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-abortion — seems 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.