Thursday, August 03, 2006

You tell me the morning after

The big news in uteruses everywhere is that the FDA is considering approving OTC sale of emergency contraceptives (e.g., Plan B) for 18-year-old women. Amusingly, most media coverage of this story focuses on the suspicious timing of this announcement right before the Senate confirmation hearing of Andrew von Eschenbach as permanent head of the FDA rather than on the controversy surrounding the morning after pill itself. Apparently questioning someone's integrity is more interesting than whether women have the right to prevent zygote implantation without doctor approval. It's a relief not reading to the same predictable pro-life/pro-choice debate every time reproductive choice is a topic in the news.

But why do I find that incessant debate so pointless and boring to begin with? I realized that it's not the content of the controversy that puts me to sleep; in fact, considering the legal relationship between the state, women, and their fetuses is fanscinating. Rather, what bores me to tears about the abortion debate is that the prevailing arguments used on either side are so rhetorically useless.

None of the names assigned by a side's opponents-- pro-abortion, anti-choice, and so on--is actually true, and none of the self-assigned terms--pro-life, pro-choice, and so on--is unique to that side.

Honestly, do "pro-abortion" supporters actually round up women, put them on a shuttle to the nearest Planned Parenthood, and encourage them to get abortions? Do members of the "anti-choice" camp intervene when someone is waffling between a latte and a mocha, insisting that she isn't allowed to choose? Alternately, since when do "pro-lifers" have the monopoly on thinking that death is a bad thing? I'm obligated, of course, to bring up the irony of how the "pro-life" constituency usually also supports war the death penalty, and vice versa.

When pro-choicers accuse their adversaries of being universally sexist and ignorant of basic scientific fact, do they really mean that? More ridiculously, when pro-lifers claim that "abortionists" (as if it were an ideology) are murderers with no regard for human life, have they bothered to look up "murder" first? Why are phrases like "unborn child," which is oxymoronic, even allowed into the debate?

This disregard for semantic accuracy is as effective as calling George W. Bush a terrorist. Yes, we get it; W. is a horrible human being. But he's not literally a terrorist, and calling him one accomplishes nothing.

Making exaggerated claims with overblown or inaccurate terminology clouds the real argument about the legal and ethical grounds that need to be considered when granting women access to abortion. It's much easier, of course, to call Planned Parenthood a Nazi-like death machine than to actually argue about why fetuses should be granted certain legal protections. But it doesn't get us anywhere. I'm more swayed by science and rhetoric than picket signs and name-calling.

Science is especially important when considering drugs like Plan B. Knowing exactly what emergency contraceptives do and being able to clearly identify why your do or do not oppose these medical processes makes arguments on the topic so much more productive and interesting.

This could be my bias as a coathanger-weilding pro-abortionist, but I think the pro-life side has a larger arsenal of meaningless phrases and groundless invective than does the pro-choice side.


Paul said...

Is it just me, or did this post come out of nowhere? I could have sworn it wasn't here even a few hours ago. I feel like I'm being gaslighted.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Maybe it was back-dated.

What's interesting to me is how, even with total control of the relavant branches of congress the conservatives couldn't stop this. The best they could manage was uping the age-limit from 16 to 18. It really helps you appreciate the wonderful benefits of a slow-moving beuracracy.

I was thinking now that it's legal every sorority and co-op in the country is going to have a secret stash of these for an emergency and good for them too.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

Oops. I started the post while at work yesterday, then (in large part because of the need to, like, do stuff at my job) I put off finishing it until this afternoon. It showed up as if I had posted it when I drafted it. So, if nobody minds, I re-set the post time to when I actually posted it.

My gut tells me that setting the age limit to 18 rather than 16 is acceptable, oddly enough. I need to think harder about why I feel this way, and maybe, upon closer examination, I will change my opinion.

I would hope that fraternities' and sororities' not-so-secret stashes of condoms would supplant the need for a stockpiling of Plan B. I don't think that pregnancy prevention and, more importantly, women's health should be treated with any less reverence than it currently is. Using condoms is the easiest, safest thing in the history of man; it's safer than drinking milk. Using any drug, OTC or prescription, carries risk, and women should take more ownership over their health. Luckily, I don't think any woman would rather use Plan B than a condom; I won't make that assumption about men, though.

Paul said...

Maybe this comes from from my lack of familiarity with the whole abortion debate, but is there a sizable chunk of the pro-life movement that doesn't give rights to a blastocyst by appeal to God? I mean, if you're categorically opposed to abortion, even at the earliest stages of pregnancy, is that only if you're devoutly religious? Or is there some number of people who think, "Yup, that's a person - you can't just abort it!"

I feel like that wasn't a clear question...

Aaron said...

I would hope that fraternities' and sororities' not-so-secret stashes of condoms would supplant the need for a stockpiling of Plan B.

Straight up. I'm pro-choice and definitely glad that Plan B might get OTC status, but: isn't the abortion debate a really weird proxy for all sorts of more fundamental debates, about the prevalence of sex ed and policy to deal with unwanted children, for instance?

Aaron said...

Also, I just got the Elliott Smith reference, which means that I need to turn my indie rocker card in to somebody.