Sunday, May 31, 2009

Abortion and torture

Just spotted over at Clayton Cramer's blog:

Dave Kopel over at Volokh Conspiracy has a fascinating item about the U.N. Convention Against Torture and abortion--but not the connection that you might be thinking. It turns out that Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas, no less), prohibited abortion "even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was at stake." (And you thought that only right-wing Americans would even consider something that extreme.) And now the crowd at the U.N. charged with the Convention Against Torture is asserting that such a law violates the convention--because forcing a woman to give birth qualifies as torture.

One particularly vocal "professional interrogator" with the Army has defined "torture" as "any physical or mental coercion – any." Under this definition, forcing anyone to do anything is "torture".

Some of the comments to the Volokh Conspiracy post are interesting:

I agree that international law barring torture is inapplicable in this case, but at the same time, I would argue that while reasonable people can differ on non-therapeutic abortion, preventing a woman from having an abortion when carrying the child to term puts her at risk of serious injury or death is a violation of fundamental human rights, namely the right to self defense. A woman is surely entitled to decide that her life is privileged over that of her unborn child, even if one believes that a fetus is a person.
Setting a broken leg is an extremely painful process. Should that also be prohibited as torture? Obviously not.

On the other hand, breaking someone's leg and then setting it without anesthetic, with the proper intent, is torture. Then again, so is breaking legs of prisoners for more or less any reason, with a small number of medical exceptions.

I suppose you could propose an analogous situation (if you intentionally inflicted a pregnancy on a woman and then denied her an abortion in order to make her go through painful childbirth), but I don't know that denying her the abortion when the government wasn't responsible for the impregnation is equivalent to torture, any more than it would be for a doctor to inflict distress setting a leg that some criminal had broken.
I don't know that denying her the abortion when the government wasn't responsible for the impregnation is equivalent to torture
is actually
I don't know that denying her the setting of her leg when the government wasn't responsible for the accident that broke the leg is equivalent to torture
...I'm fascinated to hear that according to ruuffles aborting a fetus is now akin to denying someone medical treatment to an unnatural injury.
I'm sympathetic to the people involved. I don't have anything against abortion and it would be nice if it was legal and thus not denied to people who wanted to have one. The "I should not be forced to go through painful/dangerous childbirth" argument is compelling.

At the same time, there is a moral case against abortion, even if I do not subscribe to it; it is a topic upon which individuals (and societies) can have differing opinions.

Thus, equivocating "lack of access to legal abortion" torture is, at best, a poor debating tactic; the situations are clearly not the same, and using the terms for one situation to describe the other is outright malicious. Why not compare getting a speeding ticket to the Holocaust? Because when you do, you're implying that they are the same thing, or different manifestations of the same thing, but your discussion of speeding tickets is not enhanced by comparing the cop who pulled you over to Hitler.

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