Wednesday, July 11, 2018


This is about abortion, but first I need to tell a couple of family stories.  The first tale seems entirely unrelated, partly because it is about death rather than birth -- but the death of weeds on the Canadian prairie.  After years of barely making it while growing potatoes, my paternal family acquired a license to assemble Kovar Quackgrass Killer.  It was a kind of harrow or rake with the motto "Dry and Die."  Horse drawn.  The parts were made in Minnesota, shipped to Manitoba, and assembled by the family for sale.  It went well and everyone was happy.  This was the Industrial Revolution.

Then the US went on one of its tariff sprees and imposed one of them on the parts shipped north.  Now the parts cost too much to make any profit.  The family quit the business.  It didn't make much difference, because chemical herbicides were just beginning to be sold -- stuff like "24-D" that could be spread by machine.  Horses were old-fashioned.  We were now in the tech era of molecular manipulation.

Something like that has happened to abortion.  What was previously a local matter, bloody and even illegal, is now chemical.  By using blood draws or urine sticks, a woman can be diagnosed with pregnancy very early.  Then the conception can be aborted with a pill, illegal though it might be.  Easily shipped in the mail.  No one will know.  There's little risk.  That leaves the idea of abortion to be mainly a medical or moral solution.

What was supposed to be a solution has become a problem.  Sin moves.  Birth is now so medicalized that there are rarely any longer a desperate self-killing from an infected puncture with coat hanger wire, just as birth is no longer an unassisted involuntary and blood/shit convulsive ordeal, possibly lethal, possibly deadly to the baby.  To sell the idea of no-fault/no risk modern abortion, it is portrayed as merely a bit of cramping, a form of birth control if the timing of a new human isn't convenient,

I'll confess, risking hostility, that I've never been pregnant and never wanted to be.  Maybe I couldn't have gotten pregnant if I'd wanted to, but now I'm 79, so it's a moot point.  Here's the second story.  When I was a kid, condoms were illegal but my father was a promoter of birth control.  He had gotten acquainted with Margaret Sanger's ideas in Canada.  In my childhood, there was a world war and people were encouraged to have only two children, ideally a girl and a boy.  Condoms were illegal and had to be gotten in a plain brown wrapper through the mail, like a dirty book.  In order to keep the supply coming, one had to be careful about ordering.

The third child in my sib-set might have been the result of trying to risk a night "bareback", or a hole in the rubber, or a fumbled application, or an urgently  passionate night.  I can be confident it was not the result of drunkenness since we were a teetotaling family due to a disastrously alcoholic great-uncle.  There was no consideration of an abortion but a bit of ruefulness about the extra burden.  My mother went back to the hospital to get her tubes tied, described as "doing repairs.".  It was in her control and she was determined.  I don't know where my father's admiration of birth control went.

What took me by surprise is that when I figured this out (timing mostly), everyone reacted as though I was accusing my mother of killing a baby.  In fact, she saved him, which ended in tragedy.  (A concussion from a fall more or less aborted his life as an adult.)  

My method was simply not to be intimate with any man who had neither vasectomy nor income.  This has proven very effective.  I'm mostly celibate anyway.  This was also seen as a morally dubious decision.  Some people feel that a female MUST marry and MUST get pregnant.  Ask your local Incel chapter.  The quality of men's lives is seen as dependent on the "ownership" of a woman.

Abortions, chemical or surgical, are closely related to the advent of the Pill,  which was seen as a marvelous solution to an irrepressible problem, because it allowed a woman to be as physically unencumbered as a man, if she could handle the menstrual cycle.  Much of the outcry -- claimed to be moral -- is not about abortion so much as it is rage against the Pill.  It was a game-changer.

Most abortion opponents purport to be reacting to a tiny trapped and helpless infant.  I suspect they are really picturing the mysterious and powerful organ between women's legs, pinned into stirrups to allow access to whoever is there for invasive purposes that result in blood and pain.

Even the next game change, the genomic ability to identify the father and hold him economically accountable, was not so emotional.  It had always been a effort on the part of society to spare the expense of growing unwanted children  -- just not responsibility for how they turned out.  And then there is the thorny issue of inherited power and ownership.

There's a flip side to abortion which is reparative, redemptive.  Genetics also changed everything about the pregnancy that results in a child. The possibility of misdevelopment or inheritance that promised damage can be detected.  (One fifth of pregnancies end in miscarriage, Nature's abortion when things go wrong.)  On the other hand, some defects can be addressed when the fetus is barely developed enough to detect the problem.  Hearts can be transplanted in the pre-born while still in the uterus.  No need to involve the vulva.

In fact, interference starts before pregnancy:  conception in a petri dish; transplant to a surrogate mother; mitochondrial transplants which mean three genetic parents; drugs that can both start and stop the contractions of giving birth -- as well a Caesarean section even when it's not strictly warranted.  To avoid a slippery slope, the Catholic policy is that the moment of conception is the beginning of human life which it is, of course.  

But in artificial insemination when a number of eggs are fertilized and then implanted in the patient -- not too many or the uterus will be too crowded to function -- there are "leftovers", left-over human beings.  They might be frozen for later.  If power failure causes them to be killed by thawing, that's abortion, isn't it?  But no one marches about it or puts their picture on a sign board.  No uterus is involved, not even at conception.

Once again the key underlying problem is loss of control and complexification to the point of ignorance.  Primal obsessions about bloody mothers and suffering infants are satisfied with what seems to be a moral objection and fantasies about where the dead go.  Most people who defend abortion are really trying to go back to the past.  It won't work in the long run.  

No comments: