Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lazy writer's block post that does not involve Black Claire

You know what videogames don't often deal with? Abortion.

Actually, videogames don't often deal with rape, labor rights, or tax law, but abortion's in my feed right now, because abortion's in the national feed right now. It has been for most of a century now, but we have to make room in our public discourse for wars and sporting events and Kardashians, so it drops out now and then.

Most notably, we're talking about a handful of big-name sound-bites on the issue, most notably Todd Akin's assertion that women's bodies will eject eggs fertilized during rape--I'm paraphrasing, because his actual words were so stupid it would hurt my fingers to type them--and Richard Mourdock's complementary assertion that pregnancies resulting from rape are part of God's plan.

These are stupid comments, and I'm not interested in spending much time arguing about their factual merits. They weren't meant for pro-choicers, liberals, feminists, or other sane and/or decent people. They were meant for a particular audience, to address a particular issue. Let's go around the back and see what's going on.

But first, some ground rules. Abortion is one of those issues where well-intentioned people can find themselves supporting barbarism, and it's helpful to keep an eye on our ideas about the basic functions of laws. To wit, for this post to make sense--for any political discussion to make sense, in my opinion--we have to remind ourselves that laws are not a psychic signifier of our culture's collective morals. There're lots of bad things we don't have laws against, because a law is not a stern talking-to. Breaking the law is about more than earning the collective disappointment of society. A law is an authorization of the state to use physical violence in particular situations, in order to prevent or retaliate against a particular course of action on the part of its citizens.

This is a useful metric for abortion. Forget how we feel imagining a stranger getting an abortion under circumstances X, Y, and Z. Think instead about how we feel about our employees, the police, a) extorting money from her under threat of kidnapping and imprisonment, b) kidnapping and imprisoning her under the threat of physical violence, or c) killing her should she resist b) with sufficient vigor.

So, in what circumstances should having an abortion result in a woman being extorted out of her property or beaten into submission before being forcibly placed in prison and forbidden to leave? If abortion is murder, as the placards say, all of them. Nobody ever seems to support this plan, though; even people who claim to oppose abortion rarely go on the record wanting to execute the women who get them. The doctors tend to bear the brunt of the imagined punishment, which is usually a fine of some sort: pretty light treatment for a hired assassin.

Regardless, if abortion is bad, it ought to be punished. Violence ought to be used against women who pay to have the procedure performed, medically or surgically. If abortion isn't bad, violence ought not to be used against women who have abortions. These two positions, though not equal, to my reckoning, are equally comprehensible. What's more problematic is what political scientists refer to as the Stupid Fucking Middle-Ground Horseshit.

The Stupid Fucking Middle-Ground Horseshit is where we get unambiguously awful ideas like the idea that abortion should be illegal (i.e. punishable by violence) except in cases or rape, incest, or endangerment. Because the law-as-psychic-projection idea comes into play here as well. We could treat abortions as homicides, I suppose, and acknowledge that certain kinds would be justifiable. But how would we actually know which ones those are? The law doesn't exist without a concordant punishment, and we can't punish people if we don't know who they are.

Given that rape is, y'know, a crime, it is rarely done in public. It is rarely particularly well-hidden, either, but we make a lot of excuses to help that process along. So let us now imagine that a woman is seeking an abortion, saying that she was raped. Does the state take her word for it? If so, the restriction is meaningless, and will have all the force and efficacy of the "Click here if you're 18" box. If not, what documentation would be required?

Would it be sufficient for the woman to report having been raped? Because we tend to work really hard not to believe women who say that.

Would it be necessary for criminal charges to be filed against an accused rapist? Because that's quite difficult to do. Prosecutors don't like cases they can't win, and cops don't like arrests that can't be prosecuted.

Would it be necessary for the accused rapist to be found guilty? Because a) that's almost fucking impossible, b) the goddamn kid will have been born by then.

There is simply no way to implement such a ridiculous restriction in a consistent manner. Criminalizing abortion would be immoral, but criminalizing abortion except under the aforementioned legal quagmire is both immoral and insane.

Which brings us back to Akin and Mourdock, whose comments, ridiculous as they may be, make some sense in this context. They were, in fact, arguing a point similar to the one I've put down here: that saying abortion is ok for rape survivors and murder for anyone else is really fucking stupid. It doesn't serve the interests of anybody, even the rapists and slavers of the right-wing id.

If there is anyone who ought to be allowed to get an abortion, under any circumstances, then there is no just reason to deny everyone that option under any every circumstance.

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