Last month, I posed a list of questions to people who identify as pro-life. In the long comment thread which ensued, there were a fair number of people who stepped up to respond, both some who were traditionally religious as well as some who said they were atheists (but more about that later on). In this post and the next one, I’ll survey and discuss their answers.
Obviously, this is nothing like a scientific survey of the anti-abortion community. But there were enough responses to notice some interesting patterns, both in the questions where there was widespread agreement and in the questions where there wasn’t.
Is Spontaneous Abortion a Humanitarian Crisis?
My first question asked whether the high rate of natural miscarriage should be treated as an ongoing health crisis. In total there were 12 people identifying as pro-life who answered this question, and 7 of those 12 people said that they see no need to investigate it. There were comments such as: “it is NOT ethically wrong to allow mother nature to run her course and allow a human being to die naturally” (source), or that it’s “a natural biological process” (source), or even “spontaneous miscarriages are God’s will” (source). One commenter said, “The female body will reject anything that is not safe for her. God made the body in this way.” (Hi, Mr. Akin!)
These answers all overlook an obvious point, which to be fair, the remaining 5 respondents recognized: Even if spontaneous abortion is a natural process and not currently preventable, does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned about it? Cancer is a natural process (and arguably “God’s will”), and many cases are untreatable, but we’ve sunk huge amounts of effort into researching a cure. If you don’t believe that embryos are human beings, then natural miscarriages may be sad but aren’t a tragedy comparable to the death of a person. But that conclusion shouldn’t be available to those who rely on anti-abortion personhood logic.
How to Enforce an Abortion Ban
I asked how a hypothetical abortion ban would be enforced, and though this question caused a lot of tumult, there was one answer that got a clear plurality among the respondents. What most of them proposed is, basically, the El Salvador solution: if a woman comes to the hospital for treatment of a miscarriage, and the doctors are suspicious, she can be detained until the police can send a forensic vagina investigator with a search warrant to probe her uterus for signs of an illegal abortion.
However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most of them seemed uncomfortable with this idea, because none of them put it in such blunt terms. Most spoke euphemistically of “medical investigations” (source) that would be carried out. One commenter said he would create “some sort of government agency” (source), though he declined to specify what powers this agency would have. Another called for “inspections of hospital records and patients” (source); a third said he would “legally empower law enforcement to gather evidence” (source). Only one commenter said clearly that he wouldn’t subject women to invasive exams against their will. Several others dodged the question or declined to answer, often with a smokescreen of pious indignation, such as this one.
I asked why most countries with existing abortion bans have no exception in the law for the life or health of the woman. The large majority of people who answered this question didn’t seem to understand it. Several people answered whether they personally would include such an exception if they could, but didn’t address the point about existing bans. (I don’t think my wording was unclear.) Others said they didn’t know.
Among the few who did answer, however, there were conflicting perspectives. One person claimed that such an exception never needs to be written into the law, because doctors will always know they can perform a life-saving abortion if circumstances require it (source). Obviously, the recent death of Savita Halappanavar shows this is completely wrong.
There were also answers that directly opposed each other: for example, one respondent said that abortion “is not actually needed to save the life of a mother” (source), while another said, “Perhaps [it] is because of a pervasive myth that abortion is never necessary to save women’s lives” (source).
Aside from that one answer, the pervasive failure of anti-choicers to confront the reality of existing abortion bans is good evidence that they’ve never fully thought out the implications of their stance. I suspect that many anti-choicers are under the impression that banning abortion will somehow eliminate the need for abortion. Anyone with a minimal understanding of biological reality would know that this is completely false – but “minimal understanding of biological reality” isn’t among the requirements for legislators in most countries, particularly the religious, male-dominated ones where these bans are most common.
I asked whether an abortion ban should include an exception for rape. Here’s where things start getting horrifying. Of 12 people who answered this question, 9 of them said no, not under any circumstances. One person said in an ideal world there would be none, but that in the real world, it would probably be required as a compromise. Only two people said that yes, pregnancy resulting from rape is a legitimate reason to seek an abortion.
What this means, assuming these answers are representative, is that an overwhelming majority of the pro-life movement denies that women should have any autonomy at all. Even if a woman is raped, even if she didn’t consent to sex, too bad – once she gets pregnant, her body is no longer her property, regardless of the burden or the risk to her. This is comparable to saying that if you’re walking down the street, and someone rushes up and thrusts a baby into your arms, that baby instantly and permanently becomes your responsibility to raise, feed and care for.
Coming up: Part 2 will analyze the rest of the answers.
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