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Assessing your values

March 3, 2010

Via The Abortioneers (though titled there “How Pro-Choice Are You?”, a construction I don’t really care for) is the following assessment of values related to the right to abortion. Even though it’s been a long time since I had anything other than a firm and totalizing opinion about abortion (bet you can’t guess what), it was interesting for me to think through my responses to these questions.

You don’t have to answer them (though of course you can!), but feel free to comment with any reflections on this exercise. Which questions made you think? Which made you uncomfortable? How would you discuss your answers with someone who disagreed with you?

Do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements:
1. Every woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy.
2. Abortion should be allowed even beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy.
3. Parental consent should be required for any teen under the age of 18 requesting an abortion.
4. Women who have more than 5 abortions are irresponsible.
5. Women who have more than 10 abortions are irresponsible.
6. Women should not use abortion as a form of birth control.
7. I think reproductive health advocacy organizations should promote the use of emergency contraception in order to decrease the number of abortions in the US each year.
8. I feel uncomfortable if a woman has an abortion because of the gender of the pregnancy.
9. Male partners should have the right to be a part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
10. I think a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is an absolute and inalienable right no matter what.

One more activity to sit with is an open-ended finish the sentence:
1. Abortions are:
2. Women who have abortions are:
3. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy needs to:
4. In this country, abortion should be:
5. People working to restrict abortion should:
6. People working on behalf of women’s right to choose should:

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 1:32 AM

    A few observations:

    Abortion is one of the most ethically and philosophically complicated issues there are, and this probe does not do it justice. The best thing any pro- or anti-organisation could do would be stop dealing in absolutes and polarizing the debate, and instead acknowledge how hard the issue is. (With some reservations for those who have an opinion based in religion. Even those, however, should respect that others have a right to base their opinions on different premises.)

    Anyone having five abortions has obviously done something wrong (barring the possibility of extremely poor luck), and even a staunch pro-abortionist would be irresponsible to not consider it irresponsible. (Not to mention medically dangerous…)

    Male partners should definitely have a say—at least in countries were they can get stuck with enormous responsibilities without otherwise being able to do anything about it.

    • Jill permalink*
      March 3, 2010 3:44 AM

      Anyone having five abortions has obviously done something wrong

      Like what? It isn’t obvious to me.

      • March 3, 2010 12:31 PM

        Look at it this way:

        How did she rack up five abortions?

        The most likely reason is that she was careless and irresponsible in her
        sex life: No condoms, no back-up protection (e.g. the regular pill), and
        no morning-after pill after unprotected sex. (Note than an abortion is not
        a good risk-free alternative to preventative measures. Complications can ensue,
        multiple abortions can lead to sterility, and abortions are more costly.)

        If she would have used these in a sensible combination, one pregnancy could
        still happen—true. But five?

        The alternative would be someone with extreme bad luck, e.g. going through
        multiple wanted pregnancies aborted for medical reasons, suffering
        multiple rapes, or similar, in some combination. Even so, five abortions is
        a highly unlikely tally.

        To clarify further, it is not the abortions, per se, that are irresponsible,
        but the risk-taking behaviour leading up to them. Even a first rate, highly
        responsible driver can crash a car—but crashing five is a strong indication
        of lacking ability and responsibility as a driver.

    • March 3, 2010 11:25 PM

      Michael,
      It seems as though you have defined some absolutes in terms of abortion in your response that aren’t obvious to everyone.

      What I like about this assessment is that it takes the debate out of absolutes – not just “pro-choice” or “pro-life” as you said. I think people who might label themselves the same way could still have very differing answers to the questions above. I don’t think they address every nuance of the issue, but they reveal the complexities behind the strict lines of Pro-choice/Pro-life.

      (Thanks for posting, Jill!)

      • March 4, 2010 1:46 AM

        Becky,

        there are different sides to everything; including not just abortion, but obviously this discussion: My impression is very, very different from yours.

        Firstly, what I try to emphasize in my original post is that the respective parties should _stop_ dealing in absolutes. Further, I can see no absolutes stated by me that are not obvious or explained over the combined context of my two posts.

        Secondly, what I dislike with the assessment is that it _does not_ take the debate out of absolutes: This type of question rarely make people truly think about the issue, see “the other side” of the issue, whatnot; but just about there own opinions—which makes them likely to pigeon-hole themselves, respectively strengthen a pre-existing pigeon holing. Note that there is psychological research indicating that when people express an opinion, even in an off-hand manner, they tend to feel bound to it, tend to try to bring the total of their opinions into a consistent state, etc. (Something I have also noted from personal observations both on myself and others.)

        This is particular serious as many of the questions are (not necessarily deliberately) angled. Consider 1. in opposition to “Every child has the right to live regardless of when it was conceived.”, or 3. in opposition to “Teenagers should have the right to make their own decisions wrt abortions.”. (Whether any side has an advantage over the entirety of the assessment is disputable, but the situation is bad enough as it is.)

        A better balanced approach would be (for 1.): “How should the rights of mother and child be judged against each other? How can we determine when a foetus should be considered a person? What would the pragmatical consequences (positive and negative) be, if every woman had the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy.”

        I will take your word for the intentions being good, but you know where the road paved with good intentions leads…

        (Please pardon me, if I do not comment further: I have spent much more time on this discussion than I had in anyway planned.)

      • Hal Edmonson permalink
        March 4, 2010 2:08 AM

        Michael,

        Your points are well-taken, and my own experiences tend to bear out your observations on the nature of discussion. That said, reading this exercise in its original context (Jill’s link is at the beginning of the post), it’s somewhat telling that it arose from a course in values assessment. The point of the exercise isn’t to further a discussion toward some sort of public consensus. For that matter, I see it as somewhat removed from the bigger ‘debate’ with which you seem to be engaged. Instead, it’s intended as an introspective lens for those who would consider themselves to be supportive of abortion rights.

        Yes, it continues to rely on absolutism, but it does so to undercut–or at least test–a much larger absolute. If one is unable to provide a consistent answer to each of those questions, then by definition they are not an absolutist, and might be more open to the sort of murky abstraction that is the lifeblood of discussion. Forgive me I’ve misunderstood your point, but that would seem to be right up your alley. Isn’t dismantling false-dichotomies a prerequisite for the sort of engagement you propose?

  2. Jill permalink*
    March 4, 2010 10:09 AM

    Yes, Hal–my intention of posting this was definitely to offer a kind of exercise in the multifaceted issue of abortion. I really disliked how the original post (which I linked to) titled the assessment (as I noted), precisely because I don’t believe there’s some sort of absolute rubric which makes you pro-choice, which you must always live up to no matter what or we’ll change the feminist handshake while you’re in the bathroom.

    I also intended it as a challenge, to test the limits of readers’ opinions to reveal the ideologies that underlie their “pro-choiceness,” because there are a lot of different ways to get there (just as there are a lot of different ways to oppose the right to abortion). For me, it’s an issue of viewing women as full moral citizens, but it could be about bodily integrity, come from a libertarian perspective, rely on a biological basis, derive from religious beliefs, etc., or any complicated amalgam of those.

    • March 7, 2010 10:07 PM

      I think y’all should read Impossible Motherhood by Irene Vilar. It’s an amazing, and sometimes uncomfortable, look at one woman’s experiences that led to her having 15 abortions. It explores feminism and the colonization of women’s body beautifully. An interview w/ Vilar about the book can be found on RH Reality Check.

  3. NancyP permalink
    March 6, 2010 3:02 PM

    michaelerikson:
    Lifetime risk of unplanned pregnancy is very high for women in general, and is the reason why permanent sterilization (female and male) is the single most common contraception type. Many women have ineffective contraception due to physiologic / pharmacologic reasons beyond their control, due to lack of health care access or poor advice, and due to behavior of the male partner. You aren’t alone in your ignorance – Americans in general aren’t all that well informed, and men are much less informed than women about birth control issues.

    Hormonal contraception is the most effective option, with a real-life effectiveness of 92% over 1 year use. However, a significant number of women should not take hormonal contraception due to a variety of factors that result in a higher rate of clinically significant thrombosis in various sites (brain – stroke; legs – potentially fatal pulmonary thromboembolus should the clot be dislodged and travel through the right heart to the lungs; liver – acute Budd-Chiari syndrome, hepatoportal sclerosis, either of which can lead to liver failure; and others). Just yesterday at my hospital a pregnant woman aged 20s died of a pulmonary thromboembolus (pregnancy can also cause a hypercoagulable state). 5% of American women have a coagulation protein genetic variant (factor V Leiden) that renders them prone to thromboses, with multiplicative effect with pregnancy or use of exogenous hormones such as the Pill. Selected FLV heterozygotes can use the Pill as long as they don’t have other predisposing conditions. FVL homozygotes shouldn’t use hormonal contraception at all, in my opinion. Any woman who has a major thrombosis from any cause is also at risk and should be very cautious about using hormonal contraception. Smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, age also increase thrombosis risk.

    Another issue is drug metabolism genetic variation affecting sex steroid metabolism and additional prescription drug, alternative medicine supplements (famously, St. John’s wort, widely used for depression) and food interactions that can alter sex steroid metabolism. If the doctor and pharmacist aren’t alert, interactions may be missed.

    The alternative contraceptive choices are less effective (real life rates for ONE YEAR’S USE given):
    male condom: 83% effectiveness over 1 year use
    diaphragm: 84%
    sponge/cervical cap: 85% for those that never had term pregnancy, 68% for those having had term pregnancy
    spermicides: 70%
    female condom: 73%

    Finally, some men intentionally undermine contraception by hiding pills, promising to use and then refusing to use male condom, etc.

    Now remember that all those rates, whether 68% or 92%, apply for a single year (first year using that method). The real-life rates improve with continued use, but never reach 100% even with the most experienced and conscientious users. Fertile women have a very high lifetime risk of unplanned pregnancy if sexually active with a fertile male partner throughout the 35 to 40 years of ovulation. As is well known, even permanent methods such as tubal ligation and vasectomy occasionally fail.

    • March 6, 2010 5:28 PM

      I am actually quite well informed—including that I know of contraceptives with rates far better than 92 % p.a. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_birth_control_methods.

      In particular, I am well aware of the risk of one or two unwanted pregnancy in a woman’s life. The issue, however, was five—which is something very different in compounded probabilities.

      As for some of the reasons you give, they fall into the category of irresponsible, e.g. in that a US woman (I grant that the case is different in Africa) who has not read up on the basics of preventatives is irresponsible.

      You have a partial case with the women that should avoid hormonal contraceptives—I admit that I did not consider this category in my original posts. Even here, however, the risk of high rates of pregnancies can severely reduced by additional caution (e.g. double checking the expiration dates of condoms, using both a condom and a diaphragm, paying attention to the ovulation cycle, whatnot).

  4. NancyP permalink
    March 6, 2010 3:04 PM

    Abortion is considerably less risky than childbirth, for both mortality and morbidity.

  5. Emily permalink
    March 6, 2010 6:43 PM

    Ha, abortion to me just isn’t that complex I geuss cause I rattled off my answers to myself, then reviewed them again to see if I made any judgments too quickly and decided that they are indeed my thoughts on the matter.

    Do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements:
    1. Every woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy.

    Yes

    2. Abortion should be allowed even beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy.

    Yes

    3. Parental consent should be required for any teen under the age of 18 requesting an abortion.

    No

    4. Women who have more than 5 abortions are irresponsible.

    Not to society, maybe to herself for having so many unwanted pregnancies depending on circumstances but it’s none of my business.

    5. Women who have more than 10 abortions are irresponsible.

    Same as last answer

    6. Women should not use abortion as a form of birth control.

    Yes, if other BC are available (Still can if they want I guess)

    7. I think reproductive health advocacy organizations should promote the use of emergency contraception in order to decrease the number of abortions in the US each year.

    Yes, reducing unintended pregnancies is good

    8. I feel uncomfortable if a woman has an abortion because of the gender of the pregnancy.

    Yes, but still not my business

    9. Male partners should have the right to be a part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

    No, but it’s nice if the situation allows their supportive involvement

    10. I think a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is an absolute and inalienable right no matter what.

    yes!

    One more activity to sit with is an open-ended finish the sentence:
    1. Abortions are: an option to end an unintended pregnancy
    2. Women who have abortions are: women who have had an abortion (I guess I don’t really get that one)
    3. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy needs to: do what’s best for her and the possibly resulting child
    4. In this country, abortion should be: safe and accessible
    5. People working to restrict abortion should: fuck off (on retrospect, while I find my initial response satisfying, I think it would be more productive to say…learn more about the health risks of illegal abortions, think more about what having someone else decide your medical choices for you feels like (some religions discourage all modern medicine, how would you feel if that became the law?, and think about when another “person” s well being takes precedent over your own, should people be forced to donate organs when they die? How about blood, extra kidneys, or bone marrow when alive?)
    6. People working on behalf of women’s right to choose should: have the support they need

  6. March 8, 2010 10:59 AM

    Mmm, nothing like a little slut-shaming to start my Monday off right.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. I really think Hal hit the nail on the head describing it as an “introspective lens for those who would consider themselves to be supportive of abortion rights.” Because of this introspective aspect, I might add, “Why do I think I believe this?” to your list of “discussion questions” at the end of the post. I think it’s important to not only reflect on what our beliefs actually are, but also what may be the reasons behind those beliefs.

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