More often than not, I come across material to blog about on things I see posted to Facebook. It might be on the passive side, but every now and then something shows up on the radar that is worth commenting on. And such was the case with a blog post that another person was asked to comment on, and after being badgered to answer it here, I decided I might as well.
The piece is called “How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life Movement,” by Libby Anne, of the “Love, Joy, Feminism” blog at Patheos. And what a piece it is.
Quotes included, it weighs in at a hefty 6200 words, which means there’s a lot of material to sift through. In short, the blog progresses through several different arguments: First, her initial change on the issue related to the availability of birth control as related to the number of abortions; second, the arguments concerning the effects of birth control and a discussion on spontaneous abortion rates; and lastly, a discussion of the efforts of President Obama, the question of who stops the most abortions, and finally, a pronouncement upon the motivations driving the pro-life movement.
Libby Anne states that at one point she was the president of a Students for Life chapter, and has since completely changed her mind on the question of abortion and the pro-life movement.
She begins by discussing the abortion rate in different countries where it is legal or illegal. No countries are named, but when I went to check the link to the Guttmacher Institute, that link was broken. So I found the NYT article that triggered it all, and…didn’t find it all that earth-shattering. Or anything new. For starters, while it contrasts African nations with European nations, something seems amiss when the general cultural attitudes towards family size and many other factors are not discussed (or simply showing the population pyramids for differing countries, say, comparing Italy with Ethiopia). The WHO study was not without criticism, which the article included, but the conclusion that birth control lowers abortion rates is not entirely controversial (though the implementation is).
Which raises another issue: the issue of contraception. Pro-choicers are divided on the issue; but those who have qualms with it base their objections on different reasons–some with the ethics of the issue, and others with the safety of some forms of birth control. Others are okay with it. However, Libby recounts elsewhere that her stance on contraception is influenced by her upbringing regarding fertility and family size. And so she says “The pro-life movement is anti-birth-control.” Any quotes on that? Any national pro-life officials or speakers or thinkers who have claimed this?
But the main issue that she raises is that the amount of available contraception lowers the number of abortions. She expresses it so:
As I mulled this over, I realized how very obvious it was. The cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies.
And I must confess my confusion. Exactly why did she think women had abortions in the first place? Sheer malice? Ignorance? She continues:
Simply banning abortion leaves women stuck with unwanted pregnancies. Banning abortion doesn’t make those pregnancies wanted. Many women in a situation like that will be willing to do anything to end that pregnancy, even if it means trying to induce their own abortions (say, with a coat hanger or by drinking chemicals) or seeking out illegal abortions.
Well…yes. This is hardly a startling revelation. And probably the main reason that sweeping legislation on abortion is currently, for all practical purposes, impossible. But she has made an argument: if abortions will happen, then they need to be safe. So we have two parts of the cliched trifecta: safe and legal. And there was even a mention of coat hangers. Question: what is wantedness? What is the moral ‘weight’ of wantedness? What does wantedness entail?
So she set out with a new perspective on Roe, unwanted pregnancies, and birth control. She discusses a description of how some contraception works, as described by pro-lifers, and links to a NYT article saying that this information may be outdated.
Which actually turned out to be an interesting article, the implications of which may affect how Plan B is regarded by pro-lifers. If the new data is correct, then the ethical issues surrounding the mechanism of contraception would be effectively obsoleted. Question: if Plan B turns out to be ethically compatible with the pro-life view, and it becomes readily available in some form or another, would Libby be willing to place any restrictions on abortion, if the need would be significantly reduced? If the statistics are right, some 75% of the population of the US favors at least some increased restrictions for abortion. As regards the way birth control works, I will be interested to see how that turns out since it has a pronounced effect on the abortion controversy.
She discusses the rates of spontaneous abortion, and admits shock that this occurs at the rate that it does. And then she launches into a fascinating argument:
The pro-life movement is not about “saving unborn babies.” It can’t be. As someone who as a child and teen really did believe that life – personhood – began at fertilization, and who really was in it to “save unborn babies,” this is baffling. If I had known all this, I would have been all for this sort of research. I would have been all for sexually active women using the pill to cut down on “deaths.” But I didn’t know any of this. The adults of the anti-abortion movement, though, and certainly the leaders, they surely must know these things. This isn’t rocket science, after all. They must know these things, and yet they are doing nothing.
Essentially, since pro-lifers know that a very high percentage (30-50%) of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, and yet do absolutely nothing to stop them, that this is a grave inconsistency on their part. The reasoning for this is that these embryos have the same moral worth as other humans, and so pro-lifers are necessarily obligated to do something to stop this as part of the greater cause.
And right about here is where I wondered something: Did she check to see if there was any compelling pro-life answer to the accusation of inconsistency on spontaneous abortion? Francis Beckwith spends a few pages on this very question in his book Defending Life, within a discussion of objections to the humanity of the unborn.
Not personhood, humanity: and this is something that is almost entirely missing from her post. She mentions personhood several times, but not humanity:
I no longer believe that abortion is murder because I no longer hold that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is a “person.” I also came to realize that the focus on personhood ignores the fact that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is growing inside of another person’s body. For a variety of reasons, I see birth as the key dividing line.
I do not focus on personhood when I discuss abortion, because I consider it beside the point, for all intents and purposes. I focus on the humanity and essential nature of our being. As regards the potency of various arguments, I consider personhood arguments to be the weakest of all, which can be easily trumped by most arguments for bodily autonomy by abortion supporters, which in turn are weak to the substance view of humanity as the basis for all human rights. As it stands, Libby’s personhood stance didn’t stand a chance against arguments from bodily autonomy.
What about birth ascribes moral worth to the unborn that they previously did not have? If the zygote is a separate human being, with a distinct DNA and features, why does that alone not make her the subject of human rights? For that matter, upon what does she base her arguments? There is literally no discussion of pro-life moral philosophy or reasoning. What is the moral framework for her own claims? Since I think that people can be good without God, I’m interested in the foundation of her claims. Are they grounded?
An obvious question arises: what is entailed by the rate of spontaneous abortion? Is allowing natural death morally equivalent to artificially inducing it? Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that we find a way to prevent spontaneous abortions, or at least a large percentage of them. What then? Considering her later discussion of the reasons that most women abort, does she in fact consider this a good that should be pursued by society? If pro-lifers did more to affect the rate of spontaneous abortion, would she reconsider her stance on abortion? Does it really follow that because we cannot save all, that any can be terminated for any reason until birth? Does an infirmity in one human allow the death of another? If not, why not also before birth?
Next she discusses the intended effects of Obamacare, and discusses the recent study by Peipert regarding short-term and long-term forms of contraception, which has gotten an awful lot of attention in Missouri, as both being ‘pro-life’ in the sense that they prevent the need for abortions en masse.
The problem pro-lifers have with the HHS mandate isn’t that it’s birth control period, it’s that they don’t want to underwrite it. Perhaps an analogy would help illustrate the difference: it is akin to compelling every kosher deli in the country to provide pork and bacon because someone out there might want it. I think most pro-lifers would be content to let people purchase their own birth control; they just don’t want to be the ones purchasing it (for many different reasons).
And the Peipert study that was ground into the faces of pro-lifers in Missouri? It doesn’t say what pro-choicers want it to say. The study doesn’t accurately depict the choices of any given woman in society; it concerned itself with a very particular group of women who were already predisposed to birth control in the first place. (Late addendum: someone else critiqued Libby Anne’s post, specifically with the “Obama is really pro-life” argument as regards Obamacare and the Peipert study. It’s worth a read.)
She then criticizes pro-lifers for not doing enough to care for women who cannot afford another pregnancy, but this seems an odd argument: it is as if she had never thought about why women have abortions. Having been to an abortion clinic, and heard for myself why women were there (and the vast majority were because they could not afford the child), it seems unusual that it did not occur to her until she questioned her reasons for being pro-life. The other question that I had when she gave this criticism was that she gave no mention of crisis pregnancy centers. She says:
If those who oppose abortion really believes that abortion is murder, they should be supporting programs that would make it easier for poor women to afford to carry pregnancies to term. Instead, they’re doing the opposite. Overwhelmingly, those who oppose abortion also want to cut welfare and medicaid. Without these programs, the number of women who choose abortion because they cannot afford to carry a given pregnancy to term will rise. Further, they are working against things like paid maternity leave, subsidized daycare, and universal health insurance for children, programs which would likely decrease the number of women who choose abortion because they cannot afford to carry a pregnancy to term. And in this specific case, conservatives want to penalize a poor woman who chooses to carry a pregnancy to term by making it harder for her to make ends meet.
First, I would venture to guess that quite a few of the pro-lifers she criticizes donate to crisis pregnancy centers and charities that do precisely what she accuses them of not doing. But by not mentioning other sources of care, she makes a classic leftist argument: the government is the only legitimate source of aid for people. Government, or none else. It is not that pro-lifers are trying to eliminate all care for pregnant women; they just think they can do a better job of it themselves at the local level. An aside: another blogger elsewhere mentioned that she was voting for Obama because he was better at Romney at fulfilling the ministry of Jesus to the poor and disenfranchised, the ‘least of these.’ Nevermind his actual record regarding the unborn ‘least of these’ (his record on opposition to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act is plenty evidence of his stance on the legality and appropriateness of abortion). I oppose this particular view of the role of government because I believe in the separation of church and state–and that the state will never be as efficient or as good at caring for the ‘least of these’ as the church. Alexis de Toqueville made an observation about American life: the local community was, by and large, the most effective and efficient way to help real people in the real world. I think that still holds true.
She would have a point about penalizing poor women if pro-lifers did not put their money where their mouths were. But there is something else going on: the claim that pro-lifers do not think that women (should?) act in their own self-interest, while pro-choicers think that they do. But this is just an economic reality: everyone acts in their own self-interest. But the question seems to me a question of moral hierarchy: does a woman’s right to her self-interest allow her to terminate the life of another human being who might affect that self-interest?
She concludes much the same way she begins: by reiterating that she thinks she was a dupe and that she thinks the goal of the pro-life movement is to control women.
But absent from all of this is any appeal to moral reasoning: What is the primary issue? What is the unborn? What makes us human? When do we become human? Does the right to an abortion precede the right to life, and if so, why? Is there a reason other than religion to consider that abortion might not be moral? (Hint: there are.) How does she know that her current views on abortion are not equally as extreme as the views she held previously? I have no qualms about calling the views she was brought up with as extreme–they don’t represent most pro-lifers. Why should I consider that abortion should be legal on the mere basis that “it will happen anyway?” That begs an awful lot of questions about the moral status of abortion that I’m not necessarily willing to uncritically sign off on. If pro-lifers come around on the way that some birth control works, would she be willing to re-evaluate the good arguments that they make?
I do not want to question her motives, just her arguments. I would have liked to see her interact with the more sophisticated pro-life arguments, such as those by Beckwith, Patrick Lee, Christopher Tollefsen, and elsewhere.