Abortion Discussion

Because there aren’t enough people mad at the Prospect


Fringe Analysis and Opinion


At the March 15th meeting of the Sierra County Board of Supervisors a popular divisive issue came up.

The Board was discussing a request to accept a contract for Title X funding for health services. 

The issue that brought the contract up for discussion is a clause which makes the county responsible for court costs if the program is sued.  Mr. Curtis cautioned the Board on the matter.

In reality, most contracts using government money seek that kind of indemnification.  We’ll pause to note that the County requires similar indemnification when citizens apply for certain permits.  Much like the “license agreement” used by most software, you can read it if you like but know up front you either agree or do without.  This program is the same way.  The Board will discuss the contract again next meeting, at which time someone will mention that the County can be sued for NOT providing the critical services the funding pays for, and they will approve the contract.  That’s where our money lies.


That isn’t what made the discussion interesting.  What made it interesting was a little tiny discussion on whether the funding would provide counselling for abortion.  Because abortion is a legal therapeutic treatment, the staff providing services will “discuss” abortion though not “refer” clients for abortion.


Knowledge is too much for some who were present, they objected to federal funding going to use the word “abortion”. 


That, and the lack of other real news from the Board meeting, is all the excuse we need to discuss the subject.


As a primer, you can’t do better than to go to procon.org and read the various positions. 

It’s interesting if just to see how the two sides structure their argument, what they value.

Both sides of the discussion also tend to use “studies”.  As is often the case, the “studies” on both sides take the data out of context, using them to mean things they don’t really mean.


There are a few over-riding statistics, though, and we can believe them because they make sense.

The first is that abortion, like almost all misfortunes of health and law, falls most heavily on black women.  There are many reasons for the much higher rate of abortions among black women; oddly one of them seems to be a hesitance to use birth control.  This becomes important down the road where many of those who don’t support abortion choice also don’t want federal funds used to expand the use of birth control.


The second is that many women who have abortions report, years later, regret.  It can be suggested that regret is a feature of human life, and it takes many forms.  Women who give children up for adoption also express regret later; indeed, some people who become parents express regret that they didn’t have a career instead.  Regret is a feature of free choice. 


The third is that there might be some health considerations regarding abortion.  On the one hand, it might be that having an abortion encourages miscarriage later on, though like all such statistics one would need to tease out women on the basis of class, and the type of abortion used.  On the other hand, for some women the physical stress of pregnancy will shorten their lives.


While the “sides” of the discussion are nice and clear when one views only the extremes, most people don’t fall on an extreme, most of us have misgivings at the thought of terminating a potential life. 


Some people suggest that terminating a child because of the likelihood of birth defects is biased against disabled people.  Others suggest that having a high-needs child deducts from the quality of life of siblings. 


Once the discussion leaves the clarity of the extremes, it becomes very murky, getting into such things as “the life of the mother” or “the product of rape or incest.”   


However, it is possible to come to a conclusion, to arrive at a clear and logical decision about abortion.


For starters, we’ll talk about infanticide.  Human history is rich with infanticide, it was not only common, it was ubiquitous.  We haven’t always had the option of an abortion, so simply walking away from unwanted children was very popular for a long time, and indeed, Rome had a garbage dump where children were commonly left, should anyone want one for a slave or what have you.  Exposure infanticide, most often of girls or children born with defects, or doubt of legitimacy, or simply a bad horoscope, was common; Romans referred to it as “exposure”.  In the case of best-ever getting even for infanticide there are Romulus and Remus, who survived to be raised by wolves, and eventually founded Rome.


Very often, in the past and now, it is the father who determines if the infant lives, or is “exposed”.


Sometimes simply abandoning an unwanted infant is considered inhumane, and the infant would be killed by the mother, or perhaps by the midwife or mother’s sister.  Sometimes an unwanted infant or child was used in religious ceremony, particularly in the New World.


Toltec child sacrifice.

In Europe, unwanted or illegitimate new babies were thrown to swine or even to the dogs.


Infanticide is common even today, in India and China, where, in both instances disposing of girls outnumbers boys by several times.


Abandoning an infant is also still practiced today, though in many nations the children are abandoned at hospitals.  Indeed, California had to create special legislation for the practice, “Safe Arms for New Borns”.   


It is clear that the most common reason for infanticide is the lack of contraception or abortion.


In the past, there were methods of induced birth; the wire coat hanger is emblematic of a “back street abortion” which is the consequence of no legal abortion. Oil of pennyroyal was used to induce birth.  A little too much, though, is deadly.  Indeed, one thing the numbers show is that even when abortion is illegal, women still chose to induce birth prematurely.  However, they sometimes don’t use means which are medically or hygienically safe.


Some form of abortion is legal in 2/3 of countries today, but some are limited to conditions like “mental health of mother” or “likelihood of birth defect”.  Those countries where religion and government mix often do not have legal abortion; it is not legal in many Muslim countries.  An idea for those who want to live in a theocracy is to move to one that already exists.


There are many reasons women choose to have an abortion, and some of them are very socially or physically significant, and some are more casual. 


The key, though is that they choose.


In the United States, we take personal freedoms seriously.  Here, the discussion breaks into two: the rights of the mother, who is a live person, and the rights of the unborn, who is a potential person. 


The idea that the state should intercede on behalf of the child is somewhat new, but has taken root in the U.S.  The idea that the child might have rights even though unborn, is reflected in some laws which focus on the age of the unborn.  In some views, if the child could survive if born, then abortion is not possible.  That is sometimes identified as the second trimester.

However, the state is a shadow person, even more so when claiming to represent the unborn, and the mother is a real person.  The Constitution protects her rights clearly, but only legal fiction allows the government to represent the child.


In this editor’s view, abortion is an important medical procedure, one that women have the right to.  One important reason: so people don’t have to feed unwanted new born babies to the swine.


It isn’t up to religious zealots or government to intercede if a 17 year old woman, or a 36 year old mom, or a 47 year old woman decides she needs to terminate a pregnancy.


I do understand all the emotional and religious arguments, but none of them mean anything to the discussion, since those refer to personal things.  Feelings are personal, religion is a personal matter.  In America, so far, we are all free of each other’s emotions and religion.  By all means, if you feel abortions are immoral, don’t have one.  That’s what “choice” means.


Being politically free of religion and hyperbole means abortion is a possible choice of the real, living woman.


Personally, I do want federal dollars spent on abortions.  Poor families in particular need choice.  We are willing to spend federal dollars to kill people in other countries, why is abortion more of a moral issue than that?





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