October 22, 2004

Abortion in China vs. America

From an ongoing email discussion about religion and politics:

I was thinking about it again last night, and you have been the person who has always brought up China, as if there were no difference between China and America, and no difference between compulsory birth control or abortion and mere birth control and abortion rights. I don’t think there is anyone of any political bent in this country who supports the idea of importing China’s harsh population-limiting laws over here. Thankfully, there is as yet no need for it. Also, I and many people, even those who are in favor of reproductive rights, agree that China’s system is harsh, draconian, and often leads to abuses, as your article points out. (There’s also a big difference between behavior/attitudes/government in rural areas and in urban areas in China.) On the other hand, America is a democracy that stresses individual freedom, and has been around for over 200 years. In China, the current government has not been in power nearly as long, and Chinese, and indeed, Asian culture and tradition has long encouraged subverting individual desires for the “greater good,” however that may be defined. China is also a country that has in the last century has experienced several wars, foreign invasion and occupation, regime changes, and a pogrom directed at murdering, imprisoning, or exiling all intellectuals—vastly different from our experience during the same time frame. During all of this upheaval, its population growth rate raged out of control, and in 1970, the total fertility rate was about 6 children per couple, one that was clearly unsustainable considering its third-world status, its lack of food, and its lack of industrialization, which tends to support larger population density. Their solution seems to have curbed the population growth rate, although not without creating new problems, many of them related to cultural practices, the need for children to take care of aging parents, and the relative value of women and men in China. Here is a .pdf of a study on this topic: http://www.csis.org/china/020925kaufman.pdf

Now, back to America, which is what I have been talking about. You are conflating reproductive rights with coercion. I don’t advocate any coercion by anyone or any government entity of any woman regarding her reproductive choices. Ever. I think all women (and men) should be able to obtain effective birth control, and that individuals, not the government, should decide when and whether to have children. Period. I don’t advocate forced abortion or sterilization any more than I advocate forcing women to give birth. Either practice is barbaric and unacceptable in a country that claims facilitate “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Neither compulsory abortion nor compulsory birthing are consistent with the individual rights and freedoms we pride ourselves on in this country. I am not in favor of either of these things, OK?! No, I don't want America to be like China, OK?

The fact is, that if abortion is outlawed, poor women will be the ones to suffer, because rich women will always be able to afford to travel somewhere abortion is legal. Laws limiting reproductive freedom will disproportionately affect poor women, those who can least afford to have unwanted children. The law just makes it that much harder and more miserable to be poor, and the likelihood of poor women dying in childbirth (11% is the risk of dying in childbirth vs. less than a tenth of a percent due to a legal abortion) or due to a botched abortion.

You mentioned racism the other day, and I do think it’s at work in some people who oppose reproductive rights. They see more teenagers of color having babies, and more white teens having abortions (although that’s not quite accurate) and they don’t want to see the minority population rate rise faster than the white. One guy I used to work with who opposed abortion rights said, “Okay, just go ahead and make yourselves extinct.” Right. As if that were possible in today’s world.

As for Brazil, or Mexico, or whatever we were talking about, it’s most certainly not racism that is prompting my observation about how the misery of the favelas would be lessened if people had fewer children. It doesn’t matter what color they are; the condition of people who are dirt poor and squatting in junk heaps behind the high-rises of Rio is not at all improved by having more children to feed. It just so happens that most of the people in the third world are not white, and not coincidentally to the poverty of many of these families, that they tend to have a much higher number of children per family than in the first world. But it’s also poor whites--no coincidence that so many Irish families, both here and in Ireland were historically so poor--they had a lot more mouths to feed. It’s a truism that there is a direct correlation between freeing women from the burden of constant pregnancy, and improving those families’ socioeconomic condition and level of self-determination. Did you know that the risk of death associated with childbirth is about 11 times as high as that associated with abortion? The Alan Guttmacher Institute maintains up-to-date facts on reproductive and sexual health issues, including abortion: http://www.agi-usa.org/sections/abortion.html

On the Andrea Macris issue, I’ve got a lot of outstanding borrowings right now, but that doesn’t mean that any harassment claim I were to bring would be categorically untrue. I don’t think she’s making it up, any more than Anita Hill was inventing things. Bill O’Reilly has always been smug and arrogant, and I guess we’ll see if the claims have any merit. I would certainly find it difficult to go back to work for someone who had treated me that way, but I am not going to judge the veracity of either party until after further investigation into the assertions.

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