Legal, Restricted Abortion Is Here to Stay

800px-March_for_life_2009Today, on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to “the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.” Also today, thousands of pro-life advocates gathered in snowy Washington D.C. to participate in the annual March for Life.

Whatever the fate of the court decision, I see no end to the general policy we currently have in the United States: abortion legal, but restricted.  Not a long-term finality, in any case.  I cannot see any resolution that would satisfy either side, and both sides are in this political battle for its duration, led by true believers who are vocal, organized, and active, and who will not stop until their objectives are realized. Both sides are guided by a principle highly prized in U.S. political culture–life and freedom respectively–and both sides speak of their principle in the modern moral-legal language of rights. The debate has deep roots and plenty of nourishment for the future.

I’m not suggesting the sides call a truce. The stakes are too high, whichever side you think is right. We’re talking about the legal killing of millions of human beings or about legal obstructions to women being free and autonomous members of society.  You simply can’t reach a satisfying compromise between these two issues. They matter too much.  Instead, we get an unsatisfying compromise that’s always being challenged and fought.  Abortion remains legal and restricted, if in varying degrees. I expect that’s the future.

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82 thoughts on “Legal, Restricted Abortion Is Here to Stay

  1. I actually think the American position on abortion is, “abortion is OK unless I think it’s slutty or being done by the wrong people, which I’ll determine using my own biases.”

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    • That’s the American position on abortion in a (technically) legal abortion environment. The pro-life movement is the beneficiary of their failures, the pro-choice movement a victim of their own success. As long as abortion is (technically) legal then the great mush middle shall perch upon the fence content to mouth pro-life platitudes and attitudes content in the knowledge that if they need abortion it’ll be there.

      Should the pro-life movement ever achieve some significant victories they will harvest a whirlwind of grief as the fence sitters frantically lunge away from them into the arms of the pro-choicers.

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      • Well, that’s why the ‘supply side’ abortion laws being passed in states with Republican legislatures (requiring doctors to have attending privileges, further regulation of abortion clinics, cutting Planned Parenthood funding, etc.) are so deviously smart. They’re not telling a woman she can’t have an abortion, it just makes access much harder.

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      • But yes, I largely agree with what you said. The vast middle of the country wants abortion to be available when their daughter makes a “mistake” of getting pregnant, but still wants a society where they can shame another woman for her “decision” to have sex.

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      • I’ve commented before that, in a way, Roe v Wade kept the GOP anti-almost-all-abortion. Of course, it’s also been good for the Democrats insofar as it legalized abortion more than probably would have been the case legislatively.

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      • Your observation is probably true. Roe v. Wade set up something much more liberal than the abortion laws you see in other countries. Though I think many would disagree, potentially because it seems uncontroversial for abortion to be covered by insurance, no one thinks of it as a huge tragedy, and as far as I can tell there are not radical pro-life protestors in front of every European abortion clinic.

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      • I tend to think that the lack of a RvW over there forced them to be more honest about abortion and their views regarding it. Which allows for far cooler rhetoric. Which has cultural effects. The end result being that our abortion-per-woman rates tend to be higher than theirs, but abortion-per-pregnancy lower. I don’t know how much of that is attributable to the way we talk about abortion (and thus RvW), though.

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      • Yeah, the whole “Europe has more conservative abortion laws” argument is kind of shaky. Yes, in theory, Germany and other European countries have more limits on abortion in the law than the US does.

        But, in most of Western Europe, abortion is just another medical procedure as far as hospitals are concerned. During the first 18 weeks, you can get one in Sweden for free. In Germany, you can get one at a hospital or a doctor’s office and it’s subsidized for low income women just like any other procedure.

        In addition, limits have exceptions, variously for physical or mental health, fetal anomaly or rape. And unlike the US “exceptions”, they’re actual exceptions. I have absolute faith that if a Swedish 12-year-old, German rape victim, or a woman carrying a fetus with Tay-Sach’s syndrome shows up after the deadline, a way would be found to help them procure an abortion as opposed to the US, where a health exception to a proposed late-term abortion ban is described by Paul Ryan as, “a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it.”

        That’s not even getting into the fact that the conseling in those countries is secular, emphatic, and nondirective, unlike say, “crisis pregnancy centers” that conservatives love so much.

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      • Will, yes, I am inclined to agree. Hell I’ll one up you. Knocking down Roe-vs-Wade would probably be the worst thing that could happen for the pro-life movement. Unfreeze the paradigm and the electorate would probably move towards an equilibrium and pro-lifers (unlike the majority of pro-choicers*) can only philosophically accept total victory. I dunno how they’d cope with that. I hope with resignation or acceptance but I fear with violence.

        *Seriously though, most of the battles they fight on the leftward fringe of pro-choice absolutism is a “we gotta fight em there or we’ll end up fighting them here” defensive choice

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      • I’m not actually talking about most committed pro-life people when I refer to the “average American” position on abortion. I fully believe pro-life people when they say they’re against all abortion, even for their own daughter.

        I’m talking more your average surburbanite who reads a few poorly sourced articles or reads something on a sketchy website or hears a random story on the radio about one 25 year old having six abortions and assumes that’s the majority of women who get abortion (as birth control), but who would happily drop their 17 year old off at Planned Parenthood if the condom broke on the guy she was banging after soccer practice.

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    • This liberal, for the record, would love to give my fellow nanny liberals a loving kick in the goolies over this kind of subject. E-cigs are a fishing panacea as far as I can see (I do not smoke).

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    • Well yeah. D’s just love men smoking but are all about limiting women, and women only, from smoking. That is exactly what that piece said. The comparison is not at all trolling or ludicrous compared to the abortion debate.

      fwiw….yeah for e-cigs if they help people be healthier and/or stop smoking.

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      • But I do like how disparate impact analysis can only applied when convenient. I mean, those Dem senators are specifically annoyed by a woman smoking on tv. In a sketch about what it means to be a woman empowered.

        Though, sure, Obama obviously agrees with “the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health only in the case of abortion and birth control. Health decisions for all men and women need to be strictly managed by me or my minion in every other case”

        (It’s probably just that the quote got cut off)

        After all it for the children (who nonetheless should get all the abortions they need

        (remember also kids, it’s only trolling if you point out the rhetorical and ideological hypocrisy of the center-left to left. Pointing out hypocrisy of Team Red is the only correct way of pointing of hypocrisy)

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      • woot…i get to check a For the Children square on my cliché bingo card. The OMG the eviiil gov will be regulation everything is always solid. I mean why should any gov be regulating fracking or pollution, clearly that is overreach. oy

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      • If logical consistency means that a pro-life person should oppose war, the death penalty, and poverty as well as abortion (btw: I do oppose all four) or else they’re a hypocrite and just hate women, then it is quite logical to say that someone who calls themself pro-choice yet supports drug prohibition, bans on trans fats and other unhealthy foods, or other such cases of the “government dictating what people can do with their bodies” is equally a hypocrite.

        Pointing this out because of the large volume of pro-choice people who make the former argument.

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      • I’m personally for decriminalizing almost all drugs. The ones that I would not decriminalize would be ones with high propensity for psychotic episodes.

        Drug addiction is largely a medical problem, not a legal one.

        That’s not quite the same thing as *legalizing* drugs, but there you go.

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      • Katherine, my enthusiasm for decriminalization cools as one runs the gauntlet from virtually harmless leaves like pot up to highly addictive poisons like crack et all but I’m more of the position that if we decriminalize most of the mild currently illegal drugs the demand for the truly noxious and vile crap will be cut off at the knees.

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  2. Jesse and North bring up great points.

    Abortion might be technically legal in a strict sense but it seems that many purple and red states are doing their best to make it sure it is practically impossible for women in their states to get an abortion or even have access to contraception. I generally try to not dismiss the right out of hand but social conservatives seem to be constantly screaming “No Pasaran! No Compromise!” on this issue. Note that they also firmly opposed to birth control and non-abortion measures that can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies likely to lead to abortion like Plan B.

    We seem to be a dead lock where neither side can win. The social conservatives have lost the culture war on pre-marital sex. We are almost certainly not going back to a time when sex was a largely taboo topic and pre-marital sex considered uncommon. Not I doubt that it was actually uncommon but people just didn’t talk about it. Shotgun Weddings and pre-marital sex always happened and probably in larger numbers than social conservatives want to believe or let on.

    This is an area where federalism and a strong civil government is needed. Civil Rights and liberties should not be left to the happenstance of location.

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      • Not to speak for NewDealer, but I’ve followed the news coverage of the regulations in Virginia. Here’s a decent summary, but the nickel version is that new regulations, pushed through by former Governor Bob McDonnell and former Attorney Ken Cuccinelli, require all abortion clinics to get a special certification as ambulatory surgical centers, which brings with it requirements for things like wider corridors, more spacious janitor’s closets, ventilation systems that are more powerful than what’s currently installed, etc. As you can imagine, these modifications are complicated and expensive to install, especially on a pre-existing building–as such, many clinics would have to shut down because they couldn’t afford the upgrades. The clinics claim that the regulations are actually being used to force them to shut down, and that the upgrades aren’t medically necessary; McDonnell and Cuccinelli (both conservative pro-life Republicans) claim they’re merely trying to protect patient safety. Personally, I’m pretty sure the clinics are in the right–it’s no coincidence that only hardcore pro-lifers push these regulations, and abortion is a very safe procedure as medical procedures go (far safer than, for instance, giving birth). If Ken Cuccinelli wants to shut down access to abortion, well, he has to work within the constraints of Roe v. Wade until it gets overturned. Feigning concern for women’s health to get around the Supreme Court isn’t kosher, any more than it would have been if he’d required all integrated lunch counters to install expensive and excessive food safety mechanisms.

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      • Dan gave a good rundown of Virginia.

        Texas is requiring the doctors providing abortions have admitting access to hospitals instead of running clinics.

        In contrast, liberal California passed a law that allows nurse-practioners to perform abortions without the supervision of doctors. This increases access.

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  3. In 2011, there was a ballot initiative in Mississippi which failed. I got into a very long debate about it with a woman helping to organize it on one of the blogs at The Atlantic. Thankfully, it remained respectful, though other commenters did often not show such restraint toward either me or the woman I was debating.

    We essentially agreed to disagree on most of our thoughts, very much along the lines Kyle’s laid out here. Neither of us would budge an inch, and we both knew that. But the debate was still worthwhile, most particularly when we began discussing the legal consequences of a ban. My debating opponent felt strongly about the sanctity of life, and in her view, simply outlawing abortion would resolve the problem. She was full aware there would still be illegal abortion.

    She had not given one bit of thought to what the consequences should be; and as we discussed it, she realized that any ban would likely back fire until pro-life advocates were willing to think their actions all the way through; what are the consequences, beyond the fantasy of saving millions of babies.

    I fear that few weeks of back-and-fourth will come back and bite me in the ass someday.

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    • Just to clarify: What are the consequences (to the woman) for having an abortion. Should a ban, based on life-begins-at-conception mean that a woman who has an abortion is a murderer, and should be sentenced as such?

      Interestingly, this woman believed it was murder; right up until someone who opted to have an abortion had to face the consequences of murder; years in prison, life in prison, or death penalty. All of a sudden, it didn’t sit so well with her.

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  4. Here to stay until the SCOTUS shifts to 5-4 in the other direction. And that’s not even getting into the situation where abortion is legal but unavailable due to various restrictions on where it can be done and who can do it.

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  5. Fortunately I live in a country where abortion on demand is the law, the procedure is performed in hospitals by medical staff and is covered by our single-payer socialized medical insurance. And you know what? The sun still comes up every morning and the sky didn’t fall. Amazing, isn’t it?

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      • by God.
        In all fairness to him, if we didn’t kill all those people, they’d probably wind up deformed by rickets or something. (It is Canada after all).
        [okay, so the lack of sunlight in Pittsburgh might be affecting my sense of humor.]

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      • Yes, Katherine, I agree that millions (I’ll accept that round figure for the sake of argument) are killed in the womb as their mothers undergo as medically safe a procedure as is possible. Which is what should concern the state. Medical decisions to be decided between a woman and her doctor; moral decisions between a woman and God. I’m fine with that.

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      • From the linked site: Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant.

        I’m aware of this. It happens very early in the pregnancy and is the reason why I don’t have a problem with the morning-after pill: it’s causing something that happens naturally half of the time. In contrast, abortion ends the life of a child that is very likely to survive and be born (80-85% probability in the first seven weeks, again as per the NIH site; much higher probability after the first seven weeks).

        So if that is your issue, Dan, perhaps we can agree that there should be heavy restrictions on abortion after the first seven weeks, when the child is overwhelmingly likely to survive unless it is deliberately killed?

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      • If someone kills a person out of the womb, that’s a matter than concerns the State. So why the difference?

        This assumes that which is in the womb is a person. If you ask that question of folks who share that assumption, it will sound like an obvious debate-stopper. If you ask it of folks who do not share that assumption, it will sound like a non-sequitur.

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      • I’m not sure I follow your logic, or at least I can’t see how you draw a firm line. Why is it that stopping a process that leads to sucessful pregnancy 50% of the time [taking the morning-after pill] is morally acceptable, while stopping a process that leads to successful pregnancy 85% of the time [abortion after seven weeks] is morally reprehensible?

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      • To me, it makes more sense than drawing the line at “is the child inside the womb or outside it?”

        It’s a question of whether we’re causing a death that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. At the zygote stage, that’s very much up in the air – there’s a large chance that the zygote wouldn’t implant anyway. Once you’re beyond that stage, though – provided the mother doesn’t have an abortion, it’s very likely the child will survive. At that point, I don’t think the value of the child’s life is determined by its stage of development or its physical location – allow it to develop normally and you’re going to have a living, crying, baby. For pro-choice people, the fact that it hasn’t yet reached that point is key. To me, that’s not particularly important; the child is there, growing, developing, and whether you kill it right after it’s born, right before it’s born, or three months before it’s born, you’re still killing it.

        Prior to birth the issue is more complex because the health and safety of the mother need to be considered, but the child’s life is as much a fact months before the birth as at the moment of birth.

        You can’t say that about a situation when there’s a 50-50 chance as to whether the whole process will get started or not.

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      • We are able to say that a person is dead when brain activity stops. Why not say that that’s a good point at which to say that they’re alive?

        When does this particular switch turn on?

        I mean, I am one of those who thinks that abortion is something that falls well outside of the business of the state and would not want a state that could reasonably enforce abortion law… but, in the same way that I understand what the people who supported Prohibition were going for and in the same way that I understand what the Drug Warriors are going for, I understand what the pro-lifers are going for to… it’s just that the prohibition moves us from “it’s a damn shame” to “WHAT IN THE HELL WERE WE THINKING???”

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      • We are able to say that a person is dead when brain activity stops. Why not say that that’s a good point at which to say that they’re alive?
        When does this particular switch turn on?

        I mean, I am one of those who thinks that abortion is something that falls well outside of the business of the state

        How do you propose to get around the whole abortion-is-the-murder-of-a person thing if you’re willing to say that a fetus in a womb that has brain activity is a person? Are you saying that we’d say aborting a pregnancy in which the fetus has brain activity is then not abortion but rather murder and therefore falls within the business of the state? Or are you saying you’d redefine murder such that it’s not necessarily the case that the intentional killing of any person is murder – that some intentional killings are not murder in the case of some victims because of the class of person they are? Or, slightly differently, would you keep the definition of murder but define certain murders as not the business of the state?

        Your statement, while it seems to suggest wanting the state not to be involved in abortion, could be read to substantively support having the state prohibit a large proportion of abortions by reclassifying them as murder. The alternative is to redefine murder so that some persons can be intentionally killed without there being a murder, or to change the legal approach to murder to define some murders as not the business of the state.

        If you want to keep the state out of the business of prohibition of many abortions, your basic impulses here – that one, and then the one to define some fetuses as persons – are fundamentally at odds. If you want the state out of the business of prohibiting abortion, then a basic way to advance that is not to seek to change the definition of persons such that further, even more complicated legal adjustments are necessary to prevent many abortions from immediately becoming the business of the state under the laws as they exist.

        Now, if you’re unshakably convinced that that is how persons must be defined, then you have to attend to those other adjustments to make your impulses reconcile. But that isn’t how it sounded: it sounded more like you were open to a definition that was reasonable and worked. If that’s what you want, then the above is reason not to say “that a *person* is [alive, even if in the womb] when brain activity [is present].” We can equally easily say that a person is a person if she has brain and bodily function and is born into the world.

        If you’re not comfortable with that, that’s fine, but the further back into pregnancy you want to push the definition of when a fetus that’s alive with brain and body function is a person, the more you are making what are currently defined as abortions the business of the state – under current law, where the adjustments to said laws to change that are complicated in the extreme.

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      • How do you propose to get around the whole abortion-is-the-murder-of-a person thing if you’re willing to say that a fetus in a womb that has brain activity is a person?

        What do you mean “get around” it?

        I don’t think that it’s the business of the government to do anything and, insofar as the government is going to do stuff, it’s only going to make things worse.

        That doesn’t magically turn a fetus into a parasite, though. Assuming morality, it seems that there is a point at which abortion turns from being an amoral act (compare to removing a skin tag) to a moral/immoral act (insert questions about rape/incest/mother’s life in danger here).

        If you want the state out of the business of prohibiting abortion, then a basic way to advance that is not to seek to change the definition of persons such that further, even more complicated legal adjustments are necessary to prevent many abortions from immediately becoming the business of the state under the laws as they exist.

        I doubt that the state would get out of the business of prohibiting abortion if only I yelled that it’s a parasite loudly enough. I find that defining the fetus away to having no moral status is obviously wrong at some point in the pregnancy (while, very early in the pregnancy, it seems equally obvious that it has none).

        I mean, you’re asking me to agree that if we have a moral issue at stake then we pretty much reconcile ourselves to the government being involved… until we can define the moral issue away.

        This, to me, shows contempt for precisely the wrong parts of the equation.

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      • We can still have a moral issue even if it’s not a person. But if it’s a person, then the state has business with it if it’s killed with premeditation by someone… unless the state shouldn’t be interested when persons get killed intentionally by other persons, or when some persons get killed, or unless you just want there to be no relationship at all between what you consider a person and what the state considers a person for its legal purposes… or unless you want the state to punish the murder of some beings that are legal persons for its purposes but not for others that also are persons for its legal purposes, depending on various qualities about those persons (maybe I already said that one).

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      • The fact that a premise takes you to an unpleasant conclusion isn’t evidence that the premise is wrong. If anything, the fact that we can change an unpleasant premise and reach a much simpler, easier, much more pleasant conclusion should be lighting klaxons.

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      • Absolutely. I was speaking to that here:

        “Now, if you’re unshakably convinced that that is how persons must be defined, then you have to attend to those other adjustments to make your impulses reconcile. But that isn’t how it sounded: it sounded more like you were open to a definition that was reasonable and worked. If that’s what you want, then the above is reason not to say “that a *person* is [alive, even if in the womb] when brain activity [is present].” We can equally easily say that a person is a person if she has brain and bodily function and is born into the world.

        If you’re not comfortable with that, that’s fine, but the further back into pregnancy you want to push the definition of when a fetus that’s alive with brain and body function is a person, the more you are making what are currently defined as abortions the business of the state – under current law, where the adjustments to said laws to change that are complicated in the extreme.”

        I’m just inviting you to work out how you want your desires here to operate in tandem with each other.

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      • It’s easy to do if you assume that the government shouldn’t have jurisdiction in some areas… even if these areas contain moral (specifically: *IMMORAL*) outcomes.

        It’s easiest to compare to Prohibition or the War on Drugs. The fact that I think it’s immoral to get piss drunk/blackout stoned (or worse, become a drunk/pothead that does little else than entertain a perpetual buzz) shouldn’t be sufficient to get me to say “well, we should have the government prevent that sort of thing”. (Because, seriously, I do think that there is a problem with substance abuse and I do think that people will ruin their lives with it if given the opportunity… I just don’t see where I get the right to stick my nose in there and start threatening them.)

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    • And you know what? The sun still comes up every morning and the sky didn’t fall. Amazing, isn’t it?

      Not really. The sun has come up and the sky hasn’t fallen every day that the earth has been in existence. I’m glad that women in your country are free to do with their bodies as they wish and less than enthused about the prospect of single-payer insurance in my country, but I’m not really sure what your argument is.

      And millions of people are killed.

      As for this, well you at least ought to acknowledge that your definition of people is under dispute.

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      • My argument is that the apocalyptic claims about the danger to society made by so many anti-choicers if abortion weren’t restricted are not borne out in the Great White North. We manage to get along the same as before.

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    • Katherine: If someone kills a person out of the womb, that’s a matter than concerns the State. So why the difference?

      Um, the womb is the difference? Come on, if we’re going to debate this at least let’s take it up a level.

      And in fact, the state doesn’t concern itself with all outside-the-womb killings. In the absence of a living will or clear instructions, if a family decides to remove a family member from life-support or not to pursue invasive procedures, then the state has so far determined it’s a decision best left to the family. I don’t think Canadians would be at all happy if the state interjected itself into those decisions. And yet most definitely the result is the killing of a person.

      I’m with Gordon O’Connor on this: “The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state.”

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  6. Enlighten me. What national legal restrictions does the US actually have on abortion? (Canada has zero, which I consider a morally deplorable state of affairs.)

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    • Nationally? I’m dubious that there are any since it’s mostly state by state in the U.S. (and what restrictions do exist in Canada are province by province).

      One could make, I suppose, an argument for certain restrictions on some of the more controversial forms of abortions but one could (and should) expect the pro-choice side to fight against those proposals on the beaches, the streets and the fields since pro-lifers are on record asserting that any restrictions that are accepted are merely ground from which to seek to further constrict access to abortion.

      I’d think that “potential people” would be a more accurate description of the “costs” of abortions since the overwhelming majority of abortions occur on pregnancies where the budding life hasn’t even developed a nervous system yet.

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    • Okay, , say abortion is banned in the US. All babies conceived are fully human, and destruction of that baby is akin to murder.

      I get pregnant; my husband’s vasectomy didn’t take completely. And I’ve got injury that, while not life threatening, means this pregnancy will take a huge toll on me, perhaps resulting in my being confined to a wheelchair, unable to care for the children I already have. (I ask this particular example because I was told not to have another pregnancy or risk partial paralysis.) And I opt to have an abortion so that I can care for the children I already have and continue to do my art, which requires my hands.

      In your world view, what should be the consequences to me for seeking out an abortion that’s been deemed illegal?

      When you regulate something, part of the regulating is the what happens if the regulation is broken. So tell me: what happens.

      (Forgive me, I’m repeating myself with a comment above.)

      I don’t think anybody who believes in abortion rights thinks abortion a good thing. But it may be better then the alternatives.

      And there are those amongst us who believe having an unwanted child a great sin; that there are too many people already. That moral belief is every bit as legitimate and compelling.

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      • In terms of legal consequences, I would support prosecuting abortion doctors rather than women having abortions.

        And I don’t supporting banning abortion across the board (at a minimum, I’m okay with the morning-after pill and believe there should be exceptions if the mother is at substantial risk of serious physical or psychological harm). I think there should be some restrictions, with the objective of heavily disincetivizing abortion so that there’s a great deal less of it, combined with a change to cultural attitudes so that it’s less accepted as a default and more understood as something terrible that should only occur in rare cases. (Currently, something like 20-25% of pregnancies end in abortion.)

        And I’m still waiting for an answer to my question. The post claims the status quo is “legal, restricted abortion”. So what restrictions has the federal government passed? Because it’s sounding like there are none, which would mean that throughout much of the United States the norm is, in fact, “legal, unrestricted abortion”. It would be nice if people on the pro-choice side could either defend their characterization of the present circumstances, or admit that “unrestricted abortion” is in fact the norm, and that they support abortion being “safe, legal and common” rather than “safe, legal, and rare”, as that is the status quo they are pushing to maintain.

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      • There are plenty of legal restrictions on abortion in the US, especially in the later stages of pregnancy; Wikipedia has a good summary if you scroll down to the US section. They vary by state, because most criminal law matters are handled at that level, but some common ones are post-viability bans, waiting periods, required viewing of sonograms, etc.

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      • In terms of legal consequences, I would support prosecuting abortion doctors rather than women having abortions.

        So the who decides not to go through with the pregnancy has no legal culpability; it’s not the crime of murder when it comes down to what happens to the woman.

        I am troubled by convictions that leads to prosecution of doctors but not the woman, when the rhetoric — you used it above, And millions of people are killed — is all about murder. If the woman is not at the very least an accomplice, then there’s something seriously wrong with the logic.

        If I had gotten pregnant when I knew what my physical risks from that pregnancy were, I would have had an abortion. It bothers me tremendously that so many people so easily banter around words like murder but don’t want to go where that actually leads. You want to limit other women’s behavior, but you don’t want the responsibility of what would result.

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      • Katherine, I’ll happily admit I wanted taxpayer supported unrestricted abortion, but I also want it to be rare because we have a healthy welfare state, lower poverty rates, and sex education that has been proved to work.

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      • zic – My priority is not limiting women’s behaviour, but saving lives. Focusing criminal cases on abortion doctors rather than on women having abortions strikes me as the most effective way of doing that, because disinventivizing being abortion doctors seems like an area where it would be easier to influence behaviour than disincentivizing abortion. And since most women don’t have a lot of consecutive abortions, whereas each abortion doctor is likely to perform multiple ones, the total harm being done by one doctor who performs abortions is going be he higher than the harm done by one woman having abortions.

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      • Jesse – How do you explain that Canada has sex education and a more robust welfare state than the US, but not substantially lower abortion rates? I support sex ed and a robust welfare state on their own merits, but I haven’t seen evidence that they actually prevent abortion.

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      • The reason I specifically asked about federal laws regulating abortions is that if there aren’t any, then the more blue states (which tend to be the most populous ones) there may be little to no regulation of or limits on abortion – similar to Canada’s no-regulation situation. And going by a Guttmacher Institute chart, California and New York in particular – two of the most populous states – have little in the way of regulation. In terms of overall impact on the frequency of abortion, Idaho or Oklahoma having many restrictions doesn’t have a lot of impact, next to that.

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  7. Jaybird, down here.

    This is a good response on making your impulses operate together:

    It’s easy to do if you assume that the government shouldn’t have jurisdiction in some areas… even if these areas contain moral (specifically: *IMMORAL*) outcomes.

    Understood. I should have recalled that refrain of yours about jurisdiction. For me, that falls under the category I offered as “change the legal approach to murder to define some murders as not the business of the state.” But it’s a very conceptually clear approach that, as I say, I ought to have anticipated because of your oft-repeated point about limiting the jurisdiction on the state from certain spaces.

    It does raise questions about limits and justifications, however: how do you identify spaces in which murders are not the business of the state? Are there others besides the womb? And why exactly would we want the state’s jurisdiction to enforce a prohibition against intentionally killing people not to extend there if there’s really a person in those places? (It seems to me that if we approve the state’s deterring intentional killing in other places, then we ought to be on guard for our reasons that we would be against that jurisdiction extending to certain places being themselves consequentialist rather than… whatever the kind of good opposite of that you’re advancing would be called…. Deontological?) And if murder in the womb is not in the jurisdiction of the state, does it follow that no other aspect of how a person in a womb is treated is in the jurisdiction of the sate? I.e., are you willing to say that the state has no jurisdiction over the aspect of abuse of a pregnant woman by a third person that harms the person she is carrying in her womb?

    But briefly back to my initial question again. It’s still not clear to me exactly what you are saying about personhood – or, more precisely, how committed you are to what you have suggested as a way to answer the question about the fetal personhood being a compelling, unavoidable argument about what is true. Again, the statement I responded to was, “We are able to say that a person is dead when brain activity stops. Why not say that that’s a good point at which to say that they’re alive?” As I said, that didn’t sound to me like dead-certain conviction that we need to regard anything with brain activity in a human womb as a person. Rather, it sounded like casting about for various possible approaches to the question, perhaps none of which you regarded as compelled by fact or conscience, asking for practical reasons not to settle on that conclusion, perhaps for clarity’s sake as much as for any other reason. That’s why I responded with a consequentialist reason not to settle on that view absent real conviction that we’re compelled to it (which is not and was never meant to be an argument that you shouldn’t have real conviction that w must be compelled to that view, though I don’t have any such conviction). It was, after all, phrased as a question. If you had said, “Clearly and certainly, we’re morally compelled to regard we need to regard anything with brain activity in a human womb as a person,” I just would have responded, Great, but you realize as a practical matter that has consequences for how the state has to regard abortion (i.e. as murder), absent major definitional or legal changes to how it treats murder (such as, it turns out, defining the womb out of the jurisdiction of the state).

    And on your point about feeling that something is immoral, (“It’s easiest to compare to Prohibition or the War on Drugs. The fact that I think it’s immoral to get piss drunk/blackout stoned (or worse, become a drunk/pothead that does little else than entertain a perpetual buzz) shouldn’t be sufficient to get me to say “well, we should have the government prevent that sort of thing”.), it’s important to be aware of consequential realities as well (and also whether your own thinking is being shaped by consequentialist considerations here as well). Again, remember: it’s not necessary that we decide that a fetus is a person in order to think that it’s immoral to have an abortion in a particular case, because just because a fetus may not be a person doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any moral status. (Though it also can have some moral status even while abortions in some situations can still be not be immoral.) Taking amoral stance against (some abortions) doesn’t require that we conclude the fetus is a person. But, as I’ve said, if we decide that it is a person, then we take on a raft of complications in determining how we want to tell the state to regard abortion, since under normal intentionally killing a person not in self defense or defense of another is murder. These complications are complicated in part because we have to explain to ourselves why we want those murders to be outside the jurisdiction of the state while we want lots of other murders to be in its jurisdiction (if in fact we do). Why do we not want persons located in the space in question to be denied the protection of the law that persons in nearly every other space enjoy (if we really think they are persons). But it’s also complicated because, even if we satisfactorily explain that to ourselves, then we still have to convince the state to see it that way. If we don’t – if we grant to the state that these are persons but fail to convince them they don’t have jurisdiction where these people are, well, we both understand where that puts us.

    So what I’m saying is just that we should be sure we really believe we should (have to!) believe that a fetus is a person if we’re going to accept the proposition, not just settle on it because it’s a simple, conceptually neat way to answer the question that we feel we can easily get our head around, because a lot does ride on what we conclude about it, and that matters. And that was the way I found you to be suggesting we arrive at this conclusion from which so many complications follow. I wasn’t saying we (you) shouldn’t believe that merely because of the consequences if you have concluded it is what you must believe because you can’t deny it is true. I was saying that it didn’t seem like you had concluded that, but that you were just looking for a simple, clean, convenient answer to the question, and here’s one, so why not just go with it? Consequences are are reason to take a lot more time to be sure about it than the language you used suggested to me that you had done. Again, that language being, “We are able to say that a person is dead when brain activity stops. Why not say that that’s a good point at which to say that they’re alive?”

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