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Speaker: Abortion: morality and health

145 Responses

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  • TracyMac, in reply to Moz,

    ...general preference for state-funded medical care and progressive taxation rather than my distaste for having to pay for abortions.

    I have absolutely the same preference. But given the state of public health offerings for "optional" procedures (like hip replacements), I'd rather the more well-off paid something if the service were more accessible to all.

    As for adoption being offered as an alternative, I do think should be a pretty significant part of the counselling process. It's an interesting idea trying to link up people early in the process - and in that instance, if the idea were accepted, offering the pregnant woman financial support would be important.

    That would have to be a pretty iron-clad arrangement though. What if the prospective parents decided 6 months in, "no thanks". And of course, the opposite scenario of the mother deciding to keep the baby it's not uncommon now. (Although that has no impact on offering more options in relation to unwanted pregnancies)

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    What about viability without medical intervention?

    I wouldn't even go there at all. I was born naturally at full term but my kidneys didn't start up until after I was given a full transfusion to kick start them, that's a medical intervention.

    Most premature babies would suffer tremendous harm without medical intervention. I just don't think it's a measure that works well at all.

    I do know what you mean though there is a point where the fetus will probably survive but as with most other measures it's a statistical measure and useless on an individual basis.

    I shouldn't need to point this out but I really really doubt there would be many really late term abortions ever. Most mothers either want a baby at that time or not and know pretty early on. To me this is an edge case and not a reason to change the principle of mothers choice takes priority.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to TracyMac,

    So can we please stop pissing around with 1 in a million (or whatever) extreme scenarios and simply consider that we should just let women control their own bodies?

    +1

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    What about viability without medical intervention?

    I meant "average age of viability without medical intervention" as the point up to which abortion would be available without hoops.

    I can't see the logic in saying that I can't consider/discuss/argue/whatever about how or whether abortion could or should be available in late term, on the basis that it's so extreme an example that it's not worth arguing about, and no woman's going to want an abortion that late anyway - but we can't draw a line and say there's a point after which it's too late to have an abortion.

    If women won't want abortions in late term, then it doesn't matter if you set the maximum point for allowing abortions before late term (whatever you/we happen to decide is late term). But if you want abortions to be available beyond that point, then it can only be because you think some women will want to have abortions then, and if so, then you do have to consider how that's going to happen.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    you think some women will want to have abortions then

    The vast, vast majority of women who want to have abortions then will be having them for medical reasons, though, because in our hypothetical scenario they'll all be free to have them for non-medical reasons in the first half of the pregnancy with no hoop-jumping. So if the foetus has some dreadful abnormality like its brain growing outside its skull or whatever, then there won't *be* this moral quandary for the medical staff. Who, among doctors and nurses who *already perform abortions*, would refuse under "moral grounds" to perform a late-term abortion then? No one.

    I dunno, it's just weird to go on about this one predictably rare hypothetical. Maybe by the time we get our dream abortion law the procedure can be outsourced to a robot or something!

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Danielle,

    I dunno, it's just weird to go on about this one predictably rare hypothetical. Maybe by the time we get our dream abortion law the procedure can be outsourced to a robot or something!

    Or things may have evolved to the point where beard-strokers and kiwi_guy-style fulminators can volunteer to carry hypothetical terminations to term in their own bio-enhanced bodies, with the transfer at minimal inconvenience to the mother.

    I blame Saint Big Norm Mighty Totara for being such a shameless knuckle-dragger on social issues. If he'd seized the moment to take a similar initiative to Gough Whitlam I very much doubt that Muldoon would have reversed it. While Whitlam's powers didn't extend to the States, even Queensland had come on board with the Federal initiative by the end of the century. It's to our national shame that we're still having this wretched hypothetical "debate".

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    But if you want abortions to be available beyond that point, then it can only be because you think some women will want to have abortions then

    Nope that’s not my reason. The problem I have with any marker is that immediately allows for marker creep. That has been the way the anti abortionists have operated since forever.

    I really do get your point, there is a stage where it is probable that the fetus will survive on its own with relatively minimal medical support. And for most folks that’s a good point to say ya’ know lets not allow a mother to abort. I did say my position was at one extreme end.

    I guess for me I’d rather operate from a position of saying lets say this is legal and in certain exceptions we’ll decide to overrule the mothers’ choice because in the expert opinion of these 3 doctors and psychologists the fetus will survive and be healthy and continuing with the pregnancy will pose no physical and mental risk to the mother.

    That’s as opposed to the current position of saying this is illegal and if you speak nicely to these doctors well let you do something illegal … because we don’t think this experience is shitty enough for you anyway so we’re going to add a criminal stigma as well.

    ETA what Danielle said

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The problem I have with any marker is that immediately allows for marker creep.

    Except, of course, birth, which you are treating as a marker.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I find myself terribly conflicted in these discussions in some ways, because my ethical position is absolutely clear (per various posts above) but I was born and bred in the Catholic church and that's a hard heritage to shake off, and for many years we battled infertility. So even though intellectually I was fully on board with the thought that women get to choose, emotionally I found it very hard to accept that some people had the chance of having a baby but because of reasons (and perfectly good reasons) chose not to go ahead with a pregnancy.

    So I get from the inside the agony of the idea that a baby that I might have loved and cared for and reared as best I could would not be able to reach term. And here I was very much thinking of fetuses that would reasonably be viable if they were born.

    But even so, that would be an absolutely extraordinary case, and one that I've only ever heard of as a philosophical hypothetical, not an actual reality. The philosophical hypothetical certainly tests our arguments, but it is just a hypothetical case. One of the things about law is that it seems to deal with practical realities (the grubby version of ethical and political philosophy, perhaps?). And the reality is that late term abortions seem to come about because of conditions just such as Danielle and Bart have discussed.

    I think our law can be framed to deal with these cases, and I really do think that women can be trusted with these decisions. And if the hypothetical becomes a reality, then we might need to think about reframing the law.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Can I state the obvious by saying if a fetus is extracted alive, then it's called birth...?

    And I'm really over the hypothetical hand-wringing. Women die from illegal abortions. Thousands of actual born children go without adequate food, clothing and housing. As a society, we should be worrying about that.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Also - we need to acknowledge the viability of very premature babies is an index of wealth and privilege. The majority of the world can't provide intensive care for neonates. Or even protect full-term healthy babies from dying of preventable diseases, hunger and thirst.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I guess for me I’d rather operate from a position of saying lets say this is legal and in certain exceptions we’ll decide to overrule the mothers’ choice because in the expert opinion of these 3 doctors and psychologists the fetus will survive and be healthy and continuing with the pregnancy will pose no physical and mental risk to the mother.

    See, that I could live with, however messy it might get. So I'm glad we persisted with this discussion.

    Lilith, it is a good point that if a fetus is extracted alive it's called "birth", though I'd note that stillbirths are also births, so being alive is not a pre-requisite for being born.

    But it does raise the point that in order for a late-term live fetus to be aborted rather than born, if it might survive, it would have to be ... (searching round for a non-emotive word to use here... terminated? euthanised? dispatched?) before birth in order to make it an abortion.

    On the other point in that post: I don't think that the fact there are other serious issues (children without adequate food, clothing, housing) in the world means I'm not allowed to do theoretical hand-wringing about the finer details of putting in place a better legal environment around abortion. Besides which, I spend most of my working life doing things that in one way or another are intended to improve the adequacy of housing, including housing for children, so I don't feel that I'm ignoring those other serious issues.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    So I’m glad we persisted with this discussion.

    Same. I never felt we were going in circles, so it was always worth talking it through.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    FWIW, I think your "theoretical hand-wringing" was perfectly acceptable in the context of what this site is about, which is civilly discussing issues in depth. It's something that people who have strong opinions about abortion largely have to just get over, that other people want to discuss the issue in a way they can't dictate. Furthermore, getting bitter on people because of possible outcomes from a debate not going in a direction that they personally think is ideal is the best example of theoretical hand-wringing I could ever come up with.

    It's a simple fact that there are a wide range of opinions on this topic and that other people have very different criteria for moral and legal opinions they have. It's a simple fact that a great many people want to reconcile how they feel about abortion with other moral intuitions. It's a simple fact that a great many people find it quite hard to accept that the passing through the birth canal takes the subject from being considered a complex clump of cells to one of the most precious kinds of human we have, and the idea that it's humanity perhaps began before the precise moment of exit from its host is not totally outrageous. It's not out of order to talk about it.

    It's a good example, in my opinion, of how a rights based conception of morality spectacularly fails, because it pits completely different rights in completely different degrees against one another. Since termination of life is final and equates to the complete removal of one of the most strongly protected rights humans have, and the right it is pitted against is more like a freedom right, it is pretty much compulsory for anyone who thinks abortion for non-life threatening medical reasons should be allowed to think that the aborted fetus does not have the right to life. But, as George pointed out earlier, a productive discussion of the range of those rights is from conception to birth.

    My own feeling is that instead of a rights-based conception of morality getting to dictate this point, I favour a rights-based conception of due process, in which the person who gets to make the final choice is in all cases the mother, as the number one person in a position to make the decision (the fetus obviously can't) that is affected by the decision. It is on her to come to a decision about all of these comparative rights, or make the decision entirely how she thinks best. It is preferable that she is offered the advice of specialist professionals, and part of that advice should be to consider a whole lot of things. But after her decision, there is no legal comeback either way. It's final. That does not make it morally right, automatically. It could be a bad choice, either way (either abortion or keeping it can be a bad decision, although often only with hindsight). That's not for the law to decide. All the law has to decide is whether it's a legal choice.

    Even if late-term abortion is extremely unlikely, it's still possible and it's far better that there is law in place to at least ascertain the legality, than to let the chips fall where they may. If it is to be at birth, then the law should make that clear. That will not ever settle whether it is morally OK to terminate a full-term baby, that will most likely be a debate that will never end. But good laws don't leave this kind of thing to chance, and the prejudice of judges or juries. Good laws and good discussion of laws nuts this stuff out beforehand.

    It could be prudent to simply set the limit much as it has in countries where the abortion is legal. If it is true that abortions after a certain point are unlikely then what's the problem? If these people that get abortions there are theoretical, then what does it matter? If it makes it possible to pass a law that allows "limited" abortion subject to this criteria that is entirely medically and psychologically practical anyway, then that's a big, big win for pro-abortion people, like most of us here are.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    So as far as I can tell what you are saying is somewhere there is a line and you don't want abortion after that line. Which is fine. I have opinions you have opinions.

    The key thing for me is that the assumption should be that at no point is the mother a criminal or committing a criminal act (with exceptions allowed), which is the current law.

    I'm happy for at some point the medical system may step in and say "no, an abortion is not appropriate anymore". So long as all the way up to that point the mother is choosing a legal act that is, under law, her decision. Even at that point there must be no suggestion that the mother is a criminal.

    Such a state would make abortion legal (with exceptions).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    See, what makes me uncomfortable is how "right to life" is used to deny women autonomy over their own bodies and lives, but not used to help children have a chance at a decent life. I'm not saying we shouldn't think harder about late-term abortions, but just to keep that in perspective.

    If every child could have a healthy home and the opportunity to fulfil her/his potential, then maybe we could fuss over late-term abortion for non-medical reasons (if indeed this actually ever happens). But that would be a society that supported and cherished women and children and the job of child-rearing. A long way from what we have.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I’m happy for at some point the medical system may step in and say “no, an abortion is not appropriate anymore”.

    Well, there would be either a strict guideline such as fetal age (although that is not an exact science, it can still be reasonably accurately guessed, and some padding added to that for high certainty) or it would be a carefully defined process involving medical professionals after a certain milestone. But before that point it should be entirely the mother's decision.

    See, what makes me uncomfortable is how “right to life” is used to deny women autonomy over their own bodies and lives, but not used to help children have a chance at a decent life.

    For sure, and I also have a similar level of discomfort with the idea of the right to autonomy over their bodies and lives trumping all other rights in the picture, at least in a moral sense. The fetus might have some kind of rights, and you could consider the future human to have rights too, if not the fetus. Furthermore other people who will certainly be called upon have rights, most especially the father, who is sure to be pursued for at least some support, possibly for decades, and other family upon whom it is likely a lot will be asked of.

    Or you might not like the rights system (I personally don't, although I admit it's practical for laws, and thus often confused with them) and judge something like the overall happiness that might come about either way. There are other ethical systems besides.

    But however you think morality attaches to the act of abortion, in practice, if abortion is to be allowed at all, then some person or process is practically required in order for the decision to be legal or not. I think that by far the best person to decide that is the mother. They decide the moral framework that matters to them (or just do it by gut like most people). They assess their own interests and probable future. Surely if they have good support then the support should probably be consulted, especially if one of the supports is the father who they intend to make a major factor in the child's life. But maybe not, too, since some people might go crazy and never accept the decision. Whether to even consult family is something the mother should decide, being in the best position to know how well they might take it, or whether she would never ever hear the end of it.

    Personally, when it happened to me, I was glad to be consulted, even though my only decision was a firm commitment to mother's choice - whatever she wanted was what would happen, and I'd support it either way. Which is exactly what happened. But all I was offered was a say, not a veto. I could have pitched either way, that I was going to offer no support and wanted a termination, or that I desperately wanted to keep it and would be the best daddy ever. I made my choice, then she made hers, and hers was the one that mattered, and we will live with it forever. But I'm me, not representative of all males, so I can fully understand it being a lonely decision for women from intolerant families and/or with overly dominant partners, or when they don't even really know who the father is. Maybe they consult their best mates, maybe not even that. Discretion is not guaranteed. Independent professional advice might be all they can ever face on the matter, so they should certainly have at least that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    I remember reading quite a lot about late term abortions after George Tiller was murdered. This article (in Esquire, of all places) stayed with me and I just spent a few minutes wading through rabidly pro-life Google results to find it, so believe me when I say it's worth a read: The Last Abortion Doctor.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Danielle,

    Wow. Thank you.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I’m happy for at some point the medical system may step in and say “no, an abortion is not appropriate anymore”. So long as all the way up to that point the mother is choosing a legal act that is, under law, her decision. Even at that point there must be no suggestion that the mother is a criminal.

    Such a state would make abortion legal (with exceptions).

    I think that's going to be the consensus position. There are clearly differences between 6, 16, and 36 weeks.

    There are two questions being asked here:

    What is politically acceptable. (Being something that will be endorsed by a majority of the population and their representatives.)
    What is right.

    I think that most of us have a more permissive answer to the second of these questions than the first. But I don't think the gap between them is huge. I think we also have the opportunity to move these closer together, so that we get a solution that is passable (to answer Lamia's questions) and also provides the great majority of women who want and need abortions with free and easy access to them.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

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