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The False Choice Between Women and Children
Rejecting our culture's unjust demand of abortion as entrance price
Other Feminisms will take a hiatus for the holidays, and return to our usual schedule the week of January 3rd. To close out the year, I have a roundup of your comments from our discussion following the oral argument in Dobbs.
Chai had a comment representative of several people’s mixed feelings on the topic:
On the one hand, I agree with everything that is said here and elsewhere about the infinite good of children and the awfulness of a society that values anything more than loving and caring for one another, at any age. If I could wave a magic wand and recreate society in the way I would like to see it, every family and every individual would be abundantly cared for in every possible way. No one would go hungry. No one would lack a safe and lovely home. No one would lack whatever health care they need. No one would feel unloved or alone. And no one would ever place anything but the highest value on every human life, at every age and stage.
On the other hand, I find it repulsive that anyone should try to compel anyone else to carry a baby to term if they are not physically, emotionally, or morally ready to do so. No one can carry that burden or joy inside themselves except the woman in whose body the pregnancy is evolving, and no one should try to assert control over what is happening inside her body without her permission. Doing so is as repellant when a woman has become pregnant as it would be beforehand. It is not my job to imagine the children another woman might have had, or to try to force her to have them. That belongs between her and her conscience, her God. "What is that to thee? Follow thou me."
Several people had comments along these lines, including worries about forcing women to be pregnant. I think it’s a false equivalence to talk about “forced pregnancy” (forcing a woman to become pregnant) as roughly equivalent to disallowing a woman from ending an existing pregnancy (and thus, the life of an existing child).
Abortion is never, as abortion opponents would have us believe, an easy escape route for the capricious, self-righteous woman. Nor is it a dangerous and dirty procedure performed by callous, untrained doctors. It is particularly misleading to portray post-viability abortion in this way. If a woman decides to proceed with an abortion after twenty-four weeks, she must accept the terms: that she will deliver a baby, and that baby will be dead.
Martha asked how it could be possible to support pro-life laws, even if you think a baby’s life is at risk, when we live in such a misogynist culture.
I do think a fetus has moral weight, and I'm also very very opposed to outlawing abortion. But my opposition doesn't have to do with the wishes of the mother trumping the dignity of the fetus, it's my distrust of the State being involved in anything as complex as pregnancy.
Say an embryo was granted full personhood under the law from conception onward. When the technology becomes available (we're nearly there!) would a mother who was at risk of a miscarriage be required to have the embryo removed and gestated in a lab?
Less sci-fi, there have already been cases in the US of women incarcerated for miscarriages. Women who want to be pregnant and desperately want to be pregnant & carry their kiddo to term will be impacted by any personhood legislation. And doctors who are looking to do what's best will have their hands tied and have to jump through more hoops in critical situations, directly leading to increased maternal mortality. Of course, on both fronts, Black & Brown & poor women will be disproportionately impacted, as with any legislation of this sort.
I agree with parts of Martha’s critique (though I don’t think we’re close to artificial wombs, nor would it be good to develop them!).
But here’s the crux of our disagreement, as I replied:
This also seems like a case against having CPS and other child welfare services, which, because of structural bias, often burden poorer women and women of color, rather than giving them more access to the services they need to care for their children.
I understand the temptation to wipe the slate clean and say that the state hasn't proven itself worthy of the power to protect children... but I think this *is* one of the basic functions of government! The question is more about how we reform the flawed system (both through regulation and moral conversion) rather than giving up on the work.
Finally, I appreciated this connection made by KT:
I was just reading L. M. Sacasas’s latest newsletter, and I think some of his summaries of Ivan Illich and Jacques Elul are relevant to the idea of abortion as the female entrance fee to modern society.
KT quoted a section from Sacasas’s post below:
The dominant techno-social configuration of modern society demands that human beings operate at a scale and pace that is not conducive to their well-being—let alone rest, rightly understood—but by now most of us have been born into this state of affairs and take it more or less for granted. […]
For the most part, we carry on in techno-social environments that are either indifferent to a certain set of genuine human needs or altogether hostile to them. For this reason, Ellul argued, a major subset of technique emerges. Ellul referred to these as human techniques because their aim was to continually manage the human element in the technological system so that it would function adequately…. In [Ellul’s] view, human techniques are alway undertaken in the interest of preserving the system and adapting the human being to its demands.
And this remains at the heart of my view: we’ve built a society that doesn’t have enough room for mothers or babies—not enough room for either of them individually, and certainly not enough room for them together.
But we become inhuman if we adopt a technique of sacrificing one to preserve a little breathing room for the other, all for the sake of making sure the overall system can grind on.
Let’s close 2021 with a little Mario Savio:
There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus—and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it—that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!
One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not [letting] anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!!