Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Technology and the abortion debate

Abortion isn't about to go away as a contentious issue any time soon, but the the controversial procedure is losing much of its vulnerability to public protests and political intervention because of long-anticipated changes in technology. Says the Washington Post:

The French abortion pill RU-486, on the market since 2000, has become an increasingly common alternative, making abortion less clinical and more private. At a time when the overall number of abortions has been steadily declining, RU-486-induced abortions have been rising by 22 percent a year and now account for 14 percent of the total -- and more than one in five early abortions performed by the ninth week of pregnancy.

Where once abortion meant identifiable providers and centralized clinics that could be targeted for protests and public shaming -- or more-violent reactions -- now the procedure increasingly involves discreetly obtaining a drug from a wider pool of physicians who don't need to acquire the specialized training and equipment required for performing a surgical procedure. As one patient quoted in the article reveals:

"It was something I could do at home and be with my husband," Gilbert said of taking the pill. "It was a decision we made together alone, and we were able to take care of it this way alone. It was just a much more private affair."

She added: "I wouldn't say it was easy -- it's never easy to terminate a pregnancy. But in the grand scheme of things, it was much more pleasant than a surgical procedure."

The shift in the way abortions are performed may just be starting, since, in some European countries, "more than 60 percent of abortions are performed with the drug."

None of this is likely to change the moral and political debate over abortion, of course, but it is an illustration of how advances in technology can help to make even the most controversial practices more accessible and less susceptible to public scorn and political shifts. Indeed, the easier abortions are to obtain without walking a gauntlet of protesters or traveling far distances, the more widespread they're likely to become.

Whatever your opinion on abortion itself, there's a lesson here on how to entrench any controversial practice or product by improving the ease with which it can be obtained and by dispersing the practice or product to a multitude of relatively unidentifiable sources.

Imagine, for example, what reducing the production of firearms to an easy and practically automated home workshop activity can/will do to the debate over gun control. To a certain extent, that has already happened, but advancing technology promises to put production in the hands of even the least skilled tinkerers.

Technology can't settle debates over right and wrong, but it can make those debates somewhat pointless.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you call "technology" had been know to women for centuries - except women used herbs, not pills. (See an interesting book "Eve's herbs" by John Riddle).

Alas, most of this knowledge is now lost - thanks mostly to witch hunts of late Middle Ages and early Modern times, perpetrated by Catholic Church.

In light of this, isn't it interesting how Catholic Church now wants us to use only abstinence to limit our family size?

Thanks for great post,


January 25, 2008 2:08 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...


I've heard of the use of herbs (and moss) in past centuries to achieve the same results as modern medicine. I think the subject of ancient technology is a fascinating one -- and the loss of old knowledge, necessitating its reinvention, is unfortunate.

As for the Catholic position on birth control ... Oh, I have many strong opinions about the effect of organized religion on human life.

January 27, 2008 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This "technology" is nothing compared to the following:

Selective Reduction (from IVF)
PGD - pre-implementation genetic diagnosis

And by the way - RU486 is no different from a high dose of a common Birth Control pill that has been used for years in cases of rape, and has always been given as an option to rape victims. We just never heard much about it.

February 8, 2008 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 18, 2009 11:45 PM  

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