Throughout history, whenever governments have attempted to control or prohibit a trade of any kind; be it prostitution, firearms, drugs, alcohol, internet pornography, or jeans – as long as there is demand, a black market has always emerged as a way of getting around those government controls. The same applies to the prohibition of abortion.
One of the most common go-to arguments in favor of legalizing abortion is that when abortion is criminalized, one of the unintended consequences of the law is that many poor women die from dangerous self-induced abortions or unsanitary “back-alley” abortion clinics (affluent people do not tend to be as constricted by the law as their poorer counterparts).
|If you think everyone is affected by the law equally, you clearly need a dose of reality.|
The black market has historically had a seedy reputation. This makes sense. Firstly, when the law criminalizes an act, the increased risks force suppliers to charge higher prices, which is more bad news for poor women. Secondly, criminalisation always breeds criminals. As a result, there is little reason not to believe that the criminalisation of abortion leads to those unintended consequences that pro-choicers often claim.
However, the occurrence of this unfortunate logical sequence of events requires one important caveat – the strict enforcement of the law. Passing a law is one thing. Enforcing a law, however, is another thing entirely.
Abortion is still very much illegal in Korea. However, according to a report in the New York Times, it is estimated that around 340,000 abortions are performed annually in Korea. To say that there is a discrepancy between the law and the occurrences of abortion is certainly an understatement. Furthermore, due to the lack of strict enforcement of the law, though still illegal, the clinics that provide abortion services are hardly the seedy back-alley abortion clinics of Victorian England (as seen here, here, and here).
So to summarize:
- Abortion is illegal in Korea.
- Despite the law, abortion is widely available in Korea, albeit at higher costs in recent years.
- Most abortion clinics are not unsanitary.
- Conservatives and the religious right are happy, or at least pretend to be happy, knowing that abortion is illegal.
- Liberals and women’s rights activists might not be entirely happy (Are they ever happy?), but can be satisfied knowing that despite the law, abortion is widely available.
It might then appear that this is a win-win for everyone involved in this debate. Especially from a political standpoint, the Korean government would appear to have reached the ideal compromise that has long eluded the American government in regards to abortion.
However, it is NOT a win-win for everyone. Women are the clear losers in this arrangement. However, there is another unseen victim. One that people rarely ever talk about. That victim is morality. There have been many writers who have already spoken at great length about the unfair nature of anti-abortion law to women. I think that it is unnecessary for me to do the same. My arguments will focus on the aspect of morality.
Firstly, it ought to be noted that the doctors cited from the aforementioned New York Times article have adopted the lingo used by their anti-abortion counterparts in the United States – specifically, the use of the term “pro-life.” I will speak more about this terminology later.
One of the arguments of the pro-life movement is that the government has an obligation to preserve all human life, regardless of intent or viability. It is incredibly difficult to find fault with such logic. However, the problem arises when the pro-life movement argues that even non-viable, undeveloped human life is sacred and must be protected by the government. Their rationale stems from the religious tradition that believes that life, and thus the implanting of the human soul, begins at the moment of conception. As such, they believe that there is little difference between a week-old pregnancy and a living, breathing person.
|Actual depiction of how every person gains life.|
The objective truth of the matter is that an embryo is a potential human being; not an actual human being. To equate a potential with an actual is ludicrous nonsense. An embryo is nothing more than a small lump of human cells. If we accept that a potential human being is the same as an actual human being, then it would only be logical to claim that every single person in the world is a murderer every moment we are not trying to reproduce. But of course, pro-lifers do not make either arguments for that would be ridiculous. A potentiality is not the equivalent of an actuality and it is this false equation of the potential with the actual that ought to be rejected.
|The person in white is holding a sign that says "A fetus is alive," and the the person in the black stripes is holding a sign that says "A fetus is also a person." I don't think it is possible for me to roll my eyes any further.|
As for the term “pro-life,” their usage of the word is an utter abomination. Despite the fact that an embryo is nothing more than a potential human being, anti-abortionists advocate the rights of the embryo – an unborn entity – but refuse to recognize the rights of the living person: the woman. Being a parent is a profound responsibility that requires financial, psychological, moral, and emotional investment – and assuming that both the parent and child live full lives – across decades. To a woman who is unable or unwilling to make these investments, being forced to carry this pregnancy to completion is a death sentence as it would force her to give up her future and happiness. It is an individual’s own values and chance for happiness that are being demanded to be sacrificed.
Anti-abortionists claim the power to dispose of the lives of others and to dictate their personal choices in the name of protecting the supposed rights of a lump of cells. Claiming to be “pro-life” while demanding that actual human beings sacrifice themselves for the benefit of potential human beings is a willful fraud.
Some anti-abortionists therefore defend their indefensible morality by shifting the debate by arguing that after a certain period of time before birth, an embryo that later develops into a fetus develops consciousness (although no one is suggesting that a fetus has the ability to come to grips with something as complex as sentience), and if not that, at least a nervous system that allows for the beginnings of a faculty of perception.
However, at that point of the pregnancy when the fetus has acquired some primitive form of consciousness (I admit to being uncomfortable with the use of the word ‘conscious’ as a fetus cannot be truly conscious as consciousness is a consciousness of something, and until a fetus is birthed, it has nothing to be conscious of) aborting the fetus could seriously threaten the life of the mother. At that point, no semi-intelligent woman or semi-moral doctor would abort the fetus, thus making the anti-abortionists’ argument moot.
However, regardless of whether anti-abortionists are conscious of it or not, what is seldom discussed is their philosophy; outside of their religious texts that they champion. It is the fact that for centuries, they have attempted to use their philosophy (and to a large degree, succeeded) to reverse morality.
Their philosophy is based on the idea that sacrificing actual human beings for the supposed rights of potential human beings is moral. On the other hand, it forces people to believe that choosing to preserve one’s own personal dreams and happiness is immoral. It is the logical conclusion of the premise that individuals ought to live their lives for others as opposed to allowing individuals to live their own lives.
(This is not to say that one’s children are always the lesser value to be discarded at whim. When a parent is willing and able, when the parent reaches a point where he/she wants a child and is willing to value the child as much as he/she values him/herself; then the question of abortion need not be brought up. Abortion is only brought up when these conditions are not met and preventing an individual from terminating an unwanted pregnancy under such circumstances is a monstrous upending of rights.)
The anti-abortionists’ philosophy is that the surrender of the self for the benefit of others is moral; that individuals have no right to exist for their own sake, but that service to others is the highest moral virtue. Underlying this philosophy is the belief that individuals are to be regarded as nothing more than sacrificial animals.
What this ultimately does is that it destroys morality. When society accepts a morality that champions the virtues of sacrifice and condemns self-interest as a vice, then every action an individual carries out, which society has judged to be moral, causes self-inflicted loss. However, instead of challenging the established morality – a morality that no individual has ever achieved or ever will – they come to believe that they are immoral, all the while preaching what they cannot practice, which causes them to feel guilt.
And this is the ultimate goal of their philosophy. A world full of people feeling nothing but guilt because guilty people are easy to rule over. An individual who feels no sense of guilt cannot be ruled over. Their philosophy therefore attempts to break those individuals. A guilty individual, an individual with a broken soul, does not have to be whipped. When an individual realizes he/she is incapable of achieving what he/she has been made to accept as the noblest virtue, guilt and a feeling of basic unworthiness naturally set in. There is no need to whip such an individual.
The Anti-Abortion Movement, as it should be properly called, is a movement that lacks reason as well as morality. It makes up for this deficiency with emotional screeds because in order to have any semblance of authority, it has to substitute moral judgment for intellectual argument. It is a movement that has stuck around long past its expiry date; several centuries too long, in fact, and deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history.