Saturday, August 8, 2015


It would seem someone might be under the impression that I have changed my position on the legality of abortion because I posted a 45 year old column by Richard McBrien in which he states the official position of the Catholic church on abortion.  I posted the piece in its entirety because that has been my practice in posting his columns to do that, even when I don't agree with everything said in it.

My position on the legality of abortion is that the state has no legitimate interest in regulating what happens in an individuals body, that the right of the state to limit a person's use of their own body ends at their skin, if not somewhere a bit farther away from them than that.   As to the irrelevant issue of whether or not I like abortion, of course I don't like it, if for no other reason than that it is a serious medical procedure which should, in all cases, be avoided by avoiding unplanned, unwanted medically hazardous and life threatening pregnancies.  

The only legitimate response to the more risky and possibly morally problematic issue of abortion is to promote the routine use of contraception to avoid pregnancy.   The current war on Planned Parenthood will likely end in there being more, not fewer, abortions because shutting down and defunding Planned Parenthood will seriously restrict access to contraception and accurate information of how to use it effectively.  Planned Parenthood has probably prevented more abortions than the American Pro-Life Action League, every other anti-abortion group and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.  Not to mention prosecutors, police and the courts in the period when abortion was illegal.

The opposition of the Catholic Church to abortion is not based on a desire that there be consequences for sex outside of hetero-sexual marriage.   That's just a stupid thing to assert.  Abortion wasn't permitted to married women who never had sex outside of marriage, it was opposed because of the relatively recent doctrine that fetuses and embryos are fully human life and that to intentionally kill one is the taking of a human life.  If you believe that then it is a very serious moral issue that you are going to have to take seriously.  Whether pro-choice people like it or not, that is a fact of the situation.  I can't fault them when they try to be consistent in their thinking specifically within that issue, what Richard McBrien was advocating in the column I posted yesterday.  Though opposing contraception at the same time is both insanely illogical and a complete lapse of moral judgement.  If you think abortion is murder the certainty that unwanted pregnancy will lead to abortions, legal or illegal, then forces the promotion of the use of contraception as a moral duty.  When it is a matter of avoiding the taking of an innocent life that is an overriding moral value.  

I think that the human identity of fetuses and embryos is something that even many proponents of legal abortion really either believe in or which they suspect.  In which case they can only feel some unease at supporting its availability.   Which could account for a lot of the decrease in support and soft support for abortion rights that gets reported.  I'm not going to disrespect people for believing what they believe, though I will oppose what they believe is their right to impose their belief on women in the exercise of ownership of their own bodies. 

And it is a question for even many people who, as a political and legal matter, support abortion remaining legal and available.   I don't know that abortion isn't the taking of human life, I don't think needing an abortion is a good thing or even being in the position of wanting to have an abortion is. My position isn't based on what I don't know about the status of a fetus or embryo, it is based on what I do know about what happens when it is prohibited.

The simple fact of life is that making abortion illegal doesn't prevent abortions, it prevents abortions being done safely by people with medical training in safe conditions.   Abortion was common all during the period of its prohibition.   There were places where it was so common that you used to read that they routinely treated women who had miscarried for the infections that could result from a back alley, motel room or self-induced abortion.    And, heaven help us, there are places where, today, they are getting ambitious prosecutors and politicized police involved when a woman miscarries, prosecuting her and, in some horrific cases, getting juries and judges to hand out long prison sentences to them.   

And history and what happens in the present also shows that when abortion is illegal, infanticide is another of the results.  Even infanticide for profit and as a recognized industry, though never explicitly called that.  The extent to which the murder of infants and babies was considered more acceptable than promoting the use of birth control or having legal abortion is probably most evident in the phenomenon of "baby farming" in Victorian Britain in the period when the Parliament removed the legal obligation for a father to support children born out of wedlock.  It was such a widespread phenomenon that it made its way into musical comedy*.

I remember a number of years ago being in the middle of an angry argument when some people denounced Hillary Clinton for saying that abortion should be legal, safe and rare.  The idea behind the slamming of her for stating a rational and humane position on the problem was that anything short of declaring abortion a wonderful thing and a positive good was to open the door to opposing it. Which is absurd.  Admitting the necessity of dialysis doesn't require a concurrent declaration that needing it is a wonderful situation, As life saving a thing as dialysis is, it isn't without its risks and down sides.  Preventing needing it, to the extant that is possible is certainly not a crime against health care.  Controlling your behavior to do whatever you can to avoid either developing diabetes or if you have it making it worse is certainly not to be discouraged because some people hate universal health care.  

Yes, I'm saying it, I advocate people control their behavior rationally and responsibly.  Isn't that terrible.  Heterosexual people having sex who don't both agree that they want to have a child which could result from intercourse have a responsibility to prevent a pregnancy.  A man who doesn't want to raise a child has a responsibility to the woman to not impregnate her, a woman who doesn't want a child has a responsibility to try to prevent becoming pregnant.  It's what a decent grown-up would do, the failure to do that a certain sign that a person has not yet grown up or developed a sense of decency.  People who don't do what is necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancy shouldn't be having heterosexual intercourse that could result in pregnancy.   Aspiring to responsible adulthood, myself, I'm not going to tell a politically convenient lie about that no matter how much whining results. Any writers who do lie about it are asses who shouldn't be taken seriously. 

The very few articles I've seen touting the joys of abortion are a sign of scribblers looking to get attention, they don't make any sense and are certainly irresponsible in advocating a less than serious attitude towards what can be a serious medical procedure.  I doubt their irresponsible advocacy would play well in the general public as opposed to the play-left.   They are as bad, in a different way, as the Republican liars and scum who attack a right to available contraception and the information to use it effectively and the right of women to an abortion.  Only, for some reason, the irresponsibility and amorality of the anti-abortion side works better politically.  Presenting a rational case for the rights of women to control their own body is the best way to counter their irrationality.  

*  Now this is most alarming!
When she was young and charming,
She practised baby-farming,
A many years ago.

Two tender babes I nursed:
One was of low condition,
The other, upper crust,
A regular patrician.

HMS Pinafore  1878

Eight years before that was making them laugh,  that there was a well reported trial of infanticide as "baby farming" in the same city.  Margaret Waters was convicted of five counts of murdering infants left in her care but was known to have killed many more.   Some of the accounts note she was caught by Sergeant Richard Relf of the London Metropolitan Police who was the first policeman to specialize in investigating baby farming murders.  Apparently it was a crime practiced regularly enough that the police noticed it before then.   I can't believe that Gilbert and Sullivan's audience in London didn't make that association with baby farming. nor could the writer and composer been unaware of it.   

This website lists her and other women convicted and hanged for baby-farming murders between 1870 and 1909.  The article notes that it was not uncommon to find the bodies of infants wrapped in brown paper in the streets of London, due to the expense of burying them.  How many of them were intentionally killed and how many died of natural causes, many of those due to economic inequality, can't be known. 

And the practice didn't end in Edwardian Britain.  I once wrote a piece about a likely "baby snuffing ring" operating in Southern New Hampshire in the 1950s.   I knew one of the policemen involved in that investigation through his brother, he said that they were warned that if they investigated the very cold case in the 1980s that there were people who could go after them.  There were prominent people involved in it and likely organized criminals. 

Infanticide is a certain result of abortion being illegal and, also, of contraception not being widely available and used.   The anti-abortion, anti-contraception crowd, if they succeeded would probably be responsible for huge numbers of dead children and women dead of illegal abortions.  They would certainly be responsible for illegal abortions and, in the case of those who are attacking the availability of contraception, abortions.  


  1. It's the simplistic "either/or" thinking one finds on the intertoobs that wears me down the most. Either you post something you agree with 100%, or you are a hypocrite because you post something you don't agree with 100%.

    Feh. Children in a sandbox.

    1. It makes any kind of realistic politics on the left impossible. And, as the last 45 or so years shows, it works a lot better for the right than it does for the left or we'd have had more success in politics.

      And, yes, the discussion was at the Big Blue Sandbox.

  2. My favorite is the sympathetic magic routine: if I don't read articles that condemn my political enemies, and don't write comments that one-sidedly state all issues in favor of my position, then the "enemy" will win and slip by my defenses and be elected and it will all be because of an anonymous comment I made or some article with one sentence in it (or lacking one sentence) on some website somewhere.

    Honestly the "benighted natives" 19th century Europeans lorded it over were less simple-minded and foolish than that, in the fevered imaginations of those Europeans.

    It would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

  3. Darn. It's like you are inside my head. I'm about to retire what you wrote.

    What has changed in recent years is that one sees less of the "safe legal and rare" thing on the pro-choice side. I think what has happened is that they see choice being threatened, so the natural human reaction is to circle the wagons and refuse to acknowledge any moral ambiguities. So I can say that I don't think the state should be policing women's bodies or investigating miscarriages as possible homicides, but I don't feel compelled to say that all women make moral choices all the time--for one thing, I don't think the men who get women pregnant are always making moral choices either. I understand the polarization, but I thought the 90's Clinton formulation was just about perfect and wish people still spoke that way.

  4. Came back to see if there were any replies. No, but I am embarrassed by a typo I see. "Retire what you wrote". Sigh. I meant rewrite, but the iPad had other ideas.

    1. If my blog posts ever start appearing without typos, misplaced commas, etc, you'll know I won the lottery. If I ever became really; rich, I'd hire an editor for myself. I never notice typos.

      It's been one of the most busy weeks I've had since I was in school. That's one of the reason I've been posting so many reruns.