Sometimes You Just Have to Hear Someone Else Speak Your Mind

I should have had my thoughts in order a long time ago on the subject of abortion. After all, I spent a semester doing a thesis on the subject for my undergrad philosophy degree.

What stands out for me about the assignment is that I didn’t want to do it. Back then, in 1976, I knew what I thought: abortion was a “right” – why was I being made to tread that rutted track just to come up with the same old arguments?

My Ethics professor tut-tutted my disinclination, reminding me that we don’t really know what we know until we can cogently defend our arguments. Thus, my assignment was to explore what to me was the non-issue of abortion.

That paper took months. It was back in the days before computers so I laboriously typed it out and kept a copy. Where it vanished in the several moves between then and now I have no idea. But I do remember being surprised by my conclusion, which I came to so reluctantly. Like Luther, I was stuck: in order to be true to my own ethical standards, I had to take a position that didn’t fit with my self-image as a feminist.

Then today, I read Jonah Goldberg’s essay on the issue. He brought it all back, as fresh as the day I put the final period to my conclusions:

In death-penalty cases, “reasonable doubt” goes to the accused because unless we’re certain, we must not risk an innocent’s life. This logic goes out the window when it comes to abortion, unless you are 100-percent sure that babies only become human beings after the umbilical cord is cut. I don’t see how you can be that sure, which is why I’m pro-life – not because I’m certain, but because I’m not. [emphasis mine – D ]

As I remember, I spelled it out in my thesis on these grounds: since we have no idea when human life becomes actually “human” we would do better to err on the side of caution. Once all those millions of fetuses – if they are actually human beings – are gone; there is no bringing them back to life. And the harm done by our casual disposal of what turned out to be human life after all, accrues not to them but to us, those who are privileged and burdened with the responsibility of choice.

Now that’s an easy philosophical conclusion for Jonah Goldberg and me. We’re not in the position of having to decide…or least I’m not anymore, though maybe he’s got some family planning crossroads he’s yet to come to. The most I’ll have to deal with are grandchildren born inconveniently or out-of-wedlock. So all I can do is offer support and sympathy when a teenage granddaughter, frightened out of her wits, gives birth to a child with congenital anomalies – without ever telling anyone she was pregnant. Yes, it’s true: if you’re somewhat zaftig, you can hide a pregnancy when it ends two months prematurely.

Mr. Goldberg is wrestling with his own questions as the presidential race heats up on the Republican side. On the Democrats’ side, it’s a settled issue – or, as they like to say about controversial moral arguments, “consensus has been reached. End of conversation.” But for Republicans, who speak in various voices on this issue of abortion, women’s rights, and what we owe the unborn, there is no consensus across the spectrum of the right. That is not to say that that Left doesn’t paint us in one fundamental grey color, bound and determined to strip women of their freedom. For them, we have no nuance; we speak with the voice of repression, driving women to unwilling servitude as mothers.

But it’s not that simple. Goldberg says:
– – – – – – – –

As for souls, I believe we have them, but I don’t know how they work. Indeed, ensoulment – the process by which God puts a soul in our bodies – is a controversial topic among religious scholars, people who know a lot more about such things than I do. And I’m not sure any of them are right anyway.

If “life” simply means that fetuses are something more than inanimate objects, I’m with you. But that hardly seals the deal for me on the issue of abortion. After all, the world is filled with organisms that do not deserve any special consideration, let alone a claim on a human being’s life or liberty.

In short, while I have great sympathy for “culture of life” arguments, if you tallied most of the above views on abortion, they’d appear to add up to my being pro-choice. And yet, when I get right down to it, I’m not. Why?

All those years ago, struggling through my thesis on abortion I came to this same place, and I arrived there most reluctantly. I began my paper definitely, blithely pro-abortion. No problem. Too many unwanted children in the world, too many women forced to raise kids who had no business being parents to begin with. And children conceived by rape? No way. Besides, children were expensive and time-consuming for those who could afford neither the money or the time.

Yet as I wrestled philosophically with the ethics of abortion, it was as though a kaleidoscope turned, and I saw something different than when I’d started.

I began to see that women had bought the male principle that babies are a burden. They don’t belong in the workplace, and they certainly don’t belong in the boardroom where all those important decisions are made. I asked myself who had made these places so sacrosanct? Why couldn’t children play in the corner, or cry during a meeting, or make the workplace a messier, less efficient place? Who made Efficiency into God, and why had they done so?

Work clothes on the fast track are not designed for burping babies. There goes drool down that hundred dollar tie. Again, I ask why this should be the case? Why are children and babies segregated from the rest of humanity? Why is there not room made for them where we spend most of the day?

Women have tricked themselves into attempting to become more like men. More efficient, more “rational” (whatever that is – one of my most sadistic, irrational bosses was a man), more attuned to the bottom line. When we talk about the difficulties of pregnancy and early motherhood we are really discussing a society that does not make room for the next generation until that cohort is grown up – and the growing up is to be done offstage, away from the busy, oh-so-important movers and shakers.

It is our culture which drives abortion. If a woman had the opportunity to really choose freely – if her pregnancy did not impact her work life so drastically – then there’d be fewer abortions because there would be less painful financial sacrifice and emotional isolation to face.

If we truly celebrated life, then we would encourage women who did not feel able to parent to allow those who wanted to do so to take their children to raise in their stead. It would not be shameful, it would be celebratory.

For these reasons – looking at our preformed attitudes about the bothersome brats that children can be and the needs women have to participate in the world – we have encouraged women to abort so they can compete on a level playing field. We have told ourselves that fetal tissue is nothing more than that, and expelling it is a simple matter that has nothing to do with the culture at large. It’s just a private decision between the woman and her aborter.

We may be several generations from discovering the harm we have done ourselves by swallowing this line. By then, of course, we won’t be able to bring back the children, nor can we make up for the loss we have caused ourselves individually and as a society. When moral decisions dwell in a cloud of unknowing and they cannot be undone, then it is best for us as moral, reasoning beings, to err on the side of caution.

At the very least we could admit that our culture pushes women to abort inconveniences. We do not support them financially, emotionally, or socially when they are pregnant. We do not give the deserved preference for close maternal care that each new being deserves. We refuse to see the web of relationships involved in each decision: the two parents, the extended family, the community at large. No, we just pretend it’s a “private” decision to be made by one person and gotten past as quickly as possible.

In the name of success and position and convenience, we impoverish ourselves. Every time a woman reluctantly decides to abort because she can’t afford a child, because she knows she cannot raise it by herself, because…because so few people are for her and her child, we know that women still live by men’s rules, no matter how “free” they think Roe vs. Wade has made them.

Women have been sold a bill of goods. In order to “make it” they have to become some twisted form of man…men don’t ever have to have babies, so why should we? It’s not fair. And more and more often, when they do provide the necessary sperm, they don’t provide much else. Nor does our culture in general penalize them much for their moral turpitude.

Meanwhile, in Russia, they are sunk in desperation as the birth rate plummets. They are devising crude methods to make women willing to bear children. The latest are sex camps for young people. As though that will give the country the morally robust future it needs to survive. These “camps” are simply the other side of the coin of abortion as a convenience.

Welcome to a world free of ethical reasoning.

16 thoughts on “Sometimes You Just Have to Hear Someone Else Speak Your Mind

  1. I must say, I have serious issues with this piece. My opinions on abortion are somewhat more complex than I want to get into here. However, I think you’re blaming the men more than is necessary: yes, people are trying to keep kids out of the way in the workplace, but what of it?

    No, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a crying baby, but in the modern world, is it fair to subject everyone around you to this child? They’re trying to work, and get things done in a hurry, and some child is screaming 20 feet away.

    I just don’t see why this is A Good Thing.

    As for the role of the fathers, again, I can’t argue too much about men in general. A lot of men simply “knock up” the woman, and then think that their job is done.

    But what about women that have artificial insemination? They want the baby, but don’t want the man around, either for themselves or for the child. What message does that send out to society as a whole?

    Or look at the other side of the abortion issue. It’s always about the woman’s “choice”. And it’s always about the man’s “responsibility”. If she doesn’t want the baby and he does, he loses. If she wants the baby and the father doesn’t, he loses.

    And then he still has to pay child support for a baby that he doesn’t want. Or is denied any paternal rights for a child that he does want.

    No, I have to disagree here. Abortion is the product of the feminist mystique and the sexual revolution. It’s not a lasting legacy of the Patriarchy.

  2. I disagree. But I also don’t believe in “Patriarchy” — whatever that is. Some feminist mystique, I guess.

    You make my point: babies take time. Abortions don’t. In the name of efficiency and some speicious freedom, our demographics are plummeting. Or they would be if it weren’t for the Mexicans.

    Mass abortion is the end product of the Industrial Revolution. Even though we’ve moved past it, we still have Efficiency as an idol. So what if babies make noise? Maybe we could have more humane work spaces where people weren’t shoved into cubicles. If the baby’s noise was distracting, in a humane environment, people could close the door to their office.

    I was not man-bashing. I was talking about the care with which we should make ethical decisions when we don’t *really* know the precise moment of human life, and when we have not figured out the more harmful of the unintended consequences of abortion on demand.

    Cheap life at one end means cheap life at the other.

    My complaint is that the Roe people tried to make women into men. And the women fell for it. The men didn’t do it — unless you count the lies Dr. Guttmacher admitted he told in order to get Roe v Wade passed.

    I agree with Jonathan Goldberg: we simply don’t know. Your certainty re the issue doesn’t change that.

  3. But I’m not at all certain- I guess I was too vague with my thoughts on abortion. I’m opposed to it, but it’s one of the areas where I have a libertarian streak. Unless I’m directly involved, it’s not my decision.

    Or unless I have to support the child and thousands more like him with my taxes.

    Your underlying thoughts on abortion are fine, by which I mean I agree with them. I just think the point about “making women into men” is misguided, or at least a weak point in your argument.

  4. I began to see that women had bought the male principle that babies are a burden.

    Part of our difficulty is that in many instances we (our society) do not see children as complete persons. In many ways our culture treats children as if they are invalids – their ‘childness’ being akin to a disease for which we pity them and their ‘poor’ caregivers, whoever they might be.

    Another challenge exists in coming to terms with an appreciation for our humanity. Communities of people cannot love and appreciate the child if they first do not love (agape love) the individuals of their close humanity.

    This level of appreciation for persons is not now common among us. I am learning that perhaps it occurs in my life only after a significant emotional and spiritual maturity that I did not have until my own children are nearly grown. I presume that other eras of Western civ had a much better (and earlier in life) grasp of appreciation for humanity and fraternal connection to those in a close and small community of generally shared values.

  5. “The question of whether abortion is the termination at human life is a relatively simple one. … consider what we know the male sperm and the female egg each contains twenty-three chromosomes. Upon fertilization, a single cell results containing forty-six chromosomes, which is what all humans have, including course, the mother and the father. But the new organism forty-six chromosomes are in a different combination from those of either parent; the new organism is unique. It is not an organ of the mother’s body but a different individual. This cell produces specifically human proteins and enzymes from the beginning. Its chromosomes will heavily influence its destiny until the day of its death, whether that death is at the age of ninety or one month after conception.

    The cell will multiply and develop, in accordance with its individual chromosomes, and, when it enters the world, will be recognizably a human baby. From single-cell fertilized egg to baby to teenager to adult to old age to death is a single process of one individual, not a series of different individuals replacing each other. It is impossible to draw a line anywhere after the moment of fertilization and say that before this point the creature is not human but after this point it is. It has all the attributes of a human from the beginning, and those attributes were in the forty-six chromosomes with which it began.” –Robert Bork

    With abortion you essentially have two people contracting to end the life of a human being and that ought be a capital offence. I think it more heinous than when the mob contracts with hit men because at least the mob doesn’t have a duty to protect their enemies, their obligation to society at large notwithstanding.

  6. Just like to point out that women liberation in the -60’s / -70’s set table for uncontrolled mass immigration today. Womens ‘freedom’ to choose between having sex with anyone without protection and not having kids indeed created the hole between generations that are now tried to compensate with mass immigration. Remember the reasonings back then? “World is overpopulated with starving children so therefore ‘we’ quit breeding”.

    Well, now we are just following those guidelines. ummm, well then. welcome everybody from the darkest africa, we have been expecting you since communist hippy-era.

    If women would have had babies in the same scale than their parents had right after war, we wouldn’t in this mess that is clearly a no-win situation.

    Abortion it self is a murder. I personaly fail to see that how this is so complicated issue.
    Kid is being killed, because mommy is a whore. The one being killed is innocent by every means. I really fail to see the dilemma in this.

    In a case where moms life is at risk, I’d leave the decision to the mother. That is extremely tragic thing, but such is the nature of the real world sometimes.

    In a case of rape. – Kid is innocent. Kill the rapist.

  7. I oppose voluntary abortion because it’s dysgenic in a welfare state. The middle class aborts its children. Welfare recipients breed like cockroaches. Ironically, if working Americans weren’t forced to contribute about half of their pay to the welfare state, many more middle class women would actually have a choice between work and traditional motherhood.

    That women have a right to do whatever they please with their own bodies is a radical new concept that has no basis in history. Nevertheless, I don’t really care what most women do with their bodies as long they aren’t doing at my expense. So, if we can’t abolish the welfare state, I’m in favor of compulsory abortion for pregnant welfare recipients. Unfortunately, there’s no political party that proposes any such thing.

  8. gringo:

    “So, if we can’t abolish the welfare state, I’m in favor of compulsory abortion for pregnant welfare recipients”

    Margaret Sanger had your idea in mind, though it had a racist agenda. She founded Planned Parenthood with the idea that minorities and other “undesireables” would be forced to have abortions which would lessen their population.

    Personally, I find your idea repulsive and reprehensible. Not much different from those of Nazi Germany.

  9. atheling2–

    A lot of people don’t know that about Margaret Sanger. Hitler had the same plan for undesirables.

    In Virginia, in the 1930’s many people who fit gringo’s criteria were sterilized. It was not a bright moment in our history.

    I prefer Bill Cosby’s idea: cure the problem at the root. Gringo’s solution has too much in common with China’s ‘fix’ — a fix that is causing vast disturbances in the rural areas of China.

    India, too, has problems of a similar nature. They’ve tried to outlaw the feticide of girl babies. However, General Electric is more than willing to sell the sonography equipment to private docs so they get around the law.

    As a result, in both countries, wives are rented out.

  10. I found this comment in my email this morning. Very moving:

    Ciao Dymphna,

    Excellent observations about Homo Economicus (probably the result of the Protestant Reformation, especially Calvinism).

    Instead one day I woke up and understood the importance of fertility. Everything in the world, (outside of mountains, oceans, stars and suchlike) is connected to Man… and consequently – inescapably – to birth. The color of my favorite pencil, that movie I loved and the one I hated, my design of my rearview mirror and on forever with a list that could fill every hard disk in the world… just as it has filled every library (even the hard disks and library themselves connected to drooling, screaming, goofy, wide-eyed human babies).

    If this is accepted and I don’t see how it cannot be… One may very well speak about cultures of death and cultures of life.

    When abortion has become a mundance “medical procedure” then we’re a culture of death.

    I won’t judge someone who aborts a fetus. Our culture has become so deviated downward, we aren’t even aware of the momentousness of our choices. And God knows, a lot of women find themselves cornered.

    The whole thing is screwy when the other contributor to the tissue in the uterus has absolutely no say in the matter. That’s where I part company with the libertarians.

    Actions have consequences, and all the participants in those actions need to have a say. Maybe if we didn’t have so much of the gospel of “It’s-my-body-and-I’ll-do-what-I-want-to”, then we wouldn’t have so many men simply leaving the scene of the accident.

  11. Why couldn’t children play in the corner, or cry during a meeting, or make the workplace a messier, less efficient place?

    Because it’s a workplace where people work and get things done. Why should an employer hire a person who has to spend his/her work time taking care of a child? If an employee is taking care of a child while working, he/she spends less time doing productive work and distracts other workers, which means that everyone is being less productive. I would go absolutely berserk if I was forced to constantly listen to children crying during work. I would quit, and so would a lot of other people.

    Who made Efficiency into God, and why had they done so?

    Why not? Why shouldn’t work be done in an efficient manner? What does a company gain by working inefficiently?

    Women have tricked themselves into attempting to become more like men. More efficient, more “rational” (whatever that is – one of my most sadistic, irrational bosses was a man), more attuned to the bottom line.

    This efficiency and rationality is what enables the modern world. It’s not touchy-feely feminism that keeps factories running, erects new buildings, researches new technologies and fights wars.

    It is our culture which drives abortion. If a woman had the opportunity to really choose freely – if her pregnancy did not impact her work life so drastically – then there’d be fewer abortions because there would be less painful financial sacrifice and emotional isolation to face.

    Women really can choose freely, but perhaps women make the mistake of assuming that they are somehow entitled to having their cake and eating it too by raising a child and having a succesful career at the same time. Life is full of choices, many of which are mutually exclusive. Why do women demand special treatment? If you want to spend a lot of time raising a child, it means you have less time to work, and vice versa. That’s reality. But you think this is somehow unfair, so now you want to turn workplaces into childcare centers, regardless of how drastically it may reduce productivity.

    It used to be that men were the breadwinners while women took care of the house and spent more time raising the children. Feminists changed all that, and now women can be as independent as they want to. But no, that’s still not enough… women must be breadwinners and housewives at the same time. Feminism is basically just an endless string of demands, each more absurd and unreasonable than the last (at this point anyway). Feminists claim they want to choose, but that’s not really true, because choice often involves compromise, and feminists can’t deal with compromise.

    If anyone’s responsible for the increase in abortion (assuming that abortion stems from the inability to raise a child while working), it’s feminists. They’re the ones who wanted to enter the workforce, become independent from men and give women the right to abort.

    As for the subject of abortion itself, it’s pretty obvious that a human being isn’t created instantly after conception, so abortion at an early stage isn’t murder any more than birth control is.

    And more and more often, when they do provide the necessary sperm, they don’t provide much else. Nor does our culture in general penalize them much for their moral turpitude.

    Many men are terrified of marriage due to the criminally unfair divorce laws that are apparently prevalent in the US and Britain. Why marry when you’ll just eventually lose your money, house and children after an unhappy marriage? Besides, didn’t women want to become independent breadwinners? Why do they suddenly need men again?

    I guess we could also ask what exactly leads to a situation where a man just provides the sperm and vanishes. A one night stand, maybe? The woman is also responsible. More responsible than the man, even.

    Finally, I have read much about the situation in Britain. Apparently single motherhood is extremely prevalent because single mothers get free apartments from the government, and other benefits. The aforementioned divorce laws also don’t do much to promote marriage. So basically the government is encouraging single motherhood.

  12. dymphna:

    I used to be a social worker. I got so fed up with the revolving door which brought the same people in over and over again because they refuse to get their act together.

    I can safely say that the majority of the poor I saw were single mothers with children. How often have I thought: Why don’t you stop spreading your legs to no good bums who won’t marry you and raise the child as he should?

    Until women draw the line with men, men will continue to burn them.

  13. atheling2 —

    maybe we worked in the same office? I had children in foster care who had children of their own…and they were having these babies so they’d have something to love *them* — clueless that it was love in the wrong direction…

    That’s why I think Bill Cosby’s idea is such a good one: a cure from the bottom up for a disease started at the top down.

    What the world needs now is fewer social workers…I left and started a cleaning business. Thought I wanted to change the world, but all I really wanted to do was organize their closets.

    I sure don’t miss all that federally-mandated paperwork. Too bad they didn’t mandate the funding along with the demands.

  14. dymphna:

    Okay, this is getting scary. I am no longer a social worker, and I did TOY with the idea of starting my own “organizer” consultant business because I LOVE to organize closets but alas, I never took the initiative. I decided it was time to leave social services when our supervisor told us we had to call our clients “customers”.

    Now I work in a law office which I enjoy… although I HAVE run into the same people at work (I live in a small town). Funny, how we social workers can’t make moral judgments on our clients, but lawyers can (my boss has no problems telling his clients that they have made STUPID decisions in their lives and to clean up their act).

    In a cynical moment, my Dad once said that when Jesus said “The poor you will have with you always”, He actually meant that there will always be stupid people who will do dumb things to screw up their lives. I used to think that it was harsh. But now, at my age, I think he’s right.

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