I got into a bit of a slapfight over the weekend in the Comments string on Jay Reding’s post on South Dakota’s efforts to ban abortion. I say “slapfight” not in the mocking “girlie-man” sense but as in describing something that generates a flurry of blows doing little damage — in this case damage to either opponent’s beliefs.
Jay, a conservative and one of my favorite blogs, thinks the move by the SD legislature (crafted as much to force a hearing by the SCOTUS as it is on abortion itself) is unwise and focused on the wrong venue, stating “The real battlefield on this issue should be the hearts and minds of the American people, not the courtroom.”
I agreed with him on that, but stated that in my opinion SD’s initiative was ultimately aimed at doing just that: returning the matter to the states to decide instead of leaving it to nine (or just five) people to decide for the nation as a whole and even giving the people the option to change their minds over time. (It has also occurred to me that having the issue contested in as many as 50 venues instead of just one could have an interesting impact on the way money is poured into the issue on both sides).
Predictably I took some shots from other commenters, one who suggested that SD would be overrun with unwanted children overtaxing the state’s resources. Since abortion is already restricted to one clinic in the state I didn’t think a surge was likely. Others used somewhat extreme examples to try and demonstrate the iniquity of SD’s actions. Extreme arguments are not to be discounted, as Kevin noted with this John Stuart Mill quote last week, “Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being ‘pushed to an extreme’; not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.” One person used the example of a pregnant rape victim being forced to carry the baby to term. (My response: “Ah, so that’s where the idea that two wrongs make a ‘right’ comes from.” Incoming!) Another indicated that abortion should remain available because sometimes birth control fails, or you want a baby and then decide that you don’t, or you make a mistake, or sometimes you don’t want to be pregnant.
Does a ban on abortion make sense in extreme cases? My reaction is let’s take it to the extreme in the other direction as well. Of all the examples – rape, health, changed circumstances, fear, inconvenience, whatever – which of these is the fault of the baby and which justifies that the baby die? From what I’ve experienced in my own life and as a result of the neonatal and perinatal developments I’ve seen in my day job, I can come to no other conclusion but that this is human life we’re talking about no matter how abstract you try to make it. I’ve seen the pictures that today’s 4D imaging technology provide of embryos and through the different stages of development. I know the first-hand accounts of how hard severely premature and/or handicapped babies fight to live after they’re born. Is there really a fate worse than death?
I know we live in an imperfect world that offers imperfect solutions. In complex issues where I might even have conflicting opinions about different aspects of the argument I try to get to what the fundamental issue and irrevocable action are and choose accordingly. There are arguments on both sides that are of varying logical quality and appeal and the “discussion” often degenerates into gross caricatures and generalizations.
I hope I’m not that “slap-happy”. Perhaps the timing is wrong in South Dakota, but maybe things happen in the right time and season no matter what it looks like. I just know that I’m rooting for the future voters – whether they’re already alive or yet to be born.
This baby is at 8 weeks gestation, just a little older than our oldest daughter was when we got our first glimpse of her (her mother wasn’t even showing at the time).
At 10 weeks, as in this photo, the baby can move its arms and legs fluidly.
This baby is at 24 weeks gestation. A former co-worker of mine’s daughter was born at 23 weeks, and is now nearly four years old. Medical technology has improved to the point where 24-26 week old (gestational) babies have a chance to survive if born prematurely.
More photos at various stages of development can be seen here.