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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Kill from Care versus alien kidney beans

Bookslut has a review up this August of The Abortion Myth, which was originally published in Australia in 1998.

The Abortion Myth was written by Australian professor Leslie Cannold who has her own website here. Cannold once studied with pro-infanticide Princeton professor of bioethics Peter Singer--which, it goes without saying, doesn't mean that her views coincide with his views.

Cannold did research for her book by speaking with 45 women who had had abortions. She makes three central claims in her book--

--Women who have abortions know exactly what they are doing--they are paying to have an alive human being killed. Cannold says of the 45 women interviewed for the book that every single one of them "were clear that the fetus is alive, and abortion kills it. None of them, however, believed these facts proved that abortion was wrong."

--Even though an abortion kills an alive human being, it can and often is the correct moral choice; i.e., in many cases, killing this human being is the right thing to do or the correct moral outcome. Continuing the life of this child would be morally worse than destroying it. Cannold refers to this as "killing with care".

--In order to successfully counteract the pro-life movement's growing popularity, the pro-choice movement needs to change its rhetoric away from "it's a woman's right" to "abortion is killing and it is often the right thing to do."

Ms. Magazine ran a negative review of Cannold's book when it came out:

Cannold's central argument is that all women feel a connection to a fetus, regardless of viability, and that the decision to abort never comes without moral reasoning. Cannold believes that the pro-choice movement has disregarded this emotional struggle, and thereby alienates women who see us as harsh and unfeeling. She admonishes the movement to move its focus from rights to morality and argues that moral goodness can include choosing abortion. "Kill from care" is the phraseology she advocates.

Cannold tends to write in very black-and-white terms--so that, for instance, all the 45 women she interviewed have the very same view of the fetus. She also says of pro-life women:

Some of those women who are so against other women having terminations will come into a clinic, have an abortion, and be out on the picket line the next day.

A credibility-reducing quote if ever I saw one.

For years, women who regret their abortions have said that they didn't fully realize at the time that it was a baby. One often hears about doctors telling the woman, "it's just a pea-sized clump of cells" and we are all familiar with the euphemism "product of conception".

Part of what Leslie Cannold wants to do in this book is maintain, contrary to these abortion narratives, that it's either a fabrication or a misunderstanding to suppose that most women don't know exactly what the fetus is and exactly what happens when it is aborted.

Is Leslie Cannold's view about how women view the fetus correct?

Evidently not. Over at the I'm Not Sorry website, we find that the site developer believes that what is being destroyed in an abortion is "an alien-looking clump roughly the size of a kidney bean."

This thread at Live Journal for Choice is about a famous Life photograph of a six-week-old fetus. A number of the people commenting there believe that the photograph is a pro-life plot. Some of the thoughts expressed include:

"It's not alive! even if it looks human."

"do you think the amniotic fluid could magnify its size? i know how something enclosed in glass can appear bigger than it really is."

"And I don't believe it's only 6 weeks gestation anyways"

"my OB/GYN said from an ultrasound that my embryo was a little bit larger that the size of a grain of rice. At 8 weeks, it might have been closer to pea size."

For those who are interested, here are additional photographs of fetal development at one month and two months.

And yet there are pro-choice women out there who are thinking about the reality of the fetus and the moral dimensions of their choice.

In this message thread at I'm Not Sorry, one woman writes:

I have zero problem with defining abortion as killing a human being. Murder/homicide, on the other hand . . . well, if abortion is murder, then so is any choice knowingly made by anyone that results in the unjustifiable death of innocent human life. That would include Bush's going to war, Clinton's refusal to send peace-keepers to Rwanda, the pollution of our environment by corporations who would rather keep up their profits than care about the health of their customers, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. My position is that human beings choose death sometimes, and not just for the purpose of self-defense. Women should not be hobbled in such a world by being held to a higher standard of justification.

I suspect that this woman is opposed to Bush's going to war, our failure to prevent the Rwandan slaughter, and corporate pollution. Yet she suggests that these events she opposes are the moral equivalent of abortion.

I very much sympathize with her view that young women should not be held to a "higher standard of justication". I know from sad experience, however, that even if this justification works as a reason for why abortion should be legal, it doesn't work when you're looking at yourself in the mirror.

On the one hand, there's denial about what is happening in an abortion. That's a classic position and, indeed, it is one reason that women who come to regret their abortions look back and say, "I didn't really understand."

On the other side, there's a claim that women know that they are "killing with care" when they abort.

As far as the emotional consequences of abortion, one wonders how someone like Leslie Cannold can imagine a 17-year-old girl "killing with care" and not living with pain. We routinely expect that others who are placed in the terribly unfortunate position of killing someone will always be burdened with a special struggle.

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