The Abortion Debate

02/15/2011

So, the abortion debate is hot at the moment, given the recent Republican House deciding that creating new assaults on the right to choose was the first and most critical legislative priority, but let’s start frankly and honestly with something that has sadly been left out of all discussions of abortion. That is to say:

There is no abortion debate.

Oh sure, there is a lot of debate, discussion, surrounding abortion access and so on, but the thing that gets lost in the cultural and media discussions of the issue is a fundamental one. That is:

Abortion is a medical, surgical procedure*.

It’s similar to most other organ surgeries in its response to a medical necessity or request on behalf of a patient who is fully briefed on their medical rights and options, said patient being the woman involved.

But most importantly, this means that the only relevant debate surrounding this medical procedure is a medical and biology debate. That is, what the science says about the procedure, the personhood of fetuses and blastocysts as compared to birthed children, the rights of the patient, and so on.

And frankly, this debate is non-existent. The medical community and the field of biology has had a strong consensus on the necessity of the procedure in dealing with unwanted or awry pregnancies and on the personhood of the fetus (hint: there’s a reason that the word child is not used medically until the act of birth).

Not only is there no current medical controversy on this topic. There hasn’t been medical controversy on this topic in a Very, Very long time. Going back millennia, medical science has considered birth to be the transition point from pregnancy to full child with equivalent rights. And unlike many other issues, the acquisition of new biological knowledge of the process of pregnancy has only confirmed that initial assessment.

Medically, there is no question as to the necessity and ethical practice of the surgical procedure of aborting pregnancies.

And since, as I noted earlier, abortion is a surgical procedure, the opinion of the medical field is the only one that really matters with regards to reality and the performance of the procedure.

If there is a problem with it, the objection should arise from the medical field. New biological evidence that disregards what we know about development and the humanity of the patients involved and makes strong medical arguments for the cessation of the procedure. For the most part, the party in opposition has barely even tried to argue along such lines.

As such, the “debate” as it is, is essentially meaningless as the field has been settled as far as any opinions of merit are concerned.

And this is important, because medicine as a field is one largely unconcerned with the personal beliefs of the general population.

There is a minority of people who believe that medical intervention is an affront to God, known as Christian Scientists. Despite their beliefs, medical science continues to provide care to those who request or consent to it and will even provide emergency care to these individuals if they are involved in an incident requiring such care to save their lives.

And in case you think a majority of people is somehow more important in this matter, I also present the issue of creationists. Creationists believe that evolution is a lie. Many believe that all evolution or belief in it can produce is misery, separation from God, death, destruction, and so on.

Whether they believe in it or not, however, evolutionary techniques are used dozens of times in the creation of pretty much every life-saving medicine **. The medical field, not only continues to use such products and interact with knowledge based on understanding diseases and infections as the products of evolution that they are, but will use such medicines and knowledge on a creationist to save their life.

This is how medicine works and it cares very little to the personal beliefs of those in other walks of life. Outside of gaining consent and patient interaction, what matters in patient care is what the medical science shows. What works best for the patients and providing the care required and requested along lines of medical ethics and so on.

So as I state, there is no meaningful “abortion debate”.

Nonetheless, there is a strong, unfortunate, and sadly, medically unethical assault and debate surrounding the abortion procedure.

There is lots of debate that uses the abortion surgical procedure as a backdrop and a position of assault and there has been a lot of action attempting to limit access and availability of this surgical procedure by means both semi-legal and sadly, terroristically illegal (but nonetheless successful).

And to any who have paid even remote attention to this issue, it’s quite apparent that this issue really has very little to do with this surgical procedure, but rather a set of separate cultural debates regarding women and this nation. (And for those tempted to balk on this point, I urge you to follow this link, though it may be broken at the minute, or just pay attention to the actions of anti-choicers rather than their rhetoric***)

Those debates are mostly two fold. 1) The personhood of women**** and 2) Sex and sexuality, especially with regards to women and whether we accept and value it or seek to deny and repress it.

This second debate is certainly the crux of much of what is considered the “abortion debate”. How we treat sex. Whether we value consent or whether sex is inherently wrong so entering into it with clear head is even worse. Whether we teach sex and sexuality to our youth so they will be prepared and fully cognizant of their options and choices and whether they can understand their sexual choices and operate with full informed consent. Whether women are acknowledged to have a sexuality rather than simply being gatekeepers deciding whether or not male sexuality is denied or inadequately prevented.

And most critically, whether or not people, but most especially women, should be “punished” for engaging in sexual congress by the removal of personhood and being forced to carry their “mistake” to term to showcase their shame and serve as cultural warnings for those who go against cultural taboos of sex and sexuality or seek to understand it on any level.

Whether we encourage ourselves to understand our bodies, our sexualities, whether we even have sexualities, and so on.

This debate is the real one surrounding the “abortion debate” and is a hotly contested issue. And many religions have decided that this issue is one that they are willing to bet their future relevance now (it’s no surprise that pretty much every argument against the legality of the surgical procedure is either religious or metaphysical).

And frankly, it is a strong cultural battle. A lot of patriarchal and conservative religions have based a lot of their teachings on control over the human impetus towards sex (for 99% of us, asexuals represent). Furthermore, there is a lot of human rights for women that is based on sexual and bodily autonomy and consent and other issues that require cultural education and awareness of sexuality.

Not to mention the fact that a lot of religions base themselves in denying women’s sexual agency, desires, and often personhood in selecting and connecting with partners, hoping to engineer situations where choices are limited so that “escape” from churches or cultures where women are treated much like under-respected house-slaves is much more difficult.

And of course, much as my sidenote pointed out, the fact that respecting bodily autonomy is a crucial underpinning of consent and a full cultural victory there would help greatly our culture in respecting consent and valuing it as crucial in sexual and human interactions, which is bad for those who have a lot invested in sexist cultural practices and institutions.

Honestly, it’s a battle, that I feel good being on the side of women, of acknowledging the reality of sexuality, and of standing with the medical and biological scientific communities on.

The abortion debate never was. It has always been a convenient rhetorical strategy for an argument one side has been ashamed to vocalize honestly. And perhaps that most of all points to the fact that that debate, despite the many setbacks, the terrorism, and the nasty cultural debris, might be one we’re winning after all.

…Still might be worth it to contact your congresscritter and remind them to vote fuck you on the latest assaults. But take heart, this debate is one we can win, are winning, if we just continue to stand firm and be as honest as we can be.

*And furthermore, is one of the more performed surgical procedures in America. Roughly one-third of women have had or will have an abortion in their lifetime. Which makes perfect sense, honestly. Not only is there a lot of cultural pressure increasing the risk of unprotected intercourse between people not ready to raise a child, but pregnancies are not exactly guaranteed. Many pregnancies end in miscarriage and while medical science has reduced the number of pregnancies that have ended in female mortality, the solution has been the surgical procedure of abortion and increases in pre-natal care and monitoring. As such, things still go wrong in pregnancies requiring emergency procedures for the health of the patient. Which makes this “debate” all the worse, considering there are a shit-ton of real lives being cynically threatened over a debate that shouldn’t even be happening.

** Seriously, drug development, and most modern biology experiments in general require dozens of steps which simply would be impossible to complete if evolution was false. Inducing mutations, targeting binding proteins or antibodies, responding to bacterial and viral mutations to current drugs, and so on. The list is simply too long to name, but rest assured, if you’re taking most any medicine, knowledge of evolution and evolutionary techniques were critical in the development and testing of said medicine. It also makes that particular insanity all the more stupid.

*** Rhetorically, there are many reasons why the arguments are seductive to many. Three leading examples are as follows: 1) Potential. We are impatient creatures who like to invest emotionally in potentialities. Often times, we invest more in potentials because potentials can be anything and often lack any of the imperfections and disappointments of realities. This isn’t an inherently bad thing. Building excitement for say, a wanted pregnancy, by treating it as a lay-person as a baby helps one prepare for the act of parenting and the responsibilities it involves and is a very human response. Sadly, it also becomes a strong rhetorical hook for those who benefit when potential is equated with born feeling, thinking children which brings me to 2) Anthropomorphism. It’s a human tendency to attribute human emotions and motivations to non-human objects or beings. Most people are used to this with regards to animals, where we attribute human reasoning and motivation to the actions of pets of animals at the zoo or imagine them as talking creatures in our cartoons. But it’s done with the weather, the chances that dominate our life, and of course, potential. As such, there is a strong human drive to treat a developing pregnancy as a completed human child or even a full adult and attribute pain, complex thought, and “silent screams” to something incapable of doing any of that. Again, it’s a human response, and absent the attempt to erase the humanity of the only actual human involved in the process, it’s a perfectly reasonable and human response. But again, it provides a rhetorical hook to sell the idea that “babies are being murdered and can feel everything and no one is saving them” to the emotional centers of people. The final, but not least is 3) Cultural belief in the importance of men. That is to say, that our culture has strong beliefs in the universal importance of men in all regards, always at least equal to women and often superior. This applies to all things and as such, pregnancy is no exception. It is hard, culturally, to process and accept that the process of pregnancy involves surprisingly little involvement of the male. Outside the beginning donation of DNA, the rest is all done by the female’s body. The donation of egg, mitochondria and other cellular apparatus, half of the DNA, implantation, protection from the body, pH balance, growth, division, steering the fetal development with hormone changes and floods, providing the nutrients for growth, sacrificing calcium from the bones, and essential vitamins from the body to create the being piece by piece, evolutionary step by step and so on. In our culture, this is a hard truth to process for many. As such, it becomes “easier” to imagine that all the “real work” ends at fertilization and thus the “child” is created at this step rather than birth. It becomes “easier” to imagine that the woman doesn’t really factor in for the majority of the pregnancy, mostly just a meaningless host to an automatic process that is unrelated to anything. That the fetus is growing in a white ball of light, distant from any flesh and blood creature or any active involvement from the woman’s body. Because otherwise, the creation of new human life, one of the more “important” actions of humanity, as they say, would involve disproportionately the woman over the man and that doesn’t fit the cultural narratives we’re used to. One may scoff at the power of this particular narrative hook, but it’s more powerful than most realize. The idea that a child is made at fertilization is a powerful one, even so many years removed from the homunculus and is central to many of the metaphysical arguments of anti-choicers. The disappearance of the woman during pregnancy is central to every anti-choice rhetorical argument as none of it can operate in a world where the pregnant woman is fully human and afforded all the rights thereof. Most critically that all anti-choice arguments require as their basepoint an assumption that a fetus should be granted rights no other human has (the right to another’s body without their consent, the right to the donation of blood, tissue, organs, and nutrients without consent, and so on) and that a woman loses rights we deny to nearly no one, such as the right to bodily autonomy, the right to medical intervention, the right to not be enslaved to another, and so on. No matter how “cute” the one or “slutty” or “undeserving” the other, these rights are violated nowhere else to this degree. Not even to save Baby Jesus, not even if the person is Hitler, this does not occur between two living born real human beings. Even if all that is needed is a little blood to save another’s life. Without consent, it doesn’t happen. Period.

**** As much as we like to think this issue settled, it’s hasn’t been. Feminism, the radical belief that women are human, is still often publicly decried and socially shunned. Consent is hardly universally valued and there are many current cultures where women are under-appreciated and trained with low-self-esteem to take positions where they are essentially house slaves expected to raise the kids and consent to the husband’s sexual demands regardless of their own. And it’s not all in foreign nations, but right here in the US, by people that are considered normal and respectable culturally speaking. This war over the humanity of women is most obvious in the simple fact that there is an abortion debate at all. As I note above, to have such debate supposes a position not only where medical reality ceases to apply to medical matters but one where women are stripped of rights no one else is stripped of when pregnant and fetuses and blastocysts gain rights no actual person has, a sort of super-person. The fact that this is at all a source of consternation and the fact that the rhetorical question of abortion is at all viable, shows that the humanity of women is a very murky thing for most, hard to accept in all things and that it is culturally “normal” to view bodily autonomy and consent as somehow “negotiable” when said person is female. On a side note, this reality is also why this is so important a fight. A culture where it is “normal” and “we need to respect their beliefs” with regards to the erasing of the humanity of half the people on this planet and bodily autonomy and consent in general is one of the major underpinnings of the rape culture and all the sorrow and pain that brings. When respecting the bodily autonomy and humanity of women is as easy as it seems to be for mere potential or male citizens, then we can finally be seeing the beginning of the end of this fight. At the moment, however, the fight has merely begun and the concept of female humanity is a hard one even for allies. Sadly.

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