33 thoughts on “Let’s Ban Life Jackets

  1. Clearly, human beings were not designed for survival in water; it’s a very unnatural environment for human beings.

  2. Yeah, all those people who want to ban contraception while arguing that there’s nothing unfortunate about an unplanned pregnancy (and whose opponents see pregnancy as tantamount to death) need to see this ad.

  3. Jeremy, I’m an opponent but I don’t in general see pregnancy as tantamount to death. There’s a huge spectrum of things a pregnancy might be, including a joyful process.

  4. Yes, that’s part of my point. The ad assumes:

    1. People who disapprove morally of contraception want to ban it.
    2. People who favor abstinence outside marriage think there’s nothing unfortunate about unplanned pregnancies.
    3. People who favor wide use of contraception think unplanned pregnancy is tantamount to death.

    But all of those claims are false. This would be a nice example of several informal fallacies for a critical thinking textbook.

  5. JP,

    Reading the ad that way is to read it uncharitably. It uses hyperbole to make a point, that in this case I take to be that pregnancy and contraception issues are too nuanced to be handled with clumsy slogans like the one’s one often hears from proponents of abstinence only education, etc.

  6. I don’t see any nuance in this ad, and if hyperbole is allowed here then why isn’t it allowed on the other side? It strikes me that this ad is engaging in the very uncharitableness toward the other side that you’re accusing me of. There would be ways to make this unhelpful analogy less unfair, and I don’t think it’s remotely helpful for convincing anyone who holds to an abstinence-only model of sex ed to lump them all together with people like Akin.

    This is the kind of ad that makes un-nuanced people who are already convinced smile and enjoy feeling superior over those ignorant yokels who hold backward views, but it does nothing to engage the issues and help people who might be inclined to be educated by information or convinced by moral arguments to be more open to teaching the science of how bodies work and how contraceptive methods. Since that’s something I want taught, I don’t see how something like this ad can do any good in making that more likely. It will just offend people who don’t think the way Akin does but who support abstinence-only sex ed.

  7. I think everyone has taken this too far. I think the point is, not providing contraception, and assuming a women’s body can shut out a pregnancy from rape is as ridiculous as not providing a life jacket while in the water. Plain and simple

  8. I think it’s safe to say that ads are never nuanced. Does anyone think such things settle the matter, or even present full-fledged arguments?

    To be sure, such ads preach to the choir, but I think the goal is to get someone, somewhere to pause a moment and reflect on their position – perhaps enough to look elsewhere for actual argument. I think you ask too much, here. It’s like charging that a bumper sticker is unfair.

    10 line proofs make for better arguments, but lousy posters.

  9. At the same time, in incredibly important ways women’s reproductive choices are under very serious threat. JP, I don’t think it is helpful to polarize the discussion in the way you appear to be attempting to do.

  10. the gist of the analogy (if we’re really going to kill the funny) is it seems to me less that those who are pro-availability of contraception think that pregnancy is like death, and more that if you “get yourself into” a pregnancy, you must through with it, even if it causes you to die. this is not abstract; last month, a 16 year old leukemia patient in the Dominican Republic died because doctors would not administer chemotherapy to her, for fear it would harm or kill her 13 week old fetus.


  11. Those aren’t the cases being debated, though. Almost a quarter of Americans think abortion is wrong in rape cases, but the number who think it’s wrong to save the life of the mother is far, far less. There are certainly efforts to limit abortion. There was a lot of support for that even in the Democratic Party until very recently (but the current platform toward abortion is more libertarian than the NRA on guns — no limits whatsoever). But there’s not going to be enough traction to get a federal ban on abortion in rape cases, even if Roe v. Wade gets overruled. It might be an issue in some of the more conservative states. But I’ve never even heard of politicians trying to remove life-of-mother exceptions. I think there might even be a revolt among Republicans if anyone began seriously pursuing that sort of thing.

  12. Jeremy:

    I think you are missing two factors. One, this is a repsonse to some recent, absurd, claims about women’s bodies and to some scary sounding proposals – for example, no abortions even in the case of incest, rape, or woman’s health. Two, whether you think the scarier proposals are going to get traction or not, they are scary to many women and men.

  13. I think there are a lot of people opposed to abortion even when the alternative is both die.

    I have to say that this conversation is getting me worried. Do see our recent post on the modification to the “be nice” rule. I’m worried that more than one person here, perhaps especially those who have experienced the way religious pro-lifers can accept great danger for the mother over removing a zygote, may feel this is very upsetting.

    I believe a nun who advocated saving the life of a mother of 3 or so children over that of a fetus that would not live got some bad punishment, perhaps excommunication. Last year, I think.

  14. ChrisTS, you’re illustrating exactly the point I’m trying to make. Almost a quarter of Americans are pro-life without the rape exception. I’m sure only a tiny fraction of those people would accept the scientific claim Akin made. This is exactly what bothered me most about the response to Akin and how it fits with the partisan narrative

    Proposing restrictions on abortion is very scary to people who think abortion is sacrosanct and can never be prohibited. That’s not the view of most Americans. Most Americans think there needs to be a very serious moral consideration to make abortion morally permissible, and even a thin majority thinks that ought to be reflected in the law. A life-of-the-mother exception is such. A rape exception commnds a strong majority, but 22% disagree.

    A health-of-the-mother exception could get stronger support, if framed conservatively. But it isn’t usually, and health exceptions have notoriously justified abortions for reasons that are only thinly medical, even by a generous reading of what counts as mental health. There’s got to be some middle ground between that and no health exception at all, but the fact is that there’s virtually no one occupying such a middle ground right now.

  15. Sorry, I didn’t complete the final sentence of the first paragraph above. I meant to say “the partisan narrative about the so-called Republican war on women.” If anything is polarizing in politics right now, it’s that whole narrative and the response to it.

  16. I just saw the comment about the “be nice” policy. It appeared while I was writing the last couple comments, so please don’t think I wrote those while knowing about the previous comment. Writing comments while engaging in childcare is not always the quickest thing, and I didn’t refresh or check my email before submitting them. I probably wouldn’t have continued to discuss those points if I had, not without resolving the issue over what exactly is unsafe about this discussion.

    I can see the issue you’re worried about. You’re concerned about people who hold views more extreme than what I’m arguing is the pro-life mainstream or Republican mainstream. That’s a fair point. There are people with influence who hold those views, and those views can affect people’s real lives. I can see how someone who has been on the receiving end of the harmful effect of extreme opposition to absolutely all abortion, even the most justifiable and unquestionable cases of abortion, would feel unwelcome if someone came along and started arguing forcefully for the very view that led to their troubling situation.

    Is that what’s going on here, though? I’m not sure it touches my main point, which is that the ad strikes me as attempting to put a somewhat mainstream position (among pro-lifers) in the same category as a much more extreme position (even among the most restrictive pro-lifers), and that will turn off people who view the ad who might otherwise be inclined to listen to arguments against their view.

    If making that argument makes it unsafe for people to read this blog, then I’m not sure why. I’m doing my best to avoid any moral judgments on any of these issues. I’ve tried to focus just on what’s pragmatically useful in achieving the ad’s aims and what will serve healthy political discourse between parties who disagree pretty fundamentally about the basic moral question, all the while remaining as neutral as possible on the underlying moral disagreement. I would have thought that was about as safe as you can get in a moral discussion.

    I’m not saying this to insist that what I’m doing is perfectly fine. I’m genuinely curious about what’s motivating your concern and want to understand how you think I’m making this an unsafe conversation. So if you can explain that, I’d appreciate it. The new policy does say that people doing this aren’t likely to see that they’re doing it, but it would be nice if there’s a way to help them see it, because in this particular case I thought I was going out of my way to avoid any such problem.

  17. if public policy were absolutely reflective of public opinion, there might be more room for middle ground. i don’t know if public opinion is leading the way here when the winner of the iowa presidential republican primary was a dude who believes in an abortion ban with no exceptions – he’s iffy on an exception for life, as far as i can tell – and akin is doing fine in the polls, and the current vice presidential candidate broadly shares these positions. i’ve seen some political science research that political parties are working somewhat independently of general public opinion (on significant party id measures, anyway). at any rate, there really are party leaders, not just political pundits, who are taking these positions.

    i am skeptical that if only a health of the mother exception were framed more conservatively, then it would be more acceptable to folks – just as i am skeptical that health exceptions are notorious for allowing abortions that are only thinly medical, as you say. that is only because i think that the very definitions at work here are pretty thoroughly politicized: there was a high profile pushback against the language of “health exceptions” prior to the 2008 election, just as there has been a campaign to confuse birth control with “abortifacient.” this does not seem like an attempt to seek the middle ground that the majority of USians supposedly occupy – it rather seems like an attempt to erode access to and make illegal – or preferably, unconstitutional – a legal procedure fundamental to the personal autonomy and bodily integrity (mandated transvaginal ultrasounds?) of women.

    at any rate, the poster was funny. but if it’s not about you, then it’s not about you, as they say on the feminist intertubes.

  18. “Almost a quarter of Americans are pro-life without the rape exception. I’m sure only a tiny fraction of those people would accept the scientific claim Akin made. This is exactly what bothered me most about the response to Akin and how it fits with the partisan narrative”

    I would be interested to know how many people do in fact accept a claim that is, if not Akin’s precise claim, then in the general vicinity. I went to a Catholic high school that was really very liberal in most respects. One of our religion teachers told us that he didn’t think an exception for rape was much worth agonizing over, because the mechanisms of the female reproductive system made pregnancy in the case of rape very rare. This was around 2001. I very much doubt that he came up with this idea on his own, especially since I’ve heard from other Catholic women that their own religion or biology (!) teachers told them the same thing (the biology-teacher case was from 1975 or so).

    I don’t think you need to investigate whether the majority of pro-life people hold such views and make dozens of disclaimers and qualifications before you point out errors or engage in satire. Moreover, there is, unfortunately, a larger strand of wishful thinking in the pro-life movement (“post-abortion syndrome”?). Then again, I’m not totally sure what the point about partisan narrative was, so forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted.

  19. I’ve been around pro-lifers my entire life, and Akin was the first time I’ve heard of this stuff about a woman’s body shutting down the reproductive system because of rape. Perhaps northeast U.S. evangelicals, or at least the ones I’ve talked about this issue with, are more scientifically-informed than other pro-life circles. I have no idea. I know that it’s not common in the circles I grew up in, where pro-life views are usually the full-blown “no exceptions” sort. In my experience, the “no exceptions” view is common among pro-lifers perhaps even the most common pro-life view, and the “woman’s body shutting down” view is pretty much non-existent. But I can only speak of the groups I have personal experience with, and these national polls don’t break things down by region or more specific religious culture.

    I do have an explanation of where it came from, though. A friend of mine asked his OB/GYN wife if there was something even remotely in the ballpark, and she said there is. Great stress to the body, including the kind that occurs with rape, can sometimes stop ovulation if it hasn’t yet occurred. I don’t know what “can sometimes stop” means. It might, for all I know, be very rare that it stops it, and it certainly wouldn’t cover cases where ovulation has already occurred. But there does seem to be a mechanism, according to her, that at least explains where Akin and these other people might have gotten the idea. They’re giving a mangled version of a genuine phenomenon (stress sometimes preventing ovulation), and that phenomenon is being taken to justify a generalization that it doesn’t support (conceptions from rape being something not to worry about).

    My main point about the partisan narrative is that I don’t like to see very different views lumped together and treated as equally worthy of being made fun of. There are a lot of pro-life, abstinence-only types who would find it funny to make fun of Akin but who would be offended at being made fun of themselves and being classed with Akin, because they would see Akin as very extreme and themselves as within the mainstream of social conservatism, even if right of the center of that movement. This kind of ad is not helpful for dialogue with them, and by the polls I’ve seen it’s 22% for denying a rape exception (I don’t know the numbers for abstinence-only stuff, but it’s a lot higher than I’d like).

    That means it’s a large enough number that in my best moments I’d worry about alienating them if I I’m concerned about the pragmatic implications of my political humor and would like to have some hope of convincing them toward a view closer to the center. The no-rape-exception view is something that can be given philosophical support, even if you’re going to question some of the premises, whereas Akin’s view is just mangled science and fallacious inferences. And that makes a view worthy of discussion and not being made fun of, in my book. And I respect Judith Jarvis Thompson for making the effort to be charitable to it and give arguments against it. Views that can’t be discussed rationally because they have no attempt at rational support are worthy of being made fun of. But this doesn’t seem to me to be such an issue. So part of it is coming from my sense of which sorts of views are better approached with argument as opposed to deprecating and exaggerated humor.

  20. Thanks for clarifying, Jeremy. I, too, have been around pro-lifers from the Northeast almost my entire life. In fact, I used to be involved in the pro-life movement. But my stack of newsletters from various organizations alleging the murder of full-term babies at Planned Parenthood, the total failure of condoms to prevent HIV transmission, and an epidemic of post-abortion syndrome, was probably recycled years ago. Maybe my Catholic circle is different enough from yours to make generalizations over both more or less uninformative (and to be fair, I’m pretty sure the Sister with a Ph.D. in biology who taught us science would have been appalled to hear what was going on in the religion department that day). My point was that some of us actually have heard this stuff before. Akin didn’t invent it in a fever dream.

    I think you’re right about the typical justification for the myth, although since it’s relatively easy to find information about rates of pregnancy, I still suspect wishful thinking and not primarily a good-faith misunderstanding about the meanings of “stress” in the medical literature. Not sure we disagree here, though.

    I’m not sure where this ad originated or who the intended audience was, but in any case I don’t see a clear problem with humor that essentially preaches to the choir. I also don’t see how being able to construct an argument worthy of rebuttal should shield one from jokes. Maybe I think a certain common conclusion is wrong, even dangerously and frighteningly so, and even though I can go through the premises of each slightly different argument for that conclusion point by point and painstakingly try to explain what went wrong, sometimes I just need to have a laugh. I think people can understand that it’s possible to make a joke and also provide arguments. This ad isn’t being published in the Journal of Ethics. Really, this is just to agree with #10 and #11.

  21. I’m astounded that the word “satire” has only occurred once in the thread as a throwaway remark. It seems to me that that this wonderful poster is an excellent example. Swift: “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own. . .”

  22. i’ve seen my thoughts reflected throughout this thread, my only point to make to jeremy’s concern is a personal reflection on the issue that this image ‘lumps’ together an otherwise heterogeneous set of political views (pro-life).

    Thankfully i dont live in the US and have ‘some’ sense of reproductive rights, however, as a woman i feel intimately attacked by the pro-life political discourse. as a result i DO tend to reflexively reduce the pro-life position into something more homogeneous than it actually is. i’m aware of this and, while i dont care to change it, i doubt i could given my experience as a woman. experience is key. when applying a more analytic approach (which i also do) i take the time to tease these things out and attend to the nuances because they are both important and interesting (from a sociological point). but first, i am a woman who feels sexism: so i will enjoy and share the above image for the good humour intended (given i am the audience intended, and this is not a political campaign ad) :-)

    not sure if this explanation makes more sense if you are/imagine being jewish, feeling the brunt of anti semitism, and didnt much care to differentiate between those who maligned or hated you (or wished to control you) by degrees; or apply to racism … homophobia, etc. the nuances DO matter politically, ideologically, etc. because they frame HOW MUCH HARM may be done to your rights, but if you are the one on the other end of the power differential, then the nuances matter little while you are fighting for what you believe to be basic rights.

    hopefully this makes sense – i’ve been unwell, and my writing can be awful around now. um … big apologies if it all sounds confused and muddled!

  23. I am a former Plum Island Massachusetts lifeguard and currently a certified water safety instructor for the American Red Cross and I can assure you this petition will never work. PFD’s (personal flotation devices) have saved my 3 daughters lives more than once, during the years they were learning how to swim. I have also personally witnessed PFD’s save dozens of children and adults from drowning. How dare these people try to take away my freedom to safeguard the lives of my children when we go on a simple fishing trip? Coast Guard approved PFD’s are essential on fishing boats, ferries and even on the air plains we all fly on. Water covers 70 % of the earth’s surface, and as an intelligent species we have developed ways to stay alive if we find our selves in it. You know for years I drove around with 5 life jackets in my car just incase the Salisbury 95 Bridge collapses while I’m driving over it. Life jackets are just as important as a bicycle helmet that protects you from head injury’s, the seat belts in your car that can save your life, the sun block that protects you from skin cancer, bug spray to protect from EEE, and life jackets can save you from drowning. The folks that subscribe to the idea that taking away all the safety devices will prevent people from engaging in risky behavior should be denied the use of seat belts, bike helmets, sun block, bug spray, and life jackets. Then Darwin’s theory of evolution will take its natural course. “Survival of the fittest.”

  24. wow, that was definitely worth popping back in for! survival of the fittest indeed … (hope we’re not going to try to define ‘fittest’ in this thread!)

  25. There is a tribe-like community in ASIA that is SO EVOLVED from fishing in the sea their entire existence as a race, that they catch fish with their teeth and they can dilate their eyes to focus in the water , making the water crystal clear. You could do more research on human evolution before making statements like this. Humans are drawn to the water, you can’t prevent it….

  26. Well, lets push you into a fast river, and see your point after that.. (if you survive, that is!)

  27. Is there any philosophical basis that supports banning of condoms? Please help me if you know one :)

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