Abortion - the great conceptual conundrum
- Jacques Rousseau
- 17 Jan 2012 10:37 (South Africa)
While US President Barack Obama could be accused of trying to curry favour with moral conservatives in rejecting the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations on the “morning-after pill”, liberals can find some comfort in the fact that he’s at least pro-contraception and isn’t planning to criminalise abortions just yet.
This puts him at odds with nearly every Republican candidate, with the exception of Mitt Romney who, while having changed his mind and become pro-life in 2004, is at least not a signatory to the regressive “Personhood Pledge” that has been signed by Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Paul.
Ron Paul’s case is complicated by the addendum to his signing of the pledge, in which he disagrees with its assertion that the 14th Amendment (which protects individual liberties from state encroachment) has a role to play in defending the interests of the unborn. While the addendum has led to some questioning of the sincerity of his commitment, he is nevertheless clear that “life begins at conception” and that “it is the duty of the government to protect life”.
Of those who have not signed the Pledge (Huntsman and Romney), both want to repeal Roe vs. Wade, and Huntsman supports the introduction of a right-to-life amendment to the constitution. While Romney thinks current legislation has “cheapened the value of human life”, his stated intentions are to put abortion legislation in the hands of the state, rather than federal government.
Broadly speaking, then – because the details are, well, very detailed – all the candidates are pro-life to varying degrees of commitment. And while Romney and Paul can be credited with at least attempting to introduce a level of sophistication to their positions instead of simply appealing to the emotive fervour of a conservative base, the rest of the contenders speak of pre-born humans in terms that assume the debate has an obvious conclusion, where a woman’s rights over her own body and what to do with it are significantly weakened.
As in most emotive issues, language is important here. A bias is immediately introduced in using terms like “pro-life”, given that it suggests an anti-life stance on the part of those that support abortion. Speaking of “unborn” or “pre-born” children introduces a similar bias, in that it encourages us to think of blastocysts, zygotes, embryos and foetuses as if they already had desires and aspirations capable of being dashed by those callous “anti-life” Democrats.
It is in the Personhood Pledge that these biases come to the fore in all their glory, where “every human being at every stage of development must be recognized as a person possessing the right to life”. While the pledge’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia increase the intended threats to individual liberty, it’s the language on abortion that is of most concern.
Because it’s not only this pledge, but also a legislative move that should be seen as a concern. It should be concerning to Americans, most directly American women, but also to the rest of us, in that these sorts of developments can easily serve as example and inspiration to those who want to undermine South African liberties in this regard. It’s not only the ACDP that might want to do so – President Zuma’s visit to the Rhema Church during campaigning in 2009 included a reassurance that he’d be willing to entertain changes to legislation permitting both abortion and same-sex marriages.
The American legislation at issue is H.R.358, the Protect Life Act, which passed the House of Representatives in October. The bill is considered unlikely to pass in the Senate, and Obama intends to veto it even if it does. But in the hypothetical absence of the current Democratic Senate and president, the bill gives a clear insight into the how dedicated the current crop of Republicans in the House are to defend the unborn human, no matter how nebulous its form.
The first version of the bill submitted by Joe Pitts (R-PA) called for a modification of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to only allow for health plans to cover abortions in cases of “forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest”. Women who fall pregnant as a result of “gentle” rape or adult victims of incest must presumably have had it coming.
That language was removed in the bill that passed the House (you can see each version here), which now allows for coverage in the event of “an act of rape or incest”. But this concession to the reality of women sometimes needing an abortion through no fault of their own does not address some of the worst aspects of the bill.
The Protect Life Act, if signed into law, would prevent women from buying even a private insurance plan through a state health care exchange (these are not insurers themselves, but entities that attempt to promote insurance transparency and accountability) if that plan covers abortions even though most private insurance plans currently cover abortion.
It would require any insurer that operates under an exchange and covers abortion to also offer otherwise identical plans that exclude abortion coverage. The administrative costs of managing two near-identical schemes might well result in many insurers thinking it’s simply not worth the trouble to offer a plan that covers abortion.
Of course, consumers can join a plan that isn’t offered through an exchange. But because of the extra visibility of plans offered under an exchange, and the consumer protections ensured by these exchanges, it seems likely the only women who would do so are those who are well-informed and financially advantaged – raising the possibility of this bill introducing a bias against the poor, who need more protection than most.
Perhaps worst of all, the bill opens up an avenue for softening current requirements under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, signed into law by Reagan to protect poor and uninsured patients who need emergency care. The Protect Life Act would allow hospitals that are morally opposed to performing abortions to withhold treatment in cases where a woman requires an emergency abortion to save her life.
As Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) says of her own experience in this regard: "I was pregnant, I was miscarrying, I was bleeding. If I had to go from one hospital to the next trying to find one emergency room that would take me in, who knows if I would even be here today. What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are trying to do is misogynist”.
Nobody should be required to die for the sake of someone else’s religious beliefs. And while I can understand the desire for abortion to be treated as a non-trivial matter, we shouldn’t satisfy this desire at the cost of eroding an existing and thinking person’s rights over her own body. While life might begin at conception, individual rights do not. This is the sort of case in which we might hope that public representatives attempt to fight the tide of populist sentiment rather than allowing the most reactionary forms of that sentiment to stand the chance of influencing policy. DM
- Homophobia and the politics of outrage
- Please look after the place while I’m gone.
- Parliament – where dead sheep savage one another
- ‘Catholic’ and ‘Muslim’ South Africa
- Free speech doesn’t guarantee an audience
- So atheists are people too?
- A culture of dying
- Deciding when to die
- Minds are what brains do
- So what are universities for?
- Mantashe wants to help you 'Know your DA'
- Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!
- UCT, race, and the seductive moral outrage machine
- The sound and fury of sanctimony
- Burn the witch!
- Not even Madiba can turn anecdotes into data
- Pornography is coming to eat your children
- Do you know what’s good for you?
- #We Say Enough
- Talking about risk-mitigation is not (always) victim blaming
- Can Frankensalmon triumph over uninformed ad-hoc opinions?
- You can leave your hat on
- If performance-enhancing drugs are bad, let's ban high-fibre cereal too.
- Blood deferrals: Too important to take personally
- The world according to Zuma - and the trouble with 'culture'
- A free market in false choices
- I, for one, welcome our robot overlords
- Debate is the key
- Been there? Got the T-shirt? Think carefully before you wear it...
- You are what you tweet
- Body language: Freedom confronts respect in Body Worlds human forms
- Choose wisely: Mourdock, rape and targeted outrage
- Birds of a feather...philosophise together?
- So who owns oppression, really?
- Help, not demonisation, will stem child abuse
- More about trolls
- Please do not feed the trolls
- Affirmative action: Equity does not come with voting rights alone
- SAA's cadet programme: The sky isn't falling
- South Africa: Why do you make me hate you?
- SA & religion: Eyes wide shut
- Freedom of speech & freedom of abuse
- Is free speech fried in Chick-fil-A debate?
- Colorado killings: there's no comfort in the absurd
- Let's try to avoid drive-by charity on Mandela Day
- First do no harm
- The cutting edge of religion
- Public holidays: positive discrimination?
- The new discrimination – against men
- Censorship: The chilling effect
- Health Warning: You may not smoke, but you can eat yourself to death
- 'I see a red door and I want it painted black'
- Freedom of speech; oh, perish the thought
- Homophobia trending among traditional leaders
- How to meat friends and influence people
- How to meat friends and influence people
- Still hunting, still gathering
- Dogmatix isn't only a canine in the Asterix comic books
- Exactly Whose Humanity is Vanishing?
- Tim Noakes on carbohydrates - fad or fact?
- Mind over matter – and knowing the difference
- Don't PIN your freedoms to Icasa's apron strings
- Killing the messenger never silences the message
- The unbearable rightness of maybe being wrong
- The worrisome worth of foregone conclusions
- The tyranny of labels
- Staring into the abyss of ‘special privileges’
- Twitter censorship, the Streisand Effect and three fingers pointing back
- Free speech is good - but not in my back yard
- Abortion - the great conceptual conundrum
- Killing live animals to talk to dead people is bull
- Stalking votes with over-the-counter vetoes
- Always look on the One side of life
- Get Tested: Get off the entitlement horses and give it a chance
- The Lotters, Harry Potter and SA's judicial system
- The haunting of Helen Zille
- The Great T-Shirt Debate that went horribly wrong
- M&M & the media – playing the ball or the men?
- Twitter - fast food for ever-fattening egos
- How Occupy Wall Street became Pick a Protest
- Steve Jobs was just a man
- What are you?
- Who did ET really call? Woo-woo fest at Wits might have the answer
- How to strut like a slut and itch like a bitch
- The world according to reader feedback
- To judge or not to judge; that is the Mogoeng
- 'A Boy Named Sue' and a victim named 'slut'
- How to bake the perfect humble pie
- How to win friends and influence the irrational
- See what I mean? Or maybe you don't...
- Separating sense from nonsense
- Racial nationalism - the silliest disease of them all
- Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can rip my soul
- Just catch the next feminist wave
- That's right - tertiary education is a privilege, not a right
- The conundrum of university - level remedial education - where do we start?
- The immense value of the egghead
- If ridicule be the right remedy, mock on
- Racism, put on your ballot-proof vest
- It was the lizard on the grassy knoll
- Of unenclosed toilets and enclosed ballot booths
- Our responsibility to build a better 'Bill'
- It's the Singer, not the Song
- Trapped in an abusive relationship? Dial 0800-VOTE
- Hate speech and hateful words - there is a difference
- Why the Bill of Responsibilities doesn't make the grade
- Natural selection and principled prejudice
- The Orwellian horror of a world without grammar
- Beware the Jabberwock
- Ya don’t learn nuffink by shutting others up
- U2, Brute!
- Unfollowing the defriended is like delisting the unlikeable
- There's something fishy about Kenny and his critics
- Astrology - the gullible's travails are written in the stars
- Dr Woo and the Silicon Snake-oil Bangle Sellers
- Life, liberty and the pursuit of dignity
- Who wants to be African anyway?
- The Beatles warned you, Mr President
- Annelie Botes, racism, moralistic awards 'n all
- The silence of the racists
- The proof of the pudding
- Freedom is a fragile thing
- The conditionality of morality
- Of guillotines, smoking, kissing children and scientific proof
- Why moral absolutism hasn't done so well
- The moral arrogance of relativism
- The dilemma of being special in a world of special people
- Of burning closets and closed minds
- Is Internet making us stoopid commenters?
- To be, or not to be serious
- Stepping into greyer shades of grey
- Books and beliefs and other burning issues
- Talking of Hawking and thinking of God
- ‘You may be wrong for all I know, but you may be right’
- The unbearable triteness of best-selling BS
- The struggle for true freedom is with us more than ever
- It’s silly to take a penknife to a gunfight
- Tell me lies, tell me sweet little morally questionable falsehoods
- I think therefore I am … at least I think so
- First, do no harm
- All rights are equal – or should be
- Beauty and the beastly behaviour
- Afrighana versus United States of North America – a continental dilemma
- Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – the multiple tasks of multi-tasking
- Blow the vuvuzela and blow the cultural argument
- Roll up! Roll up! Welcome to the World Cup!
- Thought police, never a good thing
- The redemptive nature of offence
- Potholes or profits – the modern dilemma of corporate social responsibility
- Too many cows, too few tuna and too big an appetite
- Press freedom’s value is in our capacity to take part
- Of uncertainty and the opinions it spawns
- Just another brick in the wall
- Playing the authenticity card
- The dangers of tolerance
- ‘Twas Easter and the slithey toves did gyre and gimble on the roads
- Julius is The Man
- Beware the orthorexics as you chomp down on your boerie-roll
- Freedom of (Multi)choice
- Let's talk about our moral code