Saturday, February 18, 2006

Granted, I Haven't Made an Exhaustive Review...

...but how is it possible that of the half-dozen "The Captain's Hand" reviews that I've read, only one acknowledges the inherent absurdity of Roslin's abortion dilemma?

First of all, unless the survivors in the fleet were mostly retrieved from retirement cruises, there is simply no way that 50,000 people don't make a self-sustaining community. Secondly, as history has shown us again and again, the natural human reaction to disasters, wars, and massive die-offs is to make babies. There should be--no, there are--dozens of seven-month pregnant women in the fleet. Which, and I feel a little embarrassed mentioning this since the writers only trot this issue out when it suits them, is actually a problem, since it's not as if there's going to be anything to feed these new sprogs, who will monopolize supplies, and the work force of at least one caretaker, without contributing anything to the fleet for years.

But most importantly, and this is something that Roslin as a woman (not to mention a woman who supposedly fought her entire career for a woman's right to choose) should know, abortion has existed for as long as women have been getting pregnant. For most of that time, it has been illegal. This fact has never stopped women from seeking and obtaining it, but it did mean that the women who underwent abortions did so in back alleys and frequently bled to death or were rendered infertile as a result of the procedure. Far from ensuring that its population increases, Roslin's ban will almost certainly work to decrease the number of fertile women in the fleet.

So, sorry, writers. I know you thought you could trot out this hot-button topic and get us all in a quandry over the fact that our current political leanings may not apply in a post-apocalyptic situation, but the reality of your setting doesn't actually support your invented dilemma. Which, granted, doesn't seem to be something you get too worked up about in general.

I could go on about how the episode was thoroughly predictable and how there really is no excuse for cramming deleted scenes in the previously when previous episodes have made such poor use of their running time, but I think my opinion can be summed up rather succinctly with this:

Two for seven, guys. Get your asses in gear.


Anonymous said...

Another and related problem with the whole 'dilemma' is that if pretty much all women in the fleet are reacting to the current situation by not getting pregnant or terminating their pregnancies, if every women in the fleet sees the future as being that hopeless, or conditions as being that dire, they are right to do so. If, ten years down the line, the fleet finds a home where most people in the fleet don't believe that they are going to die in a few months anyway, then plenty of women in the fleet will still be young enough to have children then, when they choose to.

Also, Baltar comments that, at the rate they are going, the species will be extinct in 18 years, the problem is the death rate, not the birth rate. Obviously, they need to change their situation to survive, but thinking that the aspect of it that they need to change is the birth rate is simply idiotic. So, if they start reproducing like mad to make up for all the people getting killed, in 9 years half their population will be children under 9? Does that seem like it will increase their chances of survival, with half as many workers still needing to provide food, fuel and air for the same number of warm bodies, and with many more workers having to take care of children?

Stupid stupid stupid attempt to push at hot buttons.

I actually liked a lot of the specific interpersonal interactions in this week's episode, but yes, both halves of the plot stank.

Jon said...

I think it makes a little more sense if you understand that Roslin believes they'll find Earth soon; at least within a few years. To her, these problems of how to feed and take care of the kids are only a momentary problem; what's more important is not losing any of the genetic diversity they still have left. They know Earth is out there, and is almost certainly a habitable planet (that much is, if nothing else, a matter of faith); what they don't know for sure is if the 13th colony is still there.

Farah said...

Great post, but this is wrong:

abortion has existed for as long as women have been getting pregnant. For most of that time, it has been illegal.

Most research now reckons that until the mid-nineteenth century women didn't even regard themselves as pregnant until the end of the first trimester. Anything you did before that was merely regularising the fluxes.

Several things seem to have happened: in the nineteenth century governmentsseem to have begun panicking about population size: lots of children meant armies. This started to become a problem in particular for Catholic countries, many of which had the Napoleonic code with partible inheritance which encouraged family size control (average size of a French family in 1850 was three). In Ireland this was forced on the population which might explain why family size remained relatively high- an act of resistance.

Governments also worried about quality: m/c families seemed to be having smaller families. This becomes a major political concern in the US where you can add race into the mix (immigration rather than Blacks).

So we start to have growing interference in women's reproductive capacities, and by about 1880, contraception and abortion, both of which had been part of the private sphere, have been moved into the public arena.

Abigail Nussbaum said...


Good points all. The question of the fleet's attitude towards procreation is far more complicated than a simple pro-life/pro-choice, and you're absolutely right that, alongside the post-disaster baby-boom, we should be seeing women who won't bring a child into a potentially lethal situation.

Which brings us to the simple fact that, if Roslin wants to encourage reproduction in the fleet, outlawing abortion is merely a first, and largely inefficient step (for one thing, what about contraception? Is that going out the window too?) She needs to start a public debate about the importance of shoring up their numbers, try to convince the population that reproduction is vital to their species' survival. But that, of course, would require the writers to deal with the civilian fleet in a way that wasn't brief and perfunctory, so fat chance.


I'm not sure whether we're meant to believe that the fleet is close to Earth. My feeling was that the writers stuck Earth way out in the boondocks so that they'd have a long period in which to tell the stories they want before they have to alter the show's premise (read: go Galactica: 1980 on us).

It's possible that Roslin believes that Earth is right around the corner, but neither this episode nor any other has suggested it. And, as Alephnul points out, if Earth is close than why not hold off on baby-making until there are resources to support the new population boom?

These are all issues that needed to be discussed as Roslin made her decision, but instead the writers chose to sum up the argument with absurd pseudo-science from Baltar (I've seen suggestions that he was lying to Roslin in that scene, and although it makes for a slightly more interesting read on this sub-plot, it also makes Roslin look like a fool for believing him).


I stand corrected. I was thinking about 19th and 20th century attitudes toward abortion, and unthinkingly extrapolated backwards.

Anonymous said...

Is this Battlestar Galactica you are talking about, because that single plot outline is so bad it makes me not want to watch the whole thing.

It's stating the obvious, but in societies where women want to have lots of children, children are an economic benefit (and the death rate is high). The way to boost the birth rate is to make it economically and socially advantageous to women to have lots of kids. If it's not advantageous, no legislation will make them have children.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Is this Battlestar Galactica you are talking about, because that single plot outline is so bad it makes me not want to watch the whole thing.

Sadly, it is. They've been having a dismal winter season (after, it must be said, a stellar first season and summer season), but I think that the inability to deal intelligently with civilian issues in a post-disaster society has been a weakness of the show from day one.

As you say, instead of criminalizing abortion, Roslin should be offering incentives for pregnancy.

Anonymous said...

Came here from 13th Colony, and so very very agree. Reposting my own thoughts from my LJ because I think they're relevant:

SON OF A BITCH!!!!!!! Roslin, you fucking IDIOT! What the FUCK is the matter with you? Making deals with religious fundamentalists who want to impose their own values on the rest of the Fleet? What, there was no intermediate solution? I can think of a few:

- A public campaign to encourage women to get pregnant, including incentives such as extra rations (well, pregnant women need more food) and some kinds of other perks. Assurances as to the safety of the Fleet and provisions made for children (because some women may not want to have a baby in a post-apocalyptic nightmare). Also, an organized system to find adoptive homes for babies born to women who don't feel ready for children.

- Setting up a sperm bank and egg bank and encouraging people who aren't planning to procreate right now but are probably fertile to contribute to the Fleet's future genetic diversity. Especially relevant for people in high-risk jobs like the military, and women with jobs which they can't do when they're pregnant (i.e. fighter pilots)

- Better availability of birth control, combined with a public campaign to urge people to procreate. Sounds counter-intuitive, but makes sense. That way, women who really don't want to get pregnant can contribute to the egg bank, then go on reliable birth control and if they change their minds in future, they can always go off birth control and plan to have kids. Out of control breeding would be just as harmful to the Fleet as virtually no births. I mean, if all the women of childbearing age are popping out a new baby every eighteen months or so until they hit menopause, how the hell do they feed everyone?

So, yeah, pissed off. I bet you anything you like, though, that in a future episode, some minor character is going to die or need an emergency hysterectomy as a result of a botched do-it-yourself abortion. Statistically speaking, restricting the supply of abortion doesn't lower the abortion rate, only restricting the demand does. That's how the Netherlands, where abortion is free on the national health system, has by far the world's lowest abortion rate. Germany, with extremely similar laws, has the second lowest rate. THese are facts. Deal with them. Making aboriton illegal doesn't make abortion go away, it just drives it underground. So, if this hypothetical minor character survives her botched coat-hanger abortion, will Roslin have her arrested?

Oh, and heavy on the irony here, aren't we. First she's having a screaming pregnant woman who fucking wants to stay pregnant strapped down and ordering her aborted against her will. And now she's forcing women who don't want to be pregnant to stay pregnant against their will. Nice. Nice priorities there, Madam President. How the fuck does ANY of this fit in with your so-called commitment all during your political career to ensuring a woman has control of her own body.

This is SO going to come back and bite Roslin in the ass. Politically it already has, and I bet there'll be at least one death as a result of this policy, if it's ever implemented. Oh, and the Geminon Quorum lady can jump out an airlock.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry. Above was me,, don't have a Blogger account.

Anonymous said...

A point worth mentioning about Roslin's association with religious fundamentalists - a point not made clear enough in the episode (and a big miss, in terms of dramatic opportunities, I think) is that these religious fundamentalists are the very same people who supported her when she insisted (and faced strong opposition) about the prophecy on Earth. Moreover, these people viewed her as a holy figure (a notion she didn't exactly reject) and now, having supported her, they want her support back.
This could have been a great opportunity to discuss the dangers in being considered a religious figure (a-la "Dune"), but the episode didn't really deal with it, which is a shame.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. Within minutes of the episode, people over at TWOP trotted out at least 5 policies that would work better for boosting the baby rate than banning abortion, including:

1. More pro-baby propoganda for the fleet

2. Giving parents first crack at supplies

3. Creating a national pool of people willing to adopt unwanted babies

4. Creating more governmental support for parents (free child care, set up some kind of an education program)

5. Create a sense of communal responsibility for children. Show the birth of babies on TV. Let people know that the care of children may be primarily the responsibilty of the parents, but everyone in the fleet should be deeply invested in their welfare. Emphasize that it takes a village to raise a child.

Anonymous said...

Also, I'm completely not spoiled, but I bet you 50 bucks one of the female fighter pilots will get pregnant accidentally. My money's on Starbuck.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I've heard speculation that Dualla might be pregnant, Ellenore (again, completely unspoiled), but a pregnant fight pilot might be even more interesting. It's a twist that would go a long way (but not all the way) towards redeeming this bonehead plotline in my eyes.

niall said...

I think someone getting pregnant is likely, if only because this had Hasty and Ill-Judged written all over it. I think that if we were really meant to be convinced Roslin's decision was the right one, there would have been a lot more actual debate about it, and then the show would have moved on to other matters. As it is, I can't help thinking it's the start of an ongoing plot (and not just a kick-start for an election plot). I hope.

(I am a bit surprised people are taking Baltar's demographic projections at face value, and assuming the writers messed up, rather than Baltar feeding Roslin misinformation. I mean, I know the writers have burned through a lot of credit lately, but they have some left, surely?)

I also prefer the fighter pilot idea, if only because Lee+Dee is Wrong Wrong Wrong.

Anonymous said...

What's frustrating me is the puppeteers strings all over the place. I guess we all sat through the episode saying "dumb dumb, political suicide, solutions X, Y and Z are painfully obvious" (for me it was regulated adoption schemes with incentives, lots of other good ideas above). This when Roslin's new aide is supposed to be a spinnerific political animal, and Roslin knows these fights from way back; but the obvious ideas wouldn't have sent the plot in the right directions, so everyone's strings get pulled around a bit, until they're facing the right way and can go back to being characters again.

Anonymous said...

...but how is it possible that of the half-dozen "The Captain's Hand" reviews that I've read, only one acknowledges the inherent absurdity of Roslin's abortion dilemma?

Because you hadn't read cija or laurashapiro on lj? ;)

I was thinking about dropping the show from my live-watch rotation until I saw the preview, which does look promising.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

It's true, Mely, as the week has wound out there have been more and more dissenting voices about the reality of Roslin's dilemma and the inefficacy of her solution (I think I've read at least one of the posts you mentioned). On Saturday night, however, most of the opinions I saw were along the lines of 'Roslin made a tough but correct decision'.

I have to say, I'm nervous about Friday's episode. I think the one thing that would set me off this show for good would be 45 minutes of woe-is-us Cylon antics with a side dish of their tepid theology.

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