naath: (Default)
[personal profile] naath
Pizza distracted me from posting yesterday.

This post is about abortion and probably isn't very well argued. I have these thoughts in my head because of this very distressing news story from Ireland. This post might be distressing.

Personally I don't think abortion is wrong at all, because I don't believe a foetus is a human until it is born alive. I respect that other people have other beliefs about the value of the life of an unborn foetus all the way through to "the life of the foetus is the most important thing, and the mother's life and health must if necessary be sacrificed to protect it". I do not respect at all a belief that abortion is so absolutely awful that you shouldn't do one even when there is no possibility of the pregnancy resulting in a living baby - if a pregnancy is in the process of failing the foetus can not be expected to survive; if the mother is going to die at 17 weeks pregnant that foetus is going to die with her. Savita died, and she didn't even die to save her baby, her death was unnecessary and unjustified.

The ECHR has previous criticised Ireland's abortion law - not on the grounds that abortion is a human right, the ECHR doesn't think it is - but on the grounds that it is a human right to be able to know whether you are legally eligible to have an abortion or not without having one and being taken to court and found innocent because Irish law is not only incredibly restrictive it is also extremely unclear. Apparently they have not fixed this.,_B_and_C_v_Ireland <-- the case in question.

However even though I think abortion is in no way a Wrong Thing and that every person who wants an abortion should be able to get one; I do think that the world would be better if fewer people were having abortions. Not because abortion is bad but because being in the situation of needing an abortion is pretty sucky. I've not done a study but I reckon the number of people who think "hey, I'll get pregnant and then have an abortion that'd be cool" is pretty tiny. WebMD claims to know why people have abortions:

There are basically four reasons:
*I don't want to have a baby at all
*I was raped and don't want my rapists baby
*I don't think I can support this baby
*Something is wrong with this pregnancy

Now, being pregnant when you don't want to is one of those things that sucks. Having something go wrong when you desperately do want to have a baby must surely suck a very great deal.

So I think there are basically four avenues of "things to do" that would help ensure people don't want to have abortions, which would in turn cause there to be fewer abortions. And I would have thought that people like me who think "I never want to be in the situation of needing an abortion" and people who think "abortions kill innocent babies" could get together behind such measures; even though we disagree about whether having an abortion is bad or not.

These four things go with those four reasons:

Universal access to safe, effective, appropriate contraception. Access includes many factors such as
*existence - there are no useful medium term contraceptives for people with testes, the available medium-long term contraceptives for people with ovaries are not appropriate for all such people, all have potentially fatal side effects (mercifully rare). All existing contraceptives have non-zero failure rates (yes, including abstinance you at the back mumbling about it; sometimes people screw up, also more awfully sometimes people are raped)
*legality - methods need to be approved as safe and useful by various medicine-controlling bodies; methods also need to not be banned because of a moral panic.
*affordable - the method itself needs to be affordable to everyone (which means free or charged on a sliding scale)
*doctors - many methods can only be used under medical supervision; for the good reason that they can have awful side effects (or indeed because they need to be inserted by a suitably skilled person) that need monitoring. This means that "seeing a doctor who can prescribe a variety of methods" needs to be possible; which means it needs to be affordable and physically possible (doctors with the right training need to be within reasonable traveling distance of every person)

Having good contraception helps people to not get pregnant when they don't want to be pregnant; whether that's "ever" or just "now".

Stop rape
I think it's pretty obvious that the best way to stop people getting pregnant as a result of rape is to stop rape from happening. I don't want to separate out "incest" although a lot of people do - if the incest was not rape then I don't see why not wanting to have your brother's baby is any different from not wanting to have anyone else's baby.

Better social support
Some people get abortions because they don't feel they can support a child, even though they would otherwise be happy to have a child. I am sad for these people because I think that if they would be happier having a baby then they should be able to have a baby. Society needs to provide every pregnant person with good peri-natal health care and then support the new parent(s) and baby to live a reasonable life. That means things like giving people benefits that they can actually live on and support their child on if they don't have work or if their work doesn't pay enough; things like ensuring that good quality child care is affordable and available for all parents who would prefer to work (without the expectation that all parents should work, because parenting is an important thing to do). That also means things like not shunning people who have children young, or who are single parents, or other socially "unacceptable" things.

David Cameron seems to think that people on benefits should limit how many children they have. Apparent Cameron wants people to get abortions. Maybe I should write to Nadine Dorries and ask whether she thinks it's more important to save the babies or save money... maybe I couldn't write that without being obnoxious though.

Really the only way to stop things going wrong with pregnancies is to better understand pregnancy, which means more science (to the lab Caruthers!). Also in this category I think is more social and medical support for parents who have disabled children, so that people pregnant with disabled foetuses aren't pushed so much towards abortion.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 05:36 pm (UTC)
liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
From: [personal profile] liv
I do come into the category of people who believe that abortion is somewhat wrong (though I don't think it should be avoided at all possible costs and I don't particularly think it should be illegal) and I very much do agree with your four suggestions. Properly available contraception and research into better contraception, definitely good. Less rape, definitely good. Research into pre-natal diseases and pregnancy complications, definitely good. I agree with you that practical support for parents, and removing social disapproval of non-standard parents, would also help to reduce abortions as well as being generally a good thing.

Regarding abortion of potentially disabled foetuses, I broadly agree with you but I think I would want to go further than that in terms of generally valuing disabled people properly. Not just support for parents to care for their disabled offspring, though that is important, but also things like applying universal accessibility principles, changing attitudes as well as social reality so that having a less than physically perfect body isn't (in this context quite literally) a fate worse than death. Even in utopia there would still need to be some abortions, including Savita's situation where the foetus was clearly non-viable, or where their expected condition would lead to unbearable suffering even in a disabled-friendly society. But it would be an awful lot less common than it currently is.
Edited (commas) Date: 2012-11-27 05:37 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 09:35 pm (UTC)
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
From: [personal profile] liv
Yeah, zero abortions isn't either desirable or likely, I agree. I think there's a big problem with pro-life people not wanting to acknowledge that their position ever has bad consequences. Like those awful Americans who believe in the teeth of all possible evidence that you can't get pregnant from rape, and yeah, the Irish ones who loudly insist that abortion never saves the mother's life. Boo to them; there just isn't any morally easy answer to this issue.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 06:04 pm (UTC)
lnr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnr
I agree those are all great things to do, and that it's fantastic that there *are* areas where both pro-choice and pro-life people can (theoretically) agree on good ways forward. But I also very strongly feel that:

Northern Irish women should have the same rights to abortion as the rest of the UK.

That under no circumstances should the 24-week limit be reduced.

It would be a good idea if abortion on-demand should actually be available for very early non-surgical abortions, and possibly for early surgical abortions. The legal requirement for two doctors to agree that continuing with the pregnancy would be more dangerous than the abortion is merely a technicality in these cases and can cause distressing delays which actually risk people's health.

I know that these are areas where those who feel abortion is wrong are not going to agree with me on these though. FWIW the more pregnant I am the more strongly I feel these things - and that's despite me having been very well while pregnant. I realise how incredibly lucky I am that I have a wanted baby who is well and who is not making me ill.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 05:22 pm (UTC)
fanf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fanf
All good stuff. Lots of ways to reduce abortion, with citations, at

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 06:07 pm (UTC)
chess: (something)
From: [personal profile] chess
Having been having this argument with the other side, their standard rebuttals are:

1) contraception is actually abortion (which appears to be wrong, but I have struggled quite hard to find unbiased-phrasing science which proves this / the points in the Patheos article - if you can find actual science I can link people who believe this to, that would be great)

2) you only need contraception if you want to have sex whilst not wanting to have a baby, and having sex outside a marriage is bad, and not wanting babies inside a marriage is bad, so even a tiny chance of contraception actually being abortion is too much to risk

3) if you didn't want to be saddled with a baby you shouldn't have had sex (possibly followed by 'the root of all problems in our society is that people want drugs and sex, and should just have some self-control instead')

4) If the government didn't keep taxing people then they would have more money to invest in science

All of that is pretty grim reading, but that's what real people who you're up against here actually think.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've talked to people who find abortion morally questionable but who aren't part of the obnoxious "pro-life" right-wing crowd; so I'm not sure those are *all* the people who disagree with me.

But yes, they are a problem.

Contraception being abortion depends on a)the method and b)what you believe counts as abortion. I think one would struggle *very hard* to make a case for condoms or tubal ligation as abortion; the claim that hormonal methods for people with ovaries can cause failure-to-implant if they fail to cause lack-of-ovulation is dubious, also the claim that failure-to-implant is abortion is, um, non-standard?. There is the argument that promoting the "I can choose if I have a baby" meme promotes abortion but historically the lack of reliable birth control has not prevented infanticide or people attempting to abort pregnancies with dubiously safe methods.

The idea that we should all have sex only as many times as it takes to have the number of babies we want to have is A Bit Weird to me really. Also what about rape? yes, of course rape is bad - but *having been raped* is not a sin (it's bad, but a different sort of bad). (surely it's not a sin?). Having 20 babies seems to make some people happy, but if we all did it there would be Too Many People...

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 09:21 pm (UTC)
chess: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chess
The argument isn't that having been raped is a sin, the argument is that it's an unfortunate eventuality which shouldn't be blamed on or taken out on the baby - i.e. the baby shouldn't be killed for it.

The irony of these people arguing that a rape victim should endure a parasite in her body for nine months to save its life, but the same people finding taxation to save the lives of the poor an intolerable burden, appears to be entirely lost on them, alas.
Edited Date: 2012-11-27 09:22 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 11:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh and of course once it's born it can just go starve on the streets I guess. Feeding poor children is such a horrid socialist notion.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 11:59 pm (UTC)
chess: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chess
But if the government didn't get in the way, then people would do that within their own communities, is the next round of the argument. (Or, if they're particularly exciting, they say that their church should do that, in complete innocence of the fact that not everyone wants to or can be part of a church...)

Then they point out the high quantity of charitable giving in the US as 'evidence' that low govt help means the community steps up. (Which it does to an extent, but not enough to cover the whole gap, and 'the community' discriminates on some pretty terrible criteria - but I don't actually have any data for that (I'd like some, again) and my interlocutors seem to think that it doesn't...)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-29 04:39 pm (UTC)
ext_20852: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I get the impression sometimes that, maybe not quite consciously, there are some people who don't regard a whole bunch of other people as actually just as human as they are. The baby is sacred, the resulting person - a no-good bum.

The tendency towards such a viewpoint is probably evolved in to the hardwiring somewhere, but we are thinking beings who can choose to question any such reflex tendencies that may arise.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 06:39 pm (UTC)
ext_8103: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I'd add "information" to the list of contraception access factors - people who don't know about an option are unlikely to seek it out even if it's legal, affordable, etc.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ah yes, very important point. Education, both in school and afterwards.

When I was 16 I went to my GP and said "I want the pill" he tested my blood pressure and handed me a prescription... I think maybe a bit more information about side effects and other options might have been a good idea no?

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-28 02:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's true. When I was 18 I wanted the implant, but I only knew this because someone at my school had had one and it seemed better than the pill. And then that doctor didn't supply them so I had to choose pill or Depo instead. Rah. People definitely need to have unbiased, comprehensive information about the pros and cons (and especially failure rates) of different methods so their choice is genuinely unbiased.

Also, that Indian non-hormonal weekly pill needs more research and approval in other countries so it's an additional option for people!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-28 09:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I can get the implant done at my GPs these days, but not every GP does it so I guess sometimes you have to either travel to a clinic or have something else (in Cambridge by "travel" I mean "cycle to Addies" but if you live more rurally the journey could be very long!)

The Indians seemed to have some sort of reversible thing for men too which looked interesting. India! clearly a hotbed of contraceptive research; v important to do research.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 10:01 pm (UTC)
gerald_duck: (by Redderz)
From: [personal profile] gerald_duck
If there's a line to be drawn, I'm pretty firmly on the "pro-choice" side of it. On the other hand, I would take issue in a couple of respects.

Firstly, to me the important ethical criteria are sentience and sapience. I don't think there are firm dichotomies to be had, but as things become progressively more sentient I become less and less comfortable with the idea of causing them pain; as they then become more sapient I become less comfortable with the idea of killing them, even if they metaphorically never know what hit them. My vegetarianism and leaning towards the legal recognition of non-human persons stem from these tendencies.

Suppose there is a classic cliff-hanger: a car is balanced on the edge of a cliff with person B on board. Person A is dangling from the front bumper. If A lets go, they plummet to certain death; if A holds on, the car will topple killing both A and B. While there's a strong ethical argument A that should let go, if C is standing nearby with a gun, is it right for them to shoot A? Legally, the answer is a clear "no", and ethically it's pretty troublesome.

So what separates that from aborting a fœtus on the principle that otherwise both the pregnant person and the child they're bearing will die?

My own answer is partly that, OK, maybe C should shoot A after all and partly that the difference is that the fœtus has no sense of self. Or, at least, that's a potential difference: clearly it's a difference at the moment of conception but not normally at the moment of birth. Somewhere in between, the one shades into the other; my level of discomfort with the situation grows gradually rather than flipping suddenly.

It's worth noting, by contrast, that many societies have condoned neonaticide; even birth isn't necessarily a clear-cut dividing line, and I'm a little wary of condemning "primitive tribespeople" out of hand from a Judeo-Christian perspective. If you do take that as the line, how do you view deliberately preventing a baby being born, or failing to enable a birth (for example by withholding a c├Žsarean?)

Apropos the issue of social support, suppose everyone in the country wanted to have as many babies as they could. Is it your view that society should support them in this, at whatever cost? My own answer is an emphatic no, and we couldn't even if we wanted to. So the only options are either relying on few enough people wanting lots of children or dissuading people. Sure, better contraception and less rape would help, but would they help enough? And what do we do in the meantime?

I think we have to support some people in having children and dissuade some people from having children. Anything else is impractically idealistic. The argument is which people to encourage or discourage — and that is, of course, a huge can of worms. A second, equally large, can of worms is whether we'd prefer to support more immigration or a higher birth rate, because those conflict, as well.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-27 11:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm not sure I could force myself to shoot A; but I think saving B is better than saving neither.

I'm aware that some people would say that an infant isn't really human; but I think that once it is born the argument that the pregnant person has the right to control their own body is no longer a valid reason to kill the infant, the option to have the infant adopted is now available. I think my views on failing to assist a person in labour to reach the best outcome possible given the circumstances are the same as my views on failing to provide healthcare in any other situation - vis; health care should be provided where possible (remembering that it isn't always possible to achieve the most best of all possible worlds, on the best with what you actually have).

I think it's reasonable to suggest that it would be nice if people had fewer children; perhaps even to provide extra ... stuff.. to people who refrain from having a great many children. I do not feel it is acceptable to refuse to provide basic things such as adequate housing, nutrition, and education to any child; for any reason.

On a previous post other people argued eloquently for bribing, or even co-ercing people with serious substance abuse issues into using long-term contraception on the grounds that such substance abuse harms unborn infants. I reluctantly concede that this consideration is powerful enough to warrant disregarding the wishes of the uterus owning person as to what they wish to do with their uterus. In other circumstances I would be very wary of bribery and outright against coercian (such as fines, or risk of homelessness).

I don't believe that, given a free choice in the matter, every person capable of bearing children will suddenly decide to birth a child every other year for as long as they can physically keep it up. There are a huge number of reasons why people don't have loads of children, some purely internal most social to some degree. I'm not totally anti social pressures that constrain family size; just the sort of hugely coercive policies like "throw pregnant 16 year olds out of school" or "if you have 5 children you can't get housing benefits, go live on the street" that really leave people with very little choice; factors like "I enjoy having shiny tech gadgets" and "I want to be able to pay to send all my children to Eton" are not really worrying. Also of course there are factors such as "I am interested in pursuing things other than having children".

In most places it seems that removing the direct social consequences of having too few children (such as ensuring that children are less likely to die young so you can have 2 and expect both will probably live to be adults; such as ensuring that care of the elderly does not fall entirely onto their children) family sizes shrink dramatically in only a few generations. Most people in the UK seem to prefer to have nice lifestyles than expend all their effort in raising 20 children.

UK fertility rate is already below replacement (google suggests 1.9 vs 2.1).

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-29 04:45 pm (UTC)
ext_20852: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
The UK population seems to be increasing rapidly, so that is presumably due to immigration, and is already too high to support itself without imported food and/or energy. That may not always be available, so I wouldn't wish to encourage people to have large numbers of children.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-29 04:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Immigration is a factor; also increased longevity.

I don't want to encourage people to have lots of kids; but I don't want to force them not to if they have a desire to do so. Being myself of the desire to have no children at all absent any social encouragement (or indeed support) for my position I don't think "letting people have 10 children if they like" is really going to lead to everyone having 10 children.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-30 08:17 am (UTC)
ext_20852: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Force, no, not unless the overpopulation problem becomes a clearer threat than at present. It is still possible that the world population will peak and then decline slightly before we reach the stage of an inevitable mass dieback of the human population, with war and famine to help along the way. Coercing other people seems to me wrong, but sometimes can still be the lesser evil - for example in having laws to protect people from one another's worse impulses.

However, neither do I accept that it is OK for people to decide to have many children, then oblige other people to pay for it their lifestyle choice.

No more am I a great supporter of people whose salaries are paid out of tax, for example people in councils, quangos, the BBC (I include the BBC though it is *technically* not tax) paying themselves many times more than the people who are being taxed to pay for their wealthy lifestyle. The amount the parasites in charge of the EU choose to pay themselves while their schemes have caused so much harm leaves me without temperate words to express my feelings.

Bitter? Me? Nah, never happen!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-28 09:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's worth considering R v Dudley and Stephens ( - a real world case - and The Case of the Speluncean Explorers ( - a fictional case written to illustrate the law - concerning stranded people killing and eating one of their number to stave off starvation. In the former there seems to have been swings in public opinion, but much of the time, public opinions seems to have been pretty sympathetic. Likewise in the latter case, most or all of the fictional judges are sympathetic - however, this doesn't necessarily alter their interpretation of the law.

That said, the case is more akin to B shooting A, than C shooting A.


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