July 29, 2005

Rationality and pseudo-choice (because packing is so damn boring)

I believe this was written by a guest poster at Alas, a blog. Doesn't seem to be either Amp or Pseudo-Adrienne:

Those who believe in a woman's right to control her own reproduction are rightly afraid of those who believe that fetuses deserve the same legal protection as born children, but these are not the only enemies of choice. More insidious is the opposition from 'pseudo-choicers' who believe abortion should be available - when they think it's appropriate.

Just as Henry Ford reputedly offered his customers 'any colour you want, as long as it's black', these 'pseudo-choicers' support a woman's right to choose, provided she makes a choice of which they approve. They agree that abortion is not murder, and they agree that the decision to end a pregnancy can be difficult - so difficult, in fact, that a foolish, hormonal woman cannot be trusted to make it alone.[...]

If the right to choose means anything at all, it has to include the right to make a choice that is incomprehensible to others. A woman's decision to end or continue a pregnancy doesn't need to make sense to anyone other than her; she is often the only person with all the information - knowledge of her own personality and wishes - necessary to understand it.

My emphasis.

Not only is this a great first-person statement which my views on abortion and autonomy echo, but it ties into this post on moral relativism. I really should write a post on 'care' vs. 'virtue' ethics sometime, but I think the bolded paragraph summarizes 'care' ethics really well: the strict, universal moral laws of 'virtue' ethics just can't incorporate the particularities of each individual situation, which, according to 'care', 'feminist', or (I would say) 'existentialist' ethics, are necessary data for making a moral judgement. Hence, I can only be comfortable accepting the broadest moral laws as being truly binding -- ie, probably only the categorical imperative. Anything with more substantial content would have to be handled by the way the CI is applied by the individual making the decision.

I also want to point out that our legal system is grounded (at least partially) in 'virtue' ethics -- at least formally, the laws apply universally, to all members of society equally, and are always binding. This leads to a conflict with the most radically 'existentialist' or 'autonomal' versions of 'care' ethics: it may easily happen that the morally right decision involves breaking the law. Kierkegaard recognized this, or something very much like it, in what he called the 'religious' form of life, in which the individual transcends the limits of the 'ethical' form to achieve a higher good -- what he called 'a teleological suspension of the ethical'. Kierkegaard had Christianity in mind in particular (hence 'religious'), but you can see something similar in Nietzsche's ideal of the Ueberman, as an artist who's willing to transcend mediocritizing social mores in pursuit of artistic triumph. I haven't read Walden, or don't remember it if I did, but the standard gloss on Thoreau includes such ideas, too.

It's debatable how far to take this analogy, however: what Kierkegaard and Nietzsche seem to have in mind is something Beyond Good and Evil, while 'right', 'wrong', 'justice' and 'fairness' are moral concepts, and the justification for civil disobedience is that the state might pass unjust laws, which should in turn be defied.


Drew said...

I think we have very different issues being conflated here, and I think this conflation can only harm the pro-choice movement. I read the entire linked aticle, and while it does indeed make powerful and fascinating points about how the abortion issue is seen by many people, it isn't making points about pro-choice.

Or rather, the article seems to take "pro-choice" in a very loosely, sociological kind f way. At the end of the article, she describes a certain anti-feminist, edven misogynistic attitude that a man might take toward abortion and says, whatever that attitude might be, it isn't pro-choice.

That's bollocks. If you believe that abortion, more or less, should be legal, then you are pro-choice. Period. Because legality is the core political/legal issue around abortion, and "pro-choice" is the name of the movement that favors legality over illegality.

Of course, there are all sorts of other social and cultural issues wrapped up around abortion. But they are separate from the political/legal issue, and they should never be conflated. To do so, as the article does, is to raise the bar on pro-choice in such a way that will inevitably lead to people disassociating themselves with the movement. That's exactly wrong. The article is saying that you can't be pro-choice unless your onboard with this particular pro-feminist mindset. That's bollocks.

The guy described in the story is an asshole. But he's still pro-choice. And we should be grateful to guys like him for helping us stand up to the real enemy. At the same time, we should attack his anti-feminist views in that context. But don't try to exclude him from the pro-choice movement. That's highly counter-productive.

Noumena said...

He's not pro-choice. He's pro-legalized abortion, but he certainly isn't in favour of the author making up her own mind.

In my mind, and I believe in the mind of most feminists, abortion is valuable not as an end in itself but as an important tool in maintaining women's rights to bodily autonomy. While the guy in the link is pro-legalized abortion, he certainly isn't pro-female reproductive autonomy. Seeing him as an ally in conserving abortion rights is like seeing a eugenicist as an ally in fighting for the right to commit suicide, or a pimp or crack dealer as an ally in the fight to legalize (licensed and regulated) prostitution or marijuana.

MosBen said...

I have to agree with Drew on this. Pro-Some-Choices is not the same as Anti-Choice. The fact that in some situation I have four options instead of being able to formulate any option I can conceive does not remove the fact that it is my choice which determines the option is chosen. I may not like the four options and may even be able to think of a better one, but the ability to select from a group of several different outcomes is choice.

It seems to me that Dan isn't really argueing for the Choice Movement, Dan's arguing for an Autonomy Movement, which I think overlap, but are not the same thing. It always bothers me when subsects of a group act as if the people that disagree with them some are worse than the people that disagree completely. The enemy of people who think there should be no restrictions on abortion should be the people that think abortion should be completely outlawed. Those people are the anti-choice part of the debate and while a world where you only have four options may not be great, it's certainly better than a world where you have no (legal) choices. The people that currently think abortion should only be allowed in certain cases are the majority of people in the middle of the debate; the people that the Left should be trying to convince that more choices is better and that autonomy is the ideal. Characterizing them as more dangerous than people that want to outright ban abortion just pushes them away from any type of coalition that could otherwise be formed against the real opposition.

MosBen said...

Having posted, I wish I could edit that and fix some of the grammer, but I hope you will forgive me for the less than stellar writing. It is, afterall, an internet message board.

Noumena said...

It's entirely correct to say I'm arguing for autonomy rather than 'choice'; but the former is what 'pro-choice' means because, as I said before, abortion is a means to reproductive autonomy, not an end in itself. By your reasoning, Ben, Rick Santorum is pro-choice: you have the choice to raise the baby yourself, or give it up for adoption.

Take another look at the quoted bit, or better yet, the entire post I linked to. While 'pro-choice' in the sense of condoning abortion, the man described in the article clearly thinks that the only right decision -- the only 'rational' decision -- is the one that he decided upon. Since the author's decision goes the other way, a priori she is being 'irrational', and has made the wrong decision. I'm having some trouble narrowing down an airtight definition of pro-choice, but it certainly encompasses the recognition of multiple morally acceptable options for any pregnant woman, including both the option to terminate and the option to keep and raise the child. On these grounds, this man is not pro-choice.

Drew said...

Yes, on those grounds, the man is not pro-choice, but those grounds are ridiculously overbroad. The man thinks aborion should be legal... he's pro-choice because that's what pro-choice means. You are talking about a host of issues which are completely outside the pro-choice/pro-life spectrum. What you're saying is the equivalent of telling someone they're not a liberal because they're a bad tipper. You can't exclude this guy from pro-choice just for being a misogynistic prick. Unfortunately for you, Noumena, he meets to a "t" the standard and accepted definition of pro-choice.

Language matters. It's flexible, but not that flexible. You're trying to redefine "pro-choice" to include lots of irrelevant cultural ideas. If you succeed, you destroy the pro-choice majority in this country. Good luck.

MosBen said...

To say what Drew said, but in my own words, Pro-Choice is a political movement aimed at keeping abortion legal. Santorum wants abortion to be illegal, therefore he is excluded from the Pro-Choice movement and to me it's those people that are the real enemy, not the people that believe in restricted choice. Pushing people that believe in somewhat restricted choice out of the Pro-Choice movement isn't going to help keep abortion legal, and in all likelihood just pushes them further towards Santorum.

Noumena said...

So the pro-choice majority in the country is only a majority because of all the men who thinks it's irrational for their girlfriend to have a baby when it's inconvenient for him?

Drew said...

Exactly! If we're trying to keep abortion legal, we absolutely need those men. We need the men who want abortion to be legal because they want their girlfriends to get abortions. That is a key demographic in this political fight.

Now, within the pro-choice coalition, we're going to have people who are pro-choice for all sorts of different reasons. For instance:

a) A person who thinks that abortion is in all cases morally wrong, but is afraid of expanded government intrusion

b) A person who thinks abortion should be encouraged (but never forced) for poor, single women, and discouraged (but never banned) for everyone else

c) A person who thinks that a woman's body belongs to no one but that woman, and she must be free to make whatever choice she wishes for whatever reason


We need all of these people (and more, obviously) to protect a woman's right to choose. That choice is already being limited by parental notification laws, waiting periods, border-crossing laws, etc. It's going to be limited further once Roberts gets confirmed and starts "limiting" precedent like Stenberg v. Carhart and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

This is quite possibly the worst time imaginable to be trying to enforce some doctrinaire hyper-defined version of pro-choice. We can take care of the bastards, the asshole, and the mysogynists within the pro-choice movement. And we must educate people that legality without autonomy isn't sufficient. But we can do that in a way that doesn't threaten legality, can't we?

Noumena said...

Now you're making a statistical argument that I just don't see any evidence for. In fact, since a significant majority of women are pro-choice in the 'narrowest' sense, that's 40% of the population right there. Now, if at least 20% of men are also pro-choice in the same way we seem to be, that's a majority -- albeit a slim one, by these pessimistic numbers I'm pulling out of my ass -- without pandering to a single misogynist or fence-sitter. Expand the defintion to include both your groups A and C (I'm talking about autonomy here, remember, so even libertarians who aren't sure about the morality of abortion could be supportive), and I bet you could get another 15%, for an extremely strong majority grounded in autonomy. More people than voted for Bush last November, and no controlling assholes or subtle eugenicists required.

Drew said...

We do seem to be lacking some data on this point, I admit. But I must say that I highly doubt your numbers as well. While I'm sure that a significant majority of women support abortion rights in a broad sense, I doubt that a significant majority, if a majority at all, support unilateral across the board abortion rights. I mean, we've been here before. You feel, not without good reason, that regulation of abortions (such as waiting periods, parental notifications, and time limitations) are not just backdoor attempts to make abortions harder to obtain, but also paternalistic attempts by the state to infringe upon the absolute autonomy of women. If I'm misunderstanding your views, please do correct me, but I'm confident that sort of "absolute right to abortion", so to speak, is not supported by a signficant majority of anything.

But regardless of how the poll numbers break down, and regardless of the practical consequences of taking this or that approach to the issue, the man described in the linked article is pro-choice by definition.