Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Abolition of Abortion

I propose the abolition of widely-available abortion in the United States, and the creation of a frankly socialist conception-to-preschool safety net.

I do not propose absolute abolition. Such an abolition is not generally possible in a world where humans have individual volition. Bless us, we do.

The exceptions that ought to be made involve rape, pregnancies that are likely to kill or severely incapacitate the mother, or pregnancies involving girls of very young age (11 or younger).

Any other woman who becomes pregnant is expected to carry the child to term.

Society is imposing this expectation upon the individual moral choice of each woman. It is an arrogation of responsibility from the individual to the collective. Accordingly, society also accepts the burden of the responsibility for the moral choice. Women who do not choose to become mothers at the delivery of their child may turn him or her over to the custody of society: private adoption, public adoption, charitable entities, state entities, in that order of priority. Women who do choose to become mothers, and fathers who do choose to become fathers, return to their homes with their children. Women who do not choose to become mothers, and fathers who do not choose to become fathers, return to their homes alone.

Childbirth imposes substantial economic costs on individual women. The benefits society derives from having childbirth are not a legitimate libertarian "public good" - they can be individually paid for and individually deprived, for one thing, which is an automatic failure to be a public good. However, they are definitely a good which we wish, as a society, to produce in relative abundance. This is not the place for a ZPG-vs-Heinleinian population explosion argument, so I will not address the point further, save to note that even ZPG generates a lot of births; there is a certainly minimum stream of customers that can be relied on. (NPG proponents may see themselves out quietly; ah, there they go.)

However, the case can still be made that some larger entity than the individual woman and man involved in a childbirth ought to be responsible for these economic costs. With rare exceptions, society wants people to have kids. (I think that in the case of those exceptions, we have to be harsh but fair: society won't pay for it, but if you must, go ahead and do it on your own hook.) Tax what you want less of, subsidize what you want more of; watch out for unforeseen but not unforeseeable consequences. (And be expecting to have to deal with the inevitable arrival of some of the latter.)

And with that in mind, as a society we want more childbearing. As conservatives, we want childbearing even more, as a better option than abortion.

The simplest solution, and the one involving the least potential abuse of government power, would be for the government to issue a voucher to every woman who becomes pregnant. The voucher would cover elementary prenatal care and consultation (but not genetic therapy, fertility, or selective processes), complete coverage for emergency care, and the cost of a basic hospital delivery. Women with their own health coverage or private means of covering these expenses would have the option of doing so, of course, and are free to augment the voucher with private spending. This benefit ought not to be means-tested; it should simply be universal, so that no woman need fear the consequences of normal pregancy would destroy her or her family financially.

We also need a means-tested stipend program for new mothers (or new fathers in the case where the father is the primary caregiver). Once you reach the seventh month of pregnancy, and if you have a child under the age of three, and are that child's primary caregiver, the state pays you a salary of, say, $20,000 per year (adjusted for local expense levels). Any two-parent family whose non-primary caregiver makes less than, say, twice the poverty line is eligible for the stipend. (Parents who split primary caregiver duties can split the stipend in any proportion they specify, subject to the same income limits for their combined outside income.)

For non-married couples, the same rules apply. However, mothers or fathers who do not perform primary caregiving duties are obliged to make the financial contribution that the government would normally make. Non-primary caregivers with lower incomes are assessed a portion of the levy and the state compensates for the difference. Marriage to the primary caregiver terminates this levy; marriage to someone else does not.

Stipends stop when the child turns three, as should the (already existing) young-child health coverage provided by most states. Additional children "reset the clock" but do not quality for any additional increment of benefits, other than the additional voucher(s) for pregnancy.

Women can end the stipend by putting their child up for adoption. Fathers have the right of first refusal if the mother does not wish to be a primary caregiver.

I apologize to my right-wing friends for the socialism; there doesn't seem to be any other way, fellows. I apologize to my left-wing friends for taking abortion away from them; you were kind of messing it up, anyway.

Opinions most receptively solicited.


justamom said...

Rape, the health of the mother being jeopardized because of pregnancy, or the pregnancy of a girl of a young age are all extremely tragic events. What a traumatic and sacrificial decision it would be for a woman or girl to continue with a pregnancy under those circumstances. To make an exception in those cases to allow abortion when it otherwise would be illegal seems merciful and understandable.

On the other hand, Robert, using your logic for disallowing abortion, isn't it still morally unacceptable to you to allow abortions even in those cases, given your assertion to Aspazia in the comments section that:

"The fetus is a discrete entity. It has its own DNA, and that DNA is human. It metabolizes and develops and in general does all the things that we think of as necessary for "life". It is human and it is a life; what else do you want to call it?

In other words, it is a human, and it is a being;..."

So taking your belief that conceived children are just that, human children, (which I also adhere to), would this child be less of a human being because of the way or circumstance in which he/she was conceived, making abortion then acceptable?

In any of those cases, continuing a pregnancy would be extremely difficult, and I believe, amazingly sacrificial. It doesn't seem fair, and yet, as you pointed out in your argument:

"You respond that this is "unfair". Well, what of it? Where is fairness written, in this enormous universe of ours? Fairness is something that we desire; it is not something that we are promised, or to which we are entitled."

And further on you wrote:

"But we cannot, with moral legitimacy, kill other human beings to impose that fairness. To use an extreme analogy, it is not acceptable to slaughter Australians, sell their bodies for meat, and then use the money to cure tuberculosis in Africa."

So I wonder how it is, using your argument against abortion as the killing of a human being, and your belief that life is not fair and that there are no guarantees that it will be, that that same killing would be acceptable to you in any of those extreme circumstances, as horrific and tragic as they would be.

Robert said...

Justamom, thank you for that very thoughtful comment.

The case where the woman will die is a relatively straightforward moral decision. Only one of two people can live, and we cannot require someone to give their own life. That has to be voluntary. If a woman chooses to bear the child even though it will kill her, she is heroic. But I don't think we can make her do it. This is legitimized by the principle of self-defense, albeit the fetus is an innocent moral agent.

The moral distinction that I think permits an abortion for rape, incest, young age, etc. is this: the underlying responsibility for a child comes from knowingly engaging in the act that makes a child possible. If you have intercourse, you know that a child can result, and you are responsible. In the case of rape etc., you don't carry that responsibility. It was done to you, not done by you. If you didn't make the choice, then you don't bear the responsibility. And again, you might (heroically) choose to take up that cross - but we can't legitimately require that of you.

Aspazia said...


Well, this is some interesting policy making. I am glad that justamom pushed you on the issue of personhood.

You have assumed that the fetus is a human being. But we still need to determine whether a human being or a potential human being, is a person.

Personhood is a moral and legal concept. Personhood entails legal and moral obligations. I think we could have a long discussion about whether or not belonging in the category of beings with discrete DNA necessarily implies legal personhood. By the logic of your statement, however, we would need to consider any living thing that has discrete DNA and metabolizes as deserving of personhood.

I have another set of questions, however.

First of all, in your plan, what sort of measures are in place to ensure that the father--who is half responsible for the pregnancy--will be saddled with similar duties and responsibilities?

Secondly, have you ever read Judith Jarvis Thomson's defense of abortion?,Fall02/thomson.htm

Thomson makes a rather libertarian argument that you cannot compel someone, who has taken all precautions to avoid pregnacy, to carry a fetus to term.

Robert said...

Nobody who is pregnant who voluntarily chose to have vaginal intercourse took "all precautions to avoid pregnancy".

As noted, unmarried fathers is required either to perform primary caregiving responsibilities, or pay the mother a stipend. The obligations of married fathers are covered under that contract.

mythago said...

As long as we're engaging in fantasy socialism, why not a program of encouraging homosexuality? The unplanned pregnancy rate would plummet.

mythago said...

Whoops, missed this.

Legally, Robert, the obligation to a child has nothing to do with voluntarily engaging in vaginal intercourse. Which makes sense, really--why should it be the kid's problem under what circumstances his parents conceived him?

Lizzybeth said...

Does the woman have to wait for a rape conviction before she can abort, or is an arrest sufficient? You must know it takes much longer then the length of the first trimester to get through the whole process, so that makes for very few abortions (funny that) without some assumption of guilt. Perhaps the Robert Tribunal will decide if enough evidence for her case exists to allow the abortion. If the alleged rapist gets off in court, does that negate her Abortion Permission Slip, so that the woman will now be charged with murder? Which was somehow not murder before? What if the woman does not want to press charges against her attacker? (Maybe her evidence comes up short, or her father or brother is the perpetrator, or any of dozens of scenarios)

Which illnesses are dangerous enough to qualify for abortion? Do the debilitating, risky or possibly disability-inducing conditions count, or is it only Certain Death? How about if Mom-To-Be has cancer and needs to start her chemotherapy right away, but hey, she might live, or she might die even with the treatments, so why not keep her going just long enough to produce another motherless child?

And who gets to decide all this? I suspect all of these supposedly magnanimous concessions are only there to make the power-tripping more fun.