It is commonly believed in the UK that American anti-abortionists are extremist nutters. What we see of them over here certainly tends to support that view. However, it is also commonly believed in the UK that American abortion law is similar to British abortion law. It isn't even close.
For instance, in my experience, Britons are surprised to discover that abortion is legal in the US during the ninth month of pregnancy for non-medical reasons:
Together, Doe and Roe recognized abortion as a constitutional right and by implication overturned most laws against abortion in other US states.
The decision stated: "...the medical judgment maybe exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs...," implying that the "health" exception was not just for physical health, and could therefore be used to allow abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy.
One might ask how one goes about aborting a baby that is pretty much ready to be born and that could in fact be delivered healthy and alive if need be. The answer is partial-birth abortion:
Once the cervix is sufficiently dilated, the doctor uses an ultrasound and forceps to grasp the fetus' leg. The fetus is turned to a breech position, if necessary, and the doctor pulls one or both legs out of the birth canal, causing what is referred to by some people as the 'partial birth' of the fetus. The doctor subsequently extracts the rest of the fetus, usually without the aid of forceps, leaving only the head still inside the birth canal. An incision is made at the base of the skull and a suction catheter is inserted into the cut. The brain tissue is removed, which causes the skull to collapse and allows the fetus to pass more easily through the birth canal.
Now, Americans who support abortion object to the use of the term "partial-birth abortion", mistakenly believing that it is the term, rather than what it describes, that people tend to find abhorrent. More sensibly, they point out that medicine is full of procedures that are, frankly, disgusting, and describing their disgustingness doesn't necessarily tell us anything about their morality. But that objection only really holds up when you're discussing abortion for health reasons. Once you get into a debate about the merits of performing a partial-birth abortion on a perfectly healthy baby at thirty-six weeks because the mother has decided she just doesn't want a baby, well ... most people I know, including those who believe abortion should be legal, call that "infanticide". In my experience, Britons are shocked to discover that such a practice is legal in a supposedly civilised country like the US. American left-wingers, as a general rule, will defend to the hilt its legality. The recent fuss over George W Bush's attempts to — so we were told — ban abortion was in fact over his attempt to stop the partial-birth abortion of healthy babies for non-health-related reasons.
In short, even without getting into the interesting constitutional issues, it is difficult for Britons to understand either side of the American abortion debate because it is taking place on a completely different playing field to our own. Even the staunchest British pro-abortionist would hesitate to propose a situation as extreme as what, in the US, is the status quo.
My own position, in case anyone's wondering, is that I broadly support the British situation: abortion legal for a while, illegal afterwards. We can and do have sensible debates about exactly how long that while should be, and we change it a little now and then, depending on who's winning the debate at the time. The situation here is sufficiently reasonable that it very rarely makes the news because so few people, on either side, are particularly upset about it. If I lived in the US, however, I'd be a pro-lifer. American abortion law is at such an insane extreme that the best reaction to it is to oppose it as strongly as possible until a more sensible compromise is reached.
Anyway, the other day, that nice Mr Worstall commented on a story on Pandagon, a blog of which I had not previously heard. And blow me if it doesn't give even Johann Hari a run for his money in the being-wrong stakes.
Yesterday, Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte posted a piece about the evils and stupidity of anti-abortion campaigners. Ironically enough, I have rarely seen a better example of the extremism and nastiness of American pro-abortion campaigners.
First, here's what American left-wingers think of the concept of pregnancy:
a lot of anti-choicers are ... invested in turning the fetus into a person (or really a super-person bearing rights — specifically the right to use someone else’s body for sustinence against their will — that ordinary real people don’t have)
a fetus ... is in a parasitic relationship to its mother
In the American debate, this is standard boiler-plate stuff. In the UK, I don't think anyone could describe the state of pregnancy as "having a parasite use your body against your will" without getting some rather odd looks. And, of course, it's entirely alien to the way women tend to feel about pregnancy.
Reading through the large number of comments from people who agree with Ms Marcotte, there are some truly stupendously stupid responses to one lone anti-abortionist commenter:
grow a uterus or shut the hell up.
(Funny how you never see that one used against male pro-abortionists.)
why do you want me to have a miscarriage, stillborn, or severely disabled baby? Why do you want me to be permanently disabled or dead? Why do you hate women and babies?
he doesn’t know how babies are actually made, and blames them on those times he accidentally sneezed on his wife without covering his mouth.
And there's plenty of generalised offensiveness and contempt on display:
I wonder what they think about aborting fetuses who wouldn’t develop to become white, straight, able-bodied and conservative?
it’s neurochemically impossible for anti-abortioners to care less about the welfare of unborn children. What they care about is using them as a punishment for sex. And if the slut has to deal with a sick or dying baby, as far as tha antiabortioners are concerned, so much the better. ... And the anti-abortion crowd sure as Hell isn’t going to put itself out for anyone who couldn’t be bothered to get themselves some white parents.
the whole point of being a pro-lifer is that women who have sex without intending to have children deserve to feel bad about it. Pro-lifers would like these women to suffer further consequences — death, permanent sterility, extreme emotional damage — but if they can’t force women through unwanted pregnancy/childbirth, the least they can do is try to make women who decided to terminate feel absolutely rotten.
But by far the most disgusting comment comes from Amanda herself. I just couldn't believe I was reading this:
Getting an abortion is, from a certain angle, liberating the fetus from its womb-prison. That it can’t survive outside of it is not the fault of the liberator, I would think.
So, if you didn't before, now you know why American anti-abortionists seem so extreme. This is what they're up against.