Absence does not make the heart grow fonder

Well - I had good intentions to write a post on the abortion debate and then dithered over putting it up (but see below). The Handmirror has been busily inspecting this issue from every angle, and their blogger Julie also wrote a guest-post on the subject for The Standard which has received a remarkable number of hits. Thanks to stiff moderation the comments have been of a surprisingly high level and make for some interesting reading. It's always heartening to read progressive comments from (probably) men on the subject.

Abortion is an issue which will remain contentious and it's something that everyone who is sexually active and fertile should consider. For argument's sake I've included my own thinking on the matter below. This is not intended as an analysis of the current political situation, and certainly not as a response to the large quantity of quality writing at In a Strange Land, Ex-expat or The Handmirror, but as an example of the fact that no matter how much the issue is legislated, people are going to think, feel and act in relation to it as individuals. This is why I'm personally pro-choice, even though the idea of having an abortion myself makes me feel a bit funny.

In the meantime the rest of the blogosphere has also chugged merrily onward - Robinsod "possibly the most reviled leftwing blog commenter in New Zealand" has started up his own blog - as if contributing to Newzblog and commenting on the standard weren't enough. Robinsod's writing is one of my guilty pleasures. It's often vile but, in my view, always very smart. The new blog includes theory-heavy material that couldn't get an airing in any other forum and also the writing talents of the standard commenter Billy who is thus now able to get his own back and moderate any standardistas who venture a remark.

The Hairy Armpit, now possibly known as guttergangbang.blogspot.com, has birthed itself sometime in the last few weeks and what an amazing burst of NSFW it is. I hear that it's been taken down twice. The gender politics are hard to pin down but the sentiment seems unforced. Gak. I also notice that the Sprout has made a re-appearance round the traps - here's hoping that he (she?) starts actually blogging again.

Deborah over at In a Strange Land has rejoiced in the variety of online friendships and political contact that blogging has afforded her. I can only echo that sentiment, and add that offline I've had the pleasure of meeting six other bloggers in recent times and am always amused by the divergence between the virtual and the real, as well as how goddamn small this country is. But I'm very glad to have made their acquaintance, one and all. What a welcome return to the booze fueled arguments, those halcyon days of undergraduate mayhem - if only metaphorically.

And now - as promised - the abortion issue - a personal response:

I’ve never been particularly interested in getting into a debate on abortion. It’s something that’s philosophically almost impossible to take a defensible position on, gets used as a political football and draws investiture from groups of people I’d rather avoid. However there’s not really any getting away from the fact that abortion and its provision or lack thereof has a profound pragmatic effect both socially and for individual people. And one can’t really be a thinking or sexually active adult without having reason to consider what a personal encounter with abortion might be like.

My own position on this most contentious of issues is all about my identity as a woman and a feminist. In talking about it I’m aware that I may draw irate responses from people who think it’s morally, ethically, or philosophically untenable. And maybe it is. But it’s my position. Like many other women I’ve navigated the multifarious realities and narratives associated with abortion and have come to my own views. Like it or not, this process of making sense is happening all over the place all the time in a way that defies control by any central meta-narrative or moral paradigm. However flawed my thinking, at the end of the day the fact that I’m doing it is illustrative of the impossibility of ultimately controlling the way a woman – any woman - thinks and correspondingly chooses to act. We must each make our own way through the forest. And this is an important thing to remember.

In advance of forming any position on abortion, and without having experienced an unwanted pregnancy, I’m already pre-wired to resist the idea of decision-making in regard to my body by outside agencies. The idea that another person might decide that that most private and inviolate of body-parts, my uterus, is something I am not allowed control over is unacceptable. Yes – this means I reserve the right to interfere with my reproductive organs and to decide if they will be interfered with by an outside agency. I do that anyway through use of contraception, agreeing to pelvic exams, smears and ultra-sounds, by selecting specific sexual partners and by moderating my sexual habits.

In making this statement about bodily dominon I concede that I’m setting aside the rights of any blastocyst, embryo and foetus that would possibly become a child if any potential pregnancy of mine was left to continue uninterrupted. A lot of philosophy about what’s right to do under the circumstance of an unwanted pregnancy surrounds the rights of the “unborn child” vs the rights of the mother. I’m no philosopher, but something that I bear in mind when considering these rights is that many pregnancies terminate themselves. Not every conception becomes a baby. This cuts across the argument that we should consider anything in utero to be essentially the same as a child because nature certainly doesn’t. I also note that if the mother’s body is taken out of the equation the blastocyst/embryo/foetus is not a viable human being. A woman can’t offer it to someone else to raise, and thus, it’s none of their business what she does with it.

Historically, the criminalisation of drinking, prostitution or drug-taking has never stopped them happening, it has merely driven them underground. Likewise, although abortion has been illegal for a very long time, this indicates its prevalence rather more than the reverse. Prior to the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, it was a criminal offence to have an abortion or cause a pregnancy to end (this was only partially mitigated by the '77 law change). The fact that the procedure was a crime didn’t stop pregnant women running the risk of prosecution and death and it didn’t stop the people who helped them abort from performing abortions. This particular option has been with us for a really long time. Women have used coat-hangers, gin, knitting needles and various personal injuries to effect it, and consequently many have died under dreadful circumstances. These women took the risk because they considered the social and pragmatic realities of having a child would be worse than the possibility of injury and death. It seems a no brainer that adequate support for women to raise children under difficult circumstances is going to have a greater effect on abortion rates than any prohibition, but the most vociferous opponents of the procedure are also usually the ones who want to reduce benefits and social welfare.

In my cruder and more sustainably informed moments I sometimes wonder what we would do if the 18,000 foetuses terminated annually in New Zealand were born here (and god knows how many extras in other places). Humanity is already the greatest pestilence this planet has ever seen. From a population perspective, abortion is acting as one of several checks, however small, on our utterly unbridled expansion.

And, when looking at row upon row of neatly packed meat in the supermarket I’m easily able to question the argument that we should avoid the termination of a pregnancy in order to avoid causing pain to an embryo or foetus. Fully-grown and sentient animals are killed as a matter of course under the most stressful and aware circumstances. For a herbivore, the smell of blood can only mean one thing – extreme danger and the presence of a predator. I’m not convinced that most pro-lifers are vegan. I’m not myself. But then, I’m not sure that the death of a sentient being in an industrial complex is more acceptable than the death of a being without memory or fear.

Before you dismiss me as a heartless cow-eater (which I am) – I tell you now that I’d be extremely reluctant to undergo an abortion myself. Dodgy ovaries and a long history of singledom mean I’m most likely to take my chances with a pregnancy and hope for the best, whether or not the circumstances are ideal. That said, if I was carrying a foetus with a terminal condition like triploidy, for example, I’m not sure I’d still take the pregnancy to term. But I can’t say for sure because (thank fucking god) I haven’t ever had to make that choice.

I can’t believe that it’s my place to say what any other woman should do if faced with an unwanted pregnancy. This is not a choice that can or really should be made for a woman by an outside party since they don’t have to bear either the baby or the consequences of having it. No one does to the same extent as the woman involved. To make abortion a philosophical or party-political issue at the expense of lived experience is farcical and unsupportable. And a grand narrative can never make one single decision the right one for all circumstances. As ex-expat pointed out recently – once an unwanted pregnancy arrives, there’s no good option. A medico-legal complex that makes it possible for any known options to be expended to get the best outcome for the people concerned is the only one that I find reasonable – because no matter whether abortion is legal, it’s going to be considered as an option anyway.


Anonymous said…
Hey Lyn

I will thank you for the comments about sprout on his behalf. he is a he...and I (the bean) am a she. we ducked out of the blogesphere a while ago as work piled up and as the right wing trolls became more frustrating.

it seems both of us have been dipping our toes back in the water lately so hopefully we will both find reason to write again.

In the meantime we are both avid blog readers so thank you for the singles club!

the bean
Anonymous said…
thanks for your honesty lyn. that was a good read.

my thoughts .. (which i'm not passionate about, just a silly thinking about the whole thing) are that there's a sense of the ridiculous that something so utterly corporeal, and about life (your own, a child's), is a philosophical matter (of the mind, what we think, even how we feel on a given day, the information we are passed). although underpinned by the medical and moral, how you use the medical and moral is a matter for debate.

the details of the debate come from that bizarre philosophical clutch of questions about what how we measure a life. the nitty-gritty ins and outs of how really in the atomic level do we measure a life. how we divide the woman from the unborn child, who's body is whose, what constitutes a life .. at what point does it happen? even can you measure the death of a neonate with the death of a sentient animal. : )

these questions expect definitive and clean answers from us, but those kinds of answers are never going to make themselves apparent.

i guess that's what i mean by the ridiculous sense of the process of conception which i think as being about as natural and subliminal as we'll ever experience, being so philosophical when it hits the outside.

so we're all left with very similar information, and what we, personally, make from that information constitutes our position. and that, on the personal level of society, seems to be the way it will remain. and laws will need to umbrella that and hopefully create a generalisation from it somehow.

i think it's important to point out, that the law is not based on moral judgments. and it never has been. it's an important part of understanding law and how it's implemented, and the reasons why law is not based on moral judgment are plenty. but even given that, the issue of rights (of mother, of child) is still incredibly nebulous.