Monday, April 03, 2006

On abortion

As a progressive vegan, my views on abortion are a little complex. Rather than a simple for or against, I find myself caught between two somewhat irreconcilable views. Sitting in the middle of them is a little paradoxical and inconsistent. On the one hand (the progressive side), I believe strongly in women's rights to reproductive health, part of which includes the right to abort unwanted pregnancies. This view is all the more strongly held when it comes to pregnancy through duress, rape etc. On the other hand (the vegan side), a foetus (however small) is both a life and a potential-person. Killing a foetus is unethical just as much as killing an animal (to eat, for sacrifice etc). Both the foetus and the animal are capable of feeling pain, therefore their killing is wrong (so the argument goes). I therefore object to women using abortion as a means of after-the-fact birth control (we all know this happens).

However, this tension in viewpoints does not equate to an argument in favour of abortion being unlawful, as it is in Nigeria. A story in yesterday's paper (I think it was This Day) indicates precisely why. A pregnant girl last week went to a backstreet clinic in Makoko. The 'doctor' tried to fondle her so she left the room. He eventually persuaded her to return, and quickly drugged and raped her. Sadly, she died while being raped.

While abortion remains legally proscribed (wherever in the world), it opens the door for dangerous practice like this. To give women access to regulated healthcare, it should therefore be legalised (its not clear whether the bill causing all the hoo-ha in the press and National Assembly does fully legalise abortion or not -can someone clarify?). However, this does leave the casual-abortion-on-demand issue open to be addressed. Part of this can be taken care of with mature sex education, the other with proper counselling at abortion clinics. We need to honestly accept the fact that in Nigeria, girls on average tend to start having sex at a relatively early age (the average I believe is around 12 or 13). Unfortunately, religious prudery tends to mean girls do not get the advice they need, which creates yet one more avenue for vulnerability.


Akin 4:04 pm  

My view on abortion was succintly summed up in John Kerry's words.
Between the woman, her doctor and her God.

I would add, where the woman is not of adult responsibility, the primary concern should still be about the overall welfare of the girl as opposed to delivering the child into a world of discord, conflict, uncertainty and despair.

I have not seen many of those pro-life advocates put their money where their mouth is.

That is, if you feel so strongly about abortion, then offer to adopt and raise the child as yours and there are many out there in need of care who are in homes that are wrecking their lives through abuse and deprivation.

Without being too clinical about it, better a foetus aborted than a child born into a world that does not want it.

For society at large, we need to debate objectively the issues about rape, unwanted pregnancies, the realities of rearing children and the difficulties that ensue.

Many of us fortunate ones could so easily be sanctimonious about this, but these are real people with real circumstances that many cannot begin to sympathise talk less of empathise.

The topic has been hijacked by the self-interest of religion where it is easier to sacrifice the person on the altar of tradition or out-moded customs than adopt a principled objective stance weighing all the issues at play - the woman, her doctor and her God and strictly in that order.

Society, for once, has to stand back and allow those issues to play out their outcomes. It is patently none of our business.

tout noir 4:54 pm  

I am 100% pro-choice. For too long, women's bodies have been conscripted as baby-making machines. Women should be able to choose whether they want to carry a baby for 9 months and bear the consequent health risks or not.

Jeremy, stop practicing the "idea la need" you decry. LOL! A foetus cannot feel pain until the final weeks of pregnancy. Go ahead, google "foetus+pain" ... semi-decent research is only a few clicks away.

Also see:

But even cells respond to external stimuli. While such responses may be corollaries to feeling pain, is it enough reason to proscribe killing all animal cells?

Much luv...

Akin 6:55 pm  

The assertion about foetus pain must be falacy. I was born in 1965 at 26 weeks, I was not a basic life-form but a bundle of joy albeit I fitted barely into the palm of the hand, as my father said.

Eventually, I was in an incubator for just over 2 months till I came to what is close to near term.

It is evident that if I had to spend another 3 weeks to reach that pain threshold time, I probably would not have survived.

I have to date lived a hale, hearty and wholesome life - it is both a blessing and the abundance of good fortune.

I may not remember much of the day I was born, I was probably smacked to cry and handled as fragile for the concern about discomfort.

But, I think I have earned the living right to say Bunkum! to that study.

That rotten study

Akin 6:55 am  

Well, we now have better science, it has been noted that feotuses can feel pain from about 24 to 25 weeks.
Premature babies 'feel true pain'

That clears up the matter I would say. :-)

Opium,  10:48 am  

I, like you, find it difficult to align myself with a for or against camp when it comes to abortion. I tried to sum up my views a little while ago. Here they's a long read though.

German Vegan,  3:26 pm  

I get irritated when vegans try to argue from an ethical standpoint and then get associated with right wing religious nutters of which the "pro life" network seems to be saturated with.

Ethics, vegan ethics seeks to argue from reason and logic and not religious morals which often are derived from fantasies.

The point of when a fetus feels pain is not exhaustive to the argument of why abortion should be avoided or prevented, but merely one of several factors that need to be considered. For example, it is quite possible to experience will for life and consciousness without being able to experience a single sting of pain. There are people born with a condition that makes them unable to experience pain, which makes their life very difficult as they can never tell when they brake a bone, cut their hand, or if the water is too hot. They can not sense any injury, but otherwise are normal people.

Of course it is not legitimate to kill these people simply because they are not able to feel physical pain, and the same way there is no justification to abort a fetus because it does not (yet) feel pain. As was pointed out, the claim that babies do not feel pain right before birth is a fallacy, however, even if that was true, as argued, that is no exhaustive reason to allow to kill it. One thing pro-choice people should remember, is that that definition is an oxymoron, since the child never gets any.

For secular vegans the abortion issue is fairly simple, since we are not tied into religious group fantasies. Abortion is unvegan at the moment that the lump of cells has developed a central nervous system. I'm don't know when exactly that is, but I suppose it's fairly soon after conception. The presence of a central nervous system is a good discriminator whether a lifeform applies for the consideration of vegan ethics.

This is why vegans spare insects for example, even though insects would be good source of bioactive B12. However since good B12 can be fermented in a process using bacteria (and in fact all B12 everywhere is of bacteriological origin), the vegan diets integration strategy for this vitamin does not rely on the exploitation of animals, insects included. An adequate vegan diet simply includes the vitamin in pure form. It's irrelevant for its quality whether the bacteria produced B12 in a cows stomach or in a fermentation kettle. Bacteria btw, are no animals, don't have a central nervous system or any other properties that would make it necessary to consider them for the application of vegan ethics.

Contrary to bacteria, women do have ethical rights, as well as legal rights in some countries, implemented or not...

I'm a woman myself, so I feel free to comment without inhibition. "Womens rights over their reproductive systems", of course don't overwrite the right to exist of anyone else. It is irrelevant if that "someone else" is currently located inside your womb. Rights need to consider all involved of course, and you'll never see anyone seriously arguing that it is allowed to kill off a smaller conjoined twin because the twin was helpless and "interfered" with the life of the non-handicapped, larger conjoined twin.

Babies in fact, are, until they are born, internal conjoined twins of their mothers with 50% of their DNA having come from their fathers. To ignore the reality that another autonomous human starts out inside the body of a woman, and then claim it is legitimate to hold the woman's right higher than that of the unborn, simply because the woman is more dominant and the fetus can't defend itself is quite insane actually. What stops me from killing my neighbor if his loud music interfere with my "right" to concentrate writing this essay, if I happen to have a gun and therefore are more dominant than him?

(BTW, I don't own a gun, though self-defense is of course vegan and it would be vegan to own a gun if that was the only means to defend yourself against physical harm.)

Another argument which seeks to support abortion, is that women then go to have illegal (illegal in the law sense, not in the ethical sense) abortions, endagering their lives as well. However, having an abortion, which is a nice way of saying that you are killing another human to further or maintain your own interests, is an ethical crime the moment the structure has developed a central nervous system. So if I further my interest of needing cash by robbing a bank, shooting bank employees along the way, I run the risk of being shot by police myself. However, that does not make _me_ the victim. If you are aborting a fetus, you are already an ethical offender regardless of the legal situation surrounding this act, and you are of course obliged to seek alternative namely ethical ways to handle that situation.

Even if, for example after being pregnant resulting from rape to name to most extreme of circumstances, and therefore you are utterly unable to produce a single emotion or ounce of love for your child, someone else will! And even if not, it is better to exist without love than to not exist at all. This world is not perfect for anyone of us, so it quite perverse to project such barrier onto someone to legitimize their murder.

And this brings me to my concluding argument. Instead of arguing for and against the destruction of unborn humans, we should focus our energy to press our governments and religious organizations to prevent unwanted pregnancies by education, education, education and by providing alternatives for unwanted children and counseling for mothers affected by unwanted children.

If half of the effort going into the pro-life and pro-choice wars was going into implementing strategies that support BOTH the mother AND the unborn, we wouldn't even have to discuss the issue because the problem would simply not exists in the first place, or at least not on this scale.

So when I encounter people arguing this issue, me first question is usually simply: What strategy do you suggest, that helps *both* the mother AND the *child*. If this premise is rejected, it really doesn't make sense to continue arguing, because it means that the people rejecting it have not even understood the issue at hand.

BTW, I'm quite enthralled to see there're vegans in Lagos! Woohoo!

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