Saturday, February 25, 2006

Forced Fertilization

I don't know where I stand on abortion. Neither should you. Our notions about taking life are complicated, and still evolving. We wrongly share with nations like Iran and China the distinction of killing people when we don't like things they've done. We also rightly make it possible, in some cases, for people to take their own lives when they've decided they don't want them any more.

Both of these examples involve issues of consent and autonomy. Capital punishment is always wrong for the same reason suicide (and its cousin, euthanasia) are sometimes right -- because of the intentionalities of the person being killed.

That's part of why abortion is a complicated issue. It not only involves an entity possessing no conscious intentionality (though an inferrable one: To live), but prohibiting abortion to preserve the autonomy of the unborn is an infringement on the autonomy of the mother.

Abortion is also complicated because of the nature of the entity being aborted. Birth itself no longer seems a reasonable time at which life ought to be accorded equal rights and protections under the law. Any time you draw a line, in this issue, it's going to be arbitrary on some level. That's why it is, or should be, impossible given our current scientific knowledge to know for certain when and why abortion is okay, if you think it ever is.

South Dakota is about to pass an unconstitutional law banning almost all abortions. (Despite the outcry, the bill is at least logically consistent: If your premise is that a fetus is a life, that life is surely not less valuable or deserving of protection depending on the circumstances -- i.e., rape or incest -- of its conception). The point, of course, is to give the new Supreme Court a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade. And while it's hardly a sure bet, there's certainly reason to think the court might.

The problem with the South Dakota bill is that it makes no distinctions based on anything. A zygote is a fetus is a life. If you don't care about the nature of that life, or the degree of differentiation, or the qualia of that life, then it's a fine argument. But maybe rather than oppose this approach, pro-choice forces ought to start educating people on the logical implications of this slippery slope, by pushing the amniotic envelope, as it were.

If every embryo is entitled to equal protection under the law, and maternal autonomy carries no legal weight, then science has opened the door to a dystopian conclusion that, it would seem to me, the anti-choice forces can not escape: Forced fertilization.

Specifically, if the embryonic claim to life trumps female claims to autonomy, should not the same law that calls on us to force women to deliver children also call on us to force women to bear children? After all, it's not the fact that a woman chose to create life that legally obliges her to carry it to term -- or else South Dakota would have exempted rape. That leaves only the fact that her womb represents the embryo's sole chance for life as the legal motive for forcing her to bear the child. And if that's the case, there's no reason the law shouldn't also start assigning the excess embryos that result from in vitro fertilization to fertile women.

The South Dakota bill addresses only the reality that a woman's choice to withhold her womb -- whether she chose to conceive or not -- can lead to the death of an embryo. The pro-choice movement should take it the next step and start lobbying South Dakota to take similar steps to protect the untold thousands of embryos -- which deserve no less protection under the new law! -- by forcing women to carry them.

And if that doesn't work, let's put some scientific effort into bio-engineering a male capability for carrying embryos, so that all these undiscerningly anti-choice men can start saving embryos by spending the rest of their lives carrying them to term.


Anonymous said...

Robet Carnegie

As I understand it, most conceived embryos (fertilised eggs) get flushed out of a woman's body instead of implanting, anyway. Enough of them do make it past that hurdle in order to keep the species going, and then some.

Of course making abortion illegal won't stop abortions, it'll just mean that there are illegal abortions. Without going as far as your idea of forced fertilisation, I have a thought experiment: they make it that all females aged ten or over are tested for pregnancy once a month. We have technology now to do that reliably and affordably. Any women who show up pregnant and then don't produce a living baby are executed. That puts responsibility where it should be, on the mother, right?

Surely no one plans their life to include having an abortion performed. I don't know statistics, but I presume most terminations of normal pregnancies are where contraception wasn't used, not where it failed. Whether you count the morning-after pills is up to you: as I say, I understand that that works when an embryo isn't attached to the womb yet, or even before the sperm actually find the egg (the little fellas can swim for a long time), so that providence hasn't yet handed the embryo a life that could be snatched away by the abortionist. But anyway, contraception, besides often being inconvenient and unsatisfactory, is also heavily stigmatised, with both sexes. Heck, I've heard a married woman perform a comedy routine about the embarrassment of buying a pharmacy pregnancy test because it lets people see you had sex, and she's MARRIED. If you are married you are SUPPOSED to have sex. Right?

Chastity doesn't work; it's been tried, it failed - who are you kidding? Extreme punishment of fallen women has already been tried; if failed - the death penalty hasn't bee used for a while where at least you don't have them around afterwards to soak up welfare money, but I hope not too many people really want to go that far. Pat Robertson maybe - I haven't asked him...

So that just leaves contraception, I think, if you are unhappy with abortions. And contraception is cheaper and safer... We should regard contraception as normal, teach it in schools, supply it for free as a social good. I think we also could a little more recommend good lovin' without penetration. Guys especially somehow learn that the goal is penetration, preferably with no contraception. On the other hand, the chastity lobby don't want you to touch each other at all. As I say, who are they kidding?

weez said...

Robert's on the ball. Suki has postulated to a particularly rabid anti-choice blogstalker that she should send her used tampons and a microscope to him so that he might 'save some babies.'

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