Thursday, April 19, 2007

What's wrong with the Supreme Court's ruling (or, I Hate Babies) (LLama)

Paca says he's going to relocate since he's been the sole contributor to this blog. I don't want that to happen... even though I really haven't posted at all for about a year, I like the idea of having this spot. It's kind of a home... I may not be here, but I like the idea of here. So, in an effort to stave off Paca's move, I'll try to, you know, actually write something.

I think part of the reason I haven't is because much of what I would write about is political in nature. And I've come to believe, contrary to previously held opinions, that talking about politics ultimately just makes some people uncomfortable and/or agry, and doesn't really accomplish much. So why bother? Instead I try to live in and control my little section of the universe. I can't do anything about the War in Iraq, but I can give a little time and a few baht to some of the poor in my neighborhood.

However, since politics is what gets my juices flowing, I will, in fact, write a bit about it. Namely, today, the Supreme Court's decision to uphold a ban on "partial birth abortions".

One of the more superficial motivations behind this ban is the "heinous" nature of the procedure, in which a fetus is partially removed from the vagina, a hole drilled in it's skull and it's brains sucked out. This is apparently worse than the other common late-term abortion method, in which doctors "dismember" the fetus while still in the womb, and then suck it out.

But what struck me is a couple of quotes from the majority opinion. The law that the justices upheld does not make an exception for the "health" of the mother. From the NY Times: "Justice Kennedy, in addressing the need for the health exception, said on Wednesday that it was acceptable for Congress not to include one because there was 'medical uncertainty' over whether the banned procedure was ever necessary for the sake of a woman’s health. He said that pregnant women or their doctors could assert an individual need for a health exception by going to court to challenge the law as it applied to them."

So, this means that anytime a doctor believes that this type of procedure is necessary in order to preserve the woman's health, they must first go to court to win permission. Does this seem at all practical or efficient? Does it make any sense at all for the courts to be involved in medical decisions? Isn't this basically the courts saying to doctors "we don't trust you to make the correct medical decisions in cases like this, so you have to run everything by us first."?

But apart from the medical inefficiency introduced by of this ruling, I am primarily opposed to it because it is an example of the government instituting a level of control over individuals to which I believe it has no right.

I've recently experienced a shift of attitude toward government... I've become a bit more libertarian, to put a label on it. Partly it's because of experience here in Thailand... during the fall of the Thaksin government... which started about 2 years ago and continued till the coup, there was effectively no national government. You know what? Society moved along just fine. Life on the streets was completely unchanged. I've also been reading some political books by Chomsky. He paints government, even a democratic one, not as a benevolent protector of it's citizens, but as a power structure designed exclusively to benefit the ruling class and subjugate people. I won't go into all here, but, from that point of view, Justice Kennedy's statement here is disturbing:

“It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form.”

Kennedy is saying, basically, that he knows best. That, regardless of what a mother may think she thinks, if she were as wise and compassionate as Kennedy, she would realize that she really doesn't want to have the procedure. So Kennedy is looking out for her imagined future emotional well being. But if her real present physical well being is actually in jeopardy she must first go to court to win permission.

This is not about anything other than weakening, and eventually overturning, a woman's right to an abortion due to Kennedy's, Scalia's, Alito's, Robert's and Thomas' political disagreement with previous court decisions. They think that human life begins before birth, that therefor abortion is murder, and therefor we as a society should protect it. Scalia and Thomas all but say so in a separately filed statement. That is the real reason for this ruling, regardless of Kennedy's attempt to cloth it in typical liberal government-will-take-care-of-you sentiment. They, and all who support anti-abortion laws, are looking to control what a woman does with her own body.

"Her body, her choice." A cliche? Yes, but since her choice does not negatively impact me, you, Scalia, or society at all, the government has no authority to pass laws limiting it's practice. You can make the argument that her choice impacts the fetus, and that therefor it should be protected. But that fetus is not part of society. It doesn't pay taxes, vote, consume resources, or contribute in anyway. It is totally removed from society. If you were to remove it from the mother's womb, it would die without intense medical care It is totally dependent upon the mother. She in reality has total control over the life of that baby. Any legislation that is passed is just an attempt to assert an artificial right of others.

I don't know when life begins. There probably isn't a single point. What defines human life anyway? Consciousness? What is consciousness? Do you remember anything from your childhood before you were, say, 3 or 4 years old? Does that mean you weren't conscious during that time? I do know that if we all followed the Catholic example, out-lawing all abortion and forbidding contraceptives, we'd have millions more unwed mothers (another bane of the far right), teen mothers, and an exploding population that would exacerbate all of the resource problems we are already experiencing (fuel consumption, water pollution/depletion, famine, poverty, crime,species extinction...).

For centuries, life has begun at birth. Just because we can look at every fetus and see the life it has the potential to lead, doesn't mean it is in our rights, or even our best interest, to see that potential realized.



bunnygirl said...

Actually, the biggest issue I have with the ruling is that the procedure in question isn't one that's available on demand. It's strictly a life-saving, last-ditch medical procedure.

In fact, is there any place in the United States where a woman can get a late-term abortion "just because?" Roe v Wade encourages the restriction of late term abortions to life-saving situations only, and I'm pretty sure that there is no place where third trimester abortions are legal in any but emergency medical circumstances.

The D&X is used in cases where the fetus is already dead, has such horrible defects that it won't survive birth, or where the mother's life is clearly in danger. Choosing this route is a gut-wrenching decision for all parties concerned.

Women don't wait until the eight month of pregnancy, when the fetus is capable of living outside the womb, and then go, "Oops, changed my mind! Let's kill my viable child!" It's an insult to women and to the entire medical establishment to imply that this extremely rare procedure is used in any but the most dire of medical circumstances.

Makes me glad I'm over 40. Menopause can't come soon enough to suit me.

Mamaebeth said...

i am one of those people who gets uncomfortable when politics comes up... however, i like reading your posts as long as i am not expected to comment.

but i do want to add that according to the catechism of the catholic church abortion is permissable to preserve the mother's health and you do not have to clear it with your priest first.

Killer Llama said...


I am not Catholic, so I am far from expert on Catholic teachings. But it sounds as if your diocese (is that the right word?) might be slightly more liberal than official church doctrine...

From the Catechism:

"2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."


Thinking that perhaps the actual practice of the Church might be different than the official Catechism, I also looked on Wikipedia. Unfortunately I found this:

"The Roman Catholic Church today firmly holds that "the first right of the human person is his life" and that life is assumed to begin at fertilization. The equality of all human life is fundamental and complete, any discrimination is evil. Therefore, even when a woman's life appears jeopardized, choosing her life over her child's is no less discrimination between two lives - and therefore morally unacceptable. However, the Roman Catholic Church does make a clear distinction between direct abortion and indirect abortion. Direct abortion as a means or an end is always viewed as a moral evil. Indirect abortion occurs when treatment used to save the life of the mother has the secondary side effect of killing the unborn child. An example of indirect abortion is seen in cases of ectopic pregnancy where the fallopian tube would be removed with the unborn intact, saving the life of the woman, but resulting in the indirect death of the unborn. The Roman Catholic Church only recognizes very rare cases where indirect abortion is permissible and views the vast majority abortive procedures to be the result of procuring a direct abortion."


pacatrue said...

One thing I have learned from this post and the comments is how little I know about abortion procedures and their law.

I pretty much agree with all you said, llama, except I'd personally try to avoid saying it isn't clear when life begins, even though you are absolutely right that it isn't. Or more specifically, it isn't clear when moral, human life begins. It's just that most of the definitions one can come up with that would exclude fetuses can apply to infants and adults with medical issues. A lot of different mental states. Instead my thinking lately has been tro grant full moral status to the baby inside, but continue to take the rights of the mother very seriously. Even if the mother has Albert Einstein doing relativity theory inside of her, what moral and legal obligations does she have towards continuing to support him with her body?

I do find it interesting in the Church doctrine that you quote, llama, that they explicitly do not want to discriminate one life over another. And then they appear to go straight ahead and discriminate in favor of the child.

Mamaebeth said...

my diocese is not that liberal... my parish, a little bit.

but, one thing i like to keep in mind is that the catholic church has and promotes a certain moral standard. if you are following that moral standard than the likelihood of being in a situation where an abortion would happend for a reason other than saving the life of the mom is limited. and if you aren't following that moral standard than your probably don't care what the catholic church says anyway.

but really it comes down to semantics. i read, "Indirect abortion occurs when treatment used to save the life of the mother has the secondary side effect of killing the unborn child" as the key point.