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April 09, 2006

Links and Stuff

Lots of interesting stuff out there that I briefly want to touch on, so:

* There's a lot of media schadenfreude going on about the Republican meltdown last week. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have stories about how the GOP now has an inkling that November could be very bad indeed for them (which dovetails into the entry here from the other day). I think there are definite parallels between where the GOP is today and the Democrats were in 1994, but as I've said a number of times before anyone, who underestimates either the GOP drive to win at any cost or the recent Democratic ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory needs to beam back down to planet Earth. There's still quite a lot of time between now and November.

* Speaking of schadenfreude, the writers of Time and Newsweek's articles on the discovery of the Tiktaalik creature, which sits in the evolutionary gap between fish and amphibians, are positively gleeful on banging on the "intelligent design" people because here's yet another transitional fossil (of course, now that means there's just two more transitional fossil gaps, aren't there. They're just half the size).

The Newsweek piece has an adorably defensive quote from the Discovery Institute about how ID doesn't have a problem with transitional forms, and then stuffs them with the observation that "fossil gaps are cited many times in the controversial ID textbook "Of Pandas and People." The book takes particular note of the large difference between 'the oldest amphibian' and 'its presumed [fish] ancestor.' It's a gap wide enough for a fish to walk through—and now we know that one did." The Time piece is even more snarky: "Evolution is, as ID supporters love to say, "just" a theory. It also happens to be one of the most successful scientific theories in history, whose predictions of what should be found in the fossil record have been proven out… for the zillionth time."

Yeah, the "sell by" date on ID has come and gone. It won't stop morons from continually trying to push it, of course. But the bloom is off the intelligently designed rose.

* Time has an interesting article from a retired Lt. General who was also the Pentagon's top operations officer, talking about what a pointless war Iraq has been, and share the blame between clueless civilian leaders (which you may understand to mean Secretary Rumsfeld, although he's not the only one) and timid military brass, who didn't speak up while the war was being planned. Here's a key quote, which I can get behind: "The troops in the Middle East have performed their duty. Now we need people in Washington who can construct a unified strategy worthy of them."

* Over at the New York Times, a long magazine piece on El Salvador, where there is a constitutional amendment that says that the government must protect life from conception onward, and where abortion of any sort has been illegal for eight years. Just in case you're wondering what that would be like, if, say, the Supreme Court decided South Dakota's new abortion law was Constitution, or if a "right to life" Constitutional amendment got passed. For those of you who don't want to bother with the entire article, three choice words for you: "forensic vagina inspectors." El Salvador's got 'em.

To be clear, I have an exceptionally hard time imagining a circumstance in which the US goes down the same road as El Salvador, whose anti-abortion position is enabled by a small, homogeneous population of Catholics whose government was apparently rather intensely susceptible to pressure from the Vatican. Nor do I think that even in a post Roe v. Wade America, some place like South Dakota would be able to get away with sentencing a woman to 30 years in prison for having an abortion, as can happen in El Salvador. The first time someone tried that here in the US (to a rich white girl, he said, oh-so-cynically), that would be the end of the anti-abortion movement as a recognizable political force.

On the other hand let's not pretend that the end result of making all abortion illegal is not what happens in El Salvador, where women become criminals. If you want to make abortion illegal, no exceptions, this is what it looks like.

Posted by john at April 9, 2006 03:18 PM

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Comments

mythago | April 9, 2006 03:27 PM

John, the pro-life movement here does not want to actually lock women up in jail, largely because it would kill them politically. This does present an ideological conundrum because these women are, by their definition, murderers. The solution is to simply declare that these women are dupes of the abortion industry and really don't know what they're doing. This ties neatly into the theology of many pro-life wingnuts: women aren't really grownups anyway, and are easily led around by men.

Conveniently, it's also easier to picket, harass and kill individual abortion doctors than to track down every woman who's ever had an abortion.

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 03:35 PM

Mythago:

"John, the pro-life movement here does not want to actually lock women up in jail, largely because it would kill them politically."

Well, of course. But that's where it has to lead, isn't it? Because sooner or later a woman is going to get threatened with jail. Either she's going to get put in there when she refuses to put the finger on her abortionist (which naturally raises all sorts of constitutional issues, but never mind that now), or if a woman performs the abortion herself, she is her own abortion provider, and while you wouldn't prosecute her for having the abortion, you could for performing the abortion. I haven't the slightest doubt that some ambitious and/or religiously fervent prosecutor will do something like this in relative short order. I don't think there's any way for them to avoid it.

mythago | April 9, 2006 04:54 PM

Oh, I'm sure someone will try it. I don't think the pro-life movement will support it, though. They might support jailing the woman until she gives up the name of the provider--that's just civil contempt, y'know.

has | April 9, 2006 04:57 PM

> The first time someone tried that here in the US (to a rich white girl, he said, oh-so-cynically)

A little naïve of you, John? Here, let me show you how 'cynical' is really done...

As with El Salvador, the rich and well-connected will grease palms and continue to do as they damn well please. I mean, what's the point of privilege if you're not willing to exploit it whenever it suits? (e.g. Current case in point: http://www.azdailysun.com/articles/2006/04/03/news/local/20060403_local_news_7.txt )

It's the 'little people' who'll provide the moral guardians their personal entertainment, and a nice safe whipping boy (girl?) for everybody else to look down on while silently pretending it could never happen to them.


> that would be the end of the anti-abortion movement as a recognizable political force.

And there's the reeking hypocrisy of many anti-abortion types laid bare: they haven't even got the testicular fortitude to genuinely stand of for what they [claim to] believe in. At what point did taking personal responsibility for one's own actions suddenly become passé?

Y'know I could genuinely respect someone who can hold a deeply considered and internally consistent anti-abortion stance that openly accepts it will at times have certain unhappy consequences. I have some sympathy for this position, even though the hardened pragmatist in me prevents me from agreeing with it myself. But from what I follow of the debate, so many just come across as witless assclowns whose cognitive dissonance rings like the Liberty Bell with a jackhammer to it. Such a collusion of moral hypocrites and cowards... they do more damage to their own arguments than anyone else.

CoolBlue | April 9, 2006 05:00 PM

Actually, the whole issue could have been settled years ago with Congress just making a law that abortions are legal. I've never understood the logic of relying on Roe v Wade which is on shaky ground at best.

They could still do it today. OK maybe not today, but they could do it tomorrow. Oh, tomorrow's a travel day.

Certainly any Tuesday through Thursday.

Regardless, the South Dakota law will probably be struck down, which will be unfortunate.

LizT | April 9, 2006 05:19 PM

I read that NYT El Salvador piece last night, and DC's story woven through it was just devastating. The complete invasiveness, interviewing everyone she worked with - how she could have died trying to hide her resulting injuries... the underground network to help these women and how they just can't get to everyone who needs the help.

It reminded me of Jane. I was born in 1974, I never heard of Jane before Bush was elected to office. I'd never really understood what the world would be like without the right to have an abortion - but reading about Jane, and books my friends have handed me of individual stories has brought it all home.

So, back to more letter-writing to power, with copies of that article enclosed.

David Klecha | April 9, 2006 06:03 PM

ID, for my money, still works as a sort of philosophical bridge. I really truly believe that God created everything, but just as strongly, I trust in the scientific conclusions about the age of the Earth, and speciation, and whatnot.

But I'm more than happy to see ID, creationism in sheep's clothing, die an unlamented death as a "scientific hypothesis" and political tool.

Smurf | April 9, 2006 08:14 PM

If elected, I'll send no army to Asia... unless we are there to take every last drop of their oil. The only justification for our being there should be 25 cent gas. I'd fill the effing Grand Canyon with stolen oil.

Greg | April 9, 2006 08:49 PM

On your abortion comments

Just to let you know where I am coming from: I am not a right-to-lifer, and I am more or less sympathetic to the arugment that some form of legalized abortion is a necessary evil.

At the same time, I can't understand why the left treats abortion like it is some noble crusade. We all know the details--so I won't go there--but abortion is a pretty gruesome procedure that kills something--even if we agree that there "humanhood" has to be measured on a sliding scale of some sort.

At the end of the day, people will do all sorts of nasty things, and we can't (nor should we) make them all illegal. But keep in mind what you are getting high and mighty about when you turn legalized abortion into a moral crusade.

Consider that in China, South Korea, and India, sex selection abortions have been used to eliminate literally millions of women from the population. On a worldwide scale, no single medical procedure has hurt women's rights more--if we define "the right to exist" as the most basic right of all.

Should abortion be illegal? Probably so. But it is still a pretty bad thing, and those who participate in it have little to celebrate.

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 08:58 PM

Greg:

"But keep in mind what you are getting high and mighty about when you turn legalized abortion into a moral crusade."

Leaving aside the irony of accusing of the Left of making abortion a moral crusade when the Right rather explicitly uses moral crusade rhetoric to make their points -- or assuming that forensic vaginal investigators or thrity years in prison for an abortion is any less of an abomination than an abortion might be, my moral crusade is the right for a woman not to have the government tramping up her goddamn birth canal -- which may or may not involve an abortion, but certainly does involve her body. And as a matter of fact, I couldn't possibly give two shits whether anyone thinks it's high or mighty.

Kevin Q | April 9, 2006 09:25 PM

Greg, sex-selection abortions have been used in those countries to eliminate literally millions of future, potential women from the population. The problem here is not the procedure (abortion), it's the attitude toward women. If abortions were outlawed in those countries, people in those countries would simply abandon or expose unwanted children, post-natal. Abortion's not the problem.

K

Dane | April 9, 2006 09:56 PM

What I find most silly about Intelligent Design is that Intelligence is defined as "able to vary its state or action in response to varying situations, varying requirements, and past experience" and Design, being myself a designer can tell you, is a process of trial and error leading to an eventual product that is in turn improved upon as the purpose changes.

Putting the two together says very little toward evidence of deity and planning before genesis. The very fact that religion is able to adapt to the pressures and demands of a new environment should serve as a model for how evolution functions on the organizational level. But then, it is all just part of the grand scheme of things, isn't it?

What irritates me most is calling the theory of evolution a "belief". I have been asked if I "believe" in evolution...to which I explain that I believe in evolution like I believe that when I wake up tomorrow it will be the day after today, that gravity is what holds my feet to the ground, that momentum is what makes wearing seatblets a good idea, that the little blurbs of light in the sky at night are actually stars and stars are suns in solar systems far far away, and that if I rip your beautifully organic mammalian heart from your chest the blood in your arteries will stop spurting from the wound the same second I show it to you.

That usually gets me crossed of their seasonal Festivus Card list for good. I have always hated those cards.

mythago | April 9, 2006 10:00 PM

Greg, I find it hard to refer to the removal of an ecotopic pregnancy--which has a 100% fatality rate for both mother and fetus--as a "gruesome procedure that kills something" and which should "probably" be illegal.

Apparently, you think it's dandy that women in El Salvador who have ectopic pregnancies have to wait in the hospital until they rupture, prompting emergency surgery, or until a compassionate doctor pronounces the fetus dead enough to remove.

Greg | April 9, 2006 10:13 PM

Mythago writes:

"Apparently, you think it's dandy that women in El Salvador who have ectopic pregnancies have to wait in the hospital until they rupture, prompting emergency surgery, or until a compassionate doctor pronounces the fetus dead enough to remove."

Funny---I don't remember saying anything like that. I mentioned the way in which the left has turned abortion into noble crusade--which it is not, even if it *is* a necessary evil.

You are using an exceptional case to define the rule. We both know that comparing abortions involving ecotopic pregnancies and healthy fetuses is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.

Greg | April 9, 2006 10:31 PM

Kevin Q. writes:
"The problem here is not the procedure (abortion), it's the attitude toward women."

I think that the problem is both. In China, for example, there is a problem with the attitude toward women. However, abortion is not just a "procedure" like a tonsillectomy--it makes a clear statement about a society's attitude toward life.

Although Mythago will doubtlessly argue that most abortions involve ecotopic pregnancies in which a 14-year-old girl has been forcibly impregnated by her father, the fact is that most abortions are simply done for convenience.

The CHinese government has made abortion too casual and convenient with its population control policies since the late 1970s. This, combined with backward traditional attitudes about women, has created the tragic situation you now see in China.

Diatryma | April 10, 2006 12:09 AM

Let us say for a moment that some abortions are morally good and some are morally bad. That there is a boundary there, and that someone with sufficient familiarity with the individual case could pronounce it good or bad and an abortion would be performed accordingly. What person has sufficient familiarity with a pregnant woman, her family, her financial situation, ease of daycare, physical and psychological health, and every other variable that will affect the raise/adopt/abort decision?

The woman herself. I don't think that all abortions are performed for reasons I agree with-- but I don't think everyone who has kids should have kids, either. I am not qualified to say, "You raise that kid, you have it but give it away, you-- no, whether you want it or not you're getting your tubes tied." I don't think anyone is qualified to evaluate every single case except every single woman.
Sometimes, it is right to abort a cusp-of-viable desperately-wanted pregnancy. I am not going to tell that woman what she should do or should have done because I cannot know everything about the situation.

Yes, it's icky. So are a lot of things. So is dying because a stitch slipped or because your twins were premature. Any medical procedure has its risks. It's another reason I am not going to tell anyone to have or not have an abortion or a baby.

It's not about the procedure. It's about you not being able to tell me what to do with my body, and me not being able to tell you what to do with yours.


On a slightly different note, sex-selective abortion is pretty much a women's-rights thing. When daughters are a drain on the family, it makes economic sense to have more sons. Forbidding abortions and 'stillbirths', while effective in the short term, isn't going to make the problem go away.
I have also heard bits about Romania, where I believe women were monitored to make sure they became pregnant, but I haven't been able to track down much beyond allusions in bioethics articles. Anyone know more?

Soni | April 10, 2006 01:47 AM

IMHO, anyone who would opt to go through the financial drain (for many women it can be several weeks, if not month's, pay depending on office fees, transpo costs, lost work and meds) plus the physical, psychological, religious and cultural pain in order to kill her fetus rather than give birth to it is making a rather clear statement that she is not the sort of person (at least, not at that point in time) who should be carrying and delivering a baby.

Even more so when you consider recent medical studies showing that emotional states of the mother, such as depression, can affect fetal development and the long-term health of the child. Beyond that, those who have been in the position can bear witness to the unmitigated joy of being raised by someone who resents their very existence.

Ipso facto, barring incompetence through mental illness or defect (which is a whole 'nother barrel of monkeys), a clear and purposeful desire and intent to procur an abortion is commonsensically equivilent to unfitness to continue the pregnancy. In short, no one who is willing to kill a fetus should be allowed to continue carrying it, for both their sakes.

FYI, this is coming from someone who has had to make that decision, and who has been there as a friend for several others at the same crossroads. I've also seen the results, first-hand in many cases, of unwilling motherhood on both the mother and the kid, and it ain't pretty. So I'm not just talking out of my ass here, and I feel that most if not all abortion procurees would at least partially, if not wholeheartedly, agree with me.

Tyler | April 10, 2006 01:49 AM

The Romanian situation was sort of similar to current El Salvador. Kinda. They had the inspectors at least. The whole idea was that Ceausecscu thought that Romania needed a larger population so that it could become a major international power. This worked out about as well as his other ideas. I can't find the reference right now (probably because I'm being lazy), but women who'd had obscene numbers of kids (say, 20), were held up as national icons. I think Crampton has some stuff about it in "Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century."

I got to take an Eastern European history course in Budapest, and we talked about this, but it's been a few years now.

mythago | April 10, 2006 01:57 AM

The Chinese government is anything but casual about enforcing its plans for how and when its people can have children.

You are using an exceptional case to define the rule.

Actually, Greg, what I did was to show that you hadn't bothered to read the article to which John linked.

You kind of tipped your hand, though with the "I don't know a thing about pregnancy or childbirth" sneer about conveeeenience. You're not really upset that The Left has tried to pretty up abortion; you're mad at all those awful women who have abortions. Why not come clean?

Brian Greenberg | April 10, 2006 02:09 AM

Wow, ID and abortion in one post. Are you testing the volume capacity of MoveableType, John?

It's quite clear to me that the opportunity for rational debate on the subject of abortion has long since vanished. I, personally, fall into the "it's her body, and she should be able to do whatever she wants with it" camp. That being said, I don't equate abortion to murder. I understand that there are similarities, but I don't consider them the same thing. I can see, though, that if someone did equate them, that my "it's her body" argument would be roughly equivalent to "it's her gun, she can do whatever she wants with it." So, I simply agree to disagree with these folks. But that's just me.

More interesting question: if Roe v. Wade were overturned, how would the nation react? I wonder if the pro-choice people could raise enough money to get women from "pro-life" states into "pro-choice" states, where they could safely & legally have their abortions. It'd be a tricky business, complete with all the parental notification and jurisdictional issues that come with it, but I'd think it would be more important than raising lobbyist money in the various state capitals to get the law changed...

Rachel | April 10, 2006 04:38 AM

Brian,

So, I simply agree to disagree with these folks.

I'm with you here, from a philosophical perspective. But from a practical perspective, as someone who's carrying around a womb which might someday get filled despite all precautions, the concept of forced pregnancy is personally terrifying and a very real possible outcome of refined gentlemanly disagreement. So while I hear your cry for rational debate on the subject, I don't think it's a simple thing to rationally disagree on, at least for people who are female-bodied and fertile (or, in contrast, for those who really think that abortion is murder).

I personally have a lot of sympathy for those who really think abortion is murder. It must be awful to witness a holocaust you can't do anything about. But I often don't feel like the bulk of pro-life people really do feel abortion is murder, because there are a few positions they hold which are contrary to this, such as:

1) an emphasis on abstinence-only education, which promotes ignorance about ways to prevent conception and thus possible abortions, and

2) allowing women to abort the children of rape and incest. I hate the very concept of women being forced to carry these children, but if I really believed abortion was murder, I would find it reprehensible to support a position that allows certain babies to be killed because of their parentage.

--

And on a different subject, the fish/amphibian thing is so cool! I love the triangular heads that were in fashion those days. I say we should bring them back. Them and diatrymas.

Diatryma | April 10, 2006 08:22 AM

Whoohoo Rachel!

Liviu Suciu | April 10, 2006 09:47 AM

I lived in Romania from birth in 1969 until I could come to the US in 1990, and my parents were both physicians, my father being a obgyn, so I witnessed first hand what a drive to ban abortions at all costs led to. It was very ugly and the NYT article cited here about El Salvador is just cheery compared. I do not want to enter into details since the subject is still too emotional for me (among other things my father had a severe nervous breakdown and died young at 40 due to among other things the pressure of seing many of his colleagues even rich and connected ones go to jail, being investigated by police all the time - all obgyn's were, and so on) and having and enjoying a 4 yr old son I understand that abortion is at best a necessary evil, but we (the people of the world, usa..) are letting the genocide in Sudan going on, milions of people die of starving and so on, so being fanatical about abortions is stupid (brainwashing), hypocritical or just a cynical way to get money. I am as conservative as it gets on fiscal matters and on the virtues of free markets as opposed to any form of socialism, but also I am a strong believer in individual rights, privacy, and the right to tell the government to take a hike about what happens in your house. I found it a bitter irony that in 2004 I had to choose between someone who consorted with people that helped a communist regime win a war and kill and imprison millions of its citizens, and an incompetent who is likable and has some good ideas, but runs a pretty incompetent administration.

Liviu

John H | April 10, 2006 10:27 AM

The problem with the anti-abortion crowd is they don't want to solve the issues underlying abortion, just like they really don't give a shit about the quality of life after the child is born.

For many of them the fight is more about imposing their morality than the sanctity of life. They rail against abortion, RU-486 and Plan B while trying to prevent access to sex education and effective contraception.

They also tend to be the most ardent supporters of the death penalty.

The best way to prevent abortion is to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Kevin Q | April 10, 2006 10:58 AM

I agree with John H. If the anti-abortion crowd was actually interested in stopping abortions, they would take action to make alternatives to abortion more attractive. They could:
* Make both ends of adoption easier, so that there's an alternative to being forced to raise an unwanted child.
* Make birth control and contraceptives easier to get and cheaper, so that unwanted pregnancies are less common
* Make welfare and healthcare cheaper and easier to get for pregnant women and infants, so that it's easier to choose to keep the child.

There are many reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, and it's impossible to address them all. But if we value life, we need to help make that life worth living.

K

Andrew Wade | April 10, 2006 11:41 AM

Greg,

I don't speak for the left, but I can tell you why I treat (access to safe, legal) abortion as a noble crusade. There are basically two reasons:

(1) The rights of women to control their own bodies and lives. These rights of course cannot be absolute; for instance, they occasionally conflict with other rights. But they are still pretty damn important.

(2) "Think of the Children". Really. I'm skeptical that unwilling motherhood is necessarily bad for the kid, but having every child be a wanted child born when convenient rather improves the chances that children will be well taken care of. "Convenient" is not at all the same thing as trivial, and in a country where so many people are living in poverty, timing matters. A lot. And even if it weren't for poverty, there are plenty of other reasons a couple (if there is one) might not be in the best position to raise a child at any point in time.

And yes, a few abortions kill a fetus well on the way to personhood. And that troubles me. But the majority of abortions are of fetuses that have not yet begun to think, and that their ends are gruesome troubles me not at all. It is the evil of killing thinking beings that troubles me about abortion--and that evil has been much exaggerated.

The cause of legalized abortion is just and important, and I don't much care whether it is noble and clean as well.

Dave | April 10, 2006 12:44 PM

Make both ends of adoption easier, so that there's an alternative to being forced to raise an unwanted child.

Speaking as an adoptive parent, there's just not much room to improve matters. I suppose fees could be lowered or subsidized, but other than that the actual process has been pretty well streamlined, on both ends. Considering that there's already a serious oversupply of parents desiring to adopt newborns, I don't see this winning you much.

Make birth control and contraceptives easier to get and cheaper, so that unwanted pregnancies are less common

It turns out this simply wouldn't work. They've run the figures, and there simply aren't sizeable numbers of American women getting pregnant because condoms are too expensive and hard to find. Unintended pregnancies occur for a lot of reasons, many of them tragic, but informed couples skimping on birth control for cost reasons simply isn't on the radar.

Make welfare and healthcare cheaper and easier to get for pregnant women and infants, so that it's easier to choose to keep the child.

We tried this, and got horrible welfare dependency issues that damn near destroyed both the African-American family and most large American cities. No thanks.

Jon Marcus | April 10, 2006 01:37 PM

Dave, re contraceptives it seems like you're setting up a straw man. Maybe there aren't many informed couples who choose to skimp on condoms because of cost. (Though I'd like to see that research. Got a link or a cite?)

But your statement elides a couple of questions. "Informed couples" wouldn't be those who've only gotten "abstinence only" sex ed. And there's a sizeable intersection between those who promote "Just Say No" sex ed and the anti-abortion movement.

And what about emergency contraception? Seems like allowing Plan B-type pills would reduce the number of abortions, but such drugs aren't readily available because of subtle and not-so-subtle attacks from people who fit into the above categories.

Bobarino | April 10, 2006 01:52 PM

Make birth control and contraceptives easier to get and cheaper, so that unwanted pregnancies are less common

It turns out this simply wouldn't work. They've run the figures, and there simply aren't sizeable numbers of American women getting pregnant because condoms are too expensive and hard to find. Unintended pregnancies occur for a lot of reasons, many of them tragic, but informed couples skimping on birth control for cost reasons simply isn't on the radar.

Who is "they" (as in "They've run the figures..."), exactly?

Before Adam Carolla left the show, I used to listen to Lovelines. Every night you could count on two or three or a dozen callers who weren't using birth control, didn't know about the morning-after pill, etc. It may be cost, it may be ignorance, it may be not wanting to get the evil eye or a lecture from the pharmacist, or whatever, but there are lots of kids out there who aren't using birth control of any kind.

Compare our abortion rates to those of European countries where sexually active teens are treated as adults and contraceptives are readily available.

Midwestern Progressive | April 10, 2006 02:25 PM

What is all this crap about “noble crusades” and “necessary evils?” (And believe me, it is crap.)

Here’s a notion for people to consider: How about letting health care decisions, yes, even women’s reproductive health care decisions (and men's reproductive health care decisions, for that matter), be made by patients and doctors?

In other words, regardless of which side you’re on (noble crusade or necessary (or unnecessary) evil), but out of these important but personal medical decisions of other people.

Dave | April 10, 2006 02:41 PM

Jon and Bobarino,

I spoke to the issue of cost of birth control rather than ignorance, because that was what the commenter I was responding to suggested. (The gains from birth control education are larger than the gains from lowering the cost of birth control, but still aren't very impressive.) Here's a cite for birth-control availability: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/ib22.html . Room for substantial improvement leading to an actual decrease in abortions is very small. When per-act costs of condoms are in the $.50 range, or less at publicly funded clinics, I'm not sure why this surprises anyone.

The commenter I was responding to holds the common-but-mistaken belief that there were simple, humane, and commonsense things that could be done to substantially decrease the abortion rate in America (and thus that anti-abortion activists were hypocritical for not doing those things first). There aren't. Abortion in America is primarily concentrated in urban and suburban areas that are already awash in birth control access and education, and certainly don't have abstinence-only sex ed. To put this in crude culture war terms, abortion and unintended pregnancy rates in blue states are much higher than those rates in red states. There's a lot deeper cultural forces at work here than can be fixed by band-aid solutions.

(If it matters to anyone, I'm firmly and fervently pro-choice. I just hate seeing good positions supported by bad arguments.)

Diatryma | April 10, 2006 02:41 PM

I think that adoption could use work. Individual experiences vary widely depending on a number of different factors. The blog Peter's Cross Station had a recent entry which explains this far better than I could, but includes perceived differences in baby quality, adoption facilitators, and what the women involved require of adoption.

The issues with keeping the child are more easily seen. Most high schools have programs for young expectant mothers... which usually do not include how to go to college with a baby. I don't think we're risking a welfare explosion if we make it possible for everyone to afford daycare so, if they so choose, they can work or work and do something else. In the case of El Salvador, I think there was a mention of how most of the women seeking abortions were lower class, often housekeepers or women who did not work outside the home. I may be mixing that up with Romania, though.

It does come down to personal freedom in the end. I can't tell you to have an abortion. You can't tell me to have a baby.

Diatryma | April 10, 2006 02:46 PM

I also think that birth control and sex education really needs to be improved. Saying that an area is suburban or upper middle class means little if there's no mention of birth control in health class and students are taught that condoms can't prevent AIDS. With diagrams. Some of that is religiously driven, or at least driven by those who use religion as a flag and a label-- the cervical cancer vaccine, for example-- and some is simply fear of wrathful parents.

Patrick Vera | April 10, 2006 03:26 PM

I think the best way to satisfy both the pro-choice and anti-abortion crowds is to perfect a Lois McMaster Bujold style uterine replicator and perfect surgical techniques to transfer the fetus from the mother to the replicator.

Dave | April 10, 2006 03:30 PM

I also think that birth control and sex education really needs to be improved. Saying that an area is suburban or upper middle class means little if there's no mention of birth control in health class and students are taught that condoms can't prevent AIDS. With diagrams. Some of that is religiously driven, or at least driven by those who use religion as a flag and a label-- the cervical cancer vaccine, for example-- and some is simply fear of wrathful parents.

I strongly agree with all of this, but none of it is likely to prevent more than a small fraction of abortions. What percentage of your peers paid attention in high-school health? What percentage of at-risk teens actually pay attention?

People drastically overestimate the effectiveness of public education campaigns to enact social change. In practice, public education campaigns simply don't do all that much, for good or ill. But they are cheap and usually don't raise much public ire, and thus perfectly designed for politicians who want to be seen as Doing Something About The Problem, even when there's really not all that much to be done.

Patrick Vera | April 10, 2006 04:00 PM

With regards to the fishapod and ID, I believe that all God did was set the stage and define the rules and laws of the universe and set to work with whatever cropped up.

If mammals never became dominant and we instead evolved from velociraptors there would still be folks who would espouse the belief that we were made in God's image and the image of Satan in Eden would be a small furry mammal.

Rachel | April 10, 2006 04:50 PM

We tried this, and got horrible welfare dependency issues that damn near destroyed both the African-American family and most large American cities. No thanks.

First off, when has America ever had welfare approaching the levels of safety nets available in other "first world" countries?

And how are you tracing this - exactly and with statistics - to a so-called destruction of the African-American family? Are you suggesting that welfare causes divorce, not poverty? And why exactly are you targeting African Americans? Is it because a majority of them happen to be poor? Then why didn't you say so? Or are you drawing on a stereotype of African Americans as socially ill and lazy? Cuz that's what I'm hearing.

Bob Smietana | April 10, 2006 05:02 PM

Amy Sullivan has an interesting piece on finding solutions to the question of abortion in the latest issue of Sojourners magazine, (which is run by Jim "God's Politics" Wallis), trying to find some common ground between pro-life and pro-choice camps by getting both groups to work together on reducing the number of abortions.

Last I looked, around one out of every five pregancies in the US is aborted each year. If abortion were a disease that caused the death of one in five developing babies, it'd be considered a public health catastrophe. This is a problem that needs solutions. Clinton used to say that abortion ought to be safe, legal and rare. Most pro-life people, I would hazard, would prefer that to safe, legal, and epidemic. But getting to Clinton's ideal will take some pro-life people and pro-choice people setting aside the rhetoric and working together


Andrew Wade | April 10, 2006 05:03 PM

People drastically overestimate the effectiveness of public education campaigns to enact social change. In practice, public education campaigns simply don't do all that much, for good or ill.

Drunk driving's gone down significantly. And it's no longer socially acceptable (at least if slashdot is any barometer). They may be holding steady now, but smoking rates are much lower than they were at the middle of the last century. Condom use is much more prevelant among gay men than it used to be. These results are not proof, but they do suggest that public education campaigns can do a fair bit, given lots of time.

Rachel | April 10, 2006 05:23 PM

This is a problem that needs solutions

It's only a problem if you accept that first and second trimester fetuses are persons. I reject that assertion. Ergo, the only problem I see with abortion is the medical difficulty inherent in any surgical procedure.

Dave | April 10, 2006 06:40 PM

Drunk driving's gone down significantly.

Unsurprising, since penalties for it went up drastically.

They may be holding steady now, but smoking rates are much lower than they were at the middle of the last century.

Again, unsurprising, considering the enormous increase in tobacco taxes.

Dave | April 10, 2006 06:55 PM

Or are you drawing on a stereotype of African Americans as socially ill and lazy? Cuz that's what I'm hearing.

If that's what you're hearing, than I expect that you hear that a lot, pretty much any time race is brought up in conversation. Otherwise, I have absolutely no idea how you could have made such an amazing leap.

As to the breakdown of the African-American family, I had thought all of this was common knowlege, hashed out ad nauseum during the welfare reform debates in '94. The jaw-dropping headline statistic is that a black child is now less likely to be in a married, two-parent household than they were during the time slavery. Poor white family structures were damaged as well, but not as much; Poor hispanic family structures even less. The best primer on all of this was actually written before it happened _The Negro Family: The Case For National Action_, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. If you're open-minded enough to read something from the right, you might try _Losing Ground_, by Charles Murray.

Bobarino | April 10, 2006 07:36 PM

Dave writes: "Here's a cite for birth-control availability: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/ib22.html . Room for substantial improvement leading to an actual decrease in abortions is very small.

Dave, what in the world are you talking about?

Here's an excerpt from the source you cited:

When used consistently and correctly, most birth control methods are extremely effective in preventing pregnancy. Yet, more than three million American couples conceive unintentionally each year, leading to high rates of abortion and unwanted births. Why?

In almost half of these pregnancies--particularly when the woman is unmarried, poor or young--the contraceptive method the couple used simply did not work as it should have, or they used it inconsistently or incorrectly. In the rest, however, the couple used no contraceptive method. Consequently, slightly more than half of all unintended pregnancies occur among the small proportion of women who report that they do not use birth control.

The reasons that a small proportion of couples are not using birth control often relate, in one way or another, to lack of access. Some people may not be able to afford birth control methods on an ongoing basis; 15% of women of childbearing age (15-44) live in poverty, and one in six have no Medicaid or private insurance coverage. Some people may live far from the contraceptive services required to use medical methods.

Others may be embarrassed to buy contraceptives or seek services...

I don't want to get in trouble over fair use, but it goes on (see the section called "The Need for Services").

So: One and a half million unintended pregnancies a year among couples not using birth control, due to lack of access (including cost), embarrassment, etc. Another ~1.5 million due to couples who are using birth control but I don't know how to use it effectively.

I don't know authoritative this article is, but it makes a much better case for my argument than yours.

Bobarino | April 10, 2006 07:39 PM

By the way, if it's not clear from my post above, the four paragraphs after "Here's an excerpt..." come from the source cited. I don't want to quote without credit; I just screwed up the italics.

Kevin Q | April 10, 2006 09:03 PM

Bob Smietana wrote:

Last I looked, around one out of every five pregancies in the US is aborted each year.

In medical terminology, an "abortion" is any instance in which an embryo or non-viable fetus fails to make it to term, and is expelled or removed from the fetus. This includes spontaneous miscarriages. Your "1 in 5" stat is counting every single non-successful pregnancy as "getting an abortion."

It's true, that a great many pregnancies fail to go to term, but the vast majority of them are spontaneous miscarriages.

K

Dave | April 10, 2006 09:50 PM

Bobarino,

So by my read of that article, 50% of abortions occur even though contraception was used, somewhere between 30 and 70% have access to free contraception services (higher in high abortion locales), and the number in poverty is about 16% (and poverty has to be pretty extreme not to be able to afford condoms). More than 40% of women don't even seek medical advice when they become sexually active. Multiply it out, guess at some reasonable correlation coefficients, and that works out to a liberal estimate of 5%-8% of abortions that could even conceivably be avoided by making contraception cheaper (the original assertion), more likely 2-3%. Note that this is a Planned Parenthood study, and the numbers are thus likely biased in favor of the pro-choice, pro-family-planning side.

Making contraception cheaper is certainly worth doing. It equally certainly won't make a noticable dent in the abortion statistics.

A common failing is to assume that your favorite political problem will solve far more than it could conceivably could. Numeracy is an amazing solvent.

Andrew Wade | April 10, 2006 11:51 PM

Dave,

Drunk driving's gone down significantly.


Unsurprising, since penalties for it went up drastically.


They may be holding steady now, but smoking rates are much lower than they were at the middle of the last century.


Again, unsurprising, considering the enormous increase in tobacco taxes.


And the risk of having unprotected sex skyrocketed in the gay community with AIDS. But these are all areas where, in my admittedly anecdotal experience, societal attitudes have changed. Why do you think "public education campaigns simply don't do all that much"?

So by my read of that article, 50% of abortions occur even though contraception was used, somewhere between 30 and 70% have access to free contraception services (higher in high abortion locales), and the number in poverty is about 16%

Uh, that's 30% to 70% of all women in need, and 16% (15%?) of women of childbearing age. You're assuming the proportions are the same for women who have abortions; that's very unlikely to be the case.

BTW, look at the statistics:

Top seven states with highest poverty rates among "women in need":

New Mexico
Louisiana
Dist. of Columbia
Mississippi
Alabama
California
Texas

Top seven states with highest pregnancy rates among 15-19 year olds:

Dist. Of Columbia
Nevada
California
Arizona
Florida
Texas
New Mexico

Top seven states with highest abortion rates among women 15-44:

Dist. Of Columbia
Nevada
New York
New Jersey
California
Maryland
Florida

Abortion is higher in the blue states, but it would appear that teen pregnancy (and presumably unintended pregnancy) is _not_.

mythago | April 11, 2006 12:23 AM

More interesting question: if Roe v. Wade were overturned, how would the nation react?

That all depends on why it was overturned.

Roe rests on a weighing of the woman's privacy interest in her body vs. the state's interest in protecting fetal life. (Not, as some would like to believe, on the fetus's right to life.) So how the nation reacted, and what the laws are like, depend on the basis for overturning Roe, e.g.:

--Overturning Griswold and Eisenstadt and destroying the right to privacy.

--Holding that the state's interest in fetal life outweighs the mother's privacy interest.

--Finding that human life begins at conception.

Those are just off the top of my head. The Court's legal rationale for overturning Roe sets the tone for what the rest of the country does.

Rachel | April 11, 2006 05:25 AM

If that's what you're hearing, than I expect that you hear that a lot, pretty much any time race is brought up in conversation. Otherwise, I have absolutely no idea how you could have made such an amazing leap.

Accusing African Americans of requiring harsh measures to force them to work (such as refusing to provide them a safety net) has a long history in the United States, beginning with the pro-slavery argument that enslaved Africans were too fundamentally lazy to work on their own and required whites to give them those directions - with a strange corrolary that enslaved Africans were happier when they were working. This sounds like a slightly mutated modern version - that contemporary African Americans are incapable of maintaining positive social conditions when they are given a safety net to ameliorate their poverty, which conservatives may construe as giving them an excuse to stop working.

Racist ideas are surprisingly durable. As times change, arguments change, but stereotypes remain.

I have no doubt that the books you suggested make your argument, probably with statistics. The Bell Curve uses statistics to draw racist conclusions. It isn't a competent work of social science.

It's very easy to confuse correlation and causation in the social sciences, as I'm sure you're aware. I would be skeptical of any claims that a so-called break down in African American families would be caused by welfare, as opposed to the other histories of trauma which have been leveled against the descendents of Africans living within the borders of the United States. Even if the books show a correlation, I would be skeptical that they could prove causation. That said, of course, I haven't read the texts, so both you and the books may be correct. If I have time at some point, I will certainly look for those books. Thank you for the recommendation.

Therese Norén | April 11, 2006 08:48 AM

Dave, I find your condom mantra disturbing, because that's the only contraceptive method that is not controlled by the one who can get pregnant. Condoms are good. Condoms are pretty much the only option for men who want to control their fertility. I applaud condom use. But I, and many other women with me, would never trust condoms exclusively in anything but a very serious relationship.

When I became sexually active, I had an appointment with a midwife at one of the five (I think) reproductive health clinics in the town of 30 000 people where I grew up. The contraceptive consultation was (and is) free. I got a prescription for a year of pills, and the medication cost me less than ten dollars, since I was under 22. (Would I get the same pack now, it'd cost me five times more. The subvention system is different in every county, but most have one.) At the time, I knew from school and from brochures all about my options (except for the very new hormonal IUD). Since I still was living at home and definitely not prepared to get pregnant, we used both condoms and the pill.

I am helping out in reproductive health communities on LiveJournal, and I know my experiences are not what American teenagers face. For one thing, the insistance on monthly prescriptions is very dangerous, since one of the more common ways to get pregnant on the pill is to prolong the placebo week. I know many young women who simply can't afford their hormonal contraceptives. If those women were offered contraceptives at the same reduced price or even the full price I have to pay, many more would use them. The ignorance of basic body functions is also frightening.

I've been trying to find studies of how many Swedish pregnancies are planned, but I haven't seen any. Sorry.

Bob Smietana | April 11, 2006 09:55 AM

Kevin Q

That 1 in 5 stat does not include miscarriages. Perhaps this is clearer--for every 4 live births in the US there is one abortion. That's alot.

Dave | April 11, 2006 09:58 AM

Accusing African Americans of requiring harsh measures to force them to work (such as refusing to provide them a safety net) has a long history in the United States, beginning with the pro-slavery argument that enslaved Africans were too fundamentally lazy to work on their own and required whites to give them those directions - with a strange corrolary that enslaved Africans were happier when they were working. This sounds like a slightly mutated modern version - that contemporary African Americans are incapable of maintaining positive social conditions when they are given a safety net to ameliorate their poverty, which conservatives may construe as giving them an excuse to stop working.

In 1994, when welfare reform passed, African-American illegitimacy rates

Dave | April 11, 2006 10:12 AM

Accusing African Americans of requiring harsh measures to force them to work (such as refusing to provide them a safety net) has a long history in the United States, beginning with the pro-slavery argument that enslaved Africans were too fundamentally lazy to work on their own and required whites to give them those directions - with a strange corrolary that enslaved Africans were happier when they were working. This sounds like a slightly mutated modern version - that contemporary African Americans are incapable of maintaining positive social conditions when they are given a safety net to ameliorate their poverty, which conservatives may construe as giving them an excuse to stop working.

In 1994, when welfare reform passed, African-American illegitimacy rates peaked at 70.8%. That's not alternative family choice, that's slow-motion genocide. In 1963, before the growth of the welfare state (but long after the worst of the 'history of trauma'), it was 22%. I doubt anyone could have come up with a more effective way of damaging the black community in America that didn't involve herding them into camps. Whatever motives you wish to impute to me (on grounds that I'm still trying to figure out) won't change any of that.

I have no doubt that the books you suggested make your argument, probably with statistics. The Bell Curve uses statistics to draw racist conclusions. It isn't a competent work of social science.

Um, you asked for cites and statistics, so I gave them to you. If I had known you were going to use it as just another hook for implying I was racist, I wouldn't have bothered.

Dave | April 11, 2006 10:25 AM

Dave, I find your condom mantra disturbing, because that's the only contraceptive method that is not controlled by the one who can get pregnant.

So replace it with Norplant. Amortized cost of something like $1 per week, with subsidies at least somewhat commonly available, and none of the drawbacks you're describing. It changes almost nothing in my argument.

Again, I'm pretty sure we're in high accord on reproductive social policy. I fully believe that lowering the cost of contraception will help many poor women. I just don't see any reason to believe that lowering the cost of contraception will decrease the abortion rate noticably. There's too many levels of indirection between the supposed cause and the desired effect, and all of them are confounded by factors of social context and basic human cussedness. You might as well wish for the social policy fairy to come and grant us all free dental care and paid perversity leave.

Rachel | April 11, 2006 11:39 AM

*shrug* People can use racist logic without being "racist." It depends on how you define the term.

Please note I never called you personally racist. That doesn't mean I'm going to assume that none of your arguments are tied into racism, since systems of racism are strongly woven into the American way of thinking, and that includes mine. I'm used to operating in an environment where one can discuss racist groundwork behind ideas without necessarily meaning that the individual who utters them is racist in a traditional overt or conscious sense. I should have modulated my tone.

I asked for stats. I didn't say I'd take them at face value. That's what I meant by saying that the Bell Curve uses stats to prove a racist theorum -- the merit of both statistics and their value are dependent on a variety of methodological factors. I didn't mean to say that your books were necessarily the equivalent of the Bell Curve -- just that the existence of the Bell Curve reinforces that one shouldn't necessarily take stats at face value.

I apologize if I've given any personal offense.

I'm going to leave things here, personally, though I'll keep reading if you have any other thoughts. See you in another thread. ;)

Dave | April 11, 2006 12:16 PM

Please note I never called you personally racist.

Weak. Very weak. What's next? "No, really, some of my best friends are crypto-racist sophists!"

Jon Marcus | April 11, 2006 01:31 PM

Dave,

In what way do you think that lowering the cost of contraception will help many poor women" without lowering the rate of abortion?

And Therese has a good point about condoms. Not to mention that they're about the most failure-prone form of contraception. The $1/week amortized cost is disingenuous. Sure a dollar a week is reasonable. But no one has that payment option, least of all poor women. They've got to cough up $300+ upfront.

And just an aside, Guttmacher Institute != Planned Parenthood.

Dave | April 11, 2006 02:13 PM

In what way do you think that lowering the cost of contraception will help many poor women" without lowering the rate of abortion?

You left out a word: "noticably". I have no doubt that there will be some decrease in abortion due to lowering the cost of contraception. Each abortion thus avoided is a blessing for all concerned. The aggregate numbers involved, however, aren't large enough to move the abortion rate by very much at all.

The main way that cheap(er) and more available contraception would improve the lives of poor women is simply by leaving more cash in their pockets and removing some hassle from their lives, always a blessing.

The original post that spawned all of this was a retread of the mantra that cheap and available contraception would be enough to significantly lower the abortion rate, perhaps even to make it "safe, legal, and rare". That's a cheery view, but just flat unsupported by the numbers or logic.

And just an aside, Guttmacher Institute != Planned Parenthood.

Per their web site, they are independent, but enjoy a "special affiliate" status. It seems reasonable to interpret their policy prescriptions with an eye to that fact (even if you agree with them, as I do).

Therese Norén | April 11, 2006 03:13 PM

Way to go, Dave! Build your argument on a medication that's no longer available! (And Jon is right about the high one-time cost.)

And practically free contraception has lowered our teen pregnancy rate to about 20/1000 women (aged 13-19), four of which are completed and sixteen of which are aborted. I can't find statistics for spontaneous abortions. There's no reason to think the US couldn't get the same results, if you made an effort.

Phil | April 12, 2006 12:16 PM

Also look to Romania after the fall of the Soviet Union. They had banned all as well during the communist regime, and still cannot handle the effects..

Phil | April 12, 2006 12:17 PM

Also look to Romania after the fall of the Soviet Union. They had banned all as well during the communist regime, and still cannot handle the effects..

Jon Marcus | May 5, 2006 12:31 PM

Okay, this thread is way stale. But comments aren't locked, and I just saw something regarding this in the news. And John having implemented that extra-spiffy "recently commented on" feature, maybe someone will notice. (Whether anyone will care is a whole different matter.)

From a new Guttamacher study. (From the NYT, by way of Andrew Sullivan)

Money Quote (that's how you know it came from Sully)

"Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally and to have abortions, according to a report released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute." (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3809006.pdf)

Emphasis mine.

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