Thursday, June 11, 2009

Right to Choice: A More Complex World

I spent last week talking about video games at E3 (And I'm planning one more post at some point soon for third party game coverage. A lot of it confirms stuff that had yet to be officially announced back in the Third Parties Sane Gaming series post. I'm not too keen on being overly redundant.), but this time, I'll be looking at something more important and relevant.

Now for a new political commentary entry, addressing - at least here in America - a rather controversial topic.

Abortion. The issue of a woman's right to reproductive choice, family planning, the reality that there's no such thing as a 100% effective contraceptive and abstinence is no convenient cure-all to creatures to whom physical intimacy is of great importance - naturally so - all the complexities in reality and life that extremists like to dumb down to "baby-killing," without a hint of sympathy or understanding for the difficulties others face, seeking instead to saddle them with unwanted children as punishment. Whether for rape, lack of forethought, or simply bad luck.

It's a touchy subject. Understandably so. One which many would rather not understand the grays of, instead focusing on trying to dumb it down to a black and white issue, while ignoring the aspects that could be seen as more black and white. (Such as the tragedy itself of bringing any unwanted child into the world.) Across history, women have died in no insignificant numbers as a result of complications from unsafe abortion - thousands still happen across the globe each year even now. The majority of these more recent deaths have occurred in nations where women's rights are limited, and the government fails to recognize their reproductive rights - an issue important in the ongoing advancement and development of globally recognized human rights. The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as:

"Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence."

Here in America, conservatives continue to push for abstinence-only sex education for the youth, which has been found repeatedly in studies to be deceptive and ineffective in preparing the nation's young people for anything resembling an adult sexual relationship with all of its potential repercussions. Even from my own experience with public education on that subject here, I don't recall sex ed being touched on too much in general. Though after years of efforts to bring honesty back to education, Obama recently eliminated abstinence-only education funding from the 2010 national budget. Naturally, conservatives were displeased, but in addition to trying to push sex as something intended for reproduction only - something they undoubtedly do not practice as they preach (And if they do, it's hard to imagine them having anything resembling healthy relationships or happy marriages.) - as you get over to the more extreme right, you see more open opposition to contraception, family planning, and reproductive health services in general. Everything dumbs down to the argument that as soon as an embryo forms (Or, looking at the extremists opposing the Plan B morning-after pill, as soon as an egg is fertilized), it's a fully functioning living human being and its termination is tantamount to "baby-killing." Anybody familiar with the stages of human development - as interesting as it is - can tell you that it takes quite a while before we're anything more than unthinking, unfeeling lumps of arguably parasitic flesh. Many people seem to have a very difficult time grasping this, but while there's nothing horrible about how we start out, there's nothing distinctly human, either. We're a zygote and then an embryo. Then a pulsating, growing lump over the months as our stem cells differentiate and we develop into something baby-esque in appearance. And if we're wanted - if we're lucky - we'll end up popping out a healthy baby with that small amount of consciousness we start out with. If the pregnancy goes well, we'll be a little human in the end. But we are not human beings at or anywhere near conception.


To provide a personal anecdote from my last year of college - this took place in either the autumn '06 or spring '07 semester - after having heard and read about anti-choice activists and their demonstrations, I had my own encounter with them on campus that semester. A group had scattered across the sidewalks on central campus, and was thrusting propaganda booklets on all the passer-bys they could. Unfortunately, I didn't notice them in time to avoid receiving one myself as I passed one of them by on my way to class that morning. I stopped, took one look at its interior - which contained a lot of gruesome aborted fetus photos - and tore it in half in front of them, tossing it in the nearest trashcan.

Shock tactics like that, obviously, are what people resort to when they can't make a good argument with words and rationality alone. In this case, that's because the anti-choice movement is not a movement of rationality or human sympathy, but rather one of anger and occasionally violent passion. Hatred toward a world and individuals who violate a very narrow code of irrational ethics they've chosen to adopt and seek to force upon the world.

Late Term Abortion

Many call for the end of late term abortion as well. That's no simple issue, either. Late term abortions generally never happen because the child is unwanted - if someone doesn't want a kid, they're going to go through the procedure as early as possible. Late term abortion is necessary and sought for two particular reasons: birth defects, as many wouldn't want their child to suffer in the world as severely disabled or disfigured, and health threats to the mother by the act of childbirth itself. It may be a great literary and cinematic cliche for a woman to give up her life in childbirth, but in the real world, most women are hesitant to leave their children motherless, with only a grieving father. In books and film, this is often portrayed as a selfless, heroic act of self-sacrifice by the mother. In reality, this is manipulative and dishonest in facing what else the choice can mean. It's always tragedy and hard-hitting for the family to face when a late term abortion is necessary - but those who seek to ban abortion have no sympathy for these people either. They'd force mothers whose bodies couldn't take childbirth to die, and force the birth of children suffering from severe defects, who are less likely to ever lead anything resembling a full life, let alone a happy one. And in many cases, like the example below, they may not even be capable.

In April, 23-year-old christian Canadian single mother Myah Walker made an internet spectacle of herself through a blog about her anencephalitic baby, Faith Hope. Her tragic farce of a story reflects the need for late term abortion, being an individual who - in rationality - should have had one. As tragic as her story is, she brought it on herself in deep delusion. The Canadian right - which can be as despicable as here in America - sought to exploit her as an anti-choice icon for what little time they could, praising her for her "miracle baby," and deriding the medical community for not expecting the infant to survive long after birth, accusing them of not understanding anencephaly. (In which a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp is missing.) In the end, the brainless baby died after a few weeks instead of getting a magically grown brain from god as she thought, supported by a very sick and exploitative conservative circle of support online. (You had to tape your baby's eyes in to make sure they didn't fall out because her body was basically rotting? Clearly nothing is wrong and this is a miracle from god! She's a normal, healthy baby and nothing else! The doctors are liars!)

The internet mocked her and the child's scummy father (Who turned up on the forums briefly and only made himself out to be an even bigger creep there.), and in part this is understandable, cruel though it was - she broadcast all of this openly, and on the internet, that's basically asking for the kind of reception she received. However, that doesn't make her story any less sad, and only makes it all the clearer that Walker needs some real professional help. You have to detach yourself from reality considerably to get into the kind of mindset she was in around her baby-lump. (If it could feel pain, its entire existence was likely nothing but excruciating suffering - however, the anencephalitic infant had no consciousness whatsoever with which to feel said pain. Only enough of a brain stem to do things like digest food, while its body gradually decayed and tried to die, surviving as long as it did only because of external mechanical support.)

Religion's Assault on Reproductive Rights

Much of that story, like many bad ideas in human history, was largely derived from religious belief. Religion itself can ultimately act as either something to instill love and respect, or something horribly destructive and repressive. Unfortunately, here in America, we tend to see the latter far more openly through fundamentalist extremist Christians and Catholics.

Even in recent months, the Catholic church has handed down some terrible decisions through the Pope. On one hand, they eventually stopped attacking science as much and now no longer denounce evolution or many scientific findings. On the other, they recently denounced the condom-based AIDS relief teachings in Africa - pushing their anti-contraceptive beliefs on the one continent that needs them most in an act tantamount to encouraging further AIDS death. (All while blaming the crisis on a lack of morals and ethics.) This after the positive effects of condom use there in stymieing the spread of the disease became apparent.

Conservative Hypocrisy

Politically, those fighting against abortion rights tend to align themselves with the same party now hypocritically screeching about "rule of law" and "the Constitution" after clamming up for eight years while their party leaders showed zero respect for either while in power. What they're calling for isn't so much the actual rule of law or respect for the Constitution, but the maintenance of a conservative wealthy white straight christian male patriarchal dominance of America, which they see as threatened by Obama's recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. (Bringing out racist conservative pundits in droves who, in turn, are desperately trying to label her one - many of these same pundits calling for a wall "to keep the Mexicans out" across our southern border, as opposed to anything resembling meaningful immigration reform. After all, that would mean giving illegal immigrants a legitimate shot at citizenship and allowing many more immigrants in each year. Resistance to immigration reform itself is largely openly fueled by xenophobia and the perceived threat to their increasingly niche demographic's political and cultural domination of this country.) This after Bush destabilized the Supreme Court, tipping it dangerously further to the right in pushing justices Roberts and Alito through their confirmation hearings, in which the Democrats failed to put up the kind of fight they should have. Alito himself had a track record that made apparent that he'd be a friend to those seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade and end women's right of choice. (An especially vocal movement in the later Bush years that kept pushing for statewide ban legislation to go into effect should Roe v. Wade go into effect. A movement that fortunately fizzled in their efforts to combat women's rights despite having one of the friendliest presidents to their oppressive movement in quite a while.)

Even in the 2008 election and the debates leading up to it, the conservatives looked down on women's right to choice, many acting as though an abortion was a thoughtless act perpetrated by cruel, heartless women on a lark because they just didn't feel like using protection. John McCain openly sneered at the idea of these rights in one of his debates with Obama. That he did as well in the election as he did is pretty damn terrifying, all things considered. These people have no sympathy for those who need access to these services, and simply build themselves up into these towers of moralistic superiority, glaring down at all who dare disagree with their own insulated, ignorant stances. Of course, these were all rich white men - they couldn't care less about women's rights and needs. Women's health and rights iare not things that should be politicized.

These same hateful politics come from individuals who proudly tell themselves that they live their lives by a hypocritical book written thousands of years ago. That this book somehow empowers them to a level of moral superiority - to the point of the worst of the extremists essentially being moral supremacists - despite how little much of it pertains to the modern world we live in today. Typically espousing religious faith based on hypocritical writings, there's no shortage of hypocrisy within the self-proclaimed "pro-life" movement itself. (Murderous tactics, clinic bombings, mindless support for war and violence on the far right politically, cultural genocide, the death penalty, even willingness to kill in the name of requiring and FORCING the birth of unwanted and horribly disabled children, as well as those whose birth will likely be fatal to their mothers. As human beings, it's impossible not to be hypocritical in some way or another in our existence, but there's a difference between simply being a hypocrite at one point or another, and using said hypocrisy to oppress others and increase their suffering and misery, or even to destroy them.) Many "pro-lifers" don't seem to know exactly what they're fighting for in objective terms. Banning abortion and taking away women's right of choice doesn't magically slap a band-aid on the "baby-killing" boogeyman issue - but that's all many seem to see it as. So much more of it is an argument for taking away people's control over their own lives.

The Murder of Dr. Tiller

A man of faith himself, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in his own church just over a week and a half ago by a known anti-choice activist, following decades of constant harassment, intimidation, and death threats. His clinic was bombed in 1986. And he was shot in both his arms in 1993. Putting anybody through all that, and killing him as they did - these are not exactly "pro-life" actions to take. Let alone "christian."

As you can imagine, this incident was what spurred me to write this post. Dr. Tiller was a hero who spent his life fighting on the front lines of women's reproductive rights. Hounded, harassed, and eventually killed by extremists for decades, he endured more hell - with a calm resolve, no less - than most of us have or ever will. He understood what so much of humanity still has yet to achieve a basic grasp of, a simple sympathy for. And end the end, he died at the hands of a violent psychopath denounced by his own movement, but who in his actions has only helped to further weaken the argument against women's right of choice. When your side's argument boils down to physical threats, violence, and even murder, it's the extremists who carry the argument and detract from any perceived legitimacy on the part of those who do not sink to this. (Even the anti-choice are as still as human as any of us - whether they're on the most violent end of the spectrum like Roeder, or simply ordinary people who don't like the practice.) Since abortion was legalized in America in the early '70s, the extremists have largely hijacked the ever-irrational anti-choice movement, harassing doctors and nurses at abortion clinics, assaulting them, bombing clinics, harassing and tormenting women who get abortions, and even killing any of these people involved. It's sad when trying to mislead people with shock propaganda full of dead fetus photos is on the lighter side of the spectrum in the movement. But you basically never hear about them sitting down and having rational discussions of the issue, let alone addressing all aspects of it, instead cherry-picking simplistic reasons to fight against it when it's hardly a simple issue.

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Tiller's funeral was protested, but with police and federal marshals providing heavy security, the funeral went smoothly as an appropriate tribute to the man's life. Outside the church, there were even pro-choice supporters proclaiming his heroism. And apparently, he was even a Trekkie. One hopes he got a chance to see the new Star Trek movie before his tragic demise.

This is Not a Black-and-White World

The bottom line of it is, you can't turn reality from gray to black and white. You can't construct a society or civilization of simplistic black and white absolutes. Human history is filled with examples of this, and even today, humans struggle to accept the complicated nature of our own existence and the complex moral dilemmas we face that cannot simply be cast aside with a cheap absolutist maxim.

That's the story of human civilization - an ever-ongoing struggle within and against ourselves in seeking ways to simplify existence. To make it easier to stomach, to eliminate the need for critical thought, to vilify victims of societal injustice and spit on them, to make life itself worry-free, to convince ourselves that our beliefs are absolutely right and that those who do not stand with us are either wrong or inferior. And this kind of nonconstructive - and even deconstructive - thinking does nothing but hold us back as a civilization and as a species, continuing to hold the same arguments over and over for centuries when one side has nothing rational or compatible with the grays of reality to present.

When these sorts of things hit extremes, as history has shown, violence only results. When humanity stubbornly refuses to open their hearts and minds, to think critically and accept that there's more to the world than simple "good" and "evil," we effectively admit we have no good argument left and seek to get rid of that we deem undesirable by literally wiping out dissent. Whether cultural, theological, philosophical, or political. We've seen a great deal of political disenfranchisement and outright witch hunts carried out by the right wing here in America over the nation's history. And over much of the globe, we've seen even worse, all the way down to genocide - the most famous case in the previous century going without saying, as I'd rather not go out of my way to invoke Godwin's Law in cliche here.

Suffice to say, to advocate the abolition of abortion rights - and typically with it, the important focus on women's sexual health care in society - is tantamount to supporting a return to the tragic days when the death of women as a result of botched back alley and manual abortions was horrifically commonplace. You cannot get rid of abortion. You can take away freedom and call for the unnecessary death of scores of women - but abortion itself will never disappear. If one hopes to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancy, we need to fully support the proper sexual education of the youth - including all contraceptive options - and ensure that contraception is both easily affordable and available all across the globe. Unfortunately, the same groups that oppose women's freedom of choice and family planning also tend to oppose contraception, following this moralistic supremacist ideology wherein human beings are only supposed to have sex with intention to reproduce. But sex has never been that simple for humans - and it isn't for many animals, either - it's something to be had for the expression of deep affection, and even without that, enjoyment. It's a key part of society and culture and has been for all of human history. As long as we exist as creatures who derive tactile physical pleasure, it will continue to be that important. And human sexuality itself is a beautiful thing, so long as it isn't used in the name of abuse. (Which itself tends to be more about power than sexual pleasure, from what I understand.)

It's a shame that so many have such a difficult time grasping something so wonderful in both its simplicity and complexity as a concept. Humans atrophy without one another, love and attraction are amongst the both greatest and saddest things a human being can experience - crucial in fully experiencing life itself. These experiences are accompanied by highs and lows, tragedies and triumph, and opposing abortion rights is an act seeking only to intensify the lows and potentially disrupt the highs in the name of this perceived moral supremacy, attempting to inflict a nonexistant simplicity upon a complex issue. The murder of Dr. Tiller was an absolute tragedy - the sort of thing that we, as human beings, all need to work toward ensuring will not be repeated.

Tragedy is murder committed in the name of oppression. Tragedy is death by botched abortion. Tragedy is the birth of unwanted children. Real life isn't an uplifting movie where unwanted children are always transformed into blessings that make their parents happy - even wanted children can potentially destroy relationships and marriages. Not all children put up for adoption end up getting adopted and leading happy, healthy lives, either - in fact, most don't. But many are happy to focus on that because it's usually the white children who get priority in adoption. While research has shown that unwanted children - including those put up for adoption - often grow up to be miserable people, never having had a family who wanted them, and in plenty of cases, criminals.

These days, we have more to be concerned about than the Department of Homeland Security would even release during the Bush years, right-wing extremist violence now being noted by the government as a potentially real threat to domestic security. (Not exactly a complete shock now, considering how much widespread talk there was of concern over the possibility of Obama being assassinated after his election, especially around Inauguration Day back in January. Unfortunately, since and as a result of this past election, racists and white supremacists have come out in droves in this nation, showing openly once again that there's no lack of racial hatred in this country, even now in the 21st century.) This finding has, of course, outraged the right-wing's extremists in this country even more, Bush largely having founded the Department of Homeland Security to focus on Islamic terrorist threats, in a mentality the conservatives themselves praised, while those of us on the left were rather wary, considering how much of the Bush years were spent trying to scare the American people into voting Republican as they tore this nation apart. And now in these past 24 hours, a security guard at the Holocaust Museum was killed by a white supremacist. In these past two weeks alone, two acts of domestic, ideology-driven terrorism committed by far-right extremists.

If it's something humanity still often lacks these days - notably so on the right-leaning side of our oversimplified political spectrum - it's sympathy for one another. Rather than taking the time out to understand and sympathize with others' complicated suffering, we'd rather cast them aside and call their suffering justified - whether you look at it as divine punishment or something else. Too many people crusade for things they lack a full understanding of - as much of the anti-choice movement does. Too many people are too busy being angry and blowing off hot air to take time to understand exactly what they're fuming about. You can't live an extremist, hard-line life in a complicated world.

To Conclude

You did women a great service while you were still with us, Dr. Tiller. You'll be remembered well, and always have the gratitude of those of us supporting and fighting for women's rights. We'll keep fighting for a world where doctors like you won't have to risk life and limb in helping women to act on their right of choice - as difficult a decision as it is to begin with - and receive the safest and best of legal health care when undergoing pregnancy termination. You boldly went where few men dared and carried out heroic deeds. You lived long and prospered. All of us who stand with the world's women thank you.


CrazyCris said...

Oh boy, this is a pretty harsh wake-up call for my morning breakfast!

My mind's not clear enough to make a well reasoned comment (I think).

But at least I can say this. You're right, it's not a black and white world out there. Most of us live in shades of grey!

While I personally don't really like abortion and what it represents after a certain stage (the loss of life), I do agree that life doesn't begin at conception (I'm a biologist, no way I'm calling 4 or 8 or 16 cells that still need to multiply and differentiate a functional organism!). I also agree that basically it should be a personal choice of the people involved! Not something dictated by politicians or society. But a conciencious choice made by each person involved. I mean, even if I couldn't really conceive having an abortion now, if I were to have become pregnant during my university studies I probably would have considered it...

What I do think a bit sad is that the father doesn't usually have a say in the matter... perhaps he wouldn't mind being a single dad? (although that's probably very rare).

And there's one thing that does get me riled up about the abortionist movement (in general). And that sometimes the way abortion is talked about portrays it as basically another method of anti-conception! "Oops! Mistake? You're pregnant? No worries, you can always get an abortion!" So really I have no sympathy for women who get several abortions... ladies (and gentlemen) learn to use contraception! That's what it was developed for, to AVOID contraception! duh!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that abortion is acceptable as a last resort, for health problems, rape, big mistakes... but we also need to be reducing the number of unwanted pregancies before they happen! I mean, an abortion is an invasive procedure, most people should want to avoid going through that kind of a nightmare!

So basically I think it comes back to Sex-Ed. I'm guessing we must have had it in my school but I don't really remember at all, that's how insignificant it was! That's where the changes need to begin. And then hopefully we'll observe a decrease in unwanted pregnancies and abortion will fall into the category of another medical procedure for health (either of body or mind) reasons.

well, looks like I wrote more than I thought! Now I'm going to finish my breakfast!

Benjamin Fennell said...

Thanks for the well thought out response, as usual, CrazyCris. :)

Indeed, no one needs like abortion itself to at least understand what it is for what it is, and its necessity. Far too many people think it's their job to butt into the most personal parts of people's lives and take away freedom there, as often happens when people try to legislate morality here in America, abortion and same sex relations being the hot topics there.

The way I've always seen it when it comes to the father's input is that while he has his right to feel however he feels, he should be able to respect her choice, since the child's growing in the woman's body, so it should be entirely her choice in the end. If the man wants to be a father, and won't get to be because she's not ready, it'd be painful, no doubt, but he should at least respect her enough to understand her choice - even if it leads to the end of the relationship itself, as the one not carrying the child, being able to respect a woman's choice is very important, I feel, even if one disagrees with her decision. It'd be pretty awful to pressure a woman to have a child she doesn't want, after all. And in many cases too, there's plenty of reasons why the father shouldn't be involved. (Such as if it's an accident as a result of a one night thing - a guy'd probably have to be a little unstable to jump at having a kid out of that - though things like Plan B should be able to help reduce the situations like that occurring. And obviously, if it's something out of rape or sexual abuse, obviously the man shouldn't have any input.) But yeah, basically, while a guy should make his feelings known if they're in a relationship, as a guy myself, I think it's just important first and foremost to respect the woman's decision and be able to understand where she's coming from, rather than selfishly pressuring her to go through an unwanted pregnancy out of something more paternal. But yeah, as you said, odds are it's incredibly rare if a guy wants a kid and the woman doesn't at all. If our paternal calling is that strong, odds are there may be some other issues at play.

As for the abortionist movement, I always hear that coming from conservatives (Presidential candidates on the right here have acted like that was all it was ever used for and all it amounted to, which offended a hell of a lot of people, since it seems like that's more of a derogatory stereotype than anything commonplace.), oddly enough - I've yet to hear anyone on the left here, at least, personally, ever say anything like that with a straight face. I've heard it joked about, but never expressed as a serious quick get-out-of-jail-free option, since abortion's still one of the hardest choices a woman ever has to make. Never a quick fix. I'd imagine that anybody who seriously looked at it as an excuse not to use contraception would have some serious mental problems, and would undoubtedly be very rare themselves. The observation I've made more is that when people avoid contraception here, they just tend to end up having more kids, and start having them much earlier on. Those people also scare the hell out of me. They're frequently the ones you don't want reproducing - it's not like it's that hard to use protection. (Especially in a first world country.)

Benjamin Fennell said...

But yeah, I fully agree that we need to continue to focus on means of reducing unplanned and accidental pregnancies. Everyone needs to have affordable access to contraception EVERYWHERE - this is something I probably should have addressed in this post - with as many effective methods as possible. And we need to continue to research new ones (Like a version of "the pill" for men that I've heard about being worked on.) in addition to making sure everyone's properly educated about sex so that we can keep unintended and accidental pregnancy rates as low as possible. Abortion's absolutely necessary, but there's all these positive, progressive things like this that we can be doing to reduce their incidence that don't mean advocating something as generally unnatural as the abstinence conservatives push is.

Enjoy your breakfast! (And sorry for the harsh wake-up, haha. I'm going to try to find some more interesting and pleasant things to focus on soon, but this was one of the sharper tongued political things that I really needed to get out of my system, especially after Dr. Tiller's murder. I don't intend to be one of those writers or people in life who keeps quiet about their political views as so not to irk conservatives - if I end up alienating them, I can live with that, though I'd hope they'd try to be a little more open minded and be able to enjoy my work, even if we don't see eye-to-eye on everything. My fiction isn't written as a political diatribe, anyway, haha. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, anyway.)

CrazyCris said...

no worries! I prefer an intelligent wake-up call to some empty bla-bla-bla!

and don't apologise for having strong views and speaking up, it's much better than the apathy many people live in!

Benjamin Fennell said...

Good to hear, good to hear. :)

True enough, the sort of "whatever"/"nothing matters" apathetic attitudes I grew up seeing from my peers always disturbed me. Funnily enough, the latest This Modern World strip online today dealt with the same issue, too.

Lindsay Champion said...

Wow, tackling the abortion issue! How controversial! I refrain to comment, although I will say that you have made a lot of wonderful points and bravo on the strong argument.

lindsay ||

Benjamin Fennell said...

Thank you! I was a little worried that I might have gotten a bit too redundant, but I've put a lot of thought into the issue and its importance.