Analogies and abortions

Having sat through too many evangelical sermons in my younger life, I’ve developed a strong resistance to arguments that draw on analogy. Most of the sermons I endured as a teenager and young adult were heavy-laden with analogies; now I can’t help seeing them as a recourse for lazy-mindedness (not always deliberate) and tendentiousness (usually deliberate). They’re useful for when you want others to believe something for which you don’t have concrete evidence, or which may contain many different truths that are unendingly complex, and the analogy helps you to focus on a single one.

I strongly object to analogies when it comes to pregnancy and abortion. Having been pregnant a couple of times in my life and not reeling anymore from the experience, I’m amused or offended, depending on my mood, when pregnancy is compared to owning a house in which you are hosting the homeless and you’re obligated to keep them overnight because there is a blizzard outside. Pregnancy is not much like organ donation; and it is certainly nothing even potentially akin to being a slave-owner or a (female supremacist) Nazi. (Seriously: those two last ones are central arguments of the anti-abortion movement’s desire to enshrine fetal rights. Anti-abortion advocates imagine that pro-choice women see fetuses as “subhuman”; therefore, much like Nazis and slave owners, they allow them to be eliminated at will. That leap of (ana)logic leads directly into the abyss of manipulativeness and dishonesty.) I’ve always seen the abortion-is-murder analogy as a shocking distortion of the reality of an unwanted pregnancy and the maternal-fetal relationship.

I’ve also considered abortion from the angle of the animal rights movement, something more of a personal and professional interest for me. While I can see a few parallels between the anti-abortion and animal rights movements, there are more divergences than similarities, and in fact the philosophical argument for animal rights is more of an evolving process with a rich philosophical framework. Most importantly to me, animal liberation/welfare/rights arguments are not based on analogies and projections; they are based on the realities of animals’ lives and the way we think about them and use them.

Because being pregnant – and being a fetus – is not like anything else or any other stage of human or animal development, analogies are inappropriate for describing what happen to a body and a mind during that time. Perhaps because I have observed and dealt with a lot of non-human animal pregnancies and deliveries, I’ve grown more sensitive to messy and complex medical realities and the risks involved for both mother and fetus, and therefore can appreciate the wide range of potential calamities that can occur. I can also appreciate the incomplete but evolving state of knowledge regarding diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, and people’s varying capabilities in handling problems and catastrophes. Most of the common things that can go wrong during a pregnancy or to a fetus can be addressed and corrected, but there is a small subset of devastating problems that cannot be fixed, not even with current technology.

Since the assassination of Dr Tiller, the renowned late-term abortion doctor from Wichita, by an anti-abortion zealot, I’ve been researching and reading about some of the conditions that have resulted in women choosing to abort a pregnancy that was initially desired. I was amazed at the number of conditions I had never heard of – though I shouldn’t be, as these most serious ones never come up in veterinary medicine and may have something to do with the complexity of the human genome, fertility treatments, and other factors: twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, trisomy 13, triploidy, fragile X syndrome, severe osteogenesis imperfecta, and many others. Another one here. And here. A few others I already knew about, such as severe neural tube defects and anencephaly.

A lot of women have decided to come out with their stories in the aftermath of Dr Tiller’s murder, and that is a very good thing. The holocaust rhetoric and imagery around later-term abortion were deliberately chosen by Francis Schaeffer (for which his son has recently apologised) when he wrote his treatises lamenting the decline of traditional religion back in the 1970s. While it’s understandable that women who’ve had a later-term abortion would just want to either grieve or forget the experience and get on with their lives, it’s important that they speak out in order to bring some truth and first-hand accounts to the table. People who casually imagine that women dispose of their half-grown fetuses cavalierly or out of convenience, or who believe that they must accept even the most severe congenital defect and care for a non-viable baby until it inevitably dies, no matter the consequences to their own reproductive and mental health, or the needs of their already-born children. These people need to understand that late-term abortion involves the most intensely personal situations, which sometimes include severe depression, cancer treatments and families with children who already have multiple disabilities. These issues should never have been allowed to become the target of a movement that pretends to be pious, but which has always been intensely political.

As for the pious individuals who still insist on sticking their noses and religious morality into the most private and intimate business of others, I think they should learn the meaning of empathy, and shame. A generation or so back, it was considered shameful when a woman had a baby out of wedlock, but with the decline of traditional religions and structures, the stigma of single parenthood has been erased. I can only hope that the appropriate stigma will attach itself to people who try to interfere in these most intimate problems and decisions of others.

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7 Comments on “Analogies and abortions”

  1. fern hill Says:

    Brava!

    I have often thought exactly the same thing. Analogies do not work on this issue. Being pregnant whether willingly or not is like nothing else.

    The genocide one and the slavery one are really revolting.

    But some attempts at analogy are pretty funny. Do you remember when SUZY likened pregnancy to owning a television? And didn’t SHE have another go with a parrot in a cage or something like that?


  2. Totally articulate as usual It is courageous of those women to speak of what must have been painful and wrenching. I hope that their stories educate people about the reality that led to Dr. Tiller’s untimely death.


  3. Oh and I should add that those “pious” people who incited the violence or contributed to it with holocaust/nazi imagery give a bad name to religion.

  4. mouthyorange Says:

    I agree with you too much! Written any books lately?

  5. Sandy Says:

    Enjoyed your post/article immensely. You may be interested to read my article on Jewish Magazine website, Tikkun.org. re: the high percentage of Jewish personalities in the history of AR Movement, and today’s activists, including I.B. Singer.
    Check out Lost From This Good Earth at
    http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/Nathan
    Keep up the good writing!
    Sandra

  6. Dan Says:

    I can agree that analogies are used to make a trivial matter appear to have more significance. I prefer to be given an intellectual argument for, or against, a matter such as abortion. Last night, over the internet, I happened to watch an ultrasound video of a 12-week abortion. The commentator, a doctor who was once the Director of one of the largest abortion clinics years ago, explained how the abortion procedure is performed. Then he described everything the ultrasound video was showing during the entire procedure.
    Again, I watched this to gain the understanding, to know the reality of it, not just to be presented with analogies. I don’t accept just being told that an animal feels pain, has consious awareness, etc. and those that injure them for commercial reasons are bad. And on the other hand accept being told that a mother should be allowed to do the same thing to another “something” that feels pain, has consious awareness, etc. and that is OK.
    Why should I be aware of what an abortion does to a living fetus and it is none of my business, but instead it should be my business when somebody else causes a similar suffering to an animal being terminated?
    I need the intellectual response to my dilemna, not an analogy.

  7. kelevee Says:

    Dan, I agree with your search for intellectual responses to both dilemmas – abortion and inflicting pain and suffering on animals. My addition thoughts and more-or-less conclusions on abortion is that human beings are given choices, and have the ability and the right to choose. I, personally, would not choose an abortion, and protected myself from unwanted pregnacies with modern contraceptives and in the end “sterilization”. I do know that most abortions are chosen for frivilous reasons, selfish. Late term abortions seem most vile to me, in that a woman could actually kill a baby who has every chance to live outside the womb. However, these women, whatever their reasons, are responsible for their choices, a great number live with troubling emotional consequences – but thats their problem, in my opinion. Human beings have historically and do today commit depraved acts of violence and cruelty upon one another, and are only subdued by laws or threat of prison, etc. On the other hand, animals have NO choice and are at the mercy of the same human beings who are capable of such unmerciless acts. That is why I, and others, speak and act for animals. They are innocent, defenseless beings in our modern world, and I encourage you to investigate and determine their capacity to FEEL. I am absolutely sure of this, and actually, cannot fathom an intelligent human being not acknowledging this fact. I don’t kno how much involvement your life is with animals, but one does not have to look in all the lofty scientific manuals to learn of an animal’s capacity for hurt, emotional and physical, as well as their loyal, loving spirit exhibiting in untold ways, over and over.
    I am a die hard skeptic myself – religion, spiritual issues, etc. – but for this one thing I am sure, Animals are the most precious, lovely and invaluable gift on earth. People who bring intentional pain, or accept the industrial animal production/transport/slaughter system as OK, and institutional animal cruelty, legal animal abuse in research laboratories, have lost their moral compass, in my opinion. Information is easily obtained on these subjects, I encourage you to research, weigh the facts – and even look into your heart (a mysterious sphere ??) and you may come to the same conclusions as I have, including a growing number of human beings who search for the truth.


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