Monday, November 10, 2008

Pro ?

I had promised a detailed objective analysis on the state of play, and the future of abortion. Hopefully it is here

From axiom 1 I will try to go through the relevant assumptions I am going to make before I start. For the moment I will accept correspondence on how my conclusions ought not to follow from my assumptions and reasoning. Any correspondence questioning my assumptions can be made separately as comments to them where they are described separately.

The political line in the case of Abortion has Pro-life on one side and pro-choice on the other extreme."Symbolic" prohibition, such as that practiced in Australia (where abortion is technically illegal but with such a broad range of cases considered in the best interest of the mother's health and with doctor's given a free hand to make the call in that regards), is considered to be somewhere in the middle of the continuum. It is quite clear that no matter where on the line one places oneself, peers on the line tend to have very correlated viewpoints. I leave it as an exercise to the reader (yes. Both of you) to identify actual correlated viewpoints. True objectivity would allow us to explore ideas that take us well away from the line with views that would not normally be held as a combination
Laws regarding abortion can affect greatly the Game Dynamics at an individual level. The detail of crime enforcement at the individual level, by changing the risk/reward calculus, will have knock on effects far into the future. Like with animals that eat the shoots of young trees, disastrous effects will not be noticed until well into the future when those trees ought to be fully grown.

There is not much point taking time to lay Blame on any sector of society or individuals if one wants to remain objective.

Many in the argument over abortion have a vision of a future which is perhaps an ideal World. What I would like to do here is to find an Evolutionary Pathway from what we have now to potential futures that have a finite possibility of coming to fruition.

When looking at the effects of any law change one must take into account how Self-adjusting systems of the economy and especially democracy can introduce negative feedback on any piecemeal policy changes. In dictatorships that have a command and control economy, the feedback will only take hold in the long term if the demographic effects lead to revolution, or the economic effects gradually lead to ruin. To get from A, the here and now, to B the vision of the future, successfully, changes in policy need to be economy neutral and should not discriminate against any class of the voting public to avoid the negative feedbacks.

Pro-Life proponents have a vision of the future where abortion of a foetus is considered the same way as the slaughter of a baby.
Pro-Choice proponents have a vision of the future where every child is a wanted child without exception.

These views are not necessarily incompatible. The trick is finding policies that move towards one vision without giving the impression that it is moving inexorably away from the other, then visa versa for the next step, all the while avoiding situations where reversal of the policies becomes a popular concept.

Vision 1
Pro-Life proponents have a vision of the future where abortion of a foetus is considered the same way as the slaughter of a baby. To most, pre-Rowe-vs-Wade US or Catholic Italy in the 60's is a close analogue. However, when looked at more closely the abortion prohibition legislation/enforcement falls way, way short of any analogous infanticide legislation in any similarly modern country. For the vision to work analagously *all* legislation associated with birth needs to be pushed forward to at least early in the pregnancy if not to conception. The lack of analagous registration legislation gives a glimpse of why for one, the legislation failed to bring down (illegal) abortion rates to anywhere near infanticide rates even for these examples where, initially, abortion prohibition had majority backing. I will leave it as another excercise to the reader to find other items of legislation where the foetus/baby legislation is not analagous(yet).

Vision 2
Pro-Choice proponents have a vision of the future where no child is born to a woman who does not want one at that time. A close analogue is currently European countries such as the Netherlands or the Nordic countries, with particular emphasis on Universal sex education, access to contraceptives, access to family planning and parent counselling and importantly access to fertility clinics. Although it seems the analogues fit closely, desire for a child is a slippery concept compared to the obligation to ones child which is statutory. Because conception is still quite a lottery, angst about timing and control of the process makes us rely so much more on artificial quickfix to ensure conception or contraception. Abortion just gives a small window of opportunity to suit the mother's desire at the cost of a life. Also, there is no fluid process for babies who aren't wanted to be moved to families where they are a wanted child. Such a process would partially obviate the need for abortion or IVF for that matter. ie. those who have unwanted pregnancies ought to be able to offset those who cannot have children naturally. This would theoretically keep the endpoint of every child being a wanted child with less of the wastes of abortion and IVF.

One of the great ironies is that symbolic prohibition of abortion is not in itself helpful in reducing the abortion rate (approximate though it may be in prohibitionist countries). Because no prohibition regimen has ever reached the required condition of the crime not paying on average, rather than evenhandedly stopping abortions, it has the effect of increasing the price of abortion, thus becoming a demographic selection process based on lack of means. Proportion of "Unwanted" babies in poorer demographics is an immediate proxy for the demographic time-bomb that this can set up, with future crime rates being just one of the many possible ill-effects.

Another irony is that for all humans clever economic systems for efficient allocation of capital in free market economies, we cannot seem to get any clever liberal system that would efficiently allocate babies to those most able to raise them. The system that comes closest is the foreign adoption system, where for a nominal price, one can adopt a baby from a poor country of ones choice, usually at a time of ones choice. Although not technically "buying" a baby, this has some of the aspects of the kind of thing I'm talking about. I leave it as another exercise to the reader to dream up of an evolutionary pathway to a legal system that can do this for home grown babies.

Certain individual policies, especially those following the political continuum, create their own backlash once the side effects start to kick in. If abortion clinics are closed wholesale, the immediate effect is to dramatically reduce abortions for a short time, inconveniencing a small but potentially riled group. This group finds it easier to gain a large sympathetic group, especially using handpicked extreme cases (eg. rape, incest, very young pre-teen mother or combinations) which would normally not be publicised due to privacy concerns. The democratic feedback would generally work to simply reverse the policy change within at most a couple of electoral terms in modern democracies.

Thankfully, policies outside that of the pro -? political continuum can have effects on the long term abortion rate. General wealth and economic growth has positive effect on both reducing the abortion rate and reducing numbers of "unwanted" children. In Australia, generous and universal family payments, and especially baby bonuses may have considerably reduced demand for abortions based on economic hardship. For a wanted pregnancy, there is a class of crime of "murder of an unborn baby" for cases of violent acts with the intent of terminating the pregnancy against the mothers will. This appears to confer some rights to life for the unborn which are better than none. Many countries have health benefits that reduce the pre-natal health expense burden. Most mothers-to-be register to see a Gyn/Obst doctor for their pregnancy - there is no reason why laws enshrining responsibility for the unborn at that point would be controversial.

These policies don't appear to generate a democratic backlash, nor are they particularly burdensome for the Government, so I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be expanded in the direction of reaching closer to the ideals of both vision 1 and vision 2.

My Visions
I have a couple of possible visions I will call X and Y.

Both these visions are based on a subset of future society gradually becoming the norm and making the current "line" between pro-life and pro-choice completely irrelevant. They are based on technology that is currently being developed for reasons completely unrelated to abortion policy.

Vision X is expanding on technologies designed to aid achievement and detection of natural conception, and relies on market oriented ways of matching unwanted pregnancies with those that desire to adopt or have a child which are having trouble conceiving naturally. This vision keeps the probablistic attribute of natural conception and assumes the impossibility of it being anything else in the future. It imagines a completely transparent surrogacy/adoption regimen for those who sign up to the vision. It may appear to be both "Big Brotherish" and an unethical advocacy of the trade in babies/fetuses, but since it is only for people who understand their changed rights to privacy and to guardianship of the children involved, it really should not be an issue.

Vision Y assumes that IVF techniques expand and improve to the point that not only do they become almost 100% reliable, but that they become cost effective to the point that natural conception will have few advantages left.

Vision X Points
Technologies assumed:
1) Ovulation kit implant:(a) Growing Market - An absolute boon for couples trying to conceive naturally, an implantable device will be way more effective than the "kits" currently available. The market for these will grow regardless of any implications for abortion legislation.
(b) Other Uses - For those *not* wanting to fall pregnant, this implant can be attached to a watch/mobile phone alarm, and be a direct feedback as most unwanted pregnancies are somewhat related to naivety about ones own fertility at any one time. This is a potential growth market that *does* have implications for the level of unwanted pregnancies.

2) Switchable male contraception: (a) Growing Market - The technology has just now become available, and is essentially a switchable barrier contraceptive that works similarly to how vasectomies do. Its general convenience will give it a rather broad market base, likely to grow quickly.
(b) Other Uses - Because it is electronically switchable, there is potential for it to be automatically activated with proximity to an ovulation kit implant attached to a woman who has given it a setting of not wanting to fall pregnant. Since this would still be potentially desirable at an individual level, it would probably be a potential growth market as well as indubitably reducing unwanted pregnancies.

3) Implantable pregnancy kit: (a) Growing Market - Home pregnancy kits are becoming cheaper and more reliable, but the extra piece of mind in knowing precicely the circumstances and time of conception will make this device, if it becomes available, have a quickly expanding market for those trying to conceive.
(b) Other uses - Even for women not planning to get pregnant, this device could give the absolute most time possible to take all options into account. Its spread among women who do not have ethical or moral issues against abortion, may still help the long term vision X.

Self adjusting demand/supply issues
There is a link between issues of surrogacy, adoption, Foster parents, custody issues, fertility, family planning, economic values, family values, crowding etc.

Vision X envisions loosening of the statutory nature of genetic parents of children having automatic responsibility for the child. Responsibility is not generally transferable, which has a tendency to lock the economic and social consequences, making abortion such an irresistible economic/social option.

On the other side of the ledger, when couples (etc.) desire to have a child, timing is a great cause of stress. Again there is a window of opportunity when a new child is the most desirable, but no way to ensure timing, aspecially when alternatives such as adoption have so many conditions and delays, biological parents have veto rights, and the cost/benefit balance of IVF are not helpful in the grand scheme of things.

If a self adjusting system (such as an economic one) to match those that are expecting children they would rather not, with those that aren't expecting when they would want to, was possible, it would go part way to reducing the economic/social push to abortion.

Another required part is a "pricing" signal at the point of conception that would go anywhere from being a cost to there being a considerable reward for proceeding with the pregnancy depending on demand/supply constraints or population signals.

A third required aspect is a strengthening of the rights and responsibilities of adoptive parents and opening the way to softening the veto rights of biological parents where appropriate to enable the self-adjusting system.

These parts can be achieved in ways other than just allowing a free market for surrogacy/fostering/adoption/babies, which would have the obvious flaw of appearing unethical.

One obvious way would be for women of childbearing age to be allowed to voluntarily sign up to a society register, which would have a value determined by demand and supply within the society, of how much to charge for surrogacy within the group, how much family payment/health benefits surrogate mothers get if they get pregnant as they have pre-registered that they would not be the after-birth parents, and which baby is allocated to which adoptive parent. If there are more pregnant mothers than there are people looking to adopt from that pool, the charge for surrogacy would drop, and so would the payments to the surrogate mothers, and visa versa.

If signing up to such a register meant getting a baby exactly when you want one (even if it is not your offspring), and those that get pregnant before they are ready to be parents get paid hansomely for their trouble, then that may be enough to get a large starting set that could encompass all but the most traditional couples.

Vision X could therefore get very close to the twin goals of dramaticallly fewer abortions and dramatically fewer unwanted children.

Vision Y

Vision Y, in contrast, assumes that reproductive technologies expanding on IVF improve to the point that couples' (or individual woman's) desires to have children can be accomodated reliably and promptly. Safe in that knowledge, young males would feel confident enough to have their sperm frozen and have a vasectomy thus not needing to worry about unwanted pregnancies on their part.

Equally, women would also have equivalent surgery, completely relying on artificial means of conception when that is desired.

At the moment of course, the technologies assumed are not reliable to this point. While the technologies for vision X involve individual (and possibly private) knowledge about ones own fertility and a flexible, self-adjusting "market" for desired parenthood, vision Y's technologies involve mastering the genetic conception process artificially. Enough technological knowledge would be required to replace all the natural genetic checks and balances that occur in nature with artificial ones.

Vision Y envisions that the natural bond with the biological mother is crucial enough to offset the flexibility advantages of the increased number and fluidity of adoptions of vision X.

As to whether vision Y equally obtains the twin goals of every child being a wanted child and having negligible number of abortions also depends on overcoming current obstacles. With vision Y, one of these is for changed circumstances after a woman gets pregnant. It is quite easy to see that even if one goes through the process of IVF, that if it had become something cheap, easy and reliable, her reasons for changing her mind once she got pregnant may become more fickle.

On the other hand, it is quite tenable that the conditions of access to IVF etc. can be attached to rules that forbid terminations for those who have gone through this process as a condition for access.


Dr. Clam said...

What, no comments at all? How depressing. :( I have not read your post carefully yet, but I posit the problem will remain intractable until we have much more drastic technological changes, changes which will occur more rapidly than we expect and will removed us entirely from the current one-dimensional continuum.

A few things that occurred to me to say:

1: Technologies that allow us to keep humans alive that would not have been born alive, or would not have long survived their birth, before, present a challenge to pro-life thought. We will need to grasp the nettle and decide how we will go about consciously implementing a system to kill off people who will be a burden to society and would not exist in a completely 'natural' system.

2: Within pro-choice thought, there are strong economic pressures to get rid of people who *would* have been born in a natural system, but impose a cost on society. This has already happened to a large degree and will tend to be imposed on less and less critical disabilities as time goes on. I can envision that coupled with the more 'conservative' ensoulment ideologies that deny human rights to people less than 40 days old (f'rexample), this could easily lead to the prenatal eradication of homosexuals, or of people who don't have a gene that predisposes them to religious belief, or one or the other gender.

3: Abortion, like carnivory, is to me important not only as a crime in itself but as a touchstone for how we treat the 'other', how we draw the line between who is worthy of consideration and what is not. How we treat other systems on the threshold of sentience as we know it- AIs, uplifted gila monsters, cephalopod intelligences from Omicron Ceti who have downloaded themselves onto our mobile phone network- will be a big problem by 2108, and stuffing up the answers to the 'easy' questions now will make it less likely that we get a decent answer to the hard questions later on.

(And I do promise to go back and read your post properly, sure enough)

Marco said...

The main jist is that we should be letting go of our vision one and two, and concentrating on what we can do to obtain vision X! I think instinctively religious conservative types would tend to lean towards vision X, while the more liberal types would think vision Y is more realistic.

The genetic and technological reality of vision Y doesn't quite ring true for me.

Marco said...

Your point 1 and 2 don't at all take into account the probablistic nature of these decisions. Pro-lifers might think it reasonable to persist with a child if there is a 10% chance if them becoming normal.

Pro-choicers consider abortion if there is even a 1 in 100 chance of the child having an abnormality.

As for point 3, I have not mentioned sentience as an argument in the way I have constructed the visions. An issue with a human that doesn't affect their sentience, may still pose an unacceptable financial burden. We must surely value sentience very highly, but an infinite value prevents us from any cost/benefit analysis at all.

Dr. Clam said...

Pro-Life proponents have a vision of the future where abortion of a foetus is considered the same way as the slaughter of a baby.
Pro-Choice proponents have a vision of the future where every child is a wanted child without exception.

I was going to accuse your first vision of being a straw man, but I admit it isn't really. That is the ultimate goal, and it is not consistent with abortion of embryos in such a way as to mimic spontaneous natural abortion, nor of complete decriminalisation and nurturing of the unfortunate aborting mother during the generations during which we move towards this vision.

As for your second vision, consider a possible controversy between 'Pro Choice' people who argue that you ought to be able to chose what you eat, and 'Pro Life' people who argue that you ought to eat what is put in front of you, even if things appear to be living in it. The 'Pro Choice' people come up with the slogan: 'Every meal a wanted meal.' The possible riposte to this that will always occur to you and me, informed by out 1987-1988 experiences, is: 'Don't eat for 48 hours- then you will want that meal.'

Collectively, a society that can consider *any* child unwanted is bound for the demographic scrapheap- wanting children is a core biological value and a core societal value. In any healthy culture, behind every unfortunate person who doesn't want their child there ought to be the fatherly figure of the Mahdi (pbuh), reaching out his hands to say: 'give me your tender babe, for I shall love him/her as you cannot, and she/he shall grow up strong and proud and beautiful and wise, and serve gloriously in the ranks of my Fedayeen.'

[I will finish reading your post carefully, promise. I know I ought to do this before dashing in with replies...]

Dr. Clam said...

I don't think your free-market in babies vision X is plausible, because babies are not really that susceptible to commodification- I don't think you are going to sacrifice raising your own biological children just for convenience. Hence my preference for a Brazilian-ethanol-style subsidy scheme in which the government sets a floor price for future taxpayers and is the major purchaser of same. Also, it is not going to work if sellers have to carry them to term, because the opportunity cost is just too high.

Technological drivers towards a pro-life future I see are these:

*Ultrasound imaging.
*Improved technology for keeping premature infants alive

Technological driver towards X I see is the capacity and motivation for us to continuously monitor and assess our own biochemistry- already there are relatively non-invasive insulin implants, there will be a strong motivation from cost and self-interest as these things get less and less invasive and more capable to have constant on-line monitoring of your own cholesterol levels, etc., etc. As more features are added this will lead women both to awareness of how much synthetic hormones are messing them up and how accurately they can predict fertile periods.

Value-free technological driver: Fast harmless ways to remove young peepz from their mothers. If the culture is a culture that collectively can imagine 'unwanted children', this means they can readily be thrown away at home; if the culture is a culture that values future citizens, this means it is trivial to remove them, pay the mother the floor price, put them in tanks, and raise them to an age where they can be sold to good homes (only ever a tiny fraction) or assigned an appropriate greek letter and set out to work for the greater glory of the Party. Which way this swings is entirely up to ideology and demography, technology per se doesn't get a look in...

Marco said...

babies are not really that susceptible to commodification- I don't think you are going to sacrifice raising your own biological children just for convenience.

I think you are still looking at it in an emotional sense over and above analogues in nature and economies. We are not the only species which readily adopts babies that are not biologically our own. If a (the oldest) profession can spring up from commodifying something that is abhorrent to females when money (or true love) is not on offer, I think there is enough examples and analogues to believe it is possible. Giving up (with possibly significant compensation) one baby does not significantly limit your opportunities to raise your own down the track. However, the opportunity to quickly (but at a financial cost) adopt without waiting the nine months+, when you are in a place in life to do so, I would bet, would sway a great many would-be parents in a future world.

Brazilian ethanol subsidies is the exception that proves the rule that subsidies don't work.

Also, it is not going to work if sellers have to carry them to term, because the opportunity cost is just too high.

If this was true, surrogacy would never happen.

I have been rejecting the idea that we are close (within our lifetime) of cheap artificial wombs, or even a market for expensive ones wherein economies of scale would make them cheaper. There appears to be an inescapable diminishing returns the earlier babies are taken away from their womb.

Dr. Clam said...

I am the first to admit my understanding of human nature is not up to scratch, but I still don't see why hypothetical beings who- statistically, collectively- behaved like your scenario X people would bother to have children at all. We need a commenter with a better grasp of flesher psychology.

Perceived fallacy illustrated through analogy:


"Also, it is not going to work if sellers have to carry them to term, because the opportunity cost is just too high.

If this was true, surrogacy would never happen."


"Also, it is not going to work if sellers have to walk on burning coals to get to the shop.

If this was true, firewalking ceremonies would never happen."

The first statement in each case is about the statistical, collective requirements for something to work. The second statement is about a small, special, subset of the population.

Marco said...

I'm not even sure why you think the opportunity cost is even an issue. Let's take the most common example that is happening at the present - Overseas adoption. Children that are at are demonstrably unwanted in an underdeveloped country (eg in an orphanage) are "adopted" with a certain portion of what is considered a large sum of money for "expenses" going to the childs biological family and/or the orphanage. It is pretty close to commodifying babies in a socially acceptable way. It is demand and supply driven, in the sense that guardianship of the baby is being transferred from someone that can have babies but is not in a position to bring them up, to someone who demnstrably is in a situation to bring them up.

The barriers to surrogacy are mainly ethical and legal (also against our darwinian instincts) - not emotional/financial. People who do successfully go through the surrogacy process are having to walk over hot coals to do so, and have little legal cover. If it was introduced as a way to match demand and supply (unplanned pregnancies to unable to get pregnant) the opportunity cost is negligible and paid for by the receiving parent.

Dr. Clam said...

You have come very near to answering the question you pose me by talking about 'overseas adoption'.

The opportunity cost is on the supply side. The price for babies will meet this opportunity cost for mothers from developing countries- as you say, it is seen as a large sum of money- but will not even come close to compensating mothers in developed countries for the inconvenience, pain, missed earning opportunities, and social stigma of bringing their babies to term. Your assumption that there is no opportunity cost comes down to 'assume there is no income differential between populations' which is as bad as 'assume we discover faster than light travel' or 'imagine all the peeeeeople, living for today...'

Marco said...

I am not at all assuming no opportunity costs. I am not even assuming "low" opportunity costs. The perception of cost of taking babies to term varies quite considerably from person to person, but let me put that question to the side for a moment.

For Vision X, My assumptions are on the supply side is that ovulation and pregnancy detection implants are universally in place, and that quantitative knowledge about risk of getting pregnant changes peoples sexual behaviour. For those with a high perception of opportunity cost, the sexual behaviour would be much more conservative than it would otherwise be - especially if abortion was a high cost option.

Another assumption is knowledge about precisely the amount of compensation on offer to offset these opportunity costs, right from the point of conception.

Another assumption that I'm making is that "most" current abortions happen not because of the opportunity costs of bringing a baby to term, but more the costs of bringing up a child, the illiquidity of the current adoption/surrogacy system, the naivety behind their sexual behaviour in the first place, the perceived "turning back time" that abortion gives, and the stigma associated with the perception of stupidity of an unplanned pregnancy.

The tenability of vision X follows fairly easily from these assumptions. There are also relevant assumptions from the demand side, and I can break those down too for analysis if you like.