Oklahoma pro-life measures: preventing abortions and promoting sadism
Two abortion bills passed by the Oklahoma legislature made the headlines recently. The first of these bills requires a doctor to force a patient seeking for an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the foetus while having the ultrasound monitor in front of her. The second bill prevents women who gave birth to a handicapped child to sue the doctor who purposely refused to provide her information about the foetus defects, fearing that this information would induce the pregnant woman to terminate the pregnancy.
Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry vetoed these bills on constitutional grounds. On Tuesday, however, the Oklahoma legislature voted to override Henry’s veto.
Although there are things to say about the legal aspects of the case (I indeed wonder how could the state prevent a private citizen to sue another one), in this post I would like to focus on the moral issues involved.
Pro-life supporters claim that these measures are supposed to prevent abortion and consequentially prevent the death of innocent foetuses. I especially found interesting what Republican Senator Todd Lamb declared: “The goal of this legislation is just to make a statement for the sanctity of human life. Maybe someday these babies will grow up to be police officers and arrest bad people, or will find a cure for cancer.”
We need a distinction between, at least, foetuses with defects and foetuses that would maybe develop into healthy human beings.
So, if the goal of Senator Lamb is not to prevent potential police officers from coming into existence, someone should remind him that you can’t be both severely disabled and a police officer. Furthermore, it’s also true that maybe someday these babies will grow up to be thieves or serial killers. So if the main reason to oppose abortion is that at some point these foetuses will bring some good to society, the opposite possibilities that they will instead cause damages to society should be used as an argument to favour abortion.
Yet I do not think that what some merely potential being might do in the future should be regarded as good reason for the mother to either undergo or refuse an abortion, even if we leave aside the fact that it is in practice really hard to foresee what kind of person (criminal of saviour of humanity) a foetus will eventually become.
After clarifying that pro-life should maybe think more carefully about the reasons they want to prevent abortions, I now want to briefly examine these two measures in turn.
The first measure
Forcing a woman to watch the monitor while undergoing an ultrasound and while the doctor is showing the forming organs of the foetus.
Here the goal is to make women feel guilty underlining how similar to a human is a foetus.
I do not think that a person who decided to carry out an abortion would really change her mind watching her embryo on a screen, although it can just make it more stressful. I also do not think it is legally admissible to force a person to undergo a certain treatment or procedure, especially when the procedure is useless or aimed at causing distress.
In any case, I don’t think this strategy would work because pro-life usually fail to take into account two important elements
1.1) Abortion is usually a painful choice for women: no one undergoes an abortion if it is not necessary.1. 2) Saying that an abortion is necessary implies that the consequences of not carrying out the abortion are worse than the ones that would follow if the person would continue the pregnancy.
There are many reasons a person can decide to carry out an abortion, but in general such decisions are made because (a) the foetus is severely ill; (b) the woman herself is ill; or (c) her psychological or financial situation does not allow her to take proper care of a child.
We are used to think in term of pro-life and pro-choice, though I myself do not like the expression “pro- choice” because many times the real alternative to an abortion is a situation that implies so much pain that a person who has a little bit of conscientiousness cannot do anything but terminate a pregnancy.
Thus, the alternative to an abortion in case (a) is not life but a sort of agonizing biological existence; in case (b) the alternative is not life but the death of the pregnant woman; and in case (c) again, the alternative is not life but a psychological breakdown or extreme poverty or other situations where no responsible adult would put her child in.
So if a person decided to undergo an abortion she very probably has her own good reasons to do that and therefore making the procedure more complicated and stressful looks like a sadistic punishment and not like an efficient way to save the foetus.
Since pro-life argue to be inspired to a charitable morality, they should at least try to be consistent and refuse any sadistic behaviour unless they just mean they are supposed to be charitable to foetuses only. In this case, they should (a) explain why they discriminate against persons in favour of embryos and (b) how they explain to a disabled person who lives in pain and unable to enjoy any pleasure of life that they didn’t give the chance to her mother to abort her because of their infinite charity.
The second measure
The second measure prevents women from sue the doctor that did not inform them the foetus was abnormal so that the woman could not opt for an abortion. This bill, they say, should prevent discrimination against ill foetuses.
Apart from the arguments I just introduced to show that abortion is sometimes the only option, I would add that in this case the doctor is violating the right of a patient to be informed. This right is important especially because it is a necessary element of an autonomous choice.
Information and autonomy are basic rights of patients and they are recognised to be fundamentals in the modern practice of medicine. If a doctor does not share this approach, she is simply unqualified to work in health field.
It is then the state responsibility to punish and/or to prevent access to medical careers people who do not share the principles medicine is founded upon.
The State of Oklaoma is seriously violating its own duties promoting such an irresponsible and immoral conduct among physicians.