Doctor Science Knows

Thursday, June 11, 2009

From the Abortion threads at Beliefnet

Erin's post, All or nothing


Pregnant women could not be legally put to death in any Christian culture (and in many non-Christian cultures), no matter how heinous their crimes; the mere suspicion of pregnancy was enough for a woman to escape the gibbet or the headsman.

This is not true. The "mere suspicion of pregnancy" was certainly not sufficient for a woman to "plead her belly" and delay an execution, she had to be examined by a midwife who would swear that she could feel the fetus move -- the "quickening", which was the common standard for when life begins regardless of the disputes of scholars. The time of perceptible quickening varies, but it's usually around 4 months.

In pre-modern times, any woman could claim to be in the first trimester and there was no reliable way to tell. In case you're wondering about women who had been imprisoned for more than 3-4 months, women who were facing execution are known to solicit sex from their jailers, in the hope that they would get pregnant in time to "plead their bellies" -- or to make such a plea plausible.

Making quickening the baseline for life has an extremely long pedigree, going back to Aristotle at least (and probably further). You'll note that the widespread belief that first-trimester abortions are OK is in line with this traditional approach. Most women were quite willing to use whatever remedies they could get to "bring on their periods", and did *not* consider this the same thing as the heinous crime of abortion.

Men (including male clerics) objected to these first-trimester remedies, but *not* usually on the grounds that it was destroying an ensouled human being. Rather, they said (truthfully) that it undermined male authority, and the husband's unquestioned right to control his wife's fertility.

I can't help noticing that the shift from "life at quickening" to "life at conception" follows a shift in when *men* can tell that a woman is pregnant, instead of taking her word for it.

at Erin's post on Abortion and civil rights (headdesk warning):

"Your Name" @3:40 has the crucial data:

the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty

In other words, poor women -- who are disproportionately non-white -- find it excessively difficult to obtain, pay for, and assert their right to use birth control.

When "pro-life" groups actively endorse effective contraception, I'll believe they mean what they say. If you say "abortion is murder" and don't promote birth control -- barrier methods at the very least -- I'll be forced to conclude that your primary motivation is to control women and our sexuality.

I have known quite a few individuals who are "pro-life" and also "pro-birth-control", and I can respect that. I know of *no* anti-abortion group which takes that stance. In reality, as you must be aware, the anti-abortion movement has consistently put up barriers between poor women and contraception. More unintended and unwanted pregancies, more abortions -- and the barriers the anti-abortion movement has constructed mean that poor women will tend to have abortions later, too, because it takes them more time to gather the money and make the arrangements. *There*'s your civil rights issue.


I know quite a few "pro-life" individuals who take your position, and I have no major quarrel with it. What I do not know of is any significant "pro-life" organization or institution that is also pro-contraception.

People who are anti-abortion and anti-contraception are IMHO making their priorities clear: contraception is worse than murder. No, I'm exaggerating: they're making it clear that they don't actually believe abortion is murder, because everyone agrees you're allowed to cut moral corners to prevent murder, much less something that's called "a Holocaust".

At Erin's Is protesting against abortion a hate crime?

"Is protesting against abortion a hate crime?"

No. Learn what words mean.

"Hate crime" is not a separate category of crime, it is an an aggravating factor in an already-defined crime. Here is a summary from David Neiwert. He's guy you need to read if you're going to be talking about this stuff. The chances are that if you don't read Neiwert you do not know what you're talking about.

Protest is NOT a hate crime. No-one is trying to define protest as a hate crime. No-one in the US is seriously trying to pass "hate speech" laws, in the sense of trying to define *currently legal* speech as "hate speech".

Shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater is a speech crime. Shouting "Fire!" in a crowded church or synagogue may well be a hate speech crime. But the point is that in the US it has to be a crime first, before it can be a hate crime.

The reason you're getting the impression that leftists are calling abortion protests "hate crimes" and "terrorism" is because abortion protesters frequently don't just protest. Some protesters -- though by no means all -- also stalk, harrass, assault, and threaten women and clinic workers. Harrassment, etc., are *already* crimes. When the goal of the harrassment, etc., is to "send a message" not just to the immediate victim but to the group or community of which she is a part, *that is a hate crime*.

ETA -- yes, Carhart is talking about a more general use of the term "hate crime". He's wrong, but I'm prepared to overlook it because he doesn't have the pro-choice organizations backing him up on this issue, and mostly because he is in legitimate fear for his life.

Anti-abortion activists might fruitfully ask themselves what they can do to make the risks to Carhart less. I'm not talking about just verbally distancing themselves from people like Tiller's assassin, I'm talking about reducing the level of physical terror Carhart, his colleagues, and his patients experience.

And yes, I am using "terror" as in "terrorism".

No, "Another Michael". Abortion clinic violence is the terrorism that *works*. It's not the body count that matters, it's the fear. Abortion-clinic violence isn't limited to murder, the murders are only the extreme tip of the harrassment, assaults, stalking, and the general climate of fear -- terror, even -- that this violence produces.

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