Mike the Mad Biologist

Abortion and the First Amendment

I happy to see that others are coming around to the idea that the abortion debate is ultimately about the establishment of religion (italics mine):

She [Keenan] was saying more that the people in the mushy middle feel like they’re in a moral quandary about abortion, because it’s all mixed up with various other issues about sex, commitment, self-image, family, ickiness, and other touchy subjects and thus most people refuse to really think the issue through and come to the correct conclusion: Anything so complex and personal should be a matter of personal conscience. The term “moral complexity” is a way of saying to those people, “Yes, we’re aware that all these buttons are pushed for you, but you should really talk and think this through anyway, and ask, should the government really be making the decision to force you to have a child?” In fact, she went on to talk about faith and god, which is again something that often makes me get my back up in soundbite terms, but in a full-length speech it was clear she was arguing that abortion is best framed as a 1st amendment issue in the face of Bible-thumpers who want to put their god on your body.

When I made this point a couple of years ago in “Why Does the South Dakota Legislature Hate Jews?“, I think a lot people became hung up on the argument that even the most conservative Jewish opinion on abortion–if carrying the pregnancy to term would harm the welfare of the mother or prevent her from being able to bear children (the latter part viewed as patriarchal, which it is), the moral option is to abort the fetus–would be in violation of South Dakota’s draconian anti-abortion ban.

The broader point was that people, even within what appear to be similar religious traditions will reach very different moral conclusions regarding abortion*, and the government should not be involved in this decision, thereby establishing religion.

Finally, I leave you with this aside from that post:

I hope someone out there is preparing an amicus brief based on the separation of church and state. Yes, it’s like nailing Al Capone on income taxes, but take it where you can get it.

Always listen to the Mad Biologist….

*There is a more ‘liberal’ Jewish tradition, which is centuries old and is not an “Americanization”, regarding abortion which allows abortion in the case of “great suffering”, which in practice has been permitted abortion in many circumstances (i.e., economic hardship). This suggests that there has never been a consensus on this issue within Judaism.

Comments

  1. #1 Rachel Ann
    January 19, 2008

    I am not sure of your interpretation of “great suffering” (re Jewish law and abortion). Perhaps in a time of famine abortion would have been permitted, but I am making a guess at this. To the best of my knowledge ONLY the welfare of the mother was considered, and nothing else.I would love to see your sources if it were otherwise.

    However, I think prior to the Holocaust what constituted a threat to the mother was more liberally interpreted. Truth is that with medical advances etc. there are less cases where a pregnancy is in and of itself a threat to a mother’s life.

  2. #2 Derek James
    January 19, 2008

    I think it’s a horrible idea to conflate First Amendment issues with abortion rights. It rests on the premise that the reasons for being pro-life cannot be secular and must be religious, and vice versa for the pro-choice position.

  3. #3 Dan S.
    January 19, 2008

    It rests on the premise that the reasons for being pro-life cannot be secular and must be religious, and vice versa for the pro-choice position.

    I dunno if that’s really the case – perhaps the premise that the reasons for legislating pro-life attitudes into law cannot be secular and must be religious, and vice versa for legislating pro-choice attitudes into law?

  4. #4 Luke
    January 21, 2008

    Derek makes a good point – I think trying to tie abortion rights to any sort of religious debate would only muddy the waters.

    I’m an atheist, but I also disagree with abortion to a certain extent. Close to conception I don’t really have much of an issue with it, and I would never want abortion laws to be repealed (though I disagree with late term abortions, I do feel there should be exceptions in cases where the mothers life is in danger, and a rape victim should never be harassed or made to feel guilty over a decision to have an abortion either)

    But I do have a problem with this statement:

    “Should the government really be making the decision to force you to have a child?”

    The government should not make that decision, and to say that banning abortion is the government forcing you to have a child is misleading and deceptive (it almost reminds me of creationists using the words “evolution is JUST a theory” – it’s just not the whole truth) -> the government is not forcing someone to have a child (that would mean they were making people have sex) the individual made that choice (excluding rape of course – and see my comment regarding that above) when they decided to have sex, presumably without thinking about using birth control to any extent.

    It is a matter of individual responsibility, and I highly disagree with the idea of using abortion as just another form of birth control.

    Now I could be way off here, as I am no expert, but I wouldn’t be suprised if the human body, over the course of human history, has evolved certain things that allow pregnant women to develop a bond with the child in the womb, and having an abortion could potentially cause emotional problems for these women – and if this is the case, it would strongly support the option for abortion to be used minimaly (though not with an all out ban on it – I think you run into more problems with that, as then women seek very unsafe abortions from not quite doctors or in other countries), and not as a “whoops!” birth control option.

  5. #5 Janine
    January 21, 2008

    I do agree with the statement ‘….force you to have a child’. Pregnancy is a nine month process. If I find out I’m 2 months pregnant and don’t want to continue to 9 months of pregnancy and birth, any laws restricting my choices are compelling me to fully gestate it.

  6. #6 Luke
    January 21, 2008

    and I suppose the government also forced you to have sex with the father, and did not allow you to use any form of birth control?

    There is an inherent difference between the above and not allowing you to stop a process you started.

    I couldn’t begin to debate whether or not you should do it, and I’m not advocating banning abortion by any means, if you think so, then you should read the rest of my post.

    I do like this comment though:
    “Anything so complex and personal should be a matter of personal conscience”

  7. #7 janine
    January 21, 2008

    Luke,

    I didn’t think you were advocating a ban, and I appreciate your opinions. I just happen to agree with the point in the original quote above that government restrictions do force women to have a child.

    I personally disagree with the government coercing a woman to either get pregnant or not (whether direct or indirect) or to continue to full term and have a child. I actually see them as more similar than you may, with more than one decision point,…that if I have no right to discontinue a pregnancy then I have less to stand on as far as a right to not get pregnant.

    Really liked the last comment you pulled out. I agree, great quote.

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