Right-wing blogger Gold-Plated Witch on Wheels links to my Joe Biden post, and has a pretty typical response to my argument about anti-choicers and fertilized eggs. My argument is this: Anti-choicers claim that life begins at the moment of fertilization, and that a fertilized egg is “an individual human being” worthy of a full set of human rights, and that it is the moral equivalent of a born child. About half of fertilized eggs — “individual human beings,” supposedly — don’t implant. In other words, they die. And yet I’ve never met a single “pro-lifer,” or heard of a single pro-life organization, that tries to save these billions of lives. Here’s what Gold-Plated Witch on Wheels had to say:
You can always tell when the pro-abortion folks can’t argue because that’s when they bring out the, “Oh, yeah? What about all those non-implanted fertilized eggs, huh? Huh?” talking points.
So I’ll say this again really slowly for those in the back of the class.
Pro-lifers understand that fertilized eggs don’t implant for different and natural reasons. They don’t get all hysterical about your biology deciding it cannot implant such eggs because no one makes a conscious decision to kill anybody. There’s just a big difference between having your period every month and trotting down to Planned Parenthood for your bi-annual abortion. One involves a biological and unpreventable certainty and the other involves an intention to kill.
So I’ll say this again really slowly for those even further back in the classroom:
Intention to kill is hardly the only factor we use in determining whether loss of life is tragic and should be stymied. If there was a disease that was killing a full one-half of four-year-olds around the world, I have a feeling there would be at least one organization focused on curing it, or at least mitigating its effects. When it comes to valuing life, we don’t just accept anything short of murder as an acceptable loss. Cancer is natural. Dying after accidents that involve major trauma is natural. Dying because you’re unable to feed yourself is natural.
But we don’t look at people dying of those causes, shrug our shoulders and move on because, hey, no one is intentionally killing them.
So the intention argument fails on its face. If pro-lifers actually, genuinely believed that a fertilized egg was an individual human being that deserved every chance at life, just like a four-year-old child, then they would probably do something about the fact that more than half the people in the world are apparently dying before they’re even born — whether or not their deaths are natural.
I’m not arguing that no pro-lifer cares about fetal life. I think a whole lot of them do. What I am arguing is that most self-identified pro-lifers — who I separate out from mainstream pro-life organizations — realize that there’s a continuum here, and when pressed, will have to admit that the ideology and line-drawing around issues of pregnancy and abortion are messy and complex — that it really isn’t as simple as “life begins at conception, and therefore abortion is wrong.” The mainstream, politically powerful anti-choice organizations (and their partners in the Republican Party) rely on the absolutism of their claims in order to push their political agenda.
And yes, that agenda is about controlling women. If it’s really about “life,” how does one reconcile that view with the fact that when abortion is illegal, women die in huge numbers? If it’s really about ending abortion, how does one reconcile that with the fact that the countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world have all the trappings of a pro-choice utopia: Comprehensive sexual health education, affordable and accessible birth control, a culture that sees sex as a pleasure and a responsibility instead of a shameful thing or something that must be postponed until marriage, and yes, legal and accessible abortion? How does one reconcile that with the fact that pro-life groups and the Republican party adamantly oppose all of the measures that have been proven to most effectively decrease the abortion rate?
So what does a pro-life nation look like? Ceausescu’s Romania is a pretty good example. From Tony Judt’s description in Postwar (a recommended read if you have time):
In 1966, to increase the population — a traditional ‘Romanianist’ obsession — [Ceausescu] prohibited abortion for women under forty with fewer than four children (in 1986 the age barrier was raised to forty-five). In 1984 the minimum marriage age for women was reduced to fifteen. Compulsory monthly medical examinations for all women of childbearing age were introduced to prevent abortions, which were permitted, if at all, only in the presence of a Party representative. Doctors in districts with a declining birth rate had their salaries cut.
The population did not increase, but the death rate from abortions far exceeded that of any other European country: as the only available form of birth control, illegal abortions were widely performed, often under the most appalling and dangerous conditions. Over the ensuing twenty-three years the 1966 laws resulted in the death of at least ten thousand women. The real infant mortality rate was so high that after 1985 births were not officially recorded until a child had survived to its fourth week — the apotheosis of Communist control of knowledge. By the time Ceausescu was overthrown the death rate of new-born babies was twenty-five per thousand and there were upward of 100,000 institutionalized children.
Do I think that the Republican party and anti-choice organizations give one hoot about “life”? Nope. Not when their policies bring a whole lotta death. Do I think they give one hoot about decreasing the abortion rate? Nope. Not when they oppose policies which do just that.
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