Friday, December 15, 2006

A few basic assumptions

Since I'm back on the subject of abortion lately, I think it might be useful (for me and anyone who might want to argue with me) to lay out some of my basic assumptions when considering reproductive rights issues.

1. Abstinence is a temporary condition and not birth control, since sex is a fact of human existence. I personally have never been sentimental about chastity or numbers of sex partners or any of the things wingnuts fixate on in regard to sexual purity, but I can understand and respect that people feel differently than I do. I can respect that a persona's values and how they relate to sex are absolutley under their purview and not my own. What's important when it comes to reproductive rights is that the overwhelming evidence is that abstinence cannot function alone as birth control. Philosophically, I am convinced that sexuality is a fundamental part of human nature, and that our morals cannot be formulated without appreciating the deep social and personal value of its expression. I should point out that I think this applies equally to men and women, and am embarassed when poster after poster on feministing.com tells men who are dealing with an unplanned pregnancy that they should have used a condom or not had sex if they didn't want to pay child support.

2. There will never be an end to abortion. Simply put, birth control will never be perfect, personal circumstances cannot all be controlled, and there are many women who feel a personal right to terminate a pregnancy even if it won't be recognized by the state. There can be less abortion or more abortion, safer and more dangerous abortion, but there will always be abortion.

3. Abortion sucks. I don't know who these feminists are who won't "admit" that abortion is unpleasant and best avoided, but I am not one of them, nor have I ever met one. I don't have a moral problem with abortion, but as far as the time money and energy it takes to have one, it's pretty clear that effective birth control is a better option. I also recognize that abortion can indeed be emotionally difficult for pro-choice women who would rather bring the pregnancy to term but cannot for whatever reason.

4. I believe that there is a genuine difference of opinion between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. I don't think you have to be a misogynist, lying, or delusional to be pro-life - though it can help. If Pro-Life Dude A tells me that abortion is murder, I will usually assume that's his genuine belief; I just think he is wrong in that belief. We've all been wrong in our lives - probably once or twice about something very important - but we're not all lying scumbags. There are many pro-life arguments that are based in misogyny, lies, and delusions, and I'm not going to treat them gently or forgive and forget when someone propagates them. That kind of behavior deserves to be apologized for, just like any intellectual dishonesty.

5. Encouragement is not policy. It's fantastic if you and your children are perfect users of birth control who recycle and only eat free-range, grass-fed beef. A public-awareness campaign on the virtues of these behaviors is fine. It is not, however, going to make a difference. Putting your faith in it is going to make you a total drag and eventually completely disappointed. Abstinence is often the best plan for a teenager, but I can think of more than a few teenagers I've known who would likely have become pregnant or made another pregnant had they not been given information about and access to birth control. Taking steps to make abstinence easier, while still respecting the rights and dignity of those who do not choose it - such as encouraging masturbation and giving teenagers access to things like vibrators - is something a community, a family, or a government could plausibly and ethically do to try make a difference in the rate of unwanted teenage pregnancies. This brings me to my next assumption...

6. Policy must be evidence-based. For policy to be ethical, there needs to be empirical investigation into whether or not it is working. For instance, there seem to be many who honestly believe that abstinence-only education is a legitimate and useful tactic for reducing teenage pregnancy and STI rates. Regardless of how idiotic that is, we know for certain now that it actually makes things worse. It needs to be de-funded immediately. My suggestions might be just as disastrous - who knows? They're not complete shots in the dark, but it would be unethical to spend tax dollars on a program without ensuring that the results are good before its continuation.

7. Cultural customs never supercede the importance of human rights, human dignity and safety. I don't care if reducing the need for abortion results in a nation of happy sluts. I don't care if reducing unwanted pregnancy rates involves the voluntary and informed conversion to Evangelical Christianity by millions of Americans. (Though I somehow doubt that particular outcome.) As long as people are made safer and freer by policy I am happy. This includes the freedom to make life choices such as when or if to have children, with whom one has sex, and how sex fits into one's life and relationships. Culture is something that everyone deserves to participate in and create, unhindered by constraints whoever is in power keep in place.

Have at me if you like, but these notions are the foundations of my thinking about reproductive rights. I've purposely left out the issue of whether or not abortion is moral because I think it a topic worthy of arguing about (while the above assumptions I do not), and because some of my assumptions when it comes to how the government deals with reproductive rights make the question moot.

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