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Abortion, Skepticism, and the Importance of Standing Firm

Posted on : Aug-05-2009 | By : Joshua | In : Blog Post, skepticism

Tags: ,

23

So, apparently, an abortion clinic run by Women’s Health Services is moving into an empty building in Brookline, which used to house a Hollywood Video. Some asshats brought up a lawsuit to prevent them from doing so. What may surprise you is the justification:

“If you ever have observed protesters at an abortion clinic, they carry signs, which are alarming in their graphic detail of aborted fetuses. They have life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary, and they usually have somebody dressed as the grim reaper,” said May. “I don’t know how the town could have overlooked the emotional harm that could come to children by allowing the clinic to operate at that location.”

Yes, that’s right. Women’s Health Services can’t put their clinic there because ZOMG ABORTION PROTESTERS ARE SCARY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!! As amusing as it might be to hear people call out abortion protesters for the violent, insane motherfuckers they are, this just plain pisses me off. Why are we punishing Women’s Health Services for the actions of a bunch of looney idiots with more hate and free time than good sense? If the protesters are such a goddamned dangerous nuisance, maybe we should, I dunno, do something about them. Like maybe arrest them for vandalism when they break windows:

The lawsuit notes that protesters have already picketed community meetings held to discuss the clinic’s plans, while vandals smashed several windows at the property shortly after it was announced that it was the possible site of a clinic offering abortions.

It’s tempting to cite free speech and then run screaming from this issue to avoid attracting the attention of the buzzing, angry hornets, but this goes well beyond the protections of the First Amendment. Violence and threats are not free speech, they’re terrorism. There’s no better term for it. The anti-abortion nutjobs are using intimidation tactics and vandalism and inciting fear in order to obtain their desired political goal. That’s the dictionary definition of terrorism, right there, and it’s about time that we started treating these people like the terrorists they are.

So what’s the skeptical angle on this? Why does this go beyond an issue of feminist interest and become something the skeptical community as a whole should note? Simply put, anti-abortionists aren’t the only people to use these tactics. Animal research activists are an obvious example, although I don’t know that they’ve actually successfully killed anyone yet, unlike anti-abortionists who have. Violence and intimidation are what result when people are so fixated on a cause that nothing else — like basic human decency — matters to them any more.

Skepticism can help by teaching people that process is as the important as the result, and by teaching people that it’s ok to be wrong as long as you admit it and modify your argument. Open debate is the way of the skeptic, where all viewpoints get a hearing, but at the same time a skeptic has to be willing to drop a viewpoint if it’s contradicted by the evidence. The skeptical community also teaches us that we have to stand up for what’s right, not what’s convenient. We’re used to being bullied by cranks of all stripes, from Moon hoaxers who harass retired astronauts in their homes to chiropractors who attempt to silence their critics with legal threats, and we know that giving in gets us nothing.

The only way to make progress is to stand up to the bullies and the terrorists and say, “No. You’re wrong, and I’ll keep saying so, no matter how much you try to scare me.” The alternative is to roll over and punish innocent people, like the doctors who work at Women’s Health Services, PC, and the patients who need their services — not just for abortions but for general obstetric and gynaecological care to keep them and their babies healthy — for the actions of dangerously unhinged, violent extremists. That’s not just unfair: it’s unproductive, and it’s wrong.

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Comments (23)

Skepticism can help by teaching people that process is as the important as the result, and by teaching people that it’s ok to be wrong as long as you admit it and modify your argument. Open debate is the way of the skeptic, where all viewpoints get a hearing, but at the same time a skeptic has to be willing to drop a viewpoint if it’s contradicted by the evidence.

What a load of self-righteous crap.

Don’t get me wrong: the kind of abortion protester your describing is obnoxious at the least and disgusting at worst. And yes, the kind of arguments most of them use to justify their opinions are as logically weak as they are doctrinally rigid. I don’t like it for the same reason you don’t.

What I take issue with is your utter lack of knowledge of any reasonable opinions that differ from your own. Have you ever heard a reasoned argument against the unparalleled ease of procuring an abortion in the United States? I’d wager not, as you might then not come off as full of yourself as you did. Most Western Europeans — the French in particular — are rather amazed and horrified when they hear just how flipping easy it is for American minors to have abortions, even without parental notification (at least, until recently).

Violence and threats are not free speech, they’re terrorism. There’s no better term for it. The anti-abortion nutjobs are using intimidation tactics and vandalism and inciting fear in order to obtain their desired political goal. That’s the dictionary definition of terrorism, right there, and it’s about time that we started treating these people like the terrorists they are.

…[A]nti-abortionists aren’t the only people to use these tactics. Animal research activists are an obvious example, although I don’t know that they’ve actually successfully killed anyone yet, unlike anti-abortionists who have. Violence and intimidation are what result when people are so fixated on a cause that nothing else — like basic human decency — matters to them any more.

That’s a pretty awesome libel you just made: any and every anti-abortion activist is a terrorist, just as likely to try to murder you as a Jihadi. Horsecrap. Until George Tiller was murdered this year, there hadn’t been even an attempt on the life of an abortionist in 11 years. Then one man commits murder, and now we’ve got terrorism — no better term for it! — on our hands. Congrats on out-dicking Dick Cheney: his threshold was a 1% chance of terrorism. Yours is one murder in 11 years.

Oh, and thanks for linking to the dictionary definition of terrorism, as I’d be totally lost without it. While your at it could you, maybe, provide links to the article you quoted and some published basis for the vandalism allegation you made? You know, provide sources and such so reasonable people can fact-check and come to their own conclusions?

Apologies for the gratuitous sarcasm in that comment. That was unnecessary.

Also — since I was griping about sourcing — my source for the abortion murders is <A HREF=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-abortion_violence"wiki.

I don’t give a damn what Western Europeans think, but if you have an actual reasoned argument that access to abortions need to be restricted, I’m willing to hear it.

As for anti-abortion violence, it’s decreased from a high in the mid-90s, but it’s by no means stopped. See the numbers here, compiled from several sources with links. I linked the dictionary definition of terrorism primarily because there’s a colloquial definition that require a body count and explosions, but by definition use of violence and physical intimidation for political ends qualifies, even if it doesn’t end in deaths.

You’re right, though, that I forgot to include a link to the original article, so I’ll correct that in my post.

[I]f you have an actual reasoned argument that access to abortions need to be restricted, I’m willing to hear it.

The question in the abortion debate is whether (or at what point) the interests of the fetus to live outweigh those of the mother to control her own body. Pro-life absolutists argue that the interests of the baby always take precedence; pro-choice purists always side with the mother. Choosing between those two extremes is as stupid as choosing between a anyone-can-own-missile-launcher gun policy and complete firearm prohibition.

For a host of reasons — including the cognitive abilities of the fetus and the “newness” of the pregnancy, and my own libertarianism — I think it’s in society’s interest to permit abortion during the first trimester. After that*, the questions of personhood become rather vague and then pretty clear. Certainly, an eight-month fetus has no less a meaningful claim of personhood than does a newborn. So, after the first trimester, I think it’s best to restrict abortion to cases were there is serious risk of injury or death to the mother.

* No, first trimester isn’t a magic threshold, but I think it’s a reasonable compromise, and it’s marginally more rational than either conception or birth.

See the numbers here, compiled from several sources with links.

Where?

This is what I get for commenting before I’ve had my tea. ;)

This is the link: http://www.religioustolerance.org/abo_viol.htm Unfortunately, it only tracks to 2004. However, I followed up on their references and found that the National Abortion Federation keeps an updated tally (the PDF is the full breakdown, but they also have a page with just the “extreme” incidents: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence/violence_statistics.html

Well, I’ve obviously no defense whatsoever for violence or property damage, and I hope anyone found guilty of such things is punished severely. Seriously, though, thanks for the reference.

Do you understand my objection to your original post?

@Tom Meyer’s Comment #1:

That’s a pretty awesome libel you just made: any and every anti-abortion activist is a terrorist, just as likely to try to murder you as a Jihadi. Horsecrap…. One man commits murder, and now we’ve got terrorism — no better term for it! — on our hands. Congrats on out-dicking Dick Cheney: his threshold was a 1% chance of terrorism. Yours is one murder in 11 years.

Oh, and thanks for linking to the dictionary definition of terrorism, as I’d be totally lost without it. While your at it could you, maybe, provide links to the article you quoted and some published basis for the vandalism allegation you made? You know, provide sources and such so reasonable people can fact-check and come to their own conclusions?

The claim wasn’t that each and every abortion activist is a terrorist. The term was “anti-abortion nutjobs”, referring to the nutjobs specifically, and not anyone who is anti-abortion.

There is also a good reason for linking to the dictionary definition of terrorism — not everyone is aware of the actual definition of “terrorist” other than “the bad guys”. If you commit acts of violence and intimidation for political aims, that makes you a terrorist.

Regardless, the focus of the post is about someone filing against a public health center because the protestors are vile, not about policies on abortion.

@Tom Meyer:

Western European here (from the Netherlands, to be exact). I’m amazed and abhorred at the difficulty of access to abortion in the US, not at the ease. Sure, it’s available – if you’re willing, able and can afford to drive for a few hours, and then you still have to run the gauntlet of a mob of angry protestors.

And it’s not just abortion, but access to contraception – which is the main activity of Planned Parenthood – tends to be pretty poor too.

I doubt my opinion is a minority opinion in the Netherlands. Abortion is legal by law here, and supported by pretty much all political parties except the religious ones. Contraception is covered by health insurance for all women under 21, and included for all ages in many extended health insurance packages as well. Because of all this, abortion rates are actually rather low here, especially compared to the US.

So when you compare the US situation with Western Europe, especially from our viewpoint, the US definitely is not too liberal about abortion, but not nearly liberal enough. It seems you’re the one who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.

I’m a western european and I’ve lived in the US and I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that I’m neither amazed nor horrified at how easy it is for american minors to get abortions and would like to request Tom Meyer, when representing opinions, to stick to representing his own opinions rather than trying to represent those of others.
Cheers,
M.

The claim wasn’t that each and every abortion activist is a terrorist. The term was “anti-abortion nutjobs”, referring to the nutjobs specifically, and not anyone who is anti-abortion.

That’s a pretty weak technicality, though technically correct, so I’ll retract it. I do think Jared was more than a little sloppy by noting little difference between those who assassinate abortionists, those who use unethical tactics to protest abortion, and those who are generally pro-life.

So when you compare the US situation with Western Europe, especially from our viewpoint, the US definitely is not too liberal about abortion, but not nearly liberal enough. It seems you’re the one who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.

Over-generalization on my part, Deen and apologies. I’m not familiar with Dutch law on this. Is abortion legal in all states of pregnancy in the Netherlands?

In my defense, though, I specifically called attention to French law, which pretty severely limits abortion 12 weeks after conception. Most Americans — specifically those who are pro-choice — are rather incredulous when they hear this. Such laws would be illegal under Roe v. Wade in the United States.

Contraception is covered by health insurance for all women under 21, and included for all ages in many extended health insurance packages as well. Because of all this, abortion rates are actually rather low here, especially compared to the US.

I think it’s best to completely separate contraception as an issue, though I don’t think you and I disagree here at all. From my own anecdotal experience, some American health plans cover birth control, others don’t. The real problem is the lack of choice in health care, thanks to our foolish employer-provided system.

@Tom Meyer –

I do think Jared was more than a little sloppy […]

And I think you were a little sloppy in confusing one author for another! I didn’t write this post, nor did I comment on it until now ;)

But while I’m here, I’ll just say that I didn’t interpret this post as, in any way, attacking anti-abortionists in general. Rather, I saw it as commenting on the provocative behavior of that segment of pro-lifers which chooses to protest with graphic images, utilizes intimidation, and (in extreme circumstances) uses violence to achieve its goals.

There’s a huge difference between those people and people who make rational, cogent arguments for how best to define and delimit abortion. I think that difference is self-evident and most people reading this post would understand that Josh was calling only those who use scare tactics “terrorists.”

But that’s just my two cents.

Here’s a handy primer about abortion laws in Western Europe from from Pew. Worth reading the whole thing:

Germany: Widely available before 12 weeks, heavily restricted thereafter.

Britain: Widely available at all stages.

Greece: Widely available before 12 weeks, restricted before 24, heavily restricted after that.

Ireland: Illegal in most cases.

Spain: Confusing, kind of arbitrary. As of last year, under reform.

Sweden: Widely available before 18 weeks, heavily restricted thereafter.

To revise what I said earlier, abortion laws in much of Western Europe are far more restrictive than those in the United States.

Apologies Jared. Comments directed at Joshua and irony noted.

If you don’t build a clinic for fear of protesters, then the protesters have already won.

Coming from France (Nîmes, in particular) we’re not exactly “appalled.” RU-486 is available in some school nurses’ offices. (Imagine the freakout you’d have if that was the case in the U.S.) Certainly we have a 12 week no-excuses-necessary limit, but it’s not like it’s particularly difficult to get an abortion after that.

@Tom Meyer:
Apology accepted.

Abortion in the Netherlands is legal up to the point that the fetus could survive independently of the mother, which the law currently considers to be after 24 weeks. After that, abortion is still allowed in case of emergency. The law purposefully doesn’t define what constitutes an emergency, though, as that can only be judged on a case-by-case basis. This includes medical emergencies, of course, where the pregnancy would endanger the woman’s life. But basically, if a woman has a good reason why she really, really needs an abortion, and the doctor can medically and ethically justify it, abortion after 24 weeks is allowed.

It’s not all perfect, though. We still have a condescending 5-day waiting period, for instance. As if women don’t thoroughly think this over carefully before they go see a doctor about abortion.

I don’t think we can see contraception as a separate issue in this case. If Planned Parenthood can’t open a clinic because of fear of protesters, they won’t be able to provide birth control services either. And availability of birth control has proven to be one of the best ways to lower the number of abortions.

The larger issue in the US is access to abortion services, not just legal restrictions on the practice. While abortion remains “legal” everywhere, it is in practice impossible to access over much of the country. In fact, it appears that 87% of American counties have no abortion services! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/02/no-choice-87-of-us-counti_n_210194.html

So, what is the value of a ‘right’ if you have no practical means to exercise it?

Tom: You’re absolutely right, and I think that’s the most tragic thing about the state of abortion rights in this country right now. The bullies (and, yes, terrorists) are actually winning. They’ve managed to intimidate a lot of doctors out of offering these services, so it doesn’t matter how legal abortion is in the US, because if you need one you probably can’t find a doctor to perform it.

I’m leaving shortly for a trip out of town and will be making a longer post on my own blog when I get back. However:

[I]t appears that 87% of American counties have no abortion services!

The moment I saw this, my BS detector went off: not because I thought it was untrue, but because it is so obviously misleading.

With a little bit of googling, I tracked the source of that statistic to this paper, page 5. Though Maddow quotes the 87% figure accurately, she — and just about everyone else who quotes that statistic — fails to look one column further, at the percent of women who live in a county without an abortion provider: just 34%! In other words, just under 2/3 of women live in a county with an abortion provider. You may still find that insufficient, but it paints a rather different picture than the oft-quoted 87% figure.

Another reason to discount the 87% figure is that about 22% of US counties (or equivilents) have fewer than 10,000 people, and 50% have less than 25,000. In other words, these are extremely small population areas that are unlikely to all kinds of specialty services because the county’s population/economy isn’t big enough to support it. I’m working on a spread sheet with references for my longer post, but you can crunch the numbers from the census bureau yourself here.

The numbers are further skewered by the fact that Southern and Midwestern states — where one would already expect abortion providers to be less common — have significantly smaller counties than does the rest of the country. In other words, driving from one county to another in the South or Midwest is significantly easier than doing so in either the North East, let alone the West. Obviously, it’s more difficult to find an abortionist in Kentucky than California, but not nearly so much so as when you count it by counties.

I still think 34% of women is too high a number without (easy) access to such a common procedure*, but that’s an excellent point to raise in terms of the number of counties without abortion providers.

* This link cites 1.3 million in 2002, and further claims that 24% of non-miscarried pregnancies will end in abortion. (One of the references gives the number of miscarriages in 2000: 1.03 million.)

I am European, and although I’m not appaled at the ease with which American women can get an abortion, I’m more appaled at the difficulty they have with getting contraception. In any form. Unless they’re adults. And even then …
Or even access to proper sexual education for that matter, which teaches them not only how their bodies and their reproductive system work, but what that means as far as possible modes of prevention goes.

I think if you don’t want the girls to know that “yes, you can *still* get pregnant that way”, then subsequently don’t want them to have access to decent birth control when doing “that”, and definitely don’t want them to have access to morning after emergency precautions when they realise the risk, then surely, yes, you’re gonna have to rely heavily on the final failsafe (i.e. abortion). Unless you prefer a society in which half the girls in highschool are pregnant.

Abortion is not so much of an issue if it’s mainly a symptom of having exhausted all other forms of prevention IN VAIN. It’s an issue in the US because for many it’s the only means of fixing a problem they were unaware of until that point.

But late-stage and partial-birth abortions definitely don’t fall in the category of “prevention” by any stretch of the imagination. Something has to be seriously wrong to require a pregnancy to be terminated more than two months after having first noticed that “hey, I’m not getting my period any more”. Perhaps lack of proper education might explain how some girls might perhaps be so clueless they don’t even know they’re knocked up until they suddenly start putting on so much extra weight?
I can only speculate of course.

Anyway, as a pro-choice supporter, I can only say that three months in, you’ve had plenty of time to choose. At that point, you’ve already made your choice by not acting, whether you regret that or not.
But let’s be honest, the loonies on the picket line aren’t just protesting second and third trimester abortions, are they? To them, “the choice” was made the moment that girl first glanced at that guy …

About second trimester abortions, it’s worth considering why women actually get them. First of all, 90% of abortions occur in the first trimester anyway. For a woman to seek an abortion in her second trimester, there’s usually some extenuating circumstance. The doctor in that link provides two anecdotes, one medical and one about domestic abuse. The medical anecdote no doubt represents the more common case, but in both instances it would be profoundly uncompassionate to deny an abortion because some arbitrary time window was closed.

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