The often sensible Kevin Drum had this silly post the other day:
OPPOSING ABORTION….Are hardcore abortion opponents genuinely motivated by a belief that abortion is murder? Or are they driven more by a simple desire to punish women who have sex?
I’d say the latter, but since this is a matter of divining underlying motivations it’s a hard case to prove. Still, you can produce a lot of evidence in its favor, and today Ampersand does exactly that using the table format so characteristic of my own blogging habits.
You can probably argue with a couple of items in Amp’s list, but not with his overall conclusion. The fact is that the behavior of hardcore abortion opponents just doesn’t correspond very well with a genuine belief that fetuses are babies. But punishing women who have sex? Oh yeah.
If you follow the link, you’ll see that the post Kevin links is arrant nonsense. The poster claims, “I really like to assume the best of everyone, even people I disagree with.” But, he says,
A lot of people who favor forced childbirth for pregnant women say that they believe that an abortion, even early in pregnancy, is identical to child murder. Have an abortion, shoot a four-year-old in the head; morally, it’s the same. Or, anyhow, that’s what they claim to believe.
In contrast, pro-choicers tend to think that the abortion criminalization movement is motivated by a desire – perhaps an unconscious desire – to punish women for having sex.
The guy then analyzes numerous policies supported by pro-lifers and purports to show how these policies are inconsistent with a belief that abortion is murder, but consistent with wanting to punish women for having sex.
The rest of the post is devoted to pursuing this false dichotomy. Any policy that does not treat all abortions as the absolute equivalent of murder of a live human being is ridiculed as hypocrisy, and then shown to be (supposedly) a mere effort to punish women.
Even when the policy is expressly designed to accomplish the exact opposite of punishing women, this guy employs sophistry to make the policy appear to be designed to punish women. For example, in his very first example, he argues that abortion bans which protect the mother from any legal consequences are designed to punish women, even though they are expressly designed to protect women from punishment. Meanwhile, they are inconsistent with equating abortion with murder, because you wouldn’t punish a contract killer and not the person who hired them.
Of course, the guy misses the fact that sensible people would rather not haul women into court and prosecute them for abortions. Morally blameworthy or not, these women are often more pathetic and desperate than the doctors who kill dozens or hundreds of babies a year. Given that juries may well nullify if forced to judge the guilt of such women, it makes perfect practical sense to pass a law targeting the doctors but not the women.
The more you look at this guy’s arguments, the more you see that they are claptrap.
First, not all abortion opponents strictly see abortion as murder. Many of us who are uncomfortable with abortion become more so as the fetus advances in age — something my commenters and I discussed at length in a recent series of posts debating abortion (see Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six). We can’t be termed hypocrites for not strictly treating abortions as murder, because we don’t see it that way. That doesn’t mean that we are happy about abortion. We would like to see fewer of them. We would like women to be better informed. We would like to prevent the killing of fetuses as a method of birth control. And many of the regulations discussed by the chap in the post linked above would accomplish some of these goals.
By the way, while we see a tension between the imposition that pregnancy places on a woman and the moral obligation we believe she should feel to try to bring the baby to term, we also see a role for personal responsibility in the mix. The imposition on the woman looms larger in our minds if the woman took no voluntary action to cause it. Hence, we generally support exceptions for rape. (By the way, I have never understood why people always say they support abortions for “rape and incest.” If the incest was nonconsensual, it was rape. If it was consensual, then why should that lead to an automatic sanction of an abortion?)
You can call this a desire to punish women for having sex, but I see that as an unnecessarily dismissive and contemptuous label to slap on a very common-sense idea. It recognizes the need for personal responsibility — a concept that somehow seems more intuitive to conservatives than to liberals like Drum and the poster he linked to.
There is another category of people who do indeed see abortion as akin to murder. But most of these people are also realistic. For example, the poster says it is hypocritical for these people to morally condemn the bombing of abortion clinics, because if abortion is truly murder, then such bombers should be praised.
But people who see abortion as murder understand that not everybody agrees with them. Under these circumstances, they believe that they have a lot more to gain through persuasion, education, and peaceful protest; bombings of abortion clinics are, in their view, counterproductive at best.
By the way, I could turn the poster’s logic on its head and simply argue that the pro-abortion rights crowd is more interesting in creating carnage than it is in promoting women’s rights and health. For example:
Is partial-birth abortion really a procedure that promotes women’s health? Even accepting for the sake of argument the views of doctors who say it’s a safer abortion procedure (and I don’t), it can’t possibly be safer than simply giving birth to a live baby. How is delivering a baby in an unusual feet-first manner, and then sticking a sharp instrument into the skull (and into the mother, where the baby’s skull is) safer than simply delivering the baby? Delivering the baby relieves the physical burden on the mother and must be safer. Only if you accept the concept that it is critical to create more fetal carnage would you support partial-birth abortion over delivery.
Thus, I have used that example to prove that this particular pro-choice policy has nothing to do with women’s health and privacy, and everything to do with killing more babies.
That’s much less of a false dichotomy than the one this guy is peddling.