This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.
Some aspects of the abortion debate are never discussed because they are implicit similarities between the pro-choice and anti-abortion positions, not differences. They only argue about their differences, and never try to agree on anything. This is partially why the debate is so useless; a debate where people adamantly refuse to agree on anything whatsoever is a debate without a starting point, and therefore no end point as well.
To be fair, there actually are people involved in something called the Common Ground movement, which has the objective of uniting anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates towards what are ostensibly common solutions. I call those people “compromisers,” because that is really the only possible result of such rhetoric1. Some pro-choice advocates and anti-abortion advocates are also starting to realize the reality behind this movement. Some of the similarities I will discuss here are used by compromisers to try to build consensus amongst themselves (especially the blind belief in contraception).
Perhaps this entry will be of small help in getting the debate between anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates steered in the right direction; to be fair, I rather doubt it, especially since I also want to demonstrate that their implicit points of agreement are completely invalid or misguided.
Without further ado, let me start with the first similarity:
1. The myth that abortion is undesirable and unnecessary.
“Abortion is undesirable,” and “abortion should be unnecessary” seem to be accepted truisms for pro-choice people. Obviously, anti-abortion people also accept these truisms, insofar as they are against abortion on principle (although some, like the above link from an anti-abortion group, would object that abortions are already unnecessary, and that the statement is inherently biased).
The main problem with this similarity, apart from all the positive reasons I gave for supporting abortion in “No one is for abortion!,” is that pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates never present any justification for such statements. Why are abortions undesirable? An anti-abortion advocate may reply that abortions are undesirable because they are acts of murder, but there are plenty of acts of murder that most people consider desirable. A pro-choice advocate may reply that abortions are undesirable because having children is a wonderful thing, but it is unclear how something being wonderful makes its negative undesirable (this fallacy is called denying the antecedent).
The underlying premise behind this vilification of abortion, I think, lies in the fact that the Christian worldview and the liberal worldview both hold that procreation is our inherent purpose. I have discussed in my entry debunking Richard Dawkins how science-minded people cling to the belief that procreation is a purpose given to us by evolution, even though this is a gross misunderstanding of evolution and patently impossible. Christians, of course, believe procreation is a divine mandate, and never miss an occasion to rub it in everyone’s face.
2. The myth that contraception will solve everything.
Continuing from the first point, it seems that, especially amongst the compromisers, there is a common belief in contraception as the miracle solution; by making contraception available to all, we will eliminate the need for abortion, and finally everyone will be happy.
This, of course, is bullshit. I have already pointed out that most forms of contraception have a high percentage of failure: typical condom use has a 5-year failure rate of 56%, contraception used perfectly has a 5-year failure rate of 10% to 27% (depending on the kind of contraception used), and vasectomies have a 5-year failure rate of 0.5%. Contraception believers may feel a little better because of this 0.5%, but such a percentage applied to any multi-million population still represents at least thousands of pregnancies. Besides, the only way to achieve such a percentage for a whole society would be forced sterilization and they have a seething hatred for forced sterilization, so such low numbers would never be achieved by their efforts anyway.
My point in citing these statistics is to demonstrate that contraception is not the solution, and that abortion will always be necessary and desirable. Even if we start from the (irrational) premise that women should be free to choose to start new human lives, the fact that contraception used perfectly still yields a 5-year failure rate of at least 10% ensures that millions of women will be faced with unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, the belief amongst compromisers that we should all be united in supporting contraception is destructive; in the end, it will only marginalize and persecute women who are victims of contraceptive failure, even more than they are today.
Should we provide contraception to all for free? Yes, definitely, especially sterilization. But no form of contraception is a “solution to abortion.” Abortion is not a problem to be solved and, even if it was, contraception would not be the answer.
Now, I know that there are some anti-abortion people who are also stridently anti-contraception (e.g. the Catholic Church). I think this is because they consciously hate women, while anti-abortion who do not consciously directly hate women (only indirectly through their beliefs) have less issues with contraception.
3. They are both responsibility-free passes for negligent parents.
In what is by far the most disgusting similarity, pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates share the fact that their positions are both total no-responsibility towards defective births and children suffering of bad health. No one is responsible for them, it’s “God’s will” that they be born that way, or it’s just “a natural event” and “that’s how it is,” as if the suffering child popped into existence by magic.
This view is absolutely abhorrent. Even if parents are not aware that their child will be born defective or suffering, they are still very well aware that there is always a chance of any child, including their own, to be born defective or suffering. If you plan an action that has a known risk of harming someone else, and you still do it, you should be held responsible for putting people at risk, and if someone does end up harmed, you should be dealt with. This is just basic justice.
Of course, neither position will ever be willing to acknowledge this basic fact, because they vitally depends on procreation being inherently desirable. So they will keep answering that it’s just “God’s will,” that it’s “nature’s handiwork,” and that there’s nothing anyone can do about it, even though this is obviously a lie and on par with the rationalizations people use to justify political oppression, war, poverty and inequality, child slavery, and a host of other man-made disasters. Knifing people in the guts while shouting “that’s just the way it is!” does not magically nullify your crime, and neither does the fact that the knifing takes nine months instead of a few seconds (for more on the rights of children and how giving birth to a defective or suffering child breaks them, I refer you back to the framework of rights I discussed in my entry against “reproductive rights”).
4. They ignore the pregnant woman’s viewpoint.
At least this is a common criticism addressed to pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates. I am not quite sure to what extent this is really true, but it does seem to be at least somewhat justified; this is especially true in the anti-abortion camp, insofar as they refuse to recognize the morality of abortion altogether, an attitude which by definition requires you to ignore real-life scenarios.
However, there is one similarity I can definitely point out: the fact that both positions ignore the children’s needs. This is also an extension of the previous point, as pushing parental irresponsibility is one of the symptoms of this similarity. In their abortion debates, only the rights and well-being of the fetus is considered relevant.
One may reply, doesn’t the fact that both sides consider possible child deformity counter my similarity? Not really. The formulation of laws revolves around “severe” or “extreme” deformity. To assume that suck laws demonstrate a concern for children is hasty; it could equally demonstrate a concern for the parents’ psychological well-being, or a concern against wasteful health care spending.
Another proof that neither position cares about children is their extremely cavalier treatment of the adoption issue. There is the implicit assumption that all we need to consider is the adoption process itself, and that it will have no negative effects on the child. People who are aware of the profound trauma of adoption on children, on the other hand, would not promote adoption quite so easily.
5. They are both optimists.
Optimism is an inherently vague term which refers to attitudes such as seeing positive outcomes as normal, believing that life is positive and meaningful, and that history is going in a positive direction. Certainly this is true of both the liberal worldview and the Christian worldview, on which each position is founded.
The Christian believes that life has been given meaning through being created and guided by God, and that history will eventually climax into victory for the forces of good. The liberal believes in social and technological progress as the sole vector of mankind, and that our lives are positive and meaningful as agents of progress (or in Richard Dawkins’ natalist worldview, as fans of science). This logically leads both these positions to be pro-childbirth and pro-life-system.
However, I’d rather not use a “kitchen sink” definition and point out one specific optimistic belief that they both share: the belief that the world is good enough to start new human lives.
I have already refuted such a line of reasoning insofar as Christians are concerned, in my entry Antinatalism as a challenge against Christianity. If there is any chance at all of any given child ending up in Hell (for whatever reason), then having a child is a crime of the highest order. Mathematically, the expected loss for any given child is infinite, since infinite suffering multiplied by any actual percentage, no matter how small, always remains infinite.
As for the secular viewpoint, one has to say that it is easy for a white Westerner to consider the world good enough: ey doesn’t really have to live in it, at least the parts of the world upon which the economy ey depends on preys in order to sustain itself. The results of neo-liberalism and the demands of Western natalist economies on the rest of the world are obvious if one goes to any Second or Third World country. So for any liberal white Westerner to pipe up and claim that the world is good enough doesn’t really prove anything except the self-congratulatory nature of privilege.
It will do no good to say, as one Objectivist did, that “life in general is not a concentration camp.” Of course life is not a concentration camp. So what? Children dying of AIDS is better than children living in a concentration camp, but it still isn’t worth it. The point is that no one has the right to draw any such line for anyone else, no one has the right to impose “acceptable” vicissitudes on a person who might disagree with their level of “acceptability.” To argue otherwise is to reject the concept of consent entirely, and ultimately ethics (if I am correct in arguing that consent is a necessary consequence of any ethical reasoning).
It is counter to survival to be an optimist because optimism distorts people’s perspective on the risks they take. The rational position is what Barbara Ehrenreich, in Bright-Sided, refers to as “defensive pessimism”:
In our daily lives, too, all of us, no matter how determinedly upbeat, rely on what psychologist Julie Norem calls “defensive pessimism” to get through the day. Not only pilots need to envision the worst; so does the driver of a car. Should you assume, positively, that no one is going to cut in front of you or, more negatively, be prepared to break? Most of us would choose a physician who is willing to investigate the most dire possibilities rather than one who is known to settle quickly on an optimistic diagnosis.
This quote is echoed in the fact that natalists evaluate the risks of childbirth optimistically, i.e. by using best-case scenarios. They are like the daredevils who assume that no one will ever cut in front of them or otherwise interfere with their driving. Most of the time, such a strategy will bring the driver into a more peaceful frame of mine; sometimes it will lead the driver to a fatal accident because ey didn’t take the care of maintaining situational awareness.
6. Both use extreme narratives in their rhetoric on abortion.
The standard anti-abortion narrative is that of “abortion on demand” and “partial-birth abortions,” things which are relatively rare. Likewise, they fantasize about doctors cutting babies’ heads off and throwing them in the garbage, things of that nature, much like the past prejudices against Jews (the connection between the anti-abortion rhetoric and attitude against abortion doctors, and the rhetoric and attitude of Christians against Jews in past centuries, is hard to miss).
Likewise, the standard pro-choice narrative is based on pregnancies due to rape, again a relatively rare occurrence (approximately 1% of all abortions are due to rape). I am not saying that we should take such pregnancies into consideration; obviously we should, but this is not a representative narrative for us to think about abortion as an issue.
Both positions use the more extreme examples to typify abortion. These narratives then inform people’s political beliefs, and reinforce the ideological gulf between anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates: in essence, they serve the same role than redefinition of language serves in cults. “Abortion,” while not formally redefined, is redefined in people’s imaginary.
What would be a representative narrative? For one thing, the fact that half of pregnancies are unwanted or ambiguous, but that women are too indoctrinated against abortion to even consider having an abortion. This massive fear and repulsion associated with abortion dwarfs the other two narratives by at least two orders of magnitude. So the shift that is necessary here is to go from “this is why women have abortions” to “this is why women do not have abortions.”
After all, there are three times more children born than there are abortions in a year. This means that there are, roughly, three times more women who refuse to abort (for whatever reason) than women who abort. Instead of assuming that the former is “normal” and that it is the latter that demands explanation, I think we could equally demand an explanation on why women decide to have children instead of aborting, especially given the fact that half of pregnancies are unwanted or ambiguous.
1 I didn’t want to clutter the entry with this consideration, but I anticipate some people saying “you want people to discuss their similarities, but when they actually do it, you say they’re compromisers, so what DO you want?” My point is that individuals should argue by starting with what they agree on, not about groups coming together so they can compromise into some form of mindless action.