Thursday, March 19, 2009

Guns, Abortion, and Women's Rights

Blogging (as well as commenting on my favorite blogs) has been sparse lately. I'm trying to adhere to a Lenten technofast, and am also presently tending to my disabled mother. I read the following letter (excerpted) to the editor in her local weekly paper, written by a member of Democrats for Life of New York. Fallen Sparrow won't like it, but he's busy right now.

Kirsten Gillibrand, the new U.S. senator representing New York, appears to be an enigma. Because she supports abortion rights, she is thought to be a "liberal." Because she supports gun rights, she is a "conservative." However, a case can be made that both issues are connected.

Besides the obvious connection that both rights take life, both groups of supporters claim constitutionality. Gun ownders find theirs in the Bill of Rights. Abortion supporters find
[sic] theirs more recently in 1973 among the "penumbra" of rights in the Constitution.

The marketers of abortion and guns use nearly identical "rights" language . . . [both industries play upon] the fears and insecurities of women. . . . one might [miss the fact] that this ad is sponsored by the National Rifle Association instead of the National Abortion Rights Action League [sic: that organization now calls itself NARAL Pro-Choice America]: "A gun is a choice women need to know more about and [feel] free to make. The NRA is working to ensure [that] the freedom of that choice always [exists]."

Both organizations fight any limitations or restrictions on those [respective] rights. Even measures like partial-birth abortion are defeated by the abortion industry. The NRA fights against [even] microstamping, which . . . simply [ensures] that a firearm's owner [can be] identified.

The Violence Policy Center . . . . charges that the NRA has forged a new "firearms feminism" by portraying handguns as the latest "choice" issue. Using the theme of self-defense, one gun ad reads: "One choice is a firearm, a deeply personal position. It's a choice guaranteed by our constitution, a right that can be as precious as life itself. Don't own a firearm if you choose not to. But never let anyone deny . . . your constitutional freedom to make that choice." This is taken almost verbatim out of an abortion-rights manual.

. . . . We women have fallen victim to these marketing campaigns, which have elevated violence to a new level in human history.

Senator Gillibrand is not inconsistent. She is wrong on both counts.


The cult of individual freedom taken to its extreme makes strange bedfellows. Certainly support for untrammeled abortion rights is, like that for unlimited gun rights, a libertarian rather than a progressive position.

31 comments:

Tertium Quid said...

I respectfully dissent. And before I go further, I acknowledge that you grew up with the "red" diapers of progress if not revolution as I grew up with a grandmother who voted for Alf Landon in 1936.

Our Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms because, dating back to the days of the long bow, English subjects had been armed, and their arming prevented the King from having a monopoly on armed force. In fact, the Hundred Years War gave birth to the English state, but the state's power was dependent not on the armored knight but on the peasant bowman, who could take down the armored knight at 100 yards.

A U.S. citizen has the right to keep and bear arms in order to protect himself from crime and tyrannical government, if necessary, but not to use the weapon to infringe upon the rights of any other citizen.

The U.S. courts (and some legislatures) have given citizens the right to abort the unborn, not to protect the unborn, but to give, as a matter of law, the right of a mother to prevent her child from being born a U.S. citizen.

2nd Amendment rights, if used as designed and historically developed since the days of Henry II, allow the individual to protect life, liberty, and property.

Abortion rights, if used as permitted, allow one U.S. citizen to destroy the life of another U.S. citizen before his rights as a citizen become vested under U.S. law.

I believe there are limits to the Second Amendment, just as there are limits to the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. I don't believe the Second Amendment is obsolete.

This is America, and the lunatic fringe is always alive, well, loud, and intemperate, whether talking about pop culture or the Constitution.

This is America, and we always have a portion of our population incapable of being anything but sociopaths. Though I live 300 yards from the police station, I'm glad potential intruders have reason to fear that I am legally armed. If you break into a house in my state, you know you run reasonable risk of being shot.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for weighing in, TQ. I must admit that I thought the letter-writer's assertion that "both rights take lives" was a bit extreme. One of those "rights" takes lives, as we know, and it's simply not accurate to say that the right to own a gun inevitably leads to the loss of life.

I appreciated the letter, though, because it stands ordinary political alliances on their heads. I think there is definitely a case to make against abortion in the context of non-violence, and I like to make it because, at least in my academic circle, it makes people see the issue differently. Most feminists abhor violence, so, in my opinion, that it must logically follow that they should abhor abortion. To be consistent, we must admit that true feminism would not accept violence as a solution to a perceived problem.

As always, the biggest hurdle is persuading people to think of an unwanted child as a person. When pro-choice women lose babies to miscarriage, there's never any question that it was a baby. There is a kind of willful magical thinking that leads to their referring to *unwanted* children as "the products of conception," etc. To think that *volition* is the magical spark that makes a fetus a child is just delusional, but it's what we've come down to in our culture of unbridled individualism.

You are right in your suggestion that my upbringing influences me towards certain interpretations. Communism, as we know, has -- ironically -- historically been communitarian in its aims.

God bless you and yours.

Fallen Sparrow said...

The cult of individual freedom taken to its extreme makes strange bedfellows. Certainly support for untrammeled abortion rights is, like that for unlimited gun rights, a libertarian rather than a progressive position.

This calls to mind an issue I have been turning over in my mind, particularly in light of the election and the fractiousness in the Republican Party at the moment: much of the conflict between conservatives and libertarians is based on the answer to a simple question: "What is the basic unit on which society is built?"

To me, as a Catholic conservative (inspired by Russell Kirk, thanks to TQ for introducing me!), the answer is "the family, i.e. a husband, wife, and children." This position informs much of Catholic teaching, e.g. the brilliant encyclical Rerum novarum. From that position stems everything else: rights of property (including the right to defend it), the concept of subsidiarity, as well as teachings on sexuality.

Libertarians and 'liberals' believe the individual is the basic societal unit. Libertarians, straddle the divide between 'conservatives' and 'liberals': in placing the individual above all else, they support free markets, gun rights as a deterrent against government interference, as well as things like abortion and gay rights, on the ground that the government has no role in the family.

The advertisement discussed in the letter takes this 'libertarian' position and uses abortion-rights language, perhaps believing it will sell 'feminist' women on gun rights. This is the position of someone like the Fox commentator Tammy Bruce.

As TQ points out, the right to bear arms dates far back into history, and it's a bit distressing to me that the mere fact that it is explicitly stated in the Constitution is not a persuasive political or public relations argument, but alas....

We women have fallen victim to these marketing campaigns, which have elevated violence to a new level in human history.

Here is a statement that I cannot agree with: I don't equate an embrace of gun rights as condoning or expressing violence; a gun is, fundamentally, a tool, which can be used properly or improperly. It can be used for hunting food, for killing vermin, and for defense of person and property

I got into a heated argument with a 'progressive' friend about gun rights, in which she eventually stated something that shocked me: "You have no moral right to self-defense." So strong was her antipathy to guns that she asserted that it was immoral to defend oneself against attackers or intruders using anything, be it a gun, a knife, or even one's bare hands.

To be consistent, we must admit that true feminism would not accept violence as a solution to a perceived problem.

I will respectfully disagree with you on this point, and say rather that violence should be accepted only in situations in which it is warranted as a last resort. I believe that a woman, like a man, has the right (indeed a duty) to defend herself against attack on her person or property.

Pentimento said...

Fallen, I'm happy to see you!

TQ has raised the issue of cultural conditioning through nurture. I will also suggest that most women -- or, I should clarify, most educated women in the Northeast -- are squeamish about firearms. I'm not a pacifist, as I was forced to admit after 9/11.

What I wrote about feminism and violence I really meant to apply specifically to abortion. And perhaps I'm overstating the case. Feminism USUALLY is allied with antiviolence, but not always. I've met feminist antiviolence (against women) activists who were vegetarian for ethical reasons, but who nevertheless were horrified by the pro-life position. To me, this is just plain inconsistent, and justifiable only through willful ignorance.

I agree with you and TQ that owning a gun and the right to own one do not necessarily correlate to "violence."

Fifth Dimension said...

I think what we are missing here is the social context we live in. And that is where feminism operates.

These rights do not operate in a vacuum:

Not putting limits on the second amendment tends to increase violence against women, in that women are more likely to be victims of men who own guns, especially in the context of domstic violence.

Feminism tends to allow abortion, because a forced pregnancy means that a woman’s body is being used against her will.

In the context of society today, the theoretical problem becomes practically tragic, because that means she is put at a huge economic disadvantage to a (nonchildbearing) man. Hello patriarchy.

Feminism tends to abhor abortion, whilst still allowing it as a choice of last resort.

We can pontificate all we wish about theory, right and wrong, moral duty and the like. I believe we four agree on that. I do. But today, in practical terms, the right to arms without limits hurts women, and likewise, legislation against abortion hurts women.

Pentimento said...

Hi, FD. I will agree with you that your and my kind of feminism abhors abortion.

However, I remain unconvinced that feminism as a whole regards abortion with any such abhorrence.

And, unfortunately, mainstream feminism and your kind of feminism both fail to see that abortion itself is violence against women. Abortion hurts women far more grievously than not having access to abortion and, as a result, not being able to earn as much as a man, ever could.

Fifth Dimension said...

"...abortion itself is violence against women."

Agreed.

"Abortion hurts women far more grievously than not having access to abortion and, as a result, not being able to earn as much as a man, ever could."

Not having safe access to abortion (medically and legally safe) doesn't stop abortion. So making it illegal increases the violence.

Also, the economic damage is not the only thing a forced pregnancy will do. It's not just economic inconvenience.

In some cases, the fetus has some condition which means it will die in any case, and the abortion becomes a saving grace.

There may be physical damage: for example, a woman working in a factory pushes herself too far for fear of losing her job, or a bike messenger, and collapses from high blood pressure.

Perhaps a woman must give up earning because she must take bedrest. She has no husband, no income. She becomes homeless...there are endless permutations that can lead a pregnant woman into sickness, homelessness, death....it is not our right, certainly as feminists, to inflict that on someone.

Pentimento said...

I agree that we live in an unjust society in a fallen world. But the first thing we must do to ameliorate the injustice is, I believe, to grant equal rights to all people, which would include the unborn child. Yes, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong with pregnancies, whether desired or not. Read Kyle Cupp's blog post about his unborn daughter, for instance, and some of the responses in the combox. But all life has value, and the taking of one life, even if it helps to avert a disaster in another life, is simply not morally permissible.

Talking about the endless permutations of what might happen to a hypothetical woman who you assume would be better off having an abortion is even less evidentially verifiable than saying that owning a gun leads to violence. Why not work for a just society with provisions for struggling single mothers, rather than pushing them towards violence against their unborn children?

Fifth Dimension said...

"..a hypothetical woman who you assume would be better off having an abortion..."

I do not assume. I leave her to tell me if she would be better off. It is not for me to judge.

"Why not work for a just society with provisions for struggling single mothers.."

We should.

"... rather than pushing them towards violence against their unborn children?"

I do not advocate pushing. I accept the fact that women will have abortions, and that legislation against it will not stop that violence.

Legislation will not help to reduce the violence of abortion. Other things, such as working toward a more just world, as you mention, will.

Pentimento said...

I disagree that legislation will not help to reduce the violence of abortion. If abortion were restricted, fewer women would seek it out.

Fifth Dimension said...

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

A recent study published in The Lancet explicitly states otherwise.

"The Lancet is the world's leading independent general medical journal. The Lancet aims to publish the best original primary research papers, and review articles of the highest standard. The Lancet is stringently edited and peer-reviewed to ensure the scientific merit and clinical relevance of its diverse content."

The Lancet, Volume 370, Issue 9595, Pages 1338 - 1345, 13 October 2007 [see page 6, column 1, paragraph 2.]

doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61575-X

"Making abortion legal, safe, and accessible does not appreciably increase demand. Instead, the principal effect is shifting previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones."

And from the opening summary: "Access to safe abortion improves womens health and vice versa..."

Pentimento said...

Fine, FD, but before I accepted this statement as fact, I would need to see the data and the studies cited. How was the data controlled? If you look at the number of abortions in western nations before and after legalization, there's no question that the numbers are way up after.

What's more, the Lancet publishing this study it doesn't make it true. The Lancet also published Andrew Wakefield's widely discredited research on the spurious MMR vaccine-autism link, after all, which ended up to be hugely embarrassing for the world's leading "independent" medical journal.

Fifth Dimension said...

Sure, that's why I left you all the details.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for the citation. Unfortunately, I doubt I'll have time to do the research at any point in the near future, though I'd like to, because, as I mentioned above, the fact that the Lancet has published something is not enough to make me believe it might be in any way true. And I don't see how they could have done a study comparing abortion rates in societies that restrict abortion with rates in those that don't. There would be no accurate standard of reporting in the former, first of all, and cultural differences would need to be controlled for. This sounds to me like an agenda-driven article à la Wakefield.

Fifth Dimension said...

It's a series of articles on sexual health propelled by the World Health Organization.

This particular article does acknowledge the difficulties in accurate reporting, including underreporting of illegal activity, differences in nomenclature from country to country, scarcity of long-term data and so on.

The study is a survey, obviously, not a controlled clinical study. It seems very far-reaching to me.

There are data available for a number of countries that have changed from illegal to legal or vice versa.

Something that spoke to me was the following -

Although the case-fatality rate of abortion reflects the general standard of health care in a country (and most countries that outlaw abortion are developing countries) the median ratio for abortion mortality in such countries is 34 per 100 000 live births. This ratio steadily decreases as grounds for legal abortion increase.

Pentimento said...

There is a lot of controversy over the WHO's efforts to promote safe abortion in developing countries. Many of the countries reject these initiatives, including those in the African Union.

What would really improve women's health in developing nations is access to skilled obstetricians or midwives and good nutrition. It seems to me that the WHO should be focusing on these basic needs first.

Incidentally, women die from legal abortion too. See www.ffl.org.

Fifth Dimension said...

Sure. Sure. And women die in childbirth, too.

Still, we have 2 points:

1.Women will not stop having abortions, no matter what.
2. Making abortion legal tends to make it safer.
3. Making abortion illegal doesn't reduce the number of abortions significantly.

Pentimento said...

I'm not sure on what you're basing your third point. Is it the WHO-funded Lancet article you mentioned earlier, which appears to treat only developing nations? That paradigm is not applicable in the west. In the US, for instance, the abortion rate rose precipitously after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1973. It's a fairly straightforward conclusionn that, conversely, if abortion is restricted, fewer abortions will be sought.

Fifth Dimension said...

The article I cited does include developed countries:

"Countries that liberalised their abortion laws such as Barbados, Canada, South Africa, Tunisia, and Turkey did not have an increase in abortion. By comparison, the Netherlands, which has unrestricted access to free abortion and contraception, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the wrold."

Fifth Dimension said...

And here is a rather chilling study...

Title: Legal abortions and neonatal homicide after Roe v Wade.
Author: Lester D
Source: PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORTS. 1993 Feb;72(1):46.
Abstract: Lester (1992) showed that neonatal homicide rates were lower in the 10 years after Roe v Wade than in the 10 years before.

The present study explored the association between the rate of legal abortions in the US from 1973 to 1987 expressed as rates per 1000 women age 15 to 44 years and as percentages of live births (Census Bureau, annual) and the murder rates of babies in the first hour, first week, first month, and first year (National Center for Health Statistics, annual).

None of the 8 Pearson correlations were statistically significant (their range was 0.29 to 0.29). Similarly, all 8 time-series regressions using the Cochrane-Orcutt method to correct for serial autocorrelation (Doan, 1990) indicated no significant effect from the legal abortion rate.

Although the neonatal homicide rate was lower in the US after Roe v Wade than before, the volume of legal abortions after the decision was not apparently associated with further changes in the neonatal homicide rate.

This, therefore, qualifies the conclusion of Lester (1992) who suggested that access to abortions might decrease the murder rate of newborns.

Pentimento said...

Well, the huge increase in numbers of abortions in the US after 1973 obviously does not correlate with the experiences of Barbados, Canada, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey, and the Netherlands.

Regarding the study you cite: it is full of (to me at least) indecipherable discipline-specific jargon, which makes the last paragraph seem to undermine the argument of the penultimate one. Maybe you can clarify.

I don't really think that the lessening of the neonatal homicide rate, which is statistically low in any case, is a compelling reason to applaud the introduction of legal abortion, which is more than one million a year in the US.

Fifth Dimension said...

The penultimate paragraph means that the NUMBER of LEGAL abortions went up, but that didn't mean the homicide rate went down, it was the ACCESS that seemed to bring the homicides down. So that seems to be in line with the 'legal access improves women's health' point.

As far as Roe V Wade increasing the number of abortions, that seems to be a myth.

According to the book "Abortion Rates in the United States." by Matthew E Wetstein,

Published by SUNY Press, 1996
ISBN 0791428478, 9780791428474
153 pages

"Conventional wisdom tells us that Roe was the catalyst for a substantial increase in the number of abortions in the United States. Yet time series analysis demonstrates that Roe did not significantly alter the trend in abortion utilization in this country..."

In other words, the trend was ALREADY on the upswing.

Pentimento said...

"The penultimate paragraph means that the NUMBER of LEGAL abortions went up, but that didn't mean the homicide rate went down, it was the ACCESS that seemed to bring the homicides down. So that seems to be in line with the 'legal access improves women's health' point."

This makes no sense. Does the increase in the number of legal abortions NOT correlate to an increase in access to abortion?

"As far as Roe V Wade increasing the number of abortions, that seems to be a myth.

According to the book "Abortion Rates in the United States." by Matthew E Wetstein,

Published by SUNY Press, 1996
ISBN 0791428478, 9780791428474
153 pages
'Conventional wisdom tells us that Roe was the catalyst for a substantial increase in the number of abortions in the United States. Yet time series analysis demonstrates that Roe did not significantly alter the trend in abortion utilization in this country...'

In other words, the trend was ALREADY on the upswing."

Sorry, but there was nothing approaching a million abortions a year in the US before 1973. A "trend on the upswing" is neither statistically nor factually the same thing as an actual increase. To correlate the two is a prime example of fudging the numbers to make a point.

As for the trend, abortion was not illegal throughout the US prior to Roe. Each state had its own abortion laws, with some states laws being very liberal, like New York State's. And there was absolutely a trend in the 1960s and early 1970s toward more procurement of abortion, as the result of the sexual revolution.

Fifth Dimension said...

S"orry, but there was nothing approaching a million abortions a "plateau of abortion and abortion rate around 1980."

"As for the trend, abortion was not illegal throughout the US prior to Roe. Each state had its own abortion laws, with some states laws being very liberal, like New York State's."

Right.

"In the years prior to Roe, only states that had legalized abortion were providing data to the CDC."


"And there was absolutely a trend in the 1960s and early 1970s toward more procurement of abortion, as the result of the sexual revolution."

My point exactly.

Fifth Dimension said...

oops - not sure what happened there: first paragraph should have read as follows:

"Sorry, but there was nothing approaching a million abortions a year in the US before 1973."

You haven't cited your data, but (from the same text by Wetstein):

.."the increase in abortions and abortion rates in the wake of Roe may represent better reporting of the real abortion rate. This might also explain the plateau ..around 1980."

Pentimento said...

FD, I'm not going to do a lot of digging for data, because I'm really busy. I have no intention of turning this disucssion into a numbers war. But I did chance on this article, which cites the same Lancet article that you cited earlier, and regards the conclusions its authors drew from the data with skepticism. The author also notes that the other sponsor of the Lancet article, in addition to the WHO, was the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood International -- not exactly an uncompromised sponsor of the study.


http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08021/850899-152.stm


The author also cites some of the data that you are looking for from me: for all of 1973, following the Roe decision in January of that year, there were 744,600 abortions in the U.S. As she concludes,

". . . to believe that there were 1 million or more abortions per year before Roe v. Wade was handed down in January 1973, when there were only 744,600 in 1973 following the Supreme Court's decision, you'd have to believe that the ruling sparked an enormous, immediate decline in abortion. That's absurd on its face.

Indeed, the abortion rate in the United States skyrocketed after Roe, hitting its peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 1981, according to Guttmacher statistics."

Don't be fooled by how those who have a vested interest in promoting abortion are presenting the numbers.

Pentimento said...

Sorry, full URL for the article is

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08021/850899-152.stml

Pentimento said...

It got cut off again! The tail is .stml

Fifth Dimension said...

Again, "the increase in abortions and abortion rates in the wake of Roe may represent better reporting of the real abortion rate. This might also explain the plateau ..around 1980."

Please don't call me a fool. I researched this topic some time ago because I was truly interested in seeing if legislating against abortion would serve to decrease their number. I am convinced it will not.

It appears to me that you are being influenced by your need to believe.

PS- what vested interest? PLease don't tell me you believe PP only supports abortion because they want to make a profit.

Pentimento said...

FD, I didn't call you a fool, and I don't take you for one. But I do believe that the WHO/Guttmacher study data has probably been crunched to suggest a particular outcome that the data does not actually indicate. There is simply no way to accurately compile data on abortion rates where it's illegal. That goes for most of the US too, prior to 1973.

"It appears to me that you are being influenced by your need to believe."

My need to believe what?

I used to believe, as you appear to, that abortion was a necessary option in an unjust society. I believed that abortion was a welcome relief to a desperate woman. I don't believe that anymore.

What I believe now is that those of us who call ourselves Christian are obligated to ameliorate conditions for the poor and for those who are desperate for various reasons, poverty often, but not always, being one of them. I believe that we are constrained to work for justice, not to advocate evil just because it seems necessary. We need to question unflinchingly for whom abortion is ever necessary. I believe that you are post-abortive, as am I, and it's often struck me that abortion most often is put across by pro-choicers in my set as necessary for other women, for women not like themselves. I've written about that here before.

I believe that when we compromise with evil, to paraphrase Nietzsche, the abyss has looked into us, and, indeed, that we have become the abyss. We can do better than this, and we must try.

Should people be allowed to choose evil freely? God gives us that choice, but we are still governed by laws, both social and natural. There are reasons why murder and torture are illegal. There are reasons that abortion should be, too.

In the extremely unlikely event that abortion actually ever becomes illegal in the US, rest assured there will still be access to abortion (I used to know a woman involved with a feminist group, for instance, who were learning how to do DIY saline abortions "just in case"). I"m not naïve enough to believe that abortion won't always be with us, as it always has been. Nor do I believe much in the progress of the human soul.

But we must strive to be, and to do, better.

And I'm sorry to tell you that yes, I do believe that PPI has a vested financial interest in abortion, which is a very profitable industry.

Fifth Dimension said...

Your need to believe that legislation will reduce the number of abortions.