Tag Archives: Abortion

Leopards… spots… Chris Trotter redux

Cross posted

In July 2010, NZ “left wing” political commentator Chris(opher) Trotter wrote this in respect of Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed abortion law reform bill.

The first question I’d like to ask Labour list MP Steve Chadwick is: “Why now?” What’s convinced her that the time is right to reopen the abortion debate? What ill-omened denizen of the current political environment has told her that this is the moment to introduce a members bill permitting abortion-on-demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy?

I would really, really like to know who it was. Because, try as I may, I’m finding it really difficult to make the cost/benefit analysis come out in Ms Chadwick’s, her party’s, or even her gender’s favour.

Dominion Post, 9 July 2010

In other words…. “No no no! Even though I agree with a woman’s right to choose, now is just not the right time for it, because it’s BAAAAAADDD for the Left.”

In November 2010, Chris Trotter wrote this in respect of Matt McCarten’s candidacy in the Mana by-election.

When Matt McCarten told me he was thinking of putting his name forward for the Mana by-election, I shuddered inwardly. … The political analyst in me pursed his lips and shook his head.

“With the Labour Party moving steadily to the Left,” he intoned disapprovingly, “this is precisely the wrong time to challenge Goff’s hand-picked candidate in an important by-election in one of the party’s safest seats.”

Then I caught the gleam in Matt’s eye, and I told my inner political analyst to go stick his objections where the sun don’t shine.

Because if being on the Left means waiting for the “right time” to fight for your principles, then, as the hero of Howard Spring’s wonderful political novel, Fame Is The Spur, discovered, when the fight comes to you, the bright sword of principle can no longer be drawn. Through all those years, while you were waiting for the “right time”, the sword’s blade was rusting fast to the scabbard.

Dominion Post, 12 November 2010.

So on the one hand, even though The Left holds principles dear, it must be pragmatic, but on the other, to hell with pragmatism: The Left should hold fast to its principles.

Guess what the difference is between the two cases….

Update: Chris Trotter has left a comment over at The Hand Mirror, where I cross-posted this. Chris Trotter’s comment.

I believe that’s what you call “a fair cop”.

Guilty as charged.

Good on him.

Dr Pell and the Pill of Evil

The Australian gave Dr George Pell some space on Saturday, to write about why the pill has made things worse for women. For those of you who don’t know him, Dr Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and he is a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. What he writes is utter tosh.

Dr Pell has three arguments about the pill and its terrible impact on women. First, it distorts the marriage market for women. Second, it makes women have abortions. Third, it makes women unhappy.

Let’s take them one at a time.

In the first part of the article, Pell draws on the work of an economist to show that the pill has made things worse for women, because now men don’t have to enter the marriage market in order to get into the sex market, and that means that women can’t find marriage partners anymore, and even if they do, they’re more likely to get divorced.

The economist Pell draws on is Timothy Reichert. His analysis was published in First Things, which is…

published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

It was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic theologian. So this is not exactly The Economic Journal, or The Quarterly Journal of Economics. It’s a source that’s highly biased towards the results that Pell wants. As for Dr Timothy Reichert, the economist Pell cites so approvingly: his first degree comes from Franciscan University (the name alone should tell you about the religious orientation of the school), and his masters degree comes from The Catholic University of America. I suspect that he’s got some ideological prior commitments. These days, he works as a transfer pricing specialist. Having said that, his PhD is from George Mason University, and the economics school there is very highly regarded. He is clearly very smart, and very able.

I do not like arguments from authority, so I am not impressed by Pell’s regurgitation of Dr Reichert’s thesis. But if I do not like arguments from authority, then I am also committed to counter-arguments that do not consist only in criticising the authority. However, I am not an economist… Nevertheless, there seem to me to be two serious points to be made in respect of Pell’s use of Reichert’s analysis. The first is that because the pill has enabled women and men to separate sex and marriage, men have put off marriage. Women typically start looking for marriage partners earlier than men do. As a result, there is an age mismatch in the marriage market. And oh noes… women can’t get married because there are no men to marry!

Ah… slow down. Let’s imagine that in the absence of the pill, both men and women want to get married at say, age 20, so that they can have lots of sex. Then along comes the pill. Suddenly, people can have sex without having to get married. Even so, sooner or later, lots of baby lights start flashing in women’s heads, and by say, age 30, they want to get married and have children. Unfortunately, men’s baby lights don’t start flashing until say, age 40. So, there’s a 10 year age gap.

And there’s your answer, Dr Pell. Even if the pill enables men to delay marriage, the consequence is only that women marry men who are somewhat older than they would have been had there been no such thing as the pill. Sure, there’s a mismatch early on, when people may not be able to partner up, but over time, the mismatch sorts itself out.

Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, assume that the age mismatch means that women have less bargaining power, which results in more divorces as men trade in older wives for younger. But that seems odd to me. If men are older when they start looking for child bearing and rearing partners, and older men are more likely to ditch older wives and start looking for younger ones, then surely that increases the number of men looking for wives. There must surely be an over supply of potential husbands, resulting in increased bargaining power for women, not less.

Even so, since when has the church taught that marriage is a transaction, to be engaged in only for what each partner can get out of the other? Many years ago, when we got married in the Catholic church, my partner and I went to a marriage counselling weekend. We talked about all sorts of issues with respect to relationships, and how to build a successful marriage. Absolutely none of the discussion was about what we could sell to each other. It is absurd to cast marriage as a mere transaction in a market place, and normally, the church does not do so. Except when it’s convenient, eh, Dr Pell?

Second, Dr Pell argues that the pill causes abortion. His argument goes like this. The pill creates a contraceptive mentality. The contraceptive mentality means that we regard pregnancy as something to be gotten rid of. Therefore, people are more willing to have abortions. Therefore, the pill causes abortion.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how something that prevents conception causes abortion. It seems to me that it’s ignorance of contraception that causes abortion. That, and ignoring human nature. The Catholic church teaches that all sex outside marriage is wrong (unless it’s priests raping children, of course). As a corollary to that, Catholic girls and boys don’t need to know about contraception, because they don’t need it, because they won’t be having sex.

Pull the other one.

As it turns out, abortion rates are falling, because unintended pregnancy rates are falling. It seems that over time, access to effective contraception is having exactly the desired effect.

Third, Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, argue that women aren’t as happy now as they were before the advent of the pill. Ah.. because aside from rabble rousers like Betty Friedan, all women were surely much happier when they were required to be housewives raising children. The happiness gap between men and women has been much discussed: the most plausible explanation seems to be that men are still not stepping up.

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

Perhaps Dr Pell would like to factor male responsibility, or lack of it, into his thinking.

As a final little point, Dr Pell points out that Western countries are no longer producing enough children to maintain their populations. Ah… so what? If anything, surely this is a good thing?

In any case, since when has the Catholic church ever been concerned about women? It seems to me that the hierarchy only gets worried about women when it seems that women might just gain a little independence, a little autonomy, a little respect, a little being treated as though they were human beings after all.

Abortion Law Reform: Keeping the arguments straight

Cross posted

It’s important to keep two lines of discussion, or two moral issues, separate when we are talking about Steve Chadwick’s proposed abortion law reform bill.

The first issue is the morality of abortion itself. Do you think that abortion is morally permissible, or morally impermissible?

I think that abortion is morally permissible, for reasons that I have set out at length in these posts: why I think abortion is morally permissible and follow-up posts More on abortion: the infanticide objection, More on abortion: the female foeticide issue, and More on abortion: what about disabilities?. Even aside from the morality of abortion, I think that it should be permitted, because the alternative is ghastly.

The second moral issue is the extent to which it is permissible to force other people to adhere to your own moral standards. Is it right for you to tell everyone else how they should live, what relationships they should enter into, what actions they should or should not take?

In general, in Western liberal democracies, we don’t believe in the state telling people how to live. There are no laws requiring us to get married, to live in certain places, to go to particular churches. The standard response to the idea of more state restriction is to decry it as nanny-statism, or the majority imposing its will on the minority. We do have quite a few laws to co-ordinate our activities, and laws about who may access which resources, and laws about how to pay for state resources. We also have a lot of laws aimed at protecting individuals, both from the power of the state, and from each other. I don’t think all of these laws are good laws by any means (for example, I think that the law around civil unions is deeply flawed), but as a work-in-progress, by and large the laws do a not too bad job of creating freedom for us. We have some laws that coerce behaviour – famously, laws that require children to be educated. I see this as freedom enhancing: it is very difficult for anyone to function effectively in contemporary society without having a basic education. But for the most part, we don’t prescribe morality through our laws. Those who want the law to prescribe morality need to make a very strong case.

So… how does this apply to abortion? At first glance, the answer is obvious. My body, my understanding of the moral issue, my decision. Don’t impose your morality on me.

But there’s an objection to this answer. Prosaic puts it this way:

It seems necessary to point out to you that most of our laws–and all of the laws in the Crimes Act–are there to control people because we don’t trust them to make their own moral choices eg, the law against murder–do you have a similar problem with this law? If we followed your argument we would have no laws against anything and your neighbour would be free to choose to make her “own moral decision” and kill you.

She or he has got a point. If we go down the line of argument that I advocate, we end up with extreme moral relativism, where we can’t make moral judgements about anything. Or even if we can make moral judgements, we can’t make laws that reflect those moral judgements.

Except I think we can. We can make laws in cases where our moral judgements are backed up by reason and evidence, and the reasoning and evidence has been subject to rigorous scrutiny. The evidence stacks up, the logic stacks up, the outcomes stack up, all providing solid foundations for the law.

As it turns out, as a society we have made a strong case for prescribing morality in respect of some issues. For example, we think that rape and murder and assault and theft are wrong, and we prosecute people accordingly. There is near universal agreement on these issues. We might disagree about what constitutes rape and murder and assault and theft, but we agree that rape and murder and assault and theft are crimes. Moreover, we have strong reasons for agreeing that these are crimes, reasons to do with the wrongness of taking human being’s lives, and hurting human being’s bodies, and invading someone’s personal space, and so on.

But there is no widespread agreement about abortion. Some people argue that abortion is wrong, but many, many more argue that it is morally permissible. Some people try to bring abortion in under the heading of murder, or wrongful killing, or some such thing, but in order to do that, they need to show that a conceptus, an embryo, or a fetus (depending on the stage of development) has exactly the same moral standing as other human beings. Giving exactly the same moral standing to a newly fertilised egg and an adult human being seems implausible at best, unless you start grasping for concepts like souls. Once you do that, you’re into the territory of religion, and it’s very clear that not all religions agree on the issue of abortion. So the person who wants to ban abortion on religious grounds needs to provide some compelling arguments as to why her or his religion is the correct one.

The burden of proof on those who oppose abortion is high. They need to be able to give cogent reasons for the moral impermissibility of abortion and they need to be able to show why they think that their own moral standards should be embodied in the law. If they can’t make a good argument for the second issue, then in good conscience, they ought to support, or at least not oppose, Steve Chadwick’s abortion law reform bill.

Abortion Law Reform: Not thinking about it is a privilege

In New Zealand, Labour list MP Steve Chadwick has prepared an abortion law reform bill, and she is gathering support for putting it into the ballot. Check The Hand Mirror for action you can take to support her.

Chadwick thinks that support is about 50:50 for the bill, but at No Right Turn, I/S says: “I don’t think so. Its more that most of them don’t want to touch the issue with a barge pole.” I think I/S is probably right. It’s an issue bound to bring all the (allegedly) christian right wingers out in screaming force, determined to control women, and to force their own morality on other adults, treating pregnant women as children who can’t be trusted to make their own moral decisions. And no politician wants to get mixed up in that.

The leaders of both major parties are staying as far away from the issue as they can. Prime Minister John “smile and wave” Key wasn’t available to comment, and Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff said, “he hadn’t given the matter much thought.”

HE hadn’t given the matter much thought.

You see, someone who doesn’t think HE will ever find HIMSELF unexpectedly pregnant has that luxury. HE can afford to put the question to the back of HIS mind, to regard it as a non-issue, as something HE doesn’t have to deal with. It’s an extraordinary privilege, to not have to think too much about the legality and availability of abortion. I think that in not giving the matter too much thought, Mr Goff has failed HIS female constituents.

As for John Key, it would be nice if the Prime Minister might be available to do a little thinking about this issue too. He can’t be absent forever on it. I would expect that coming from a party that claims to value freedom of association, thought and action, he will be in support of abortion law reform. Abortion is a conscience matter in the New Zealand parliament, that is, a vote that each individual MP casts, rather than a vote on party lines, and I’m hopeful that he will support Chadwick’s bill. I’m happy to wait to learn what his views are, rather than assuming he will necessarily go one way or the other. But I would very much like to know what those views are. Yesterday would have been good.


The Queen of Thorns is in impressive form on this issue too: Abortion reform: It’s about goddamn time.

Maia has a post up at The Hand Mirror: People who are lying about abortion, crossposted at her own place, Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty, pointing out that “in 1977 and 1978 Phil Goff was the spokesperson for Young Labour. Young Labour actively opposed the current abortion law…. He has thought about abortion. He knows where he stands.” She also has some very interesting things to say about the alleged “compromise” in the current law.


I’ve written extensively about abortion, including why I think abortion is morally permissible and follow-up posts More on abortion: the infanticide objection, More on abortion: the female foeticide issue, and More on abortion: what about disabilities? In any case, I think that the abortion decision is one that is properly reserved to the woman who is pregnant.

More information for the abortion conversation

Some serious research this time, instead of shonky newspaper polls.

It turns out, contra the frothers, that women do not use abortion as a form of contraception.*

Abortion not used as birth control

Researchers at Flinders University interviewed 965 women aged over 30 who came to Adelaide’s largest abortion clinic. It turned out that 62% of them were using contraception when they became pregnant, and that most of the rest had some good reason for not having been using contraception when they became pregnant, such as, “cultural bans, thinking they could never have children, having been raped or having had what was thought to have been “permanent” birth-control surgery.”

The study comes on top of earlier research showing that 70% of women under 30 were using contraception when they became pregnant.

For whatever reason women choose abortion, it’s not because they regard it as a form of contraception.

The research is published in the Australian Journal of Primary Health, which I don’t have access to because the 2010 issues of the journal aren’t available on-line yet. It will be interesting to read the whole study, and find out a little more about why some women were not using contraception. I imagine that the reasons will be many and varied, but that no one will say that it was because they like having abortions instead.

* I hunted down a series of frother links, but having read them, I’m really not interested at all in giving them any airtime on my blog. If you really want to take a look for yourself, type “using abortion as a contraceptive” into google, and scan through the first few pages. You’ll find them.

An unhelpful contribution to the conversation about abortion

There’s a difficult case in front of the South Australian coroners’ court at present. A baby was still born, Someone (it is not clear who) wants an inquest, but the coroner must first decide whether he can hold an inquest, because by law, inquests can only inquire about the deaths of persons, and by law, fetuses and still born babies are not persons. Local paper The Advertiser thinks that [t]he case is likely to fuel debate about the rights of the unborn child and abortion. To help that debate along, they’re running a handy little on-site poll, asking its readers to determine when life begins.

You can say whether you think life begins at conception, when the zygote develops, when the embryo develops, when the foetus develops, at birth or at first breath.

FFS! I know, this is all just a ploy to keep their on-line circulation figures up, but really. Does this add anything at all to any discussion about abortion? The casual alignment of life with sanctity, the implication that a vote is the way to settle moral disputes, the reifying of stages as though they are definite hard and fast moments instead of long and complex transitions (and that would include conception, BTW). These silly simplifications just muddy people’s understanding of how human life begins, and reinforce the thuggery of majority rules. And they certainly don’t encourage people to think about the assumptions they make, and the process of reflecting on moral issues.

Too much to ask for from what really is just a provincial newspaper, I know. Even so, would it be too much to ask The Advertiser to stop creating polls as silly as this one?

As for the case itself, as ever it will turn on legal principle and the particular facts. It’s not making a statement about abortion at all, and it would be helpful if The Advertiser didn’t try to make out that it does.

For the record, the results to date are:

Life begins at conception – 36%, when the zygote develops – 5%, when the embryo develops – 5%, when the foetus develops – 26%, at birth – 10%, at first breath – 18%.

This I can do without

It’s election season in South Australia, and the stobie poles are adorned with candidates’ advertising paraphernalia. Fine, whatever, that’s how elections go. But there’s one set of advertising that I’m finding hard to stomach.

Trevor Grace (how’s that for a misnomer?) is standing for the upper house. He has no real platform, no plan for state, no ideas about how he could use his vote to influence say, water policy, or transport, or health, or education. All he wants to do is to stop abortion. He has used the impending election as an excuse to slather his advertising all over the arterial traffic routes in Adelaide. Some of the advertising isn’t too bad; it merely shows a newborn baby (because Trevor thinks a group of cells is exactly like a newborn baby). But another of his placards is very difficult to look at. And I say this as a woman who has had neither an abortion or a miscarriage, nor lost a child. It shows the face of a fetus, with four cracks running through it (photo of it available here).

I find it distressing. I imagine that it could cause huge distress to a woman or a man who has taken the decision to terminate a pregnancy, or who has had a miscarriage, or who has lost a child.

I value the freedom of speech in Australia. I like living in a country where people are free to voice their opinions, free to try out their ideas in public. So in that spirit, I want to exercise my freedom of speech, and say that I find Trevor Grace’s advertising loathsome, and detestable, and entirely lacking in love. He has taken no care for people who have been caught up in the storm of a pregnancy ending. I can not imagine ever voting for someone who has so little compassion and care for others.

As far as I can tell from his website, which I am not linking to, Grace claims to be a Christian. Enough said, really.