Friday, 24 April 2015


Ladysolly and I had a discussion about abortion recently. I can't remember how it came up; no, she isn't pregnant.

Her memory is *much* better than mine. Actually, pretty much everyone has a better memory than I do. My brain seems to be mostly about processing, not memory. But I have a strategy that deals with that; I use a pencil and paper, a calendar and a computer. Anyway, she said that 50 years ago, I was against abortion, and she was in favour. Now, I'm still against, and she is too. That, of course, is vastly oversimplifying our positions; both of us did, and still do, take the position that "it depends".

Both of us are atheists, so this isn't a religously inspired position. And in my mind, if you frame it as a matter of "women's reproductive rights", then that's the wrong frame. In my mind, it's to do with "what is the definition of murder", which is an issue that everyone can legitimately have input to. Certainly every society has laws against murder, but different societies define murder differently.

Because "it depends", it's very difficult to make generalisations; every case can be different. But some generalisations can be made. For example, if the pregnancy threatens the life of mother, baby, or both, then abortion should be legal, although whether it's advisable in any particular case would depend on questions like "what's the likelihood of each outcome", which is a medical question, and so should be a question within the scope of the doctors on the case. Another example, if the abortion is requested on account of the baby isn't the desired gender, then that's bad. And yes, this does happen.

The natural ratio of boys to girls at birth, is 106 boys per 100 girls, although there's natural variance from 103 up to 107. In China, it's 118 (as of 2010), although it was a more natural ratio in 1960. In parts of India, it's up to 120. By the way, in the drsolly family, it's 0 boys per 2 girls, although if you include the next generation, that changes to 1 boy to 2 girls. This disparity leads to various social pressures; in parts of India and China, there's a "wife shortage". In the drsolly family, there was an excessive wedding cost issue.

Abortion, in the UK, is mostly not a contentious issue. Certainly, I'd be very surprised to see people waving placards and demonstrating in this country. But in America, there seems to be two significantly opposed camps. Pro-abortion (who self-identify as "pro-choice", which excludes framing the issue as "definition of murder") and anti-abortion (who self-identify as "pro-life", which also excludes my preferred framing). Both of these self-identifications are attempts to frame the discussion, and so I'll ignore them, because I frame the discussion as "what's the definition of murder". And although I can see why the two sides would want to frame the discussion in the way they do, it seems to me that if you accept either frame, it's hard to have any sort of discussion. How can anyone be "anti-life"? How can anyone be "anti-choice"?

The pro-abortion people seem mostly to talk about "women's reproductive rights"; the anti-abortion people seem mostly to talk about "religious objections". Both sides seem, to me, to be taking absolute positions, and both sides abjure "it depends". Maybe it's inevitable that such a polarisation would happen in non-thinking people, but I notice even people who I'd regard as thoughtful, accept one or the other frame. And I've noticed that this can depend on whether they self-identify as "liberal" or as "religious".

On the anti-abortion side, the most extreme position seems to be taken by the catholic church, who are anti-contraception; every sperm is sacred, because it's a potential soul. On the pro-abortion side, the most extreme position seems to be taken by those feminists who seem to stop short of approving infanticide, but only just.

I think that most Americans are somewhere in the middle. I think that most Americans are pretty sensible about this important issue, but as in many arenas, the extremists make the most noise. Maybe those of us who think "it depends" should get out there and wave some placards. I'd suggest a placard that says "It depends".

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