Monday, July 21, 2008

William Saletan and Separation Anxiety

In a recent column in Salon, William Saletan goes after a South Dakota law which requires abortion providers to inform women that abortion “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

He writes,
Until now, I wasn't aware that the fetus—a term that, according to the South Dakota law, includes "the implanted embryo"—was a whole, separate, living human being. I thought it was ... you know ... implanted. I mean, I'm just a guy, not really an expert or anything. But, um, placenta? Umbilical cord? Do those terms ring a bell? And that's not even getting to the tricky stuff, like the role of maternal RNA in directing embryonic growth or all the work done by the womb to facilitate the embryo's attachment and nourishment.
At first, I wasn’t sure if Saletan was being tongue-in-cheek or if he can’t understand that “separate” in the legislation doesn’t mean physically separated (as in “not touching”) but rather that the unborn is a different or distinct or individual human being and is not a part of his or her mother even though they are connected. But the whole column rails on this point, so I’m left to conclude that Saletan opposes this legislation because he can’t understand the word separate can have different meanings.
I have to say, it's a relief to learn that the embryo is so complete and independent. I mean, it solves the whole problem. Here's this woman who just wants to be separated from her embryo. And lo and behold, it's already separate! No need to agonize. Just detach it and let it grow. It's separate, it's whole, it's living. Cancel the abortion. Perform a separation instead.
I guess sometimes it’s easier to use sarcasm when you can’t validly dismiss scientific facts about embryology. No one (including this legislation) is claiming human embryos are “independent.” The prolifer commentators I read are typically quite up front regarding the reality that the unborn depend on their mothers.

The legislation just requires abortion providers to inform women regarding the status of the human being which is about to be killed as opposed to letting abortion providers spout the usual “clump of cells” line used in abortion clinics without informed consent laws.

The rest of his column continues to act like the word separation has a singular meaning and ends with this silly tirade:
So, here's a word of advice to legislators like those in South Dakota: Stop withholding birth control and stop lying to women about their bodies. You can't even keep your lies straight. That's how you ended up telling doctors to tell women that separation will kill a separate human being. See you in court.
Sometimes Saletan’s column are thoughtful and worth reading. This isn’t one of ‘em. Just imagine if the legislators had chosen to use the word “distinct” instead of “separate.” They are synonyms after all.

What would Saletan have written then?

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