Sep 182011

I thank the awesome and adorable Susie Bright, whose weekly radio show “In Bed with Susie Bright” got me off my lazy butt to write this rather political post.  I’ll be repeating some of Susie’s useful advice below while adding my own commentary.  I think she’ll forgive me as it’s in a good cause.

It might be best if young people would just seek surgical sterilization as early in life as they can arrange it.  Some do, but most won’t.  That being the case, there will be unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

Being pro-choice — indeed, being pro-abortionseems like pretty much a no-brainer for antinatalists, at least with respect to fetuses not sufficiently developed to experience suffering.  It’s bad enough coming into existence even when you’re a wanted child, because your life is likely to be a burden to you.   If you’re an unwanted child, your life might be an even worse burden to you, as well as inflicting additional suffering on your mother, those nearest and dearest to her, and in many real-world cases, your siblings.  (In the real world, at least the U.S. part of it, a clear majority of  women who obtain abortions already have one or more  children, and a reason for seeking abortions is that the additional stress on their families of additional children.)  So if you want to limit the suffering associated with new people coming into existence, you’re going to want a world in which abortion is safe, legal, and readily-available.

We (U.S. people, anyway) don’t in a such a world, because there’s a lot of angry opposition to abortion from a movement which…well, let’s not call it “pro-life.”  They’re not pro-life.  Maybe if you’re a pacifist death-penalty abolitionist vegan who, as Peter Singer would urge, gives away most of her income to supporting women’s and children’s health and you also happen to oppose abortion as part of that ethical package, you can be called pro-life.  That’s not these people.  What they should be called — and here I follow Susie — is Forced Birthers, who are in business for the purpose of punishing women for having unauthorized orgasms and making everybody kneel before their god.

Now at the moment, the Forced Birthers can’t quite get abortion outlawed due to a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Roe v. Wade, which constitutionalizes a right to an abortion.  So they’re using state law to attack abortion around the edges, passing statutes that have the aim of making abortion as difficult and inconvenient as possible, and of shaming and stigmatizing women who seek them.  (They’re also doubtless aiming to plant the seeds of future litigation to overturn Roe, of which more shortly.)  Women are subjected to waiting periods, moralizing lectures, “counseling,” compulsory sonograms to show them their “baby,” and so on.  Some of these laws are just grotesque in the indignities they heap on women.  A Texas law (now under review in Federal court) requires a sonogram procedure that involves a vaginal probe.  Yog-Sothoth help you if you are pregnant as a result of rape in Texas and seek an abortion, because then the Great State of Texas will want to rape you all over again.

In addition to the standard plea for political activism against the Forced Birthers and their laws, Susie Bright offered some self-help advice that might be valuable.  Women should get themselves a supply of Plan B and keep it on hand.  Be aware of the laws in your state and think of responses to them ahead of time.  If you’re a parent of daughters, make it clear that you will stand by them and not allow them to be shamed, stigmatized, or harmed if they should have an unwanted pregnancy.  (I think that should extent to anyone close to a fertile woman — if you have a partner or just an intimate friend, make your support for them clear.)

Will need self-help and more.  The world might get worse.  My own estimate is that the core holding of Roe has a probability of 0.5 of being intact at the end of this decade.  It is quite likely, given the prevailing pattern of political retirements and a crappy economy that generates a strong anyone-but-the-incumbent mood that on January 20, 2013 both the U.S. President (who nominates Supreme Court justices) and a majority of the U.S. Senate (which confirms them) will be members of a Certain Political Party that draws a lot of its support from the Forced Birthers.  The nine-member Court itself, meanwhile, will have among its members three right-wing Catholic justices, one loony-right Episcopalian justice, and three probable Roe supporters in their mid-to-late seventies.  (Stephen Breyer will be 74, Anthony Kennedy 75, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg seven weeks away from 80.)

We are thus likely to face a world of outright criminal prohibitions to protect Forced Birth.  I don’t want that world at all, but if it comes to pass, it will be time for antinatalists to step up.  In the immediate aftermath of the overturning of Roe, we will face a checkerboard of different state laws.  Abortion will remain safe and legal in some states, it will be treated as murder in others, and there will be a spectrum of other regimes in between.  In addition to political activism, I would suggest that we might need something like an Underground Railroad for the 21st century.  Time, money, and volunteers will be needed to arrange safe passage, medical care, lodging, and childcare to help get women — especially economically-disadvantaged women — out of Forced Birth states and into free ones. (At least one organization — The Women’s Medical Fund, in Madison, Wisconsin — is doing this to a limited extent already, at least to the extent of funding procedures.)

The Underground Railroad will have to get longer, of course, if the Forced Birthers succeed in their next objective of making abortion illegal throughout the U.S.  Some of them are already thinking of this, for example by using a Federal statute to define fetuses as “persons” protected under the equal protection clause of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and then claiming the right to pass a criminal prohibition under the Section 5 enforcement clause of the same.  A long, bitter fight might be ahead of us.

For antinatalists it will be difficult in various ways, one of which is that other pro-choice people might not want to be affiliated with  people who will be seen as a bunch of crazies.  (Some may recall the unfortunate attitude of some early Second Wave feminists to lesbians: cf. Betty Friedan on the “Lavender Menace.”)  That will be bad if it happens, but we need to anticipate the possibility and be grown-ups about it.  It’s a harsh world, and very important things are at stake here.

And besides, if we spend time really helping people who need it, antinatalism will start to look a lot better, I think.

 Posted by at 10:05

  8 Responses to “Activism against forced-birthers”

  1. Why should we care what pro-choice people think about us? We’re not pro-choice, and their arguments are pretty damn ridiculous… We’re pro-abortion.

  2. I don’t know if this is relevant given your generally accurate focus on broader trends that play out in the political trenches, but I think — in fact, I know — that some philosophically informed anti-abortion arguments are not merely reconcilable with philanthropic antinatalism, but can be construed to imply the same ultimate conclusions. If you: a) take a deontological and generally libertarian view of rights (including negative rights against harm or aggression), and b) believe that such rights inhere with “personhood,” and c) conclude that pre-born entities are “persons” entitled to rights against aggression or harm, then a resulting anti-abortion position can be philosophically sustained under a theory that, consistently applied, should likewise enjoin the creation of new people — for the same underlying reasons. Anti-abortionists argue (some of them presumably in good faith) that life is a continuum. Consequently, they oppose what they consider to be dangerously arbitrary legal distinctions demarcating the onset of personhood and corollary human rights against aggression or harm. From such a position, it is entirely logical to extrapolate a bit further to identify agent-centered procreative acts as belonging to a deeper category of aggression or harm that should be subject to the same constraints on the same grounds.

    I realize that many antinatalists — pro-abortion or not — will reject thusly premised anti-abortion arguments on the merit that they confuse the “potential” for personhood with actual personhood. And although I am now persuaded that this counterpoint is defensible, I do not believe the argument over what is sometimes referred to as the “potentiality principle” is trivial or necessarily rooted in bad faith. To get a sense of how it plays on the other side, I recommend John Walker’s essay, “Power and Act,” which is probably still archived on the “Libertarians for Life” website. I know you won’t agree with Walker. Neither do I. But there was a time when I most sincerely did. At that time, I was thinking as a libertarian, as a deontologist, and as an atheist. I simply found Walker’s reasoning frustratingly convincing, even and significantly as it led me to consider, however vaguely, whether antinatalist conclusions might also follow. My views have since changed and I no longer believe that abortion entails morally relevant harm (to be clear, I believe the opposite), but I still think that there are anti-abortion arguments that antinatalists should engage rather than dismiss. The most rigorous “pro-life” reasoning, taken on its own premises, leads to antinatalism.

    • Thanks for the reference, Chip. Premise (c) seems to be open to empirical consideration, provided that personhood is something that there can be evidence for. If we can ask, “how do we know whether something is a person?”, then it seems that we can identify a class of beings that clearly are persons, a class that clearly aren’t, and a class that lies on a gray continuum. How do anti-abortionists who don’t base their position in theistic or supernatural claims identify where the non-persons become partly-persons? Sperm-and-egg membrane fusion? The first joint mitosis of the zygote? Why not when viable sperm enter an egg-containing fallopian tube?

      • A common answer is that personhood inheres when an individual’s unique genetic constitution is biochemically established through fertilization. Under this view, zygotes are morally relevant while gametes are not. Concerning the vicissitudes, you might take a look at Dianne Irving’s (nontheistic anti-abortion) essay:

        • I don’t understand his response to monozygotic twinning (the idea that fertilization confers uniqueness confers personhood). He says:

          “Myth 12: “Maybe a human being begins at fertilization, but a human person does not begin until after 14-days, when twinning cannot take place.”

          Fact 12: The particular argument in Myth 12 is also made by McCormick and Grobstein (and their numerous followers). It is based on their biological claim that the “pre-embryo” is not a developmental individual, and therefore not a person, until after 14 days when twinning can no longer take place. However, it has already been scientifically demonstrated here that there is no such thing as a “pre-embryo,” and that in fact the embryo begins as a “developmental individual” at fertilization. Furthermore, twinning can take place after 14 days. Thus simply on the level of science, the philosophical claim of “personhood” advanced by these bioethicists is invalid and indefensible.”

          I don’t see how this responds to the objection. (Nor do I know what would count as a “scientific demonstration” that “there is no such thing as a pre-embryo” because it seems clear that it’s a logical, not biological, consruct.

          • Well, if the consensus among embryologists is that “pre-embryos” constitute a biologically relevant category, I see no reason to argue the point. I think Dianne Irving is arguing that the concept was introduced on the sly for bioethical rather than biological reasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were a little bit true. Her point about post-implant twinning seems like a fair rejoinder in context to me, but I agree that she plays fast and loose with “scientific” authority.

            Secular anti-abortion reasoning can be interesting when the arguments follow generally held views about human autonomy and rights toward counter-intuitive conclusions. I think it’s the lure of disinterested consistency, rather than anything ulterior, that hooks at least some people. Of course, the plain reality that this stance neatly avoids is that the existence of abortion (at least early abortion) simply does not cause measurable suffering. When I was begrudgingly “pro-life,” I still didn’t give a personal shit whether women had abortions because it seemed obvious that preborn people were qualitatively incapable of experiencing much of anything. I saw it more as an inconvenient slippery slope problem that required me to follow the logic to the quick whether I liked it or not.

    • Yea right… where are these pacifist death-penalty abolitionist vegan true-pro-lifers? Who are they? Let’s hear from them, then we’ll talk…

  3. That’s a really good post, James. I found it interesting that the woman in the sterilization link preferred tubal ligation to Essure, as the latter sounds like the more appealing option to me. It involves coils being placed in one’s ovaries with no outward scarring. I also recently found out about Quinacrine, which sounds even better. It’s a chemical pellet that is non-surgically inserted into the uterus via an IUD-like device. It’s really quite amazing how little information people have on what options are available to them. As a society, we never discuss sterilization. Also, in my experience, a sizable portion of teenagers who live in conservative states may already believe that abortions are only legal for victims of rape or incest in their state because their guardians are lying to them.

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