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October 22, 2003


New blogger, oldhead Sebastian Holsclaw pens a brilliant aphorism:

You can want to restrict abortions. You can want to restrict contraceptive use. You can want to severely restrict welfare. But you can only want two out of the three of those things simultaneously unless you are an uncaring bastard.

In starting his new blog, Holsclaw doesn't waste any time getting to the big issues. Abortion is front and center. I should review my position. Here is my litmus quote:

i am principly against abortion, but it's one of those very ugly things that are part of civilization, like armies. just like a nation has to have armies to protect the freedoms that we all deserve (and we hope we never have to go to war), a society which values the freedom of women has to have abortion to protect them. i am also strongly against politicians or religious evangelists telling doctors what medical procedures to do. human beings have every right to make life and death decisions.

I'll start with the last stated but most important point. Human beings have every right to make life and death decisions. I think this applies especially to those choices about reproduction owing to the personal nature of sex.

Life & Death
Humans can kill each other. They also can give life. They can save lives and throw lives away. Given that these things are possible, there must be ethical systems to deal with them. I take it as axiomatic that there are ethical disciplines over all human activity, especially those of life and death, and that therefore people have rights to exercise these activities by dint of being human. It is appropriate therefore that over the course of history we determine better and worse systems of ethical discipline.

Fetal Viability and Infinite Regress
What Holsclaw illustrates is the critical concept of fetal viability, which up to now I hadn't realized was a term of Roe. This legal definition of human life is perfectly acceptable to me as one who is moderately pro-life. This is why I have no problem with RU-486.

Pushing the legal definition of viability ever back is absurd. It is absurd to artificially sustain the lives of premature infants as well as it is to suggest that ffetuses are persons. In the business of sustaining the species each of these 'advances' are marginally valuable and ethically suspect.

Women's Freedom
I am not in a position to declare what portion of freedom reproductive freedom is. Nor am I inclined to state unequivocably that such freedom is of necessity more important for females. But we do have the history of feminism to contend with; if it weren't for real oppression we wouldn't be discussing it.

So to clarify my pithy litmus statement, I do not want to say that the freedom of women depends on access to abortions, but that women should have reproductive freedom. Which is to put things in the context of Holsclaw's Three. To deprive a woman of the choice of whether or not she must bear children in order to enjoy sex is to basically force them into a kind of slavery to their body. Clearly contraception is an order of magnitude more thoughtful, convenient and safe. My jury is out as regards the implications of a fundamental need for sexual gratification outside of the social structures of marriage and babymaking, but it something substantial to deal with. The reproductive is a subset of the sexual.

Balance & Responsibility
My point is that there are more and less ethical ways to achieve reproductive freedom, however important that may be. Abortion is allowable because humans reserve the right to make life or death decisions over other persons. Even though this right may be given over by proxy to the state, it is a human right. Obviously it is not one that can be taken lightly, but the weight of the decision to abort is mitigated by one important fact.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is as private as the decision to create one. There should be no state interest in intervening in either direction, given the limits of viability.

But the state interest is complicated by the fact that people have the right to cede moral authority to their religious order. That is to say some people, as an article of faith do not accept the human right of life and death decisions. It is a matter of consistency for them to insist others do not have this right either, and they organize politically to limit that right for others.

Twisty neh?

Matters of abortion essentially boil down, in my view, to matters of personal responsibility. I feel an obligation to politically keep the government out of people's sex lives.

Posted by mbowen at October 22, 2003 11:11 AM

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Conservative clarity from Prometheus 6
Sebastian Holsclaw is EXACTLY the type of conservative I want to see gain more exposure. That he's a regular at Calpudit and got a link from him on launching his new blog is a good start, and I meant to... [Read More]

Tracked on October 23, 2003 07:23 AM


If it weren't for sertain religious beliefs, I doubt if the question about "right to life" ever would have been raised, and there would have been no pro-life movement.

It is a difficult enough decision to make for the woman who faces that choice, but that government should interfere or have any control over what she chooses to do with her body is contrary to my beliefs as to the function of that government. It's a sticky wicket, to say the least, but the lesser role the government plays in our lives, if it can be avoided, the better...in my opinion.

No matter what those who propose legislation in these matters say, they have only opinions, never the defining knowledge that they need in order to make such decisions for others. A woman's personal feelings and judgment over what goes on in her body have as much validity, perhaps even more, than theirs.

Posted by: howarde at October 23, 2003 06:34 PM

Oh damn, it is "certain" certainly, and certainly not "sertain".

Posted by: howarde at October 23, 2003 06:35 PM

Abortion needs to be kept safe and legal.Period.

Posted by: Liz at October 25, 2003 06:43 AM

Is 'partial birth' abortion safe?

Posted by: Cobb at October 25, 2003 09:29 AM