Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sin #2: Interfering in Women's Reproductive Rights

So we're driving to Florida a couple of weeks ago. We saw several anti-abortion billboards, with two major messages:
Every day another 3600 children die.
We'll get to the "children" later, but first let's do some math. 3600 times 365 equals 1,314,000. So that's 1.3 million women per year whose intelligence, rights and moral decision-making the religious would like to trample. If breeding age women make up 1/6 of the population of the US, that's about 3% per year.

The second message (I wonder who or what is supposed to be saying this):

My heart is beating after 10 days.
This kind of reminds me of the ancient Egyptian views on the importance of the various body parts. They took great care in their embalming to preserve the heart, liver, and stomach. The brain was thought to be worthless; it was pulled out in shreds through the nostrils and discarded. Oops. A beating heart is a muscle. Enough of a brain to hold the beginnings of a thinking (or dreaming) human mind comes much later.

I had a book that listed the cultural universals of the human race -- the things that all of the hundreds of human cultures known to anthropologists have in common, like shrugging, incest taboos, dogs, and a couple of hundred other things. I couldn't find it to check, but I'm pretty sure that abortion was listed there -- it has been practiced by every known human culture. I read somewhere else that the general wisdom was that it was completely unrestricted up until the fetus could be observed externally, normally about half way through the pregnancy, after which restrictions were applied. So, not so dissimilar to the reasonable restrictions we have now: third trimester abortions only in dire circumstances.

Abortion rights opponents claim that abortion is murder -- taking the life of a human being. This usually is supported by arguments that a zygote is given a "soul" as soon as it forms, or that as soon as you have a zygote you have everything required to make a human being. This also leads to opposition to Plan B birth control -- morning after pills. But, Stephen Pinker pointed out in one of his books, the union of the genetic material of sperm and egg actually takes an indeterminate amount of time. So there is no "magic moment" that can be used to identify when the ensoulment happens. And even if the zygote does represent 50% of the nature vs. nurture that goes to make a human being, it is still not a human being, it is a potential human being. A substantial percentage of zygotes fail to implant into the uterine wall or are otherwise spontaneously aborted -- so nature doesn't put any magical significance on them.

The union of a particular sperm with an egg to form a zygote does represent a collapse of astronomical proportions in possibility space (see "Possibility Space and the Chopstick of Doom" blogged a few years ago). But, it's still just a possible human.

At times abortion rights opponents claim that they are representing the rights of the unborn. In general I do think that the more advanced a civilization is, the more it extends rights. When the founding fathers wrote that "all men are created equal", their worldview was such that "men" meant "white males who own land". Over the years, equal rights were granted to blacks and women (kind of) and non-landowners.

But, we can still see in the current culture wars the whining male WASPs trying to keep rights to themselves while denying them to others: immigrants and gays, and in the case of abortion rights, women. I find it funny that conservatives so strongly oppose the ACLU, which has a single stated purpose -- to uphold the bill of rights of the constitution. The problem is, the whining WASPs still want those rights applied only to "real Americans" -- i.e., whining WASPs.

PETA is another group that is trying to extend rights, to other species. I don't particularly agree with PETA, but I would say that they do represent advancement in our culture and civilization.

So is attempting to extend rights to the unborn not a sign of a more advanced and enlightened civilization? If this were really the thinking, they maybe. But, my gut tells me that this is really about denying women control over their own bodies. It is the same conservative mindset that manifests in other parts of the world as women being forced to wear veils; women being not allowed to drive; honor murders; and female genital mutilation. It is patriarchal societies wanting to keep women in their place to bolster the fragile egos of a male mindset that deep down knows that it is losing its place in the world.

The sad part about the cultures that repress women, the worst of which are probably the Islamic ones, is that they are sentencing themselves to being also-ran cultures. You can't compete in the world economy if you keep half of your most intelligent workers (i.e. the women) out of your workforce.

Abortion is probably the worst form of birth control. Women who have talked to me about it have said that's a very hard choice. And there is often regret later -- but who of us does not regret some possibility from earlier in our life that we decided not to pursue? The bottom line is, it is the woman's decision, and no one else's.

My friend David believes in "the 50 year rule". This is that if you disagree for 50 years, then both sides give up trying to convert the other and live and let live. There are some examples -- the Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants seem to have quit murdering each other. Roe v Wade was in 1973. Ugh, that means the 50 year rule doesn't kick in until 2023 -- 13 years from now. Oh well.

One final note. The authors of "Freakonomics" received major static for suggesting that a precipitous drop in crime rates in the early 90's was due to the fact that it occured 18 years -- when young male criminals enter the "work force" -- after Roe v Wade presumably greatly decreased the number of unwanted children born. Food for thought, I guess.

So the final conclusion: we have magical thinking, "souls" to the catholic church, and keeping women in their proper biblical state, i.e., subservient to males, in the religious right, making what should be a total no-brainer -- let the woman decide -- into a divisive issue that keeps us from solving real problems. For example, health care reform is having problems with house democrats because the senate version doesn't restrict abortion funding strongly enough. Abortion rights opponents say, they don't want their money spent on abortions. I didn't want my money spent on killing 100s of 1000s of Iraqi civilians -- but, I guess they're not as cute as babies, so it doesn't matter. Opposition to abortion rights is probably 99% religious-based. So, another reason to actively oppose religion.

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