h1

More on the Magic Button

January 21, 2008

I’ve written about abortion a few times over the last six years here at scottfeldstein.net. I have also participated in many online discussions about it elsewhere. The experience has shown me that there is often a very great distance between the two sides in this debate. Is there any common ground to be found? You would think so. But that common ground never materializes because one side–the pro-life side–isn’t being honest about it’s motivations and intentions.

What common ground might there be? Contraception. It prevents unwanted pregnancy, and thus abortion, but pro-lifers are usually no friend to the cause of sex education and contraception. When you think about it, such contradictory positions are hard to fathom. In the past I have used a hypothetical question to throw this point into its sharpest relief: if there were a magic button which would make it so that no sexually active couple ever became pregnant unless they explicitly wanted to, would you push it? Pro-lifers almost universally say no.


Think about it. With one push of the button you would give people absolute control over their own reproduction. No more unwanted pregnancies, ever. Poverty rates would plummet. Educational achievement would rise. A whole host of social problems associated with people having children they cannot afford, or otherwise cannot raise properly, would diminish. Abortion? It would become virtually unknown. (I don’t have data on this, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of them are performed not because of any medical condition of the woman or the fetus, but because the pregnancy was not wanted in the first place.) Yet when you offer the magic button to them, pro-lifers reject it.

Abortion? They hate it. Contraception? Unenthusiastic. A vaccine which prevents a sexually transmitted disease? They don’t like that either! It begins to seem as if they only thing they do like is keeping sex as risky and dangerous as possible. Why would they want to do that? To control people’s sexual behavior.

And that it seems to me is the real answer: most of what motivates the pro-life movement is the desire to hold their neighbors to a particular code of sexual conduct. Married procreation is of course fine. Anything outside that, not so much. The riskier sex is, the more people will be afraid to have it, and the more they will adhere to pro-lifer’s moral code. Those who deviate? Well, sin must have its punishment. Even if it’s unwanted pregnancy, disease–or even death.

When I have brought the above reasoning to pro-lifers themselves, they have had a few typical responses. The most honest response is the one in which they say something like “I believe actions should have consequences.” By that they mean, if you have sex without the intention of having babies with your spouse, and you end up pregnant, sick or dead–well, you got what you deserved. This completely backs up my claims about their motivations.

But there are other responses. None of them make very much sense, and none of them disprove my thesis. Here are a few of them:

  • “If someone had pushed this button before I was born, I wouldn’t be here!” The idea that the human species should continue to be slaves to their biology simply because some of us are infatuated with a Back-to-the-future-esque time-travel conundrum is offensive in the extreme.
  • “Your question is hypothetical, so your point is invalid!” This kind of sophistry speaks for itself, I guess, but one thing does occur to me in response: the magic button is only hypothetical in degree. After all, we do have contraception, even if many people do not use it and it’s not 100% effective. We could easily replace “magic button” with “concerted multifaceted effort to promote contraceptive use” and replace “never become pregnant” with “rarely become pregnant.” Pro-lifers aren’t known for their support of such ideas, even in their non-hypothetical form. Thus my point stands.
  • “God this, the Bible that!” You can live whatever way seems good to you, but if your ideas about how to do so are based solely on articles of faith, you have no business trying to compel anyone else to follow them. That’s called religious freedom. Welcome to America.

Pro-lifers only start to make sense when you realize that most of them are in fact far more interested in sin and its punishment than they are in actually preventing abortion. Their stance on contraception–illustrated concisely in the Magic Button question–illustrates this beyond doubt. Perhaps if they would come clean about this fact we could begin to have a more genuine discussion. Until then, no common ground will be found.

Advertisements

No comments yet

  1. “No more unwanted pregnancies, ever. Poverty rates would plummet. Educational achievement would rise. A whole host of social problems associated with people having children they cannot afford, or otherwise cannot raise properly, would diminish. Abortion? It would become virtually unknown.”

    All of this would happen if we sterilized criminals too. Soooo, are you with me? If someone is convicted, with all of their due process rights in tact, of a felony (or failing to pay child support, or a host of other things that we can link to bad parenting) why not sterilize them? Why not take away their right to have kids while we’re taking away the other liberties that we commonly take away when we convict people of crimes? Poverty rates would plummet. Educational achievement would rise. A whole host of social problems would diminish.

    Or how about we sterilize people in exchange for wellfare checks? If you want government assistance, you’re not allowed to create any more mouths to feed that require government assistance to feed. That would make sense, no? The number of children on welfare would decrease drastically. Poverty rates would plummet. Educational achievement would rise. A while host of social problems would diminish. So are you with me?

    Or do you really even care about these issues?


  2. Why not take away their right to have kids while we’re taking away the other liberties that we commonly take away when we convict people of crimes?

    Because the right to reproduce is too fundamental a human right to take away based on some in-the-future statistical guessing game. That’s why.

    If you want government assistance, you’re not allowed to create any more mouths to feed that require government assistance to feed. That would make sense, no? The number of children on welfare would decrease drastically. Poverty rates would plummet.

    The number of children on welfare would decrease, sure. But poverty? Probably it would increase sharply. No, I’m definitely not with you.

    Yes, I care about these issues, but I think you’re barking up a couple of wrong trees.

    I disagree with you about these things. But do you or don’t you disagree with me about giving people the ultimate control over their reproduction? Would you push the button or wouldn’t you?


  3. Of course I would push it. I said that in your original thread. People should have ultimate control over their reproduction. Unless they show themselves to be bad parents (i.e. criminals) through a trial conducted with all of their due process rights in effect. Then, I think, we should be able to take away that control like we take away other rights in the same situation.

    “Because the right to reproduce is too fundamental a human right to take away based on some in-the-future statistical guessing game. That’s why.”

    Says who? Did you read that in the Bible or something? Do you honestly think the right to reproduce is more fundamental than the right to (1) Vote? (2) Own a firearm? (3) Liberty in general? We take away all of those when people are convicted of crimes.

    “The number of children on welfare would decrease, sure. But poverty? Probably it would increase sharply.”

    Huh? Do you honestly think that poverty would increase sharply if deadbeats started having fewer kids? Explain that one for me.


  4. Do you honestly think the right to reproduce is more fundamental than the right to (1) Vote? (2) Own a firearm? (3) Liberty in general? We take away all of those when people are convicted of crimes.

    Those things are much more closely tied to a) the individual and b) immediate public safety issues. There is a difference, jesus.

    Do you honestly think that poverty would increase sharply if deadbeats started having fewer kids? Explain that one for me.

    Sure thing. You seem to believe that people would make a rational decision not to have children based on a change in government policy about welfare. I think that’s a stretch. In the first place, half of all children are unplanned–accidental, one might say. Accidents aren’t impacted by rational decisions. I think what we’d have is a large number of children born to people who could not afford them, who would then not have the benefit of welfare.


  5. Re: Sterilizing criminals:
    In what sense are those things tied much more closely to the individual? In what sense is the right to vote tied much more closely to public safety? Your response here doesn’t really sound any more substantive than the responses you get from the righties on your button question.

    Re: Sterilizing welfare recipients:
    I’d be willing to concede that there may be a handful of people that would no longer accept a welfare check if it required them being sterilized. My guess is that it would be a very small number. I think many babies born to people on welfare are “oopses” so you’d have minimal opposition after an adjustment period. (I would think that many people on welfare would actually embrace the idea of having the government pay for their tubes to be tied). But whatever, we can’t know this for sure. So I’ll put it to you as a hypothetical. If there were a magic button that would prevent people on welfare from having any more unplanned children that they can’t afford, would you push it?

    On another note, we have the technology to sterilize people, and then reverse it later. What if we included that as a part of a punishment for criminals? What if people were sentenced to X years jail and Y years probation/sterilization. After that time, they’d have the option of reversing the procedure. So to have a baby, they would have to make a positive effort to do so. What would you think about that?


  6. In what sense is the right to vote tied much more closely to public safety?

    Actually, in that particular case it’s not. I think convicted felons should be able to vote, just as soon as they are released from prison.

    there may be a handful of people that would no longer accept a welfare check if it required them being sterilized.

    I don’t think asking people to be sterilized in order to receive welfare is proper. Most people who are receive help through programs like AFCD only receive that help for two years or less. You think a person should give up their right to reproduce for that? No, I’m sorry. That requirement is simply to heavy to make sense to me.

    You’re a little closer with the whole “option to reverse it” argument, but you’d have to further stipulate that a) the reversal always worked and b) there was no risk associated with surgical procedures. Then maybe we could talk. Hell, I had hypothetical advances in contraception in my question, you’re allowed to go out on a limb, too. But without such stipulations, count me out. These kinds of punishments and requirements are too heavy-handed for the risk to society we’re talking about.


  7. “I don’t think asking people to be sterilized in order to receive welfare is proper.”

    Is not being “proper” like not being “moral”?

    “Most people who are receive help through programs like AFCD only receive that help for two years or less.”

    True. But most of the money paid out is paid out to people that collect benefits for much longer than two years. Or so I’ve read. And that’s the group that shouldn’t be having more kids.

    ” You think a person should give up their right to reproduce for that?”

    A lot of the time, yes. Certainly for that time period. The procedure could be reversed when they get off wellfare. Ya know, with the wellfare example, it could easily be done, at least for women (but I think for men too), with a monthly shot given at the same time they pick up the check. No surgery necessary. Would you be cool with that?

    “a) the reversal always worked”

    Wow. That’s pretty extreme. What if it was as affective as condoms? Which is to say, extremely effective but certainly not perfect.

    ” and b) there was no risk associated with surgical procedures. ”

    That’s also pretty extreme. Nothing would ever get done if you aren’t willing to except any kind of risk.


  8. […] Scott Feldstein asks, “If there were a magic button which would make it so that no sexually active couple ever became pregnant unless they explicitly wanted to, would you push it?” As he says, as a group, pro-lifers would say no, but I’m one of those who would say yes. […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: