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April 09, 2006

Comments

Note that 1.4% of a lot is still a lot, usually. And note that we're talking about human lives, maybe, so normal counting rules don't apply. This sort of argument works (or rather, doesn't work either) the other way - "it's a small number of cases, few people will be inconvenienced if we ban this".

This is true, I suppose, but an honest assessment of it would have to consist of getting more details about that 1.4%. By gut feel is that 'vanity abortions' if they occur in the way that others have described them here, would occur far more in the early stages than the later ones, while medical complications would weigh more heavily in the later terms. If the majority of the 1.4% are being performed due to grave medical issues, then it would certainly be a major 'inconvenience.'

Again, we're talking about hypothetical slices of 1.4% of all abortions, total. Even as a self-identified pro-lifer I think anyone who uses 'third-trimester vanity abortions' as a representative of abortion in general is terribly disingenuous. I'm not saying that you are, rilkefan, just clarifying my thoughts on it.

From a philosophical standpoint it's interesting, but from a practical standpoint it's still completely outweighed by basics like rejection of or irresponsibility with contraception.

[deep sigh.]

1. Biology does not and should not dictate morality. From putting elderly on ice flows to committing infanticide, many human societies have considered it perfectly moral to kill off the living, so that the remainder could survive. Their morality is not my morality, but I'm not the one at risk of starving to death.

2. To the extent one tries to vest nature with morality, she doesn't appear to care much about human conception. Failure rates are way too high in early pregnancy.

3. SH, you are far too smart to assert the false naivete about late term abortion bans. I would bet that most people in the pro-choice community believe that abortions where the fetus is well and truly viable (post week 30, say) are already extremely rare and are virtually entirely driven by major health issues. So, the pro-choice community does not see the need for legislation.

Who would be the political allies for a narrowly tailored law to require a second opinion by an authorized physician before allowing a late-term abortion to proceed? No one. The pro-choice community would see the bill as a camel's nose under the tent and oppose. The pro-life community would consider the bill pathetically weak. (South Dakota)

Since SH appeared to have a problem with understanding my comment on absolutism, I'll spell it out. Compromise is difficult to forge on highly contentious issues, whether the issue is abortion or water. Even where consensus is theoretically possible on issues at the fringe, the political reality is that the issue is defined by long-standing opposition. Since the most articulate, noisy and best-reported section of the pro-life community is the absolutists (read Redstate for a month if you have any doubts), the pro-choice community has virtually nothing to gain by giving any ground, because their opponents have no interest in giving ground in return.

My Russian history professor in college, who was involved in some of the disarmament talks with the Soviet Union told a story that the Soviets' negotiating position was: "What's ours is ours; what's yours is negotiable."

That's what the pro-choice community hears. If you want them to hear something else, the moderate pro-lifers need to speak up and work toward finding common ground.

That's what the pro-choice community hears. If you want them to hear something else, the moderate pro-lifers need to speak up and work toward finding common ground.
I'm workin' on it. It's kind of an uphill slog both ways, sadly.

"The word fetus originates from the Latin fetus meaning "offspring," "act of bearing young," or "is or was filled with young". Foetus is an English variation on this rather than a Latin or Greek word, but has been in use since at least 1594 according to the OED, which describes fetus as etymologically preferable but almost unknown in actual use. In general, the medical community only permits the spelling fetus (preferred by the British Medical Journal, for example), but the spelling foetus persists in general use, especially in Britain." ...Wikipedia

Francis, I've spoken in favor of limited reasonable measures to address SH's kind of concern in liberal fora and gotten rather hostile receptions. I think it's in my side's interest to have someone like SH be less motivated to oppose it - I don't expect to convince him, but I would like to as it were wrong-foot him by clearing the issue of "elective" late-term abortions in a reasonable way. And it seems the right thing to do, assuming there aren't unacceptable slippery consequences.

It's like in that other perennial favorite, the I/P conflict - each side points to the other's fringe and says, it's their fault. Sometimes it's true, sometimes one just has to ignore the bad guys and go about one's duty.

I'm sorry I may have confused sentient with sapient. I apologize for muddling the discussion that way.

Sentient suggests drawing the line at the end of the second trimester but offers pretty much no difference between third trimester abortions and infanticide.

But that draws us well into this paragraph:

"It's a terrible thing to cause someone pain, as killing her often does. It's worse to kill a being who can feel not only pain but emotions, and who can participate in social relationships. And it's worst of all to kill someone who is capable of autonomy: to cut short the story that someone is trying to tell with her life, or to pull the curtain down on all her hopes and plans and dreams. She has the right to decide what to do with her life, I think; and for someone else to barge in and end it without consulting her -- to tear apart the web of relationships, aspirations, idiosyncrasies, and so forth that is her life, and to ignore completely her right to decide for herself what to make of it -- is unconscionable."

These pretty much apply equally to newborns and third trimester fetuses. I say equally because I'm not at all sure how much they apply and I would be skeptical of hanging a right to life argument on most of them on a present-at-the-time of decision basis. For newborns these things are mostly prospective.

To put all my cards out on the table (since we aren't playing poker) I can outline my hierarchy of understandings on abortion like this:

I am certain that third trimester abortions of fetuses that could survive outside the womb are murder in cases where the mother's death in continuing the pregnancy is not likely (in cases that don't amount to self defense in other contexts). Even more than the torture issue I find it shocking that people disagree with me on this. I don't base this on ideas of present personhood nearly so much as I do on prospective personhood.

I strongly believe that second and third trimester abortions of fetuses (subject to self-defense restriction above which should be implied in all further discussion) are murder if they would normally develop into fetuses that could survive outside the womb and if they exhibit signs of sentience (now that I’m using the word properly). I find it very surprising that people disagree with me on that. As far as I can tell this is clearly present by week 18 and may be present somewhat earlier. That is well before we cross into the third trimester.

I believe that somewhat earlier abortions are wrong but not murder. I believe that on the basis of caution about taking life. (This is the same reason why I think that arguments about innocent people being put to death under the death penalty have much greater force than an ‘all killing is wrong’ type of argument). I can clearly see why people might disagree with me on this because the factors which make me think it is wrong are much more amorphous than the previous cases.

I believe that first trimester abortions are unfortunate because I believe that the ‘prospective human’ discussion has value apart from other contributing factors, but I can fully see how people disagree. I don’t believe it is so clearly wrong as to be illegal though if it were somehow possible to save fetuses and put them in some sort of artificial womb I would probably have to revisit the issue.

One of my frustrations with the ‘abortion’ debate is the all-or-nothing nature of it. And voices upthread to the contrary that is not just a pro-life phenomenon. The views above make me a pro-life extremist according to NARAL or NOW because they won’t even accept my first concept. If you ever feel frustrated about torture and government, realize that I feel the same way about last trimester abortions—the shock that people just don’t see what is so obviously (to me) wrong never wears off. It is that attitude that drove people like my mother out of the Democratic Party in the 1970s and you otherwise would have liked her.

Sebastian, thanks for that post. At a purely philosophical level, I'd have to say that I agree with the comments you made. My aunt -- a long-time Democratic activist, feminist, and veteran of the 60s' protest movement, parted ways with the Democratic party for the same reasons. She can't bring herself to join ranks with the Republicans -- she feels it's a party utterly beholden to exploitation and corporate interests -- but also feels that the Democrats' principle of defending the defenseless and speaking out for those with no voice is being violated by abortion-rights litmus tests.

I can absolutely understand that others do not see it in the same way, but I hope that others can understand how someone outside the stereotype can come to such conclusions.

Sebastian,
Though I totally agree with your point that people will put off put immediate convenience ahead of long term consequence (as I always realize when the new term starts), I've always thought that this was a fatal flaw in libertarian thinking. How do we draw a principled and defensible line when we talk about libertarianism if we accept that observation?

"SH, you are far too smart to assert the false naivete about late term abortion bans. I would bet that most people in the pro-choice community believe that abortions where the fetus is well and truly viable (post week 30, say) are already extremely rare and are virtually entirely driven by major health issues. So, the pro-choice community does not see the need for legislation."

Very tricky , appealing to my pride. :)

If we are talking about small numbers I'll make a contentious conjecture: each year the number of aborted late term fetuses that could have survived outside the womb and were not a grave threat to the mother's health exceeds the total number of all innocent people executed in the United States since 1973. (Pretty much unprovable in a strong sense since we can't definitively know the number of innocent people executed but I would estimate it to be in the 1-20 range. Considering that the number of late term abortions is in the thousands you would have to posit a vanishingly small percentage of 'bad decision-makers' for the conjecture not to be true). And I am as certain as I can be about something based on statistics that the conjecture is true on a year to year basis rather than a one year compared to 1973-Present basis.

Nevertheless opposing the death penalty on the basis of conjectured innocent deaths is considered quite popular among some circles. And those who oppose the death penalty on "it is just wrong" grounds don't have trouble allying themselves with those who oppose it on procedural grounds.

Furthermore the infrequency of the general total doesn't let us off the hook on trying to stop innocent ones from being executed. While any human institution gets things wrong, you at least have to try to have some safeguards. That is not the position of the pro-choice crowd at this time. That position is more akin to the executioner who bans investigation into the innocence of those executed because it might cause people to question the practice if such investigation turned up any problems it would lower support for the whole endeavor.

Sebastian: I strongly believe that second and third trimester abortions of fetuses (subject to self-defense restriction above which should be implied in all further discussion) are murder if they would normally develop into fetuses that could survive outside the womb and if they exhibit signs of sentience (now that I’m using the word properly). I find it very surprising that people disagree with me on that.

I find it very surprising that you expect anyone except other anti-choicers to believe you when you claim you think that abortion is murder.

I find in not in the least surprising that so many anti-choicers do claim to believe that abortion is murder, as it is a very convenient rhetorical trick to avoid talking about letting women die rather than get to make decisions about our own bodies.

"How do we draw a principled and defensible line when we talk about libertarianism if we accept that observation?"

You say that if you always save people from the consequences of such decisions they never learn to make better ones. It is a short term vs. long term problem in itself. In the long term you want citizens who make better decisions. If you never let them feel the consequences of their decisions you save the short term pain but you forgo the long term benefit.

In my view this is a strong argument in favor of libertarianism--so long as it has to do with the consequences accruing to yourself or people who voluntarily deal with you. I'm not willing to wholly play into that with the not-so-limited exception of children. You bad choices shouldn't be allowed to totally ruin the lives of your children (with some broad but not enormous definition of 'totally ruin'). To take extreme examples I would be willing to take your kids away if you gave them crack, but not if you taught them that being good at sports was crucial to life success.

I find in not in the least surprising that so many anti-choicers do claim to believe that abortion is murder, as it is a very convenient rhetorical trick to avoid talking about letting women die rather than get to make decisions about our own bodies.
Jes, if I understand correctly, you seem to be claiming that 100% of abortions are due to the life of the mother being in danger. Either that, or you're overextending your argument in a wild and irresponsible fashion. Am I missing something?

It's distressing that you refuse to even believe that some people think abortion is murder, that it is merely a 'politically acceptable' way of articulating hatred for women. It strikes me as not dissimilar to pro-lifers who claim that abortion supporters are crypto-eugenecists, out to exterminate blacks and hispanics and the weak and infirm to build a master race.

This is what I mean about 'poisoning the well of discourse': there comes a time when we must either accept our discussion partners at their word, or leave the discussion.

"as it is a very convenient rhetorical trick to avoid talking about letting women die rather than get to make decisions about our own bodies."

One would almost think that you didn't see the self-defense portion of my comment. But you quoted it so this is mysterious.

Like Sebastian, I find the potentiality argument seems to iron out a lot of our intuitions about fetus's quite well and is less problematic than it might seem.

For instance, if I remember correctly, there are quite a few problem cases with the idea of continuity of personhood based on spaciotemporal cotniguity as well. I haven't seen anything that leads me to believe that the problem of potentiality is significantly worse than that of persons. The only complaint that seems to apply to the potential person but not the actual one is that potentiality, dealing with things that are "not quite", opens the door to vagueness problems.

However, again like SH, the fact that a concept is vague isn't a disqualifier for me. I still beleieve there are some cases where someone is pretty clearly bald even though they have a few hairs on their head (and other similar examples that are well thought out and make me seem witty to boot).

Thus, it seems a straightforward matter to assert that the union of the sperm and the egg is a pretty significant change in terms of potentiality and likewise natural to note that any morally significant aggregation of moral standing based on potentiality must occur sometime after this event.

The basic argument for that claim should run something like what follows. Once united, a fetus begins moving toward reaching its potentiality as a result of largely internal mechanisms. It does indeed require sustenance from the mother, but she does not offer the order nor the impetus of the developement (except insofar as she is responsible for half of the genetic material involved). That distinguishes the fertilized embryo pretty significantly from a distinct egg and sperm in terms of their potential, I would think.

I think the interesting argument here actually has to do with what that potential actually requires of the mother and society in general. I believe it should be clear that mere potential sentience shouldn't outweigh an actual sentient being's life. I also note that there are points where the potentiality is stronger than it is even at mere conception, owing largely to biological facts about how cells replicate in the very early stages of embrionic development. My own meditations on this, as well as some very heated debates with various aquaintances have led me to believe that the point where potential sentience becomes problematic occurs somewhere after the 1st trimester but before birth, which shapes my approach to the issue. However, in any case I feel that the interesting argument is here in the midst of potentiality as that is what makes the tragedy of abortion tragic and what makes the moral consideration relevant at all.

"Nevertheless opposing the death penalty on the basis of conjectured innocent deaths is considered quite popular among some circles."

I oppose the death penalty on those grounds, but it's part of complex argument in which the death of innocents is exacerbated by racism etc. and not balanced by any good I recognize - i.e., it doesn't reduce murder rates - and the simple expedient of life in prison is in my view clearly an entirely satisfactory solution from either reasonable side. If the choice were let all convicted murderes free or execute them, the analogy might be more reasonable. Furthermore, the death penalty is carried out by the state, which makes the morality/legality very different in my view.

All that said, I acknowledge your argument has force, which is why I would like to see the requirement for a second doctor to sign off or other such measures following the French or Dutch systems. And I imagine you share my horror at death penalty proponents who aren't in favor of safeguards - e.g., doesn't Scalia think evidence of innocence is irrelevant?

You say that if you always save people from the consequences of such decisions they never learn to make better ones. It is a short term vs. long term problem in itself. In the long term you want citizens who make better decisions. If you never let them feel the consequences of their decisions you save the short term pain but you forgo the long term benefit.

But it seems that criminalizing abortion is enforcing the most drastic set of consequences on people in a way which is very non-libertarian (in my own understanding). While I am sympathetic to the notion that making it too easy can serve to virtually erase those consequences, I've know a few women who have had early miscarriages and two women who had abortions, and they certainly felt those things in a way that affected them deeply, so the basic line you seem to be taking is a sort of enforced libertarianism, which seems like a contradiction in terms.

Jeff: Jes, if I understand correctly, you seem to be claiming that 100% of abortions are due to the life of the mother being in danger.

No: I am pointing out that people who manage to criminalize abortions succeed only in making sure women who need to terminate a pregnancy get an illegal abortion. Illegal abortions are far more likely to be lethal to the woman. Anyone arguing for making abortion illegal is directly arguing that women should and will die - or has taken the brute ignorance approach of pretending that the millions of deaths worldwide due to illegal abortions either don't exist or aren't enough deaths to matter.

It's distressing that you refuse to even believe that some people think abortion is murder, that it is merely a 'politically acceptable' way of articulating hatred for women.

I will grant you actually that plainly some few people do believe that abortion is murder. I merely refuse to believe that Sebastian is one of those people: I have a better opinion of him than that.

Of course it's possible I'm wrong, and Sebastian really does think that any woman who has a miscarriage in the second or third trimester ought to find herself subject to a Homicide investigation to make sure she didn't abort it - and if she did abort it, ought to face the death penalty for premeditated murder, along with the doctor who performed the abortion.

It's possible that Sebastian supports the terrorists who bomb clinics and kill doctors. I just don't think it's likely or true: I think it much more likely that Sebastian has never thought through the direct consequences of believing that a woman who terminates her pregnancy in the second trimester is guilty of murder, along with the doctor who performed the termination, and thus has never really faced the fact that he does not believe abortion=murder.

Not only do I believe that late term abortions can be murder (and at least sometimes are) I also believe that OJ Simpson is a murderer. Nevertheless I'm not trying to punish him. Hypocrite or non-vigilante?

It's interesting - in a black humor kind of way - that if abortion=murder was actually passed into law, so many women have had abortions that (a) Death Row in every state with a death penalty would become seriously overcrowded for a few years until all the people now guilty of murder were killed, and (b) the US would suddenly have the same kind of disproportion of men to women as India does. Not to mention a serious shortage of doctors.

Sebastian: There are quite some serious health problems that can only be found later in the pregnancy. If the child has no brain, that shows in the 20 week ultrasound (I had that happen to friends). Is it murder for you if the baby will die after birth? Or is it just moving the after-birth death to the pre-birth death?

In the Netherlands abortions after 24 weeks (in practise 22 weeks) are illegal and late-term ultrasounds are not a standard thing (yet, that is changing now). Which is one of the reasons why our babymortality figures these days are slightly higher than those of comparable countries where those scans are routine.

If you know your child will be born with a condition that will cause it to be in pain all its life, and that life will be measured in months or weeks rather than years - and you know that after the birth of the child you cannot save it from that fate... what is the choice you should make? As a parent and thus responsible for the baby?

Jes,

It seems that you're saying that if someone believes abortion is murder, the only morally consistent response is to murder those who perform abortions. I'm hoping that's where the crux of our disagreement lies.

I worry that it's an insurmountable gap, though. I'll reiterate my concern about the poisoned well of discourse. When you presuppose that anyone who disagrees with you has manifestly evil motives, and ascribe chains of logic to them them while ignoring their explanations to the contrary, I have to question the purpose of the continued dialogue.

I just don't think it's likely or true: I think it much more likely that Sebastian has never thought through the direct consequences of believing that a woman who terminates her pregnancy in the second trimester is guilty of murder
This sort od statement can go on forever; have you seriously thought through the experiences of a fetus being aborted twenty-four hours before birth? It's an extreme case, clearly, but 'women dying for lack of access to an illegal abortion' is also an extreme case. Neither side is interested in seeing those extremes perpetuated, and acknowledging that is important for everyone.

Please, listen for a moment and think about that?

It's an extreme case, clearly, but 'women dying for lack of access to an illegal abortion' is also an extreme case

unfortunately not.

As a result of the restrictive reproductive health policies enforced under the 25-year Ceausescu dictatorship, Romania ended the 1980s with the highest recorded maternal mortality of any country in Europe--159 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1989. An estimated 87 percent of these maternal deaths were caused by illegal and unsafe abortion. Under the Ceausescu regime, all contraceptive methods were forbidden and induced abortion was available only for women who met extremely narrow criteria. Immediately after the December 1989 revolution that overthrew Ceausescu, the new government removed restrictions on contraceptive use and legalized abortion. This legislative change has had beneficial effects on women's health, seen in the drop in maternal mortality in 1990 to 83 deaths per 100,000 live births--almost half the ratio in 1989. In addition, changes instituted since the revolution have led to the improved availability of reproductive health services and to the creation of new educational and training opportunities related to reproductive health services and to the creation of new educational and training opportunities related to reproductive health. The newly created contraceptive and abortion services have presented health system managers and policymakers with many challenges as they work to expand the availability of high-quality, comprehensive reproductive health care in a setting of economic hardship, political unrest, insufficient infrastructure, and outdated medical knowledge and practice.

And I should have been in bed two hours ago, so I'll leave it at that.

dutchmarbel,

I'd like to point out that I used the word 'extreme' there for a reason. It's something that no one involved desires, and no one is suggesting 'choosing.' The use of pre-fall Romania as an example is telling: the utter and complete lack of contraceptives, and the complete ban on abortion (rather than the legal-in-the-first-trimester stuff that has been kicked around in this discussion) certainly does change things dramatically.

I'm not suggesting that it is a non-issue, but rather that the reasons it was such a tremendously grave issue under Ceausescu's reign are some of the things I'm hoping we can find COMMON ground on.

To echo DM a little, it seems to me that there are times when a late abortion is more or less the equivalent of 'pulling the plug.' This is why I don't think it's murder.

I cannot imagine that a decision to do this is anything but agonizing for the parents involved. And I don't see that the interest of the state in promoting respect for individual autonomy is advanced by forcing people in that kind of agony to prolong it while the child suffers.

As noted above, under the current state of the law, these kind of terminations can be made illegal, and are in fact illegal in a number of places. I can certainly see, though, why someone who's gone through this doesn't want zealots to have their medical file, and home address.

Sebastian of course has very little influence on my own position on abortion, but he, and the actual examples of South Dakota (North? I have seen some confusion lately) and El Salvador should gave moderates like hilzoy and rilkefan pause as to how their careful reasoning might be misused. A moderate position will likely not result in legislation to their liking, but in something between themselves and Sebastian. If they are very lucky.

I have no particularly strong position on the death penalty, in principle. I believe O.J. is innocent. Really. And I will never move a millimeter on women's autonomy.

Also, as a quick side note, some better-than-anecdotal data on how many women will die if abortion is made illegal.

No it wouldn't Jes. That would be an ex post facto law.

Sebastian:

"if most pro-choice people REALLY BELIEVED that abortion of a normal healthy fetus 24 hours before delivery was similar to infanticide we could make it illegal."

Not necessarily:
1) Intensity of motivation matters. The most motivated people have a disproportionate influence, and they tend to be the most extreme. See: the President's appointees' position on the morning after pill.

2) While you're quite right that pro-choice people shouldn't draw the line too late to spite pro-lifers for trying to draw it too soon, there is an incredible amount of distrust on both sides, that:

--pro-choicers simply do not believe pro-lifers' claims about the prevalence of unnecessary late term abortions.

I don't get, I must say, why would you have an abortion "of convenience" in the seventh month rather than the fourth or fifth. It's so much worse, in every way. It's medically more invasive, you go through so much more of the pregnancy, it's morally worse, you've felt it kicking for months...I think it would take quite a bit more than a "poor decision maker" to up and decide to do this late in the game except for medical reasons. I can see it happening in cases of people in deep, deep, denial about the fact that they are pregnant--like the cases where women (often teenagers) hide the pregnancy and then abandon an infant next to a dumpster or what have you. I can also see it happening if people find out about a birth defect fairly late in the game and panic. I'm not claiming the number of cases is zero, and there are probably scenarious I'm not coming up with. But the "late term abortion of convenience" thing flatly doesn't make sense as far as people's motivations.

--pro-choicers believe that pro-lifers are going to try to stop medically necessary late term abortions, prosecute doctors who perform them for murder, make doctors terrified of performing them to the point that they close up shop. As a result, women who really need late term abortions and/or who need a medically very similar procedure to remove a stillborn fetus will die.

There may also be an attempt to harass or intimidate women; I think prosecution of women is unlike as it would be politically disastrous, but I'm not a particularly strong pro-choicer and there are almost certainly people more worried about it than I am.

As for the comparisons to execution: you're not going to get to intensity of feeling by just tallying up the numbers. There is a relevant difference between the state killing innocent people and the state failing to prevent its citizens from killing innocent people. Sins of omission and comission are both sins, but sins of omission are lesser sins.

That said, you're right: there should be more safeguards, and there is probably a way to write them into the laws without enabling malicious prosecutions or endangering women's lives.

I don't think anyone in Washington is interested in writing such laws. The closest I've seen is something Durbin introduced as an alternative to the partial birth ban. The Republicans were completely uninterested, and Democrats weren't interested except as an alternative to the partial birth ban.

Jeff: It seems that you're saying that if someone believes abortion is murder, the only morally consistent response is to murder those who perform abortions. I'm hoping that's where the crux of our disagreement lies.

I'm saying that if someone is seriously claiming they believe that around 850 000 murders are committed by pregnant women and doctors in the US every year, murders carried out with the state's approval, then yes, vigilante action to stop those murders is the only moral choice. If I believed that 850 000 murders were being committed annually and that the murderers would walk free because by law they had committed no crime, I would not be a "good German" and go along with it: I would act. But I don't believe that abortion is murder. Sebastian claims he does.

have you seriously thought through the experiences of a fetus being aborted twenty-four hours before birth?

Are you seriously claiming you think that a woman with a healthy fetus aborts in the 39th week?

"I don't get, I must say, why would you have an abortion "of convenience" in the seventh month rather than the fourth or fifth. It's so much worse, in every way. It's medically more invasive, you go through so much more of the pregnancy, it's morally worse, you've felt it kicking for months...I think it would take quite a bit more than a "poor decision maker" to up and decide to do this late in the game except for medical reasons."

People don't get their teeth cleaned for 15 years and will put up with the pain of rotting tooth for years because they don't want to go to the dentist. By the time they do they have to have a root canal--meet my ex-roommate and someone upthread's (I can't find it now) ex girlfriend. Some people will let a tumor grow to grapefruit size before getting it checked out because they don't want to deal with what it might be. A person with an addiction problem will often lose a job, a house and multiple loved ones before dealing with it. The idea that a couple hundred women per year might wait until well into fetal development before dealing with the fact that they just don't want a baby wouldn't shock me at all.

"Are you seriously claiming you think that a woman with a healthy fetus aborts in the 39th week?"

"A woman" is too easy. You can find an example of practically anything. So of course I think there is a woman who has had a healthy fetus aborted so late. And I think it was murder. And I think we won't ever find out who it was because the abortionist has no incentive to tell us about it.

Jeff: I'm not suggesting that it is a non-issue, but rather that the reasons it was such a tremendously grave issue under Ceausescu's reign are some of the things I'm hoping we can find COMMON ground on.

We can, if you're willing. We can agree that women have human rights that ought not to be removed on pregnancy, and that a pregnant woman is the only one who gets to make a decision about her own body - with her physician's advice. If you aren't willing to allow women to make decisions about our own bodies, and aren't willing to allow that women ought not to lose basic human rights when pregnant, then we have no common ground.

Sebastian: So of course I think there is a woman who has had a healthy fetus aborted so late. And I think it was murder.

And I think Soylent Green is people.

I suspect you are misusing the reference. Soylent Green was people.

I suspect you have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality: Soylent Green is fictional.

As is your example.

Have you ever seen an electron?

No, but there are plenty of good inferences that they are there.

Arguing that it isn't common enough to be important is one thing. Saying that I can't prove that it happened would be chicken but at least mildly defensible. Arguing that it just couldn't possibly happen because no woman would ever be so irresponsible underestimates the stupidity of human nature.

A few more responses: first, in the post I said that the beginnings of sentience mark the first point at which I could see a claim for the fetus having moral standing. (rilkefan: I should have said 'moral rights'. You're right, of course, that for all I know a fetus can be an heir, and have other legal rights. So can a corporation, and yet for all that we don't think that dissolving one is murder. Seb: check out this link to a JAMA article on fetal pain; I can send you the pdf if you want.) At that point, it seems to me to have the sort of moral rights that I think animals have, and to have more as it develops further.

What this means is: I think that it is wrong to cause it pain unnecessarily, but not, per se, to kill it. In particular, it is not wrong if either the pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother, or if the fetus will be severely disabled, in a way that involves severe pain, and especially if this is accompanied by short life expectancy. The reasons for this are: the fetus has not yet (i.e., at the start of the 3rd trimester) developed the full range of capacities that make killing a child wrong, and if its life will be full of pain, then the sort of reasoning that can justify killing a beloved pet with a seriously painful and untreatable disease can justify killing a third trimester fetus with the same prognosis.

I do accept one version of a capability argument, but it's one that only kicks into gear at the development of sentience, if not later. Namely: I think it's very hard to understand children -- what they are doing and thinking -- without bringing in the fact that they are learning to be adults; that they are directed, in much of what they do, towards a goal that lies in the future. This is true of a lot of things -- e.g., plants -- and the fact that something seems to display goal-directed behavior does not seem to me in itself to justify the claim that one should not thwart it. But in the case of kids, the fact that they are conscious beings with their own experience of the world, their own interests, and their own independent point of view seems to me to provide the foundation for the idea that one should assume that point of view and consider those interests in considering how to treat them; and since that point of view and those interests are hard to make sense of without bringing in the future, once they become conscious I think one can and should consider them not just as they are now, but also as unfolding persons.

Plants, by contrast, have no independent point of view. There's no perspective that is theirs, and that we should consider when deciding e.g. whether to uproot a dandelion. Fetuses before (at least) sentience seem to me to be similar in this respect. They are organizing themselves, but have not yet acquired the moral standing that would make interrupting this organization wrong.

in that last comment, "capability argument" should have been "potentiality argument".

"People don't get their teeth cleaned for 15 years and will put up with the pain of rotting tooth for years because they don't want to go to the dentist. By the time they do they have to have a root canal--meet my ex-roommate and someone upthread's (I can't find it now) ex girlfriend. Some people will let a tumor grow to grapefruit size before getting it checked out because they don't want to deal with what it might be. A person with an addiction problem will often lose a job, a house and multiple loved ones before dealing with it."

There's a difference here, though: if you continue to ignore the root canal or the tumor it will just get worse, and worse, and worse, but there is another way out of an unwanted pregnancy. You can give birth and give it up for adoption. If there are no medical dangers to you and the child is going live, why would you have a third trimester abortion of a viable fetus instead of a caesarean and adoption? Is it so much less medically invasive?

I know people are strange and irrational, but it's not not only irrational; emotionally, it makes no sense.

Also, you're positing a woman and a doctor who are both willing to do this.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen. People are capable of just about any good or bad thing you can think of. It's just when you combine something that doesn't make any sense to people and a lack of documented examples, people will be skeptical.

Now, for obvious reasons I'm sympathetic to your argument that you can't necessarily trust the people accused of a horrible crime when they promise you that the evidence doesn't exist--but there is a real possibility of gross violations of privacy of people in horrible situations, and you're going to have to deal with those to convince people on the left.

Are you seriously claiming you think that a woman with a healthy fetus aborts in the 39th week?
No, I don't. At least, not in any sort of statistically relevant numbers. As Katherine mentioned upthread, anyone who is having a 'convenience' abortion at T-24 hours is better off just having a C-section and giving the kid up for adoption. It's an absurd extreme example.

"It's just when you combine something that doesn't make any sense to people and a lack of documented examples, people will be skeptical."

And if NOW doesn't let us track it we will never prove it. Basically I'm in your position on torture. The doctor says it never happens. When asked if we can have basic safeguards the answer is no. When asked if we can investigate whether it ever happens the answer is no. When asked if we can have access to even easily falsified information that would tend to hint that it doesn't happen (like affidavits for each late term abortion stating the cause of the abortion) the answer is no. I'm asked to trust that no women would ever think of doing it (a ridiculous assumption given the numbers we are talking about) and that the doctors are perfectly self-policing. Sorry but in matters of life or death that just isn't going to cut it. We don't even allow that for prescribing strong anti-histamines.

If this were about torture or prison beatings, NOW (and the Democratic Party) wouldn't even let us get each of the guards on record saying "I had to bruise him because he was trying to escape". Bob Mcmanus says above that he thinks the fetus definitely doesn't/shouldn't have rights until after birth. There are surely a few doctors like him in every state. That view just isn't so ridiculously uncommon that we would should guess otherwise.

but SH, the reason the pro-choice says no to what appears to be reasonable safeguards against a very rare crime is that there is no trust. and as we have seen with the USA PATRIOT Act, governments with strong ties to the evangelical movement are willing to use existing laws in creative ways that appear inconsistent with traditional views of the Constitutional limits of federal power.

so there's a reason for the lack of trust. i don't want doctors to have to report medical procedures to the feds, because I don't want the feds (or, for that matter, the state) to have that information.

my wife already deals with ambitious young prosecutors with incredible powers. the last thing she needs to see is a prosecutor with the power to charge a woman who had a late term abortion with murder. how would you limit prosecutorial discretion? where does the line get drawn?

as conservatives have no problem recognizing in just about every other sphere of life, there are some things a government cannot do well. Trying to determine whether a particular abortion was murder is one of them.

[however, in order to keep my cred. as a moderate, i could probably support a law which requires a doctor, before performing an abortion where he believes the fetus to be past 30 weeks, to obtain a second opinion. my quid pro quo would be a commitment by the state to provide a broad range of family planning services, including funding services for the low income pop. and requiring hospitals to provide abortions as a condition of licensure.]

I didn't flip out on the torture issue until I knew of specific cases. But arguably I should have as soon as I knew about the Stanford prison experiments, the Milgram experiments, and the fact that we were suspending Geneva and basically not replacing other laws. Anyway, it is similar, and I did realize that--hence me saying that:

"Now, for obvious reasons I'm sympathetic to your argument that you can't necessarily trust the people accused of a horrible crime when they promise you that the evidence doesn't exist."

(I don't really know why I thought it would be obvious if I didn't say it.)

I realized, also, that being told that "privacy" requires that we never find out, must be as satisfying as it is for me to be told that "national security" requires that we never find out.

I do think the people who want to see real investigations of torture by U.S. personnel and effective enforcement of the laws against it have proposals that are actually a net gain for national security, which they are seriously pushing for and being thwarted by the administration and the opposition, despite having come up with a huge quantity of information showing that abuses have happened.

I don't see any comparable proposals for investigating or stopping non-medically-necessary third-trimester abortions. Which isn't to say that they shouldn't exist or it's pro-lifers' responsibility. Frankly, I don't think many pro-life politicians are all that interested, and the most genuinely sincere are also the least likely to be willing to countenance ANY third trimester abortion or take privacy concerns seriously (e.g. Brownback). I think guilty Catholic pro-choicers might be your best shot, but frankly I think most people in Washington would see this as high-risk low-reward.

I can in theory see situations in which a woman would abort a healthy fetus in the 3rd trimester, but none of them are "frivolous."

The "frivolous" label really bugs me. Women who get abortions don't want the baby. They have reasons for not wanting the baby. You'd think that would be self-evident.

You'd think that any reason at all, whether emotional or pragmatic, would be self-evidently sufficient because the decision is being made by the person who ultimately is the one at risk - for any value of risk.

It frosts me when I hear people say, "Oh, why can't they just carry it and make some childless couple happy," as if the only change a woman goes through in the next 9 months is "gaining a little weight," and labor itself is nothing more than an "uncomfortable few hours."

That trivialization amazes me, esp. when it comes from the same people who say women get abortions for frivolous reasons.

No, but there are plenty of good inferences that they are there.

Have you ever seen any good inferences that women abort fetuses in the 39th week?

You're in the position, basically, of claiming that you know aliens are visiting Earth and capturing people to torture them. You can't offer any evidence that it's actually happening: you can't come up with any witnesses: you can't even show that it's at all likely. All you can do is keep saying that aliens torturing humans is wrong, and the statistical likelihood is that there is intelligent alien life somewhere else in the galaxy, and some alien species could therefore be visiting Earth to torture humans.

For what it's worth, I would be willing to sign on for requiring serious medical reasons, relating either to the mother's health or to the fetus', for third trimester abortions, provided I had some assurance that this would not mean, in practice, hounding either the doctors who perform them or the women who seek them. (Where 'hounding' does not mean 'request denied', but something punitive.)

Here the lack of trust definitely gets in the way. However, just being creative: suppose some organization made up of medical professionals that was non-partisan -- maybe the AMA, or the college of obstetricians. Ask them to nominate a committee to check on requests, and to move very quickly (e.g., within 48 hours.) Bind them to confidentiality. Require doctors to get their permission first. I could sign on to that.

I would not sign on to anything involving political appointees, because of the aforementioned lack of trust.

Well, I don't accept the torture example. The people doing the torturing work for me. They have sworn to uphold a set of principles that I also have sworn to uphold. Their adherence to those principles is of direct relevance to me -- because if they can torture X, they can torture me.

No doctors treating a patient owes me anything.

As noted, I'd be comfortable with information gathering if not handled by zealots. That hasn't been the experience so far, though.

I would not sign on to anything involving political appointees, because of the aforementioned lack of trust.
Completely understandable. I'd be depressed if political appointees WERE put in charge of that kind of task -- it's all but an assurance the position will be abused.

Francis, what's your take on this?

I for one don't believe there have been any cases of abortions of healthy babies of healthy women at 39 months by accredted doctors in the US. Presumably there have been some past 28 weeks, given the above, which I find difficult to accept. If there were a law in place against such abortions, I would be inclined to call them murder. I wouldn't however support such a law - I would fight it (even though I think it would be consistent with Roe) given the political climate. This sad state of affairs is not in my view anything like NOW's fault - it's Falwell's fault, and now McCain's, and beyond that their party's.

A CHURCH of England curate has lost her campaign for two doctors to be prosecuted for performing a late abortion on a foetus with a cleft palate.
I'm biased by the fact that my cousin was born with a cleft palate. It was a very difficult child for her -- the surgery, the extra work trying to keep up her studies while carting around the country for medical treatment, etc. Today she's a vibrant, successful woman who (when last I heard from her) was looking into moving to a state or country where she and her girlfriend could legally marry.

I certainly understand that few have the resources to pursue all that treatment, but you'll have to excuse me if personal experience causes me to question the 'a life with cleft palate is not worth living' rationale.

"If this were about torture or prison beatings"

Uhh, this is, to me about torture and prison beatings, and I am on record on this blog as being more strident and absolutist about habeus and adherence to the conventions than my betters.

Some rights are not conditional. I would rather KSM was set free and killed 3000 more Americans than compromise on the principles of justice. And I would accept thirty or one hundred "child murders" than allow the Sebastian's to get their foot in the door. You believe 19th week abortions are murder? No I will not bend. There are more like you out there than are like me.

And I trust women and doctors more than I trust a religious government.

my first reaction? MYOB.

my follow-on reaction? It is precisely this kind of case which leads me to believe that the state cannot effectively regulate in this area. It's easy to say that the mother's conduct was shameful, but I'm not the one facing the consequences of having to raise that child. but what are the alternatives? deny her the abortion and hope she doesn't do it herself? And trying her for murder? yikes.

[from early days in crim. law class -- why do we outlaw murder? in most societies, once state governments start displacing tribes as law-giver, the state must take over the prosecution of murder in order to put an end to tribal conflict. In other words, as best i remember, societies punish murder not due to some biblical commandment but for the basic consequential reason of cutting down on vendetta.]

The other thing that gets me about this article is that I was recently researching gang violence in El Salvador for my job. It's a horrible situation, and sort of a Greek tragedy where immigration policy is concerned: El Salvadorans flee the civil war. Most of them come illegally, because we won't grant them refugee status or asylum because we're buddies with the government doing most of the killing. The kids join and form street gangs in Los Angeles. They commit crimes, or simply get picked up by immigration for being here illegally. We deport them. El Salvador completely lacks the resources to deal with thousands of angry young men being flown back into the country--often separated from their families--& left in San Salvador. They stay in their gangs, and what's a serious crime problem in the U.S. becomes uncontrollable there. The murder rate rises, and rises again; it's now reportedly higher than it was during the civil war. Most murders are not prosecuted, but they do pass tough-on-crime laws that give you years-long sentences for having a gang tattoo or associating with gang members. Lots of mass arrests, overcrowded prisons, people in jail for months before they can be charged or tried. The gangs, in many cases, take over the prisons--people tend to come out far more hardened criminals than they come in. There are prison riots, and fires, that leave dozens of people dead--including some non-gang members, naturally. And vague reports that these riots are "suspicious", and reports of right wing anti-gang death squads forming, and that the government doesn't much care.
Now when we try to deport gang and ex-members back to El Salvador, they try to claim politial asylum. And we say that, although they certainly have a well founded fear that they will be murdered (and trying to leave the gang probably only increases this risk), risk of death on the basis of gang membership is not grounds for asylum.

So, the cliche about the culture that protects life from conception until birth, really seems to be true in this case.

I would like to point out that while 1.4% of abortions occur after the 21st week, about 100 abortions per year (.01%) after the 24th week, which is the actual beginning of the the third trimester. We're proposing an entire legal framework for a handful or less of questionable cases.

"what are the alternatives? deny her the abortion and hope she doesn't do it herself?"

Give the baby up for adoption?


"about 100 abortions per year (.01%) after the 24th week"

I wonder about this statistic - how well understood is it? As far as I understand, the state doesn't track pregnancies, and I would guess that those seeking late-term abortions for non-medical emergencies are not likely to be easily counted, and their dating is likely to be difficult. My recollection is that the leading reason listed for (I think) 16+ week abortions is "Didn't know I was pregnant".

The stats might be available through one of the national health organizations, like CDC or NIH. Since the stats are anonymous, basically incidence reports, the issue of identity disclosure doesn't arise.

"Didn't know I was pregnant" even at 4 months is, while improbable, not impossible. A lot of women don't menstruate regularly; yes, even for months at a time (that's one of the non-birth control applications of birth control pills: to regulate cycles). Put that together with an urgent wish to deny, even to themselves, that they might be pregnant... it happens.

"Since the stats are anonymous, basically incidence reports, the issue of identity disclosure doesn't arise."

The usual ignorant questions: Is there an incentive to report? To report correctly? Is there cross-checking?

The statistics could certainly be far better. If we had Forensic Vagina Inspectors.

I'm not being entirely snarky. If we want statistics collected that will be credible to the further half of the pro-life movement, they'd probably have to be collected by pro-life folks. Where is that taking us?

Considering the 35% drop in abortions over the last dozen years, and that the same policies and actors who implemented that were principally opposed to late term abortions, I may not buy .01% but would be skeptical about it being far higher.

So, returning to snark, it seems that non-absolutists actually like Roe v. Wade's trimester framework, and all of the vitriol stems from procedural disagreements with the ruling. Or something.

That said, I empathize (and to some degree sympathize) with Jeff Eaton's problem. And truly wish him the best of luck bringing pro-lifers to moderation. Sorry Jeff, the shift has to begin from that side. I'll help bring strident pro-choicers to the table if you have success, though.

CMatt, don't put "like" and "Roe" together in a roomful of sharp lawyers, it's likely to cause headaches among us hoi polloi.

I just want statistics I can cite with confidence. I'm not really interested in talking to anyone who won't pay attention to data.

So, returning to snark, it seems that non-absolutists actually like Roe v. Wade's trimester framework, and all of the vitriol stems from procedural disagreements with the ruling. Or something.

When I was taking a politics class in college, as a gedankenexperiment I decided to write down my desired framework for a "reasonable", "fair" abortion policy -- where reasonable and fair were, of course, to be measured relative to my internal sense of such things -- completely divorced from any existing framework. I managed over the course of a week, though I don't know how, to remove from my mind any knowledge of the particulars of Roe or any of the other suggestions I had read so that I could begin with a blank slate. Having done so, I went back to the various cases and debates we'd studied.

Turns out, my desired framework, drawn up from scratch without external referrant, was almost exactly what was said in Roe. How weird is that?

According to the Guttmacher Institute in this report the incidence of abortions each year after the 24th week is estimated at 0.08% (see slide 12). At 1.3 million abortions per year that is about 1,000. I'm concerned at the 20 week stage where the rate (21 weeks or more) is 1.4% or about 18,000. For comparison the number of criminals put to death in the US each year is typcially below 100.

Also interesting is slide 15 which shows a higher death rate for late term abortions when compared with taking a pregnancy to term. (This may or may not be misleading depending on the number of such abortions which are performed because the mother's life is being endangered by the child--statistics unavailabe thank you NARAL).

Slide 24 is odd. It either shows that 48% of women who have an abortion have previously had an abortion, or something odd is going on with the green portion of the graph. I'm not sure if "previous abortion and previous birth" should be interpreted as people with previous abortions plus people with previous births or someone who had at least 2 pregnancies--one abortion and one live birth.

" I managed over the course of a week, though I don't know how, to remove from my mind any knowledge of the particulars of Roe or any of the other suggestions I had read so that I could begin with a blank slate. Having done so, I went back to the various cases and debates we'd studied.

Turns out, my desired framework, drawn up from scratch without external referrant, was almost exactly what was said in Roe. How weird is that?"

I suspect you didn't remove as much from your mind as you thought.

That Guttmacher site is really superb. Thanks for giving that Sebastian. Lots of interesting info.

Rilkefan: Give the baby up for adoption?

You mean give the baby up to an institution? There's never any guarantee that an "imperfect" baby will be adopted.

Or, you know: just accept that a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body, and you don't have the right to make decisions on her behalf.

I was asked once to suppose that there was a genetic test for the "gay gene" in fetuses, and that the "gay gene" was in fact an accurate predictor that a person would be attracted to their own gender. Having accepted that for the sake of argument, I was then asked: "What if a woman wanted the fetus tested for the 'gay gene', and if the test was positive, had an abortion?"

I thought about it. And I did have to think about it. But I finally decided that a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason that seems good to her even if it seems absolutely appalling to me. (Besides, a woman so homophobic that she could not bear to think that she was carrying a fetus that would ultimately grow up to be gay would be a terrible parent to that potential child.)

But the anti-choice side includes the men who think they ought to have the right to force women to have an abortion - whether because the fetus is female (or gay, if we pretend that it's possible to test for gayness) or because they don't want to pay 18 years of child support. I am opposed to all of the anti-choicers - both the pro-abortion and the forced-pregnancy anti-choicers. There doesn't seem to be too much difference between them: both groups think women ought not to be allowed to make decisions.

Really interesting thought experiment, Jes. What do you think should be done with a place like China and India and the question of abortion for the purposes of gender determination?

What do you think should be done with a place like China and India and the question of abortion for the purposes of gender determination?

I think that it's as ugly and as blatant form of patriarchical devaluing of women as the South Dakota legislation that women are choiceless incubators.

The solution, though, is basic and long-term: it's no use banning the practice, when the necessity is to change the society that gives rise to the practice. Feminism is successful in the long term, but sometimes we have to look at the very, very long term.

If the Catholic law school Charley Carp went to was Ave Maria, then I have to inform him that the proprietors of that pro-life establishment think that it's perfectly fine to punish slutty women by expelling or firing any female students or employees who fail in their morals and become pregnant out of wedlock, and by denying unwed mothers the same opportunities to become students, refusing to allow them to have their babies with them. --Unless it would be potentially more embarassing to make an issue about it, in the conservative Catholic community, in which case they are willing to turn a blind eye, in public, while humiliating the "fallen woman" in private.

I know someone who worked in the registrar's office there, you see, and someone to whom this happened.

--How this jives with being really about "protecting innocent life", instead of being an encouragement to use clandestine contraception, or in the case of students like the one of my acquaintance, "fell" to temptation while believing firmly in abstinence-only/ignorance-only sex ed, to then go on to a traditional, clandestine Catholic abortion to avoid this punishment - which for obvious reasons is not imposed equally, since who can tell which of the male students is unchaste? - is an excercise left best to M. Gorgias.

Nope, Catholic U.

SH, I read that field in slide 24 as saying 'at least 2 pregnancies, one of which ended in abortion and another in birth.' And I think slide 15 is illustrating that the set of women having late abortions is, on average, significantly less healthy than the set of women giving birth. Which is exactly what you would expect, if the decision to have a late abortion was largely health driven, and not vanity driven.

Are there late abortions where the rationale isn't what I would myself consider sufficient? Even at my most non-judgmental? Surely yes, but exceedingly few. The societal question is how much disruption are we going to have to get to those few cases -- how many other lives are we going to mess up.

I went to the airport late last night -- and exceeded the speed limit pretty much all the way there and back, to the point of actually setting the cruise at 80. This was not significantly outside the rate of flow of traffic. We could have a system where everyone who did this would be caught every time, but would it be worth it? As a society we say no, although I'm sure there are plenty of zealots who'd go for it in a heartbeat.

That said, I empathize (and to some degree sympathize) with Jeff Eaton's problem. And truly wish him the best of luck bringing pro-lifers to moderation. Sorry Jeff, the shift has to begin from that side.
It's understood; considering the fact that the Pro-choice side is essentially defending the legal status quo (rather than an abstract point of philosophy) it's understandable that there is very little interest in compromise.

Ultimately, the pro-life movement will have to come to grips with the fact that its primary goal (reduction or elimination of abortions) is utterly and completely incompatible with the tenets of conservatism its members often hold as well. (Opposition to contraceptive education, well-funded prenatal care programs and generous education/support programs for at-risk women, etc). Obviously, only a part of the problem, but that 'Which do you value most' question will have to be dealt with.

I'm not being entirely snarky. If we want statistics collected that will be credible to the further half of the pro-life movement, they'd probably have to be collected by pro-life folks.
People unwilling to accept credible and reliable statistics should take themselves out of the argument. Pro-lifers unwilling to accept data gathered by organizations with a track record of accuracy (like Alan Guttmacher, one of the single best sources for national and international scale data on the topic) should be dismissed.
The solution, though, is basic and long-term: it's no use banning the practice, when the necessity is to change the society that gives rise to the practice.
This, I would agree with. My long-term desire is to see abortion completely and utterly eliminated -- not because I hate women, but because I believe that it is murder, at least in a technical sense. It seems that this makes you believe that I am a woman-hating patriarchal hypocrite, but hopefully we can at least work together on the 'changing the society that gives rise to this practice' problem.

For clarification, when I say 'I want to see abortion completely and utterly eliminated,' I see it as an equivalent to the statement, 'I want to see poverty completely and utterly eliminated.' Strident attacks on the poverty-stricken, for example, is not exactly a productive way to solve anything.

Jeff: Ultimately, the pro-life movement will have to come to grips with the fact that its primary goal (reduction or elimination of abortions) is utterly and completely incompatible with the tenets of conservatism its members often hold as well.

There's no evidence at all that the anti-choice movement has as its primary goal the reduction or elimination of abortions. No organisation identifying itself as "pro-life" is doing anything as an organisation to improve access to contraception, for example: certainly no anti-choice organisations publicly condemned the pharmacy workers who wanted to be able to deny women access to contraceptive pills. If your goal is even to reduce abortions, you need to leave the anti-choice movement.

My long-term desire is to see abortion completely and utterly eliminated -- not because I hate women, but because I believe that it is murder, at least in a technical sense.

Your long-term desire is to force women to endure pregnancy and childbirth against our will: not because you hate women, but because women don't matter enough to hate: your sole concern is for the fetus. Fine: you're anti-choice. El Salvador is your goal. Enjoy.

Seriously, Jeff - the last paragraph was angry sarcasm: it does no good to claim you don't hate women when your goal is ultimately to deny pregnant women the right to make decisions. It may be that you're inspired by contempt for women rather than hatred: I can't see inside your mind, I don't know why you want to force a pregnant woman to carry the fetus full-term against her will and endure unwanted childbirth: but the mere fact that you do want this says something about your opinion of women. Hate? Contempt? Invisibility except as a life-support system for a fetus?

Your long-term desire is to force women to endure pregnancy and childbirth against our will: not because you hate women, but because women don't matter enough to hate: your sole concern is for the fetus. Fine: you're anti-choice. El Salvador is your goal. Enjoy.
I suppose our conversation has ended, Jes. You're either unwilling or incapable of listening, and I have better things to do than be insulted. My words, at this point, are nothing more than something for you to dissect for distorted cheap-shot opportunities. Sorry to have made the mistake of entering the conversation.

For the record, Jes, rhetoric like the stuff you're spewing is what will help the tiny but present El Salvadorian wing of the pro-life movement maintain its power. Moderates who see the issue as more nuanced and part of a broader cultural and societal matrix (poverty, equality, medical issues, womens' rights to self-determination, and so on) are the losers.

Think of it in terms you might be able to grasp: pro-democracy Iranians were not helped by Bush's strident condemnation of the current Iranian regime, even though he was advocating their goals.

"'I want to see abortion completely and utterly eliminated."

Then support a policy in implant contraceptive devices in everyone, male and female, at some designated age before puberty, that have to be removed in order for anyone, male or female, to become fertile.

That's the only way to achieve your ultimate end goal.

Making abortion illegal won't do it. Abortion was illegal before Roe. That didn't mean there weren't any abortions. It meant there were no safe, legal abortions.

Women being maimed, or dying, or being subject to El Salvador-type atrocities, is the inescapable and logical outcome of the forced-pregnancy lobby's goals.

Jeff: For the record, Jes, rhetoric like the stuff you're spewing is what will help the tiny but present El Salvadorian wing of the pro-life movement maintain its power.

For the record, Jeff, what will help the powerful El Salvadorian wing of the anti-choice movement maintain its power is your support, and those of millions of others like you. If you don't want women in the US to die in illegal abortions, don't support a movement whose goal is to make abortions illegal.

Making abortion illegal won't do it. Abortion was illegal before Roe. That didn't mean there weren't any abortions. It meant there were no safe, legal abortions.
I know. That's why I made it clear that I considered such a goal as being equivalent to 'eliminating poverty.' I suppose My mistake was stating something without painstakingly reiterating every qualifier and opinion I've shared over the entire thread.

Jes:

For the record, Jeff, what will help the powerful El Salvadorian wing of the anti-choice movement maintain its power is your support, and those of millions of others like you. If you don't want women in the US to die in illegal abortions, don't support a movement whose goal is to make abortions illegal.

You don't know me, Jes, and with any luck on my part, it will stay that way. When it comes time to write checks, I send them to Planned Parenthood, not Operation Rescue. The fact that you see this discussion as an opportunity to play High School Debate With Hitler is your problem, not mine.

SH: What do you mean by this?

If I may use hilzoy's trope, if most pro-choice people REALLY BELIEVED that abortion of a normal healthy fetus 24 hours before delivery was similar to infanticide we could make it illegal. Hell, we would be allowed to at least statistically investigate whether or not they were medically necessary.

and

And if NOW doesn't let us track it we will never prove it.

I haven't been aware of any substantial political energy around resisting the collection of data on abortions. Obviously, third-trimester abortion for reasons other than to protect the life and health of the mother is illegal in most states, and presumably the indications for those abortions are recorded in the patient's medical charts.

I'm not trying to play dumb here, but what do you see as the barriers keeping such data from being collected to your satisfaction?

Jes: Explain to Jeff why you think that his views will eventually lead to El Salvador, or that they are incompatible with genuine concern for women, or whatever, if you want. But don't talk about what his long-term goals or motives are if you want to stay within the posting rules.

Sorry, this:

Obviously, third-trimester abortion for reasons other than to protect the life and health of the mother is illegal in most states,

should be

Obviously, third-trimester abortion for reasons other than to protect the life and health of the mother or in the case of serious fetal abnormality is illegal in most states,

A quick note. The crack about never knowing Jes or what not WAS a needless personal jab on my part and I apologize. It was uncalled for. Heated as the discussion of this kind of issue can be, our passions on these issues don't reflect our worth as human beings. Jes, you may be someone I would get along with smashingly should we cross paths. Frustration about the nature of some of our exchanges doesn't change that.

Jeff, I accept your apology, and in return apologise for the offense given to you in some of my comments.

I have a feeling we probably would get along fine even debating this particular topic face-to-face, where it's possible to see someone's face change in the course of a comment, stop making the comment and say "Wait, that came out as more offensive than I wanted, let me rephrase". The Internet is not a good zone for nearly getting along.

Thanks, Jes. I definitely agree on that count. The comment about 'wanting to see abortion eliminated' in particular was one I realized should have had more qualifiers even as I hit the 'post' button.

I certainly would like to see it eliminated, but I realize that abortion was legalized not because anyone thinks it is an inherently good thing but because it solves a set of serious, fundamental problems for women in our culture.

Abortion on demand has allowed our culture to grow and advance in positive directions that I think are tremendously valuable -- it is a solution, as I said, to a number of serious problems.

My objection to it, though, is that I believe it solves those problems by creating other just as serious moral and ethical problems. My desire to work to come up with more win-win solutions, at least to specific subsets of the overal pool of problems, does not mean that I refuse to acknowledge the difficulties women faced (and still do face in many areas).

Thus, when I say 'I want to see it eliminated,' I envision not El Salvador, but a nation where the infrastructure is there to make the *outlawing* of second-and-third trimester abortions essentially unecessary. (For the same reasons Sebastian is willing to accept first-trimester abortions, I'm willing to as well. I think that at that point, we can still talk legitimately about 'potential for personhood' rather than 'personhood unable to sustain itself outside of the womb.' But that's a side issue, I guess.)

I think that you see my statements as implicit (if not explicit) support for a monolithic ideology that goes hand-in-hand with El Salvador's horrific system. I parted ways with the 'pro-life' movement a number of years ago for some of the very reasons you find it objectionable. I still consider myself, philosophically, to be pro-life however, and am not going to abandon that label. Rather, I'll take the time to explain to any pro-lifer that I can how their naive approach to a complex issue is detrimental to their stated goals AND to those affected by the work they do.

LB, efforts on the parts of some attorneys general to gather late term abortion data have been resisted. (There was a Kansas case, and another in indiana -- I don't follow this, but remember it from the last go 'round).

Inasmuch as this resistance takes the form of motions to quash subpoenas, I think blaming NOW is maybe over the top. The courts who grant the motions, or narrow the subpoenas because the investigations are overbroad, have played a role too. Can an AG craft an investigation that can pass constitutional muster? I'm sure that the answer is yes, just as I'm sure that a constitutionally sound 'PBA' bill can be written. The drivers of the PL movement aren't interested in 'constitutionally sound' though, they want the goalposts moved. Understandable, of course, but then one gets tired of their whining about losing when they haven't played to win what's currently winnable.

The SD statute is a perfect example. Almost no one thinks it will be the vehicle for overturning Roe/Casey, or even that it will get to the SCt. It's an exercise in politics, not either (a) law/morality or (b) health.

Isn't the Kansas case you're talking about the one where the clinics were volunteering to release the patients' charts so long as they were allowed to redact personally identifying information? Because that sort of thing can't be what SH is talking about - the information that the clinics were willing to relaease is exactly what he would want for research purposes. (I'm not remembering the Indiana one -- I'll go look for it.)

It looks as though the Indiana case is similar.

to jump straight in the middle between Jeff and Jes,

it would be great if we lived in a world without abortions because no woman ever wanted an abortion.

[and had a pony!] but until there is no rape, no fetal abnormalities, no birth control failure, no change in economic circumstances ... until humanity achieves perfection, in other words, abortions will occur.

"no change in economic circumstances"

This part at least should be solved in the coming singularity.

[and had a pony!] but until there is no rape, no fetal abnormalities, no birth control failure, no change in economic circumstances ... until humanity achieves perfection, in other words, abortions will occur.
Doesn't stop us from trying to fight poverty, torture, corruption, or any other cultural or societal ethical or moral issue.

It's already been established upthread that ~95% of abortions occur in a timeframe where I think can be morally and ethically justifiable. The 'perhaps there's something we don't know' aspect troubles me a lot, but them's the breaks. It's also been established that a large (anywhere from 10-45% depending on how strictly you interperet the statistics) of abortions are due to people not using contraception (at all or sporadically).

My position is not the same as the majority of the politicized pro-life movement. At the same time, a huge chunk of the US population (around 80%, if I remember the polling numbers form the last election) is happily camped in pretty much the same position that I am -- that late-term abortions should be banned for reasons other than the life of the mother or dire medical problems with the fetus, but others should remain legal. Small minorities support the extremes (all abortion should be illegal, or abortions up to the moment of birth for any reason should be legal).

The polarization on both sides leaves that majority of the population with very little voice and very little choice. The 'catfight-centric' media, fueled by ideologues on both sides, exacerbates the problem. "Pro-lifers" look at the support for late-term abortion bans and see an 80% majority that 'just needs to take the next step' towards supporting a full ban. "Pro-choicers" look at that group and see a majority that 'just needs to take the next step' towards supporting full-term abortion rights. Instead, both groups need to listen to that middle.

Of course, that's my opinion, and I could easily be mistaken due to the fact that I see myself as part of that 'grappling middle.' But being called a baby-killer and a woman-hater, simultaneously, by both sides, is not a position I'd pick by choice unless I felt it was really where the truth could be found.

Anyhow... I know I've chewed up a lot of bytes with posts on this. I don't want to argue with any of the folks here -- ObWi is a site that I enjoy tremendously and I have a great deal of respect for those who post and comment here. I just wish more dialogue (like the stuff we've scratched the surface of) could happen in the public square.

Our third-trimester abortions are part of the peri-natal mortality (few weeks before birth till 1 week after birth). A few years back we did a study in the Netherlands why our perinatal mortality figures stayed constant whilst those of comparable countries declined (we used to have lowest figure and went to being average). One of the reasons appeared to be that we did not perform standard ultrasounds at 20 weeks gestation to detect neural problems. Countries where those happened more, had more abortions right after the scan and less death just before or after birth.

You cannot discuss late abortions without taking severe handicaps into the equation.

Rilkefan: if two doctors AND the mother think that the handicap was severe enough to warrant a late term abortion it might be slightly more than the average cleft palate.

At the same time, a huge chunk of the US population (around 80%, if I remember the polling numbers form the last election) is happily camped in pretty much the same position that I am -- that late-term abortions should be banned for reasons other than the life of the mother or dire medical problems with the fetus, but others should remain legal.

If by late term, you mean third trimester, I think this is pretty much true -- SH's definition of 'late term', which I believe is either after 18 or after 20 weeks, is more controversial.

"Pro-choicers" look at that group and see a majority that 'just needs to take the next step' towards supporting full-term abortion rights.

See, here, I think you're confused about the typical pro-choice position. Hilzoy, in this thread, is arguing from a pro-choice standpoint, but is willing to accept restrictions like the ones you describe on third-trimester abortions. I'm pro-choice, and I'm happy with such restrictions. Jes is pro-choice, and I believe she has, in earlier threads if not this one, said that she sees no reason for non-medically indicated third-term abortion. So, while the position that you hold, and that you describe 80% of the population as holding (I'm not sure your numbers are right, but I would bet it's at least a majority) is not the only position held by pro-choicers, it is at the least a position held by many, many people who would describe themselves as pro-choice.

The position you've described isn't in the middle between extremist pro-lifers and extremist pro-choicers -- it's squarely in the pro-choice camp. You may not think of yourself as pro-choice for reasons of affiliation, but you aren't at odds with pro-choicers in terms of the policy outcomes you want.

I just got back from a trip where I had little desire to connect to a computer, and I am glad that I didn't miss anything controversial.


But to put in my two cents worth (and that may well be overestimating the value of my opinion.

After reading the entire thread, I have seen some degree of relative absolutism on both sides. And based upon prior threads, it probably would have been even more contentious if some other commenters had contributed.

For many years, I was pretty much an absolutist on the anti-abortion side. Over the past couple years I have, with great internal turmoil come to a position that probably falls into the same place as Jeff's.

But I think his last comment tells it all. The debate on this issue is pretty much controlled by the fringes, with almost a total rejection by either side of those who fall into the middle.

I remember getting involved in an abortion thread on another site and stating that this isn't a black and white issue for many people, and that a lot of people are tormented by the nuances of abortion as they attempt to decide what their personal feelings are. I was promptly told that there is nothing complex about this and if I was wavering at all I was in favor of sending women to jail, etc.

This tends to deny the reality of the human condition, which, except for those who are rigidly in one position or another, dictates that people have complex ways of viewing issues and that total internal consistency is almost impossible to achieve for any of us.

On another thread on another site, I mentioned that I believed that for some people (women and men both), the decision to have an abortion was almost done in a nonchalant way, and that bothered me.

I was told that that was not the case, and it was never a decision taken lightly. The fact was, that in my counseling practice I had seen several women who had had abortions, some of whom did treat it the same as having a bunion removed.

My point in this rambling is to say that, except for a fortunate few who have a simplistic view of those who may question abortion under any and all circumstances, or who may question abortion in every circumstance, it is a complex matter.

And extreme language, such as Jeff pointed to in his last comment, does nothing to resolve the issue, and instead tends to push those in the middle into one or the other extreme camp, which benefits no one at all.


I thought I would make up some stuff because it's what I do when I've nothing better to offer:

Scenario One:

A Communist insurgency, somewhere in time, establishes itself in a barrio in El Salvador. El Salvadoran death squads, employing secretive units of the El Salvadoran Army, financed by money later traced back to USAID abstinence funds transferred to DOD accounts for a HalliParsons private contract to construct medical clinics in Baghdad suburbs and skimmed to a Guatamalan shell company which supplies the latest automatic weaponry and sexual abstinence brochures to the aforementioned El Salvadoran militia, swoops down in a dead of night ambush of the barrio, half of the population of which consists of obviously pregnant peasants and obviously pregnant female intellectuals who spent a semester in college at the Sorbonne -- all armed and committed to the Communist insurgency, whose first move should they gain power is to establish government mandated heathcare and daycare across the country. One woman is not pregnant.

The militia takes the village, killing all of the males outright who didn't die in the battle. By some twist of fate, all of the pregnant but unrepentant women live and are confined to the barrio's public square and one-by-one, the abstinence and family values unit attached to the militia swiftly and efficiently surgically removes every fetus from every woman. The fetuses are each encased in incubators and transported via mule to the FVPC (Fetal Viability and Programming Unit). The women who didn't die during the "procedure" are dragged into the jungle and executed via a single bullet to the head, the budget being what it is.

The remaining woman, who is not pregnant, is stripped naked, beaten, and gang-raped by the militia as the abstinence and family unit quietly fiddles with the dials on the fetal-incubators. She is pointed in the direction of the next barrio as the only remaining evidence of what might happen if that next barrio makes the mistake of hosting any leftist social movements.

The human fetuses, each wonderful in their humanity, are subjected over their formative years at the FVPC to a dry barrage of University of Chicago videos featuring Milton Friedman rationally explaining the evils of taxpayer funded anything, William Bennett explaining the basics of virtue and beating the slots in Atlantic City, Neil Boortz explaining that bird flu vaccines will go only to those fetuses who are competent enough to become entrepreneurs (if they'll pardon his French), and old speeches of George W. Bush prattling on in pidgeon Spanish about the sanctity of secret fraternity handshakes, um, I mean, life.

Some of the fetuses grow up to lead normal lives and want to be left alone to pay their taxes or whine about their taxes. A few, who show a prediliction for thinking the other fetuses don't pay enough taxes are kidnapped by masked bandits and spend lots of time in dank cells chewing on a cockroach missed by Papillon. A few others grow up to join secret militias and clean out nests of publically-provided daycare lovers. One now-grown fetus moves to a far barrio and falls in love with the now-grown fetus of our gang-raped mother.....

...they (not married) have trouble making a go of it and head North to the Rio Grande and on to either North or South Dakota, the record is unclear. The man finds a below-the-radar job in a poultry slaughterhouse and the woman cleans the toilets of the head of the local chapter of the ProlifeorelseantiimmigrationbutmyteenageddaughterflewtoNewYorkforherabortion Society.

Inevitably, there is sex. Condomless and birthcontrolpillless sex because the above Society got that law passed, too. Pregnancy.
The man is caught by the newly privatized Tancredo Wetback Prevention Corporation and shipped back to the Rio Grande and catapaulted over the immigrant-labor built 100-foot high wall back to Mexico. The
woman tells the pro-choicers to go to hell and has her baby, and then is promptly deported. The baby is charitably adopted by the local head of the youknowwhat Society, and after rebelling because there are too many toilets to be cleaned, makes her way back to El Salvador and founds an insurgency.

Rinse and repeat.

Gee, that was long. So I'll skip scenario number two in which a married couple (the pregnant woman named Jes and the hubby named Sebastian.. hey, love happens!) are driving to the gynecologist but arguing about various subjects including the desirability of abortion, seatbelt laws (Sebastian is rationally arguing THAT should be a matter of choice), and highway speed limits. Sebastian gets under Jes' skin and, taking her eyes off the road in a fit of pique, accidentally careens the car across the median and slams into a car driven by a guy named Jeff, who is minding his own business daydreaming about the relative merits of legalizing mixed-gender gay-lesbian marriage (I'm all for it) and we end up with human fetuses and human adults all over the highway. There's a tow-truck driver named John somewhere is this, but hey, I don't like this story already.

LizardBreath, I was actually thinking of the question of recording the reasons for abortion in the context of the huge fight in California in the 1980s where NOW and other pro-choice groups successfully fought to keep abortion statistics from being recorded in the state at all. This is vaguely alluded to in this Guttmacher Institute report:

The CDC also conducts limited surveys of abortion providers or makes estimates for the states that do not collect abortion information (Alaska, California, Iowa, New Hampshire and Oklahoma).

California alone represents more than 10% of the US population.

"presumably the indications for those abortions are recorded in the patient's medical charts."

No they do not have to be and in the 1980s NOW (in California) was counseling doctors not to do so. I can't find any current online resources because the issue has not (to my knowledge) been revisited in California.

Thanks, I was unfamiliar with that.

Still, it's not nationwide, and it's not constitutional-law related -- I'd be surprised if a political push to collect abortion statistics (as opposed to law-enforcement efforts aimed at individuals, as in the cases linked above) met with much resistance in today's political climate. And, of course, there are no barriers to the private collection of statistics -- the AGI claims to survey all abortion providers nationwide. While they don't collect the data you want, there's nothing keeping an alternative group from doing similar surveys.

John Thullen is my hero.

"Jes is pro-choice, and I believe she has, in earlier threads if not this one, said that she sees no reason for non-medically indicated third-term abortion. So, while the position that you hold, and that you describe 80% of the population as holding (I'm not sure your numbers are right, but I would bet it's at least a majority) is not the only position held by pro-choicers, it is at the least a position held by many, many people who would describe themselves as pro-choice."

Jes can correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think this is an accurate read on her position. I'm not sure if "sees no reason for non-medically indicated third-term abortion" is even an accurate approximation of her thoughts, but even if so it doesn't mean what you seem to think it means. If you think it means sees no reason for non-medically indicated third term abortions and would be willing to back that up with the force of law I would be shocked to find that correctly describes her position. See also Bob Mcmanus upthread (whose position won't even conceed that much). The "pro-choice" position may be as you claim if you want to claim the 80% of the people in the middle, but it is not the position advocated by those who claim the pro-choice mantle when discussing how the laws ought to be changed (in the legislatures [cough]).

Thus the trickiness of said labels, on both the pro-life and pro-choice side.

Is third trimester abortion for reasons other than risk to life/health of mother or severe fetal abnormalities legal anywhere in the US or, indeed, the world? I know it is not in New York, a state known for liberal abortion laws and don't know of any place where it is legal (though I concede that I haven't made a systematic examination of abortion laws). I've never seen any concerted effort by any pro-choice group to change this situation.

I'd be perfectly happy with third trimester abortion being legally restricted to cases of serious risk to the mother's health and severe fetal abnormalities as long as one condition is met: abortion is safe, legal and readily available to any woman who wants it in the first trimester. If that condition were met then it would be fair to say that a reasonable woman should be able to make up her mind as to whether she wants to continue the pregnancy and do something about it before the third trimester and so disallowing it after the 27th week is not an unreasonable restriction. To me, the restrictions on first trimester abortion make further restrictions on later abortions less, not more, morally defensible.

Jes,
I suspect that you seriously underestimate the number of people who support Planned Parenthood and reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and at the same time also think that there are limits that should be placed on abortion. This is not because women are nothing but incubators for a fetus, but because they are that, among other things. The way you reduce everything down to the choice of a woman without any consideration to any other factors really bothers me. As with so many topics, the questions aren't quite so simple. Answering the question of whether a woman's autonomy is important doesn't necessarily answer the question of whether or not abortions should be legal. This is why the pro-choice and pro-life labels are so unhelpful. They try to reduce a very complex issue down to a ridiculously simple one. Insisting on branding the other side anti-life or anti-choice is even more problematic and it causes us moderates who are wrestling with the issue to disengage. When I am wrestling with what appears to me to be a rather nuanced and difficult moral issue, I don't need to be badgered and treated as though I had already made a decision based on an absurdly simple calculation.

"While they don't collect the data you want, there's nothing keeping an alternative group from doing similar surveys."

And absolutely nothing to suggest that abortion providers would provide answers to such questions given their representatives repeated stance on the issue. If NOW and NARAL resist giving such information why would abortion providers do so.

If Katherine conducted a survey of US torturers saying anything like "Do you torture prisoners under your care" would you trust the statistics? I would be skeptical of them even if the survey was backed by the force of law. I would be especially skeptical if it was wholly voluntary. When NARAL has spent four decades making it almost impossible to even ask the question I really can't feel that blaming the pro-life movement for not being able to gather good statistics holds much weight in the argument.

"Still, it's not nationwide, and it's not constitutional-law related -- I'd be surprised if a political push to collect abortion statistics (as opposed to law-enforcement efforts aimed at individuals, as in the cases linked above) met with much resistance in today's political climate."

This is hugely frustrating in the context of an argument where the history of the pro-life movement is constantly used to bash anyone on my side of the argument. There are law enforcement efforts to collect the data because NARAL has already been successful in suppressing the data on a routine CDC reporting basis. You object to the current tactics of the pro-life data collectors without acknowledging at all that they have been driven to that by a complete shut down of what in other medical contexts would be routine data collection. California is just the most extreme case. You don't get in-depth reporting from most of the other states either.

If NARAL in Kansas finally wants to release redacted data as a tactical move because they were worried that they might lose a case and be forced to release even more data, great. But they didn't come to that position because they wanted to release the data. They have spent 40 years making sure the medical data wasn't available to anyone. They didn't come to that position because the pro-choice lobby is so friendly to statistics on the reasons behind late term abortions. They didn't come to that because they want the information to be well documented. They came to it because after forty years of trying to suppress the information the dam was about to break and they wanted to control the water flow.

Characterizing this as the poor abortion providers who would love to provide routine medical information if only pro-lifers weren't so mean is completely wrong historically.

I would say that the next step is to have ridiculously uninformative medical chart comments like an unannotated "Medically Neccessary" be passed off as procedural reporting--but we are already there.

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