Protecting Fetuses for Abortion

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Pro-choice politicians (largely, anyway) in Illinois have passed a law (that still needs to be passed in the state Senate) that will make it criminal to perform an ultrasound without a doctor's order. The ostensible reason has to do with worries about muscle and nerve damage with prolonged exposure to ultrasound waves. I'm not sure what counts as prolonged, but I've been present for five ultrasounds, and they're usually pretty quick. Some pro-lifers have seen this as a ploy simply to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from using ultrasounds to convince women not to have abortions, which it turns out is a fairly effective method. That effectiveness, of course, reveals more about abortion and what women have been falsely led to believe about fetal development than it does about the tactics of people who are pro-life. Some of the comments at World's post on this seem to show suspicion of dirty motives of anyone who is pro-choice without any further investigation to support that suspicion, and the groupthink among the mostly pro-life people gives them all the support they need. In this case, though, there does seem to be at least something to that suspicion, and I have two pieces of evidence to offer in support of that.

First, there's this from the politician who sponsored the bill:

Mulligan, who is a strong abortion advocate, said that an ultrasound should not be done for political reasons to make anyone change their minds about any particular purpose.

This is at least suspiciously worded. It's possible that all she means is that political purposes aren't good enough to risk the damage to a fetus. Here is her motivation for the bill in the first place:

Mulligan said that the Federal Drug Administration had warned that muscle and nerve development could be affected by long exposure.

"We should be concerned about the long term health of the fetus," Mulligan, who has voted against a ban on partial birth abortion, said.

That's a pretty silly argument, though, when it comes to the case of someone who wants to have an abortion. If she's planning to have an abortion, then why should it matter if the ultrasound causes some muscle and nerve damage that would affect development if abortion were to be avoided? Are they worried that knowing the facts about fetal development will prevent the abortion? Is prevention of abortion that bad a thing? Well, Planned Parenthood is supporting this bill, and their highly paid employees do stand to lose a lot of money if the number of abortions goes way down because of easy access to ultrasounds. I don't expect that's what's motivating Mulligan, but I have to wonder if something more than pro-choice is at work here, because the most defensible pro-choice position should advocate informed choice and not choice based in ignorance of the facts.

So does Mulligan really mean such a silly thing? I don't know, but intellectual charity might lead us to put aside moral charity and wonder if she's operating from the more intellectually consistent view that she just wants to prevent abortions but doesn't want to admit it. Assuming she means either thing violates some sense of trying to take her to be holding something more reasonable, but is it moral reasonability or intellectual reasonability that we should extend charity toward?

There's a deeper problem here, and I think it just shows how completely distorted someone's priorities can get because of a political issue (and note that she was the one who was talking about not letting political issues lead to doing something that could harm fetuses). Look very carefully at her words above. It's more important to her to be concerned about a little bit of muscle and nerve damage than it is to be concerned someone brutally killing the same fetuses. How can someone get to a point where their moral sensitivities are that far off?

Devotion to a political cause can so easily blind someone to the obvious, as has happened on both sides of the political hubbub over Terri Schiavo, but I don't think even political issues are necessary for this. The same thing goes on with all those people who'd rather their kids risk getting fatal illnesses from not being vaccinated than risk autism from the mercury that isn't in most vaccines nowadays anyway (with the one exception of the always optional flu vaccine). [Of course, that isn't even accurate to what's likely going on, since mercury, if anything, simply increases autistic symptoms if the child is already somewhat autistic-leaning. The point is that these people believe mercury simply causes autism, and they're willing to risk their child's death of an easily preventable disease just so they don't have to deal with the risk of autism.]

So again I ask: how is it that people's moral sensibilities get so far off that they can't make such obvious comparisons? There's nothing political about the second case. This, I suspect, is just an effect of the fall on the human condition, one that isn't going to be fixed in this life. We can become so absorbed into one thing, which may or may not be truly important, that we can ignore something that's clearly more important. We do this all the time. It can be some genuinely moral or spiritually good principle, some attachment to a person or good political cause, or something purely selfish or downright evil. It's just incredibly tragic that good-intentioned people can do it with things as important as life or death.

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Parableman wrote about it, Wizbang has something related, and some Zookeeper @ the Common Room had some things to say. You have medical facts you say.... research data.... so why can't I trust your reports and advice on this? Why... Read More

Illinois has passed a law that forbids ultrasound without a doctor's orders. Which brings me to my proposal for counter-legislation... Read More

4 Comments

I'm going to hazard a guess to your question. I think people find it increasingly difficult to trust medical information that is given them. They don't always have facts presented without the admixture of political or economic agenda.
And this is true of all medical research info, not just the politically weighted type.

Not sure who to fault. Some is the seesaw media reporting, but it can't be all laid at that doorstep.
Some probably is the suspician engendered by heightened political loyalty to an issue- as you seem to indicate here.

You would think that if her reason really was "prolonged exposure" that her bill would require more than just a doctor's order. A doctor's order would do nothing to regulate how long a fetus was exposed to ultrasound. I'm not sure what the law is now regarding who is able to operate ultrasound machines, but it seems to me that the appropriate bill for her "prolonged exposure" concern is one that requires X amount of training or some sort of qualification for using an ultrasound.

Let's be clear.
Do you or do you not advocate the protection of human life, once established?
Devotion to a political cause can so easily blind someone to the obvious...
Your words, not mine. Perfectly said.
Suggesting ulterior motives and looking for ways that this move is ill-advised does not advance any cause.
If someone whose record favors abortion tries to inch away from that position, don't you think the political consequences might be unpleasant, to say the least?
...she just wants to prevent abortions but doesn't want to admit it....is it moral reasonability or intellectual reasonability that we should extend charity toward?
Good question.
How about both, or either? What difference does it make?

The comments thread at World Magazine typifies the stubborn drumbeat of closed minds that you described so well as "groupthink."

I argued until I got tired that it is time for those (of us) who know that abortion is morally reprehensible get real about the politics of the discussion.
The wording of Roe clearly indicates that the state HAS AN INTEREST in protecting the life of its future citizen. The problem at the time was that laws about abortion were so broad as to be of no legal value. Too many places to poke holes.
After the first trimester, called "viability" for legal purposes, STATE legislatures have an interest in imposing limits on abortion. This part of the language of Roe has been routinely ignored (or intentionally avoided by legislators who would rather use the courts as whipping boys for their own inaction).
Since Roe only half of the states have imposed limits on abortion. Something is better than nothing, but that is a poor showing, thanks mainly to the all-or-nothing mentality on both sides of the debate.

Do you or do you not advocate the protection of human life, once established?

I do, in general. That's not what I'm talking about in this post, though.

Suggesting ulterior motives ... does not advance any cause.

Right. That's not what I did, though. I simply quoted her exact words about her motives. She doesn't think people should be given ultrasounds when they're deciding if they should have an abortion. That's also why I mentioned that it's best to be charitable about someone's motives, although in this case that means intellectual inconsistency, which I'm also hesistant to ascribe, but if she's intellectually inconsistent that means she holds the immoral view, so I don't want to assume that either. I can't think of a third option, though.

... looking for ways that this move is ill-advised does not advance any cause.

It does if the cause in question is one that this move threatens. In this case, I think ultraounds at crisis pregnancy centers are a very good thing, giving people a chance to make a more informed decision. Looking for ways that this law is ill-advised very much does help advance the cause of allowing people to make a more informed decision about an action that many people, including me, believe is immoral in most cases.

How about both, or either? What difference does it make?

I argued that it can't be both. The point is that I can try to extend charity to her, but charity in the moral issue means she's intellectually inconsistent, whereas charity toward her intellectually means she's got her moral priorities way out of whack. She's set herself up for moral condemnation one way or the other, no matter how charitable I try to be.

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