Saturday, February 22, 2020

Abortion: (A.K.A.) That Thing We Don't Like to Talk About

At UCSB I took Classics 120 with Professor Athanassakis in 2009, and it was a terrific class. Like most of my required reading books I purchased throughout my undergraduate, I kept the course reader, which was a collection of poetry and prose from a variety of sources. All of it very fascinating and very interesting. The takeaway I had was, primarily that the Romans were "like, totally, just like us." And then I remembered that we used to know how to make quick dry cement 2200 years ago. So, yeah, the Romans were pretty rad, as far as the alternatives were concerned.

Something that stuck with me was one section on Abortion, selected from Jo-Ann Shelton's As the Romans Did, which she sources from Soranus' work Gynecology 1.64. 1-2 and 1.65. 1-7:

"In order to dislodge the embryo, the woman should take strenuous walks and be shaken up by draft animals. She should also make violent leaps in the air and lift objects which are too heavy for her [...] If this is ineffective, she should be placed in a mixture, which has been boiled and purified, of linseed, fenugreek, mallow, marsh-mallow, and wormwood. She should use poultices of the same substances and be treated with infusions of of olive oil, alone or mixed with rue, honey, iris, or wormwood [...]

A woman who intends to have an abortion must, for two  or three days beforehand, take long baths and eat little food. She is then bled, and a large quantity of blood removed from her [...] After the bleeding, she must be shaken up by draft animals."

The section continues for another paragraph focusing on the things one SHOULD NOT do to instigate a miscarriage.

The only reason why I bring this up so randomly is because I was watching Michelle Wolf's newest standup on Netflix (which was amazing) and one of her bits was about her experience getting an abortion, and the general apathy / antipathy that women experience when getting the procedure done. Obviously, when Roe v. Wade passed in the early 70s, the days when women would get back alley abortions was, at that time considered, hopefully over with. (I don't know if this was truly the case, or if it took a few years of general developments for the service to become widely accessible.) But one can assume that the procedure, before the landmark legislation was passed, was likely dangerous and unregulated, or improvised with varying degrees of risk to the mother.

The Reader in Question
Given that Soranus was a physician living in the 1st century, writing about abortion, it would be reasonable to say that getting an abortion, legal or not, is nothing new. In fact, this document indicates that its as old as Western Civilization, if not older (if we look at the Ancient Near East). And this reality is something that I often confront when I think about the "normalizing" of abortion and the upheaval it has echoed throughout history.

Excerpt A
Excerpt B
If I had to go with a moniker that would, unfortunately, carry the weight of tremendously unwanted baggage, I would have to say that I'm "Pro-Life." At the same time, were my wife pregnant with a life threatening pregnancy complication, I would very reluctantly choose to abort the fetus. (Obviously, my wife would be the final authority on the matter, but that goes without saying.) The saving grace of Roe v. Wade, is that, in the event of the above, my wife and I at least have the option, to avoid the horrendous outcome of a fatal pregnancy. For everyone else, it means not having to undergo some form of underworld surgery that isn't regulated or controlled by a board of medical directors. If history can teach us anything, abortions will continue to be practiced regardless of the legality of it, and it is reason why Roe v. Wade SHOULD NOT, be thrown out.

Legality and use cases aside, I've never liked the idea of abortion because its a morally ambiguous position. I would never vote against Roe v. Wade under controlled conditions, but the fact that so many, male and female, talk about it with flippancy is unmistakably horrifying, especially when considering the existential ramifications of the procedure. This is because the decision ultimately is decided based on a value assessment of the fetus. Were I to kick a woman in the stomach, instigating a miscarriage, whether or not I serve a life sentence for murder depends on the viewpoint of the one who is pregnant. (ie. If she had paid me to do it or if I did it out of malice/aversion of being a father.) In the thought experiment, the child is the controlled variable, the independent variable is the binary choice of abortion vs non-abortion, and the dependent variable is the perceived moral outcome. Why is that? The child's value is relative to the caregiver in either scenario. And let me be absolutely clear: I'm not even, remotely, suggesting that a woman should be shamed for having an abortion. Do not put those words in my mouth, please. What I am struggling with here is the philosophical situation at hand where one life is of depreciated value, based not on medical complications or tragedy of circumstance, but based on whether or not the child will place an imposition on the caregiver's emotional, financial, social, or occupational livelihood. Granted there are outlier incidents like rape or incest that do make up a minuscule percentage of the sum total of abortions accounted (1% and .05% respectively according to the Guttmacher Institute, a strictly non-partisan research group that studies sexual/reproductive health and was founded by a former president of Planned Parenthood), but I am focusing on the vast majority of other instances.

There are common objections to my previous points, but the main one that I hear, one that seems to cast a shadow of influence over all, is the idea that an embryo, regardless of developmental state, is simply "just a bunch of cells." The fallacy of that argument lies in the reality that everything is "just a bunch of cells." Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen, is morally repugnant in most cases. Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen,because their existence places a emotional, financial, social, or occupational burden would be exponentially worse. I would argue that this utilitarian approach to placing value on life begets other odd conclusions, such as devaluing the autonomy and rights of animals, as well as hyperbolic solutions to "solving the homeless problem." In each case the subject of these debates are "just a bunch of cells." So this leads me to conclude that these value assessments are made on the immediate state of the organism, and not, simply, what the organism could be at a later point in time. This doesn't sit well with me because any formal consensus on the matter would lead to rippling effects. For instance, is the purpose of criminal justice to "punish" inmates for an offense, or is the purpose of criminal justice to "rehabilitate" them? The former makes a value assessment on the immediate individual, without any thought taken to modify the behavior against future offenses. The latter does not consider the immediate individual, but considers the potential individual, and takes steps to transition one to the next.

There are other ideas at play here bigger than me, obviously. So many so, that I could not begin to address them without writing a book. I intentionally did not evoke religion in this assessment because individual values may not subscribe to the authority of scripture. (Which is fine.)

My argument for life in potentia can be subverted in a variety of ways. Some may say that life is not only based on value assessment but also general consensus. (Life based on consensus values the viewpoint of the group however, not the individual.) Others may argue that reproductive rights proceed from earlier movements in gender equality and women's suffrage. But, at the end of the day, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they usually stink. I can accept that the viewpoint I have cultivated over my general life experience may not suit everyone. I can even state that, according to my theological presuppositions, I firmly believe that every aborted fetus is predestined to spend an eternity with God the Father, because it would go against everything I have read in scripture to say otherwise. Like any debate, however, nuance is often lost against monolithic ideas. I would just ask of anyone to consider the extent of the argument and exercise the ecumenical due diligence.

Peace and Love, bitches.


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