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March 26, 2006

You Punish Doctors, You Punish Women

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Says Patterico, in criticizing an eye-opening post in which Ampersand argues that many abortion opponents just want to punish women for having sex:

he argues that abortion bans which protect the mother from any legal consequences are designed to punish women, even though they are expressly designed to protect women from punishment.

This is only correct if prison is the only kind of punishment -- in other words, it's quite far from the truth.  Another way to punish women for having sex is to make it impossible to avoid a nine-month pregnancy and childbirth, and then (if they don't make the gut-wrenching decision to give their offspring up for adoption) an incredibly time-consuming 18-year legal obligation that can wreck their educational, marital, and career plans, and subject them to significant social stigma.  Giving jail terms to doctors who perform abortions and not to women who have them is a perfectly effective way of punishing women for having sex, since it dramatically increases the cost of an unwanted pregnancy.  One could just as easily punish meateaters by banning the sale of cholesterol-lowering drugs, but not their use. 

March 26, 2006 in Politics of Choice | Permalink


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» The traditional punishment for being female is pain from Pandagon
Neil the Ethical Werewolf has a post up at Ezras explaining how even laws that only punish doctors for performing abortions and not women for procuring them are still laws meant to punish women for having sex and/or pretty much just existing. An... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 26, 2006 5:20:56 PM

» We Don't Want To Punish Women, We Just Don't Thin from Lawyers, Guns and Money
There's nothing "sensible" about not wanting to haul women into court given pro-life premises. It's simply can't be a serious crime when doctors perform them but not when women choose to get them. The quantity is beside the point; 100x0 is still zero... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 27, 2006 9:31:56 AM


Or, perhaps you have gone off the deep end along with the goofy 'feminists' who always see themselves as victims of a secret agenda by men. An agenda that no one can document. Yeah, it couldn't be that those who are not for abortion on demand actually believe the unborn have rights, could it? Nope. Feminism is a "me...me..me... hey look at me.......look how bad men are to me" kinda thing.

So, where's your evidence of this plot to make women suffer?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 26, 2006 8:27:38 AM

Ampersand's post, while I agree with the essential message, definitely employed some shady points that weakened the overall argument.

The point, though, is inescapable- most prolife individuals do not actually believe that a fetus is the moral equivalent of an infant. They claim to believe that, but it turns out that they actually view a fetus as having a moral status somewhere between 0 and that of a newborn. This is a legitimate position. Most prochoice individuals also believe this, but put the moral status bar somewhat closer to 0 than do prolife folks.

Very few individuals (that I know of) really believe that a fetus has either no moral status or one fully equivalent to an infant. Whaddya know? It turns out we're pretty much all in the murky gray middle.

Of course, I also think prolife people do have an at least unconscious motive of punishing promiscuous individuals. Otherwise it's pretty tough to explain certain positions they hold.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 26, 2006 10:38:57 AM

I am in agreement with you on the gray area. However, my point was that the feminists and this goofy post of Mr. Wherewolf?'s give no rights to the unborn at all and that, by your own definition makes it an extreme position. The potential to become a human being is lost on these people as they selfishly run their mouths about some conspriacy that they cannot demonstrate.

This discussion is old, tiresome, and trite and belongs on pandagon, don't you think? Neil has nothing better to post, bottom line.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 26, 2006 10:48:56 AM

If one believes that abortion is murder (as I do not), then what is the difference between a woman who pays a doctor to murder her baby and a woman who pays a hitman to murder her husband? This is the logical conundrum that every anti-choice asshole should be forced to confront. Once they are forced to say they will put women in prison, not just doctors, interesting results will ensue.

Posted by: Farinata X | Mar 26, 2006 10:51:46 AM

Not punishing women is in fact perfectly consistent with an anti-woman position. It implies that women are not rational moral agents responsible for their own decisions. If abortion is murder, and women are fully equal human beings, then women should suffer legal penalties for their decision to have abortions. But pro-lifers don't think women are equal human beings; they treat women like second-class citizens, or children -- and so women shouldn't be punished for having abortions, because they're inherently inferior.

Posted by: M.A. | Mar 26, 2006 11:23:56 AM

Huh? Are there women doctors? Would they be punished by these laws?

The problem with the post is that it is predicated on the idea that adoption is a more gut-wrenching decision than abortion. That's a strange justification for abortion.

Posted by: Patterico | Mar 26, 2006 12:26:34 PM

The problem with the post is that it is predicated on the idea that adoption is a more gut-wrenching decision than abortion. That's a strange justification for abortion.

Not strange at all. Abortion, particularly early abortions (which is where the overwhelming majority of elective abortions take place) is the termination of a fetus which has the potential to be a child. It is not yet a full-fledged human being by any non-religious definition of the term, and the mother has not yet developed the kind of attachment to it that she would develop toward a real, live human child.

Whereas with adoption, you have a real, live human child, with the accompanying attachment that a mother feels to her child. The decision to give up a real, live child is far more gut-wrenching than the decision to terminate a non-viable fetus.

Posted by: M.A. | Mar 26, 2006 12:30:31 PM

Mr. Jones-

I don't see any evidence that Ampersand and Neil give no rights to fetuses (feti? fetes?), they just weight them lower (much lower) than you do. That was my point. Also, who said anything about a conspiracy?

That said, has anybody seen Inside Man? The previews look pretty stellar, but is it worth $9.00?

Posted by: Mark | Mar 26, 2006 12:38:11 PM

Patterico, I do think adoption is a more gut-wrenching decision than first-trimester abortion. Since first-trimester fetuses don't have the brain structures necessary to have minds or feel pain, there's no problem with aborting them. It's no worse than, say, killing one of your fat cells in liposuction.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 26, 2006 1:03:22 PM

The problem with the post is that it is predicated on the idea that adoption is a more gut-wrenching decision than abortion. That's a strange justification for abortion.

That is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have ever read.

Must be a conservative.

Posted by: Dr. Squid | Mar 26, 2006 1:26:28 PM

That said, has anybody seen Inside Man? The previews look pretty stellar, but is it worth $9.00?

Conservatives will hate it because they say Spike Lee is a racist.

No bearing on the merits of the movie, but then conservative values mean that merits are indicated by the identity of the messenger, not the actual message.

Posted by: Dr. Squid | Mar 26, 2006 1:29:41 PM

Creating elaborate situations that just so happen to have the most unfortunate side effect of destroying women's health/putting them through unnecessary physical pain is a time-honored way to punish women for merely existing, much less being sexual. The Taliban punishes women for existing by deliberately depriving them of all medical care, but of course they'd never admit outright that's what they're doing. No, they say it's just an unfortunate consequence of their moral system that both forbids women from being examined by male doctors and prevents women from being doctors. I do believe the government finally caved and allowed women to have midwives to deliver their babies, but odds are on that the only reason they caved is because male infants were dying from the utter lack of care in childbirth.

Same story, different version with chastity belts. Any fool can look at a chastity belt and see exactly what it is--an instrument of torture designed to cause the wearer pain and serious trouble in menstruating and elimination. But oh no, it wasn't invented to torture women--the torture was just an unfortunate side effect of the necessary process of a man protecting his property.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Mar 26, 2006 1:51:43 PM

adoption is a more gut-wrenching decision than first-trimester abortion

Aside from any gut-wrenching, there are very different practical concerns between abortion and adoption. If you're a single, working woman whose only source of income if your own salary (which may or may not also be the only source of income for children or elders in your care), an abortion may not even require missing a day of work. Carrying a pregnancy to term for an adoption means coordinating work and prenatal care and a possible extended maternity leave, depending upon how far into your pregnancy you are able to work. If you don't have guaranteed paid maternity leave - and most women don't - then what do you do for income while you're not working?

There are indeed emotional responses to the actual acts of abortion and adoption, but there are emotional responses to the practicalities of each decision, too.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Mar 26, 2006 2:29:21 PM

Elaborate Situations

a) parental notification
b) incest exception
c) sexual abuse report exemption
d) sexual abuse claimant exemption
e) fetal disability likelihood exemption
f) alcoholic maternal disability exemption
g) maternal youth exemption
h) paternal youth exemption
i) cocaine hydrochloride addiction exemption
j) unspecified health exemption
k) prebirth cystic fibrosis exemption
l) legal abortion for single women only
m) legal abortion for married women only
n) legal abortion only for cohabiting domestic partners

What makes for such difficult issue is forced compromise. Either fetuses are part of the family or their brains and livers are primate sweetbreads.

Posted by: Exceptional Typicality | Mar 26, 2006 2:50:21 PM

I can't even tell what side of this debate Exceptional typicality is trying to be on. What on earth does "their brains and livers are primate sweetbreads" mean?

But here is something I want to say to the fred jones' of the world, and the moron who thinks that you can put an anencephalic baby "up for adoption" in any meaningful sense--or that dying in childbirth and having your pre-existing children put up for adoption when your family disintegrates upon your death--are really good ideas. Screw you. I'm a mother of two girls. My right to good health care, and my children's right to be raised by a healthy mother, and my daughters' rights to bodily autonomy and to safe and sucessful wanted pregnancies are not up for grabs because pusillanimous religious nutcases think that a few rapidly dividing cells have the moral status of my actual children--or of me. They don't.

Over and over and over again the right to "lifers" have proven that not only do they not think that embroyos and early fetuses are the moral equivalent of an actual child but they don't even think that an adult woman is the moral equivalent of a full human being. If the husbands of pregnant women had to suffer the physically debilitating aspects of pregnancy in order to bring about a child we would hear absolutely *nothing* about the rights of a fetus. Men have literally no idea what they are talking about when they talk about pregnancy. Its difficult, physically demanding, produces irreversible and often quite unpleasant changes in your body and your health. If men had to endure all that every time their wives got pregnant and their doctors were told not to treat the condition because it might harm the fetus there would simply be no contest. The idea that another being's needs or "life" take precedence over male health needs and male lives is simply absurd, inconveivable. Well, when I go to my doctor for health care, even when I'm pregnant, I don't cede my right to the proper care *for me* to some hypothetical patient in the next room, and I don't cede it to the religious nutcases, and I don't cede it to the hypothetical fetus in my womb. I can't do that because I already exist and my needs as a human, wife, and mother take precedence over an embryo that may never come to term anyway.

When abortion becomes illegal then every pregnancy and every pregnant woman--even every fecund woman--will have to be monitored because most pregnancies end in miscarriage or self abortion. Yes, that is most in the first trimester. Every woman who ever had difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term, every woman who accidentally aborts, will be subject to search, seizure, and trial as a possible abortionist. Her friends and family will also be liable to be accused of helping her abort.


Posted by: aimai | Mar 26, 2006 3:42:09 PM

The totality of the conversation has focused upon abortion's availability (except for Panda-Poo's rant against men). However, there is a more pressing issue and that is if this issue is taken up by the SCOTUS and 'Roe' is found to be bad application of law, what will be the outcome?
Well, it will allow states to make their own decisions *unless* those who wish to impose a federal law preventing the states from outlawing it can muster enough votes in Congress to pass such as national law. Hey, that's a thought, isn't it? What a novel idea...a democratic process. Make your wishes known, and since you tell us that most people are pro-abortion, then this should present no problem at all.
Failing that, there will be some states that will and some that won't.........so what?

And if you don't want a kid, I will tell you what the left tells men when they don't want to pay child support for an unwanted baby.........keep your knees together, stupid!

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 26, 2006 4:34:59 PM


We can't afford to try and make this about dumb, insensitive men versus women. If men were the ones to get pregnant, them men would be the ones that got pregnant. That's it. Trying to make an argument around the supposed inability of men to "handle pain" and such isn't really going to help anything.

Now, if we're going to talk about specific groups of white, middle-aged, upper-middle-class, privileged men who pass oppressive laws with impunity just because they can and don't have to live with the consequences, then I agree with you.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 26, 2006 4:53:14 PM

if this issue is taken up by the SCOTUS and 'Roe' is found to be bad application of law, what will be the outcome?

The outcome will be that the SCOTUS will have decided that it is constitutional for the State to enslave women (since denying a woman the right to control her own body is a form of enslavement). Such a decision would be comparable to Dred Scott, and would be completely contradictory to the guarantees of personal liberty in the Constitution. But it could happen.

Hey, that's a thought, isn't it? What a novel idea...a democratic process.

Segregation laws were democratically enacted too. And they were eventually overturned, decades later.

Since the right to abortion is based on the basic constitutional right to personal liberty (which is why Roe was a modest, conservative and correct decision), abortion should not be "left to the states" any more than the right to sell people into slavery should be "left to the states."

Posted by: M.A. | Mar 26, 2006 5:07:17 PM

I've been skipping this discussion, mostly because I think it's all sort of obvious in my "I was raised as a feminist" way. Of course the net effect of the pro-life position is anti woman rather than pro-child; who missed that point along the way? Years ago a philosophy professor pointed out to my class in college that if abortion is murder you'd arrest the woman. Is it? That seems an easy question with an easy answer, one way or the other. And the fact is even the most rad pro-lifers can't bring themselves to say "arrest the woman." Because the point is to punish her for being sexual, not for having murderous impulses.

Which is what makes Fred's generally ludicrous post so entertaining. It's not the left telling men to keep it in their pants or otherwise to be responsible fathers, Fred; that would be the religious right. The left has a more sensible plan - first, educate kids about sex and sexuality so that they can make educated decisions about when to start and with whom to partner; then make birth control readily available so that they can prevent beforehand what would be far more difficult after. And finally, for those who need it, keep abortion available and safe so that women who need them - for whatever reason they choose themselves - can get them, undersatnding that most women will not make that decision in a vacuum, but will probably consult their partner. But for those who can't, or for whom it would be dangerous (the number one cause of death during pregnancy is homicide), there is no need for getting "permission" or approval.

It's not one thing Fred, it's everything to do with sex and sexuality, and it's not the left that wants to punish women at every step along the way for being sexually active - from denying sex ed to restricting access to birth control, to outlawing abortion. Dots, Fred. Try connecting them.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 26, 2006 5:19:58 PM

Stephen, how the hell did she make this about dumb men vs. women? She said men can't know what it's like to be pregnant. I also don't know what it's like to live on Mars. This lack of knowledge doesn't make me stupid.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Mar 26, 2006 5:32:34 PM

Well it does if you start making confident pronouncements on what it's like to be Martian. :)

Posted by: weboy | Mar 26, 2006 5:37:09 PM

I don't believe in "dumb insensitive men" at all and its not implied in my post. I'm the daughter of a wonderful man, married to another wonderful man, and I love my brother and other male relatives deeply. But it is a fact that society and the medical profession infringe on women's bodies once they become pregnant in a way which no society, and certainly not ours, tolerates if it applied to men. In fact, as has been amply documented, the infringement on women's bodies starts before they become pregnant. Women have been denied the right to have their tubes tied because they are "too young" and will change their minds. They have been denied work because it might harm future pregnancies (male workers, unfortunately, are not protected from taking jobs that might damage their sperm count). Until Griswold v connecticut they were, of course, denied access to birthcontrol *even* if they were married and especially if they were not. The list goes on and on.

My point was rather different than "men are jerks" however. I'm sorry you got that impression. My point was that men in this society, and men at law in this society, are considered totally free and independent actors. The idea that the needs of another person (wife, child, neighbor) should legally be allowed to infringe the individual's freedom in *anything* is hotly contested. The state has begun locking up women for drinking and/or using drugs during pregnancy *for the sake of the child*. No man has been locked up for drinking or drugging *for the sake of the children* living in his house but only (and rarely) because he has committed other illegal acts by using drugs. No man is risking his life carrying a baby to term and you can bet your boots, in the classic line, that if men did get pregnant "abortion would be a sacrament" not because men are insensitive jerks--I don't think people have abortions because they are insensitive--but because the notion that a man must endanger his life or, frankly, his comfort for a hypothetical person is simply not legally enforceable.


Posted by: aimai | Mar 26, 2006 5:43:01 PM


After reading your post again, and your followup, I can see where I was reading between the lines for something that wasn't there. Sorry about that.

For the record, and I hope this has been obvious, I certainly support your main points.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 26, 2006 7:40:40 PM

"That is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have ever read."

Don't you mean "lip-read"?

If this is the tone on this blog, I may as well respond in kind. . .

For the non-lip-readers, I'll simply say that abortion is a convenient way to place the moral decision safely out of sight. The doctor doesn't require you to confront the evidence of your deed. Adoption does.

Killing a fetus so a woman who made a choice to have sex can avoid feeling bad about giving the fetus up for adoption strikes me as cowardly and morally reprehensible. And, while this opinion is likely to be mocked here, I'll wager it is the mainstream position. Americans may warily support abortion rights, but not for the purpose of making the decision emotionally easy for Mom.

Posted by: Patterico | Mar 26, 2006 9:11:12 PM

And bam! Patterico makes it clear--abortion bans are there to impress upon women how evil they are to have sex.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Mar 26, 2006 10:59:01 PM

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