Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How Abortion Ought to End

I'm not really happy about the South Dakota law, the way some other pro-lifers are. I don't think that the law is going to get us where we want to go.

I want abortion to be stopped through a spiritual awakening on the part of the people who are faced with the decision to have an abortion, or to have a baby.

A large part of the responsibility for laying the groundwork for that awakening lies on men. Men must take responsibility for their sexual behavior. Men must also place their material and non-material resources in escrow every time they unzip their pants; we have to recognize that every act of physical intimacy has the potential for the creation of new life, and be willing to step up and accept the duty (and the joy) of fatherhood. We can't lecture women to pick up a hugely burdensome responsibility and then do nothing to help carry it. Men who can't or won't accept the responsibility of adult sexuality ought either to refrain, or to find outlets which carry no risk of pregnancy. Vasectomies are inexpensive. You might not be able to be a dad; you can certainly refrain from being a cad.

Another part of the groundwork for that change lies in the area of state action. Government policy should encourage childbirth and childrearing, and accept the idea that women who bear children are making a serious economic and personal sacrifice, and men who father children responsibly are making a lesser, but still real, sacrifice. For the majority of the populace whose children are educated by the state, realistic sexual education is a requirement - not only in the mechanics and biology of function, but in the real intimacies and emotional vulnerabilities opened by physical intimacy. Experience is the teacher of last resort, but many of the lessons of experience can be taught in a classroom, and at far lower cost. Among the things which ought to be taught are the biological truths of conception - and an appreciation of the delicate and powerful processes that are taking place from the moment a new human life is formed.

My friends in the religious communities of America must recognize that we can emphasize sexual purity from now until Jesus comes, and many people may live up to those high standards, and that is wonderful - but many others will not, and our ideas and policies have got to reflect the reality on the ground, not the desires of our hearts. People are going to have sex; people who aren't ready for parenthood ought not to be having sex, but some are going to do it anyway, and the only known way to reduce the number of babies conceived in those circumstances is to make birth control readily available.

The hedonistic culture of sexual gratification for its own sake ought to be rejected by the people who participate in it. It's a culture that is underlaid by sadness and abuse and exploitation; a culture where women define their self-worth by their sexual prowess and their willingness to play a fantasy role for whichever man will pretend to validate their "politics" or their "liberation". A huge part of the corrupt and toxic nature of this culture comes in its emphasis of sex as the province of the very young - an absurd and destructive notion. Sexual intimacy is an incredible responsibility and an incredible experience - it is not something that should be pushed at 13 year olds with an implicit message that the only kids not having sex are the losers. Sexuality and love and regard for the humanity of one another ought to become united in the mental conceptions of sex that our children grow up in; the idea of sex without love ought to be regarded, not with horror, but with infinite sadness.

The primary agents of this cultural change must be women. Women have the right - the right de facto, never mind the intricate debates over bodily autonomy and "choice" - to control their own bodies, and they will control them. As with all decisions and control, therefore, it behooves a society which wishes to enshrine positive values of life to encourage the decisions that are compatible with those values. Women who recognize the humanity of the new life within them, who are supported by the men in their life, who are not condemned by the church but who are instead uplifted, who are encouraged in healthy and productive life choices by the state, are women who can make the right choice.

It is very doubtful that we will ever see the "fairy tale", everything-is-perfect utopian version of this culture. People are imperfect and life is messy, and even if everyone in the world has perfectly good intentions (they don't) and everyone in the world makes perfectly good decisions (they won't), there will be pregnancies which are tragic, decisions that are tragic, outcomes that are tragic. This is inevitable but it is a part of the cost of being human and having the ability to make meaningful choices for our lives.

That's pretty much a summary of what I would like to see, although I'm sure I've missed some things and mis-stated the emphasis that ought to be placed on others. There's not much room in there for outlawing things and relying on the coercive power of the state. The usefulness of that power is grossly overemphasized.

(Also posted with minor textual changes as a comment at Pandagon.)

6 comments:

flint cordoroy said...

aren't you glad you can't get pregnant?

nobody.really said...

There's not much room in there for outlawing things and relying on the coercive power of the state. The usefulness of that power is grossly overemphasized.

Maybe; maybe not. Recall the Freakanomic article showing the link between the legalization of abortion and falling crime rates. If abortion prohibitions didn’t have any effect, then we wouldn’t expect them to correlate with variables such as crime, would we?

Moreover, you do suggest using the coercive power of the state - at least the power to tax and spend to promote certain policies:

Government policy should encourage childbirth and childrearing, and accept the idea that women who bear children are making a serious economic and personal sacrifice, and men who father children responsibly are making a lesser, but still real, sacrifice. For the majority of the populace whose children are educated by the state, realistic sexual education is a requirement - not only in the mechanics and biology of function, but in the real intimacies and emotional vulnerabilities opened by physical intimacy.

What legitimate interest does government have in encouraging childbirth and child-rearing? It is not clear to me that the US isn’t better off simply outsourcing reproduction to other nations a/k/a foreign adoptions and immigration.

I’m all for sex ed. But once we got beyond discussing the biology, I can imagine a lot of disagreement about the curriculum.

flint cordoroy said...

some of us don't need a freakonomics book to realize outlawing abortion means promoting the proliferation of stupid mean nasty people. Move back to the city and walk around it once in a while. you will feel the same way.

Get a job in an emergency room. You will be visited by the dumbest, most vapid, raucous people complaining of minor ailments. She will bring her equally loud, vapid, rowdy friend with her. She will mention having had 2 previous abortions, but deciding to keep this one. If you are a home owner or parent you will pray she resides in another city or school district.

The problem with the pro-life movement is its fixation on law. I suspect it does this to avoid informal confrontations with culture and humanity.

mythago said...

A large part of the responsibility for laying the groundwork for that awakening lies on men.

Wow.

The primary agents of this cultural change must be women.

I knew it was too good to last.

I agree with you on pretty much everything except the dichotomy between 'sexual purity' and 'hedonistic culture'. Somewhere in between having sex only when you want a baby, and all-night parties with random strangers, is the concept of responsibility for sexual behavior and towards one's sexual partner(s). Whether or not pregnancy is a risk, even.

amanda said...

I left a comment on the original Pandagon thread, but I think you can use some support here too, Robert. Clearly, people are not reading the actual words you write. Instead, they are replying to the illogical and stupid pro-life straw man in their head.

It's frustrating when people willfully choose to twist an argument into positions that are not held by either party.

emily1 said...

It's frustrating when people willfully choose to twist an argument into positions that are not held by either party.

abortion is a controversial and emotionally-charged topic. i am guilty of assuming the opinions of others too quickly, especially on this issue. i think the problem is that extremists get all the attention, and abortion rights supporters make the mistake of conflating 'prolife' with 'anti-woman' and 'pro-outlawing abortion' too often. i know i've done it.

robert's position on abortion is much more nuanced and thoughtful than i am accustomed to ecountering (from either side). i personally was surprised to see the amount of hostility that this comment provoked. i think the reason for that is that many people, myself included, don't think that abortion and sexual ethics are necessarily connected. i think people were reacting to his statements about 'hedonism' as much as anything else.

my position is this: ending abortion requires access to effective contraception for both men and women. there is a dire need for better options for male contraception. ideally, there would be a wide array of choices for both men and women that don't require daily maintenance.

as for sexual ethics: sexual purity doesn't matter one iota to me. it's not a desirable goal in my universe. a desireable state of circumstances in my universe would be the following:

1) people have sex only when that is what they truly want. in other words, people don't try to fill unmet non-sexual emotional needs with sex.

2) people are considerate and attentive to the needs and experiences of their partners.

3) people don't lie to others in order to get sex.

4) people don't treat sex like a power game in which one person 'wins' and the other person 'loses.'

5) people understand and respect the fact that breasts, vaginas, butts, penii, etc. are attached to human beings who have emotional reactions about what happens to those body parts

6) women are not treated as sexual gatekeepers who are not only responsible for controlling their own urges, but also the urges of men.

7) men are not treated as probable sexual predators who might rape any woman who foolishly allows herself to be alone with one of them

8) sex is not a source of guilt and shame

9) sex is not used to sell everything from hairspray to cookies

10) people don't get worked up about the consenual sexual activities of other adults

of course, i haven't the slightest idea of how to bring that world about.