Mom goes missing

The always eloquent and gracious Matthew Lee Anderson takes on the question of why pro-life focuses so exclusively on the baby. At it’s core, it is something akin to a marvel at the promise of this life, a promise which we must then honor. As noted, he is nothing if not eloquent. It is a thing of wonder — wonder, which Abraham Heschel reminds us, is at the core of our approach to the world. And in its own hidden way it also informs our politics.

Within the pro-life outlook, the hiddenness of the fetus is a microcosm of our social relations. As Gracy Olmstead observed, the Women’s March on Washington’s proclamation that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us” perfectly distills the pro-lifer’s beliefs. “Defending the voiceless, the vulnerable, the marginalized, is priority number one,” Olmstead suggests

Yet this eloquence has a blindness: the mother goes under-addressed. If the embryo presents a society in all its tentativeness, the  social setting of the mother is no less important. She is not only the bearer, but an active agent, too.  Wonder cannot negate agency. Further, there remains the question of our relationship to our bodies an the control that I may or may not exert with  respect to my body.

These are not a counter to the essay so much as limning, an edging. There is yet more to be said. In that score, the term “pro-life” is an attempt to get a more fully-orbed sense of the issues, not only that of the embryo, but of the mother, her setting, and yes, her body. To stop at the baby is to leave the topic smaller.

Gender Selection and Abortion

Bill Vis passes along a report on video sting of abortion clinics: would thy support a gender specific abortion? The video of course, serves up its point, but with reservations.

Specifically, I can think of three:

1) Statistics do not support that any such discrimination is taking place in the United States. M/F sex ratios have slightly declined in the past 30 years from 1052/1000 to 1048/1000.

2) Sex determination takes place relatively late in a pregnancy. In terms of abortions, more than 95% of all abortions take place before that point, that is, women are aborting for other reasons, not sex selection.

3) What they do abort are special needs children. There is an important report from the liberal American Prospect on this. It notes (naturally) that some politicians who claim to be pro-life on abortion issues are quite willing to cut funding for services for special needs children. The fly in the ointment? States that have relatively low funding for services also report higher abortion rates for Down syndrome kids. You can guess how the pro-lifer in me gets rankled, so let me pull up a pro-life Republican instead:

“I’m sorry to say that a lot of my fellow pro-life people are tax-cuts-at-any-cost people,” says Bill Otto, who represents Kansas’ Ninth House District, in the rural east-central part of the state. “There are lots of people who believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth. It’s really beginning to rub here. If you’re pro-life, you need to be whole life.”

Pro Life Metaphysics

Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy

The metaphysics of the matter–the matter of the fertilized egg, to be specific–have to be evaluated and our ethical reflection and public policy brought into line accordingly.  Even within a liberal democracy, where our differences of opinion apparently extend even to our own minds, we must resolve the question of who will be admitted.

I’m interested in this link between metaphysical status and moral obligation. Things are messier than what apparently is assumed. First, the metaphysical status of the new life is initially not directly known; we may assume that status of the fertilized egg understood generally, but we are blind as to status of any particular egg in the woman’s womb. And this blindness as to the actual state of the developing life continues into the early weeks of the pregnancy.

This it seems raises the second question, that of the nature of the moral obligation. When is it properly and consciously assumed by the woman, that is, when does she become a moral actor? Or more generally, can I have a moral obligation which I am fundamentally and physically unable to know about?

And in turn, this brings in the State and its coercive power. Obligation to the State (i.e. public policy) properly ought to flow from what can be seen, tested or validated. This is the principle of equity. If there exists a general class of “fertilized eggs” that ought to be protected, then how do we effect the State’s gaze, this the prerequisite for any action? The blindness as to the actual state of the pregnancy in the earliest days seems to bar State action apart from the most dystopian policy. (Indeed, in reductio absurdum if we follow the logic that metaphysics must determine policy, do we not end up with the State literally in the bedroom making sure that every act of sex be seen as creating legal obligation and so justifying intrusion?)

To summarize, it is not at all clear that metaphysical status generates the practical moral, let alone legal obligations.