Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Feminism for Non-Feminists: Here's What We're Saying


Remember how the Department of Health and Human Services was arguing that a doctor's desires should trump their patient's medical needs?

The public comment period on that is not quite over. It ends in a couple of days. If you have not yet sent in a comment, you should. You can review the issue here, and the action info is as follows:

Send an email to consciencecomment@hhs.gov, with the subject line "provider conscience regulation." They are publishing these comments right now, because it is in a 30-day public comment period.

I had a conversation with a pro-choice friend of mine about this, and for those of you who aren't accustomed to seeing this from a civil rights point of view, the following might be helpful. A lot of you on my friends list are already likely pro-choice, but here's the case I'd like to make to those of you who are not.

DHHS wishes to reclassify many forms of birth control as abortion. How do they do this? By defining "life" at fertilization and not implantation. Now, these are both completely arbitrary points to pick, but I'll tell you the implications of each one.

If we rule that life begins at implantation, we can sell forms of birth control such as oral contraceptives, transdermal contraceptives (the patch), IUDs (which is actually hormonal as well), and various other non-barrier methods. This is because part of what they do is prevent a fertilized egg from sticking to the inside of the woman's uterus. Keep the fertilized egg from implanting and it flushes out with her next period just like any other egg.

If we rule that life begins at fertilization, every non-barrier method I can think of short of full sterilization becomes abortion. This is a problem because it removes control of a woman's reproduction from her own hands (a pill that she takes, a patch that she wears, an IUD that she has inserted) and gives it mostly to men (a condom that he wears). This means that women are less capable of engaging in responsible sexual activity.


"Well, they should have thought about that before they started having sex," you might say. It's a common enough argument. If women don't want to get pregnant, they should engage in risky behavior like sex. Most people will agree that a woman who is raped or molested at a young age is not "to blame" for her sexual activity, and as a result an abortion is okay in these cases.

But here's what this really says. A woman who doesn't choose to have sex deserves the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. A woman who does choose to have sex does not deserve the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. What makes this misogynist is that it takes a moral imperative ("good women don't sleep around") and uses it as a framework to give "bad" women fewer rights than "good" ones. This classification obviously operates based on the idea that women can and should be judged according to moral standards they do not share; if they shared the position that consenting women don't deserve reproductive freedom, they wouldn't be asking for abortions.

But these women have their own moral standards. A woman who chooses to have sex does not give up her conscience (despite what many particularly vicious misogynists may assert). What DHHS is saying is that if a woman seeks an abortion after having consensual sex, it doesn't matter if she thinks it's right. She isn't qualified to make that decision, and her doctor has every right to veto it by denying her access to the abortion she wants.

I don't think I'm being overdramatic when I say this: if a woman isn't qualified to make a moral choice about "appropriate" sexual conduct because she might "choose wrong," why are they allowed to make moral choices anywhere else? Why are women voting? Shouldn't every woman's vote be subject to a veto by someone who's afraid she'll "vote wrong?"


The next argument I hear a lot is that women don't have to raise these children. They can choose to give it up for adoption and move on with their lives without having to kill a fetus. This argument is based on the assumption that "no cost pregnancies" are not only possible, but universal.

This is flawed. Pregnancy is a very costly experience. I don't care how many times you've seen the movie Juno; women cannot expect that their every medical and emotional need will be catered to by wealthy supportive patrons. Here's what really happens.

Carrying a bearing a child disrupts a woman's education if she still needs to finish it.

There are also incredible medical expenses involved with proper pre-natal care.

There's also the fact that if your job doesn't allow maternity leave (and unlike many European countries, America doesn't require employers to provide this), any time spent in the hospital could cost you your job. This is not just your means of supporting yourself. It's probably also your means of paying for the aforementioned expensive prenatal care.

Make no mistake. This is what an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy looks like. There are problems with someone else having the power to subject women to these circumstances, particularly since most women will be facing those circumstances alone. In a perfect world, those wouldn't be problems. But if you make laws as though we are living in a perfect world, you're not the one who'll suffer. Women will suffer. I should hope that matters enough to you to affect your decision.

Making law as though women who don't want children have it in their power to prevent conception 100% is making law in a land of fantasy (particularly with DHHS trying to restrict women's access to hormonal birth control). It's a nice fantasy. I'd like it a lot, too, if I could prevent pregnancy 100%. But if you make policy as though we are living in that perfect world when we are not, it won't be you who suffers. It will be women, and the children born to these now-disadvantaged and disenfranchised mothers. Pretending the world is better than it is will not make everything better. It will hurt people, and crowing that those nasty sluts had it coming does not erase that fact.

The only reason I can see for picturing the world this way and making law this way is to make you (and the "American Taliban" in general) feel like you've shown everyone how moral you are. If that's the needs those laws are serving, it becomes very very important to me how many people those laws will hurt.

And y'know what? When you're willing to hurt that many people just to codify your morals, I will never believe you are moral. You just want to be seen that way, by others and yourself. As a moral person, I call bullshit on that. As a woman, I call double bullshit on people who're willing to ruin my life and the lives of women like me just to feel special, like their morals are the only ones important enough to be made law.

Yes, women like me. Here's where we get to the personal anecdote section.


I have been in a relationship with the first person I ever had intercourse with for four years now (as of Sunday). We use two forms of protection every time we have sex. Our relationship is stable, and so is our economic footing (sorta). A pregnancy would halt Brian's education and my job search. A pregnancy would rack up medical bills neither of us can pay for (and neither can our families). A pregnancy would destroy us.

We're careful. We're responsible.

We are doing everything we can to prevent me from conceiving.

If I become pregnant, there are people who would deny me an abortion because I chose to have sex, and I deserve the worst case scenario when/if it comes around. I deserve to lose my job and not further my education. Brian deserves to have his education halted. We both deserve staggering debt from medical bills, debt we may never get out of. Above all we deserve the strain on an otherwise-healthy relationship.

And why?

Because I chose to have sex, and irresponsible people deserve to have their lives ruined. If I'd been raped, my rights would remain intact. But if one standard of morality gets codified into law, and that standard of morality judges me a bad woman who should have to bear an enforced pregnancy... what can I do?

You want to talk about prevention? I'm trying to prevent a worldview that treats adult women like minors (children, guys) or livestock who are unqualified to make "the big choices," like when they'll breed. I'm trying to prevent a worldview that could ruin my life from getting a toehold in my government.


What do you want for American women? Does it have anything to do with their wellbeing? Or hadn't you really thought about it? There's more to morality than "protect babies." Sometimes you have to concede an obligation to the human beings around you who're trying to live out their lives. The real question is whether a potential human is more important to you than a living one, just because the living one happens to be a woman.

If you're comfortable with that, truly comfortable with it, leave a comment. I need to know who you are so that I can seriously reconsider your respect for me as a human being.


Anonymous said...

I am a man and pro-choice for many of the reasons you stated. I would prefer it if abortions were not needed, but that is not the case in today's screwed up society. I can't stand the supposed "moral" pro-life windbags who aren't willing to look or deal with reality. The decisions going on at DHHS scare me into thinking we are regressing even more.

Murphoid said...

You make it sound like we can just choose where life begins. We don’t know. What if we are wrong? If life does begin at fertilization and we prevent that life from implanting then that life dies. This is tragic that human life has been deprived of their primary right, their right to live. I think we should err on the side of caution.

I submit to you that no one has a right to terminate a human life unless they are going to save another human life in the process. I don’t think the issue at hand here is whether a woman is good or bad or pink or purple. The issue at hand is whether or not we are preventing human life from living.

Becoming pregnant and giving birth is indeed no small inconvenience. It is a life changing event. It costs a lot of money. It changes lives. It could put a woman out of work and on the street with no one to turn to. But ending a human life or preventing a human life from living … isn’t it worth living on the streets if you can know you did it to let a human life exist?

About the regulation doctors need to provide patients with medical care. Does medical care include doing everything the patient asks you to do? A doctor has to use his judgment to determine which of his patients requests he will perform. They do not and should not be required to perform every procedure that their patients ask for, especially when that procedure goes against their judgment, even their moral judgement. The alternative is saying that a doctor MUST perform every procedure that their patient asks for no matter what their moral judgment might be. This could mean that a doctor would have to perform assisted suicides if their patients asked for them, even if the doctor didn’t think it was warranted. This is after all a moral judgment on the part of the doctor. No, that isn’t right; we have to let medical providers use their moral judgments.

What do I want for American Women? What do I want for you? Of course be happy and healthy. If you wind up unexpectedly pregnant. Call me I will do everything I can to make sure you have everything you need. You need cash, a place to sleep, a ride, food, some one to pay for your medical bills, whatever I'll make it happen. Because you are my friend. That is what I am here for. I think this is the scale on which you should choose your friends, not on their minutia of political and moral belief.

Also keep in mind that on this point I am no hypocrite. Johnna and I practice no birth control haven't for 11 years. Because we beleive that life begins at fertilization.

Cobalt said...

What this regulation does is protect doctors who won't do their jobs from facing the same consequences anybody else would face in any other field.

Let's say I own a bar. I hire a bartender whose job obligations include serving liquor to my customers, who have come to me because they want it. He agrees to do this job, but I find out later he belongs to the Temperance Movement (which is still around, believe it or not), and has been refusing to serve patrons anything alcoholic. My patrons are understandably upset by this.

Do I have the right to fire my bartender? Does a hospital have the right to fire a doctor who does the same thing?

Doctors have the right to whatever convictions they please, and they do have right of conscience. They also have the right to choose what procedures they'll participate in. It's called "choosing a medical specialization." If you become a doctor knowing that you will not be morally able to perform all the duties of that profession (and by AMA ethics guidelines this includes providing patients the care they came for), you have made the wrong choice. You are a Temperence bartender, a pakka Hindu working at a steakhouse, a Jehovah's Witness working at a blood bank. You shouldn't be there.

"A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount." -AMA

If a doctor can't do that, he failed to exercise his right of conscience when he most needed to: when he decided whether to become a doctor.

Brian was talking about this elsewhere, and here's something he brought up that I think is relevant. He's asleep so I can't rightly drag him in here to post this himself.

Even getting to see a doctor requires appointments, taking time off work, etc. Going to great lengths to see a doctor to be told "I won't perform abortions, and I don't have to tell you who will, because I think abortions are immoral" is not a case of "physicians being able to uphold their own moral integrity." It is a case of the patient's rights to desired treatment being placed lower on the priority list than the physician's personal feelings. This is totally unacceptable from the standpoint of medical ethics.


Your opinion is in direct disagreement with that of the American Medical Association. According to the AMA, and more specifically the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (because let's face it, this is all about abortions), doctors should:

-Give patients prior notice of their moral commitments and provide accurate and unbiased information about reproductive services.
-Refer patients in a timely manner to another doctor who can provide the requested service.
-Provide medically indicated services in an emergency when referral is impossible or might affect a patient's physical or emotional health.
-Practice close to physicians who will provide legal services or ensure that referral processes are in place so that patient access is not impeded.

The press release I'm citing also makes reference to a case in which a lesbian couple was denied artificial insemination and a Nebraska hospital refused to perform an abortion to save a 19-year-old girl's life. It happens.

This is not some imaginary slippery-slope argument; slippery-slope is not always a fallacy. From the text of the recommendation itself:

"When applying the term 'assist in the performance'...the Department proposes to include any activity with reasonable connection to the objectionable procedure, including referrals, training, and other arrangements. For example, an operating room nurse would assist in the performance...an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments used would be considered to assist in the performance..."

If you're the only anaesthesiologist on duty and an emergency comes up where a woman's life is on the line--it's abort or die--under the proposition here you could simply say no and nobody could touch you, even if your refusal to intervene directly led to the death of a patient.

Some Canadian doctors are refusing to perform pap smears. Doctors have refused to perform abortions for rape victims and subsequently refused to refer the patients elsewhere. Female Muslim doctors have refused to properly scrub for surgeries citing religious objections to baring skin.

Doctors are already doing this. They're refusing to perform totally necessary medical examinations and imposing their own beliefs on patients--which is in complete opposition to the notion of patient autonomy presented by medical ethics.

So that's the medical ethics line of it. When we're talking about the right of doctors to their conscience, I feel it's important to know what doctors are discussing and why. That's Brian's area; mine is social science, so I'll take it there next.

I respect your view more because you don't make an exception for rape and incest. This makes you at once both more merciless and more consistent. And honestly I'd rather be talking to someone consistent. The reason that I think it's merciless is that you are completely disregarding the woman's fate in light of the presence of her fetus. What's interesting is that this means you seem to have more compassion for the fetus than the woman, which means that if the fetus is born female... it actually loses regard (since then its primary worth is as a potential incubator for the next generation of "people who matter for nine months.") This isn't something most pro-lifers would say aloud, but it's something that feminists can sense under the surface of all this concern for fetuses and all this condemnation of women who don't have the resources or inclination to care for them.

I think it's noble of you to express such deep concern for women facing unplanned pregnancy, and if our society actually offered them the kind of support that you would on an individual basis, the choice to bear a child (and even raise it) would be much easier than the alternative, which is abortion. Unfortunately we live in a society in which women don't have that kind of support system, not as a rule. And until it's a rule, it is abusive to women to behave as though that perfect society exists. What you will be doing is forcing women to surrender control of their reproduction to a religion (and let's face it, for most people this is a religious question) whose tenets they do not share (otherwise they would clearly not be seeking to plan their reproduction).

In what world--no, no. In what secular nation can we subordinate the economic and social autonomy of half the country's citizens because conservative Christianity does not believe they really need it? In what secular nation can we allow one religious faction to tell all the others, "I realize you're trying to protect women, and we understand that we're ruining their lives. But you must understand that we don't think that's terribly important, and we make the laws. :) Got it?"

This is the same argument that I make against so-called "Biblical" marriages ("Biblical" being in big ol' quotes for reasons that should be obvious). I'll explain it here with the caveat that it's a bit of a tangent.

I was talking once to a man who was telling me that in an ideal world, men would be noble enough to care for women in all ways so that they didn't need jobs or educations. Working women are unhappy women, and educated women are a sign that a society's men are woefully inadequate. Women would be happiest under the loving headship of a man the way the church is under the loving headship of Christ. What I told him was that he cannot claim to care about the wellbeing of women and then create a system that only works in a world that is perfect: a world we don't live in. In short: he cares about the wellbeing of women, but not enough to create a system that will actually produce that. Which says to women like me that he doesn't really care too much at all.

And that's what this sounds like. It sounds like you have great love and compassion for women who are stuck with unplanned pregnancies, but you aren't willing to acknowledge that their suffering is important enough to influence your decisions about their reproduction (I say "your decision" because evidently they don't need one; they have you there for that).

When I say "subordinate their economic and social autonomy," this is what I mean: Women are biologically disadvantaged when it comes to being autonomous humans. This is one strike against them from the moment their sex organs fail to differentiate into the male set. In America we believe in equal opportunity (not equality: equality of opportunity), which means that starting out at a disadvantage sucks. Part of changing the systems that disadvantage women is giving them the same control over their lives men do. That means letting them compensate for their comparatively-inconvenient reproductive role by using scientific advances to keep themselves from becoming pregnant and losing their current standing (and what's worse, raising a child at their new lower standing). That's the role of contraception and abortion in economic parity for men and women. Another part of changing the systems that disadvantage women is allowing other people (usually men but as Sarah Palin has shown, not always) to veto their moral choices. This needs to be fixed, because otherwise women will be living in a world where they're disadvantaged to start with, and other people's choices for them can disadvantage them even further--possibly beyond their ability to repair their lives.

I ask you again. If women aren't qualified to choose how (or whether) to plan their reproduction lest they "choose wrong" by someone else's standards, what makes them qualified to vote? Aren't they just as likely to "vote wrong" by someone else's standards? To add something from a bumper sticker I was recently shown, "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?"

Cobalt said...

So here are the reasons I've mentioned for why I disagree with you.

One: Doctors are obligated by the standards of their field to perform certain procedures. According to medical ethics guidelines, a doctor's desires do not trump the medical needs of his/her patient. This makes it a medical ethics issue, and medical ethics are pretty clear.

Two: This regulation gives doctors carte blanche to refuse treatment of any kind, to any degree, to anyone, for any reason. Given how difficult it is for some people to get to a doctor already, I shouldn't have to explain why such barriers to treatment are scary and bad. It's a safety issue for citizens, and it's also pretty clear.

Three: You cannot pose as someone sympathetic to women if your motivation stops at sympathy. If all you can say is, "man it sucks to be you," you aren't really doing any woman anywhere any good. It's a hypocrisy issue, and it's pretty clear.

Four: If women are to partake of the American dream of equal opportunity, certain hitches in their biology need to be mediated. I'm speaking mainly of the fact that sexual intercourse can ruin their lives, but not the lives of men (at least, not unless the man allows it), without warning and without recourse unless women are allowed to plan their reproduction. It's a parity issue, and it's pretty clear which way makes better progress in that direction.

Five: The only reason not to allow this is that your religious rules are more important to you than the quality of life for women who do not share them. It is more important to you to codify your religion into law than to protect women. I do not share your religion, and as a result you must understand that codifying someone else's religion into law will always be less important to me than my own economic and social viability. It's a religious freedom issue, and in America it's pretty clear that your religion doesn't automatically deserve to be codified above everyone else's.

Six: Moral maturity. I'm not talking about yours. I'm talking about women. I believe that women are intellectual and moral adults, despite their "innie" genitalia. This is why I believe women should have the right to vote. We are discerning creatures just like men are, and that means we are no more likely to "vote wrong" than any man. This is also why I believe women should be the ones to plan their reproduction and not their doctors. You cannot maintain a stance that women are morally mature (which I do) and simultaneously claim they cannot be trusted with "the big choices." It's a misogyny issue, and it's pretty clear to me that if women can't be trusted to make moral decisions, the suffrage movement was a grave error.

Can you give me a reply to each of those issues? Because they are all very important.

Murphoid said...

One: No problem here. As long as we are talking about medical need, not elective wants. Also I do think that a doctor should give a referral to someone who would if he is saying no to an elective procedure. If the patient’s life is threatened, the doctor should help the patient no matter what.

Two: For any reason? I thought we were talking about moral objections. If a doctor has a moral objection to a certain procedure and is forthright about it to his patients without bias or discrimination and announces it to every new patient at the first visit then that is ok. I am not for any doctor who says, “Sorry, I am not doing “liverectomies” this week because they are yucky.” Again if the doctor won’t do something for a moral reason, I do think he should make a referral if the patient desires it.

Three: I think it is pretty clear that my motivation does not stop at sympathy. As I have said to you about whatever you need, I have done for others. My motivation does not make me take the actions you want me to take. It makes me take the actions I believe I should take.

Four: Sexual intercourse can ruin the lives of men. STDs are rampant. A man’s career could be ended over a poor choice of who to sleep with. However I do acknowledge that a woman has the greater risk by far. I think that any employer who discriminates against a woman’s pregnancy should be faced with punishment and the responsibility to make it right, especially financially. I think that unplanned pregnancies for students and other unemployed/underemployed young adults should be funded by social programs when private charities are not sufficient. I believe learning institutions should be required to make every possible allowance for pregnancies, allowing for whatever schedules the mother can make. I agree with any legislation or litigation to this end. I do not agree that the only remedy to this problem is in medication and surgery. I think this problem should be dealt with by punishing companies, organizations and learning institutions that discriminate against pregnant women, because it is clearly illegal and unfair. I acknowledge that pregnant women are very discriminated against currently but this should not be the case.

Five: My religious rules don’t enter into it. I am talking about my personal moral convictions. Which by the way sometimes differ from the faith I practice. I am one voter and I vote my conscience. I do not impose my religion on anyone. I do not wish to codify my religion into law. Democracy is set up so that the majority will win. If my convictions are in the minority I loose.

Six: My belief is Life is not a decision to be made. I don’t feel I have the right to end life unless that life threatens mine or someone else’s. You have the right to disagree with my beliefs and hopefully we resolve our differences peacefully though ballot. If there was a woman somewhere who read this and was moved to vote for the first time to vote against me, I would die for her right to do it after driving her to the polling place. No joke.

Idran said...

"Two: For any reason? I thought we were talking about moral objections. If a doctor has a moral objection to a certain procedure and is forthright about it to his patients without bias or discrimination and announces it to every new patient at the first visit then that is ok. I am not for any doctor who says, “Sorry, I am not doing “liverectomies” this week because they are yucky.” Again if the doctor won’t do something for a moral reason, I do think he should make a referral if the patient desires it."

The problem is how could you ever actually prove that a doctor truly is against a procedure for moral reasons? They could simply lie about their reasoning for not doing a procedure, and there's no way to prove that isn't truly their moral standpoint. The only way to get around this would be to make the only reason for not performing a procedure one that's empirically verifiable by a third party, such as risk of life to the patient. And though I personally disagree with even going that far, as I believe a properly informed patient should have the right to have any medical procedure they wish even if it holds some excessive risk with it, if you are for a doctor being able to say "no" to some classification of procedure, that's as far as I can tell the only route you could go that would keep the doctor from making up an unprovably-false reasoning.

Anonymous said...

I, Marcus S. Hinton of Dayton, Ohio, agree completely with Cobalt in this matter. I, Mr. Marcus S. Hinton of Dayton, Ohio, am pro-life. How does that make any sense?

It is in my opinion that abortion of a fetus should only be considered in the case of the pregnancy coming to threaten the life of the mother. I do not feel it should be used as a "oops button" when a couple is having sex.

If one takes the risk of sex, one takes the risk of dropping a kid. I learned that before I even fully understood what sex was. It's a fact of life. And, as far as I am concerned, it is not the fault of the child in question to have to die because mommy and daddy got unlucky or just plain screwed up.

As for rape and incest, one of my -best- friends in this life was a product of a rape. His mother decided to keep the baby and raise him anyway. I thank her for that, as an individual that I would come to love as closely as a brother would be in the world to enrich my life and help make me the man I am today. (Love ya Jason, wherever you are. Stay up, brah.)

Now, having said that, how could I -possibly- agree with a word Cobalt has said? Simple. Like my faith in a power above me with a son named Jesus(you know the guy), I apply my beliefs on this matter to -me- and no one else.

I hold -myself- to this code of conduct and judge only -myself- in it's practice in my daily life. The only persons I have to answer to are my God and the man in the mirror. No one else has the right to judge me and I have -no- right to do the same to them.

I suppose I should say that I am Pro-life for -my- seed and Pro-choice for everyone I am not having a baby with. If my genetic material is not involved in the matter, then neither should I.

I can suggest to a mother all damn day that I feel that spanking is an effective method of child-rearing and give them a million tips on how it should be applied to positive result. But, I can't make her do it. No should I be able to. Why would that change if the child is not even born yet?

What right do I, Marcus S. Hinton of Dayton, Ohio, have to dictate to a woman--who is not carrying our jointly created child--how she conduct the affairs of her uterus. what right do I have of dictating to the man who's seed she carries whether or not he can help make the decision about his impending child?

Short answer: I don't. Not at all.

Certainly not the doctors that would be given the right to refuse service at their whim.

Is it to say that it would be acceptable for a Police officer can refuse to investigate a robbery because he feels the victims didn't purchase a good enough security system, so they got what was coming to them?

Or what of a fire fighter that let's a house burn down because the person's owning the dwelling didn't take enough precautions to prevent the fire in the first place, in his eyes?

No, of course not. If either of these cases occurred, people would be baying for these individual's blood in the form of their badges and the ability to continue to do what they do anymore.

Why is it that it is now ok to have that kind of an out for a doctor? when did this even become an ok thing to even ponder?

The fact that a large amount of this issue is stemmed in religion makes me ill with worry. I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state as not everyone in this fair country of ours happens to be Christian, among other reasons that I will not go into here.

One's faith of choice(if at all) should not now, or ever, be the reason why one is denied anything in this country, let alone medical care of whatever sort requested.

And this "sanctity of life" claptrap has pushed me far beyond my tolerance. I hear people keening on and on about how it's about the "sanctity of life" why abortion should be outlawed.

Ok. I hear that. I understand where you are coming from and I see why you find that important.

Here's a tip. How's about we take all the -millions- of dollars spent to make woman who have sex out to be monsters and spend that on building some homes for some people? Putting some people through school. Setting up additional(and fixing existing) care plans for parents so they actually afford to have all these babies that pro-lifers want them to have without demolishing their lives and giving their children nothing but struggle to grow up with.

Now, I'm not saying that options and counseling one the pros and cons should not be made available to expectant parents. But, this nonsense about putting it in the laws that makes it ok for a doctor to refuse to treat a person other than something that is a medical threat to said patient is simply disgusting and most unbecoming of a nation that dares call itself "free and just".

My ten cents. keep the change.


Sam said...

If a woman should never desire a child, never want to be a mother (a responsibility and social role--even during pregnancy), should her sole option of accomplishing this be to never have sex?

Or is she not allowed to choose whether she wants to take on the role of 'mother?'

Should these women remain "old maids?"
Have you ever seen a celibate couple? To prevent pregnancy?

I agree, women should not be "a potential incubator for the next generation of 'people who matter for nine months'" simply based on their biology (See above, Cobalt).

N.B. said...

"Two: For any reason? I thought we were talking about moral objections?"

"Five: My religious rules don't enter into it. I am talking about my personal moral convictions."

Idran already pointed something out that I feel is worth continuing. Anything can be a moral objection. Cobalt cited something that I said earlier about Muslim women in the UK refusing to properly wash their hands before surgeries. The reason stated was a "moral" objection to baring skin; it is basically impossible to wash your hands up to the elbows, as physicians and others in sterile environments are required to do, without showing a bit of arm.

There is no such thing as an "objective" set of moral codes unless you opt to assume that one religion has it right. Christians look to the Bible for opinions on what is moral. Muslims pick up the Qu'ran. Hindus might go to the Bhagvad-Gita. Heaven's Gate members took their moral cues from Jim Jones. All of these sources for morality are inconsistent with each other somewhere.

As a result, if I feel it is immoral to wear red, dance, or hold the door for strangers, I can claim that doing such a thing is immoral and by the laws of our society you are basically required to show respect for my belief, especially if I can couch it in terms of my religious faith. You might privately think I'm nuts, but to say so out loud is inviting people to criticize you for intolerance. Keep in mind that no matter how obvious and right your beliefs seem to you, others do not necessarily share them, "moral" or otherwise.

"You make it sound like we can just choose where life begins. We don't know. What if we are wrong?"

Actually, it's impossible for us to be wrong. What is "life?" Biologically speaking, sperm and eggs are alive, albeit simple organisms with an incomplete set of chromosomes.

The question of "where life begins" is loaded. You can say life begins at fertilization, because at that point the resulting zygote has an opportunity to grow, implant, mature, and eventually become a child. Or a fertilized egg can be swept out of the uterus and expelled from the body without ever being implanted, even without human intervention. It is estimated that 25 to 50% of all conceptions spontaneously abort. Many of these women never know they were pregnant.

There is no objective authority to tell us "when life begins." There is no "right" answer chosen by the cosmos. Human beings can pick any number of points. Some people say fertilization, but a fertilized egg is about as alive as one of the cells on the inside of my cheek. It cannot survive independently of my body. We should pick an obvious milestone, so others say birth. Life begins when a fetus can survive outside a mother's body. At that point it can exist as an independent organism and therefore deserves the rights of one.

There are many objections to the "independent organism" argument. Some say that a fetus is an independent organism from the moment it forms, not because it can survive without the support of the womb, but because it has unique DNA. So do cancer cells, but we have no problem excising them when they threaten a person's life. Some say that a fetus has "the potential for personhood" and that to terminate a pregnancy is to deny the future child "an opportunity at life." But this is also a faulty argument. Either a fetus is a person or it isn't. If we're going to assume that "potential for personhood" has any weight then we should make sure women conceive as often as possible so as not to waste all those eggs that could've been children.

"I do not wish to codify my religion into law. Democracy is set up so that the majority will win. If my convictions are in the minority, I will lose."

People once believed that blacks were inherently inferior to whites. They even invented a "mental disease," drapetomania, that supposedly inspired slaves to flee their wonderful white masters. Some people still think blacks are inherently inferior to whites. Should we put it to a vote and see? What about women's sufferage? Should women be allowed to vote? We could vote on that, too.

There is a decision-making model in social justice theory called the "veil of ignorance." Suppose you were responsible for designing an entire society in great detail. How would you do it? Here's the catch--you don't know whether you will end up on the "top" or the "bottom" of society. You don't know, once you are finished with your design, whether you will be rich or poor, black or white, male or female. Like real life, it will be mostly random.

Given this, you would probably want to make the resulting society as equal as possible for all people, because you don't know where you're going to end up. But that's not the way it works in real life, because people already know where they stand. So the rich, quite rationally, try to hold onto their riches. The whites tried to maintain their political and economic superiority over blacks by giving them only 3/5ths of a vote (and it took a great deal of effort to get people to budge on THAT in the late 1800's).

Human rights issues are too important to leave to "democracy," especially when the disadvantaged are outnumbered by the advantaged. If you feel that a particular issue will cause you to "lose ground" politically, economically, or socially, why in the world would you vote for it? What incentive is there for those in power to give up power? You could say that being willing to give up power is "moral," and for some people, that would be enough. But for others it clearly isn't. In that case, it would be "moral" for Christians in this country to give the right to the legal benefits of marriage to homosexuals, but many of them are fighting tooth-and-nail to make sure that never happens; they want gays to remain socially disadvantaged because they think they are immoral, and in this manner they justify and perpetuate inequality, no matter what Jesus taught about loving one's neighbors.

Also, just a minor quip.

"I think that any employer who discriminates against a woman’s pregnancy should be faced with punishment and the responsibility to make it right, especially financially. I think that unplanned pregnancies for students and other unemployed/underemployed young adults should be funded by social programs when private charities are not sufficient."

Back this assertion up. Show me your words mean something with actions. Who are you voting for this November? You don't have to answer if it makes you uncomfortable. But if you do, I expect you to be able to justify your choice with evidence that the candidate in question will work to achieve the things you say you want.

Cobalt said...


In debate we had a rule of argument that could be invoked if a party to the debate... missed things. If I say something and my opponent does not effectively refute it when he stands up with his rebuttal, we must assume that he had no objection to it. He had nothing to say.

Time constraints and research ability had no impact on this basic standard of thoroughness. Since both sides had equal time and opportunity to prepare and research, this applies to both. So if my opponent ignores a crucial point of my case, I need to be alert for that and tell the judges why it was important. If I can prove it was important, we all draw an arrow right across our debate notes from the start to the end to signify that an important argument went undisputed and thus "flows through" the round.

I've tried my best as a result of this habit to address everything you have mentioned, but you've left some of my points unrefuted, or incompletely refuted. I made that numbered list at the end of my last post to ensure that you couldn't plausibly miss any of them in the paragraphs that came before. Despite my handy recap, there are things you didn't dispute. I have to assume you agree with them, or at least you couldn't think of a way to pull them apart. They are important. Here's what they are, and here's why they matter.

One: I mentioned earlier that doctors are not required to give referrals, and that this is part of the problem. It becomes a patient access issue when they have to work to get to one doctor, who simply stonewalls them and says, "no, because my feelings are more important than your request for treatment." I mentioned an example earlier from Brian's argument in which a doctor refused to provide a referral because it's not required, and an example in which a patient's life was at stake and the medical practitioner is still not actually required by law to act. What you have done is say, "Your argument is wrong in a world I have invented in which doctors must give referrals and will always put the life of the patient above the life of the fetus." We are not arguing about this imaginary world, and therefore my points about medical ethics as they relate to a patient's access to care all stand unchallenged. Medical ethics dictate, in the world we live in, that a doctor who refuses to do his job is a danger to patients.

Two: Idran addressed you here, and I mentioned examples of doctors invoking the sanctity of their consciences for the vaguest of reasons. "Because I have a moral imperative to refuse to do my job" is not specific. It can be (and is) easily abused. Examples have been given, and you ignored them. You also mentioned referrals again, which would be nice but still restrict access of patients to medical care and are not actually even required. Please address this point in light of the fact that doctors can and do abuse this regulation and others like it in precisely the way I am afraid of.

Three: Your personal motivation does not stop at sympathy, but the way you feel compelled to make law does. You are not capable of helping all of the women who will be disenfranchised by this regulation, but your vote of confidence does have the power to reinforce it. As a result you are helping to create a mess that you cannot possibly help clean up. The fact that you would help a friend (and perhaps even a stranger) who would be victimized by the regulation doesn't change the fact that you support it. It just makes your support of it more confusing. You will help a woman who is right in front of you, but you will broadly disenfranchise them by supporting this regulation. It's understandable to care more about women who are looking you in the face, but it's also inconsistent. Where's my "merciless but consistent" debate partner now?

Four: I agree with you that there should be more social support for mothers in general. It's why I receive updates from MomsRising.org, a PAC that fights practices and laws that discriminate against mothers and families. It's also why I'm not voting for a candidate who believes all earmarks (including social programs) are "unnecessary pork" that should be vetoed. But more to the point, I am behaving and advocating laws that are intended to function in a world where mothers are discriminated against, because like it or not that's what we have. You have again invented a perfect world in which your position does not victimize women because women should have plenty of social support in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. Well, I don't really have to tell you this but I'll repeat it to be sure: Just because they should have support doesn't mean they do. And making laws as though they do have that safety net (simply because it'd be nice if they did) only further victimizes women who are already being discriminated against. Again, you are upholding the wellbeing of women but not taking the actions that will secure it. You are simply behaving as though "ought" were "is," and women will suffer for your denial of reality.

Five: One cannot believe that something is objectively and cosmically wrong without tracing that judgment to a power beyond oneself (otherwise it would simply be your own perspective, and not worthy of enforcing on others). For example, I have never met an atheist who believes in an objective morality, because an objective morality must be attributed to something. You are not saying, "I believe that abortion is wrong, therefore I won't get one." You are saying, "I believe abortion is so cosmically wrong that I will work to prevent anyone who disagrees with me from having it. Because I know they're wrong even if they don't." Do you see the difference here? This is a religious issue, because you cannot claim that your morality should trump anyone else's unless you're tracing yours (and not others) to a higher authority. Because this is clearly a religious issue (for you personally, even if you don't trace it to external dogma), all of my objections to the enforcement of one religion's laws on nonbelievers continue to stand.

N.B. has addressed the problems inherent in allowing the majority to decide the rights of minorities, and because Christians are a privileged group in America they must be considered the majority in this case. I refer you back to N.B.

Six: You did not address anything that I said about women's moral maturity. Perhaps this is because you misunderstood the suffrage analogy. I'm not saying that you surely cannot really believe women should vote. The example actually would not work if you believed that. What I am doing is presenting a case in which the very arguments you are using ("women should be denied the chance to choose, because they might make a choice I think is wrong") were used to keep women from voting (something which you think women have the capability to do). You don't think women are such moral infants they must be denied the vote, but you do believe that women "choosing wrong" in this case is such a heinous possibility that they and everyone else must be protected from their potentially-faulty moral compass, and that the only way to do this is to deny them the opportunity to make what you feel would be a mistake.

I gave you a handy bulleted list of my important points, and in the interests of keeping the dialogue between you and me on topic, I have organized my rebuttal the same way. I would appreciate a more direct and thorough reading this time around, because there's a lot you missed before--a lot that matters.

Murphoid said...

This is going to be my last post here. I am sorry if you thought I was interested in an actual debate. I was just responding as requested to your post and tried to give the best responses after that to the points that you asked me to respond to after that. I can not talk to many of the points you raise because I just simply don’t agree with the suppositions that you make to reach your points. I have tried to show where my own beliefs and mores lie, but I do not have the time to engage in a debate on this topic. The primary reason I do not choose to make the time for this is that neither of us would be swayed by the power of the others arguments because we are just coming from too fundamentally different points of view. God bless you all and I want you to know I have the utmost respect for your viewpoints.

Cobalt said...

I don't know if you respect my views because you're my friend, or because you feel I've critically examined them and they're reasonable (even if you do not agree).

I'm dismayed that you aren't interested in continuing to contrast our viewpoints here, but I obviously cannot force you to continue a discussion you aren't enjoying anymore.

N.B. said...


I'm sure you were directing your reply at the blog author, but.

I am offended that you do not think that I have the intellectual honesty to rethink my point of view in light of new evidence.

If you have the ability to back up the things you believe, then do so. But to believe things that you yourself cannot support in light of critical examination is cowardice. If you truly feel strongly about something, but cannot explain why, you should consider whether or not you really believe it. If something is a good enough reason for you, it might be good enough for others. You will never find out if you do not subject your beliefs to criticism.

However, if you believe something for reasons that you know are not going to be convincing to other people, you should really think very hard about whether or not your beliefs should drive public policy.

Cobalt said...

Someone by the name of raven_moon that I know on another journal site made an excellent point that I feel should be included in this discussion.

In this country, we do not mandate organ donation, we do not even mandate blood donation. Even in the case of a family member asked to donate life saving bone marrow, we do not, as a society, find it appropriate to make this compulsory, even when we can sit and talk to the person whose life hangs in the balance. Even after death, our wishes with regard to our own physical bodies determine whether our organs may or may not be used to save the lives of other human beings. And it is right that we should not. If the government tried to make these things mandatory under law, I am confident at least as many Christians and religious persons as non-religious would be having fits, and for once I would agree, though doubtless for different reasons.

Do these measures save lives? Of course. Is this a good thing? Naturally, no question. But mandatory, to be legislated and enforced by the law of the land. Absolutely not.

But to remove or restrict the right to abortion & birth control is to remove the control of one human over their body in order to sustain the life of another, something we clearly do not find appropriate. Even if you assume a fetus IS a human being from conception/implantation, if the law of the land cannot help itself to my kidneys when I am dead, nor to my blood or tissue while alive, in order to support the life of another human being, why is it that the law should be able to mandate the use my body, against my wishes, for a period of nine months, to support the life of another human being? The answer is that it cannot, any more than it can compel organ, tissue or blood donation.

Is it better to avoid the necessity of abortion? Of course. (Better still not make sure that all women have full, complete and informed access to birth control, which will drastically remove the demand for abortion in the first place.) But to make full term carriage mandatory, to be legislated and enforced by the law of the land? Absolutely not.