Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Rethinking Abortion Boundaries

I started out not thinking much about the issue at all.  This is very common, as it is physically unpleasant to think about as well as socially unpleasant in many circumstances. It leads to poll results that are logically at odds with each other, such as considerable support for both "Abortion should be illegal except in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother," and "Abortion is a matter that should be private between a woman and her doctor." It's not so much that people are stupid - some are, of course - but more that they have queasy feelings about a lot of aspects of the question and are looking for quick escapes in discussion. I did have something of a default to an essay I had read that the issue was largely philosophical: wherever life begins, at that point abortion should be forbidden.  It sounded neat and tidy. (It's not.)

Men and women have very similar opinions on the subject. The idea that only women should be deciding is based largely on the bubble that some pro-choice women live in, believing that because all their friends are pro-choice, most women are as well.  It ain't so.

When I tagged along with the Jesus people I went very much pro-life, and being an intense sort, immediately went to a strict "life begins at conception" attitude. I have never been far different since then, but I did modify somewhat.  At first I wondered if implantation would be a better line to draw. As the information came out that heartbeat and brainwaves in the fetus begin at 5-6 weeks, I leaned toward that.  I preferred the point of conception as a line, but felt less inclined to insist on that. But as I became more aware of genetics as the enormous determinant of many human attributes, I drifted back toward conception as the key point.  You are you quite hugely at that point.

The question of "when life begins" I eventually discarded. The fetus is living at the time of conception. It's not dead, it's not inanimate. Another question about humanness might rise up, but "life" proved a non-question. When the science was vague, Catholics had a vague standard of "quickening" as the beginning of life.  But as we all learned more in the early 19th C, it decided that conception was the true point. I just threw that in for people who have heard that the RCC was not always so strict about life beginning at conception, trying to show that this is a new and perhaps suspect religious idea. That idea is based on some facts, but is not true.

Pre-implantation genetic testing will increasingly be the norm. I had not reconsidered implantation as a dividing line for decades. Perhaps I should bring that one back for examination.

I think it unlikely the SCOTUS will ever overthrow all abortion restrictions entirely.  However, some modification of Roe v Wade that returns some authority to the states is quite possible in the next decade, and because even some abortion advocates think it was badly decided, may be overthrown and some new standard erected. Parental notification, clinic regulation according to medical standards, waiting periods, later abortions and especially partial-birth abortions are going to come back into the public debate.


stevo said...

Abortion is for me one of the issues where I have no problem being an absolutist.

dmoelling said...

I find thinking about the end of life is a good place to test beliefs. In people assisted suicide is somewhat more complex in that the person is usually an adult with some control of their actions. I found that dealing with my dogs end of life was instructive since like a baby you are totally responsible for their well-being. All the dogs we've had over the years have been with us from puppyhood. The dog-human bond is strong and rewarding. A few have succumbed to illness before we could assist, but most we had to pick the time. I learned early that the thing that bothered me the most was the thought that I might choose the day from my convenience not the welfare of my friend. This has been helpful in choosing what to do on my parents care and living arrangements as they aged. If we consider abortion from the "am I doing this for my convenience only" aspect it puts a better perspective on the issues.

Grim said...

What's the moral argument for abortion pre-implantation? Prior to implantation, the fetus is a fully independent, individual human life; we ordinarily bar killing in those circumstances. It's only after implantation that the fetus becomes linked with the woman's body and system in a way that supports the usual pro-abortion arguments.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It would not be a moral argument, as the essay I ran across in college still holds - once something is a human being you have an obligation to protect it. That it is "life" looks solid from the moment of conception, but in that case, it's "life" even before that. Implantation is a philosophical line, but it is one of many, and perhaps it is not any brighter. To the full definition of "member of the tribe," it is not only the fetus, but the small child, and even the child who has not gone through transition ceremonies of getting buried up to the neck in sand while the grandmothers or grandfathers sing songs about your fertility who don't fully qualify, but I don't think anyone is advocating for twelve-year-olds to be culled.

So I am tending strongly to exactly what you say: "What is the difference along the way? If we accept that the 12 year-old is pre-tribe-member but still human, the lines of survivable-without-parents (maybe 8 years old), survived second gestation/weaning (about nine months old), birth, trimesters and other artificial prenatal distinctions, 'quickening,' heartbeat/brainwave, implantation, conception...are different in degree, not kind." Still, it is an actual biological and not social or conventional distinction, and so might be worthy of attention. It hasn't come up much because as a practical matter, women haven't known or been able to know they are pregnant that early, so who cares?

It is a good example why those medieval arguments we sneer at, of whether it is better for your soul to have died on the way to a crusade or on the way back, or (apocryphally) how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, turn out to be valuable in the long run, much as odd mathematical corners suddenly turn out to be important in physics 200 years later.