Monday, October 18, 2021

On Levine on Abortion

 I found this article by Judith Levine arguing for reconceiving abortion as a public good interesting. The quality of the argument is not particularly good, as you can see from paragraphs like this:

Feminists fight for pregnant people’s and fetuses’ health too—for universal, affordable, accessible reproductive healthcare. But we have not boldly made an opposite, equally powerful case: The right and ability to terminate a pregnancy safely and without cost, bias, or stigma is a guarantor (if not the only one) of the existential equality and human flourishing of all uterus-bearing people.

I love how "without cost" and "without stigma" -- things that are not guaranteed for other contributors of equality and flourishing -- are just slipped in there. And there's really no particular excuse for abstract euphemisms like "pregnant people" and "uterus-bearing people" when you can just say "women" and then add "trans men" or whatever other group you are wishing to add because you don't think they are countable as women for even first-approximation purposes; reduction of people to their bodily functions is not the path to supporting human flourishing in medical matters, or any matter. Levine at one point argues that just as communities are safer without police, pregnancy can be healthier without doctors, an analogical argument that I think would startle most people and shows that she's making the common mistake of assuming that the case you can make for a relatively small number of people who agree almost entirely with your assumptions is the case you can make when you are trying to convince an entire nation of people with different assumptions, particularly to provide collective support for something that large numbers of people currently think violates human rights.

But in any case, the thing that is interesting is not this, but the attempt to argue that abortion is a public good, which I suspect we'll be seeing more of. Levine's particular argument requires confusing two different senses of the term, a portion of the commonweal and a good supported collectively by taxes; there are lots of goods in the former sense that are not goods in the latter sense (including the 'individualistic' rights that Levine disparages). But the fundamental thrust despite the confusion is given by Levine's proposals for treating abortion as a public good:

* Replace privacy with bodily autonomy. Understand the policing of abortion as a chapter in the racist history of the carceral state.
* Link abortion and bodily autonomy to sexual freedom.
* Replace choice with universal access to reproductive health care. Reject medical paternalism while holding the state responsible for public health and robust support for parents and children.
* Adopt the framework of reproductive justice. Recognize reproductive justice as intrinsic to democracy, economic security, equity, and peace.

Levine does not do a very good job at arguing for the value of any of these things, even on the principles she assumes, in part because she does a lot of handwaving that could not be done in practical use in the larger community, in part because her actual arguments for these would require us to see abortion as a minor secondary issue that primarily serves as a compensating band-aid for problems that Levine treats as more fundamental, like high lead levels and inadequate nutrition, and in part because she does not face squarely the questions that would have to be answered immediately in facing actual pro-life resistance, such as why the baby in the womb is being denied bodily autonomy and justice, or why Levine, if so interested in "racist history" avoids considering the long history of supporting abortion in minority populations as a eugenic measure. But it's worth noting because, again, I think it very likely that we will see a lot more attempts to argue along these lines in the future.

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