Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ruminations about Abortion

1. Bodily ownership and autonomy arguments favorable to abortion usually rely on portraying abortion as a morally neutral practice like getting a haircut. It is not a question of "taking charge" of one's life entirely.

2. Secondly, it is harder to justify abortion the more developed the fetus is. Third-term abortions are abhorrent to me, though in extreme cases probably necessary. Behind this intuition,  there is a type of sorites paradox occurring about exactly when gametes become a human being. 

3. Anti-abortion arguments imply a conception of the state that legislates what can happen between a doctor and a patient. I am nervous about that implication. In addition, anti-abortion arguments usually focus so much on the intrinsic value of the fetus, they ignore, or oversimplify the contextual significance of the mother and the subsequent intrapersonal relations that get called into question by the act. 

In this post, I want to pay attention to 3. It should be clear that I have not offered any systematic arguments for 1 and 2. I am simply informing the reader what suspicions I have at large. 

When a woman goes to an abortion clinic, it is usually indicative of more than simply her impending act. I am going to leave that alone. Instead, I want to think about what implication her impending act has at the cultural level. When a young woman goes to an abortion clinic and we ONLY focus on the permissibility or impermissibility why are we not addressing the cultural influences of such an act? What about this culture gives rise to abortion? This is the philosophical question pressing my soul. What type of woman get abortions? If it is as I suspect women of a lower economic status, then why are we not fighting poverty? In the year 2000, only 27% of  abortion patients were poor, but in 2008, they were 42%. That number more than likely increased in this recession.

The Guttmacher Institute's report is a good place to start. Notice the high amount of co-habitation, or single-mothers already with children. Notice that women in a marriage are far less likely to get an abortion. Now, I am not advocating being a moral prude. I'm far from that. I simply want to urge that the debate about abortion move beyond the permissibility of the act itself. This happens to follow from what I call a metaphysics of convergent vulnerability.

An abortion is an event. For an event to occur, it must be the convergence of many things coming together. This is also true for every human behavior. A human being exercises some relative freedom in their life, but that relative freedom takes place with many co-operating factors converging upon an event such that a field of intrapersonal relations subsist in order to make such an event happen. At the abortion clinic, the doctor had to have went to medical school where the abortion procedure was taught. Such a procedure can only be taught if there is continual transmission of medical science in general. Members of the profession had to develop suggestions for medical engineers to build tools. The medical profession not only had to teach the use and application of its science and its tools to students, but the profession had to develop ways for future doctors to practice their skills. The doctor had to locate his services in a building, and someone had to have a building to either sell or rent to the doctor. Many of these relations recede into the past, but some must be continually renewed in order to sustain the present flowing into the indeterminate future. Finally, some intrapersonal relations persist but are not proximate to the situation at hand. The doctor's office is like any building location such that the police must be committed to defending its public safety like everyone else. However, the police's commitment to enforcing public safety has no proximate relation to a woman pacing back and forth outside the abortion clinic.

What we should be asking is whether or not there are key sociological factors that motivate the likelihood of a woman getting an abortion. If there are iniquities that give rise to the likelihood of the act, then society can take steps to protect women from being exposed to environments that foster women seeking out abortions as solutions. Of course, this rumination depends on linking economic iniquity of the environment and those that dwell within those environments. I, like Aristotle, think that ethics cannot be divorced from the political realities that enforce and reinforce the environments in which people realize their lives. The fact that we can change the environment such that others may flourish is one key premise of mine. I'll be fully honest about that.

Relative freedom over one's life is the range of thing's we can control immediately. However, it is not an absolute freedom divorced from the field of intrapersonal relations that constitute all moral possibility. In this way, I suggest that philosophers try to identify those assumptions behind what possible reasons a woman might want to receive an abortion. Several suggestions come to mind:

1. The cultural understanding of a relationship is skewed. Men still make more than women, and women do not fare as well as men financially. Men can act more freely than women, and it is often the hallmark of some feminists to achieve an ontological equivalency with men. In intimate relationships, this might mean thinking that abortion is a technological equivalent to thinking that women like men can sleep with whomever they want without moral consequence (which is false for either men or women). Indeed, abortion can be used this way. However, the dynamics of our current age do not consider how nurturing relationships should be. Let me explain.

Allain De Botton wrote a piece on love and talked about it on NPR a long time ago. In that piece, he rightly identified that Hollywood movies only portray the difficulties of getting together. Every romantic comedy your wife or girlfriend has every shown you has been about resolving the difficulties of getting in love. No one stops to think about the everyday work it means to make a marriage work. Such nurturing relationships are part of what is lacking in the field of intrapersonal relations and probably why married women are far less likely to get an abortion. They are in environments conducive to planning children with their partners. We do not have a culture that reflects on the likely and sustaining causes of iniquity that put women and men at risk in varying ways.

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