well stated. Rather than address them, you dismiss them. Such isn't argument -- it's evasion.

Imagining you're my moral superior is no way to persuade me of your argument's weight or vitality.

At June 13, 2009 8:58 AM, Blogger rob payne said...


Nobody is attacking you and I never thought you were a GOP whacko. Actually I spent quite a bit of time considering what you wrote. It just so happens I didn’t agree with all of it for the reasons I already stated. I did not intend for my reply to sound like a lecture. I was just trying to express my views clearly while trying to make sure I understood where you are coming from.

At June 13, 2009 10:31 AM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

At June 13, 2009 12:43 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Rob is correct-- neither of us is attacking you, nor making fun of your views.

"Imagining you're my moral superior is no way to persuade me of your argument's weight or vitality."

Whoa. That's something you are pulling out of the air. I don't see myself that way, and don't see where you can find it in what I wrote.

I never said abortion is not murder, but

(1)I don't claim, and never claimed to know whether or not it is murder. And yet,

(2) I don't think the pro-life contingent are owed the automatic rhetorical concession that they're always right that abortion is murder, because they don't know either-- i.e., at what point exactly it can be construed as murder.


you write:

unfertilized egg?

not human.

wasted sperm?

not human.

those are clear cut distinctions.

developing embryo, not so clear cut.

But while you acknowledge this at that particular point in your discussion, elsewhere you say

"Women murder their children all the time."

(i.e., via abortion) which suggests that you do see it as clear cut. Yes? No?

That's why when you write

when does the woman's right end?

if she can destroy a fetus, why can't she destroy a newborn?

if she can destroy a fetus, why can't she destroy a year-old?

if she can destroy a fetus, why can't she destroy a teenager?

I regard that as tilting at straw men. A woman who aborts her second child because the doctor told her she'd die if she had another is caring for her first, like the lady in the the documentary, doesn't have to respond to such a phony moral quandary.

I'm not making fun your views, and I try to be sympathetic with people's deeply held religious beliefs, or even simply their deeply held ethics if they don't see themselves as religious. Maybe I should have pointed this out beforehand and it was my error that I failed to do so.

Nevertheless, when I found out that the last year we had reliable statistics for abortion(which was 2006 or 2007, I forget which offhand)there were about 1800 abortions in the US, I realized the hardcore pro-life crowd who calls it a holocaust has greatly exaggerated the scope of the phenomenon.

I'm not trying to make light of 1800-2000 abortions a year, but I imagine a pretty good number of them are medically necessary, and I suspect that if you put the ethics aside for a moment and look at it purely as social policy, I doubt that in such a large country we can do much to make it much lower without significantly improving our healthcare infrastructure(direly needed anyway, but unlikely to happen under Obamacare-- a discussion for another day).

If you want to jump down my throat for using the phrase

"if you put aside the ethics aside for a moment"

I guess I've opened myself up for that but I'd rather you didn't. I think you understand my larger argument, one I wouldn't offer to somebody I regarded as

"an imbecilic cultural troggo" as you put it.

Nor would I offer my suggestion that people's deeply-held beliefs may arise from their lived experiences to a mere "troggo", when I offer the argument that early 19th century Americans might have had difficulty identifying with the antiabortion views of modern-day Americans because of their day-to-day awareness of the reality of infant mortality and miscarriage which often drives abortion decision-making.

At June 13, 2009 2:32 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Whether or not it's clean-cut really depends on where you choose to draw the line. If you draw the line at what is in a woman's body is the woman's to decide about, then up until birth it's part of the woman and she gets to make the call. I forget if it was the Greeks or the Phoenicians or the Israelites, but one group didn't count babies as human until they had their first birthday. And deformed babies (maybe this was Sparta) were put on a hill and left to die.

Like I say, it depends on where you draw the line. There are lots of babies around the world left to die by proxy. That is, international corporate impact on local economies causes malnutrition and death to children.

I believe it is/was the Jains who would wear masks over their faces so as not to inhale a bug by accident.

It depends on where you want to draw the line. A woman getting an abortion early on, for whatever reason, doesn't bother me at all. When the pregnancy approaches the infant's viability is when I get queasy.

My older brother was born in the late forties with severe spina bifida. Very little could be done for spina bifida babies back then, and even then only if you were very rich. My parents weren't rich. They were told to leave the baby at the hospital because it would die in a few days (like Sparta). Instead, they took him home. My mother cared for him for over a year before he died. My mother is in her 80s now, and it was only last year that she first talked with me about it. It's still an awful experience for her.

Of course, it was a different time, different laws and different moralities. Today spina bifida can be diagnosed and ofter corrected in utero. But there are other conditions that can't be treated. I suspect that mothers with those kinds of pregnancies were a big part of Dr. Tiller's business.

Every moral question is a slippery slope. Abortion involves plenty, including how much say others should have about not only the fetus but the body of the woman who's carrying the baby. And that's before you drag your own version of God and religion into the discussion.

There are no easy, one size fits all answers for some issues, and that's why "pro-life" sloganeers bug me.

At June 13, 2009 2:37 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

I'm sorry, the Jains reference was supposed to be about where you draw the line with killing and what counts as killing. They wear masks so as to not accidentally inhale a bug, and they sweep the ground in front of them so as not to step on a bug. But Jains also have immune systems and their religious beliefs don't take into account the billions of viruses and bacteria that they murder over the course of their lives.

It all depends on where you draw the line, and, whether you insist on drawing the line for someone else.


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