yes! Nice post, great writing, and thanks for referencing mine on the reliability of birth control issue. I wish I had a megaphone to tell the world. Every bit counts. I'll be back to read more...



Great post! It's reassuring to see that it is possible for non-pro-choicers to become pro-choice when they have enough information.


I am firmly pro-choice, and have been as long I can remember considering such things. I do not fantasize that the pro-choice position has no costs, however, or that it is inherently the correct position, although I think it is the position that governments should choose as official policy. As a lawyer I believe Roe vs Wade was poorly reasoned, even though I personally agree with its outcome. I believe that the abortion issue is indeed a political issue, and I expect the day will come, maybe soon, when the courts will return it to the political realm where choice supporters will have to articulate sensible reasons (and there are sensible reasons) as to why choice as an official policy is best.

I don't know if your remember the columnist Meg Greenfield, but she wrote an article in September 1987 that is quite literally the most impressive thing I ever read in a weekly journal. I tore it out of a magazine at the time, and although it's frayed and a bit worse for wear, I still pull it out and read it now and then almost 20 years later. I have gone back to it when thinking about both my own life and broader public issues, and I thought of it immediately when I read your protest that an early stage fetus is nothing but a clump of cells. I understood immediately what you were doing, albeit I suspect you were doing it unconsciously.

The article Greenfield wrote mentions abortion, but it is not about abortion. It is about choices in general, and in fact I see in it some utility for the current debate on the war on terror, with its attendant questions of how far our nation's willing to go to fight it.

The article is called "Avoiding the Hard Part," and it is precisely what I see choice advocates in the abortion debate doing all the time, and it needs to stop if the choice position is to be made meaningful.

Greenfield wrote, in part, that,

"Averting the gaze or avoiding awareness of the painful, sometimes gory, consequences of a decision is the last thing a leader should do. It is in fact the last thing anyone should do. To pretend a choice is cost-free is, usually, not to make one and, where our public leaders are concerned, an almost certain prescription for trouble. The thought is so obvious that probably everyone agrees with it. But the agreement seems mainly to be in principle: our current and recent political debate is full of examples of people under pressure passionately arguing the other way, insisting that a jarring reality be suppressed in order to sustain a policy choice they favor.

"For instance, some of those who believe, as I do, that abortion should be legal and available claim there is something scurrilous and unfair about the other side’s regularly producing photographs of aborted fetuses that strongly resemble full-term infants. But to take the stand we do has no meaning, in my judgment, if we are not willing to acknowledge the choice we have made in realistic terms and to accept the intellectual responsibility of defending it.

"The assumption underlying such arguments when they are made is an odd one, combining in equal parts permissiveness, pessimism about the human character and, finally, condescension. It is that no one should even be asked, never mind trusted, to reach and then persist in a principled decision if he is going to have to accommodate the painful aspects of that decision or be subjected to a powerful emotional pull in the other direction. It does not seem to matter that throughout human history the most compelling dramas and sagas have dealt precisely with the ennobling and/or tragic results of just such choices. Contemporary theory, in large things as well as small, evidently holds that we can maintain our resolve only if we eliminate the sight and sound of anything that might undermine it. You close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears and march straight ahead. That way you neither lose your nerve nor confront evidence that might legitimately or illegitimately deflect you from your purpose."

I don't have time (or the room) here, but the clump-of-cells argument fails on so many levels, both logically and scientifically. It is not serious, and it makes the pro-choice position appear not so serious too. It is, as Greenfield put it, avoiding the hard part, the hard part in this instance being that to abort is to end, and millions of people are not with us today because we have, as a society, not interfered with mothers and their clump of cells, cells which contained every piece of genetic information necessary for healthy life, only lacking in time.

Although a supporter, I am not a choice activist, but I think those who are need to start articulating exactly why the individual choice to -- and we need to call it what it is -- end one life in the interests of another life in these circumstance makes regretable but acceptable public policy sense. Choice will not always have the courts to shield it from sharp inquiry, and it is high time people who believe in choice as policy start to persuade rather than demagogue. As Greenfield concluded in her article, "In the less obliging world in which such decisions have to be made, the emotion has to be faced -- and overcome."


You know, I've always been pro-choice: but two pregnancies and labours made me understand why it's such an important feminist issue. Previous to that, the other position just didn't make any sense.

Pregnancy makes you vulnerable. It's wonderful to be that vulnerable if you so choose.


Richard: The clump of cells thing really does make sense to me: I don't really see much difference between the brains of an early embryo or fetus and a fish.

You say "all it needs is time": that's not the case. A fetus needs time AND a woman to work incredibly hard towards creating a viable animal. A fetus is not a viable animal. It's a pre-animal. The woman gives physical and hormonal (and therefore mental) energy into making the pre-animal into a viable animal. As somebody who's done this labour of love twice, I'll tell you this: it's bloody work!

In Canada, there are no abortion laws, but abortions aren't routinely performed after the 14th or 16th week excepting in medical situations that require them. I'm pretty comfortable with that: if an abortion after that point happens, it's a decision made on a case by case basis with medical professionals.

There isn't a huge "partial birth abortion" campaign going on, which means the pro-choice arguments are differently framed. The dialogue in the States is weird to me. Who's proposing to abort a child they've carried for 39 weeks when there's no danger to her and a viable infant? Huh? You've already done all the work. What's the abortion for? Who performs it? Seems silly.


(And so as not to be confusing: I use animal in its most rigorous sense. We're all animals.)


Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. Its a must-do daily routine for me.

The Happy Feminist

I think the clump-of-cells-argument is important because the pro-life movement has framed the issue in terms of babies with little ears and little fingers getting killed. But certainly well into the secnd month, we're not talking about anything like that. Yet, many in the pro-life movement would prevent us from using EC when we are talking about a clump of cells that hasn't started developing.

Richard, you're sounding a little bit like our pal Camille Paglia, who said something to the effect that she was firmly pro-choice but wasn't about to shy away from the fact that we're talking about killing life and that a difficult moral choice was being made. But we're NOT talking about killing anything even remotely resembling a baby until well into the pregnancy, and I think that point needs to be stressed.

I haven't gotten into the later abortions in this post, simply because I am far less knowledgeable about that issue. I would agree that the later abortions are a trickier moral issue, but I understand that the vast majority of abortions occur earlier rather than later. I would also posit that the mother's choice take precedence even at the later stage. On a personal level, however, I wouldn't think twice about getting an abortion (if I wanted one) up to day 54, but I would want to know more about the development of the fetus if I were considering an abortion after that stage.

The Huntress

I'm thankful that in the UK the birth control pill is free, which at least gives people access to it even if they couldn't afford to pay the prescription charge.

The Happy Feminist

Richard, I just went over to your site and read your post -- http://www.richardames.us/2006/01/today_is_appare.html -- on the issue with this quotation from Meg Greenfield, critiquing the clump-of-cells "mantra":

"It is that no one should even be asked, never mind trusted, to reach and then persist in a principled decision if he is going to have to accommodate the painful aspects of that decision or be subjected to a powerful emotional pull in the other direction. It does not seem to matter that throughout human history the most compelling dramas and sagas have dealt precisely with the ennobling and/or tragic results of just such choices. "

But this is my point. There may be people who feel that painful or emotional pull about a fertilized egg, but I don't, and I don't think it's particularly rational to do so. I DON'T think it's a difficult decision or a painful decision or a costly decision at that early stage before the fetus or embryo has cognitive function or a nervous system. Amanda at Pandagon often makes the point that, under the pro-life view of a fertilized egg as a potential human being, she should be in mourning every month that she's not pregnant.

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