Saturday, May 23, 2009

Do Whatever You Want with Your Own Body but...

With Obama's speech to and honorary degree from Notre Dame bringing abortion back into the news, I have decided to put my thoughts on the issue into words. This is as much a matter of clarifying my position to myself as it is of creating a post for others to read. While on most issues my opinion is definite and unconflicted, abortion does bring up many mixed feelings and opposing thoughts that I can't quite reconcile.

When I was an undergraduate in college, I was a member of the campus pro-life group. I was also a practicing Catholic then, which I no longer am (I still believe in God, but do not see any particular religion that I know of as having most of the answers). Still, even then I was mostly libertarian, though I didn't feel strongly enough about my libertarian position on social issues to vote for Libertarians instead of Republicans. I did then, as I do now, see abortion as different from issues such as drugs, pornography, and prostitution. Using recreational drugs (including but certainly not limited to alcohol and tobacco), using and acting in or be photographed in pornography, engaging in prostitution - whether as the prostitute or the john, not to mention riding in a car without using a seat belt or riding a motorcycle without a helmet are all examples of choosing what to do with your own body. (Note: the last two are things I would never do as there are less painful ways to commit suicide than car and motorcycle crashes, but I support other people's rights to fly through windshields anid split their heads when they land after being thrown off a motorbike). I support both women and men doing whatever they want with their own bodies. But a fetus is not part of a woman's body, it is a separate being with its own DNA, and within two months, its own blood type, heartbeat, and brain. To call it a parasite might be accurate depending on your definition, though it is no more a biological parasite than minor children are economic parasites. While it may cause temporary symptoms of illness, it is not really detrimental the woman's health, as would be a virus or a tapeworm. It is not an invader but rather something the woman's body is designed to host. Abortion is not a matter of doing what she wants with her own body but a matter of her having control over the life and death of a distinct individual that just so happens to live within her body.

To put it another way, drugs, prostitution, and most other so-called vices are victimless in and of themselves. Victimization may occur as an unintended consequence but it is not intrinsic to the products or services themselves. And most of these victimizations - drug dealers shooting rivals over "turf", drug users stealing to support their habits, pimps and johns beating prostitutes, prostitutes robbing johns, pimps taking all of the money prostitutes earn instead of a reasonable cut, etc. - are direct results of the fact that these things are illegal. Take away the black market and allow the prices to be determined by a free market, and you take away a lot of the motivation for criminal behavior around these otherwise peaceful activities. And the few criminals left as vendors or customers of these businesses could be reported by the honest people who no longer had a reason to fear the police. In any case, these unfortunate consequences are by no means the purpose of drugs and prostitution, any more than air pollution is the purpose of a car. With abortion killing something, whether or not you consider it human, is the very definition of the act.

I also think that the death penalty, while not without its problems is much more justifiable than abortion. It is true that a an innocent person could be killed, and. since this sentence is irreversable, that is a reason why I have some misgivings about the death penalty. Still, there is no question in mind that some people deserve to die (anyone who kills innocent people for pleasure, or one who kills in the act of committing another crime i.e. felony murder). So while the death penalty targets those who have met a fairly high standard to be proven guilty of terrible crimes, abortion targets those who are known to be innocent. Similarly, in a just war where only combatants and the ruling party (or leaders of the insurgency) are targeted but civilians get caught in the crossfire, this is quite different from intentionally ending the life of an innocent being. As for deliberately targeting innocents to bring a swift end to the war and save millions of other lives - as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki - this is problematic, though I view it somewhat like using abortion to save the life of the mother (which is the one case where I do unequivocally support abortion during any stage of pregnancy).

There is one thing that I do support, which I can't help noticing is similar to abortion - animal slaughter. I have stated my postion on killing animals for food before. I am not sure about killing animals just for their skins (or furs), though I'm defienitely not opposed to using skin when it is left over from an animal that's been used for meat (as with leather). I do have a problem with killing for pure recreation or trophy hunting, but I support the rights of hunters who eat the animals they harvest.

Meat is a natural part of the human diet, as it is for the diet of chimpanzees, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. I don't doubt that some people can be healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but different people have different dietary needs. For example the Dali Lama was a vegetarian, but began eating meat when his doctors told him he needed it. I also dont' see the difference between people eating cattle, pigs ,sheep,and chickens, and mountain lions or wolves doing the same. Or fish eating other fish, lions eating zebras, or any of thousands (millions?) of other predator species doing what they do in the natural world. Well, there is one difference, people, at least sometimes make efforts to minmize or even eliminate the suffering of their prey. (cf. Temple Grandin and the Animal Welfare Institute).

This all leaves me with the question: should human fetuses have more rights than animals? This is something that I feel should be a yes, but at this time I cannot come up with a logical reason why. And, while I consider abortion immoral and drug use perfectly moral, I do see an attempt to enforce abortion laws as having the potential to cause the police state environment that has grown from the War on Drugs and the War on Terror to become even more repressive. So for now at least, I won't be fighting to change the laws on abortion or basing my vote for a candidate on this issue (regardless of which side he or she stands on).

Still, I would ask that those who are considering abortion because of a birth defect or disability, as well as those who are minorities to consider the genocidal implications. In any case, its fair to say that not all pro-lifers fit the sterotype of prudish right-wing religious fanatics. Some might say it is hypocritical to acknowledge that while calling anti-porn, anti-prostitution, anti-BDSM feminists "anti-sex", but based on the total of all that I've read that the radfems have written and their treatment of people who disagree with them about sexual matters, I think it's a fair assessment.

PS Happy Memorial Day all veterans, those currently serving in the armed forces, and their families.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Foreign Aid Petition

I received an e-mail asking to sign a petition to "Reform U.S. Foreign Aid." I had to think about this a little while. Normally, I don't think it is a good idea to try to "improve" something that, for the most part, I'd like to see eliminated. But, after looking at the text of the bill, as well as various commentaries on it, I decided that its calls for accountability, transparency, and streamlining bureaucracy are positive enough to outweigh any problems it might have. So, I signed the petition, while attaching this message:
I would prefer to see all foreign aid eventually phased out. I would like to see assistance to allied governments come in the form of loans or favors that can be reciprocated rather than grants. Charity, where it is needed, should come from voluntary private donations, not taxpayer money. But, seeing as how foreign aid is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, this does seem like a step in the right direction.