Friday, April 3, 2009

longing for a better time in the past that never actually existed

abortion, prolife, prochoice, marriage, gay, tradition, feminism,
Emissary, in Changing Society's Backdrop, commits a classic history fail: longing for a better time in the past that never actually existed.

For example:


Before backdrop*: Human life is precious and valued at every stage.

Decision: Abortion is a constitutional right; the right to privacy.

Assumed impact: Human life will continue to be seen as precious and valued at every stage, so abortion will be the rare exception. It will only be done in terms of greatest need or criminal behavior.

After backdrop: A fetus isn't really "human life", so women have the right to kill their baby as long as it's unborn.

Result: Abortion is treated as birth control by too many.

What's wrong here? Human life was not seen as "precious and valued at every stage" from the beginning of time until 1973. In fact, unwanted babies, not fetuses- real, live, breathing babies-were routinely left to die outside of town in the ancient world. It's why there are a lot of stories from the classical period built around the "abandoned baby raised by farmers comes back to fulfill some sort of weird prophecy" motif (Oedipus, Paris, and Romulus/Remus spring immediately to mind).


Often, too, the children were born so that the family would have extra workers on the land. Prior to modern medicine, people died young, and not all of your children would make it past the age of 5, and nobody expected them to. Plus, without birth control, it's kinda hard to decide how many children to have.


And if life was considered sacred at every stage, what about war? What about executions? During the French Revolution, for example, public executions were considered wholesome family entertainment.


Also, just because abortions performed by doctors were not legal in the US prior to Roe v. Wade, that doesn't mean women weren't attempting to give themselves abortions for millenia before that. In fact, there is a book listing all the home abortion methods used by women throughout history.


Edited for additional information:

Abortion was frequently practiced in North America during the period from 1600 to 1900. Many tribal societies knew how to induce abortions. They used a variety of methods including the use of black root and cedar root as abortifacient agents. During the colonial period, the legality of abortion varied from colony to colony and reflected the attitude of the European country which controlled the specific colony.

In the British colonies abortions were legal if they were performed prior to quickening. In the French colonies abortions were frequently performed despite the fact that they were considered to be illegal. In the Spanish and Portuguese colonies abortion was illegal.

From 1776 until the mid-1800s abortion was viewed as socially unacceptable; however, abortions were not illegal in most states. During the 1860s a number of states passed anti-abortion laws. Most of these laws were ambiguous and difficult to enforce. After 1860 stronger anti-abortion laws were passed and these laws were more vigorously enforced. As a result, many women began to utilize illegal underground abortion services.

Although abortion was legalized in 1970, many women are still forced to obtain illegal abortion or to perform self-abortions due to the economic constraints imposed by the Hyde Amendment and the unavailability of services in many areas.

Throughout the colonial period and during the early years of the republic, the abortion situation for slave women was different than for other women. Slaves were subject to the rules of their owners, and the owners refused to allow their slaves to terminate pregnancies. The owners wanted their slaves to produce as many children as possible since these children belonged to the slave owners. This situation persisted until the end of the slavery era.

*I'm not really familiar with this use of the word "backdrop", but I think emmisary means "change" or "decision".


  1. Backdrop is derived from the stage, in which a backdrop is the cloth dropped down from behind to set up the location for the next scene. Usually it means to set the stage for something else to come. I have no clue how they are using it here.

    Emissary is a person who represents another group and speaks for that group, similar to a diplomat but different.

  2. To paraphrase: those words, i do not think they mean what you think they do.

  3. Forgot to say, I have always heard what they did here as "good ol' days" syndrome. As you hear people say, where I live, back in the good ol' days we went over to shelbyville during the war, I wore an onion on my belt....which was the style at the couldn't get those white ones, you could only get those big yellow where was I........oh yeah, the important thing was I was wearing an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time, you couldn't get those...

  4. I'll never forget my mother exploding when somebody was protesting sex ed when i was in middle school. the lady was all "we didn't have sex ed in the 50s and nobody ever got pregnant before marriage in the 50s"

    my mom (born in 1941) starts yelling about how girls would gain a little weight, randomly go to "visit family" in the middle of a school year, then come back a little heavy and a lot sad.

    yeah, the good ole' days.

  5. BeamStalk,

    Good reference, man.



    But at least people didn't talk about it. If we can all just sweep it under the rug, avert awkward situations and leave the 'a' word unspoken, then we'll never have to admit that there's something fundamentally wrong with our approach.

  6. " the lady was all "we didn't have sex ed in the 50s and nobody ever got pregnant before marriage in the 50s""

    Sounds like that lady was pining for days of lost ignorance. I mean, innocence. I'm quite sure there's some kind of difference...

  7. Yeah, my mom was born 3 months "premature"- at 8lb8oz. yuh-huh.

  8. an important thing to know about the abortion issues.
    this is correct, abortion was mostly legal in the US until the 1860s - and it was made illegal *NOT* because suddenly people were caring about babies (please, that right there, the attitude about babies being wonderfulspeshulpreciouswhateverthefuck is LESS THAN A CENTURY OLD. babies were nice, but MOST of the DIED. mostly before 1 - but if your kid made it to 5, chsnces were now a bit over 50% that s/h)
    nonono, abortion was made illegal in response to, and as an attack ON, the Suffrage movement. the Suffrage movement had a few CLEARLY DELINEATED GOALS.
    A) women to have equal right to men (the main one touted was the right to vote, but that is mostly because if one has the right to vote it is assumed that one would have all the other rights associated with the right to vote)
    B) they wanted to be able to NOT "die" when they got married (it was fucking called CIVIL DEATH for fucks sake!)
    C) the wanted to be able to own and control their own property, wages and money (if a woman was married and she worked, HER HUSBAND GOT HER PAYCHECK. if she wasn't married, it was her father, her son, her uncle, her brother - whomever could be found to "own" her. only if she had none of these could she own property in her own right, and ONLY IN A VERY FEW STATES)
    D) they wanted to be able to get a divorce if their husbands beat them, committed adultery, abused the children, or "acted the wastrel" (which covers a lot of ground; partying all night every night, blowing all the money, not paying the bills - as women weren't ALLOWED to pay bills without notarized powers of attorney from their husband). they wanted to be able to leave the marriage, take their children, and not live in destitution - alimony came in here as did child support (and on its goddamned face, i don't give a fuck what MRAs say, if a woman marries a guy and spends the next decade WORKING for him essentially 24 hours a day, she EARNED that alimony)
    E) they wanted safe and LEGAL access to birth control (mostly statements made were along the lines of "family planning" with the implication that birth control would always be used with the bounds of marriage)
    F) is tied up w/ A and C - they wanted to be able to attend colleges, earn degree, and the BE EMPLOYED based on those (a womsn w/a medical degree wanted to a doctor, a woman with a law degree a lawyer, etc)

    so those who opposed the suffragettes paid good money to get abortion made illegal
    same EXACT thing with prostution.


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