On the Rachel Larimore Abortion article on Slate

So, this piece, hmmmmm.

Abortion isn’t my pet issue. It’s something I never really thought about much until I was pregnant the first time round. New Zealand’s abortion law is on paper more restrictive than the US, in that you have to meet certain grounds (like in the UK), but the way it’s applied and the fact that it is free through the public health system means that we have a sort of practical accommodation and it’s not an issue that really rates much politically. Those who want abortion to be less accessible argue for a restrictive interpretation of the current law. Those who want it to be more accessible and less stigmatised argue for the law to be updated to reflect current practice. Politicians don’t want to touch it. My view is basically that yeah the law should probably be updated, but I haven’t given much thought as to exactly how. I’m strongly against further limits or a restrictive application, because I’ve been through pregnancy and childbirth and the idea of compelling that experience against someone’s will is literally one of the worst things I can imagine. Maybe if my birth had been different I might not feel this way. I’m not sure. There is always a danger in extrapolating from a single experience; equally, it is important that in discussion abortion, we never lose sight of what the alternative would be: compelled pregnancy and childbirth. That alternative horrifies me. Forced pregnancy, childbirth when you don’t want the child, would be a form of torture. This obviously colours my view on abortion.

Larrimore’s piece annoys me because it frames the issue in a way that is consciously trying to be even-handed, but could use a bit of further analysis.

I mentioned in one of the first blogs I ever wrote that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” aren’t helpful. The only question is whether you support legal access to abortion. The two camps should be known as something like “pro-access” and “anti-access”. Pro-access is a big tent. It can include people who think abortion is morally abhorrent, but that the alternative of illegal underground abortions is even worse than the prospect of legal abortions. It can also include those who think abortion is a moral non-issue. It can include people who think that they would never ever get an abortion themselves, but that others should be able to; and people who can envisage situations where they would get an abortion; and of course people who have had abortions. It can include people who think abortion is good because it enables women to avoid raising a child she can’t afford; and people like me who find this logic a little bit disquieting and would prefer to see more social support directed at ensuring that no kids live in poverty. Big tent. All agree that abortion should be accessible, both legally and practically.

The anti-access camp is a small tent. It includes only those who think that abortion should be illegal. If you think abortion should be legal, but discouraged, you belong in the other tent. If you think abortion is morally complex and there is room for reasonable disagreement, then you probably should think that it should be legal. After all, we tend to reserve illegality for things that almost everyone agrees should be off limits.

This is my first issue with Larrimore’s framing. There are two sides, but one side includes a huge range of views. It’s really not fair to accuse that side of failure to engage with the nuance.

Around the edges, there are some areas of disagreement where people might find themselves unsure of which tent they want to be in, especially with the issue of term limits. When I was pregnant with the little dude, I felt like the 20 week limit in New Zealand was about right (it’s not an absolute limit, there are some exceptions). This time, I’m not so sure. I’m 25 weeks pregnant on Friday, and it’s flown by, and it’s so weird to think that if the baby was born now it might be fine. Late March, the 40 week mark, still feels like ages away. I have more of an awareness of what is yet to come – the third trimester, the birth, the recovery, the ongoing physical effects, the actual presence of the baby – and it means that I feel a lot more sympathy with the position of someone who maybe didn’t find out straight away and still wants an abortion even though the foetus is getting close to being a baby that could make it on the outside.

But, while this is an interesting area for philosophical pondering, term limits are largely irrelevant to abortion access. If abortion is legal and easily accessible, the overwhelming majority of abortions occur well before viability is even close. In New Zealand, more than half of abortions occur before the 10th week of pregnancy, and 95% occur before 14 weeks. So the area where there is genuine room for common ground (we both agree that later term abortions should be extremely rare and only occur in exceptional circumstances!), is also the area which matters least from the perspective of maintaining and improving access. That’s the problem with a plea for common ground. We realise we all agree on something, and then… we continue to focus on the areas where we disagree… because there’s no point having a political debate if you agree.

There are specific quotes in the article that I want to take further issue with.

It’s an emotionally fraught issue that pits two admirable and worthwhile causes—the equality of women and the protection of unborn children—against each other, with no easy answers but very high stakes.

Isn’t it weird how new humans have to be created by growing in existing humans? Fuck that’s some weird shit right there. Don’t get me wrong, I love new humans, they’re some of the best humans! But they all start out inside other humans. What a crazy way to come into being. Hey imagine how that totally weird it must be for those humans whose bodies are used to make the new humans!

Hey isn’t it weird how only some humans have wombs and are able to grow new humans?

Hey isn’t it weird how those humans are the less powerful humans?

Hey do you reckon those two things are connected?

Hey so maybe those humans with wombs shouldn’t have to grow new humans unless they want to?


Oh yeah, the new humans!

I forgot about the new humans!

Fuck it, screw those people with wombs then, sucks to be them.

Yay for the new humans!

“Equality of women” and “protection of the unborn” are not equivalent interests. Equality of women is another way of saying “treating half the population as real people”. In a choice between treating women as real people, and treating pre-viability embryos and foetuses as real people, it should be fucking obvious which to prefer.

Second quote that annoys me:

Arguing that abortion shouldn’t be discouraged suggests that it is a trivial decision, which is callous and can bring pain to those who were the products of unplanned pregnancies.

Um, no it doesn’t, and no it doesn’t. Arguing that abortion shouldn’t be discouraged suggests that it’s a personal decision that isn’t anyone else’s business. It doesn’t trivialise it. And even if it did trivialise the decision, well, for some people it may be a simple decision. It’s not always going to be a difficult decision. That’s ok. That’s similar to many other decisions. Either way, I’m not sure how trivialising abortion is callous to people who were born as a result of an unplanned pregnancy (like ME! or my SON!). If abortion is legal, then anyone who is the product of an unplanned pregnancy is the product of a pregnancy that was ultimately chosen. Where is the pain coming in? I really don’t follow this.

You can’t just put words like “callous” and “trivial” in sentences and hope no-one notices a lack of logic.

*end rant*