Saturday, March 25, 2006

Biology of choice

As most of you know, the government of South Dakota has chosen to outlaw abortion. Their law is special also in that it does not make provision or exception for danger to the health of the mother.

As for me, I'm pro-choice. I'm pro-life in that I think it's important to be able to feed, clothe, educate and care for those we've already got here on earth. Given my upbringing, my career and my group of friends I'd probably be knee-jerk pro-choie no matter what. Let me tell you a little story, though, about how I was taught to really think about the question of abortion, its complexity and the absolute impossibility of there being one universal right answer about it.

Small town high school in northern New England. College tracked sophomores take biology. I am one of those. The teacher is Frau Geller. She's old school German, from Germany, none of this German-American crap. There is a rumor that she disliked one particular senior in her AP bio class because he looked like an SS agent who had nearly prevented her family from escaping from Germany in WWII. I suspect she actually disliked him because he was smart, knew he was smart and did almost no work but still expected to pass on his test scores.

She told us stories about teaching high school in the Detroit area and keeping her pockets filled with lollipops, especially on test days, for the children of her students to keep them quiet and happy during class. She figured that questionable dental health was a lesser evil than a drop out mom. I can't say I disagree. A mom with a better education is going to be in a better place to pay a dentist, too. She also required book reports as part of our grade. When she first announced this I was crushed. Not a big fan of the non-fiction overall, especially not in high school. I had some, er, concentration issues as a teenager. Then she passed out a list of possible books. There was fiction on there! I learned right there that it's legitimate to learn from a secondary source. Also that, as a teacher, it's not only legitimate but intelleigent to play to the different ways in which kids might gain access to your subject material. I went on to read a number of surgically explicit Henry Denker novels and got credit for most of it, too.

While we studied gestation she would toss in the following commentary every so often:
"At x weeks one can hear a heartbeat/see an eye/lungs are fully developed/fingers and toes are distinguishable/the fetus could survive outside the womb. Some people say that this is when life begins."

At 15, thinking about sex pretty much ever other half second, this was interesting to calculate. Over the next few years I mulled the question over a lot. Where do I consider life to begin? Still don't know. Each person can decide, must decide, will decide for themselves where they think it begins. Can an argument be made for the moment of heartbeat, the full development of lungs, the second of conception? Sure. Fuck! That's a tough fucking question.

I totally would have taken AP bio, despite the probably ass kicking it would have given me, if Frau Geller had still been around. She asked the tough questions but she wasn't baiting you for one right answer most of the time.

That's how I continue to think about the question. I don't know if I'd ever have an abortion. I suspect not but I can't know because I've never been confronted with the question. But to have that avenue completely cut off for me or anyone else is something I find reprehensible.

South Dakota better build a big fucking lollipop factory.

Among other things.

Anyway, there's a woman, president of the Oglala Sioux tribe, Cecilia Fire Thunder who has said that she will build a Planned Parenthood clinic on her tribe's reservation. I first read about this declaration over at BitchPhD. Bitch talks about this issue and a some others facing the Oglala Sioux of South Dakota in this post, which also gives information about how to support the tribe in general and this Planned Parenthood initiative in particular.

Scalzi spoke of it a day or so later in a post that is a little less gung ho and brings up just the right blend of support and skepticism to make me feel like I'm doing something resembling balanced reporting.

It's my understanding that South Dakota will be unable to enforce this law until it goes to the Supreme Court level (which I guess says that it's like a gun purchase restriction period, they'll get the ban, they just have to talk to the big kids first) so I don't know how long it might be until a reservation-based Planned Parenthood would be an absolute necessity. Given all the ridiculous restricitons put on abortion in most states I'd call it a smart frigging idea right now. And lest you think I'm picking solely on the lower Dakota, it's just because they're first. Louisiana is next in line, I believe, and I'm certain that other states will follow.

Insert rant on feeling like a second class citizen untrusted to have full jurisdiction over her own body and full rights under the laws of the founding fathers etc.


  1. Alright, here goes:

    Just when abortion seemed to be receding from the position of primary issue upon which we elect presidents (replaced by gay marriage, granted), …this news.

    The only thing I’m certain about regarding abortion is that it cannot be controlled through legislation. Education and birth control are obviously more effective, and more ethical. As far as pinpointing “where life begins,” I rely on biology and logic—life, it seems to me, includes all developmental steps that can’t be skipped. That’s a personal perspective, rather hard line, from a guy who admires existentialism.

    It’s also fairly clear that politics distracts us from serious thought—especially when public discourse is compartmentalized into “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” You allude to the extent to which the terms are interchangeable. The politics has just been absurd for the most part.

    So, here comes more politics. Hopefully it will get us somewhere.

  2. Well said, my friend. I didn't know about that Sioux woman, so that is interesting indeed. I just hope we can move past this issue-as-politics sometime during my lifetime.