Monday, March 27, 2006

Abortion and Logical Consequences

(To my readers: yes, this one is a political post. Those who don’t want to hear that from me might want to skip this one; I promise to get back to my usual subjects tomorrow.)

I’ve been following the fallout from the South Dakota abortion ban, albeit frustratedly. The debate, such as it is, seems to veer between intensely personal life stories and political meta-strategizing. Those are both valid, but I haven’t seen much discussion of the logical consequences of taking the pro-life position seriously on its own terms. What if we held that, at the moment of conception, a full rights-bearing person is created?

A few thoughts:

- If a fetus is a person, then any miscarriage must logically trigger a criminal investigation. Was the woman negligent? If so, it’s textbook ‘criminally negligent homicide.’

- A woman who contributed to a miscarriage by smoking, or drinking, or being stressed out, would be a felon. She would have to go to prison.

- Of course, to know whenever a miscarriage happens would require tremendous surveillance. (Many miscarriages happen very early, sometimes before the woman even knows she’s pregnant.)

- Women would figure this out, and not report pregnancies. This would result in foregone prenatal care, with predictable medical consequences.

- To create an exception for miscarriages would be to jump-start DIY abortions. This is not a flippant point. Women would show up to their doctors after the fact, claiming miscarriages. The smarter pro-lifers know this, and would move to close the miscarriage loophole.

- Obviously, if abortion is murder, it’s first-degree murder. After all, it’s premeditated. In most states, the penalty for first-degree murder is death. We would have to execute millions of women.

- The only way around that argument is to say that abortion is somehow less than murder. But once you concede that, the entire ‘pro-life’ argument falls to pieces.

If you know anybody who has miscarried (I do), you know just how invasive, hurtful, and barbaric a criminal investigation would be at that moment. But, by the logic of the pro-life position, there is no way around it. The only way around it would be to concede that the embryo isn’t a full rights-bearing person, at which point, the pro-life argument is kaput.

I have female friends who have had abortions, and male friends whose girlfriends had abortions. I have had these people over to my house. In my heart, I don’t consider them murderers. In my heart, I know that at other times in my life, under other circumstances, I would have done the same thing.

This isn’t my favorite issue. In a more civilized country, we’d treat it as the private matter that it clearly is, and reserve public discussion for public matters. But I’ll be goddamned if I’ll let some plutocratic jerk pass a law that forces my beautiful daughter someday to make a terrible decision. Some things are just too important.

I don’t think most pro-lifers (regular people, not the True Believers) would endorse the logical consequences of their position. They see abortion as a transcendent moral question, something that transcends analysis. So they haven’t seriously analyzed it. I honestly believe that many of them, if confronted with the reality of what their position actually entails, would recoil. Why the pro-choice side has left these arguments mostly unspoken, I have no idea.

Tomorrow, I’ll get back to my usual topics.