Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kristin Luker's Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood 6: Worldviews

In my latest reading of Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, Kristin Luker discussed the difference of worldview between pro-lifers and pro-choicers.  She doesn't mean that all pro-lifers or all pro-choicers adopt the worldview that she ascribes to them, but rather she notes trends that she observed in her interviews with activists.  So please keep in mind that what follows is not absolute, but it may describe general trends, at least during the 1980's, when Luker wrote this book.

According to Luker, pro-lifers believe in moral rules, even though they don't perfectly live up to them, since there are pro-life women who have had abortions.  Pro-choicers, by contrast, don't have as rigid a view regarding morality, and they make moral decisions by looking at competing claims and what's good for people involved.  Luker states that pro-choicers have a New Testament approach to ethics, one that subordinates rules to love.  For example, pro-choicers don't think that putting a child up for adoption is preferable to abortion, for the former would put the child into a world where he or she might not be loved or receive adequate care.

On a related note, pro-choicers regard personhood as social, and so they maintain that one becomes a person at birth, when one first socially interacts with people.  Pro-lifers, by contrast, are frightened by this suggestion, for they regard personhood as innate rather than socially-conditioned, and they fear that valuing people based upon their contribution to society is similar to Nazism.

At the same time, according to Luker, pro-choicers are not for women carelessly getting pregnant and having multiple abortions.  Luker states that they dislike this because the women had other alternatives----such as birth control----and multiple abortions usurp "the potential rights of the embryo by trivializing them" (page 180).  I can't say that I entirely understand the pro-choice position here, for, if abortion is acceptable, what would be wrong with having more than one abortion?  Something tells me that even pro-choicers are seeing the embryo as something other than a blob of tissue.  But this position calls to my mind a conversation that I was having with pro-choicers back in my conservative college days.  A pro-choicer said that she was against abortion personally but did not think that the law should ban abortion, and so I asked her why she was against abortion personally.  Her response was that abortion was too easy of a solution----that sex and pregnancy should be considered as more weighty than an attitude of "Oh, I'm pregnant again----time to have another abortion!" would suggest.

Pro-lifers regard sex as sacred because it produces children, whereas pro-choicers regard sex as sacred in terms of intimacy.  Pro-choicers also think that sex should not only be for procreative purposes, as Luker says on pages 176-177: "From their point of view, if the purpose of sex were limited to reproduction, no rational Creator would have arranged things so that an individual can have hundreds or even thousands of acts of intercourse in a lifetime, with millions of sex cells----egg and sperm----always at the ready."  Regarding the sanctity of sex, this, too, reminds me of a discussion that I had with a pro-choicer in my college days.  I was saying that people should wait until they are married to have sex because anything else would cheapen sex and its sanctity, and one lady wondered what exactly was so sacred about sex: she saw it primarily as a physical act!  She converted to Islam sometime after that discussion, so I'm curious as to whether her view is different, now.

Pro-lifers think that God has a plan, and so they believe that an unexpected pregnancy is part of that plan.  Pro-choicers, by contrast, are less religious (or are spiritual but not religious), and they don't believe that any ills of society are God's will, which is why they believe that it's important for human beings to stop them.  This, presumably, would include preventing a child from growing up unwanted.  This debate recalled to my mind Richard Mourdock's comments during the 2012 elections.

On whether or not Luker's characterizations gel with my experience, I'd say not entirely.  On the issue of abortion, yes, pro-lifers probably have a rigid sense of rules whereas pro-choicers are more open to situational ethics, but what about other issues?  On a number of issues, it seems as if the Left is absolutist whereas the Right conditions ethics on the situation.  I think of the use of torture in interrogation techniques, or funding violent groups to fight Communism, ideas that the Right has championed.  And, regarding sex, I think that conservatives, too, value sex as a means of intimacy.


  1. Why has 'personhood' got anything to do with it? Why have persons a "right to life"? Lots of people seem also to have the idea that we have a duty to live. Why should we think that?

    One might also bring in uthanasia. You wouldn't have thought it had occurred to lots of people that they will inevitably die. Left to itself, 'reality' is likely to kill us off in uncomfortable ways. It looks rational to try to arrange one's death to be as comfortable as possible. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in this world, but one can try! It looks reasonable and moral to me to have euthanasia available, because pretty horrendous situations can arise.

    It looks reasonable to think that we have a duty not to have children, unless feeling specially called to it, and a duty not to suffer, unless one feels specially called to.

    Some people argue that others might decide we should die, or people might be pressured to feel they ought to die. Why would these scenarios be outrageous? 'Reality' decides for us to die, often against our good, so why shouldn't other people, for our own good. And even if we might be pressured to die by, say, feelings we might be a burden, is it any great shakes we might die a bit earlier than otherwise, and in more tolerable circumstances than leaving it later to chance? Why should people feel pressured to stay alive, when it's better they die?

    Is the Creator 'rational? It looks like the Creator is not rational, or even reasonable, in many things, as we tend to understand rational and reasonable. Though we need to understand that God is out of our league in his purposes (!), we have to do the best we can.

  2. I think I get what you're arguing: that quality of life is more important than right to life. What some may fear is a slippery slope, and that's why they tend to be absolutist.

  3. Hi James, yes, this life is no good if it has bad quality (it's better we be done with it and be in Heaven. We have everything to gain by being dead, what's up with people who want to cling to this life? Actually, even at its best, this life is nothing on Heaven! We should only put up with this life, if of bad quality, as long as we feel God wants us to continue to live, perhaps for some special task.), but I think I give considerations also against slippery slope arguments!

    If this life is reasonable or good for us, that's more difficult. We can always fall into bad quality life at a moment's notice (say, by having a stroke), so it might be argued it is best to get out while we can! I don't think God would be against such reasonable behaviour. But, it's a radical idea I suppose, it needs more thought, which I won't try here. There is something of the same type of situation in an item on TV just now (I do computing while the TV is on!) where women are being presented who have decided to have their breasts removed because they are high risk genetically for breast cancer. Seems very reasonable!


  4. I also do computing while the TV is on!

    I hear what you're saying. It sounds a lot like how Luker characterizes the pro-choice mindset, though I'm not sure if they'd go as far as you do. I guess the question would be: How much should we take before we decide that life is not worth living anymore? Some would say that life is always worth living----maybe they'd even say something about God having a plan. Others would say there is a line somewhere. If so, I wonder where it is.


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