Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boxes and "maybe baby"

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while... Maha is writing about an antiabortion video that compares women to boxes.


Swiping the transcript from Trailer Park Feminist,

SCENE: a box factory

NARRATOR: If you thought there was a small chance that a baby was hidden in a box, wouldn't you treat the box as if it held a baby, just in case?

SCENE: an ultrasound image

NARRATOR: So even if you think there's just a small chance that an unborn child is a baby, shouldn't you treat it as if it were, just in case? Something to think about.

"If you think there's a question, you have to force women to remain pregnant" is what they want to say. This is why Maha and Trailer Park say that it renders women into boxes, as if their only purpose (while pregnant) is to protect the babies around them.

There's a huge problem with this argument. See, pregnancy is a major health issue. While pregnant, a woman's body goes through many changes, and many of them are uncomfortable, and many can be dangerous. If there was any other medical condition with the same troubles and risks, we'd let a woman and her doctor decide what to do about it. We would require the state to have a compelling reason to forbid a medical procedure that alleviates those problems, and that is almost always less risky than letting it run its course.

So it's not enough to say "Oh! But what if! What if it really is a baby!"

No, before you can say that a woman should go to jail for having a medical procedure done[1] you need proof. You need a lot more than "well, maybe it makes baby Jesus cry!"

That's why Roe vs Wade was written so as to present viability as the breakpoint. Once you have a viable fetus, at that point we can surely say that the state has an interest in the life of the fetus. Until then, it's harder to make the argument.

But there needs to be a breakpoint. Claiming that a woman should go through a pregnancy to protect the rights of a single cell is ludicrous. No matter how fine and wonderful a fertilized egg cell is, it's not a baby. It's a human cell, sure... but it's not a person who the government has an interest in protecting at the expense of the woman surrounding it. And at the earliest stages of pregnancy, there is no heart, no lungs, no brain... it's clear that the government has no compelling interest in saying a woman can't get this heartless, lungless, brainless collection of cells out of her... not even if a loud minority keeps whining and moaning and making emotional appeals.

Somewhere along the line, the state can assert an interest, and viability is a good safe harbor. If you can take the fetus out and it will live, it's definitely a person.

Ah, but what if it will live only very briefly and die... couldn't it still be a person? Doesn't the "it might be a baby" argument mean something?

Well, we don't put people in jail because "well, gee, someone thinks they might have done something awful." We shouldn't put people in jail unless we're sure. If the government has the right to put folks in jail because a loud minority hates what they do, where does it end?

So we need certainty. Viability is at least mostly-objective, so it provides us with a good measure of that. Trying to tug on the heartstrings with a "maybe baby" is not a good reason for the government to consider jailing people.

[1] Some anti-abortion folks create laws that say that only doctors should go to jail for performing abortions. Well, if a crime is severe enough to merit jail time, then an active accessory to that crime "should" - not will, but should - go to jail as well. To claim that abortion should be made illegal, but only punish the doctors, is hypocritical.

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