June 18, 2010


“Thus, we rationalize the taking of life, and of our own moral decay and lack of self-dignity, calling it ‘freedom,’ while forgetting that freedom includes having the discipline to be able to take the road less traveled.”

This was the response from RW to LM’s link announcing the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs unanimously voted to recommend a “morning-after” anti-conception pill that is effective up to five days after intercourse. The European Medicine Agency approved the drug, called “ellaOne” in 2009. It is likely the FDA will take the recommendations of the panel and approve the drug, but not certain, and pro-life groups are rallying to stop its approval by claiming it amounts to abortion, which is legal anyway, and that “men could use it to exploit women by slipping it to their unknowing partners,” according to Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women of America, per a June 18 CNN article.

Now, I am conflicted on the subject of abortion. As far as I can tell, life begins at conception. However, I have a very difficult time thinking consciousness exists in anything without a single brain cell. (Although some argue conciousness if not a product of the biologic brain.) Human embryos don’t even attach to the uterine wall until seven days after fertilization. The drug works by preventing progesterone, a key reproductive hormone, from reaching receptors in the body. The hormone prepares the uterus to accept implantation of an embryo and decreases the maternal immune response and contraction of the uterine muscles. (Wow, déjà vu to junior high biology class.) Progesterone levels are typically at their lowest point during menstruation and drop at the onset of labor.

So that’s the science. And RW wants to moralize about “Powerful scientific advances in the hands of an ethically irresponsible society: we have gotten too much technology without complementary ethics and attention to personal responsibility.”

The implication, intended or not, is that women who use this drug are irresponsible. I don’t know if he believes this irresponsibility stems from not using premeditated birth control or just having intercourse without the desire to procreate. To the first point, I can only ask “Have you read the statement on the back of a condom package?” A three percent chance of pregnancy is a larger risk than I’m willing to take. And most premeditated birth control takes a month to even be effective, in addition to requiring an expensive prescription, which necessitates a costly annual physical exam and laboratory tests.

Now, I should point out RW is male and thus has likely never had to consider the financial and temporal hurdles one must overcome in order to even get a birth control prescription. Effective drug-based male birth control is still a long way off (mostly due to a lack of motivation, I believe, perhaps unfairly). Perhaps RW believes a six week waiting period (two weeks to get a doctor’s appointment and four for the birth control to be effective) should be mandatory before having sex with a new partner, just to be sure you're really sure. Or perhaps women should follow the Boy Scout model and “be prepared” by remaining on birth control at all times, even if they are not currently involved in an intimate relationship, despite the financial and physiological consequences.

However, his rhetoric regarding the “taking of life” leads me to believe RW has neither considered any of the above nor would admit to its validity at all. Rather his is concerned only with branding this new drug an abortificant and further branding abortion as morally wrong. And his recommendation is to “have the discipline to be able to take the road less travelled” and that this is a defining characteristic of “freedom”?

What does that even mean?

Does RW believe the majority of women (the hypothetical road more travelled) are running around getting abortions (or abortion-inducing drugs) willy-nilly? That the majority of women are in a state of “moral decay” and lack “self-dignity”? Therefore, to exhibit our “freedom” we should rebel by choosing the moral path (the hypothetical road less traveled) by accepting the burden of an unwanted (possibly forcible and/or unhealthy) pregnancy and the potential of spending the next two-decades (or more) raising a child we were ill-prepared for? We should use our “freedom” to subjugate our own moral autonomy and responsibility to his or others of like-mind?

Huh. I recommend RW look up “freedom” in the dictionary.

“I. The state or fact of being free from servitude, constraint, inhibition, etc.; liberty. 1. a. Exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment; = LIBERTY n. b. fig. Liberation from the bondage or dominating influence of sin, spiritual servitude, worldly ties, etc. c. Exemption or release from the obligations of a contractual agreement; spec. release from a marriage, divorce. 2. Nobility or generosity of character, magnanimity. Cf. FREE adj. 3. Obs. 3. The state or fact of not being subject to despotic or autocratic control, or to a foreign power; civil liberty; independence. 4. a. The state of being able to act without hindrance or restraint; liberty of action. Freq. with to and infinitive. b. spec. Liberty in respect of a particular sphere of life or action, as freedom of association, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of the press (cf. press freedom n. at PRESS n.1 Compounds 1a(b)), etc. c. As a count noun: a particular type of freedom (sense 4a), esp. when regarded as a right; a civil liberty. Usu. in pl. 5. The fact of not being controlled by or subject to fate; the power of self-determination attributed to the will. 6. Readiness or willingness to act; keenness, enthusiasm. Cf. FREE adj. 15. Obs. (Sc. in later use). 7. The state of being free from a defect, encumbrance, disadvantage, etc. 8. a. Frankness, openness, familiarity (in conversation or social interaction); outspokenness; (occas.) an instance of this. b. The overstepping of due or customary bounds in speech or behaviour; undue familiarity; an instance of this, a liberty (esp. in to take the freedom (to do something). Now rare. 9. Facility or ease in action or activity; absence of encumbrance or hindrance. 10. Boldness or vigour in conception or execution, esp. of a literary or other artistic work; the fact of not strictly observing conventions of style or form. Cf. FREE adj. 13. a. Exemption from a service, obligation, charge, or duty; the state of being so exempted; an instance of this; an immunity, a privilege. Cf. FRANCHISE n. 2. b. Immunity, exemption, or privilege possessed by a city, corporation, etc.; an instance of this.” – The Oxford English Dictionary Online

Believe it or not there is nothing in the definition (which I slightly abridged) in reference to either responsibility or morality. Freedom, it seems, entails neither by default. Now, that isn’t to say it shouldn’t. In order for all to be as free as possible (but never as free as we think we are) restrictions are necessary in order to prevent one person’s freedom from causing another person’s loss of freedom. In this case, I assume RW believes the freedom of the embryo to live trumps the mother’s freedom not to be pregnant, bear, or raise a child.

It could easily be argued (and has been) that the embryo is essentially not a human being and therefore not entitled to the freedom we grant each other as (supposedly) independent sentient beings. Or that the mother’s freedom to make her own medical decisions must be upheld (the legal basis for Roe v. Wade).

At that point, we could easily rebut with the immorality of killing. But killing what? Anything? Plants, animals, or only human beings? What constitutes a human being? If a fertilized egg is all it takes, why not then an unfertilized egg? Under those circumstances, every menstrual cycle in which a woman does not become pregnant and therefore wastes an egg could be considered killing a human being. If killing human beings is immoral, capital punishment will surely have to go, along with war and the use of deadly force, right?

The purpose of all of this is not to justify abortion, but rather to point to the essential difficulty surround issues of women’s reproductive rights. As I stated at the outset, I am conflicted. Personally, I could never see myself aborting a viable fetus in the course of a healthy (or even moderately risky) pregnancy.

But here’s the crux of it for me: I believe freedom entails the freedom to be wrong. If we are only free to be “right,” we are not free at all. We have the freedom, and must have the freedom, to act stupid, make mistakes, and even act unethically at times. As a society we make laws to mitigate the negative effects of these actions on others, but we will never truly ameliorate them. The alternative is totalitarianism. As Americans we’re free to vote for the “wrong” candidate, eat the “wrong” food (hello, obesity epidemic), watch the “wrong” movies (can you say “perpetuating a culture of violence” three times fast?), choose the “wrong” profession, and even marry the “wrong” person (divorce rate is at 40%, yay!).

Therefore, in ambiguous situations where harm is difficult to define, and especially where the moral basis for a decision is primarily religious, we must favor the risk of being wrong over the certainty of being less free. If we abridge the freedom of others based on our own moral conviction without objective proof (as much as such a thing exists) of the harmfulness of their actions on others, we open our own freedom to being so abridged. In such instances, the minority will suffer, freedoms will be restricted and restricted further, until such time as we suddenly realize we are all in the minority. When Patrick Henry valued death over loss of liberty, he was pointing to the essential risk of freedom. To be free does not mean we will always be safe or always be right.

As for the drug, I just like knowing I can still enjoy the emotional and physical intimacy of a relationship with another human being without having to be pregnant, bear, and possibly raise a child, fight for child support, and give up large aspects of my life if I don't want to. Men have that choice (aside from the bit about fighting for child support), “wrong” though it may be. Men can walk away the moment the deed is done. No one is trying to legislate their medical or lifestyle choices. I only require the same for women.

Everyone should have the freedom to be wrong.

1 comment:

John said...

If I recall, the pill works by preventing the embryo from attaching to the uterine wall. EllaOne does the same. Therefore... the pill is killing embryos already. If we switch to ellaOne, there won't be a net decrease in our culture's morality. Correct me if I am wrong.