Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Policy vs. mythology

Ampersand recently made a nice, neat chart that shows the practical effect of extreme anti-abortion legislation, which in short is to punish women for having sex for their own pleasure. He sums it up:
Almost none of their policies make sense if they really see no difference between the death of a fetus and the death of a four-year-old. However, nearly all their policies make sense if they're seeking to make sure that women who have sex are punished. After years of seeing this pattern repeated again and again, it's difficult to take them at their word.
I hear this argument often, and while I think it is an important one, I also think that this information is often used in such a way that it hurts the pro-choice position.

When someone tells me they believe something, I am inclined to take their word for it. A pro-lifer probably does care - albeit abstractly - about the lives of unborn children, even if the policy they promote doesn't have the effect they wish it to. Just like it doesn't really register when someone tells me that I'm a baby-killer hungry for fetal flesh, I'm sure pro-lifers ignore it when they're told that they don't care about babies. They are hyperbolic accusations that are so extreme and so different from the perception of the accused that they simply cannot register.

It's hard to see your hypocrisy, in other words.

I know that I have misunderstood the real ramifications and motivations of seemingly reasonable positions to hold on the abortion issue, and I am as pro-choice as they come. For instance, the basic hypocrisy in the rape or incest exception in an abortion ban is that if we really attributed the same moral weight to a fetus as we do to a child, then we would not allow the circumstances of its conception dictate whether or not it has a right to live. The practical effect of the rape/incest exception is to punish women for having sex on purpose (they can get raped all the want!), and disregard the "sanctity" of the developing child but I didn't catch that fact until it was explained to me a couple of years ago.

There is a lot of mythology that sneaks its way into policy with no practical considerations whatsoever. Even though abstinence-only sex "education" functions to increase teen pregnancy and STD transmission, we still get it sold to us on the baseless insistence that it will prevent these ills. There is widespread drug testing in the workplace, and while it has not ever shown itself to increase productivity or help business in any way. These policies - just like banning abortion - are sold to us with language that pays homage to the way people wish the world would work, but end up maintaining the status quo because they can't escape the way the world actually works.

You can't help babies by banning abortion, but you can satisfy the unspoken desire to punish loose women by using language that implies that banning abortion (and therefore punishing sexually active women) will help babies. People, including me, want to help babies. I don't doubt for a second that good ol' Brandi Swindell wants to help babies. I do think she does not realize that her activities end up hurting women and children everywhere, regardless of what she wants to believe.

Back to Ampersand's chart, I think that it's a great tool to show the practical effect of abortion bans. Unfortunately, the presence of these facts does not mean that pro-life legislators and activists are paying attention to them. There is nothing stopping people from believing things that reality contradicts. Otherwise, it'd pretty hard to explain things like, say, religion (or if you're religious, religions other than your own). It's not that the authors of the South Dakota abortion ban are lying about caring about babies, they're just stupid enough to think that their legislation will help them. Severing the false connection between pro-life ideals and pro-life action - with tools like Amerpsand's chart - is what needs to be done, and making up cartoonish versions of what pro-lifers think is not going to help us do that.

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