Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Lego incubators, and seven fluid ounces of pain

Oh goody, everyone's talking about abortion! Cheers, Nadine Dorries; you've poked and prodded at the issue so much that every idiot has pulled their opinion out of the cellar and dusted it off.

Today: Lovely Andrew Brown argues that women carrying unwanted pregnancies should continue gestating For The Good Of The Nation. He claims that the current abortion settlement is based on a faux-utilitarianist argument - that allowing abortion provides "the greatest good for the greatest number" - but in fact serves  "the greatest happiness of the greatest person, ie. me". (Please note he doesn't mean himself. He means someone with an unwanted occupant in his/her uterus.)

This is totally irrelevant to the matter at hand, but I would just like to pause for a moment to observe that Jeremy Bentham, who famously proposed that "the greatest good for the greatest number is the only proper business of government" is currently sitting embalmed in a hallway in my old university and once had his head stolen and sent to Glasgow.

Brown argues, therefore, that the "greatest good" could in fact be achieved by... all unwanted pregnancies being carried to term, and the resulting progeny given to childless couples who want to raise a baby! He doesn't specify whether the uterine-enabled would have any choice in the matter, but hopes that "her suffering might be mitigated by the reflection that it does some good". Isn't it nice that he cares?
So if we are interested in maximising happiness, or diminishing suffering, then unwanted pregnancies should be continued, and the babies given out to adoption. This is, of course, liable to be horrible for the natural mother. I know women who had to do this, and it was dreadful for them. But her suffering must be measured against the joy of the adoptive mother. That seems at least as great and goes on for a great deal longer. And of course the baby, if it had a vote, would presumably cast it in favour of being alive.
Wow, he really does care! So much! It's almost as if he's experienced the blind terror of a pregnancy scare himself! OR NOT. It sounds, actually, as if he imagines all of humanity as little Lego men in his own personal Lego fiefdom which he built himself in his attic. 'How can I make my Legotopia more efficient?', LegoLeader Brown asks? Not, actually, 'how can I make as many as possible people happy'. He sees one group of LegoLadies without LegoBabies who want LegoBabies, and another group of LegoLadies who have LegoFoetuses but don't want LegoBabies, and instead of seeing a multitude of deeply personal and individual situations - he sees a basic supply and demand scenario. Why let those LegoBabies go to waste? Reduce, reuse, recycle; don't you know there's a war on?

I've been pro-choice for as long as I knew there was such a thing, but I only really got it - not intellectually, but on a visceral (indeed uterine) level - during My First Pregnancy Scare. Lying in a too-small bed in a grotty flat somewhere in South London, awake all night with visions of sperm swimming like salmon towards the giant target of an egg just a few centimetres beneath to skin of my belly... the thought of getting pregnant was terrifying, but what really scared the crap out of me was the idea of someone else - anyone else, anyone who wasn't me - having any say whatsoever on whether or not I grew a whole new person inside me.

LegoLadies face no such night terrors, because LegoLadies aren't people: they're just interchangeable units who have something that other LegoLadies want.

"The greatest happiness of the greatest number" sounds so innocuous, doesn't it? Who could possibly be against that? But it's not a zero-sum game. The "joy" of the adoptive parent doesn't instantly cancel out the "suffering" of the birth parent. I'm not going to make a value judgement on whether not having a kid when you want one is more traumatic than being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy to term, because the point is that you can't put them on the bathroom scales and decide that seven and a half metric tons of joy justifies two cubic hectares of misery.

Maybe some people would be completely fine with continuing with an unwanted pregnancy in order to produce a baby for someone else. And sure, there would be a demand, because there are lots of kids out there who need a home, but surprise! Most of them aren't white infants.

But really? There's nothing stopping people from doing this now. It's a choice that's readily available to anyone who's pregnant. And for those who feel that they are not able to cope with the stress and pain and inconvenience and health risks and emotional repercussions of continuing their pregnancy - there is the option of abortion. That's why it's called pro-choice: the point isn't to come up with The Best Way To Deal With Every Single Unwanted Pregnancy Ever, but to work towards a situation where everyone has the right, information, and resources to deal with their situation in the way that works for them.

No one has the right to have children. Everyone should have the right to try to have children - to pursue whatever options are available, from artificial insemination to fostering or adoption to ye olde shagging with a penis - but no one has the right to a bouncing baby infant to call their own just because goddamnit they want one. Your right to pursue your reproductive potential ends where my right not to be enlisted as an incubator begins.


  1. The thing that people forget in this kind of reasoning is that once a child is born it is a person. Adoptees are people too and do not appreciate having been treated as commodities. Adoption brings a whole host of issues for everyone involved that society doesn't want to think about.

  2. Good point - thank you.

    Harriet J at Fugitivus talks about how, for an adoption to take place, some kind of worst case scenario has already happened - so adoption can never be as simple as "I want a kid! You've got one you don't want - it's a win-win situation!"

  3. And for those who feel that they are not able to cope with the stress and pain and inconvenience and health risks and emotional repercussions of continuing their pregnancy - there is the option of abortion.

    Very much this. I was fortunate enough both to desire and to be able to receive a sterilization procedure after, but I remember the shock when my doctor told me that because of pre-existing conditions, even a wanted pregnancy carried with it the likelihood of causing me significant health complications. Sometimes not wanting to continue a pregnancy is about not wanting to continue a pregnancy, which is a separate issue from wanting or not wanting a baby.

  4. Every time I encounter the argument that fertile women should have children because others aren't I am reminded of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The fact that there are people who think that we should take even one step in that direction is disturbing.