Blood Transfusion Foe Defies Party on Health Care Bill

By Sarah Braasch

The following is a parody of a recent New York Times interview with Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, which may be read here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/us/politics/07stupak.html

This parody constitutes a ‘fair use’ of this copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C. § 107


Representative Sarah Braasch often endures things others find unbearable. She crisscrosses a Congressional district so vast that some constituents live eight hours apart and so cold that the beer at her beloved football games sometimes freezes. Years ago, as a state trooper, she blew out her knee chasing a suspect, and she has since had so many operations that she now returns to work the same day, toting crutches and ice.

After her younger son committed suicide in 2000, using the congresswoman’s gun, Ms. Braasch soon resumed her predawn commute to Washington and her solid voting record with the National Rifle Association.

Now she is enduring more hatred than perhaps any other member of Congress, much of it from fellow Democrats. Her name has become a slogan: “Stop Braasch!”

Ebonmuse, her chief of staff, said wearily, “I can’t tell you how many New Yorkers have called me up and yelled at me about this Braasch woman.”

With final negotiations on a health care overhaul beginning this week, complaints about “the evil Braasch amendment,” as the congresswoman dryly called it over dinner here recently, are likely to grow even louder. The amendment prevents anyone who receives federal insurance subsidies from buying blood transfusion coverage – but critics assert it could cause those who buy their own insurance difficulty in obtaining coverage.

Ms. Braasch insists that the final bill include her terms, which she says merely reflect current law. If she prevails, she will have won an audacious, counterintuitive victory, forcing a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a measure that will be hailed as an anti-blood transfusion triumph. If party members do not accept her terms – and many vow they will not – Ms. Braasch is prepared to block passage of the health care overhaul.

“It’s not the end of the world if it goes down,” she said over dinner. She did not sound downbeat about the prospect of being blamed for blocking the long-sought goal of President Obama and a chain of presidents and legislators before her. “Then you get the message,” she continued. “Fix the blood transfusion language and bring the bill back.”

Ms. Braasch says her stand is a straightforward matter of Jehovah’s Witness faith, but it also seems like the result of a long, slow burn. As dinner progressed, the congresswoman described years of feeling ignored, slighted or marginalized by her party for her anti-blood transfusion views.

“We’re members without a party,” she said. “Democrats are mad at you, and Republicans don’t trust you.”

Ms. Braasch, 57, with a mane of thick auburn hair and the stare of a law school professor, is a Yooper, a resident of this state’s Upper Peninsula – snowy and hushed in winter, lush and tourist-filled in summer.

Her father attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead before marrying and later also sent his 10 children to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead until the money ran out. As a state trooper, Ms. Braasch worked the highways but also trailed Ku Klux Klan members and drove home drunken state legislators. She attended law school at night, spent a term in the State Legislature, and then ran for Congress in 1992.

In the primary, she beat a candidate who supported blood transfusion rights. But when she tried to hire Democratic political consultants for the general election, they refused – with expletives, she says – to work for a candidate with her views.

Ms. Braasch won anyway, and her freshman year in Washington, she requested but did not receive a seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. “I had one or two members tell me I’d never get on because I’m right-to-blood,” she said.

She cannot run for governor, she continued, because no one with her stands on guns and blood transfusions can win in Michigan.

When Republicans ruled Washington, her fellow Democrats had to listen to anti-blood transfusion views, she said. But, with Democratic victories, blood transfusion rights supporters felt their time had come.

“You’re never getting a right-to-blood amendment,” Ms. Braasch said Representative D, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, told her during health care negotiations. “We have pro-choice Democrats in the White House. We have majorities in the House and the Senate. You’re done.”

In a phone interview, D said she did not recall the conversation.

But Democratic control of the House carries a paradox: because the party expanded by winning what had been Republican districts, it has more members who oppose federal financing for blood transfusions and restrictions on guns. Ms. Braasch’s measure on blood transfusions passed the House with the support of 64 Democrats.

“Before, when we talked about pro-blood Democrats, you’d get a snicker and a laugh,” she said. “We were just always overlooked. We’re not overlooked anymore.”

Now the disagreement over blood transfusion financing has become a game of chicken, with Ms. Braasch saying she and 10 or 11 others, whom she would not name, will vote against a final bill that does not meet her standards, and some backers of blood transfusion rights threatening to do the same in what is expected to be a close vote.

Last fall, Ms. Braasch told constituents that even if her amendment failed, she would still vote yes on the overall health care legislation – she merely wanted to vote her conscience first. Now she says that statement applied only to the bill’s early version.

“You fight for a principle you’ve believed in your whole life, then you fold up the tent?” she said.

Some of Ms. Braasch’s colleagues on the other side of the blood transfusion issue offer a different version of her lonely-woman-of-principle story. She has hardly been an outcast within her own party, they say; two years after being elected, she joined the Energy and Commerce Committee, and now serves as chairwoman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Like Ms. Braasch, they say they have worked for months to avert precisely this sort of standoff. And they accuse her of being less of a brave holdout than an instrument of conservative Jehovah’s Witness and anti-blood transfusion organizations.

“The National Right to Blood Committee and the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society saw this as a way to vastly increase restrictions on choice,” said Representative Slater, Democrat of Colorado, who is a chief deputy House whip and co-chairman, with D, of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.

Ms. Braasch was “not given very much negotiating room” by those organizations, Slater said. Now “she’s gotten herself into a corner where she says it’s my amendment or it’s nothing.”

(Ms. Braasch says she urged the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to toughen its stance on the legislation; representatives from the Society and the National Right to Blood Committee did not return calls.)

For now, as she mulls her return to Washington, Ms. Braasch is canvassing her district, adding to the 180,000 miles on her Oldsmobile, and grilling – in the snow, without a jacket – at her lakeside log-cabin home for her wife, Ophelia.

She is trying to pass the health care overhaul, she insists, not sabotage it, and predicts that the legislation will ultimately collapse for reasons apart from blood transfusions. But she will be blamed anyway, she is sure.

“I get the distinct impression that I’m the last woman the president wants to see,” she said.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • monkeymind

    This is brilliant! Deserves wide circulation!

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Great comparison! Now I’m imagining religiots blathering on about “helping” people maintain the sanctity of their own blood supply, how even if you die for want of a blood transfusion you’re morally better than if you had lived with one.

    It’s true, though: you’re never getting a right-to-blood amendment, even if Dracula can support himself with blood bank raids (call it a necessary evil). :) And what do you know, I actually don’t recall that conversation because it never happened. May as well have, though. I’m gonna start telling people that blood transfusions are evil. This is gonna be awesome!

  • Staceyjw

    Love it, should be printed in a major paper. Its so obvious to everyone what’s wrong when its illustrated by a religious veiw that’s not mainstream.

    I hope he doesn’t ruin healthcare over zealotry.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    This is a great comparison, and one I can’t believe I’ve never thought of before. Thanks for writing this.

  • Zietlos

    I personally feel hatred for all human life because of their injustices. To think, by a woman having a period, they are killing a possible child. A man who ejaculates, purposefully or not, awake or not, even if he DOES impregnate a woman with it, is killing millions of possible children by the sperm who don’t make it. One egg, one sperm. Not a million sperm. One. Both genders kill many lives over the course of a year. The only solution to this crass infringement to the sanctity of life is, of course, to implement the death penalty for any man who kills a sperm or woman who has a period. God will provide immaculate conceptions continuously for every person before even a single unborn child is lost if we just keep the faith!

    …Obviously, that is sarcasm. But it is basically what Anti-Choice fundies are saying, simply taken one step farther (and only one step: Some do advocate death penalty for abortion already).

    I like the article, it is a nice parody. Try to get it printed somewhere. I have to wonder about synthesized blood, though… Would using non-human blood altered to be accepted by the body be considered cannibalism by the JW’s or would they finally allow themselves and their children the ability to live through serious injuries?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    OMFG… I didn’t know this is an actual belief.

    I am so, so sorry. That is just awful.

  • Leum

    D, the one ray of comfort we have is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are doctrinally forbidden from involvement in politics (or so I understand, Ms Braasch may be able to provide a more nuanced explanation).

  • Sarah Braasch

    Leum is right. It is a point of pride for Jehovah’s Witnesses that they reject involvement in all human politics and governments — they will not run for public office or vote. They refuse to serve in the military, even if drafted.

    They do pay their taxes. They quote the Jesus scripture about giving Caesar’s things to Caesar and God’s things to God.

    So, we don’t actually have to worry about a JW attaining the position of US Rep and placing an anti-blood transfusion bill in the hopper.

    But, we shouldn’t have to worry about a Roman Catholic doing the same. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

    JWs are litigation crazy. They love to sue everyone and anyone, especially the US govt as a matter of their constitutional rights.

    I am actually thinking of writing a piece about this, because (despite the fact that their litigation has served First Amendment jurisprudence) I think this is an abhorrent case of hypocritical bs, of wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

    They won’t participate in the political process, but they expect the courts to protect them.

    The judiciary is part of our government. Anyone who takes advantage of their judicial/legal protections has a responsibility, in my view, to participate in the political branch of government as well.

    Neither can function without the other.

    But, I digress. I’m thinking of writing something about it.

    Thank for the comments. I’m glad you guys like it.

  • KShep

    From a lifelong “troll” (That’s a Michigan resident who lives “under the bridge”) I have to say:

    Awesome parody. Stupak is a jackass. I was so hoping he’d get bounced in the ’08 election; no such luck. The NRA has turned on him for voting to close the gun show loophole, and they spent a bunch of cash trying to send him back to Menominee (I’m pretty sure he’s from there–it could be Escanaba). Not that I agree with the NRA on anything, mind you, but I wanted Stupak gone for obvious reasons. And now he’s acting like he’s the victim. Ugh.

    I think it was Digby who posted something along the same lines as this, but her disagreement with the proposed bill was with coverage for Viagra prescriptions. She’s offended by the use of the boner drug, you see, therefore any health care overhaul should exclude coverage for it.

  • Dan L.

    As far as I can tell, the premises behind the pro-life position are as follows:
    a) Personhood is a function of possession of a soul, and
    b) Ensoulment occurs at the moment a child is conceived.

    I suppose I can see the humor in this post — I mean, I thought it was actually a little aggravating to read one poorly written profile and then a complete apery of it a few minutes apart, but I can see where some people might find it funny — but it’s worthless as an argument against the pro-life position. Only the most absurd justifications could be made for how blood transfusions could constitute murder. But for abortion to constitute murder, one need simply believe the two premises above. So this tack completely elides the source of the controversy and the (in my mind, at least somewhat legitimate) concerns of the pro-life crowd.

    To argue against the pro-life position, one must attack either or both of the premises. The logical case downstream of those premises is quite consistent and trying to attack that only serves to convince pro-life advocates that pro-choice advocates are a bunch libertine monsters (you know, the kind of people who’d compare blood transfusions to the murder of infants — not my position, again, but follows pretty directly from the pro-life philosophy).

    This is one debate in which I think sarcasm is more or less entirely counterproductive.

  • Sarah Braasch

    If you think this piece was about comparing blood transfusions to abortions, you should read it again.

  • Dan L.

    Sarah Braasch,

    No thanks. I was being generous when I said “I can see where some people might find it funny.” It was literally the same article with your name replacing Stupak’s and “blood transfusion” replacing “abortion,” or if there were any other differences, I missed them by scanning too quickly (wasn’t going to spend too much time reading something I’ve already read).

    Since I’m apparently unable to appreciate your satire, how about you simply spell out in clear prose what your point is so that I don’t go making a bunch of unwarranted assumptions and criticize a straw man?

  • Sarah Braasch

    This is a pretty good summary from comment #8:

    So, we don’t actually have to worry about a JW attaining the position of US Rep and placing an anti-blood transfusion bill in the hopper.

    But, we shouldn’t have to worry about a Roman Catholic doing the same. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

    Or, feel free to read my post from a couple of days ago — Representative Theocracy.

    You’ll like it. Straightforward prose — no satire. Maybe a little sarcasm. Ok. A lot.

  • Leum

    Dan L.: the point is that religion is not a suitable reason to grant or deny rights. You need a secular reason, and abortion opponents generally fail to provide non-religious reasons for believing that abortion is murder.

  • Dan L.

    Well, I find it rather difficult to take devil’s advocate on this one, but I’ll shoot.

    First of all, I think it’s entirely unreasonable to demand that those of any religious persuasion sort through the justifications for all their beliefs on morals, sorting into secular or religious as appropriate. Even assuming we had a person so monumentally self-aware that they could even attempt to do this, I would expect “secular” versus “religious” morality to be so complexly intertwined that the project wouldn’t go anywhere. And this is unsurprising, considering we atheists are the ones arguing that religion is not a good source of morals and that morals are much more likely culturally derived. And, for that matter, so are the morals of atheists. I know I don’t perform a utilitarian moral calculus every time I’m trying to decide whether something’s right or wrong. I just know, based on previous experience and the values imparted to me through my upbringing. Making the demand that the religious-minded cannot make political judgments based on religion is equivalent to asking them to ignore their own moral intuition. This is completely unreasonable, and not necessarily desirable.

    Second of all, there is no “right to abortion,” so you must be talking about the rather suspect “right to privacy” assured by Roe v. Wade. But if it’s violating someone’s right to privacy to make abortions illegal to perform, then presumably it’s a violation of someone’s right to privacy to make heroin illegal to sell. Or, for that matter, to make fully automatic assault weapons illegal to sell. Honestly, I wouldn’t expect to have to point it out to a bunch of atheists, but “human rights” are a cultural construct, and it should be no surprise that people from a conservative, religious culture (such as Stupak) interpret them differently than secular humanists like yourselves. The bottom line is, though, that whether or not it’s justified in doing so, the state makes buying and selling certain things illegal, things here including types of medical procedure.

    Third, I think there ARE real secular reasons for disallowing abortions, primarily that it exemplifies moral hazard (which is one of the main arguments used by pro-choice advocates if you bother to listen). By reducing the negative consequences of an unwise action, you create an incentive to perform that action. I’ve never been comfortable with the ethics of abortion for this very reason — there need to be real consequences when kids do stupid things. In fact, all the reasons I’m pro-choice are practical in nature — if abortion is illegal, it won’t stop abortions, it will just make them more dangerous, etc. Ideally, for me, abortions would be illegal and there would be a more ethical way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies.

    To summarize: Stupak was culturally conditioned to believe abortion is murder in the same way he things God is good — pretty much by definition. Likewise, secular humanists are culturally conditioned to see the ways in which abortion is NOT like murder. I think it is this clash of cultures that leads to the choice/life debate, not necessarily theocratic designs on the part of pro-life advocates. And if, in their culture, abortion is a grave moral wrong, then it’s unreasonable to insist that they refrain from advocating for such a position.

    The complaint by Leum is entirely a red herring, since “rights” are culturally constructed as well, and thus open to a certain amount of interpretation (this is why we have a SCotUSA). This is clear from the fact that almost no Americans believe that strictures on, say, obscenity, public nudity, drug use, drug trafficking, or disturbing the peace are entirely unconstitutional. Furthermore, there has never been a law or legal principle of which I am aware suggesting that for such a stricture to be put into place and enforced, it must have some justification under a utilitarian ethical theory (presumably the only way to have a truly secular justification; again, I think people’s knee-jerk moral judgments are culturally derived, and therefore even getting the staunchest atheist to make moral judgments for you wouldn’t be secular enough).

    Copy/paste is putting in all the slashes, and I don’t have the patience to go take them out. Sorry.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Shorter Dan L: Sluts need to be punished for having sex.

    Think that’s unreasonable? Dan said “there need to be real consequences when kids do stupid things”, where consequences apparently means… um… either an unwanted pregnancy or financial ruin since your insurance company won’t pay for it. Dan’s point is further undermined by the fact that most women who have abortions are not “kids”; often, they are adults who already have kids and cannot afford another, either financially or health-wise.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’ve never been comfortable with the ethics of abortion for this very reason — there need to be real consequences when kids do stupid things.

    Hello Dan – What do you consider to be the appropriate “real consequences” for having unsafe sex?

  • Danikajaye

    DAN: I’ve never been comfortable with the ethics of abortion for this very reason — there need to be real consequences when kids do stupid things.

    Because having the shock of finding out you’re pregnant and getting an abortion is just a walk in the park. It’s fun, like skipping and icecream.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Someone who comments here has an amazing post somewhere on their own site about how anti abortion laws are really just all about punishing women (i.e. dirty whores) for having sex and have nothing to do with saving the lives of the sad little babies.

    I wonder if you could argue that federal anti-abortion laws are unconstitutional bills of attainder?

  • Leum

    Sarah: dunno if this is what you’re referring to, but it makes the same point. It’s the chart that pushed me from being a fence-sitter to being pro-choice.

  • Dan L.

    @all: sorry I took a while to get back. First of all, I would like to point out that I wasn’t making a secret of being pro-choice myself, or of trying to play devil’s advocate on my last post. That said, the snarky, peremptory responses I got didn’t do much to reinforce my real opinions on this matter. I get the feeling that a lot of pro-choice folks either won’t or can’t take seriously the beliefs of pro-life folks that leads to this impasse. To me, being unwilling to hear out the legitimate concerns of your opponents (and that’s how I’d characterize responses like: “Shorter Dan L: Sluts need to be punished for having sex”) amounts to nothing more nor less than another sort of fundamentalism.

    @Ebonmuse:

    Hello Dan – What do you consider to be the appropriate “real consequences” for having unsafe sex?

    Usually pregnancy and occasionally venereal disease. That’s been the reality of sex for a few thousand years now. Just because a pregnancy is “unwanted” doesn’t mean it should be a surprise. That’s why I find this objection a little less than convincing:

    Because having the shock of finding out you’re pregnant and getting an abortion is just a walk in the park. It’s fun, like skipping and icecream.

    You mean a woman can get PREGNANT just by having SEX?! Well, I’M certainly shocked.

    I’m tempted to put no more energy into responding to themann1086, since his response to my original arguments doesn’t exactly broadcast a willingness to have a serious discussion on ethics, but since he’s twisting my words to make me come off as misogynistic, I feel I should say something.

    Shorter Dan L: Sluts need to be punished for having sex.

    Sir, I made three distinct arguments for the pro-life side, and only one of them could possibly be misconstrued this way. Let’s start there. I said:

    Third, I think there ARE real secular reasons for disallowing abortions, primarily that it exemplifies moral hazard (which is one of the main arguments used by pro-choice advocates if you bother to listen). By reducing the negative consequences of an unwise action, you create an incentive to perform that action. I’ve never been comfortable with the ethics of abortion for this very reason — there need to be real consequences when kids do stupid things.

    Notice I nowhere used the word “punished.” I don’t think sex is evil or immoral, and thus I don’t think it merits punishment. But even actions that don’t have much in the way of moral implications have consequences. It’s not immoral to use space heaters, but if you run up your electric bill or burn your house down, well, those are possible negative consequences of using space heaters. I also didn’t explicitly single out the women-folk, although perhaps I should have made this part explicit: the father of the child should be held as responsible as the mother for the life of that child. So, I’m not advocating punishment. I’m advocating that those (of both sexes) who behave irresponsibly deal with the consequences of their behavior.

    Your post doesn’t even touch the other two reasons I put out there: that the seriousness of any particular crime is culturally determined and a priori there’s no reason abortion shouldn’t be considered a morally heinous deed, and that the Bill of Rights doesn’t guarantee an implicit right to abortion.

    Think that’s unreasonable? Dan said “there need to be real consequences when kids do stupid things”, where consequences apparently means… um… either an unwanted pregnancy or financial ruin since your insurance company won’t pay for it.

    Yes, consequences for irresponsible actions are often negative. For example, drunk driving could result in the unwanted death of an innocent bystander and/or financial ruin due to the resulting criminal and civil suits. Pointing this out does not make the drunk driver any less morally culpable for the negative consequences of his irresponsible behavior. So yes, getting pregnant when you can’t afford it has the unpleasant consequence of an unwanted pregnancy. That’s obvious. Why anyone would expect an insurance company to reimburse them for the normal costs of raising a child escapes me.

    Dan’s point is further undermined by the fact that most women who have abortions are not “kids”; often, they are adults who already have kids and cannot afford another, either financially or health-wise.

    I’m not really too sure what the median age for abortion recipients is, but if the demographic is older than I suspect it is, I don’t see how that absolves anyone of responsibility for their own irresponsible actions. Yes, getting pregnant when you already have kids and can’t afford it is irresponsible. If you think expressing that sentiment makes me a misogynist, you’ll have to make a better case for that.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Hello Dan – What do you consider to be the appropriate “real consequences” for having unsafe sex?

    Usually pregnancy and occasionally venereal disease.

    That’s interesting, because you said that abortion should be disallowed so as to avoid creating a moral hazard that rewards risky behavior. Can I safely assume that you also believe that people who catch an STD as the result of unsafe sex should be denied antibiotics?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Dan L,

    Even if we assume that sexual intercourse is an immoral (sorry, irresponsible) activity, aside from any religious considerations, (which seems a very odd proposition to me, I have to say) you are asking society to pay a very heavy price indeed, in order to impose “consequences” against the perpetrators. (Especially when these consequences are so easily avoided with good sex ed and contraception and condoms, etc., as well as abortions and abortifacients.)

    As well as the “consequences” themselves, i.e. the unwanted children. They pay the highest price of all.

    I find the argument that we should all suffer on principle to be lacking.

    I think we should avoid suffering.

    Choice between a lifetime of misery for a woman and the unwanted child OR a woman takes a pill to induce an abortion.

    Hmmm. For me — the answer is obvious, as it should be for anyone who wants to alleviate unnecessary suffering.

    And, BTW, people have sex — they will always have sex — they have always had sex — no religion in the world has ever or will ever change that.

    I just read a newspaper article somewhere with statistics on how all of the highest teenage pregnancy rates are in the most religious states.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I would also like to point out how many women in the US, possibly millions, who do NOT have any real control over their own bodies and sexuality.

    They do not choose when to have sex or when to have children or how many children to have.

    They do not choose whether or not to use contraception or condoms.

    These women need over the counter abortifacients more than anyone.

    They may not be able to escape their communities and families — usually religious and strongly patriarchal.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Put simply, I believe the proscription against abortion to be simply an expression of a paternalism this country has yet to outgrow.

    The deep irony is that the majority who favor restriction or banning of abortion or abortifacients typically, though not always, also claim to favor “smaller government”.

  • Leum

    Can I safely assume that you also believe that people who catch an STD as the result of unsafe sex should be denied antibiotics?

    For the win!

  • Dan L.

    @Ebonmuse:

    That’s interesting, because you said that abortion should be disallowed so as to avoid creating a moral hazard that rewards risky behavior. Can I safely assume that you also believe that people who catch an STD as the result of unsafe sex should be denied antibiotics?

    So pregnancy is a disease?

    @Leum:

    For the win!

    Only if pregnancy is, in fact, a disease.

    @Sarah Braasch:

    Even if we assume that sexual intercourse is an immoral (sorry, irresponsible) activity, aside from any religious considerations, (which seems a very odd proposition to me, I have to say)

    I think I explicitly said that sex is NOT immoral. Apparently, you think I’m arguing in bad faith or something. I’m just about done with you if you don’t want to actually try to understand the case I’m making. Anyway, nowhere did I claim that sex is NECESSARILY irresponsible. It can be irresponsible, and irresponsible sex should be discouraged. Does that “seem a very odd proposition” to you?

    you are asking society to pay a very heavy price indeed, in order to impose “consequences” against the perpetrators. (Especially when these consequences are so easily avoided with good sex ed and contraception and condoms, etc., as well as abortions and abortifacients.)

    I’m not arguing for banning abortions; I am making a case for why they are ethically problematic and should be discouraged when possible. I never made any secret of being pro-choice or of the fact I was playing devil’s advocate. I’m CERTAINLY NOT ARGUING AGAINST SEX ED OR CONDOMS!!! WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GET THAT?!!

    As well as the “consequences” themselves, i.e. the unwanted children. They pay the highest price of all.

    I find the argument that we should all suffer on principle to be lacking.

    I think we should avoid suffering.

    When did I make the case for suffering on principle? You’re suggesting a false choice here; I don’t think the only possible outcomes are “abortion” or “life of misery for parent and child.” How about “family, community, and government social programs come together to help mother bring child to term and raise child in a reasonably happy, healthy way”? Is there no other way to deal with…should we call them inconvenient pregnancies?…OTHER than abortion?

    Choice between a lifetime of misery for a woman and the unwanted child OR a woman takes a pill to induce an abortion.

    Hmmm. For me — the answer is obvious, as it should be for anyone who wants to alleviate unnecessary suffering.

    Again, that you see these as the only two choices says more about you than it does about the real world.

    And, BTW, people have sex — they will always have sex — they have always had sex — no religion in the world has ever or will ever change that.

    And I never said there was anything wrong with that. I would say that they should be encouraged to do so responsibly through good sex education programs and availability to contraception.

    I just read a newspaper article somewhere with statistics on how all of the highest teenage pregnancy rates are in the most religious states.

    Awesome. I bet we are in complete agreement on the importance of comprehensive sex education. You seem to be flailing against a straw man, and I’m getting a little tired of being misrepresented. If you don’t understand what my position is, maybe ask a few questions instead of ranting about how ridiculous the opinions that you ASSUME I hold are.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Please answer my question, Dan. Are you or are you not in favor of treating people who catch STDs as a result of risky sex? If you are, why do you not view this as creating a moral hazard?

  • Dan L.

    @Ebonmuse:

    Technically, treating many diseases creates some degree of moral hazard. I don’t think moral hazard is necessarily a reason to BAN a particular activity (as in, nowhere in this argument have I advocated for banning abortion), so yes, treating STDs creates a moral hazard. But they should still be treated. They’re diseases, after all.

    Please answer my question: the analogy isn’t sound unless pregnancy is, like chlamydia, a disease that needs to be treated. Is it? Or is it possible that the ethics involved in an “inconvenient pregnancy” are different from those in an “inconvenient disease”? Is foetal human life no more important than, say, a bacterial plaque on someone’s private parts?

  • Dan L.

    @Ebonmuse:

    Here’s a good one on moral hazards. Suppose you have a child. This child is quite clever and has figured out some way to sneak candies without you knowing. Your first sign is that he comes to you with a belly ache. You give him an antacid, he feels better, then he comes back the next day with another belly ache.

    Do you give him another antacid? Do you keep playing this game, even though it’s only encouraging him in eating unhealthy food? Is it better to make him deal with the belly ache this time, so that he sees there are problems with eating candy whenever he wants to? Or is there some other, better solution than either of these that I’m not considering because I’m a Skinnerian and I have nothing but positive or negative reinforcement to work with as concepts?

  • Dan L.

    @Thump:

    See my last post. I DID answer his question.

    Also, saying that disease and pregnancy are both possible consequences of sex is not “equating” the two. That’s like saying that cold and snow are the same thing because they both happen during winter.

  • monkeymind

    Dan L: Morality of childbearing: ur doin it wrong.

  • Dan L.

    @monkeymind:

    Making any kind of point. ur doin it wrong.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Dan L.,

    I think you made yourself perfectly clear. You think abortions create a moral hazard, because they let irresponsible people off the hook for their irresponsible behavior.

    I think I also made myself perfectly clear. I think that would be an asinine reason to enact any kind of law restricting access to abortion.

    You say you’re not advocating for such a law. I say good. We don’t have much else to discuss then.

    As long as you’re willing to keep your moral disapprobation out of the law, we’re fine.

    This conversation underscores a point I like to make as frequently as possible: morality has no place in the law.

    And, I am not really sure if you are being honest about your views or no (I tend to think no), but, if you say you are simply playing devil’s advocate, then I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Dan, if you told the child why these bellyaches are happening, he’d not only learn the dangers of eating too much candy, he’d probably learn some self-discipline as well.

    The obvious translation to the problem of premarital / underage sex is education: best contraceptives, mythical contraceptives, self-esteem, etc.

  • monkeymind

    Dan L. – it’s hard to take anyone seriously who makes such asinine comparisons. Children aren’t abstract “consequences”. Obviously the idea that a woman could choose to have an abortion out of a sense of responsibility to the children she already has never occurred to you.

  • Dan L.

    @Saraah:

    And, I am not really sure if you are being honest about your views or no (I tend to think no), but, if you say you are simply playing devil’s advocate, then I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Assuming that I am lying does not qualify as giving me the benefit of the doubt, at least by my lights. So I guess you think I’m some sort of “stealth patriarchist” who hangs around atheist websites posing as a hard-line atheist with lots of iconoclastic views when I’m really just trying to score really subtle philosophical points against the REAL atheists?

    This conversation underscores a point I like to make as frequently as possible: morality has no place in the law.

    To me, that seems utterly ridiculous. Can you justify animal cruelty laws without recourse to morality?

    You say you’re not advocating for such a law. I say good. We don’t have much else to discuss then.

    I’m sorry that you seem to feel the subject starts and ends with whether women can get access to abortion. I think they should have access, but I also think the question of whether someone should get an abortion is as important as the question of whether they can, and I think that’s the more difficult and more interesting question.

    For example, I like to think that if I accidentally impregnated a partner, I personally would want to take responsibility for the life of the child. I would certainly listen to my partner if she wanted to get an abortion, and if my assurances to do everything in my power to make sure the child was happy and provided for were to no avail, I wouldn’t try to physically or legally restrain her from getting an abortion. In fact, even if the mother was unwilling to participate in raising the child, I tend to think I’d make the case for bringing the child to term and then taking custody subsequently.

    If it happened tomorrow, would I follow through? Again, I like to think so, but I won’t know until it happens. Wouldn’t that ruin my life and my financial security? Yeah, I probably can’t really afford to be a single father right now. I would have to rely on help from friends and family. I’d have to make a lot of sacrifices. Would all that qualify as suffering? Not necessarily. Making sacrifices and taking responsibility for mistakes are often their own rewards, or at least bring rewards that are more satisfying and more permanent than financial security. Doing the right thing is often more rewarding than doing what is easy, even if it involves stress and self-sacrifice.

    I think you made yourself perfectly clear. You think abortions create a moral hazard, because they let irresponsible people off the hook for their irresponsible behavior.

    I think I also made myself perfectly clear. I think that would be an asinine reason to enact any kind of law restricting access to abortion.

    And yet there are plenty of laws on the books against, say, insurance fraud. That is, insurance fraud laws exist only to mitigate the moral hazards caused by insurance. So apparently not everyone agrees that moral hazard CANNOT be a justification for a law. Similarly, the relative safety of the driver of a car creates a sort of moral hazard as well — he has less to lose from his own reckless driving than nearby pedestrians. Thus, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide laws that apply only to those who don’t take seriously the added responsibility that comes with using a deadly weapon as transportation.

    So while I would agree with you that I don’t want to see any laws passed prohibiting abortions, I think that arguing for such laws on account of moral hazard is more defensible than merely “asinine,” as there is some amount of precedent for creating laws to correct perverse moral hazard style incentives.

    @Thumpalumpacus:

    Dan, if you told the child why these bellyaches are happening, he’d not only learn the dangers of eating too much candy, he’d probably learn some self-discipline as well.

    The obvious translation to the problem of premarital / underage sex is education: best contraceptives, mythical contraceptives, self-esteem, etc.

    Yes, that is exactly what I think. The best way to deal with the child with the belly ache is to explain why they have a belly ache and let them live with it to, as you say, learn some self-discipline and a little lesson about human digestion. And that the best way to deal with unwanted pregnancies is to correctly educate people on how not to have unwanted pregnancies.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I apparently wasn’t clear enough. I would not deny the child the medication.

    How many children do you have, by the way?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Please note that Dan’s analogy is to compare adult women with a medical condition to children with a tummy-ache.

    I was going to do a long drawn out explanation of why your position was misogynist, but you went and did it for me. Thanks!

  • Dan L.

    @monkeymind:

    Dan L. – it’s hard to take anyone seriously who makes such asinine comparisons. Children aren’t abstract “consequences”. Obviously the idea that a woman could choose to have an abortion out of a sense of responsibility to the children she already has never occurred to you.

    Look, are you actually going to argue against any of the points I’m making? Or are you just going to keep beating on straw men? I’m not arguing that abortions should be banned; I’m arguing that it’s not a particularly ethical solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps in any particular situation it is still the most ethical option; then the lady should get an abortion. But the least of all evils is not good, and if we as a society can create more ethical alternatives, I think that is a worthy goal.

    I apparently wasn’t clear enough. I would not deny the child the medication.

    How many children do you have, by the way?

    I wouldn’t necessarily consider antacids medication, they’re just buffers. And indigestion isn’t a medical condition that requires treatment; in most cases, it’s a mere inconvenience.

    I have no children. I suppose that and the fact that I do have a penis (through no fault of my own, I’ll ad) means I’m not entitled to any opinions.

    Please note that Dan’s analogy is to compare adult women with a medical condition to children with a tummy-ache.

    I was going to do a long drawn out explanation of why your position was misogynist, but you went and did it for me. Thanks!

    I’m sorry, but illustrating moral hazards with one example does not mean I’m equating that example with all other incidences of moral hazards. This is exactly the same as Thump trying to accuse me of saying cold and snow are the same thing because they both happen in winter (he deleted that post, but I wasn’t able to delete my response to it for some reason).

    I don’t know if people think I really am arguing in bad faith, but these specious one-liners are getting really obnoxious. From here on out, I will be ignoring any arguments I don’t think are somehow substantive.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I have no children. I suppose that and the fact that I do have a penis (through no fault of my own, I’ll ad) means I’m not entitled to any opinions.

    No, it just weakens your analogy a bit.

    BTW, I’m a guy too.

    eta: I think you have the wrong person on the snow/cold thing, though. I have only deleted one post, and that one read:

    So pregnancy is a disease?

    Usually pregnancy and occasionally venereal disease.

    It was you who drew the equation of the two as a consequence of sex. To pretend otherwise is, well, pretense; but you’re not fooling anyone, yourself included, I suspect.

    Now, kindly answer Ebon’s question, no?

    … which I deleted because it crossposted with your answer.

  • Dan L.

    @Thump:

    Yeah, that’s the one I’m talking about. To clarify:

    I said that pregnancy and disease are both possible consequences of sex.

    You replied by saying that means I’m “equating” the two — your word.

    My reply is to say that cold and snow are both consequences of winter. Is asserting that the same as “equating” cold and snow?

    Contrast what I did (simply say they’re both consequences) to what Ebonmuse did — demonstrate that treating the disease in this case would also qualify as moral hazard. I agreed, but pointed out that the two situations are ethically distinct; aborting a foetus seems (at least to me) to have greater ethical ramifications than treating a disease.

    That is, I was not trying to establish any kind of equivalence between abortion and treatment of a disease — I was merely saying that either or both could result from having sex. Ebonmuse, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to implicitly draw a direct analogy.

  • monkeymind

    Dan L. – I think you’re either very muddled, or not being totally honest. If, as you say, you see nothing intrinsically wrong in sex without intention of conception, then what is the moral hazard? If the moral hazard is not in the sex part, then it’s in the “without intention” part, and the problem there is that a miss is as good as a mile.
    A woman who gets pregnant due to contraceptive failure is just as pregnant as someone who used no other contraceptive than magical thinking. And for that matter, a woman can conceive entirely against her will, through rape. If the argument is that a fetus is human with full human rights from the moment of conception, then the argument against abortion is the same for all three, so your “moral hazard” argument doesn’t apply.

  • Dan L.

    @monkeymind:

    Thank you for putting a little more thought into that one.

    I think you’re either very muddled, or not being totally honest.

    Well, bad start. Could you have made your point without questioning my intentions or the clarity of my thinking?

    If, as you say, you see nothing intrinsically wrong in sex without intention of conception, then what is the moral hazard? If the moral hazard is not in the sex part, then it’s in the “without intention” part, and the problem there is that a miss is as good as a mile.

    No, moral hazard is a term more commonly used in economics with a precise meaning. Specifically, when a company offers fire insurance, they’re creating a moral hazard. People who buy fire insurance suddenly stand to lose less or possibly even gain from fire damage. The worry is that people who hold fire insurance policies may be less careful to extinguish cigarettes or candles, or to be more likely to use space heaters or other risky behaviors. That is, the likelihood of the insured to incur costs is increased by the fact that they can now share those costs with a third party.

    In the case of abortion, the moral hazard comes from reducing the “price” so to speak of procreation. Basically, I think that creating a life because you were behaving irresponsibly and then destroying that life because otherwise it will inconvenience you is not a very ethical thing to do. The fact that some people care more about what’s convenient than what’s ethical contributes to the moral hazard.

    A woman who gets pregnant due to contraceptive failure is just as pregnant as someone who used no other contraceptive than magical thinking. And for that matter, a woman can conceive entirely against her will, through rape. If the argument is that a fetus is human with full human rights from the moment of conception, then the argument against abortion is the same for all three, so your “moral hazard” argument doesn’t apply.

    As a hard-line materialist, I don’t believe in “human rights” as actual entities; to me, they’re short-hand for “shared cultural values,” which is why I don’t take human rights as an argument against abortion bans. The notion that abortion is morally repugnant is also a cultural value, and I see no a priori way to privilege what humanists would like to consider human rights over what other people might want to consider human rights. Furthermore, as a materialist, I don’t believe in souls, so the “moment of conception” thing is a red herring.

    I do believe that a foetus has more value than a yeast infection, and that’s why I think abortion is ethically problematic in a way that treating a yeast infection is not.

    And again, I am not saying that abortion should be banned or that in no case should an abortion be performed. I’m saying that abortion is, in my view, unethical and should be avoided by whatever means possible, so long as those means are not worse than the abortion itself. Perhaps the person whose contraception fails can justify an abortion thusly: “I was not acting irresponsibly; I did everything in my power to prevent pregnancy. I am simply the 1 in a million person for whom both a condom and the pill failed simultaneously. Since I did not create this life irresponsibly, that is I made every reasonable effort to prevent such a thing, I am justified in getting an abortion.” I wouldn’t necessarily buy this argument, but it seems mostly reasonable; it addresses the crux of what I think is wrong with abortion. The rape victim has an even better justification for not creating a life irresponsibly.

    Presumably, most of the people I’m arguing against are humanists, meaning that they think ethical codes must be based on the value and dignity of the human person rather than some arbitrary code that is a product of “divine revelation.” And I am proceeding from the premise that a potential human being has value and dignity as well, or at least potential value and dignity. If I were to take this discussion too seriously, I might get the impression that humanists believe that the value and dignity of a potential human being is actually just about equivalent to that of a yeast infection.

  • Sarah Braasch

    But, Dan, your entire argument hinges on the idea that creating a “life” and then destroying it is unethical.

    Why?

    You try to tie this to a cost spreading analysis. But, I fail to see the connection.

    What if I think it is entirely ethical to get pregnant and then have an abortion or use an abortifacient instead of using contraception? (Maybe it’s even cheaper and easier and safer in some circumstances to rely on an abortifacient — for argument’s sake — I don’t know this to be the case, but I can imagine it to be true)

    Who is sharing the cost with me of my “irresponsible” pregnancy?

    Why is it unethical to use over the counter abortifacients as contraception?

    Who else is sharing the cost with me that resulted in my being incentivized to behave this way?

    The fire insurance analogy doesn’t fly.

    If a company provides fire insurance (abortion) then the house owner (woman) will be more likely to smoke in bed (fuck in bed without a condom) resulting in a house burned to the ground and dead inhabitants (an unwanted pregnancy).

    You see the problem.

    How does an unwanted pregnancy equate with fire damage?

    It doesn’t.

    It only equates if you think that destroying a blastocyst or a fetus is destroying something of value — the destruction of which is somehow a detriment to society.

    I think — in most cases that this act of destruction will be a benefit to society.

    Maybe we should be incentivizing women to have abortions. I certainly think so.

  • monkeymind

    Muddled it is then.

    The rape victim has an even better justification for not creating a life irresponsibly.

    I am proceeding from the premise that a potential human being has value and dignity as well, or at least potential value and dignity.

    How does the potential value and dignity of the fetus differ in the 3 scenarios I outlined? How does the mode of conception alter this potential?

    This is why I think you are muddled. If the argument is from potential value and dignity of the fetus, then mode of conception shouldn’t matter.

    Finally, if it is irresponsible to conceive without intending to, why is it responsible to carry to term a fetus that you are not sure will be loved and cared for the way that every human infant deserves to be loved and cared for?

  • monkeymind

    @Sarah Braasch

    It only equates if you think that destroying a blastocyst or a fetus is destroying something of value

    Well, this is a problem for me. This goes against the moral intuition that I think most would share that it is abhorrent to force a woman to abort, or that an assault with intention to induce abortion is more serious than simple assault.
    There other ways to think about the morality of sex and childbirth that take into account the full range of moral intuitions.

    Maybe we should be incentivizing women to have abortions. I certainly think so.

    I don’t. Sounds abhorrent. I don’t see a problem with advocating against legal restrictions on abortion while advocating education and other policies that would reduce need for it. Abortion-as-contraception was the policy of the late Soviet Union – it’s a policy that puts all of the responsibility and health risks of contraception on the woman.

    The paradoxical fact is that the more child-friendly a society is, the more political will is mobilized to provide for the welfare of children actually born, rather than hand-wringing about potential value of blastocysts, the lower the birth rates and the abortion rates.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Dan,

    I don’t think moral hazard is necessarily a reason to BAN a particular activity (as in, nowhere in this argument have I advocated for banning abortion)…

    In comment #15, you said, “Ideally, for me, abortions would be illegal”, and claimed that there are “real secular reasons for disallowing abortions”. I don’t see how these comments can possibly be interpreted other than as advocacy of banning abortion, your subsequent remarks notwithstanding.

    Please answer my question: the analogy isn’t sound unless pregnancy is, like chlamydia, a disease that needs to be treated. Is it?

    No, pregnancy is not a disease, but when did that become the criterion? As you’ll recall, we were talking about moral hazards, and you said that people who make unwise choices should suffer the “real consequences” of those decisions. I asked what the “real consequences” of unsafe sex were, and you said pregnancy and STDs. I was just taking you at your word.

    Or is it possible that the ethics involved in an “inconvenient pregnancy” are different from those in an “inconvenient disease”?

    Actually, I don’t think they are. Both involve a foreign form of life taking up residence in the woman’s body and using her resources to nourish itself without her consent, in ways that potentially pose serious danger to her well-being. The reason I’m in favor of treating STDs and other diseases is the same reason I’m pro-choice: because I believe people should exercise autonomy over their own bodies.

    Suppose you have a child. This child is quite clever and has figured out some way to sneak candies without you knowing. Your first sign is that he comes to you with a belly ache. You give him an antacid, he feels better, then he comes back the next day with another belly ache.

    Do you give him another antacid? Do you keep playing this game, even though it’s only encouraging him in eating unhealthy food?

    First of all, I deny that the state stands in the same relationship to an adult that a parent does to their children.

    Second, I consider your analogy to be absurdly disproportionate. In the specific situation you described, I might choose to let my child suffer the bellyache, because that mild and short-lived pain is an appropriate way of teaching him the general principle that bad decisions have consequences.

    But it does not follow that anything he suffers as a result of disobeying me is a justified way of teaching that same lesson. If my child was, for example, about to stick his hand into the flame on my stove’s gas jet, I’d seize him and pull him back – and it really wouldn’t matter to me how many times I might have warned him about it before. Something like that, not a short-lived tummyache, would be the appropriate analogy for an unwanted pregnancy – which, in addition to the very real and non-trivial physical risks it poses, could demand of a person that they reshape their entire life around caring for a child they didn’t want in the first place.

    It’s laudable for you to say you would take responsibility for caring for any child you brought into the world. But it doesn’t follow that this should be a moral obligation on everyone else as well. To name just one obvious problem, what if the issue isn’t the woman’s unwillingness, but financial (or physical or emotional) inability to care for a child properly? Is it fair to say that that child must come into existence, and suffer the deficiencies of an unprepared or dysfunctional parent, just to teach that parent an abstract lesson about the consequences of poorly thought-out decisions? Your approach seems to treat children as means rather than ends.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I am loving Dan’s fire insurance analogy:

    If a company (government) provides fire insurance (social programs to help single moms raising kids) then the house owner (woman) will be more likely to smoke in bed (fuck in bed without a condom) resulting in a house burned to the ground and dead inhabitants (unwanted pregnancies).

    I think I see another moral hazard. I could do this all day. There are moral hazards everywhere.

    When you really break it down, themann1086 was right all along: anti-abortion laws and policies are really only about punishing the dirty whores for not keeping their legs together.

    And, I think we can all see why all of those vaunted social programs that are going to make abortion almost unnecessary in all but the rarest cases — more or less are non-existent.

  • monkeymind

    Ebonmuse said:

    Your approach seems to treat children as means rather than ends.

    Exactly what I meant to express by “morality of childbearing – you’re doing it wrong”.

    And I agree, gotta love those analogies. Obviously abortion is more like ipecac than a mint flavored antacid, and more like a fire extinguisher than a fire insurance policy.

    Some really out of the box social engineering would be to incentivize all young males to have vasectomies when they become sexually active, and provide free reversals when they are in a position to conceive responsibly. Vasectomy reversal success rates are improving all the time, and as insurance you could always bank some sperm deposits. What about it Dan L. – you up for it?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    But snarky one-liners are all I have!

    Ok, I will attempt to limit the snark and sarcasm here. Dunno when I’ll actually finish this, might take me a while…

    First, some statistics to buttress our discussion (all data is from Guttmacher Institute and refers to the U.S. unless otherwise stated; I have paraphrased where it was possible, and quoted where it was already succinct).

    The average age of a woman obtaining an abortion is 25. 17% of abortions are obtained by teenagers.

    60% of abortions are obtained by women who already have one or more children.

    70% of women report a religious affiliation with a Christian denomination, approximately the proportion of Christians in the country as a whole.

    The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). This is partly because the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty (112 vs. 29 per 1,000 women)

    The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

    Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.

    Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex.

    Chart on when in the pregnancy a woman has an abortion.

    Fifty-eight percent of abortion patients say they would have liked to have had their abortion earlier. Nearly 60% of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money.

    Teens are more likely than older women to delay having an abortion until after 15 weeks of pregnancy, when the medical risks associated with abortion are significantly higher.

    1 in 1 million abortions before the 9th week result in death, versus 1 in 11000 after the 20th week; 1 in every 9000 live births results in the death of the mother (via Wikipedia’s article on Maternal death)

    So let’s talk about moral hazards. First, a moral hazard (via Wikipedia) is “a special case of information asymmetry, a situation in which one party in a transaction has more information than another. The party that is insulated from risk generally has more information about its actions and intentions than the party paying for the negative consequences of the risk”. When talking about abortion, what party suffers? Does anyone suffer?

    No. Abortion does, in fact, reduce the financial and medical risks of carrying to term and giving birth to a child, but it is riskier (medically and financially) than the morning-after pill, which is riskier than pre-sex contraception (pill, condom, etc), so the notion that widespread availability of abortion would result in an increase in unsafe sex lacks evidence and doesn’t pass a cost-benefit analysis of the relative risks. Further, the case could be made that pro-life institutions and policies create moral hazards, since they themselves are immune to the risk of a woman carrying her pregnancy to term, but they encourage women to do so and, further, lie about or conceal the relative risks of taking this action.

    Well it’s time for me to go eat, have protected sex with my girlfriend, and go to a college basketball game. Hmm, wouldn’t a man having sex with a woman be a moral hazard, since he is immune to the risk of getting pregnant?

  • Dan L.

    But, Dan, your entire argument hinges on the idea that creating a “life” and then destroying it is unethical.

    Why?

    You try to tie this to a cost spreading analysis. But, I fail to see the connection.

    Why is creating a life and then destroying it unethical? I don’t know why exactly I think it’s unethical. It offends my moral intuition. I will have to do a little bit of thinking before I can get much deeper than that. I’m not sure I know what you mean by “cost spreading analysis,” and that using the term “moral hazard” may not have gotten quite the idea across that I had in mind.

    What if I think it is entirely ethical to get pregnant and then have an abortion or use an abortifacient instead of using contraception? (Maybe it’s even cheaper and easier and safer in some circumstances to rely on an abortifacient — for argument’s sake — I don’t know this to be the case, but I can imagine it to be true)

    From what I understand, abortifacients are typically taken shortly after coitus to prevent implantation of any fertilized eggs? So flesh out the scenario a little: did you use other prophylactics to try to prevent pregnancy and the first place? And then use an abortifacient the next day or so because you weren’t sure it worked? I don’t think I’d really have a problem with that at all.

    Who is sharing the cost with me of my “irresponsible” pregnancy?

    Well, hopefully the putative father.

    Why is it unethical to use over the counter abortifacients as contraception?

    Yeah, OK, go ahead. It gives me an ick feeling, but like I said, I’m not out to ban anything.

    Who else is sharing the cost with me that resulted in my being incentivized to behave this way?

    Not sure what you mean. Again, hopefully the father, and then maybe your family, though I understand that won’t work for everybody. Friends. Community services are better in some states than others, I suppose.

    The fire insurance analogy doesn’t fly.

    If a company provides fire insurance (abortion) then the house owner (woman) will be more likely to smoke in bed (fuck in bed without a condom) resulting in a house burned to the ground and dead inhabitants (an unwanted pregnancy).

    You see the problem.

    How does an unwanted pregnancy equate with fire damage?

    It doesn’t.

    Awesome. I used fire insurance to illustrate the concept of moral hazard. See below.

    It only equates if you think that destroying a blastocyst or a fetus is destroying something of value — the destruction of which is somehow a detriment to society.

    I think — in most cases that this act of destruction will be a benefit to society.

    Maybe we should be incentivizing women to have abortions. I certainly think so.

    Whatever. I do think feti have value. Ask a woman who’s been trying to get pregnant for a while and finally done it whether her fetus have value. I think people should take reproduction pretty seriously; maybe I’m just arbitrarily old fashioned in that way. I think that goes double for guys because they’re not stuck gestating the things. I also think people should take sex more seriously than they do, but again, old before my time. I guess that’s what I was trying to say with the moral hazard thing, that abortion to me represents human beings failing to live up to the responsibilities of human reproduction. Or something.

    Using abortifacients as a supplement to normal prophylactics doesn’t really bother me, but abortion as birth control does. Is that unreasonable?

  • Dan L.

    Ideally, for me, abortions would be illegal and there would be a more ethical way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies.

    Dan,

    In comment #15, you said, “Ideally, for me, abortions would be illegal”, and claimed that there are “real secular reasons for disallowing abortions”. I don’t see how these comments can possibly be interpreted other than as advocacy of banning abortion, your subsequent remarks notwithstanding.

    Actually, I’m a little angry you would take these out of context to argue that I am “advocating banning abortions.” For the first, the full quote was “Ideally, for me, abortions would be illegal and there would be a more ethical way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies.” That is to say, in an ideal sunshine-and-rainbows sci-fi world where unlimited resources are available to solve all the world’s problems, unexpected or otherwise unwanted pregnancies could be brought to term and then given a happy and safe home with little disruption to the biological mother’s life. Not “in my dream-world jack-booted dystopian fantasy, abortion is never allowed!” I was saying that ideally, abortion would not be the best option.

    The second quote, observing that there might be “secular reasons for banning abortions,” could in no way be construed as advocating banning abortions, except by either a nincompoop or someone with an axe to grind. Which are you?

    No, pregnancy is not a disease, but when did that become the criterion? As you’ll recall, we were talking about moral hazards, and you said that people who make unwise choices should suffer the “real consequences” of those decisions. I asked what the “real consequences” of unsafe sex were, and you said pregnancy and STDs. I was just taking you at your word.

    And then I admitted that treating diseases also constitutes a moral hazard, but that it’s a different sort of moral hazard from the one I meant. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I think the fact that pregnancy is not the same as disease IS actually relevant to the moral calculus here.

    Actually, I don’t think they are. Both involve a foreign form of life taking up residence in the woman’s body and using her resources to nourish itself without her consent, in ways that potentially pose serious danger to her well-being. The reason I’m in favor of treating STDs and other diseases is the same reason I’m pro-choice: because I believe people should exercise autonomy over their own bodies.

    Whoah, whoah, whoah, a fetus is hardly a foreign form of life. The reason we enjoy sex in the first place is nature’s way of cajoling us into pregnancies. When a woman gets an STD, that represents a violation of trust — her partner should have been taking care of his health, should have been tested, should have informed her. When a woman gets pregnant, there is no breach of trust (except, of course, in cases where the men is purposefully replacing birth control or piercing prophylactics — that’s clearly abuse and such men should be held fully accountable by law) because it was a mutual failure — and yes, I do believe the man has the obligation to inquire about/provide birth control where appropriate.

    It’s laudable for you to say you would take responsibility for caring for any child you brought into the world. But it doesn’t follow that this should be a moral obligation on everyone else as well. To name just one obvious problem, what if the issue isn’t the woman’s unwillingness, but financial (or physical or emotional) inability to care for a child properly? Is it fair to say that that child must come into existence, and suffer the deficiencies of an unprepared or dysfunctional parent, just to teach that parent an abstract lesson about the consequences of poorly thought-out decisions? Your approach seems to treat children as means rather than ends.

    Yes, Ebonmuse, the inability to care for the child properly is obviously the issue. That is one of the reasons I wouldn’t advocate for banning abortions. However, I think that the best course of action would be to:
    1) educate people on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies
    2) fund social services sufficiently to help make adoption an even better option than it already is
    3) adopt instead of having your own kids
    4) make contraception easily available

    Law of diminishing returns being what it is, that probably won’t handle every case that ever crops up. So yeah, let’s make sure abortions are still safe and legal after that. But there’s no reason not to try to minimize the number of abortions needed, right?

  • Dan L.

    Let me try one more thought experiment, and I’ll disclaim it nice and loud this time:

    I AM NOT SAYING THAT THE FOLLOWING IS A DIRECT ANALOG FOR PREGNANCY.

    Susie buys a dozen donuts for the office. Sally’s favorite is jelly. Sam knows this and doesn’t really like jelly, but when he gets up to the donuts, he grabs the only jelly, squeezes all the jelly out into a napkin, takes one bite and then throws the rest in the trash.

    I don’t think anyone would go around calling Sam a bad or evil person just for doing this one mostly insignificant thing, but doesn’t it offend your sense of fair play just a bit? Sam seems like he’s wronging Sally, but Sally’s not really out anything and anyway, the consequences are minor enough that it’s hard to see how any kind of moral imperative would apply.

    Maybe that’s closer to how I feel about abortion. It violates some sense of responsibility for me, but maybe, as Sarah asserts, the loss of the blastocyst is just too minor for there to need to be any consequences.

  • Dan L.

    @monkeymind:

    I think you’re reading a little too much into a couple attempts at using thought experiments to make sense of why I feel like there might actually be a moral problem with abortions.

    All, I think I’ve been relatively civil other than being blunt about the fact that I didn’t think the original post was very funny. I think I’ve actually been remarkably civil under the circumstances. I feel like I’ve been misrepresented and in some cases unfairly castigated throughout the course of this discussion. The original arguments I made weren’t terribly sweeping and I think I made it pretty clear from the beginning that if I ever wrote any letters about abortions to my congressman, that the letter would be advocating for them to be legal. I explicitly said I was playing devil’s advocate.

    And I definitely do not feel like I’ve gotten the benefit of the doubt.

    It’s a little like saying, “Gee, I think that religious fellow might have something there,” on Pharyngula. Try it some time. I really get the sense that maybe some of us progressive types aren’t as tolerant of dissenting opinions as they claim to be. I really like the site, but if I’m going to me maligned and misrepresented as above any time I happen to disagree with posters, I guess maybe I should take my clicks elsewhere.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    See, I make a serious post and get ignored. You’re not arguing in good faith, Dan, or else you would have addressed my numbers and arguments. I’ll restate more succinctly.

    Your argument is that abortion creates a moral hazard for women; that is, the availability of abortion increases the likelihood of a woman engaging in unsafe sex because that availability removes the risk of having to give birth to a child due to unsafe sex. However, this ignores the sliding scale of medical risk, from essentially 0 for condoms/pills/etc, to morning-after, to abortion in the first 8 weeks, to later abortions, and finally to birth. There is also a correlative rise in cost. If widespread and easily-available abortions did in fact increase the rate of unprotected sex, we would see higher unexpected pregnancy rates in countries with less restrictions on abortions, and vice versa. While I do not have these data in front of me at the moment, I recall that the opposite is true; countries with less abortion restrictions have lower unexpected pregnancy rates, etc. Sure, this doesn’t prove causation, but you need to at least show a correlation to make your moral hazard argument.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    And now I have data:

    Legal restrictions on abortion do not affect its incidence. For example, the abortion rate is 29 in Africa, where abortion is illegal in many circumstances in most countries, and it is 28 in Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds. The lowest rates in the world are in Western [12 per 1,000 women aged 15–44] and Northern Europe [17 per 1,000], where abortion is accessible with few restrictions.

    It’s higher in Canada and the U.S.; the only real difference between regions is the following:

    Where abortion is legal and permitted on broad grounds, it is generally safe, and where it is illegal in many circumstances, it is often unsafe. For example, in South Africa, the incidence of infection resulting from abortion decreased by 52% after the abortion law was liberalized in 1996.

    Also, the unintended pregnancy rate is 40% worldwide, no difference between developing world and developed. Of course, the developed world has much less pregnancies overall (relative to population), so we’ve actually reduced our pregnancy rate a lot more than the developing world.

    ETA: all data from the Guttmacher Institute, again

  • Dan L.

    @themannwhatever:

    See, I make a serious post and get ignored. You’re not arguing in good faith, Dan, or else you would have addressed my numbers and arguments. I’ll restate more succinctly.

    Please check again. I responded to every post sequentially UNTIL yours. Perhaps it didn’t occur to you that this was possible, but I was posting shortly before bed, already had a lot to say, and your post was a little long to dive into at that point. Once I was done responding to Ebonmuse, Sarah, and monkeymind, I went to bed. If you don’t mind giving me just a little more time, I’ll be happy to read your post and respond.

    Geez.

  • Dan L.

    @themann1086:

    You’ve convinced me. “Moral hazard” is absolutely the wrong term for what I had in mind. I think I described the notion better in my more recent posts responding to Ebonmuse and Sarah.

    Again, I’m not arguing that safe abortions should not be readily accessible. I believe they should be, if for no other reason than the one you cite: that restrictions don’t affect the number performed, only the safety of the ones performed. I believe I already mentioned this.

    Just to sum up, I was originally arguing the following points:
    A) From what I can tell, people don’t really apply the moral imperative model of decision making. They use a sort of moral intuition whether they’re Buddhists, Christians, or atheists and this moral intuition seems like it’s internalized through one’s native culture rather than systematically and logically constructed. As a result, separating “religious” mores from “secular” mores is actually pretty difficult to do, especially for the decision maker herself. If we insisted that no legal precept was in any way religiously motivated, then that would essentially disqualify any religious person from legislative positions. This seems like an absurd conclusion to me, suggesting that a more complex analysis is required than one that simply bins moral precepts into “religious” or “secular”.
    B) Rights are not manifest, but rather abstract cultural values, especially cultural values that seem nearly universal. However, if we wanted a set of rights that all human beings on earth would agree were correct, it would be a pretty slim list. We have the rights we have because we as a nation jointly agree to guarantee each other those rights; even then, we don’t have a very good record. As a result, it is useless to talk about a right to abortions when that is exactly what is at stake.
    C) I personally feel there is some ethical problem with abortions; I can’t say why exactly (though I can say it’s not “moral hazard”). It has something to do with the fact that I do think a blastocyst has more value than a bacterial plaque. The reason has something to do with the question of when the child starts having value. “Birth” is marginally less arbitrary than “conception,” but considering the success of medical science in gestating premature feti in incubators, “birth” still feels pretty arbitrary. At what stage does a human being develop rights? On the other hand, this could very well be like the donut example I made above where while the action represents a perceived transgression, little or nothing was actually lost.

    The “benefit to society” criterion is actually a really bad option here, but I don’t really want to get into why right now.

    These were the arguments I made immediately after saying I was going to play devil’s advocate. As you can see, the end result of these arguments doesn’t really argue FOR banning abortions. It just argues for the right to argue for banning abortions. It’s a stretch to even call that devil’s advocate.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Fair enough, my apologies. I was annoyed and soaking wet, made me ornery.

    Firstly, one can argue anything they want. That’s not really an issue. If someone is going to make moral statements, though, they need to put forth arguments and reasons. “My religion says so” or “my moral system says so” isn’t a good reason. At best it’s an introduction to an explanation.

    I personally feel there is some ethical problem with abortions; I can’t say why exactly (though I can say it’s not “moral hazard”).

    While this was an unpromising start to the paragraph, we quickly get some good, meatier info.

    It has something to do with the fact that I do think a blastocyst has more value than a bacterial plaque.

    I disagree. A blastocyst has more potential to gain moral value, but I don’t see it as having value in and of itself.

    The reason has something to do with the question of when the child starts having value.

    This is indeed the crux of the issue, and I’ll have some thoughts on that below.

    “Birth” is marginally less arbitrary than “conception,” but considering the success of medical science in gestating premature feti in incubators, “birth” still feels pretty arbitrary. At what stage does a human being develop rights?

    Birth is much less arbitrary than conception. At birth, we have a for-serious human being, with a consciousness. At conception, we have 2 cells. So I would say if we had to choose between those 2, I’d unhesitatingly choose birth. That said, our knowledge of human development indicates that brain development that supports consciousness occurs during the 3rd trimester. In an ideal world, we’d know exactly when this happens. Since this is impossible, the first 2 trimesters should, ideally, be essentially unregulated, with regulation increasing as the third trimester progresses. Further, abortion should be federally- and state-funded just like any other medical procedure; the only people hurt be the lack of funds will be poor women seeking abortions, who will be forced to delay abortions and push them into riskier weeks for abortions.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ Dan L. (et al): I highly recommend reading Judith Jarvis Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion, or at least the Wikipedia page on it. She takes for granted that abortions are regrettable and that the fetus has a right to life at every step of the way, and then argues from there that the mother still has a right to abort, no matter what; the matter of precisely when this or that landmark is reached fades into the background as angels dancing on the head of a pin.