Friday, October 29, 2004

An exchange on pro-choice logic (Part 3)

(Continued ...)

I agree with most of what you say--maybe all of it.

First, what you say last. That the pill and abortion rights and everything were mainly to make sexual promiscuity convenient. I rather suspect that something deeper and more troubling is at stake. My sense, from having dabbled in feminism, is that what was really motivating people through those decades was a perceived need to establish equality among individuals. Equality, not promiscuity. I imagine the idea in most peoples' heads was that, if some promiscuity and promiscuity-related consequences, arise from the legislation of equality, then so be it. And also in peoples' minds was the fact that gender politics is not fair. The consequences of sex were different for men than for women, and that was both unfair and, thanks to the technology of contraception etc., unnecessary. Promiscuous men were tolerate/glorified, while promiscuous women were shunned, and that was only because of pregnancy--for no other reason. And thanks to technology, that reason was no longer reasonable.
I suspect you're right about the equality issue. Many feminists stumped for the lifiting of the traditional bans on contraceptives because they felt it would free them up from being homemakers so they could break into the work force. There's an irony there too. Prior to WWII and for some time afterwards, a man's work wages were called a "living wage" and were sufficient (as a single income) to cover the expenses a whole family. After the changes of the sixties (when the Democratic and Republican parties changed places on many issues) the equity feminist agenda of equal pay for equal work was realized, but at the cost of the rapid erosion of the actual buying power of an individual's wage. The capitalist employers were delighted, since they eventually could hire two workers for the price of one, but it eventually meant that a family could hardly survive on a single income, leaving single mothers strapped and on WIC and welfare. Another thing, though, is the utter disdain some feminists express for homemakers, like Simone de Bouvoir, who says somewhere that women must not be allowed the carte blanche choice to become mothers and homemakers, lest too many women make the choice-- and Naomi Wolf who calls domestic homemaking "shit work." I don't deny that some women have suffered abusive husbands unjustly. But the atmosphere such remarks creates, I think, is hideously demeaning to one of the most important vocations a woman may have.

But I also suspect it's more than equity: probably also fears of overpopulation (at least that was a reason often given back in the seventies after the Club of Rome report), and the desire for what they conceived to be better marriages without the anxiety of abstinence during the fertile periods of the wife's cycle if they wanted to space children or avoid pregnancy. So I agree that most people probably did not blatantly say: "Hey, contraception? Great idea! Now we can be utterly promiscuous and have sex whenever we want to, in or out of marriage, without any fear of pregnancy!" But I'm quite certain that was something people quickly surmised as an inevitable by-product of the contraceptive and abortive technologies.
Now, of course, that legislation may have increased promiscuity. I don't know--I don't know what the statistics are, and I don't know to what factors to attribute them. But I think the above line of reasoning is basically valid: Equal treatment is desirable in principle; thanks to technology, unequal treatment is no longer necessary; therefore equality should be legislated. You could of course say, equal for whom? It's not equal for the unborn. But as I said before, the assumption seems always to have been that the unborn, or whatever you want to call them, are not to be counted. So that assumption needs to be refuted, and I'm not sure there's a scientific way of refuting it. Saying life begins at conception, at birth, or anywhere in between is arbitrary--you just choose your political agenda and decide according to that because there is no alternative.
Well, there are all sorts of ways, actually. Here's a legal way: I think it's a lovely inconsistency that though we permit abortion, we still recognize an unborn child in law when it comes to property rights. An unborn child is able to inherit property, and for legal purposes has been considered a legal "person" for as long as I can remember. So it's a blantant inconsistency, not to mention hypocrisy, that we extend the legal protection of property inheritance to the unborn while not extending to them to legal protection of their lives. In fact, we offer more legal protection to various endangered species of animals today than we do to unborn human beings (but that's a detail). We also subject to legal prosecution anyone who, through reckless endangerment, injures or otherwise causes a mother to miscarry her unborn baby.

Then there's the phenomenology of language. You like language. Have you noticed that no woman contemplating an abortion ever calls her unborn child a "baby," but rather a "fetus," "tissue," or even a "blob"? On the other hand, a woman (like Amy) who had been trying to get pregnant, will call her unborn child, even in the first few weeks of pregnancy before there is anything remotely recognizable as a human being inside her, her "baby"?

How is there anything "arbitrary" about saying that "life begins at conception, at birth, or anywhere in between"? Medievals like St. Thomas Aquinas lived long before there was any split in political opinion about any of this business, and none of them had any trouble recognizing an unborn child as a living human being. Did your son Peter suddenly become a living human being at birth? C'mon, the Chinese traditionally say that a child is one year old at birth! There's nothing mysterious about this. A child, like Peter, at birth has no recognizable use of reason. We therefore don't hold him morally accountable for knowing right or wrong. But anyone who would take the life of an innocent young child like him we would rightly consider a monster and prosecute as a criminal. What qualifications does an innocent human life have to meet before we grant him the protection of law? For Hitler, of course, it was being of sound mind, the age of reason, and Aryan. For us it seems to be birth. But if you're only partially born, you're not safe. A child doesn't have to have attained the age of reason to be 'safe.' If you're too old to be useful, you may face a threat of euthanasia, at the other end, of course. All of THIS strikes me as quite arbitrary indeed. But nothing about the recognition of a human life as human from the first moment of conception until natural death strikes me as arbitrary in the least. We've accepted the killing of unborn children as a fact of life, like the ancient Canaanites, I'm afraid, and we just don't like thinking about the details. Is there any other way to view it? "Terminating a pregnancy"? What's that? What sophistical euphemisms! I'm reminded of the Nazis.
You say,
You ask whether any distinction should be made between the morality of killing an unborn baby and a born (and presumably adult) human being. I would say that the more fundamental distinction is between human beings who are "innocent" and those who threaten our lives.
But it seems to me this is just dodging the question. And anyway, how is one's innocence, a theological quality, more "fundamental" than one's having been born or not been born, a biological quality? They just seem different to me--I don't see how one can be called more "fundamental" than the other.
What question is dodged here? There is NOTHING theological about my reference to "innocence." That is precisely NOT what I'm referring to, for then I would insist that nobody is innocent (Rom. 3:23). Rather, I'm using the term in the sense that has been generally applied to the 3000 civilian individuals who lost their lives in the Twin Towers in NYC. Anyone recognizes the difference between combatants or terrorists, on the one hand, and innocent civilians on the other. An unborn infant is "innocent" in that sense: he doesn't generally threaten anyone so far as I can see.
You're right about traditional morality being basically upheld in the popular media, which are almost always tediously conservative, except when it comes to sex. I think lots of people have come to value the radical, the alternative, the progressive, or to think they do anyway, so the veneer of sexual deviance is brought in to mask a deeper vein of tedious conservatism, and also, of course, because sex sells, as everyone has always known.
I would agree, with the exception that I find nothing at all "tedious" about traditional morality. I consider it common sense sanity, and I don't see much to commend as "progressive" (as I think you will agree) in alcoholism, drug addiction, gluttony, etc. Consider it an analogue of what G.K. Chesterton says about theological orthodoxy: nothing, he says, is so "exhilarating." (But you'd have to read his book, Orthodoxy, to appreciate precisely what he meant.)
And I agree with you that there's a lot about our society that needs to be changed. But the pro-life argument will always be received as an argument for political regression, an argument that we should go back to the old days, when women dealt with the consequences of sex and men didn't have to, when women were subject to strict controls and policing that men were not because of the consequences partly for them but mostly for the family's social status, etc. Bottom line, people will say, is that people will have sex, and pregnancies will happen, and if one sex can escape the consequences, or choose creatively among the possible consequences, then the other should also be able to. You could say, well, if people were brought up properly, then unwanted pregnancies wouldn't happen, but "brought up properly" means guarding your daughters with a shotgun, teaching them that their bodies are eclairs that everyone is going to want to take bites out of and that this is their fault, etc. It's just not fair, people will say. And I don't know how to refute that argument.
You say that it was back in the old days when women had to deal with the consequences of pregnancy and men didn't. I think nothing is further from the truth. The statistics paint the opposite picture. Contraceptives and abortion have enabled men to be totally irresponsible in their treatment of women. Men by and large view women as sex objects today. The use women for their own pleasure, and, because they can avoid encumbering a woman with babies, they feel justified in abandoning them for other, more attractive prey. Since 1965 the statistics show that men have generally held off longer before marrying, which has often made them less responsible. Incidences of delinquency, drug use, and sexual promiscuity (often at women's expense) have risen exponentially. And despite the existence of contraception and abortion, single mothers with children (often abandoned by their father) are the single most predictable group among those at or below the poverty line. I don't see how women fare better today, except as they are often portrayed on TV. Which is why I tell my students: protect your freedom of thought, avoid brainwashing: get rid of your TV. The bottom line is that MEN have been the group singly most at fault for escaping the consequences of their irresponsibility with women.

If fairness is what you're after, here's something that Dr. Janet Smith (who was here last weekend as my guest and a guest of the college, and largely ignored) points out that might have a bearing:
"There's a wonderful book out by Dr. Ellen Grant called The Bitter Pill: How Safe is the "Perfect Contraceptive"?. She was very much in on distributing contraceptives in the 60's in London, but she saw woman after woman coming in with different pathologies that she found were pill-related high blood pressure, blood clots, cysts in the breast, all sorts of things. So, she said, 'I'm not going to prescribe these anymore.' She looked into this and she discovered, that when they were first testing for the pill, they were trying to find a male contraceptive and a female contraceptive pill. And in the first study group of males, they found that there was some slight shrinkage of the testicles of one male, so they stopped all testing of the male contraceptive pill. You might notice that there is no such thing in the first study group of females. Three females died and they just readjusted the dosage. Now, I don't know what that tells you, but it tells me that there's something sinister going on here. Women are still dying from the pill." (For the whole discussion, see "Contraception: Why Not")
For more information on the connection between hormonal contraceptives and the epidemic of breast and ovarian cancer, largely ignored at the encouragement of the pharmaceutical and Planned Parenthood lobbies, see: Links Between "The Pill" and Breast Cancer
For further titles by Dr. Janet Smith, see below (and order here):