Monday, May 09, 2005

When Stupidity Attacks

Consequent to certain recent postings about abortion, I've lately found myself entertaining the conversation of diehard pro-lifers in volumes I've not experienced in many years. This in turn, along with a news item kindly brought to my irate attention by Max, has reminded me of the one single characteristic of debate conducted by the anti-choice/anti-birth control/anti-sex-education/anti-STD-vaccine right that I loathe, disparage and fear more than any other: willful, pernicious, sanctimonious denial.

Let me illustrate. The offending news item concerns a vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, 'the STD thought to cause around 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.' It is insanely common, often symptomless, and not reliably quarantined by condoms. Now it appears two vaccines against HPV are nearing approval, and could be on the market as early as next year, a major watershed in the fight against rising STD infection rates.

Can you guess where this is going? You got it: pro-abstinence groups like the Family Research Council are coming out in protest, claiming that giving the vaccine to young women will cause them to 'see it as a license to engage in premarital sex'. This is exactly the same reasoning used by people who oppose distributing condoms in schools (or needle exchange programs, for that matter). The notion is that by offering protections against possible ill effects of a behavior like sex, you encourage people to engage in that behavior.

This wildly fallacious argument is based on the predicate, empirically disproven sixteen thousand ways to Sunday, that people will not have sex if they don't have these protections. Manifestly, were that the case, teen pregnancy and STD infection rates would not be at the crisis levels they have been for decades. The illogic is absolutely dizzying.

Similarly, a commenter recently tried to argue, based on a handful of cases of women having suffered botched legal abortions, that we who favor legal abortion 'support' the harming of women. Our position, she fallaciously posited, was "legal=safe".

This of course could not be more wrong, or more reductively stupid. Our positions are two: 1) "legal=safer", because 2) "illegal=unsafe". The notion that supporting legal abortion means supporting harm to women rests on the same assumption outlined above: if abortion is illegal, women will not have abortions. And of course history has volumes to say to that nonsensical assertion. If abortion is illegal, women will have hideously botched abortions in filthy backalley charnel houses, will mutilate themselves with coat hangers, will pour turpentine into their wombs and die screaming. What they will not do is stop trying to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, in whatever horrifically compromised ways they can find available.

This belief--this purblind, puritanical, utterly-fact-impervious shibboleth that it is better to allow people to be harmed and killed than to seem to 'encourage' them in behaviors you disapprove of--is proof enough, were further proof required, that these people, who call themselves 'pro-life', exhibit the most callous and vicious disregard for the life of actually-existing people, most especially women. They are only 'pro' the life of people who live according to their values: the unavoidable corollary of their position is that people who aren't given the 'encouragement' of protection, and who nonetheless engage in disapproved behaviors, must deserve to be stricken with illness, pregnancy and death. They are beyond reprehensible.

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