Tag Archives: Abortion

#179: Right to Choose

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #179, on the subject of Right to Choose.

It made the news this past week, that a teenager in Arizona (her name is Deja Foxx, and her stated age is 16) challenged Republican Senator Jeff Flake with the statement, condensed in headlines as “Why is it your right to take away my right to choose?”

Senator Flake, Photo by Gage Skidmore
Senator Flake, Photo by Gage Skidmore

Let’s be fair to Miss Foxx.  What she actually said, according to transcripts of the town hall meeting, is

So, I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood and to choose no-co-pay birth control, to access that.

That’s a little different, and a considerably more defensible question.  I also want to examine the more fundamental question, though, the one presented in the headlines, because that question comes up quite a bit, particularly in arguments about abortion:  why does anyone have the right to take away anyone else’s right to choose?

The first thing to say is that law is fundamentally about taking away the right to choose–or more precisely, about creating negative consequences for choosing conduct we as a society want to prevent or discourage.  You do not have the right to choose to help yourself to retail products off the shelves of a store without paying for them.  As much as you might wish to do so, you don’t have the right to kill your annoying little brother.  You don’t have the right to operate a motor vehicle on public roads while under the influence of an intoxicating substance.  You can, if you wish, choose to do any of these things; if you are caught, you will face penalties for doing them.  Whether or not you have the right to do things, in our society, is defined by the laws on which we, through our legislatures, executives, and judiciaries, agree.

So the people of Arizona who elected Senator Flake to office gave him the right to take away some of our rights, to curtail our freedoms, to put limits on what we can and cannot do.

Yet that is not quite what Foxx means.  She had prefaced her question with a tirade about how she, as an underprivileged homeless black girl trying to finish high school, was dependent on Title X (read “ten”) funding for Planned Parenthood, recently cut by a new law barring funding for any family planning center that also provides abortions.  She was fundamentally asking what right America has to refuse to pay for that; she would not have put it in those terms, but that’s the essence of the question.

There are a lot of questions we could ask in response to this.  What right does she have to expect that we are going to fund her promiscuous life choices?  When I was sixteen I did not need any funding for birth control.  I knew, and everyone I knew knew, that if you had sex you risked having children, and there were a lot of consequences to that.  There were ways to reduce the risk, but it could not be entirely eliminated.  Most of us made the intelligent choice:  we did not have sex.  If you want the privilege of making stupid choices, you should expect to bear the costs of that yourself.  If you stupidly steal from grocery stores, expect to go to jail.  If you stupidly drive while intoxicated, expect to lose your driving privileges.  If you stupidly engage in sex, expect to face the risk of pregnancy (which is clearly a risk for boys possibly even more so than for girls).

Of course, hidden in both sides of that is the fact that the new law has not terminated funding for low-cost no-co-pay birth control.  It has cut funding to organizations that fund or perform abortions.  There are other programs that provide birth control and birth control advice that do not promote abortion in the process.  Further, Planned Parenthood could continue receiving as much money as it has been receiving simply by terminating all programs related to terminating pregnancies–and in the process would have more money for the other birth control programs because none of its funds (which as we previously noted are a fungible resource) are going to those cancelled programs.  The government is not providing less money for birth control services and advice; they are only refusing to provide that money to or through those who would advise you to kill your unborn baby, and who would help pay for that.

So if the question is who has the right to decide that American taxpayer money will not be given to organizations that kill unborn babies, the answer is that American taxpayers have that right.  In fact, American taxpayers technically have the right, if we so chose, to refuse to provide any kind of support for teenager promiscuity.  It is American generosity that provides those things; Foxx has no superior right to expect them from us, whatever she thinks about supposed entitlement arising from her lack of privilege.

There is, though, the other level of all of this, the level hinted by the headline, the question Foxx was not asking but which Planned Parenthood undoubtedly wants us to hear in her question:  what right do people like Senator Flake, people like me, people like roughly half the American population plus anyone else who agrees with them, have to tell a pregnant woman that she cannot abort the preborn child she carries?  What right does anyone else in the world have to tell that woman that she does not have the right to choose whether to give birth to that child or not?

And let me agree that for millions of women, their choice of what they do with their own lives, their own bodies, is not my business.  Should they want facelifts or breast implants, stomach banding or tattoos or piercings, however they wish to improve or mutilate their own bodies, my approval or disapproval is immaterial.

However, your own body is where that right ends.  If you want to kill that annoying little brother, I think he has a right to object to that–and I think the rest of us have a responsibility to protect his right.  Indeed, if you want to kill your own annoying preschool child, that child has a right to choose to live, and we have a responsibility to intervene on behalf of that child.  Further, if that child happens still to be inside you, it has the right to choose to be alive, and we the corresponding responsibility to speak on its behalf to protect that right.  We certainly have the right to refuse to help you do it.

So ultimately the question

who gave you the right to take away my right to choose?

is one that every unborn child can ask of its mother, and of Planned Parenthood and anyone else who becomes involved in deciding that the child does not have the right to live.

Jefferson wrote that we were endowed with inalienable rights–rights that no government could take from us without just cause and due process–and the first of these is life.  They, those unborn children, have the right to choose life.  Who are you, to take that right away from them?

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#137: Conservative Penny-pinching

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #137, on the subject of Conservative Penny-pinching.

Over a year ago, I addressed the the notion that people who are against abortion claim to be concerned for the lives of the unborn up to the moment they are born, but after that they no longer care.  Then just over two weeks ago I was at a gathering where someone made exactly that claim, and I realized something–something I hadn’t felt when it was merely arguments on a page:  the assertion that people who are against abortion are unwilling to do anything to help the born is not only untrue and irrelevant, it is insulting.

Why it is untrue and irrelevant is covered in that previous article, web log post #9:  Abolition.  Because of the way the meeting dissolved then I was unable to call his attention to that response; knowing, however, that I would see him again, I printed it and delivered it to him two weeks later.

img0137pennies

His response was civil, even friendly.  However, he kept saying that “they” were taking all the money away from helping people, from helping young girls who were just children having children.  I asked him who “they” were, and he said “conservatives”; I pointed out that the people mentioned in the article, working hard to provide assistance to exactly those people, were in the main “conservatives”, but his feeling was that it was not “those conservatives” but some other group of “right wing conservatives”.  Having worked with those people, I observed that some of them were certainly “right wing”.  Yet he insisted that there was this conservative effort to take money away from helping the people who needed it.  It was not at all clear just who was taking what money from whom, but he was certain it was being done, and being done by “conservatives”.

If we’re honest, we have to admit that there are a lot of people who don’t care about the poor, and indeed many of them are “conservatives”.  At the same time, many of them are “liberals”–I don’t see a lot of Hollywood millionaires giving ninety percent of their income to charities, or spending their evenings working in soup kitchens or at homeless shelters.  There are also a lot of people who do care, at both ends of the spectrum and through the middle.  Not every liberal politician who argues for aid to the poor does so because he cares; some do it because they want votes.  Wealthy liberals who call for more government spending on welfare programs are not really offering to give their own money to these, but suggesting that the government should give them more of yours.  Conservatives are wrong to think that all liberals pretend to care about the poor in order to use them to advance socialist and progressivist policies; yet it is equally wrong to think that this is not true of any.

However, in our conversation I couldn’t help feeling that, at least in part, he meant conservatives were taking money away from Planned Parenthood.  You don’t have to be too far to the right of left-wing progressivists to believe that the government should not be funding an organization that in turn promotes and funds the slaughter of children.  The argument has been made that Planned Parenthood spends none of its government-granted money on abortion services, but as we noted in post #2:  Planned Parenthood and Fungible Resources, no matter how they do their accounting it is evident that they could not spend as much on abortion as they do were their other programs not subsidized by federal money.  Certainly people who believe that killing unborn babies should be criminal are going to cut funding for any program that promotes the practice.  That does not mean that these people have no interest in helping pregnant teenagers and others struggling with unexpected pregnancies, any more than that those who want to bring an end to capital punishment and stop funding executions have no interest in stopping murders and other violent crimes.  You will say that it’s not the same thing, and in a way you’re right, and in a way you’re wrong.  If you tell me that grapefruit juice is not orange juice, you are certainly correct; if you tell me that because grapefruit juice is not orange juice it therefore is not citrus juice, you are mistaken.  It is quite possible to be very much in favor of a stated objective, whether it is helping pregnant women or reducing violent crime, and still object to a specific method of achieving that objective, whether it is killing unwanted children or terminating murderers.  It is quite possible to want to do something about a social problem without resorting to an extreme measure like killing people.  It is also possible to believe that such an extreme measure is appropriate and necessary for one type of problem but not for another.  The problems are not identical; only the solutions are similar.

Of course, some people argue that the unborn are not actually people.  To his credit, he did not suggest that; he rather suggested that they were unwanted human beings that should not be forced to come into a world that does not want them.  It strikes me that this is very like an ambulance crew saying they’re not going to take this injured homeless person to a hospital because he’s a worthless human being and he might as well just die anyway.  It is rather arrogant for any of us to put a value on someone else’s life, whether or not that person has yet smelled air.

Perhaps, though, he is not talking about abortion funding; perhaps he is talking about welfare.  In thinking about this issue I did a bit of research, and learned that the Federal debt is presently increasing by about one trillion dollars each year.  The population of the United States is a bit above three hundred twenty-five million, so that’s about three dollars for every person–every man, woman, or child, legal or illegal, in the entire country.  Of course, those who are in the country illegally aren’t going to pay that, and there is not much logic to expecting those who are receiving the benefits to pay part of that.  At some point we are going to have to stop spending as much or find a way to collect more.

So where could we cut it?

The total federal budget for 2017 is just above four trillion dollars–that’s four thousand billion (4.1472 trillion).  Sixty percent of that–about two trillion five hundred million–goes to what is loosely called “welfare”, that is, money that goes to taking care of people who can’t afford to take care of themselves, that “safety net” about which we are always talking (2.4971 trillion).  In fairness, the biggest piece of that–a bit less than one trillion–is social security (972.6 billion), which includes all those retirement checks and the federal disability program (and the salaries of the people who run it), giving a meager income to people who genuinely cannot or can no longer work.  More than a trillion goes to medical assistance, that is, Medicare (605.0 billion) and Medicaid (527.4 billion) including the Obamacare expansions, providing health services to people who cannot otherwise afford them.  Less than half a trillion goes to everything else we loosely consider “welfare”, social support services (392.1 billion).

It is argued that we should cut our outrageous military spending, but that outrageous military spending is less than a trillion dollars (0.8536 trillion), less than the medical care spending, less than Social Security.  We’ve been working on reducing military spending for a long time, and it is a much smaller portion of the budget than it was in the past–but in that time our “entitlements” and “welfare” programs have exploded to take the largest share of the budget.  Together, that’s over eighty percent of the budget; all other programs combined come to only seven hundred ninety-six and a half billion dollars, less than twenty percent, less than the military portion.  Saving money there is a bit like trying to make a package lighter by using less tape to seal it.

It is not unkind for me to cut my son’s allowance in order to pay the utility bill; he might think I should pay less to the utility company, but he would be upset if we said we couldn’t afford to run his video games or heat the water for his showers.  That national debt that’s going up another trillion dollars this year is very nearly twenty trillion already–sixty dollars for every person within our borders.  We keep saying that we’ll pay it off when things get better, but they’re getting worse and the amount is increasing like a bad debt owed to a loan shark.  Economists argue about whether it is bad for nations to go into debt, just as they argue about whether it’s bad for people to go into debt, but although we’ve at times managed to reduce the debt we have not paid it off entirely in a long time, longer than my lifetime, and the people who are lending us the money (what, did you think we borrowed it from God?) are beginning to think maybe we’re not so good a risk as they once thought.  Many economists assert that a high national debt depresses the economy, raises the prices of goods, and reduces the availability of jobs.  Somehow we have to reduce our spending.  It certainly is important for us to help the poor, but this ongoing forced philanthropy might not be helping so much as we want to think, and can’t continue at this level forever.

One way or another, there is going to be less money for those in need, because the way things have been going there has been less and less money for all Americans.  We laugh when in Fiddler on the Roof Nahum the Beggar complains to Lazar Wolfe about the smaller donation he gave this week, “So if you had a bad week, why should I suffer?”, but the truth is that when the rich have less money, everyone has less money, and when we make the pie smaller everyone’s piece gets smaller.  Not everyone can work; not everyone can contribute to the productivity of the nation–but if we don’t find a way to get more people working productively, there won’t be enough money for those who can’t.

Someone once challenged the original Mr. Rockefeller that his millions (which were then worth a lot more than they would be today) should be shared among everyone.  Rather than arguing the point, Rockefeller agreed, reached into his pocket, and handed the man a dime as his share.  If you stripped the top one percent of everything they owned and gave it everyone else, it would be a small amount divided so many ways, and there would be no comparable wealthiest people to rob the next year.  You cannot feed the poor by robbing the rich; you have to teach them to fish, that is, give them jobs, not money.  How to do that is much debated, but it seems that part of it has to be to reduce the amount the government is spending, and the obvious place to do that is where it is spending the most.

That hurts, but it may be necessary.

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#120: Giving Offense

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #120, on the subject of Giving Offense.

A couple days ago I was asked whether I had again offended a Specifically Named Person by writing another piece on homosexuality.

img0120fox

I had no idea how to reply to this.  I was unaware that I had offended this individual previously by my writing; I have no reason to believe he identifies as homosexual.  I obviously know that some people in my circle of relationships disagree with me on any subject you care to name, and this is one on which there are some significant disagreements–but I don’t keep track of who holds what positions on which issues, so I could not have told you that he disagreed with my views on this one.  It does not surprise me if he does; I know he disagrees with me on some issues, but then, everyone disagrees with everyone on some issues.  As the anonymous wise Quaker is quoted as having said to his closest friend, “Everyone’s a little queer ‘cept me and thee, and sometimes I’m not so sure of thee.”  I know of no one with whom I am in complete agreement about everything.  That does not bother me.  After all, I know that everyone is wrong about something, and I know that that includes me, but it also includes everyone who disagrees with me.  The trick is figuring out where you’re wrong and where you’re right, and not being more certain of it than you can justify.

What bothers me is that he would be offended by my opinion, or perhaps by my expression of my opinion.

I have probably written about tolerance before.  Being tolerant does not mean not caring about an issue.  It means having a strong opinion but treating others respectfully who hold a different opinion.  Many people who are not religious believe that they are tolerant when they are actually indifferent and condescending.  That is, their attitude is “all religious ideas are nonsense, so it really does not matter what nonsense you believe.”  However, changes in society are forcing these people to recognize that this is not true–that it really does matter what one believes about God, because that in turn controls what one believes about many practical issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, and the “norms” of society.  The criticism is that some religious people–those who disagree with the current attitudes on specific issues–are intolerant; the truth is that those who hold to those current attitudes are proving to be less tolerant.

Being tolerant does not mean that we all agree.  It means that we agree to disagree amicably, and to allow each other to hold differing opinions, to live by them as our own beliefs dictate, and to discuss them openly.  That’s all First Amendment:  the absolute protection of religious and political opinion.  Today those who hold certain viewpoints also hold the opinion that to disagree with those viewpoints ought to be criminal.  We encounter it in the homosexual marriage debate; it is rampant in the environmental field; it appears in issues related to reproductive choice.  If you do not agree with the approved opinion (whether or not it is held by the majority), you will not be tolerated.

On the specific issue of homosexuality, I agree that homosexuality is “natural”; it is as natural as heroin addiction:  you can encourage it, and once you’ve got it you probably can never really be fully rid of it.  There is sufficient evidence that homosexuality is not fixed in the genes, but involves environmental factors and choices on some level.  The position that the unborn are as human as their mothers and deserve equal protection equal to that extended to their mothers–and probably then some, as they are the more vulnerable class–is certainly defensible.  The issue of whether global warming is heading us into an environmental disaster, or whether it is instead staving off potentially disastrous global cooling and an ice age, can also be debated.

I hold some opinions which are apparently minority viewpoints, but I hold them honestly because of what I consider solid rational bases.  To say “I am sorry if that offends you” is not really an apology; it is more an expression of compassion for your disability, that you are such a person as would be offended by the expression of an opinion with which you disagree.  I think better of you than that.  I respect you and your opinions, even, or perhaps particularly, where I disagree.  I am willing to hear your evidence and your arguments.  I expect only the same courtesy in response.

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#115: Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #115, on the subject of Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference.

I am aware that it is “politically correct” to regard homosexuality as normal, and to assert that homosexuals are born that way and cannot help being as they are.  It has already been established that I do not believe that, and if being politically correct means pretending that lies are true I am going to have to be politically incorrect (a phrase I was using before it was commandeered by a comedian for his talk show).  Opinions are fairly set on this issue, and the battle is going to rage for most of the next generation.  I don’t mind that people disagree with me.  There are facts on the other side, just as there are facts on this side.  What I dislike is when people ignore the facts that support the position with which they disagree.

img0115lesbian

I was moved to consider this by a television show.  It has become extremely common for television shows to give us likeable homosexual characters, in an effort to make homosexuality seem normal.  It’s a mistake, I think, but people in media recognize that they have a lot influence and attempt to use it.  I remember that my wife had a favorite television show featuring a favorite actor, and then the lead character’s girlfriend got pregnant and (over his objections) chose to get an abortion.  My wife never watched the show again, because she could not look at a woman who would do that to her baby without crying, and so the show lost its entertainment value.  It must not have been only her, though, because within a season the girlfriend, a regular from the beginning, was written out of the show, and the series failed by the end of the next season.  People were offended.  I tried to continue liking Buffy the Vampire Slayer after they decided to make Willow homosexual, but I it just upset me too badly that her life was being so destroyed, and the more so that it was done for a political message.  There was a show launched a year or so ago which sounded really interesting and I started watching it rather faithfully, but I couldn’t get past the excessive homosexual sex in it despite the truly fascinating ongoing mystery that was the primary plotline.  If you want to lose audience for an entertainment show, make a bold statement that is bound to offend a large number of viewers, and stick to it.

In the particular show which inspired these current thoughts, there is tension between an elderly widow and her homosexual daughter.  The resolution of the show came about when the mother came to understand that her daughter’s sexuality was not the mother’s fault, that it did not work that way but she was simply born homosexual.  Maybe she was; the jury is still out on that.  However, a picture had been painted of her parents as a couple who possibly never loved each other, the mother terrified of the father for their entire marriage.  How can this not have impacted the daughter?  We are wrong to imagine that our future marriages will be just like those of our parents, but we do it anyway even when we want to make it different, and a girl growing up in such a house would stand a very good chance of being conditioned to fear men and turn elsewhere for affection.  I don’t mean to blame the mother–“fault” for harming someone when acting with the best of intentions but limited knowledge does not always mean “culpability” for the outcome–but I think we’re ignoring a lot of facts when we assert that the environmental factors were irrelevant.

Of course, it’s only a television show, and in fiction the writers can always tell us that things are the way the show says they are.  That the daughter of this fear-filled loveless marriage becomes a lesbian proves nothing, because it’s only what the writers decided.  Still, just as the characters in the story seem to be ignoring the obvious fact that the child grew up to fear men, those who assert that homosexuality is entirely genetic and not at all environmental seem to be ignoring similar facts in reality.

Decades ago I worked with a young man who in his spare time often visited lesbian hangouts and got to know the girls.  He said he never met one who had not been badly hurt by a man at some point–a father, brother, husband, boyfriend, rapist, someone who left her fearful of or angry at men.  There are easily a thousand plausible explanations for that.  He might simply never have met one who didn’t fit the pattern, or he might have assumed that those who didn’t tell him of such a history did not want to discuss it.  Yet it is data:  many lesbian women appear to have rejected men because of abuse or hurt in their past.  It is at least plausible that environment, and not heredity, is the cause of their homosexuality.

I agree that there might be hereditary factors.  As with alcoholism, some might be born with a genetic predisposition to this particular temptation, and as with alcoholism experimentation might trigger it more quickly in those who are more susceptible.  But when those who want it to be entirely hereditary attempt to deny that there are any environmental factors, that those who are sexually attracted to members of the same sex could not possibly not have been, it is almost certainly because that is the answer they want, not the answer the evidence supports.

Believe what you think the evidence supports; defend your position.  Don’t suppose that you can ignore evidence and still make your position credible.

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#79: Normal Promiscuity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #79, on the subject of Normal Promiscuity.

A few weeks before his death, my father forwarded a link to an article which seemed to bother him.  It included interview excerpts from young women, and put forward the notion that now that the governmnent was providing full coverage for birth control they felt free to sleep with as many men as they liked, and were taking advantage of this new-felt freedom by doing so.  His comment to the link was a question as to whether this was really happening, and I was not at the time certain (and never did determine) whether he realized that the article was from one of the sites that rather poorly attempts to do what The Onion does so well:  create parody that looks like news.  They weren’t seriously suggesting that the availability of free contraception caused an abrupt upswing in the sexual activities of young women; they were rather facetiously suggesting the reverse, that those who thought this might happen were being foolish.

Yet the notion returned to my thoughts periodically.  There was something there that bothered me.

L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org
L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org

Some years ago one of my then-teenaged sons was dating a girl in about as serious a relationship as teenagers have.  On his first visit to her home, her slightly older sister gave him a tour of the house which included what I gather was a laundry and utility room in a finished basement, identified by the sister as the room where you go when you want to have sex.

I was not present; I heard this second or third hand.  I suppose it might have been the sister’s idea of a joke:  “I know you want to have sex with my little sister, well, this is the place for it.”  Somehow I did not think so at the time.  I was a bit upset, but did not know whether it should concern me more if their divorced mother did not know that her teenaged daughters were so open about having sex with boyfriends in the house, or if she did.

That latter possibility reminded me of another woman I had known some years before, a friend of my wife, who had a daughter.  I never had a high opinion of her.  From what I gathered she was certainly no virgin when, in high school, she seduced the boy she hoped to marry and then reported that she was pregnant with his son (it was sometimes questioned whether it was his child), but having failed thereby to induce him to marry her she decided to live with him.  She was believed, even by him, to have had a series of affairs, but when their relationship was struggling she got pregant again and had the daughter (no one doubted that she was his) and finally got the marriage certificate.  (That might be an oversimplification and I might have the wedding in the wrong place; it’s been a couple decades by now.)  Again in what is second-hand knowledge I gather she had a talk with her daughter about having sex, when the girl was about twelve or thirteen.  The gist of it was, “I know you’re going to have sex, so I want to make sure you do so safely.”

It is this underlying presumption that bothers me, this belief that everyone is having sex.  What we once somewhat derisively called “promiscuity” is now regarded as normal.  It was previously regarded as abberant, and I think that in an historical context we might have good reason to consider our age abberant in this regard.  Of course, the majority in any era considers itself normal, its ancestors in error, and its future descendants extensions of its own values.  The third being demonstrably false on the evidence of the second, we should doubt the first.

I understand the logic of the situation.  It is asserted, correctly, that teenagers have always engaged in sex, hidden from their parents, and that single adults have similarly managed secret sexual liasons.  Too, there have always been extramarital affairs, infidelities, as husbands and wives have taken lovers, either those single persons who are looking for sexual partners or the spouses of others.  It has always been so; it is the norm.  The difference, we are told, is that today we admit it and in most cases no longer attempt to hide it.

The error in this logic is evident when you realize that the statement “teenagers have always engaged in sex” is then taken to mean “all teenagers have always engaged in sex.”  That was a misperception when I was a teenager.  I think–I do not know–that there were among my peers some who were having sex, perhaps sporadically, perhaps frequently or even regularly.  For any who were, I suspect that they thought everyone was doing it and they were thus no different; for those of us who were not, I think we thought that everyone else was doing it save for a few of us unfortunates who had been excluded.  In retrospect, the facts of the case then were that very few of my peers were engaged in sexual relationships or activities despite the fact that we were in high school on the tail end of the “sexual revolution”, had regular “sex ed” classes explaining how it worked, and knew something about how to obtain and use birth control.  I don’t know what percentage of us were virgins, but I gather it was considerably larger than even we thought, and that the majority of those who were not had very little actual experience.

I cannot say that my experience even then was typical in a country in which there are so many social and economic variables; I know it was not atypical.  I also know that the idea that “all teenagers are having sex” is not true now.  Nor is it true that all single adults are engaged in sexual activities, or that all married people are having or even have had sexual liasons with other partners.  The supposed facts are untrue.  Yes, there have always been some who have been what we called promiscuous.  It may depend on how you count, but it was certainly not a majority in the past.  It is not even certain whether it is a majority in the present.

However, because of the general attitude in the present, it is likely to be a majority in the future.

We once told our children that sex was a very natural part of being married.  Then somehow we decided that this was too prudish, and started telling them instead that sex was a very natural part of being in love, and that if they were in love they should not be embarrassed about sex.  There are good reasons for the old idea, that sex was part of being married, quite apart from the legal issues of responsibility and legitimacy.  We, as a society, forgot them, and promoted a lesser standard, that sex was fine between any two people who were truly in love.  Then that became too limited–as the Tina Turner song demanded, What’s Love Got To Do With It?  Sex became a recreational activity, something people did for fun, and any suggestion that it was other than that was considered prudish.

Barry McGuire spoke somewhere of his own youth.  His generation was raised by adults who had long lists of things one did not do, who were never taught why you did not do them.  Thus he and his peers were told you do not do these things, and when they asked why not no one had an answer beyond, “You just don’t.”  That being an entirely inadequate answer, he said, “we went out and did them all–and we discovered that you don’t do them because they end in death.”  That has literally been the outcome for many who have lost control of their “recreational” drug use or their “social” alcohol consumption, and of many infected by the human immunodeficiency virus or other sexually transmitted diseases.  It has also been true of many who live in the shadow of death, whose lives have lost meaning because they are so destroyed by these misperceptions–the world teaches them that alcohol, drugs, or sex will make them happy, and when it does not deliver beyond a moment of pleasure (and momentary pleasure is not at all the same as happiness) they wind up seeking the pleasure and abandoning any hope of anything more.

And so today we are teaching our children that sex is nothing more than a recreational activity they should feel free to enjoy carefully–like drinking alcohol or using drugs.  We have lost the moral compass, the moral foundation, of a world in which some things were disapproved because they were ill-advised, hazardous, and thus wrong in the same sense that it is wrong to stick tableware in electrical outlets.

So we have created a world in which promiscuity is normative.

I mentioned earlier that it is a mistake to believe that our descendants will be extensions of our own values.  We cannot predict what will happen even in the next generation.  Perhaps the world will realize its mistake, and some sense of decency will return; perhaps, as with other cultures before ours, the deterioration will continue to snowball and the world as we know it will collapse into chaos from which some new order will arise.  What we do know is that the future will be different.  Our best hope is that we can inform it with values that will make it better.  They are not likely to come from the mainstream of our present society.

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#63: Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #63, on the subject of Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl.

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not like the Roe v. Wade decision.

To many, that will sound like nonsense.  Ginsburg is the anchor of abortion rights on the United States Supreme Court, and Roe the seminal case which recognized, some would say created, such a right.  Yet Ginsburg does not disagree that there is such a right; she disagrees regarding the basis of that right, and thus with the reasoning of Roe which is its foundation.

Roe v. Wade is in essence a Right to Privacy case.  Beginning with Griswold v. Connecticutt, in which the court found that the state could not criminalize the act of teaching couples how to use contraceptives in the privacy of their own bedroom, the court inferred that the First Amendment protections of freedom of expression, Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, implied a right to keep one’s personal matters private.  There were several intervening cases which extended that, and there have been others arising since Roe, but in Roe the argument was that the decision to have an abortion was a medical decision between a woman and her doctor, and as such was a private matter in which the government should not interfere without a very compelling interest.

Ginsburg disagrees.  That argument, she claims, makes a private and personal decision a matter to be discussed with a doctor–a paternalistic oversight that according to Ginsburg violates the fundamental right at stake.  She claims that a woman’s decision should be autonomous, something she decides without involving anyone she does not wish to involve.  She makes it an Equal Protection right, covered largely by the fifth through tenth amendments.  Her assertion is that a woman should have the autonomous right to decide whether to bear a child, unimpeded by any considerations including medical ones, because it is solely the woman’s problem.

Ginberg’s reasoning presents serious challenges for those who oppose abortion.  If her line were adopted, current efforts to regulate abortion providers and facilities would be unconstitutional.  As the decision stands, if abortion is a privacy right as a medical decision on the advice of a medical professional, it is completely reasonable for reasonable regulations of the medical profession to restrict access to abortions based on the government’s regulation of health care.  If it is an autonomous right under equal protection, then a woman in theory should be able to have a doctor or anyone she chooses perform one in the privacy of her own bedroom without any government involvement at all.  Yet Ginsburg’s position suffers from some other problems.  She believes she is defending the concept that a woman should be treated exactly as a man would be in the same circumstance, but (apart from the fact that men would not be in exactly the same circumstance) the treatment of men in this circumstance is already worse than the treatment of women, viewed from the perspective of individual autonomy and equal protection.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg official United States Supreme Court portrait.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg official United States Supreme Court portrait.

Let’s look at the situation:  boy meets girl.  We’ll call our girl Ruth, for Justice Ginsburg, and we’ll name the boy Tony, in memorium of the recent passing of her good friend, colleague, and adversary Justice Antonin Scalia.

Ruth and Tony meet, maybe at work, maybe at a party, maybe at school or in the neighborhood.  They like each other, and start seeing each other.  They find themselves attracted to each other.  Human physiology being designed to promote reproduction, at some point they have desires to have sex.  At this point they are just about equal, as far as reproductive rights are concerned.  Some argue that Tony is disadvantaged in that his drives are stronger than Ruth’s, but there aren’t many ways to test that.  Ruth might have more resistance to those drives because the consequences are more direct for her, but in essence it is within the power of each them them to choose, autonomously, not to engage in sex.  It is also within their power to choose, jointly, to risk a pregnancy.

Yes, Tony could rape Ruth; Tony could coerce Ruth by some other inducement.  Women are raped fairly often, usually by men, sometimes by women.  Men are also raped, by men and sometimes by women, but considerably less often–although more often than reported.  Men are more embarrassed about being raped than women are, and so less likely to report it; and they are taken less seriously when they do, partly because some people think a man can’t really be raped by a woman, and partly because men who have never been raped by a woman somehow think they would enjoy it.  Rape, though, is a separate issue:  anyone who has been raped has had rights fundamentally violated, quite apart from the problem of potential pregnancy.

If Ruth and Tony agree to engage in sex, suddenly the entire picture changes:  they no longer have equal reproductive rights.  A significant part of that is simply technological.  Either of them could have an operation rendering him or her permanently infertile, which is generally a drastic step few want to take and is a considerably more expensive and difficult (but ultimately more reliable) procedure for Ruth than for Tony.  Barring that, though, Tony is limited to the question of whether or not to use a condom–a prophylactic device with a rather high failure rate.  Ruth’s equivalent, a diaphram, is a bit more difficult to get (must be fitted by a gynecologist) but considerably more effective; she also has several other options.  Usually she would use spermicide (sometimes known as “foam”) with a diaphram, but she can also use hormone treatments, usually in pill form but sometimes as implants, that disrupt her ovulation cycle.  All of these options have varying probabilities of preventing conception; there are other options.  Intra-uterine devices (IUDs) usually reduce the chance of conception but also prevent or sometimes disrupt implantation, causing a spontaneous abortion–what in popular jargon is called a “miscarriage”, but at so early a stage that pregnancy was not suspected.  In all these ways, all the reproductive rights are on Ruth’s side:  if she chooses not to become pregnant, she has an arsenal of ways to prevent it.

However, young lovers are often careless.  Birth control is so unromantic, so non-spontaneous.  The young suffer from the illusion of invulnerability, that they are the heroes of their own stories and everything is going to work according to their expectations.  People have sex and don’t get pregnant; some couples try for unsuccessful years to have a baby.  A pregnancy is often a surprise, even for those who want it.  People take the risk, and Ruth and Tony might lose.  So now there is a baby on the way, as they say, and again Ruth’s reproductive rights are more than equal to Tony’s.  She can choose to carry the child to term, or to have an abortion.  He has no say in the matter, even if he is her husband.  She might include him in the decision, but it is her decision; she does not even need to inform him that there is a decision.  She can end the story right here.  He cannot.  He has no say about his own reproductive rights.  He cannot say, “I do not want to be the father of a child; terminate it.”  Nor can he say, “I want this baby, keep it.”  He does not, in that regard, have equal protection.

Maybe he does not care; maybe he figures it is her problem.  However, it is not just her problem–it is also his problem.  The inequities are not yet quite done.  If Ruth decides not to have an abortion–exercising her reproductive rights and overriding his–the child is born.  At that moment Ruth has yet another choice:  she can keep the child, committing herself to the difficulties and expenses of raising it, or she can absolve herself of all further responsibility, agreeing never to see the child again, by putting it up for adoption.  I do not want to minimize the agony of that choice, but it is her choice–it is not his choice, and he has no say in the matter.  His reproductive rights are not equally protected.

In most cases, if she chooses to surrender the child for adoption, he has no say in the matter; he cannot say it is his child and he wants to keep it.  That, though, is only half the problem.  If she decides that she wants to keep the child, she can sue him for child support–and indeed, if Ruth is poor enough that she files for public assistance from the state, most states will find Tony and force him to make child support payments, and jail him if he fails to do so.  It is his responsibility to support the child if she says it is.  He can claim that it is not his child–the tests can be expensive, but there is an avenue to avoid false claims–but we already agreed that it is his, so he is going to have to support it.  She had a choice; he has none.

So by all means, let’s think of abortion as an Equal Protection issue.  Men are not protected in this nearly as well as women.  A lot of things would have to change to get there.

In addition to web log posts with the Abortion, Discrimination, and Health Care tags, see also the articles Why Shouldn’t You Have Sex If You Aren’t Married?, and Was John Brown a Hero or a Villain?

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#58: Acceptable Killing In Our Society

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #58, on the subject of Acceptable Killing In Our Society.

This began because someone of my acquaintance posted a video supporting abortion.  The blurb under the video read, in part:

There are many reasons why a woman might decide to end a pregnancy—and many barriers to safe and legal abortion.

I did not want to start a fight, but I found that statement quite offensive–offensive enough that I felt it necessary to reply:

There are many reasons why a parent might want to kill his or her own child, but that does not mean we as a society have to approve that.

The question is whether an unborn child is still a child.  The answer cannot be so easily presumed.

I included a link to mark Joseph “young” web log post #7:  The Most Persecuted Minority.

She replied:

You are close in trying to identify the correct question in regards to this issue.  The real question though, remains when in the stages of pregnancy do you develop a child?  Only when than [sic] can be determined, should it be appropriate to address your question.  In our society, the answer is yes.  It is acceptable to kill.  We kill in war.  We kill on the streets.  We allow for capital punishment.  We allow for assisted suicide.  I am never going to argue if abortion is morally correct.  But what you attempted to address is the one question others throw out there with buzz words like “kill,” and “child.”  If the question was simply, should a pregnant female be given rights to determine to carry a child to whatever capacity she chooses, then hotheads would have little to rage over.  What America is trying to measure with your argument Mark, is can we limit human potential, and if so, to what extent?

I could see that pursuing this in that format was going to become unwieldy, so I pondered for a while and decided to respond here.

img0058Guns

I will confess that I am not entirely certain of everything she meant in that post, particularly at the end concerning the phrase “limit human potential”.  Is she talking about limiting the potential of mothers by requiring them to bear the children they have conceived, or of children by killing them before they breathe the air, or something else?  That, though, is not the bulk of her comment, and it is the other part that particularly disturbs me.  She raises the question of whether in our society killing is acceptable, and affirms that it is, following this by a list of “acceptable” situations for killing.  I am going to change the sequence some, but I argue that killing people is not acceptable behavior in our society, despite her examples to the contrary.

Let’s begin with

We kill on the streets.

I doubt she means in traffic accidents.  Vehicular homicide frequently results in at least an involuntary manslaughter charge.  Certainly there are accidents in which someone dies and it is ruled that no one is at fault, just as if a bit of space debris happens to crash into your house you can’t sue NASA.  That amounts to an admission that we accept that modern technological life is a bit dangerous and some people are going to die through no one’s fault.  Yet clearly, although there are vehicular murders (and they are so treated), this is hardly an example of society accepting that we are permitted to kill each other.

Killing on the streets seems rather to imply the intentional action of killing each other, and we have a fair amount of that in gang warfare and drive-by shootings.  That we have them, though, does not mean we accept them.  Every such incident is treated as a homicide investigation with the intention of bringing murder charges against the perpetrator.  They are not all solved, and not all the perpetrators are convicted, but we don’t really accept that these killings are blameless despite their frequency in our society.  Sometimes we call it “terrorism” and make a federal case of it.

On the other hand, it is sometimes the case that the police shoot people on the street and are exonerated.  The famous cases are of course when a white police officer shoots a black person, but black police officers shoot white people also.  In every case of an “officer-involved shooting” there is an investigation, the officer is usually suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, and in some cases charges ranging from disciplinary actions to murder convictions follow.  That in most cases our officers are cleared of guilt indicates bias only sometimes; it more often commends the training they have been given.  After all, there are situations in which we excuse and even justify killings–self-defense and defense of third persons the two that most commonly apply in these cases.  Yet when a claim is made of self-defense or defense of third persons, there is always an investigation to determine whether indeed those claims are justifiable.

Our justification for killing the unborn is that they pose a threat to the life or physical well-being of the mother, but no one investigates whether that claim is justifiable, and “the health of the mother” has become a phrase with little more meaning than her convenience.

So what of this:

We allow for assisted suicide.

Do we?

The most current information available to me says that four states–California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont–have passed legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide, with very specific guidelines (patient must be a resident of the state, at least 18 years of age, have not more than six months of life expectancy remaining, and have requested help from the physician at least once in writing and twice orally not less than fifteen days apart).  One state, Montana, has a state supreme court ruling allowing physician-assisted suicide for state residents, without any clear parameters otherwise.  There are four other states in which the law is uncertain–Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and North Carolina.  In the remaining forty-one states, if you assist someone in a suicide you may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  In no state is it lawful for someone who is not a physician to assist.  That hardly counts as “acceptable”.  It is also illegal in most countries around the world, although a few have permitted it under specified conditions.

Certainly there are a lot of people who think that we ought to permit suffering terminally ill persons to end their own lives, and allow medical professionals to help them.  There are also people who think we ought to do this for the severely handicapped, without their consent.  To this point, the bulk of public opinion is against the idea that people should be permitted to kill themselves, or to help others kill themselves, with impunity.

Our justification for assisted suicide, in those places where it is permitted, is that the patient wants to die, is suffering terribly, and will not live much longer anyway.  No one asks the unborn child if he would rather live or die.

The next might be more difficult:

We allow for capital punishment.

Yes, in many cases we do.  As of last year, thirty-one states had a legal death penalty; of those, four had such a law but with a moratorium declared by the governor so that there could be no executions until specific issues were resolved.  Nineteen states have made the death penalty illegal, and although they include populous states such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, they do not include the most populous California or the significant Ohio, Texas, and Florida.  Popular opinion seems to favor the death penalty.

However, death penalty cases involve what we call due process:  judges and juries must listen to the evidence and arguments presented by trained legal professionals, and reach the conclusion that this individual deserves to die.

One of the two objections to the death penalty, the one that is the more cogent in practice, is that given human fallibility it is entirely possible that we are killing the wrong person.  That criminals on death row are later released (not usually because they have been exonerated but because some flaw in the legal process leading to their conviction or sentencing has been identified) certainly demonstrates that fallibility.  That, though, only means that were we completely certain of the guilt and desert of the criminal the sentence would be accepted.  The more significant objection, in our present concern, is whether anyone ever deserves to be killed.  As Gandalf says to Frodo, many died fighting in the war who should have lived; if you are unable to restore them to life, do not be overly quick to take life from another, however guilty you might think him.  We might agree that someone ought to die, but object to the notion that any of us therefore ought to kill him.  So we have this argument, and gradually more and more of the country is rejecting capital punishment.

However, we are having this argument precisely because we have an agreed moral/ethical principle that it is wrong to kill another human being, and we disagree as to whether this is a viable exception to that rule.  Yet if it is, it is based on the conclusion that this person deserves to die.

No one has attempted to say that the aborted child deserved to die, or if they did it was by transference of hatred toward the parent to the child.

That leaves only the most difficult example:

We kill in war.

Yes, we do, and we consider such killing justified, at least when we do it.  Yet it is important to understand why.

There were quite a few wars in the twentieth century.  They occurred for one of two reasons:

  1. One group believed that their lives or freedoms were threatened or compromised by another group, and initiated a war to free themselves from this threat.
  2. One group desired to take possession of the territory, population, or resources of another group, usually based on some claim of right, and so initiated war to seize possession.

Throughout the twentieth century, the United States has always sided with groups we perceived as the oppressed or threatened and against the aggressors.  Our justification for being involved in the war was always the defense of third persons or, ultimately, defense of ourselves.  Our motives might be impugned in many instances–did we defend Kuwait for the sake of Kuwait or because of American oil interests?–but enough of us considered the defense of the people of one country from the aggressions of another a viable moral basis for becoming involved in a war that had already started that these fit the general pattern.  We do not approve war; we do not find it acceptable to wage war for any interests other than stopping someone else’s aggression or oppression.

The reasons for killing in war again do not apply to killing an unborn child.

There are ultimately only three questions concerning abortion:

  1. Is it wrong to kill a human being, absent some specific justification or excuse?  If you answer no to this question, you invalidate all laws against murder and manslaughter and all liability for accidental death.
  2. Is an unborn child a human being?  This is the usual point of the argument, to which I note first that in the absence of certainty we ought to err on the side of caution and defend the life of a “potential human being”, and second that most vegetarians who won’t eat chicken won’t eat eggs, either.
  3. Is the convenience of a parent a sufficient justification or excuse for killing a child?  If you answer yes to this, you justify infanticide, and must find a point at which that no longer applies.  People usually say “viability”, but on the one hand medical advances are pushing back the moment at which a child can survive outside the womb, and on the other hand if viability means the ability to survive completely unaided by anyone else, there are few adults in this country who could do so absent the infrastructural support of thousands of others who provide the necessities of life.  I’m not viable anymore; I could not survive a month in the wilderness unaided by supplies provided by others.

I thus disagree that our society has accepted killing, in the sense that it is acceptable to kill another human being.  If we had, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Boston Marathon would not have been crimes.  We pretend that abortion is a justifiable killing because the victim is unable to speak for himself.  That applies, though, to thousands of infant, handicapped, and elderly persons, and society is not ready to justify the killings of those people, because we recognize them to be people and do not regard the killing of people as “acceptable”.

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#36: Ligation Litigation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #36, on the subject of Ligation Litigation.

Let me begin with ideas that might not seem immediately on-topic.

You are certainly welcome to stay for supper.  You’re in luck–we do not often have a roast, but someone gave us this boneless pork loin, and it’s almost finished roasting…what’s that, you don’t eat pork?  Well, I’m very sorry.  Unfortunately, I roasted the carrots and potatoes and onions in the same pan, so if that’s a problem, I’m not sure what to say.

Maybe I could scrounge something up for my unexpected guest, but really, my extended hospitality is to share what I have, not what I don’t have.

Just relax, we’ll reach the hospital in a few minutes.  What?  Yes, I have morphine.  No, I can’t give you morphine; it would be illegal, for one thing.  A doctor has to say that you should have it.  Of course I care that you’re in pain, but I’m not going to risk my job to give you something that quite possibly you shouldn’t have.

Of course, I could give the morphine–I am certainly physically able to do so–but there are good reasons for me not to do so.

No, I’m not going to go deer hunting with you.  I know it’s legal; I know it’s even considered necessary:  in a world in which we have decimated the predator population we must also kill the prey animals or they will overpopulate and starve themselves.  Kill them if you wish, but please don’t ask me to be part of it.  I don’t really enjoy killing animals, and I do not want to become the kind of person who does.

I’ll have to think about whether I’ll eat your venison, and obviously I know that someone kills the meat I do eat, but it doesn’t have to be me.

Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California
Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California

Rebecca Chamorro, mother of a third child, is suing Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California, a two hundred sixty-seven bed hospital sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of Auburn.  She claims that the hospital violated her rights by refusing to permit her doctor to perform a tubal ligation while delivering her third child by caesarean section.

The hospital claims that such an operation violates the “ERDs”, that is, the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a document of health care directives established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The document bans abortions; I presume it also bans euthanasia, although I have not read it (being neither Catholic nor employed in a medical facility).  It lists these things as “intrinsically immoral”, and includes on that list direct sterilizations, certain prenatal genetic tests, and most forms of contraception.  The Catholic Church maintains that children are a gift from God, and participation in sexual relations is an open invitation to God to give that gift; therefore refusing the gift or misusing sex for something other than reproduction is an affront to God.

Obviously, you may disagree with the Roman Catholic Church.  Even many Christians of other denominations, including many (but not all) conservative Christians among the Evangelicals, the conservative Lutherans, and the Eastern Orthodox churches, allow many forms of birth control while remaining adamantly opposed to abortions and abortofacients.  That, though, is not the point.  The point is whether a Roman Catholic hospital should be forced to permit the use of its facilities and equipment for procedures it regards immoral.

The plaintiff’s primary argument is that the refusal to perform legal medical procedures is discriminatory.  There is a sense in which it is not–the same restrictions against tubal ligation also apply to vasectomies–but the argument is that pregnancies are unevenly discriminatory (much more of a burden on women than on men) and thus the refusal to assist in their prevention is unevenly discriminatory.  This, though, is founded on the premise that the hospital is a public institution offering a commercial service–and that’s not exactly true.

At one time all, or nearly all, hospitals were run by religious orders, most of them Roman Catholic.  The nursing staff of such hospitals were nuns–volunteers who devoted their lives to the service of others through the church, tending the sick, compensated essentially with room, board, and basic necessities.  Priests served as doctors, in a time when only a few went to university and those who did were doctors, lawyers, or priests, with some overlap.  People supported the hospitals with their gifts; patients were treated based on need.

Certainly the world has changed.  Hospital staff now includes many employees, most of them paid and not all of them Catholic, although many Catholic hospitals are still staffed in part by nuns and other volunteers.  Medicine is overseen by licensed physicians, because laws forbid the practice by those who do not have such licenses.  However, the mission has not changed, nor the motivation:  to help sick people heal.  These are non-profit hospitals, and the church runs them voluntarily to help the sick.

If you complained that I did not make something special for you as an unexpected dinner guest when you did not want to eat my roast pork, I would politely suggest you find somewhere else to eat.  If you complained that I did not give you morphine on the way to the hospital, I would tell you to talk to my lawyer.  If you complained that I was unwilling to go deer hunting with you, I would tell you to go–well, I wouldn’t, because I’m not like that, but it would put a serious damper on our friendship.

The Roman Catholic Church, of its own volition, offers medical care to persons in need.  They offer more charity care than most hospitals, although they welcome paying patients and insurance programs.  However, they are specific about what care they do–and do not–offer.  If you don’t like it, there are other hospitals.  If it is inconvenient for you to travel to a hospital that is willing to provide the services you desire–and note that this is in no sense an emergency situation here, it is not as if the hospital is refusing life-saving treatment to a patient brought in to the emergency room–then it is apparently inconvenient for you to get the elective procedure you desire.  That seems fairly straightforward to me.

I am concerned that any other answer ultimately becomes an imposition on the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed on other religiously-affiliated medical facilities (and many churches support these).  It is a small step from asserting that the hospital must permit sterilization procedures it find immoral to asserting the same about abortions; and if (or more likely when) it becomes legal, it is a small step beyond that to requiring hospitals to permit euthanasia in their facilities.

If that happens, I am fairly certain the Roman Catholic Church will close its many hospitals and look for some other way to help needy people.  A two hundred sixty-seven bed homeless shelter might be a great help.

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#21: Genetic Counseling and Eugenics

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #21, on the subject of Genetic Counseling and Eugenics.

Quite a few years ago now I knew a girl, a childhood friend of my wife, who married a man with Crohn’s Disease.  Not long after the wedding she had a tubal ligation, and they bought a dog to pamper.  The explanation was that Crohn’s is genetic, and her husband did not want to bring a child into the world who would suffer what he had suffered.

This kind of decision is made all the time.  It is called genetic counseling, when medical professionals evaluate the probability that a couple will pass a genetic disease to their children.  Sickle cell anemia is one of the most common of such maladies, and many black families forego having children to stem its transmission.

People want babies.  It’s part of being human.  However, it is also part of being human that people want healthy babies.  Obstetricians have the highest malpractice insurance rates of all doctors, because imperfect babies are born and horrified parents want to blame someone with a lawsuit.  Modern technology has made it easier to have perfect babies.  The parents who might be carriers of sickle cell can have their unborn child tested in utero, and if the child has the disease, it can be aborted, never forced to live with the pain of this crippling disease.  The same can be done for Crohn’s Disease, Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome…or can it?

North Dakota Capitol Building
North Dakota Capitol Building

North Dakota has made it illegal to perform an abortion based on detected fetal abnormalities.  Ohio is likely to pass a similar law banning abortions performed because the unborn child has Down Syndrome.  To those who support abortion, these laws, described as acts to protect the handicapped, are outrageous impositions on a woman’s rights.  Yet there is something to the argument.

Although statistics are difficult to determine with any accuracy, everyone agrees that the majority–anywhere from sixty to ninety percent–of unborn children diagnosed prenatally with Down Syndrome are aborted in the United States, and that the estimated rate is higher in Europe where it might reach ninety-five percent.  Some parts of the world applaud this as a reasonable means of wiping out a genetic disease.  To some, the termination of pregnancy because the unborn child has a serious genetic defect is considered one of the best reasons for such a decision.

What, though, can be more discriminatory against the handicapped than killing them because of their handicap?

Oh, but wait:  an unborn child is not, under the law, a handicapped person; he is only a growth that has the potential to become a person.  He has no rights, and therefore killing him is not an act of discrimination against a handicapped child, but the excision of a deformed growth.  The rights of the handicapped, and the fact that they are killed almost routinely, are irrelevant.

This, though, might not be a position anyone wants to take.  After all, seven states–Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota–ban sex selective abortions as acts of gender discrimination.  It is against the law in those states to terminate an unborn female child because you wanted a son (or presumably to terminate a male because you wanted a daughter).  Arizona also bans abortions based on the race of the unborn child as being racially discriminatory.  To say that the unborn Down Syndrome child has no rights that can be protected from discriminatory abortion (that is, abortion based on the fact that the child will be born handicapped) is to say that the unborn daughter or son, or the unborn mixed race baby, has no rights and can be killed solely for being the wrong sex or the wrong race.

There is a degree to which the laws are irrelevant, like restrictions on job terminations:  you cannot fire an employee for attending a union organization meeting, or for being homosexual, or for reasons of race or religion–but you can fire an at-will employee for no reason at all, so you simply have to avoid saying that any of these factors led to the decision.  In the same way, a woman can terminate a pregnancy without giving a reason for doing so; she just cannot say that the reason is because of the gender, the race, or the genetic disability of the child.  In practical terms the only thing they limit is our ability to be frank about our motivations.

Even so, these laws force us to face a fundamental aspect of our attitude toward abortion.  Should a mother be able to decide that she wants to abort a child because the child’s medical condition will result in the child having a less than fully normal life?  Does that reflect a reasonable desire to protect the child from its own illness, or is it making a discriminatory value judgment that it would be better not to live than to live with such a handicap?  (How many handicapped-from-birth adults would rather never have been born than have been born handicapped?)  Is it reasonable to say that the health of the mother would be threatened by the birth of a handicapped child in a greater way than it would be by the birth of a normal child, or by an abortion?  If so, is it also reasonable to say that the health of the mother would be threatened by the birth of a daughter when she wanted a son, or a son when she wanted a daughter, or by a mixed-race child instead of a pure-race child?

We have stretched the concept of “health of the mother” far enough that it amounts to “I don’t want a child, and therefore it would be unhealthy for me to have one.”  How much further does it have to stretch to be, “I don’t want a handicapped child,” “a mixed-race child,” “a daughter”?  It seems to me that that is not a very far stretch at all–which means either we have already stretched it too far, or we have to accept that sex-selective abortions, abortions of the genetically handicapped, and race-based abortions are all as good a reason as any other, and do not constitute discrimination against a person, because there is no person here and the mother has been given the power to decide whether there will ever be one.

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#9: Abolition

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #9, on the subject of Abolition.

In the abortion debate, the argument against restrictions and regulations of this medical procedure is that they rob women of autonomous control over their own bodies, that they are, in a word, a form of slavery.  Anti-abortionists are portrayed as oppressing women, stripping them of their rights to make decisions about their own bodies, forcing them to bear children and then to be responsible for those children, whether raising them or surrendering them to be raised by someone else.  In the words of Shakespeare’s Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing), “The world must be peopled.”  That, though, does not mean we can enslave women to do the job, whatever Japan’s Liberal Democrats think.

The second statement made is that conservatives claim to care about such children up to the moment they are born, and then all such concern ceases.  Indeed, conservatives are portrayed as callous haters who would prevent a woman from receiving the medical attention she needs to remove a parasite but then do nothing to aid her in the pregnancy or thereafter.

The second answer to this is that this is not actually true.  I have worked with a “Crisis Pregnancy Center”, in the efforts to found and launch it both by lending such meager labor assistance as I could to making the offices functional and in training the first batch of staff and counselors.  Everyone with whom I worked was there to make it possible for women and girls with unexpected pregnancies to carry their babies to term and see to their subsequent care.  That included obstetrical exams and services, teaching in infant and child care, the provision of furniture and clothing and formula and diapers, help with social services, contacts with adoption agencies, counseling concerning the benefits and disadvantages of raising a child versus releasing it for adoption, and more.  There are conservatives on the ground doing exactly what it is charged they are not doing.

However, there is a first answer, and this mention of slavery brought it to my attention.  In the nineteenth century, abolitionists, mostly in the north, wanted to free the slaves.

img0009Slaves

In retrospect, we know that this emancipation was expensive on every level, with economic and social costs we perhaps are still paying.  In my mind’s ear I can hear the slavery party arguing that northerners want to free the slaves, but don’t want to commit to taking care of them once they are free.  I do not know whether that was true; none of us were there.  What I do know is that the fact (if it was a fact) that abolitionists made no commitment to caring for the freed blacks was a very poor argument against freeing them.  They needed to be helped in rising from poverty, at least in having obstacles removed, but whether or not that was going to happen they first needed to be freed.  So, too, children need to be helped, fed and clothed and of course loved and taught, and mothers need the support of fathers, family, community, nation, and churches, to see that their “unwanted” children are provided with that care.  First, though, they need to be protected from the oppression of having life stripped from them before their breathing has shifted from amniotic fluid to air.  Even if it were true that the people who want to protect their lives before they emerge into the world make no commitment to assisting those lives beyond that moment, to kill them before that emergence on that basis would still be as wrong as, more wrong than, to refuse to free the slaves because no one would help them once they were freed.  Our obligation to help the born is a problem, but it is a separate problem from whether to protect the lives of the unborn.  That freeing the slaves proved to mean economic and social costs thrust upon society for generations to follow was never and would not have been a good argument against freeing the slaves.

Yes, just as it was necessary for those who favored ending the enslavement of the black people also to commit to helping those people integrate into American society, it is necessary for those who favor ending the slaughter of the unborn to commit to helping the born rise to share the prosperity of the nation.  However, just as an unwillingness to make that commitment was not a good excuse not to free the slaves, neither is the uncertainty of our commitment to helping children a valid excuse for continuing to kill them unborn.

In addition to the above-linked piece Liberal Democrats Offend Women Again in the page Discrimination, there are also several related points raised in Miscellaneous Marriage Law Issues, particularly in the sections Births and On Negative Population Growth.  A connection between slavery and abortion was also suggested in Was John Brown a Hero or a Villain?  See also mark Joseph “young” web log entries with the same “tags” by following the links.

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