There's no pill for pangs of conscience

An op-ed in the New York Times is promoting a new type of contraception for women who fear the stigma of abortion. Called the Missed Period Pill, or MPP, it was inspired by a service offered in Bangladesh during its brief but bloody war of independence with Pakistan.

It is believed that hundreds of thousands of women were raped during the conflict. Since abortion was illegal, the Bangladeshi government allowed evacuation of the uterus for a limited period -- as long as women did not have a pregnancy test. The euphemism for it was “menstrual regulation”.

US researchers recently published in the journal Contraception  the results of a survey seeking the views of American “people” (women, presumably). The people were asked whether they would be interested in a pill which would bring on bleeding like a menstrual period, and which would terminate the pregnancy for nearly all people who were pregnant.

The key point is that they would never know whether or not they had been pregnant. They found that 42 percent of all participants and 70 percent of those who would be unhappy if they were pregnant, would be interested in the MPP.

In the opinion of the researchers, this raises an interesting psychological issue.

It appears that after decades of feminism, culminating in groups like Shout Your Abortion, many women still appear to be ashamed of having an abortion. A dark stigma still hangs over the procedure. According to the Times:

One participant said that such a service would be “a psychological cushion” for those women “who may be unsure of their own feelings on abortion.” Another said that she thought it would result “in less moral conflict,” and a third that she would feel “less guilty of my choice.”

The results of the survey were, therefore, a bit disconcerting, according to the Times.

The notion behind M.R. — that a person wouldn’t know if she had an abortion and therefore no one else could know if she did, either — is, in one sense, the antithesis of what many in the reproductive rights movement hope to achieve.

Some abortion activists call the MPP “Plan C”: “it could be positioned between emergency contraception and abortion (which is the termination of a confirmed pregnancy), filling the gaping hole in the continuum of options available to those trying to manage their fertility.”

The authors of the article in Contraception observe that people (to use their trans-inclusive terminology) who have abortions experience deep psychological suffering – which they attribute to stigma, not the to the obvious fact that a life has been ended:

The majority of those who choose abortion report experiencing additional, abortion-related stigma which has been associated with increased anxiety, stress, depression, social isolation, negative self-evaluation and somatic symptoms.

How can this be avoided? They have a technology fix: by taking a pill.

Thus, a service that enables people to ensure they are not pregnant without knowing their initial pregnancy status could have psychological and physical benefits.

This shows immense naiveté. The MPP is more likely to produce psychological torment than relief.

In law, acting with a doubtful conscience is called wilful blindness or contrived ignorance. A person seeks to avoid liability for a wrongful act by intentionally keeping himself unaware of facts that implicate him in a crime. For instance, a CEO of a car company might refuse to read reports about a defective vehicle so that he can deny knowledge of traffic deaths.

One of the most notorious examples of contrived ignorance is Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect. He escaped execution at the Nuremburg Trials because he convinced the tribunal that he had not known about Nazi atrocities. This required him to be a moral Houdini.

In a well-known passage in the memoirs he published after his release from prison he recalls that a friend warned him never, ever, to visit a certain concentration camp in Upper Silesia.

I did not query him, I did not query Himmler, I did not query Hitler, I did not speak with personal friends. I did not investigate -- for I did not want to know what was happening there....

He willed himself to be ignorant – and for ever regretted it:

From that moment on, I was inescapably contaminated morally; from fear of discovering something which might have made me turn from my course, I had closed my eyes.... Because I failed at that time, I still feel, to this day, responsibility for Auschwitz in a wholly personal sense.

And something of this anguish is what the abortion activists are asking women to risk by taking those Missed Period Pills. It’s human nature to regret what might have happened just as much as what did happen. Those people who might be pregnant could live to the end of their days with a gnawing sense of guilt.


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