On the Issues: Abortion (Pt. 1)
Ah, the abortion debate. Is there perhaps any topic more polarizing? More emotionally charged? It's a narrative that pits two fundamental human rights against one another (life vs. liberty) and asks us to choose a side.
This isn't going to be a stat-heavy article, and I don't claim to be any sort of expert on the various facets of the issue. Instead, I'm just going to offer up a few humble observations in the hopes that it will get you to think more critically about your own position.
For starters, can we all agree that nobody is pro-abortion?
Regardless of what side you're on, you might look at that and think to yourself, "Huh? What? Dafuq are you smoking? Of course there are people who are pro-abortion. They advocate for it all the time, en masse! They hold up signs and protest and some even organize to push legislation through that allows it to persist. That's clearly pro-abortion!"
To which I'd say: you're wrong.
Not being anti-abortion is not the same as being pro-abortion, just like not being an anti-vegan doesn't necessarily mean you're for veganism. That's a false dichotomy, since the situation is more nuanced than that.
To put it another way, being pro-choice is not the same as being pro-abortion. Sure, it's not pro-life either, but short of being some sort of psychopath, even the most ardent pro-choice advocate doesn't like abortion. They aren't out there celebrating it like, "Hey, look at me, I just got an abortion! It was great! In fact, I can't wait to have another," as if they'd just bought a new car or a delicious craft beer. They aren't out there trying to punch women in the uterus to deliberately cause miscarriages or calling for the systemic eradication of an entire class of people. Stuff like that would seem more in line with being pro-abortion - and anyone who does that, I think we can all agree, is a garbage human being that we can denounce together.
But in general, most pro-choice people, particularly the women actually getting the abortions, see it as a necessary evil. They do it reluctantly while wishing for a better option.
Now, the pro-lifers reading this will be quick to list all the better options that already exist; and indeed, there are better options ... in most cases. All cases, though? Well, that's one of the cruxes of the debate. I'd say, if you can't think of a situation in which there's no other alternative, you probably suffer from a lack of imagination more than anything.
Let's take an instance in which we should all agree that's the case: rape.
Some woman gets knocked up after being brutally raped by some piece of shit inhuman animal. She's already suffering from severe psychological trauma, and probably physical trauma as well. Probably the first thoughts on her mind are, "Thank god I'm still alive, but I wish I wasn't. I feel completely powerless and ashamed right about now and I wish someone would come along to make it all go away like it never even happened, even though I know that's impossible. I need to feel whole again. I need to feel right again. My entire world has just been shattered and I don't have the first fucking clue what to do about any of it."
Ya know what's not on her mind? "I have a responsibility as a moral actor to take care of another entity that may or may not be a human being with rights who's even more powerless than myself." I would argue that's probably the last thing running through her mind in that moment and even for a long time thereafter. If the thought of potentially being pregnant enters the picture at all, it's probably more along the lines of, "Oh my god! I can't handle this. I never planned this, never asked for this. I can't even take care of myself right now, let alone someone else."
Imagine feeling like, no matter how long or hard you wash, you can never quite feel clean again.
Maybe in the course of her coming to terms with what happened, she decides that taking care of a life gives her a sense of purpose. Something positive to take away from an otherwise dark experience. Maybe it's the only silver lining she can accept to help reassure her the universe is a just and beautiful place in which everything happens for a reason. Or maybe she can't get past that, and looking down at her swelling belly only takes her back to that fateful time and place, sending stress hormones through her body and the baby's as well, doing all manner of physiological damage to the child. Maybe when the child is born, seeings its face only reminds her of that and she feels bitter resentment towards it, as a result.
Obviously, that's a very personal thing. We all hope the story ends the same way, but the reality is, there is no singular prescription for it. Some women would simply prefer to just do what needs to be done in the moment to simplify their lives and sort out their feelings and philosophy later.
Right about now, the pro-lifers are probably thinking to themselves, "That's such a small number of people you're talking about." And while you may be correct, that's hardly the point. No one brings up that argument to talk statistics. It's meant to gauge your response and calibrate your moral compass, because if we can't at least all agree as a baseline that a victim of rape deserves special consideration, then your moral compass is already fucked beyond recognition.
You're certainly free to persuade her to carry the child to term, but ask yourself, is that something you'd feel comfortable forcing her to do if she ultimately didn't want to? Would that feel like the right thing or would it feel like it only winds up creating more suffering?
Now, it is perfectly fair to say that most women don't have abortions because they're raped, so much as to try and compensate for bad decisions and/or bad prevention practices. In those instances, the anti-abortion crowd has a point about there being alternatives. Laci Green would have been wasting her life if there weren't - which is not an argument, because it could well be that some people waste their lives, and just because the information's out there doesn't necessarily mean you were taught how to find and make use of it - but suffice to say, alternatives do exist, with people on both sides working to actively promote them and don't let anyone tell you differently.
Right now, the pro-choice people are probably thinking to themselves, "But birth control's expensive and I can't afford it on my own."
To which I say: tough shit.
Let me back up a moment and clarify what I mean before people go full Trigglypuff on me. This might be difficult for some of you to hear, so stick with me on it to the end.
It's not that I'm ignorant of the fact that certain women use birth control to do more than just minimize the chances of getting pregnant. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the fact that some women have legitimate medical needs related to its use. Indeed, I have a great deal of empathy for all that.
What I have no respect for, and no sympathy for, however - indeed, what I find wholly contemptible - is the use of said problems to justify the wielding of State power like a club against conscientious objectors, or even simply those who don't personally feel it's their responsibility to attend to your medical needs.
If you need help paying for birth control (or any medical needs, for that matter), you have my deepest sympathies, and there's no shame in seeking out voluntary charitable assistance; but healthcare's a commodity, not a right. Just like food, shelter, clothing, and transportation are commodities, not rights, even if you feel you really need them. It's not your boss's problem. It's not the taxpayer's problem. It's your problem to deal with and find a way to pay for, because taxation is theft and compelled association is immoral.
Sorry to break it to you. #NotSorry
Now, your boss might decide to offer healthcare coverage as an incentive to win your employment, in the hopes you'll come work for them instead of a competitor who promises less, and indeed a lot of progressive businesses do just that; but you have no right to demand it from them if they refuse to offer it, for whatever reason, religious or otherwise. That's why it's called a benefit, and indeed, the only reason why we have workplace benefits as a thing to begin with is because back in the day, employers used it as a clever form of tax avoidance.
Yes, that's right. The same entity many of you now flock to because you can't find a job and even when you can, you feel your wages are too low and your employer's profits are too high once put a cap on your earnings to create artificial labor shortages. How ironic.
To think, if people had just left well-enough alone, we wouldn't be in this horrible mess. Alas, that's a topic for another time.
On the subject of rights, if there's one thing I dislike about the pro-choice crowd, it's the framing of the issue as "the right to an abortion." Whether or not you actually have such a right, it just sounds really creepy and cringeworthy to describe it that way.
Again, even pro-choice people don't like abortions, but I can understand why the anti-abortion camp has a hard time dissociating the impression that anyone who claims to be pro-choice is pro-abortion when you go around making statements like that. It's a major branding issue that needs to be resolved if you hope to be more persuasive.
I'm by no means in favor of abstinence, but the harsh reality is, if you can't afford to engage in safe sex, then maybe, just maybe, it would be prudent to keep your fucking trap closed so we don't have to have this conversation in this first place.
Just a thought.
And before you go there, you already know I'm not talking about rape because we touched on that in the beginning of this article already. I'm talking about exercising a bit of self-discipline to prevent a potentially negative result.
If it makes you feel any better, I practice what I preach in this regard.
What I said so far may sound harsh to some of you, but it's really just tough love. My goal is to turn you onto the idea that you can be against an outright ban on abortion while still having respect for the fact that some people don't feel it's their duty to pay for it, just like maybe you don't like having to pay for foreign military occupations. Defunding Planned Parenthood and barring them from conducting abortions with taxpayer money doesn't necessarily prevent you from going off and starting your own private practice. In fact, it might even be better for the pro-choice community to privatize, given the questionable tactics of publicly-funded crisis pregnancy centers:
Will it be harder to run your operations without federal funds? In some sense, yes, but in other ways, it'll be easier. For one thing, there won't be nationalized pressure to shut you down. Whether abortion is ultimately ethical or not, it'll at least be more moral than it is now, since you're not adding theft and forced association on top of it; and I think we all enjoy seeing directional progress, even if we disagree with the specific stopping point.
Flip that scenario around, and if it came down to tolerating abortions versus using tax dollars to pay for birth control to ensure they never happen, I'm not sure why pro-lifers would be against that. I get that you don't wanna create moral hazard or encourage dependence on the government; but in terms of priorities, which is better: theft or murder?
I know, I know. False dichotomy. You'd rather not have either of those things, if humanly possible; but again, it's to help calibrate your moral compass. So, if you had to pick one, which would it be? My guess is, if you're pro-life, you'll probably bear the added expense while telling yourself it's for a noble cause in helping to save human lives. Again, directional progress.
Even without the intervention of the State, more could still be done through the aforementioned private charity and progressive business practices to provide greater access to birth control.
If you only emphasize abstinence, you're ignoring the reality of human weakness and the propensity of people to take their actions underground, dealing in dangerous black market activities without oversight behind closed doors. We know bans haven't stopped people from getting guns or doing drugs, so they surely won't stop abortions either. We know that because that's how it used to happen before Roe v. Wade. Removing the cause and the need for them might be the lesser of two evils in this case.
Just a thought.
Boycotts work both ways, and it's one of the beautiful things about the free market is if you don't like something, you don't have to support it. You can go off and do your own thing and support what you do like. Similarly, if we're going to use the State for things, it should tend towards the greatest possible good and the least possible harm at the same time.
A consistent respect for property rights and freedom of association solves a lot of problems.
Since we touched on persuasion, let's talk about the visuals.
I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of abortions. Again, my argument is that even pro-choice people would rather avoid them if possible, and for good reason. Abortions are disgusting; and if you don't think so, just do a Google image search with the Safe Search feature disabled (preferably not at work, not at lunch, and not in the presence of small children). The impact of it is worse than what you'd find on a PETA activist's blog.
But that's just a persuasive reason to make it an option of last resort. It's an emotional argument, not a rational one. It says nothing about the morality of the situation, or lack thereof. Not that disgust is necessarily an invalid reason to abstain from something; but again, just because something's disgusting and distasteful isn't the same as saying it should be outright banned.
Just picture your most depraved and degenerate sexual exploits as an example.
War is disgusting; and if you don't think so, just look up pictures of Palestinian kids who get bombed on the beach, or Iraqi children irradiated by uranium shells.
(There's a reason I'm not linking to them, by the way.)
Yet, as horrific as war is, there's a time and place for war, and we all agree it should be used as an option of last resort in favor of alternatives. Again, the reason for resorting to extreme arguments like this is to help ensure your moral compass is properly calibrated. If we can't all agree on these basic points, then I'd say there's something seriously wrong.
Right now, the anti-abortion crowd is probably thinking there's never a good time to have an abortion. That it's not just disgusting, it's immoral, because you're murdering a human child. I'd say that's ironic given that many of them simultaneously support foreign military intervention and judge civilian deaths as collateral damage. Not all of them, but an alarming number of them.
Ok, let's get into the nitty gritty of the morality, then.
I'm going to share with you a framing of the abortion question that you likely have never heard before since it's one I developed - so far as I know. Essentially, it's an economic framing.
Now, before you start in on your moral posturing with how dare I place a value on human life, let me be clear, I'm not talking about money in this case, but a more abstract conception of value, even though the same tools are often applied to monetary systems. It's just an analogy, ok?
The conservatives in the audience will understand what I'm talking about,
which is good, because they're most likely to resist this approach.
So, if you can't see the supply curve in the above image, just picture an exponential curve in your mind going from left to right, increasing over time. We'll call that value, however you choose to define it.
Value, as we all know (or ought to know), is correlated with scarcity. When the demand for something remains the same, its value goes up based on how rare it is. Apart from the media-political complex pushing population control, I don't think anyone will argue there's a demand for fewer humans, or worse humans, so we can assume that's constant and just look at the available supply in terms of quality, rather than quantity.
I think we can pretty much all agree that really smart people are an infinitely valuable resource. Your Elon Musks, your Neil Tysons, etc. They're on the far right of the chart tending towards infinity in terms of their value. We can put newborn babies on that side as well. 
On the far left, you have human sperm which is abundant and worthless. 
We know that sperm is fairly worthless, because every hour of every day, we humans let it spill all over the ground, our hands, our faces, our mouths, our tits, our toilets, our asses, our bedsheets, our pillows, our clothes, our showers, our floors, our tables, our chairs, our sofas, our kitchen counters, our cars, our cameras, our laptops, our smartphones, our magazine collections, our recording equipment, our trains, our planes, our yards, our pools, our back alleys, our strip clubs, our bars, our dance clubs, our rest stop bathroom stalls, our pocket pussies, our bondage gear, our waifus, our fembots ... and some of that even manages to find its way into our vaginas where we're told by our moral superiors that that's the only place it belongs. But no one  would ever argue that a guy is committing mass genocide every time he jerks off; or indeed, even those rare times he actually ejaculates inside a woman's vagina, since the best case scenario is that all but one of his little soldiers dies in the quest for conception. Or for you ladies, no one would accuse you of committing a murder monthly with respect to your eggs when you get your period, thus suggesting they're also also not worth much. 
You can probably guess where I'm going with this, which is that somewhere along that upward trending curve, in between zero and infinity - between sperm and Nikola Tesla - there's a cut-off point in terms of value beyond which we say: "this point and no further."
It's the point at which the price of discarding becomes too high for our moral sensibilities to pay. That's the point at which the right to life begins, demanding our protection under the social contract; and figuring out where that point is, exactly, is a bitch because we all have our own opinions based on our own individual values and preferences.
Figuring out where that point lies is literally the entire crux of the abortion debate, from which all other considerations derive.
Put another way, you've probably heard it expressed as the question of personhood, and that's a really important thing to figure out. In fact, it's an essential issue to resolve; and unless and until you resolve it, you can't begin to talk about the morality of the situation.
Some people dismiss the significance of this. Steve Crowder seemed to downplay it in his mock-debate with Stefan Molyneux:
In fact, I would argue they both missed it. Stefan did a good job playing Devil's Advocate, but he didn't quite nail it either.
Let me just reiterate this point because it's important:
The question of: "When does a life form acquire the right to life?" is the entire crux of the abortion debate. I maintain that the law cannot rule on what science and philosophy can't answer; and we as a society have not settled on a satisfactory resolution that most fundamental issue.
If you don't understand that, the ethics of the situation will escape you.
That's not to say we can't attempt to find some reasonable milestones and say that the odds of this point or that being the cut-off point are greater or less than others. We can certainly make the attempt, but it's important to note, it's as much an art as it is a science.
For instance, I think we can all universally agree that birth is way passed the point to be thinking about getting an abortion. Indeed, that morphs into infanticide at that point.
Likewise, I think we can all pretty much agree that the moments just before birth are also too late. At least in the absence of some exigent medical emergency that threatens the life of the mother and you have to pick between her and the child. I think we all can agree that, in such a case as that, all else being equal, if you had to pick between mother and baby, you'd pick the mother because at least she has the capacity to have more babies.
Whether she actually does or not, if the process makes her infertile or whatever, is another matter.
Again, I know what you're saying. Such occurrences are rare, but again, that's not the point. We're not talking about statistics, so much as getting on the same page.
Turns out, this article became a lot longer than I'd originally anticipated, so I'm gonna break it up into two parts. In the next part, we'll examine the various proposed cut-off points in more detail to see whether any of them hold water.
Hopefully, I've at least given you something to think about, regardless of which side you're coming from, and you trust my even treatment of the issue so far as we move forward.
1 - Most of you reading this would probably class newborn babies as being infinitely precious. The question then becomes which is more valuable - babies or geniuses - and reasonable people can disagree based on what factors you're examining. In this case, I'm judging based on scarcity. Without getting too abstract, we could say there are different levels of infinity, such that, even though they both have infinite value, there are trillions of babies, but only a handful of them have the potential to grow up to be geniuses that radically change the world for the better. Thus, the effect for our purposes is that babies are infinitely valuable, but geniuses are even more infinitely valuable, because they're rarer. Either way, all that stuff is tending towards the right of the chart, so don't get too bent out of shape about it.
2 - To anyone who's not simultaneously infertile and looking to have kids.
3 - Except those regressive fundamentalists among the religious right who think beating it will land you a spot in hell, and maybe a few man-hating, sex-negative feminists as well.
4 - Again, to anyone not looking to have kids, albeit they're at least worth more than sperm in terms of scarcity.