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"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." Elizabeth Cady Stanton



Monday, 12 November 2012

A pro-choicer's views on life and suffering

A mini-abortion debate recently came to my attention, and I found the pro-choicer's thoughts to be particularly interesting:


Note: emphasis in the following quotations is my own. Comments or changes are enclosed in square brackets.

What I want to focus on first is this person's fixation with suffering: "if it [the baby]'s forced to be born [notice that the connotation here is that allowing a baby to be born is a bad thing because we are forcing life on him or her - as if a baby can express any other wish besides a wish for survival] to a mother that cannot or does not wish to take care of it, there is a fairly high chance of it being hurt (either through neglect or abuse) its entire childhood."

There are two things here that are problematic. First, the assumption that a reluctant mother only has two choices: to kill her baby or to keep her baby and abuse it horrifically (ever heard of adoption? Ever heard of empowering surprise mothers to be the absolute best mothers they can possibly be? Ever heard of helping mothers escape the negativity in their lives so that they can provide for their children?). This is far from an accurate representation of both what the mother's options actually are, and what surprise babies go through in their early childhood. There is absolutely no guarantee that a surprise baby will be abused, nor is there a guarantee that a wanted baby will not be abused.  I firmly believe that abuse does not happen because of "wantedness", but instead because parents view their children in some way as "sub-par" or under their own exclusive control (this ignores the fact that many people who have gone through horrific things in their own lives often act out these same patterns towards others - intervention, counseling, and love can go a long way in helping such parents or children break the cycle).

The second thing that is problematic here is this pro-choicer's view of suffering. According to him or her, future suffering is a legitimate reason to end a life. There is one thing that I want to make absolutely clear: it is not up to us to decide if someone else's life (or future life) as unlivable - to make such a judgement is the height of arrogance. But this ignores the very obvious fact that all of us suffer at some point in our lifetimes - and most people outside of the developed world suffer far more than we could ever imagine. However, even if one has the North American view of a picture-perfect life, one is still not protected from suffering. Horrible things happen all the time. Death does not solve these problems. And if it does, what is stopping us from euthanizing the very mentally ill and heavily addicted homeless drug abusers who drift through life hardly aware of what is happening to themselves and what is happening around them? What is stopping us from euthanizing the starving multitudes of families living in abject poverty who will likely die anyway? What is stopping us from euthanizing populations who are likely to be caught in the middle of a war zone, and who will either die instantly or suffer horrifically once the gunfire and bombing starts? What is stopping us from allowing car crash victims to pass "peacefully" into the night instead of attempting to save them?

The answer, I believe, to these question has two parts:

1. Hope that their lives can get better (the future, after all, is unknown).
2. The belief that their lives are still valuable because they have rights, and that their suffering is horrific precisely for this reason.

The unborn, as clearly evidenced by this pro-choicer's views, do not enjoy these two protections, in spite of the fact that many (I would argue the majority of) unplanned babies in the developed world have a much better chance at a cushy, relatively pain-free life than the majority of humans on this planet, and in spite of the fact that they have whole lives of possibility ahead of them in which they can make decisions for themselves as to the value of their own lives.

 The other point I want to emphasize is this person's opinion of what human life actually is and therefore what constitutes harm: "... a baby does not have a brain that is even remotely aware of anything until after 20 weeks [I think what she means to say is that it does not have detectable brainwaves before this - loosely defined - cutoff]. So while this baby looks human, it isn't capable of feeling and therefore cannot be hurt. [...] If someone is only a mechanism of reflexes, without the ability of any cognition, they are not yet human, in my opinion." 

First of all, expecting a baby to prove that it is "alive" and "human" by showing signs of cognition above its developmental ability is both ridiculous and extremely unfair. Never mind that this understanding of human life is patently inaccurate. This view is firmly placed in the realm of philosophy, not science, and to present it as otherwise is highly misleading. It also excludes an inordinate amount of our disabled and mentally ill populations from enjoying the so-called status of "human life" and has the overtones of eugenic thought woven into a seemingly "sophisticated" and "fair" worldview. Look into philosophies espoused by Peter Singer or the recently published "After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" to see where such opinions will logically lead. The idea that we cannot be hurt if we are not aware of the harm is particularly pernicious, as such a view could be ascribed to anyone, not just an unborn baby before 20 weeks. If I am killed in my sleep, I will never know that my life has been ended and so I do not have a chance to either mourn or become aware of my loss. If I die instantly in a car crash, I will at the most feel only momentary pain and will never know what has been taken from me. If I torture and murder someone who has overdosed on drugs or alcohol they will never know or understand what has happened to them. If I steal a misplaced lottery ticket that happens to win me millions of dollars, the true owner will never know what they lost. If I am raped in my bed in a drug-induced sleep, but not hurt or stolen away, I could be totally unaware that anything horrible ever happened to me. If I slowly murder a severely mentally-challenged or ill patient, they cannot understand that they are about to lose their life. If a slaver (or a husband) takes advantage of his slaves (or his wife) who have been conditioned to believe that they are property, the slaves (wife) have no concept of harm being done. Now, the After-Birth Abortion paper does attempt to circumvent these types of objections (at least, when applied to healthy, cognitively-abled people), but I am not convinced that they succeed (perhaps this is because I do not understand their argument, but I truly believe that it is a weak one). And I would hope that most people can view an entire life being stolen away as harm - with the assumption that the unborn baby is a "human life" and not a "preparatory stage for life" (when exactly, then, does this "shell" of an unborn child accept the life that it has been preparing for? flipping weird way to view human development imo, especially because - other than conception - there is no hard and fast line between one stage and another). Never mind that many people no longer believe in the presence of a soul, and many Christians believe that the body and the soul are intricately intertwined, and very clearly the baby's body exists before 20 weeks - so I ask again, what is this change that suddenly turns a body into a human life?

I want to leave you with one last quote, which to me is very chilling in its sincerity:

"... if we already have the choice of whether to create life or not create life, I think we should have a choice to end the preparatory stage for a life that has not yet begun ... I understand why you don't agree."

One final thought - this person's views seem to indicate that he or she is against abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Such a view necessitates support for gestational age limits on abortion (which we do not have in Canada) and Motion-312, which would have addressed the question of when life actually begins (currently defined in Canada as the moment a baby completely exits the birth canal). How much are you willing to bet that this is actually the case? 

Note: you can find the paper I discuss above under the "Abortion Arguments" tab.

Also note: The last quote is also an example of the "Contraception Mentality" that so many pro-lifers have a problem with. I know that using contraception or supporting contraception does NOT necessitate use or support for abortion - but it is thought processes like this which demonstrate why I believe we as pro-lifers have to be very careful when discussing contraception.  

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