Monday, March 13, 2006

Yelling 'Theater' in a crowded Fire

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you.

Now that abortion has reared its head as a topic do jour, I’m going to be weighing in on it over the next week or two. Not to the exclusion of everything else, mind you, ‘cus I’ve got kitties to post about. Not to mention the various other forms of wildlife hanging out in my office lately.

I’ve added FireDogLake to my blogroll to the right – they’re becoming a go-to site for blogging on the abortion question and for keeping up on the latest on a state by state basis. Currently in addition to South Dakota, Mississippi and Missouri are beginning legislation, though I will be focusing on S.D., chiefly because I am more familiar with their new law, and also because other states’ legislation may get bogged down in certain technicalities, as they will have to conform with any ‘trigger’ laws that have already been passed. (Trigger laws, as they are known, are essentially anti-abortion laws already passed that will take effect the instant that the Supreme Court overturns Roe versus Wade. Until then they remain dormant. About a dozen or so states have passed them over the past twenty years.)

Before going into any serious details in future posts, I want to make a couple of observations about the South Dakota law. First of all as we all know it is primarily theatrics, designed to provoke a case before the Supreme Court. I actually don’t have a huge problem with such tactics – to do so would be churlish, as essentially it is a form of civil disobedience commonly done with civil rights and privacy legislation. Many progressive decisions by the Court have been the result of such approaches. States have the right to do that, as well as individuals.

Also kudos to the state for limiting hypocrisy in the legislation. The law (that will take effect in July) provides for no exceptions to banning abortion, except for a very narrow exception in the case of the life of the mother. Rape, incest, and the mother’s health – no exceptions in those cases. And that is honest of them.

Once you define all human life as having equal value at the moment of conception, the standard for the ‘pro-life’ position, you can’t make exceptions for killing innocent babies if they were conceived in the course of a crime. Period. That’s the inherent unpalatability of the ‘Pro-Life’ position: there can be no exceptions. Because any exceptions by definition mean that a blastula is valued differently than a human being. And then the pro-life argument collapses.

That’s why the Right may regret this totalitarian approach, because they can’t give any perceived humanitarian ground in the argument without blowing themselves up logically. And to prove that value wrong one only has to get them to agree to a single outrageous result leading from their logic.

To wit, one of the latest memes developing over this is the thought game of a fire at a fertility clinic. A fireman has to choose to save a Petri dish with five blastula or a two year old boy. Who should he chose? Most published responses lean to the ‘Feh, stupid academic arguments – let’s talk about something real.’ Well, it’s not so academic, as the picture above attests. (Although as an aside, Googling ‘Fire Fertility Clinic’ which resulted in that report, leads to different results if one instead Googles ‘Fire Abortion Clinic.’ In that case one gets tons of links with additional words like ‘guns’ and ‘arson.’)

Valuing a Petri dish of cells as the equivalent of human life leads to all sorts of odd results. Should the Westwood Fire Department have been required to carry portable generators to sustain the Petri dishes, as obviously the cells wouldn’t otherwise survive being carried out of the clinic? Are there legal liability issues involved? It apparently was an electrical fire. Should the building maintenance people receive the death penalty? Or is life imprisonment sufficient? What is the punishment for the negligent homicide of countess numbers of human lives? What if it was a power failure? Do we charge Con-Ed with countless charges of negligent homicide?

Remember, no exceptions.

Should one in three American women be imprisoned or sentenced to death? Gosh, no, only the doctors should be charged, as is the case with the South Dakota law. The penalty in South Dakota for performing an abortion is five years – for having an abortion, the penalty is…there is no penalty for having one.

Oops, they screwed that one up.

You see, that’s no different than charging the hijackers on 9/11 with murder, but letting Osama off scott-free. After all he only asked for it to be done; he didn’t go near a plane or buy a pair of box-cutters and was actually over ten thousand miles away at the time. In no legal or moral code on the planet that I am aware of does the person who authorizes a murder not share equal if not more culpability for the murder than the one who actually pulls the trigger. So going after the doctor while giving the woman (or the man – it takes two to tango, and god forbid we let discussion of abortion descend into misogyny) a pass is hypocritical to a position that blastula are equivalent to fully viable human life. So all those who are pro-life need to grow a pair and stand by their arguments. Warts and all.

So, should a woman who gets an abortion be sentenced to prison or to death? If a woman’s husband or partner knows about it, should he be charged as an accessory? What about a woman’s friend, if they know about it?

And on that note, more later.