Monday, April 05, 2010


I'm posting this for Women's Writes, which Shine co-created and explains like so: "We’re thinking that it would be really awesome if, on April 5, 2010, we all posted on issues that affect women."

So let's talk about abortion. This is a sensitive and divisive issue, but one that I have no strong opinions about. That's not because I don't think it's important—it's extremely important—but I think that it is such a complex and multifaceted topic that no simple opinion is a justified one, no matter how forcefully it is expressed.

I'll tackle a few sub-issues I think it is important to discuss. You may disagree, and you may have good reason to disagree. Because there are so many things to consider, I may very well have missed one that invalidates my opinion. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

I have heard it said that men should have no (or less) say in the abortion issue, because it is exclusively a female concern.

No. Abortion is a human issue. In most cases, creating a life takes two people—a man and a woman—and our laws, culture, morals, and logic all dictate that both should remain involved in that life for some time. Thus, any decisions about whether or not to end that life should involve both of them. The fact that it starts inside one gender and not the other is largely irrelevant in the larger human rights issues that come out of such termination.

To argue that only women have a have right to talk about abortion would be similar to arguing that only farmers have a right to talk about food. Or only minorities have a right to talk about racism. These are things that affect, and should be discussed by without dismissal, all of us.

I have heard it said that abortion should be a mother's choice, because it only involves her body, and she can do what she wants with her body.

No. Having a life inside your body does not mean it is part of your body. The timing of it is up for debate, but at some point we all agree that a baby becomes a living, conscious being, and there is no reason to arbitrarily place that point at the moment of umbilical chord snippage.


When Luke Skywalker crawled inside the Tauntaun for warmth, he did not suddenly become a Tauntaun organ. If Darth Vader found Luke's arm hanging out of the creature, he wouldn't be like "aw shit, I really wanted to perform an 88th trimester abortion, but this is a Tauntaun rights issue now." And if he succeed, Han Solo wouldn't be like "well, I have no right to comment on Luke's death, since I am not a female, nor a dead Tauntaun."


Defending a fetus, and/or weighing its value against the mother's choice and well-being, is an issue not only for the mother, but for other women, men, and indeed all people.

I have heard it said that people who vote for liberal political parties are pro-choice, and people who vote for conservative political parties are pro-life.

No. Like I said, it's a complex issue, and boiling it down to agreeing with the majority of people who share your political leanings is lazy and dangerous. Conservatism is correlated with religiosity which is correlated with pro-life leanings. But that doesn't mean one should follow from the other. I can think of perfectly secular reasons to be pro-life. Similarly, I can think of conservative (or even Biblical) reasons to be pro-choice.

The collections of beliefs associated with each side of the left/right dichotomy are, I think, more arbitrary than we give them credit for. A well-informed opinion requires rising above such simplistic groupthink.

I also think that indecision can be a perfectly well-formed opinion. And that's where I personally stand on abortion. It is too complex, with too many variables containing too much uncertain data, to make any blanket statements about what is always right or always wrong. Any definite propositions—even the ones I've made above—can be shot down with a counterexample.

My point isn't to express any specific viewpoint on the rightness or wrongness of abortion, but rather to emphasize that determining its morality is something that everyone needs to participate in, and it is not going to be easy.


See also: My post about abortion from 5 years ago that's not as good as this one.


spl0it said...

I think it's not as complex as you suggest.

1) Determine when/roughly when brain function begins.
2) When #1 has been passed (30days, 60 days, whatever it is) then only in extreme cases (rape, incest, mother will die) should an abortion be available to the mother.
3) Woman can choose to get an abortion until #1 has occured - after that - tough luck.
4) Anyone whom treats an abortion as a form of birth control needs to be dealt with on an individual case by case basis. (Mental health treatment?)

and finally

5) Debate over

Note: If someone has a religious belief that causes them to believe a life begins at conception - then they don't get an abortion if they so chose - their beliefs should not force others to not have an option.

Hey Lady! said...

I think you're right Phronk, this is a human issue. And it IS very complicated. I appreciate particularly your standing up for men on this issue. i couldn't imagine how difficult it would be to have that decision taken away from me if I were a man because it's a "woman's issue". That is crap. At the same time I don't think a man should be able to force a woman into aborting a child because he doesn't want it. As mentioned before, tough issue.

Thanks for the post.

Phronk said...

I don't disagree, spl0it. I think this is what an eventual reason-based position on abortion could look like.

But each step would lead to more steps, making it pretty damn complex. What do we mean by brain function? Certainly not just two neurons firing back and forth. When does consciousness begin? That's "the hard question" that itself is, at this point in human history, mind-bogglingly complex.

Who decides what an extreme case is?

Why is religion cast aside? Why is a brain-function based worldview superior to a soul-based worldview?

Etc etc.

Not every question is relevant, and not everyone question can be answer, but I still think there are a lot of questions to consider.

carissa said...

Agreed, agreed, agree. There is so much that goes into making the decision of whether or not to have an abortion, at least there should be. I don't know how anyone who doesn't at least know someone who has had to make this decision. I could go on about this for days, but I'm just going to leave it at -I agree with you, and I love this post!

spl0it said...

science & rules/regulations - just like anything else

Phronk said...

Hey Lady! We agree? Weird. :) But thanks.

I agree that a man shouldn't be able to force an abortion. But should a woman be able to? That's so hard to answer because of the whole 9 month commitment thing. But then, should a few months of time and discomfort really be relevant to bigger issues of parenthood and human life?

I really have no idea. So yeah, very tough issue.

Anonymous said...

So this, typically, is where I get stuck. For several reasons.

I absolutely DO believe that it takes two people to make a baby. And I absolutely DO think that if the father wants the baby, his feelings should be considered. But I absolutely CANNOT stand by and say that any woman should have to carry a baby she doesn't want just because she had the dumb luck to be born with the uterus.

That, to me, would be like telling a man with a malignant tumor that he has to keep the tumor for nine months or something.

You're completely right that it's a complicated issue. And I wish it weren't a political one (though I do agree that it's not black and white and DOESN'T necessarily fall specifically along party lines), but it is. Because laws are being made that affect women, and not really so much men. Men can leave. They can walk away. Essentially scott-free, in fact. Yes, possibly a monetary contribution will be required, but that's a drop in the bucket when you consider what goes in to raising a child.

All I can say about it is that it's complicated. And that a blanket law about it is always going to be problematic.

Tim Shirk said...

I think the danger, the real human issues danger, that comes into play is when we start thinking of this as a 'choice' in the same sense of whether or not you are 'choosing' coach or first class or whether to get a tongue pierced or not. This is a seriously big decision, with facets and ramifications we cannot know, only guess at, and in my opinion we should assume the default biological outcome - carrying the baby to birth - which puts abortion in the pool of 'intervention'.

As such, it should always be a case of justifying an abortion, not 'choosing' an abortion.

I'm not going to weigh in on whether it should be allowed at all, but assuming the likely outcome that it will be allowed in most jurisdictions, we can progress to a point where a couple must be able to justify to themselves what extenuating circumstances require the abortion.

In my opinion, it would not be out of sorts to setup an application process for approval for an abortion, with multiple steps of verification, to allow careful consideration of the ramifications of the application. This would be where regulations such as term of pregnancy are applied and where it is verified that the parents are aware of alternatives.

In this type of scenario, Phronk's assertion that men have a valid influence becomes potent in the sphere of justification. If only half the partnership decides on an abortion, the justification for it certainly seems to fall short, regardless of which half wants it.

As a man, I'm much more concerned that a woman I am with will have our baby aborted against my will than kept.

Alice said...

i'm another one on the "well... it's more complicated that that" fence. because sure, men should have a say because they helped get the woman pregnant in the first place. except? they don't have to stay. they can leave. they never have to see the baby, raise the baby, care for the baby, put the baby through college and devote the rest of their life to the wellbeing of the baby. so it DOES rub me the wrong way a little that the man putting me in that position could have as much say - or more say than me - in whether or not i keep the child, and then can run off and never suffer any of the consequences or share any of the responsibility.

(to those who suggest that's what child support is for, i welcome you to talk to the vast numbers of women who have never received any form of child support from the fathers of their children. and to those who think a monthly payment of $100 equates to sharing the responsibility of raising a child, i'm guessing you haven't spent much time around children.)

so... yeah. it's complicated. :-) which is why black & white laws restricting when, who, and how women can get abortions will always be problematic.

Tim Shirk said...

Alice that's a slippery slope argument. While the man's 'veto' on an abortion in my paradigm may result in the woman being required to carry the baby through to birth there is absolutely zero reason the woman could not also ditch the baby on the man at any point thereafter. Similarly, if the man were to leave, nothing is stopping the woman from immediately giving the baby up for adoption.

Arguments for abortion should absolutely stop at birth in the considered timeline.

This issue is complicated far more by perceptions of what is at stake than by the actual elements of it.

Jennifer said...

This is why people should be talking about their views before they be doing the nasty. Not that anyone does.

Here's my perspective. I had an unexpected, unplanned pregnancy. I lived in Windsor, the father, in Toronto. He was barely 20 and in fact, I was still 19 when I peed on a stick. We did discuss abortion. For us, it was a brief discussion because it didn't feel right. It was the right decision for us, but that doesn't make it the right decision for everyone. For everyone not Phronk, I ended up marrying that guy and having three more babies because babies are addictive yo.

While I agree it's not "right" for a woman to just go ahead and terminate a baby the father wants, pregnancy is FAR more than "a few months of time and discomfort". My first kid there? I had preeclampsia, a dangerous condition where my blood pressure spiked up drastically and in extreme cases can cause death. It's most likely to occur in first pregnancies. I had a cesarean section, which is major surgery. This affected all my future planned pregnancies, though luckily for me it ended up only being labelled VBAC (many women have preeclampsia repeatedly).

And while it certainly is possible that a woman can walk out on her kids, it's a whole lot rarer than a man doing so.

Hey Lady! said...

Tim: I agree and thanks for the well stated argument, it often seems like there are far more people on the other side of that. I think justification for abortion should be definitely looked at. I have known people who did this when they were young and it ruined their lives, forget religion, I think the ramifications of this need to be made more clear. It's not just 18 years of caring for a child that need to be considered.

Sorry, got a little carried away.

Yvonne said...

All the arguments I would have stated have already been stated above. Good show. So now onto an anecdotal case study.

3 days before my 18th b-day, I lost my virginity. About 2 months after that, I ended up getting pregnant with my first sexual partner ever. He was Christian, and offered to take care of me and look after me while he worked a meat packing job full-time, while renting out a basement suite in South Edmonton.

I was not Christian. I was a year into my neuroscience degree. Quick discussion, and after contemplating a week, I booked an abortion. He was not there. I had a friend drive me, and I was so loopy, I don't remember who it was.

Now 12 years later, I have a PhD, 4 or 5 hobbies that I picked up along the way...things that I wouldn't have had with a child. We went our separate ways, and he married and divorced and remarried.

Of course, I could have put it up for adoption, but that would have been difficult. My parents wouldn't give up my grandchild if they found out I was pregnant. I don't think I could if I nursed something inside me for nine-months. The stigma of being pregnant in first year University would have isolated me from my friends and family, and knowing now how I handle stress, I would even say that I would have DEFINITELY gotten post-partum depression. Child-rearing, while giving life to my child, would have killed me. Even now, if I were to have a child, I'm pretty sure that I WILL suffer PPD, and most likely become suicidal, again. What kind of mother would that make for a child?

There's life, and then there's quality of life. I chose quality, and I will never regret it.

Yvonne said...

Oops *my grandchild* is meant to be *their grandchild*

Phronk said...

Carissa: Thanks so much!

spl0it: I agree that science should be the ultimate source of information. It's just very difficult to convince everyone of that, to actually implement the relevant science, and to turn it into adequate rules and regulations.


This is where I get stuck too. Which is why I can't form a strong opinion. A few things:

But I absolutely CANNOT stand by and say that any woman should have to carry a baby she doesn't want just because she had the dumb luck to be born with the uterus.

Why should a man be forced to allow his child to die just because he had the dumb luck to be born without a uterus?

My gut agrees with you, but such gut reactions do need to be justified rationally too. I'm not sure how to do that, in this case.

Men can leave. They can walk away. Essentially scott-free, in fact.

The ability for men to walk away is mostly a product of culture, though, and I don't know if it's relevant to the deeper moral issues. After birth, a woman is just as physically capable of leaving as the man.

All I can say about it is that it's complicated. And that a blanket law about it is always going to be problematic.

That's where I end up too. And I think you hit the nail on the head; it's so complicated that any law is either going to be too simple to cover all (or even most) situations, or too complicated to understand and enforce.

Tatiana said...

Tim Wha??? An approval process? Where a committee gets to JUDGE whether or not my reasons for an abortion are valid enough??? What bureaucratic pipe have you been smoking? Let me tell you what would happen in your scenario if I was faced with it a) I'd spin you a story that would make you pay for my abortion yourself b) if you FORCE me to give birth to a child I don't want, he'd end up on your doorstep for the 'appropriate consideration of ramifications.' (not really on that last one, but dayam can you get any more officious and sanctimonious?)

Phronk said...

Tim: Good point. I don't think even the most hardcore pro-choicers view it as a trivial choice, but it is important for both "sides" to understand that.

From what I know, at least here in Canada, abortion is already quite a lengthy process. Not quite an "application process," but at least it can't be a snap decision.

Alice: Like I said to Shine above (and Tim brings up too), I'm not sure if there is any logical reason to assert that the man is any more (or less) capable of leaving than the woman after birth.

I'm not saying men should have an equal say, but women shouldn't just be assumed to have veto power based on our first instincts.

But yeah, child support is so piddly as to be pretty much irrelevant to the larger questions.

(I'll be back to reply to other people later)

City Girl said...

Thought-provoking post, Phronk! And, you're right that this is a human issue. Until it starts to be regarded as such, I don't believe that the discourse about reproductive rights will be healthy and lead to better access to much-needed services.

With that said, I went through this alone. I followed my doctors' advice to terminate a pregnancy, but my boyfriend at the time said that he couldn't take off of work that week. The fact that the embryo was growing inside me is something that I couldn't overlook. The fact that I was so sick that my doctors were worried about my health if I continued to carry was something that I couldn't ignore, but he could. (And, yes, I blogged about this all -- several years after the fact.)

Some of the specifics of my case might be unique, but I've talked to friends and heard from readers who also were alone at their abortions because their boyfriends did not care to be there. Men have that luxury; women don't.

Likewise if the woman chooses to carry and the man doesn't support that decision, he can choose not to be involved. (Yes, a judge can order him to pay child support, but that's a monetary and not a physical or emotional obligation.)

There needs to be more open discussion like this. Glad you wrote this post!

Phronk said...

Jen: Yeah, it can work out even in extreme circumstances, and I hope most people who consider abortion can realize that.

I didn't meant to trivialize the woman's role in giving birth. But this seems to bring up an implicit assumption that the more time, effort, and risk that is put into (or will be put into, or would be put into) the baby, the more say a person should have in deciding whether to keep it or not. This makes some sense to me, but it introduces a whole lot more very uncertain variables, and underlines my main point that it's really damn complicated.

Von: Thanks so much for sharing that. I agree that quality of life is one of the most important considerations in this debate (and it's why I probably fall more in the pro-choice side). Often, religious arguments make blanket assertions that don't consider quality of life. Balancing an already-established adult's potential life against a possibly-not-even-conscious fetus's is not at all unreasonable.

City Girl: Thanks! True, during those 9 months, the man has the option of not being involved, and doesn't have the health risks. But in the case that he does want to be involved, I think he should be able to be. He should have a say in the decision. Maybe not an equal say, but a significant say.

Agreed that we need more open discussion. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

I'm just going to say that the "after birth" part? It's part of the point. Men want to act like the nine months of being pregnant with a baby you don't WANT is just a couple of months. It's easy. It's no big thing.

Guess what. It's a BIG thing. You're essentially host to a parasite. And that parasite can kill you, but no one cares because everyone is so caught up in the rights of the parasite that no one really cares about the host.

I know that sounds extreme, but that's the way I would feel about having to house a fetus that I didn't want for nine months. I'm not an incubator, I'm a person.

It is a complicated issue and it won't ever go away. And what rights a man has to make decisions about said fetus are definitely something we should all consider, but...I still just can't say that I think it's ever okay to force a woman to carry a baby she doesn't want.

Maybe one day, there will be some sort of incubator situation, whereby unwanted fetuses can be carried to term in such a way that doesn't involve forcing women to do it. Since we care SO MUCH about lives that aren't even lives yet. But until that day, as long as it's a choice (and NOT a justification process, because who gets to decide the rules for THAT?!), I think the final say should go to the woman.

But that's just one woman's opinion.

Anonymous said...

Um, also, I didn't mean to be all shouty. I know you, Phronk, are not insensitive. And I know that you would probably never consider pregnancy some "easy thing."

I just think so many people want to gloss over that part. But it's a BIG deal.

Also, I completely appreciate Von's post, as well as City Girl's, because that's where I was. Not only was the man NOT there (he had already stopped speaking to me, after nearly six years of dating), but I have a life now that I probably wouldn't have had. I will always choose quality.

The unborn baby is an unknown. And I have trouble justifying sacrificing everything I've worked so hard for in my life on an unknown.

That probably makes me insensitive.

Jennifer said...

Shine, I don't think it makes you insensitive. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't have had Brianna and gone down the path I did. But that's an unknown too. Maybe I wouldn't have made it through school after all, or been hit by a bus three days later. Or maybe I'd be some important something other than a mom. *shrug* Can't "what if" myself to death. We are where we are, and hopefully, we like it.

Tim Shirk said...

Inconveniences, however great or small, are the consequences of decisions.

I'm a bit perturbed that these comments sometimes read like abortion is post-coital birth control. Once upon a time, the choice didn't even really exist and you had to make your choices before getting pregnant.

Just trying to bring this into perspective.

Hate me if you want, I'm not pro-life or pro-choice but I am pro-consequence.

Hey Lady! said...

I agree that because of ability and choice to have an abortion people don't always consider all the consequences. It seems too easy to just say "well, if I get pregnant, I'll just have an abortion". When what really needs to happen is the not getting pregnant in the first place, or if you do to consider giving the baby up for adoption. Too few people don't consider adoption whether it be because they don't want to carry the baby for 9 months, or because they are afraid the adoptive parents won't take good enough care of the baby, or for other reasons. I have the life I do because someone was willing to make that difficult choice. It was the best thing that ever could have happened for me.

I would never want to tell someone else what to do with their body, I think we need to really consider all the consequences and options.

Phronk said...

As I said on Twitter, Shine, I don't think you came across as shouty or accusing me of anything. I'm enjoying the lively but civil discussion.

I agree that the 9 month birth process is a big deal. Obviously. On the other end, using abortion as birth control is a big deal. The man's role is a big deal. My main point of the post is that there are a LOT of big deals here. And a lot of unknowns within them. That's all gotta be weighed.

freshman said...

This is a very complex issue and unfortunately there will never really be a "right" answer but you said something about this not being the mother's choice. I believe that it is. She has the right to either deside she wants one or not. The man may have an opinion and there are many people who may try and persuade her to do as they believe is right but ultimately its her decision whether or not she should or shouldnt get an abortion.

Phronk said...

That's a valid opinion, Freshman, but WHY should the ultimate decision go to the mother?