Sunday, April 09, 2006

Theocracy in Action

Via, as usual, Majiksthe, an article on "pro-life" El Salvador, where abortion is completely criminalized:

At least El Salvador is morally consistent about the value of embryonic life. Sanctions are not limited to doctors. Women are severely punished for ending their pregnancies. If they aren't caught in the act, the state gets them after the fact when they seek medical help for life-threatening complications of botched abortions. The forensic vagina squad gets called in when a woman seeks treatment for "suspicious" signs and symptoms like a perforated uterus, uncontrollable bleeding, sepsis, and organ failure. Hitt describes abortion suspects shackled to their hospital beds and doctors subpoenaed to testify against their own patients. He even interviews a 26-year-old mother of 3 who is serving the fourth year of a 30-year prison term for her abortion.

Along with this little nub from Atrios, it reinforces my belief in the essential duality of American society (as far as I know I've never written about how I specifically feel about abortion, which as it should be) -- you either believe you effect "moral" change through education, or through inviting the government to be policemen in our bedrooms. And those who believe the latter have not really thought it out. Because that's not the American Way.

That's it, folks. El Salvador-rules is either the country you want, or not the country you want. There will be a great gnashing of teeth that "it's not that simple", but sadly it is.

Also, the day that forced-birth folk (happy, Amanda?) stop opposing birth control access and stop flogging abstinence-only education, I will start taking your discussion seriously.

And it doesn't help that people keep describing Plan B as an abortifacient. If you call it that, you are lying. Stop that.


nolo said...

Randomly pick any city council in in America, and you're likely to find it has at least one member who thinks it's OK to pass laws that will never (or least not usually) be enforced, just to send a message. These people may or may not be theocrats. They are, however, people have no grasp of the concept of "rule of law." They're usually the same people who believe that laws should not apply to them or their families, because laws are things you use to punish bad people. They're the people who can complain that the police aren't doing enough to stop teenage crime, while at the same time complaining about the time the cops showed up to investigate a complaint about their own kid.

Anonymous said...

Nothing like hysteria to shore up an argument.

Just once, it would be nice to see a discussion about abortion that doesn't demonize the other side.

And if I ever decide to murder someone, I'll be sure to do it in my bedroom, since it's apparently purely my business what happens there.

Craig Perko said...

Anon: Just once, it would be nice to have another side that doesn't deserve demonization. :P

Rogers said...

Hysteria? really? So, you're denying that the situation in El Salvador isn't real? That's not the state of the nation?

So how would the laws be different here? By not criminalizing women? But that basically says women aren't responsible for their actions. And they are, right? It's not like abortion providers are breaking into your house and terminating pregnancies against women's wills. So by not prosecuting women under anti-abortion laws you are, in effect, relegating women to the status of insane, or minors.

Explain how anti-abortion laws would be written differently or executed differently (and the South Dakota statute recelty passed is IDENTICAL to the Salvadoran option) and we can move on in discussion.

The "murder in the bedroom" argument is completely specious, and you know it. I have my issues with abortion, but the idea that we can define life as beginning at fertilization has pretty much zero medical sense and amost entirely subjectively religious definition. Making the moral equivalence argument of blastocyst=human being, with the attendant social responsibilites, makes as little sense to me as the rat=dog=baby boy argument I had PETA throw at me a few years ago.

And again -- pro-lifers who believe in easy access to birth control, detailed sex education, and don't demonize contraceptives like Plan B, that is a great argument. Because anything short of it is, indeed, about legislating your religious beliefs over other people's, not helping people deal with accidental pregnancies.

Shan said...

I have a 'ridiculous' question, John: Can the legalities of abortions be assessed on a case-by-case basis? Could it be done?

Rogers said...

First, I should correct myself -- the South Dakota law is identical to Salvadoran law in the situations to which applies, not in the penalties. In El Salvador, the women are also prosecuted, which at least avoids the weird moral contradiction in the South Dakota law.

Shan -- I don't know, and that's one of the reasons a situation like an abortion is a matter, to me, of personal responsibility and should be (at most) a limited legal matter. Do we allow abortion in the case of rape, but not ectopic pregnancy? Do we prosecute a woman who's got a dead -- not brain dead, but actually dead, and again, it happens -- fetus inside her and just can't wait the two months for the faux delivery? And yeah, these are extreme cases, but they WILL be the ones that hit the courtroom.

No abortion for you if you're married and just screwed up -- but what about if you live somewhere where it's difficult to get birth control (and scream all you want, there are places in this country where it's getting tricky), or the financial result of having another child carries awful weight in a state where low-income child care has been slashed? Or what if you've got five kids, you're being responsible, using birth control, and it fails?

Is it more responsible to dump a kid into an often broken and abusive foster care system than terminate an unthinking, (literally) unfeeling cell cluster smaller than the question mark at the end of this sentence?

When people are adopting "snowflake babies" and leaving real children to rot in the system, I can't help but choke on the hypocrisy.

But again, my discussion isn't about abortion and where I sit on that particular fence. It's about what happens when you lose the line between what is best handled by the government, and what is best handled by a family.

At the same time, I scream when a kid is denied medical care because of the religious beliefs of the parents. So I'll never deny this isn't a tough, nasty question with no good answers. But it's worth pointing out that some answers lead us to very, very bad places.

I personally support only legal abortions in the first trimester except when the life of the mother is at risk -- but at the same time, a chunk of late term abortions occur because the mother had a hard time finding a clinic in her area. Yikes.

But these contradictions to me are a warning sign that this is one of those situations in which to trust people's own good sense, not try to solve the situation with the crowbar of the law. And let's face it -- the law, at its most granular setting, is a crowbar, not a scalpel.

Blanket all-cases-no-exceptions laws make us feel good, but in the end "simple" answers to complex questions are almost always miserable ideas.

Shan said...

I see. On the note about the law taking the job of parents; Toronto has shot down the 10:30 curfew for minors proposition. Mayor David Miller said the police shouldn't be doing the job of parents.

The thing is there is no large public opinion on this matter. It's not just fundamentalist Christians who are anti-abortion (pro-life, prolific, whatever we call it). I think most people don't give it much thought. But when a pregnant mother considers abortion, I think she does give it a great deal of thought. So isn't her own moral conscience enough? I think it is. If there is some powerful maternal God-given instinct (and there is), then I think they should be allowed to make the decision themselves.

As for who gets the axe for using the hook, I think punishing everyone responsible for terminating the pregnancy isn't any more morally sound than just punishing the doctor--why? The mother killed and the doctor killed, but call it an antepartum psychosis of the mother. In order for her to kill her own child, due to her maternal attachment, she has to be either considered insane or not labeled a murderer.(It's late, I know there's a great deal of work to be done in my reasoning.)

MrVisible said...

It deserves to be pointed out in any abortion discussion that the choice isn't between legal abortions and no abortions at all.

It's between legal abortions and illegal abortions. Back alleys. Knitting needles. Coat hangers.

There is no society in the world, no matter how restrictive their laws, that has managed to eliminate abortions. Even women in El Salvador can still get them. They just risk their lives when they do.

Phyl said...

You know, of course, that in when the back-alley cases happen, the self-righteous smugly say, "Well, that's the danger they deserve, so who cares?" The worry about the dangers in back-alley abortions only matters to people who really do care about the life of the mother, and not the strict legalities.

Pseudosilence said...

I do believe there is a moral argument to be made against abortion, although I am strongly pro-choice. But one of the things that gets me about many pro-lifers is that so few of them seemed to have truly grappled with the moral repercussions of making it illegal. If you make abortion illegal, women will die from illegal abortions. It is that simple, but few pro-lifers will admit it.

Laws have consequences in messy, unpredictable, far from perfect real-life. Which is why it's so important to really think about the results.


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