Thoughts on the US Abortion Ruling
While women (and many men) across the world are reacting to the US Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion, I’m confused as to what is going on here, and why. Is this decision political? Ideological? Eugenic? Technocratic?
I share some thoughts and further questions here, and if anybody can help me understand the bigger agenda, I’m all ears.
[Note: This is a highly contentious and emotional issue. I’m mostly asking questions here, because for sure I don’t have the answers. But even if given that, if I say something that triggers you, please keep it respectful. We’re all here to learn from each other, and like most people I learn better from calm communication than from being yelled at. Thank you.]
First to say, I have never knowingly been pregnant, and I was born to married, religious parents, so there was never a question that abortion might take my life or the life of my hypothetical child.
However, I do know women who have had an abortion, and they do not fit the portrayal of feckless, unthinking individuals who use abortion as a form of contraception. From what I have seen, the decision to have an abortion takes a great deal of soul-searching, and comes at considerable risk to the woman’s psychological, emotional, and sometimes physical health. It is not a decision that is taken lightly, and only the individual concerned can assess whether the trauma of abortion will be lesser or greater than the trauma of bringing an unwanted child into the world.
A Conflict of Two Inalienable Rights
At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason this is such a challenging issue is that, as the World Population Review succinctly puts it:
“Abortion involves both the potential mother’s right to bodily autonomy (and health) and the unborn child’s right to life-two inalienable rights that abortion sets against one another.”
It’s hard to see how these two rights can ever be reconciled, and each side will always have its advocates. According to the BBC:
“While this legal ruling will change the law, it will not settle the arguments over abortion. It will inflame them. Jubilant anti-abortion campaigners have achieved something that seemed practically impossible only a few years ago. They believe thousands of babies’ lives will now be saved. Pro-choice advocates are left utterly dismayed as they think women’s rights have just been set back 50 years. Back to a time when women died as a result of illegal back-street abortions.”
For sure, abortions will still happen. Like prostitution and drugs, where there is demand there will be supply. Quoting the World Population Review again, on the real-world impact of making abortion illegal:
“According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the legality of abortion across the world actually has little to no effect on abortion rates throughout the world. Legal or not, abortions can, will, and do take place. The legality of abortion, however, does affect how safe those abortions are. Women who do not have access to a legal abortion frequently turn to illegal or “homemade” abortion options, which are typically much riskier, more dangerous, and less effective than legal options conducted by professional doctors in a clinical setting would be.”
Impact on the Poor
As usual, those who suffer the most will be those who always suffer the most — the poor. It will be the ones who can’t afford to travel to another state, or take the time off from work. At the risk of falling into stereotypes, I’m guessing these will be the women who can least afford to raise another child, and/or are most at risk of being impregnated by an abusive, absent, or otherwise unsupportive or inappropriate partner.
When Governor of Mississippi Tate Reeves says: “This decision will directly result in more hearts beating, more strollers pushed, more report cards given, more little league games played, and more lives well lived. It is a joyous day!”, I would guess that he experiences a very different reality from that faced by the 37 million (and rising) Americans who live in poverty ( source: US census, 2020 figures). His idyllic, white-picket-fence version of the future for these unborn children is disingenuous. Of course, poor parents CAN create supportive and loving home environments for their children, but it’s a lot easier for them to do so when those children are wanted.
I haven’t yet heard any mention of the states who are outlawing abortion also increasing child support for the alleviation of childhood poverty. Maybe that would have been helpful. Or maybe they were worried that it would lead to women getting pregnant purely for the social security payments, and did they think that would lead to what they see as the “wrong” kind of babies? Is this a race issue? Just what is going on here?
The Thin End of the Wedge?
According to the BBC, “Justice Clarence Thomas, in his opinion, wrote: “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell” — referencing three landmark decisions of the past on the right to contraception, the repeal of anti-sodomy laws, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage respectively.”
The Supreme Court split along predictable party lines (although according to Reuters, views on abortion used to be much less politically polarised), Republican-nominated justices voting in favour of overturning Roe v Wade, Democrats against. I’m wondering if this decision is part of a MAGA-related agenda to turn the clock back to an age when America was indeed great — but maybe despite, rather than because of, its social intolerance. Does it really increase the greatness of a country to criminalise or at least disadvantage those who are gay and/or have a uterus?
Or are the Republican justices just getting their ultra-conservative ducks in a row to rally their voter base in readiness for the next presidential election? If so, how did a supposed court of justice become a wing of a political party? How can this be right?
Is Big Brother Watching You?
American women are deleting their period-tracking apps because of fears they could be used as evidence against them in abortion-related criminal prosecutions. Big Brother is here, although he may be living in Silicon Valley more than he lives in the West Wing.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Jordan Peterson are talking about the perils of (human) population collapse. Their main concern seems to be economic — if we don’t have enough workers paying enough taxes, then how do we support an aging population? (And, the cynical might suggest — if we have a shrinking population, then how do we keep growing profits?) They particularly point the finger at environmentalists who they see as shaming women into not having children.
Alarming as it is to find myself agreeing with Musk and Peterson, I also don’t especially like the “humans are a virus” rhetoric. We are here for a reason, and self-shaming is to disrespect our divine nature (well-hidden as that may be). According to Braiding Sweetgrass, at least some natural ecosystems benefit from respectful relationship with humans when conducted in time-honoured, indigenous ways.
But ultimately it is every woman’s, or every couple’s, choice. Nobody should shame people into not having children. They also shouldn’t shame (or force) them into having them. Humans and our livestock already account for 96% of all mammalian biomass on the planet. My view is that’s probably enough for now — but that is just my view.
As to supporting the elderly, if our economy struggles to do so, then redesign the economy, rather than redesigning demographics. The economy is just numbers. Demographics is people’s lives.
Every Sperm is Sacred — or is it?
(That’s a Monty Python reference, in case you didn’t know.)
Nature is prolific in her creation, and she is also brutal in her destruction. You’ve probably seen the sweet videos of turtle hatchlings wriggle up out of the sand and head for the waves, only to be picked off by birds, crabs, raccoons, and fish, with only 1 in a thousand making it to adulthood. And then there’s animal cannibalism — here is a list of 10 animals that eat their own young, including cats, rats, lions, rabbits, and our close relatives, chimpanzees. Nature giveth (a lot) and she taketh away (a lot).
Is this a form of human exceptionalism that we get so hung up on keeping alive every potential homo sapiens offspring? Is this part of an agenda for humans to dominate the Earth more than we already do? Is this related to transhumanism, the desire for everlasting life, the quest for a “cure” to aging and death? For transhumanists, the solution to the resulting overpopulation is to colonise other planets, but we are a very long way from being able to do that — so what to do in the meantime with the Earth already in overshoot?
I don’t actually have a conclusion, but I am concluding this piece, so this is a conclusion in that sense. I have far more questions than answers, including:
What can we learn from indigenous cultures about avoiding unwanted pregnancies and maintaining a sustainable population?
Where seemingly irreconcilable rights arise, how do we find a middle ground that honours both positions?
(How) do we honour life?
How do we balance human life with non-human life on this finite planet?
Is the quantity of human lives more important than the quality of human lives?
While we’re all distracted with a never-ending and never-endable debate on abortion, what are we not paying attention to?
How will the US ever escape this seemingly inexorable spiral of increasing political and social polarisation?
What do you think?