Thursday, February 3, 2011

Correctly Framing the Argument

On Wednesday night, February 2nd, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a wonderful segment on the attempts by Republicans in Congress to further attack abortion rights.  In the bit, one of the Daily Show's comediennes pointed out that the current proposed legislation which would restrict the rights of women to abortions for rape to instances where they were physically injured in resisting came out to fewer than 191 cases a year.  That was 191 cases for abortions due to the allowable rape, and incest, and health and life of the mother reasons.  THE COST INVOLVED TO EACH TAXPAYER WAS TWO TENTHS OF ONE CENT.  This is not about money.  Anyone who believes it is about money OR conscience is wrong.

This is the legislation that is supported by nearly two hundred Republicans and Tea Partiers.  This is the priority over legislation relating to jobs of the political right wing of the United States Congress. 

This is anti-women legislation in the guise of conservative culture wars.  What it really is about is promoting draconian anti-sex laws, even when that includes - as this does - sex without consent, or non-consensual sex as in rape or incest.

Sadly what it does is wrongly frames the argument in a way which is doomed to fail to accomplish the intended goal.

For anyone who really wants to honestly and sincerely claim a patriotic regard for the United States Constitution, you don't do that by trampling on a Constitutional right in this way. For anyone who genuinely wants to stand up for the rights of everyone, including the unborn, you don't do that by trampling on the rights of half of those individuals, born and unborn, who are female.

If you really want to protect life, you protect women's rights. Womens' rights also tend to be good for democracy, good for economies, and good for education in every country, developing or developed, where they are given a priority or emphasis.

If anyone sincerely wishes to stop abortions, the way to do that - the only effective way to do that - is to stop unwanted conceptions.  Abortion is profoundly historic. Every culture, every medical pharmacopoeia in history has included abortifacients.  They have been known and practiced in every culture, in every time in our history, on every location on the surface of this planet, regardless of the religion or lack of it of the people who were alive at that place and time.  The notion that it can be stopped by legislation is as ludicrous as the notion that consumption of alcohol was going to be stopped by prohibition.  The numbers of abortions will remain approximately the same, they will simply go underground and become more dangerous and more painful. But they will not stop - see below (added emphasis mine - DG).

Volume 25, Supplement, January 1999

The Incidence of Abortion Worldwide
By Stanley K. Henshaw, Susheela Singh and Taylor Haas

Context: Accurate measurement of induced abortion levels has proven difficult in many parts of the world. Health care workers and policymakers need information on the incidence of both legal and illegal induced abortion to provide the needed services and to reduce the negative impact of unsafe abortion on women's health.

Methods: Numbers and rates of induced abortions were estimated from four sources: official statistics or other national data on legal abortions in 57 countries; estimates based on population surveys for two countries without official statistics; special studies for 10 countries where abortion is highly restricted; and worldwide and regional estimates of unsafe abortion from the World Health Organization.
Results: Approximately 26 million legal and 20 million illegal abortions were performed worldwide in 1995, resulting in a worldwide abortion rate of 35 per 1,000 women aged 15–44. Among the subregions of the world, Eastern Europe had the highest abortion rate (90 per 1,000) and Western Europe the lowest rate (11 per 1,000). Among countries where abortion is legal without restriction as to reason, the highest abortion rate, 83 per 1,000, was reported for Vietnam and the lowest, seven per 1,000, for Belgium and the Netherlands. Abortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted.
Conclusions: Both developed and developing countries can have low abortion rates. Most countries, however, have moderate to high abortion rates, reflecting lower prevalence and effectiveness of contraceptive use. Stringent legal restrictions do not guarantee a low abortion rate.

International Family Planning Perspectives, 1999, 25(Supplement):S30–S38
The solution to abortion is not to try to ban sex and not to deny the rights of women to control their bodies.  The answer, the correct answer, the proven answer, it to give men and women more control of their bodies, through education and contraception ONLY.  The answer it to emphasize responsibility, and accurate information, not the false medically inaccurate information that anti-abortionists now have compelled states to provide to women before receiving abortions, not the medically inaccurate information that abstinence only sex education provides to students.

This is the solution.  It works, it is proven, it is incredibly well documented.  It reduces sexually transmitted disease, another killer in the case of certain STDs like AIDS.  It does not result in a public burden of unwanted children being warehoused because there are too few public or private resources to care for them.  It even reduces crime rates, as documented by a particularly brilliant analysis by the brilliant, highly acclaimed authors of Freakenomics.  It is a win win win solution across the board.

And yet instead we have the incredibly offensive legislation proposed by the right which harms women.  We have the greater restriction of contraception as the religious right, particularly the Roman Catholic church, pushes their anti-sexuality agenda, which is a big a failure as prohibition ever was, and as dangerous.

The notion that the way to ensure the rights of the unborn is to deny the rights of the already born is ludicrous.  The argument that they deserve to lose those rights because they are 'sluts' or selfish is profoundly offensive.  The argument that it is ok, when we do not have a consensus is a human being that has rights which are more important than the woman rights who is involved is stupid.  It is wrong.  It is unethical and immoral. If we could not and would not and could not compel someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, a convicted serial killer, sex offender and cannibal, either legally or ethically or morally to make his body available to save anyone - a living person, or an unborn one, then HOW can we blithely do so to women by the millions? Because we could not, not even if it was painless, brief, or merely inconvenient - and pregnancy is more serious on all of those counts for women.

The answer is - we cannot.

To try to justify doing so, the arguments demean women - the slut argument.  They try to portray women as selfish.  They try to diminish the risks and problems of pregnancy in a way which tremendously dishonors and disrespects what is entailed in bringing life into this world.  And of course, there is always, the do as I say or you will go to hell argument, which is the last resort of those who have no better argument.  I find personally offensive the notion that God can forgive someone like Dahmer for sexual assault, murder, and cannibalism, but will not forgive masturbation, contraception, or abortion. The theology for that belief is pathetic, however many people may choose to believe it. Either we believe that there is forgiveness or we do not.  But we should not compel others to act if that is a belief that someone chooses to embrace, we should not compel others to act in a way in which we do not have broad ethical consensus, and we should never ever make one religion dominant over another in our government or public policy.

The answer to stopping abortion is to do a better job of valuing women.  The answer to stopping all of the problems relating to human sexuality is tolerance and education, not repression and ignorance.  The answer to valuing life is to value all life and to promote that value as part of our public health policy and our social policy. It is not accomplished by reducing the rights of any human being to their own body. The solution is not to repress women or to denigrate women or to try to legislate against human sexuality.

It can be done, it can succeed.  But it can only do so by a diametrically opposite approach to penalizing, restricting and demonizing abortion and contraception.

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