Friday, November 14, 2008

you know what we don't talk about enough? abortion

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to me at the Corner.

There's been some confusion here, and it's my fault. I've been using "human" when I should be saying "person". So while I don't think that the fetus is some different species than human, I also don't believe that it's a person. (Additionally, I think a case can certainly be made that a developing organism that has not been born, or perhaps is not viable, is not in fact a member of that species in a meaning relevant to our discussion.)

Here's the bigger problem: "The virtue of using conception as the dividing line, in my view, is not so much that it is non-arbitrary as that it is, well, true."

That's certainly been in keeping with the tenor of the comments, where (in a gratifyingly civil conversation) many people have been making conflicting statements about what's just true, or about what's self-evident, etc. That seems to be a recurring theme in our abortion discussion. To some people, abortion just is murder. To others, a fetus just isn't a human person. To some, the fetus just has rights. And on and on. All of these things are not only true, to the people who believe them, but are self-evident. So what Ponnuru finds obviously true I find obviously untrue. The debate over abortion is also marked by people claiming to have found the magic bullet, some definition or evidence-- usually scientific-- that, to them, solves the debate, once and for all. The problem is that these notions always end up begging the question somewhere or other. When someone says "See, we detected these kinds of brain patterns at this fetal age, therefore this baby has a consciousness, therefore you can't abort it after this point," they think all of that flows logically. But someone else says "Brain patterns don't really differentiate consciousness, and anyhow consciousness doesn't mean you have adult rights." And so on. Scientific answers are constantly being proposed to ethical or philosophical question. Sadly, we can't use science to get us out of this mess.

I think the postmodern concept is useful here. First, I think that here we may have arrived at true incommensurability. This divide might not be solved. Second, I think we would do well to jettison notions of truth and instead operate according to principles of pragmatics and use. Without a transcendent authority to tell use where personhood begins, or whether personhood entails an absolute right to not be aborted, we aren't going to get at the truth about whether or not abortion is moral. There is no truth about abortion, only what various people think about the issue, and so we should attempt to craft a pragmatic vision of abortion that is necessarily dependent on appeals to popularity. This is bound to be unsatisfying. No one is particularly moved by appeals to popular consensus-- "slavery was popular, too!"-- but in the end, that's what will rule the day. Not to say you don't argue with the consensus. I'm more sympathetic to late-term abortion than the average person. But I think we should give up on magic bullet answers to the question of abortion. Too many committed and honest people have too many inherently contradictory notions about what is "simply true" for me to have faith in any objective truth about the morality of abortion.

85 comments:

Sabina's hat said...

This post seems inconsistent with your initial argument against abortion. In this post you say that you believe there is no truth of the matter about the conditions of personhood. As a result, you believe that we should justify where we do draw the line on pragmatic grounds.

But initially, you claimed that you could "never support abortion if [you] believed the fetus was a [person]." That doesn't seem like a pragmatic question, but a question of fact. In order to show that such an claim is true, you would have to show the opposing claim to be false.

If, on the other hand, you wished to give pragmatic arguments for abortion rights, you would show how legalizing abortion increases gender equality, leads to less crime, and stronger families. None of those claims depend on the "personhood" of the fetus.

The problem with giving pragmatic arguments in favor of a definition of personhood is that a "pragmatic" argument already assumes some such definition. For example, if you do not believe that fetuses should be treated as morally equivalent to fully mature human beings, then you don't need to include them in your moral caluculus, and so results such as the improved quality of life for women resulting from abortion seem to be overwhelmingly good reasons to legalize abortion. If, however, you do believe that fetuses should be treated as morally equivalent, the death of millions of fetuses as a result of abortion would seem like an overwhelmingly good reason to make abortion illegal. Since all pragmatics argument will take some variant on this form, they cannot decide this question.

Freddie said...

I'm muddling through. No, I couldn't support abortion if I thought a fetus was a human person. But I can't intuit an argument that is "true" that personhood disqualifies a fetus for abortion, nor can I come up with a "true" statement about whether or not a fetus is a person. Nor, I suspect, can anyone else. This post is indeed inspired by my inability to turn my belief that abortion is immoral if a fetus is human into any kind of factual statement about abortion. They remain my opinions.

I would like to be able to make categorical fact statements about abortion. But I don't believe that's possible, absent some dictate from god.

ryan said...

I completely agree with your point about incommensurability. The question of whether or not abortion should be permitted should turn on the question of whether or not a fetus is a person, and that issue does turn on the kinds of first principles which can only be held as faith commitments.

This is why though I am staunchly pro-life, I can't get all that excited about pro-life political activism. Yes, I believe that abortion is a moral evil, and yes, I believe that there is, in fact, a transcendent answer to this question, but I recognize that many people disagree with that and I don't believe that the state is the source of or an agent of the transcendent. The state is simply political compromise, i.e. the threat of violence to preserve social order. It's a necessary evil. So while I support pro-life candidates where possible, it's one issue among many.

From my perspective, the problem with the state isn't whether or not it permits abortion. Even if the US government completely banned abortion it would remain an inherently unjust system, not only because there are other problems that need to be addressed, but because a perfectly just system is impossible. Hell, unless the state were to give all glory to God rather than man, and I don't expect that in the slightest, it's still pretty much a lost cause. So I'll push for justice, but I won't get too bent out of shape when it doesn't happen. I don't expect it to. If anything, much of the pro-life rhetoric sounds to me suspiciously like trusting in princes.

So I've read your posts on abortion with interest as a principled take that I completely disagree with. You characterize the opposing view accurately and charitably. As such, there isn't much point for you and I to debate the issue: you believe fetuses are not persons, I believe they are, and unless one or the other of us changes our beliefs about God, there's nothing more to be said. I can deal with that, and I'm encouraged by your reasonable discourse.

Anonymous said...

Here's my problem: we treat a large mass of cells with no hope of future growth, intellectual development, cultural contribution, etc. better than we do a small mass of cells that has a sure hope of future growth, intellectual development, cultural contribution, etc.

For example, compare the starvation of a non-responsive brain injury case, which as a society we rightly agonize over, with the some-thousands of abortions that happen daily without much of blink.

In one case we have a person who truly has no hope and we are honoring that person's existence with a measure of contemplation before pulling the plug. We even desire to make whatever happens painless and smooth.

In the other case we don't care if pain is involved. We assert raw power in the name of convenience.

MikeF said...

But isn't there a danger here? If we all just accept that this truth is subjective and always will be then the following argument seems sensible: we'll never reach a consensus on the humanity of fetal life, so the best course of action is the easiest one, which is to keep the status quo.

But it's shortsighted to make that assumption; the consensus opinion of western liberal society has changed dramatically, many times. Slavery, universal suffrage, gay rights, etc. It's not hard to imagine a future where abortion is considered a settled issue.

Perhaps it will be decided on the pro-choice side. Society tends to liberalize itself over time, and that's the liberal side, at least now. Or it could go the other way - if medical technology is developed to keep fetuses alive outside the womb, it's possible that abortion will be seen a relic of a crueler past. But I think we do have a duty to argue strenuously and honestly for the side we believe, in the hope of hastening an elightened consensus.

Matoko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matoko said...

"The virtue of using conception as the dividing line, in my view, is not so much that it is non-arbitrary as that it is, well, true."
--Official Retard in Cheif Ramesh Ponnuru

And the virtue of this foreverdiscussion on abortion is that I get to be reminded yet again that that the tools at NRO are.....well.......retards. (except Jim and the Derb)
As of 2007 there are ~300,000,000 people in the USA. Half or so are XX. Let us say oh....1/4 of those are women in the fertile demographic....probably a conservative estimate.
In 1999 50% of women used the estrogen based pill.
That is approx 20,000,000 women.
Each of those women can commit up to one murder a month, since they cause a fertilized egg to fail to implant by using the pill.
Get the picture Ramesh?
that is up to 240 million murders of the "concepted" per year.

TheRadicalModerate said...

The problem with your splitting the human/person hair is that babies aren't persons, either. Seems highly unlikely that newborns are conscious or, more importantly, self-aware. Furthermore, if you ever need to know how little a baby is like an adult, or even a little kid, just try touching a baby's hands together over his head. If scaled to adult size, a baby would look like something out of a bad fifties horror movie.

My favorite way out of this conundrum: Make abortion a justifiable homicide. It acknowledges the humanity of the zygote, but we make all kinds of legal exceptions where homicide isn't murder. I don't see why abortion shouldn't be one of those exceptions, at least up until some semi-arbitrary point in the pregnancy.

We should justify this exception on the grounds that it is good public policy. Trying to make a consistent moral argument is pointless and way too expensive in terms of the cost of unwanted babies at the public, family, and individual levels. When contraception is 100% effective and all families are wealthy and fulfilled, we can revisit the issue. Until then, we need to have the morals that we can afford.


P.S.: the word verification nonce I've got below is "persin." Oooooo...

Squadron Leader said...

Well what exactly is a "person"?

Dave Hunter said...

I'm not surprised Ponnuru responded to you. You're using arguments he pretty effectively disassembled in his book, "Party of Death". His book was basically a catalog and refutation of the worst arguments for abortion rights. It was also a dishonest attempt to portray the pro-choice case as consisting exclusively of these bad arguments.

"Party of Death" is an elegant perpetration of intellectual fraud. If you don't believe me, read Dworkin's "Life's Dominion". It's the most sophisticated argument about abortion from either side. Ponnuru references it three times in his book, because Dworkin makes the rhetorical mistake of referring to abortion and euthanasia as "choices for death". Ponnuru's all over that. But he never explains Dworkin's principle argument, because he's unable to refute it.

But as long as you contine to argue that "a fetus is not a human", Ponnuru will find you very useful.

And it would have been polite to cite you by name.

Mike said...

Not a regular reader, but found my way here and feel compelled to comment.

You're right that there's no answer; we're all arguing our beliefs, not our data. That's what makes it easy for Ponnuru wave away opposing cases as arbitrary. Conception may be an unassailable position in argument, but it is operationally useless. Implantation is when pregnancy begins.

I take issue with any attempt to confer rights to the unborn. Most efforts have the side-effect of devaluing the lives of pregnant women, effectively rendering them baby-producing vessels rather than people before the eyes of the law. I'm sympathetic to those who want to find common ground. It just doesn't exist.

Interested said...

If conception is truly the dividing line for when human rights begin, why should we draw the line at the right to life? Example: illegal immigration. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, the child of an illegal immigrant who is BORN in the United States has automatic citizenship. Under Ponnuru's framework, this is wrong because it fails to account for the rights of the pre-born child.

Wouldn't it be fair to suggest that the right of citizenship should attach at conception, rather than birth?

Anonymous said...

Well, for sure an unimplanted blastocyst is NOT a person. It could be SEVERAL people (twins). Or NO person ever, if it sits in a petri dish somewhere and never implants and STAYS a blastocyst.

Ethics is not for the faint hearted, but I think aborting a young fetus has no more moral peril than eating meat; aborting a late stage fetus is "more wrong", but at no point should a woman be FORCED to bear a child. Forced BIRTH is worse then the forced abortion you see in China, IMHO.

benintn said...

Interestingly, Pres. Elect Obama wrote a very interesting article in Harvard Law Review on tort reform and abortion law. Assuming that unborn infants ARE given human rights and the rights of citizenship, would that give the unborn child a right to sue its mother for health problems caused by, say, smoking or drug abuse while the child was in utero? If so, who would file the suit on behalf of the unborn child? Options: The father, the state, or the unborn child itself. How do we speak for those who can't speak for themselves? Obama notes that the Illinois Supreme Court took up such a case, and rightly (in his judgment) decided that unborn infants should not be able to sue.

SoMG said...

Even fetal personhood does not justify banning abortion.

Personhood does NOT entitle the fetus to remain inside the body of someone who doesn't want it there. NOR to live by bloodstream-to-bloodstream chemical exchange with another person against her will. NOR to subject her to major medical/surgical trauma without her permission.

Abortion is homicide, but abortion on demand is JUSTIFIABLE homicide.

Martin said...

Thanks for making the distinction (I think) between what can be said objectively -- and then everything else.

No doubt the fetus is alive and is of the human species. That's science. The question is what status we give it, and when. That's philosophy or religion or cultural mores.

Taking an anthropological view: In some cultures and times, surplus infants were exposed to the elements. This may have had survival value to the tribe. Parents would probably grieve, but it had to be done. (We suppose.)

The moment of birth is an obvious demarcation, because parents will bond very quickly. Everyone says "aww". Now ultrasound and other tools get you emotionally connected even sooner.

I am inclined to think that people bend their ideas of the status of the fetus/child according to the state of medical knowledge and to the relative level of luxury in society.

None of this requires the word "person". If we wanted some scientific idea of human personhood, we might ask at what point does the human show capabilities beyond the level of a puppy or baby chimp. That would be well after birth!

CrankyOtter said...

The problem to me - a woman of childbearing years - is not whether or not an embryo or fetus is human. It's that I have a right to protect myself from harm. And every single pregnancy, no matter how normal, puts a woman's life in mortal peril. Sounds dramatic, but it's true. The baby cannot survive independently from the woman, and the woman is the only person who can make the decision whether or not her own survival is more important than the baby's survival.

We don't force people to donate organs or marrow to people who would otherwise die without their sacrifice. We should likewise not force women to incubate babies who would otherwise die without that sacrifice.

Worldwide, a quarter of pregnancies end in abortion - more where contraception isn't available or talked about. I don't know how many end in miscarriage, but there are all sorts of reasons for miscarriage, few of which we understand well, so I would hate to see women being prosecuted for a tragedy like that, which could happen if any damage to the fetus was prosecutable.

Leaving out miscarriages, three quarters of pregnacies end in live birth, and in the US, a third of those end in C-section mostly for fear of malpractice suits. So a woman who gets pregnant has a 1 in 4 chance of being slit from hip to hip in major surgery which can kill her. She has a 1 in 4 chance of ripping from her vagina toward her anus because we still haven't figured out a way around that.

Pregnancy causes permanent changes to a woman's body, and no woman should be forced to endure those changes without her consent. And one big disconnect is this: Consent to sex is NOT consent to pregnancy.

Abortion is killing in self defense. It doesn't matter if the baby is fully human or not. Everyone has the right to self defense and since the baby is the one causing harm, the don't have the right to exist without consent from the mother.

Philip Thrift said...

Keep in mind that a fetus is not present in the womb until about the ninth week of pregnancy. (Around week 8, the embryo becomes a fetus.). Also something over half the legal abortions occur before the ninth week.

So to a large degree, the question of "fetal rights" is moot. One concerned about fetal rights could find weeks 9-12 problematic though.

Traveling Mom said...

I don't believe that a fetus is a person. Do you know why? Because I am a mother and I have also had a miscarriage. You are telling me that my miscarriage is the same as my son or my daughter dying. Sorry. That is just wrong. They are not the same. When I found out I miscarried I was sad, it was hard telling everyone. But it is not the same as the death of my child. Sorry. Just on a gut level- it is not the same.

tompain said...

I am pro-choice, but to me the people here who are saying that abortion is in all circumstances justifiable homicide seem just as nutty as the people who think a clump of cells merit the same protections we afford to adults. Needn't we make some allowance for the fact that in most cases, the woman played a role in choosing to or risking the creation of the fetus that is now, according to some posters here, sucking the lifeblood out of her? Shouldn't there be some "statute of limitations" for the fetus, after which it cannot be prosecuted and sentenced to death for having been conceived? Does justifiable homicide apply right up until the moment of delivery?

I don't know where to draw the line precisely, but I know that a clump of cells is on a different side of the line than a baby that is hours away from delivery. I don't trust kooks on either side who can't see and acknowledge that.

Anonymous said...

I would like to put forth a theological explanation as to why a) personhood/life does not begin at conception and therefor b) abortion is not "homicide."

If the Almighty deems all fertilized eggs as people, why, in all his infinite wisdom, would so many self-terminate? Is God judging those mass of cells and finding them inferior, imperfect, or wrong?

And if, again in his infinite wisdom, God has deemed countless fertilized eggs worthy of naturally aborting themselves, how is a woman deciding the same thing immoral or illegal?

I know this argument won't hold much weight with those on the pro-life/anti-choice side, I just wanted to throw it out there because if one believes in a just and benevolent God, then ending a pregnancy in its earliest stages and before the embryo/fetus is viable outside of the uterus, cannot be against God's will, since that will is carried out on a daily basis.

sherifffruitfly said...

Bah. You were doing wonderfully until you lapsed into litcridiocy.

Anonymous said...

If I understand the argument it is to accept compromise. People will disagree with any given compromise, and they will argue about it, but compromise is needed. I agree.

Abortion should be illegal if a pregnancy progresses to a point where more than 50% of the people think abortion should not be allowed. We can argue to try to move the center of opinion. But practically, in a democracy, we are seeking that 50% point. That is Just True.

I think of it like speed limits. Almost everyone thinks people should be allowed to drive some times. Almost no one thinks we should be allowed to drive 100 mph on the highway. So we seek a speed that about half the people think is too high and half think is too low.

The arguments people make are to sway opinion trying to move that 50% point. The arguments by those who value the rule of law in a democracy are not about bullying over that democratic principle. I think.

My guess, for abortion, is that the present laws are pretty close to the 50% point. Most people find casual abortion of 8 month fetuses pretty distasteful, probably enough to make it illegal. And most people are not too deeply offended by abortion of ant-sized fetuses. So in-between, somewhere in the 3-6 month range, is where the law should, does and will make the boundary of what is simply
legal and what begins to be illegal, more or less, depending on context.

Given the spectrum of opinions, all people, but those few who happen to sit on the boundary, will disagree. Half will want things more one way and half will want things more the other way. And that's what happens when a group makes a decision. At least a fair decision.

And then they argue, trying to move
the median opinion. Hopefully most of the people in the abortion debate have this democratic view in the background.


-Andy

dsimon said...

Science can tell us many things about human development. It can tell us about the process of fertilization. It can tell us when and how cells divide, and when they start differentiating into various types. It can tell us when a nervous system develops, when a heart starts beating, when there is basic brain development.

What it can't tell us is which if any of these criteria are necessary or sufficient to deem an entity to be a person. Nor can it tell us at what point of development the entity should be ascribed rights. Those questions are simply non-scientific ones, and to look to science for answers is to attempt to look for some kind of objective standard to support one's own preexisting intuition rather than for a source of deductive logic.

I think most people use an "enough like us" standard in the abortion debate. I'm pretty darn sure that a fertilized egg doesn't think, doesn't feel, has no consciousness whatsoever. It is nothing "like us" at that point, and so I do not ascribe to it the properties of a human being. An eight-month old fetus draws very different feelings: it seems very much "like us," it has functioning organs, it has a fairly (though not completely) developed brain, etc. Most of us would be very uncomfortable killing a newborn, so it seems not far from that situation with a late-term fetus (unless one has a very good reason for doing so). The middle is a muddle.

But those are my intuitions. I just don't see how there is a single magic moment when something that is not a "person" suddenly becomes one; it is a process of development. I understand the views of others who want a bright line at conception, but I see no reason to privilege that moment over many others one could come up with (e.g. a basic nervous system, brain stem, a certain degree of nerve activity in the brain, the ability to survive for some period of time outside the womb).

I don't think there is any "truth" here. It seem to me that a bright line rule such as conception, while having the advantage of clarity, are for people who are disturbed by ambiguity or who are driven by some kind of doctrine rather than examining what science really can or cannot tell us.

It is also worth noting that while some of those who hold the "person at conception" view have the courage of their convictions, most do not. To hold that view requires no allowance for abortion in cases of rape or incest (after all, a life is a life). It also would require not only that the woman and the doctor be prosecuted for murder, but murder for hire which in some states would be a capital offense.

If the person-at-conception folks aren't willing to go that far, it would suggest that they don't really believe that a fertilized egg is entitled to basic rights after all. And then maybe we can get into a real discussion about whether magic moments of personhood exist, or whether we're just arguing about intuitions on a continuum.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with a strong belief that abortion was always wrong. I thought it was something I could NEVER consider and I was HIGHLY judgmental about people who resorted to it, especially as a convenient backup or even alternative to contraception.

Then a girlfriend missed her period, unexpectedly. It was possible she was pregnant and we had the discussion. For reasons I needn't go into it would have been a disaster for me if she was pregnant. I decided NOT to suggest abortion, though she was willing to abort (and had done so before, twice, with previous partners--which I hadn't known). She later turned out not to be pregnant, to my relief.

However, I learned an important lesson: judging from philosophical principles and from real life are very, very different. It seems too obvious to even state but I know from experience that I couldn't have remotely imagined the fear and terror of an unwanted pregnancy until it happened.

As result, I am a LOT more cautious about judging others.

Just a cautionary note to absolutists.

Anonymous said...

Without a transcendent authority to tell use where personhood begins, or whether personhood entails an absolute right to not be aborted, we aren't going to get at the truth about whether or not abortion is moral.

In other words,

"There's just no transcendent authority, so postmodernism just is the relevant framework for analyzing the problem, so principles of "truth" just need to be jettisoned so we just need to base our actions on considations of pragmatics and use.

With all of which I agree, BTW.

But if you're debating with a pro-lifer who bases his beliefs on religion (i.e., a belief in transcendent authority), it doesn't even get you to first base.

And of course, that's what most pro-lifers do base their views on. People who are pro-life are almost a perfect subset of religious fundamentalists, at least in the United States.

So it would seem you really need to re-think your solution.

Macneil said...

But science probably will resolve the question by making it moot. On the one hand, the morning after pill has changed the dynamics of the debate greatly and similar solutions are on the horizon.

On the other hand, medicine will probably allow an embryo or fetus to safely develop outside of a human body. That would satisfy both the right to choice and right to life arguments.

Freddie said...

In other words,

"There's just no transcendent authority, so postmodernism just is the relevant framework for analyzing the problem, so principles of "truth" just need to be jettisoned so we just need to base our actions on considations of pragmatics and use.

No. I make no claims to either the existence of a transcendent authority, nor to the existence of objective truth. There does seem to be disagreement and confusion about the existence of a transcendent authority or objective truth, and since that seems to be the case, pragmatics would suggest that we attempt to articulate a vision of abortion that is independent of statements about either god or truth. I'm not arguing about what's true, only about what seems to me to be of use. Competing truth statements tend to be of little use to anybody.

survivor said...

No. I make no claims to either the existence of a transcendent authority, nor to the existence of objective truth.

I still don't see how that gets you where you want to go, if you're debating a pro-lifer.

They would say:

(1) There may be "confusion" about the existence of a transcendent authority (i.e., divine command), but it's not a legitimate confusion. People who doubt the word of god, as filtered through afundamentalist protestant interpretive lens, are either ignoring the evidence, disingenuous, or evil. So their views don't count and they're not good-faith participants in the debate over abortion.

(2) You can't settle the question with appeals to pragmatic consequences. Sometimes what God wants us to do is impractical. In fact the very impracticality of saving every zygote and forcing its mother to raise it to adulthood is a feature, not a bug.

I'm curious -- I don't mean this question ironically, I would really like to know -- do you have much experience debating/discussing with religiously based pro-lifers -- not the academic kind, who sort of feel they need to sound like sane human beings, but the common variety? Because if you do, I'm sure you realize how the rest of this debate goes.

Your unwillingness to start with their axioms is reason enough for them to reject the subsequent reasoning altogether. People like Ponneru may or may not insist on that, but I think you'll find the vast majority of pro-lifers do.

OK, so you're not even (necessarily) making a claim about the absence of a transcendent authority. Sorry -- that's not "good enough" to "qualify" you to debate abortion with a fundy. You're not even allowed to remain agnostic towards the controlling authority of the divine command. You have to just accept it or there's no debate at all.

karsten said...

yes pragmatism is the essential emphasis. what i never understand is what hardline prolifers actually want in terms of policy. abortion reduction: fine. abortion ban: simply neither democratic nor conservative. if you put it to referendum it would lose.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe men should be allowed to participate in this debate. It's really not your business.

If birthing every fetus is so important to you, find a way to do it yourselves.

Love,
A Mom

baw703916 said...

The problem with an ironclad rule "life begins at conception" is that aside form the abortion issue, if you push it to the limit it has some absurd consequences:

1) identical twins: they result form a single conception event. So, do they have a single life between them? If they do have two lives, then which twin has the "original" life? And if the second twin's life began when the embryo split into two, then (gasp) that person's life didn't begin at conception!

2) chimeras. This is kind of the opposite of identical twins. It occurs when two different zygotes (who would normally form fraternal twins) join together and form a single person, who often is completely anatomically normal, but who has two genetically distinct types of cells. (Sometimes such cases have been found when genetic testing, for instance to determine parenthood, has given apparently nonsensical results). So, if two lives were present in the two zygotes, does the resulting chimera have two lives? If not, what happened to the other one?

Broken Yogi said...

The reason the arguments seem insoluable is because there are two great divides that don't speak to one another on the same terms. The first divide is between religion and secular humanist scientism, and the other is between morality and legality.

The pro-life side of the debate is dominated almost entirely by religious and theological ideas about life. They tend to hide this to some degree, because they know it's not really acceptable to based law on theology, and so they try to use secular and even scientific notions to back up their views, but it involves a lot of cherry-picking. It's similar to the religious arguments against evolution, or in favor of creationism. The fact is, the pro-life movement is almost entirely a religious, theocratic movement, which seeks to base laws regarding abortion on their own theological notions of "how things should be". They do in fact believe absolute answers exist on this subject, because they believe that absolute answers exist in all religious and theological matters, and that is what they are basing their position on.

As some have mentioned, science doesn't really have a meaningful definition of "person" or "human life" to apply here. A fertilized egg is human by definition, but it is more in the way of a blueprint for a human being than an actual human being. In scientific terms, human beings develop out of an egg, but there is no fixed moment, other than birth, when that egg becomes an independent human being.

Which brings the debate to its real core, which is whether theologically based moralism has the right to impose its views upon our legal system, and use the power of the state to compel a woman to carry a fetus to term, give birth, and suffer all the pains and responsibilities of that process, against her will. If there were a compelling, non-religious reason to do this, I think the pro-life movement would have a fair case for making abortion illegal. But I don't think it does. In reality, the pro-life movement is a theocratic one, which is really quite obvious if one actually observes the people and their arguments objectively.

I think this is a huge mistake. The moral and theological arguments against abortion can, indeed, be compelling for many people. I just don't find them legalling compelling. Legally, a woman should not be compelled to give birth because of the religious, theological, or absolutist philosophical beliefs of others. She should have the choice to choose to honor and obey those dictates if she finds them convincing.

The fact that many religious people conclude that abortion is murder is no more convincing a reason to make it illegal than the fact that many communists consider property to be a form of theft justifies passing laws to arrest the wealthy and confiscate their property. In both cases, a powerful personal right is being overriden by the state to fulfill a purely ideological belief, and this leads to a much worse society for all. There is a reason why our country is neither communist nor theocratic, and I think it benefits everyone, including communists and the religiously devout.

To say that abortion is immoral is fine and well, and to make arguments against it on that basis is also fine and well, but to put people in jail because you have failed to persuade them that you are right is simply not acceptable in a democratic society.

And just to cut off a line of rebuttal, while most all of our laws, such as those against theft and murder, can be supported by religious morality, they do not need it, and in fact would exist with or without any religious justification or reference to scripture.

Anonymous said...

I think men should only be denied participation in this debate when they are legally and morally excused from the responsibility of caring for the offspring that may result from unintended pregnancies.

-A Loving Boyfriend

survivor said...

I think men should only be denied participation in this debate when they are legally and morally excused from the responsibility of caring for the offspring that may result from unintended pregnancies.



Uh, how does this make any sense?

A woman who has an abortion is a fortiori "excusing" the father from "the responsibility of caring for the offspring". Because there aren't going to be any "offspring" if she has an abortion.

You do know what "abortion" is and what it accomplishes, right? It's not like it's a procedure that takes a living embryo and replaces it with quintuplets.

-A Loving Boyfriend

"Loving" your girlfriend is not compatible with using police and prosecutors to force her to bear children against her will.

Anonymous said...

This debate seems troubled by something like the 'Sorites paradox'. That is, take one bit of sand away from a heap of 10,000 bits of sand and you'll still have a heap... only, at one point you won't have a heap left.

There is a difference between a heap and a non-heap, between a bald man and a non-bald man, etc. However, the line between them is fuzzy.

Somewhere between sperm and when a child acquires a sense of self, they become a person with all the rights entailed therein. However, trying to draw a line at a specific point is as fruitless as drawing a line between how many hairs makes the difference between having hair and being bald.

Of course, the problem is that unlike baldness, personhood has real consequences about how we should behave. That's why morality is hard.

However, while I think drawing a clear line between when something becomes a person is as hopeless as drawing a clear line between when someone becomes bald, that doesn't mean that I suddenly lose my ability to identify clear cases of non-persons any more than I lose my ability to identify clear cases of baldness. For example, Partrick Stewart is bald. So is Moby. If you try to tell me that I can't call them bald because I haven't identified a clear line between being bald and having hair, then you're fooling yourself. Even their 'potential' to have hair doesn't make them non-bald. Likewise, a sperm is not a person. Neither is a fertilized egg. However, at some indeterminate point they become one. 3 weeks? 9 weeks? 12 weeks? On the low end surely not, on the high end I'm not so sure, by the time it's saying 'mom' absolutely.

Anonymous said...

I have a serious problem with contraception being the point at which 'life' begins. What about the 5 minutes before conception? At that point, we have a man and a woman who are about to have sex and there is a single sperm of millions that is going to connect with that egg to continue the process of a human life. Notice how I did not say 'start', because the process started billions of years ago.

My argument might sound insane, but it highlights that we will always have to draw a line and coneption' isn't the earliest point we could draw that line.
1 second before conception and 1 second after conception may seem hugely different, but the only thing that is different is the process, not the actual material (although of course the process does change the material).

The only people who will argue for conception as some kind of magical line will do that based upon religion, which is a terrible to way to make decisions in a state that is supposed to be separate from church.

So where do secularist people draw a line? We draw it where the rights/needs of all relevant parties are as balanced as we can make them. Aborting a 20-second old fetus should not be a big problem weighed against the rights of a mother who would be forced to carry them. An 8 month old baby clearly has attained a lot more theoretical rights and should not be aborted. The answer that balances should be somehwere in between which is pretty much what we have, although I think we allow too much time for people to decide.

As a recent father, I would be strongly inclined to push the line back to about 3 months (with perhaps some exclusions for diseases revealed only by amniocentesis at 16 weeks) because it is clear that a 3 month old fetus is acquiring personhood faster than most pro-choice people want to believe.

We make balancing choices all the time, and we should be able to set a reasonable balance point for abortion and enforce it strongly (neglecting any kind of religious influence on how to decide that point).

Anonymous said...

For example, if you do not believe that fetuses should be treated as morally equivalent to fully mature human beings, then you don't need to include them in your moral caluculus, and so results such as the improved quality of life for women resulting from abortion seem to be overwhelmingly good reasons to legalize abortion. If, however, you do believe that fetuses should be treated as morally equivalent, the death of millions of fetuses as a result of abortion would seem like an overwhelmingly good reason to make abortion illegal. Since all pragmatics argument will take some variant on this form, they cannot decide this question.

The issue is not that simple, you do NOT have to assume either X or Not x as the two allowable premises to have a debate. We can assume that there is a continuum of 'personhood', just as we do when we allow coma patients to die or we allow very sick people to take their own life -- because it is the best decision for all parties concerned. We need to do the same thing with abortion.

Anonymous said...

Of course, there is not one word in the Bible about abortion, and essentially zip about when human life begins. The whole "Pro-life" industry is run by misogynistic, self-serving opportunists, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to oversimplify the matter, but if there's no way to figure out the truth of this problem absent divine decree, do we at least agree that one of the sides could be right? And if we agree that one of the sides could be right, wouldn't it make sense to err on the side of protecting a possible human life? How does the law handle this situation in other cases? If I hear a rustling in the bushes and *think* it's a deer and *think* it's probably not my friend (but I'm not sure) then shoot only to find out it was the friend, am I culpable? (honestly, I don't know) If I'm driving at night and see something in the middle of the road which I think kind of looks like a man laying there but might not be and decide to drive over it, am I culpable if in fact it turns out to have been a man? Do you see what I mean? You're right that science has not resolved the debate yet, but I for one think it will aid in our coming to the correct judgment. In the meantime, shouldn't we err on the side of caution?

Anonymous said...

Survivor,

In my lame attempt at snark this may not have come though, but I'm a pro-choice male. I was responding to the anonymous commenter above who believes men have no place in this debate. I believe otherwise.

Look, I don't what to create a false equivalency here. I can't imagine the fear a woman must go through at the thought of the state mandating that she must carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. No man can.

As a male, I have a different fear: being obligated to care and provide for a child that I do not want. If abortion were outlawed, that situation would be forced upon me by the state. Currently, that situation could be forced upon me by the mother. Clearly the later option is preferable, but in both I am not empowered to determine the outcome of a life-altering decision. Thankfully, I can avoid such a fate by using contraception.

In any event, men DO have a stake in the debate over abortion. Is it a smaller stake than women? Yes. Does that mean we shouldn't be allowed to participate? Emphatically no.

The Loving Boyfriend signature was a flippant response to the author who signed off as "A Mom" and not an attempt to add power to my argument.

Broken Yogi said...

"I don't mean to oversimplify the matter, but if there's no way to figure out the truth of this problem absent divine decree, do we at least agree that one of the sides could be right?"

No, we don't have to admit that. They could all be wrong also. Erring on the side of "protecting a possible human life" means that you think the probablities are equal, and the arguments are equal, and yet that the argument that we should err on one side and not the other is not equal. That doesn't make sense. Your analogies make no sense if you actually think we "don't know" about these situation. In the case of a guy in the bushes, or lying on a road, we know that it's a real guy, so the consequences would be real, in the form of a dead guy in the road or bushes which will tell us we made a mistake. In the case of an embryo, we will never know that. Never. So there's no reason to weight the argument one way or another based on ignorance. The weight of the argument then has to be based on the real, tangible interests that we can see and know. That means the woman and her very real life, her right to take care of her own health issues as she wishes, to have children or not as she wishes, and not be forced to do so by the state. The tangibiltiy of the fetus is something that starts off as almost zero, but it changes and grows over time, which is why early abortion seems like a no-brainer in terms of the actual consequences in real life. As the fetus grows towards full independence, the tangible consequences of abortion get more and more tangible, until they out weight the tangible consequences to the woman. Where that happens is a hard line to draw, but the law requires that hard lines be drawn all the time. The current setup the Supreme Court laid down in Roe really isn't all that bad, all things considered. It isn't perfect, but better than most lines the law draws.

Anonymous said...

The one thing the Bible does say is that when God created Adam "he breathed into him the breath of life _and he became a living soul_.

I favor the right of a woman to choose whether she wishes to take on the risks of child-bearing. I don't think I could ever abort a child. I am glad that the citizens of Colorado failed to amend their state constitution to define life as beginning at conception. I agree that using scientific arguments to justify religious stances is confusing the issue. And I think men have a responsibility to participate in the discussion.

Anita said...

Ronald Dworkin's 'Life's Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom' is definitely a book to read on this topic.
I remember the case he mentions about a 13 year old Irish girl who was raped and impregnated.Abortion being banned in Ireland she had to go to England for an abortion. The police wanted to keep her in Ireland for some tests and moved the Court to order her to remain in Ireland. The Court allowed her to go to England. Here's the thing, if abortion really is murder why do countries like Ireland have no problem with the women who go all the way to England to have an abortion? Would any country let someone who they know would kill another person or commit a terrorist act travel to another country?
If the pro-lifers believe abortion really is murder then when a woman has a miscarriage is she to be prosecuted for murder or homicide?
What if a pregnant woman falls down the stairs and loses her baby. How does a court decide if this was accidental or deliberate?
How can a country ensure that all pregnant women carry to term and do not miscarry deliberately?
Do you have to register your pregnancy?
I know the above seems extreme but remember the Pro-choicer's argument - Abortion Is Murder.

I also think men have no right to debate abortion. Grow a uterus then talk.

Matt C said...

"When someone says "See, we detected these kinds of brain patterns at this fetal age, therefore this baby has a consciousness, therefore you can't abort it after this point," they think all of that flows logically. But someone else says "Brain patterns don't really differentiate consciousness, and anyhow consciousness doesn't mean you have adult rights." And so on. Scientific answers are constantly being proposed to ethical or philosophical question. Sadly, we can't use science to get us out of this mess."

How can you disregard scientific evidence from a discussion on a topic that is inherently tied to medicine (and therefore science), while simultaneously supporting a judicial ruling on said topic that was based, in part, on scientific evidence presented at the time?

In my oppinion, ethicist and philosophers want to discard science from the debate because it complicates things too much for their liking. In your quote above, you aim to disregard the scientific evidence because it brings up too many questions. What's wrong with that? Shouldn't the ethicist be concerned with what these brain patters biologically represent?

Let me put it differently: we know that at a certain point during pregnancy, a fetus feels pain. That is probably a good starting point for discussing consciousness, whether it grants rights or not (that is for the ethicist to decide.) Again, you will raise the question "But how do you know the fetus is conscious?" I don't (again that's for the ethicist), but I can objectively prove through empirical evidence that the fetus has sensory perception, which entails a neurological feedback mechanism dictating to the body what it may or may not be sensing.

If I have that information at hand, I have a good idea that after such a time point anything I do to the fetus will be felt. It's the same principle that prevents be from hurting adults. When we as a people understand that our actions can and do inflict pain or suffering, we a people establish a set of rules to prevent each other form perfoming such acts. These laws do not only pertain to humans, but pertain to animals in many cases as well.

It's really very simple, and scientific data can be used to help us form our set of laws. And when we discuss science, we are really only discussing what can be quantified and observed. To preclude the empiricist from lending his/her views to a debate which has a great need for more empirical thought is a poor idea.

In conclusion, it's not a scientific debate. It's a debate. Ethics, philosophy, empiricism, and, yes, morals all need to brought to the discussion in order for the debate to proceed civily.

Anonymous said...

I would like to respond to this part of your statement: "So while I don't think that the fetus is some different species than human, I also don't believe that it's a person."

You seem to enjoy indulging in certain semantics inherent in the issue but the keyword here is "think".
The difficulty in the abortion debate is that we all "think" certain things about it but we do not "know". No one does.
And, because no one person can claim to know absolute truth, we are obligated to err on the side of caution in the way of Hippocrates and "first do no harm".

I do not think it is likely that total outlaw of abortion will ever occur because in certain rare and extreme cases, it may be argued for.

But I do believe it is important to admit that we do not KNOW if an immortal soul or a complete mortal person is murdered and therefore admit extreme misgivings about endorsing this "decision".

We do know that abortion harms women. Many suffer with post-traumatic stress-like symtoms and great shame for years not to mention medical side effects which can occur. We do know that men are not afforded the luxury of being allowed to decide, under protection of law, to murder their unborn children.

dsimon said...

But I do believe it is important to admit that we do not KNOW if an immortal soul or a complete mortal person is murdered and therefore admit extreme misgivings about endorsing this "decision".

We don't "know" if souls exist at all. We don't know if animals, or even plans and rocks have souls. (For a long time, religious believers thought people had souls but animals did not.) Again, to return to the original post, this is not a scientific question and we cannot look to science for answers.

We do know that abortion harms women.

First, my understanding it that there's no good data to back that up. Second, even if it were true it would not be a reason for denying women the right to choose their own fates. I can certainly find lots of women for whom having the child would have devastated them far more than having an abortion did.

dsimon said...

matt c: In my oppinion, ethicist and philosophers want to discard science from the debate because it complicates things too much for their liking. In your quote above, you aim to disregard the scientific evidence because it brings up too many questions. What's wrong with that? Shouldn't the ethicist be concerned with what these brain patters biologically represent?

Let me put it differently: we know that at a certain point during pregnancy, a fetus feels pain. That is probably a good starting point for discussing consciousness, whether it grants rights or not (that is for the ethicist to decide.) Again, you will raise the question "But how do you know the fetus is conscious?" I don't (again that's for the ethicist), but I can objectively prove through empirical evidence that the fetus has sensory perception, which entails a neurological feedback mechanism dictating to the body what it may or may not be sensing.


First of all, the questions are not ethical ones. Ethics are about right and wrong; these questions are more epistemic, as in "how do we know when sensory perceptions or consciousness occurs?"

Second, neural patterns don't necessarily prove consciousness either. It may be intuitively attractive to say that similar nerve patterns in you create the same sensations in me, but I have no ability to get into anyone else's mind and get first-hand experience of their experience. This is the "other minds" problem: that, taken to its extreme, we can't be sure that there are any other minds out there at all. That problem isn't resolved by any "empirical evidence," though very few people would take the argument that far.

Third "proving" an entity has sensory perception still doesn't help with the abortion debate. Lots of entities have sensory perception. That doesn't mean we provide them legal rights. Nor does it tell us whether which or what perceptions would be necessary or sufficient for various levels of rights. Nor would the existence of perceptions tell us when self-awareness begins (which itself may be a continuum).

Again, these are just not scientific questions, and I think it is not helpful in the debate to assume that they are. Science can be very useful in describing the physical world, but "person" is just not a well-defined scientific concept.

Doug said...

This is a great discussion. It demonstrates why Roe v Wade was a thoughtful, and ultimately good decision.
Most people forget it held that the state has a clear & compelling interest in protecting the fetus in the third trimester as it becomes more fully developed & independently viable, and that the mother may be required to demonstrate that her health will be impacted before an abortion may be allowed.
In the first trimester, when miscarriages are frequent and it can be difficult for some women even to know they are pregnant, the decision pragmatically held that the state has no compelling reason to intervene in the mother's life.
In the second trimester, the court bailed by saying the situation is mixed, that the competing rights of the fetus & mother can be argued, and that laws may not ban abortion outright but may properly place reasonable restrictions.
Roe v Wade does not make the argument go away, it pragmatically confines it to the relevant interval.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post and many of the absolutely wonderful and insightful comments that follow. It's great to know there are thoughtful, tolerant, intelligent and caring people out there instead of the right-wing, left-wing fanactics who try to pass off their beliefs as facts and science and impose them on everyone else!
Bravo!

dsimon said...

anon. 11:54 pm: if we agree that one of the sides could be right, wouldn't it make sense to err on the side of protecting a possible human life?

We don't do that in other areas where actual human life is involved, nor necessarily should we.

I can state with some certainty that about 40,000 people in the US will die in car accidents this year. Therefore we know that driving (no matter how careful we are) carries a risk to actual human life. Does than mean we should "err" on the side of banning driving entirely?

If there's something wrong with this analogy (and there might be), what is is?

Anonymous said...

One thing for pro-choicers to understand is the underpinnings of the debate. I'm not talking about the average religious anti-abortion crusader, but why it became an issue in the first place. Abortion has not been much of an issue throughout human history and yes, it's always been around.

I keep hearing that abortion is a "religious issue" to "those people". But abortion is not prohibited in the Bible (although I understand that it is mentioned in the Catholic Apocrypha). The closest we get to abortion in the Bible are two close brushes. In the "eye for an eye" rules in Exodus 21:22, causing a miscarriage by fighting is punishable by fine, not death. And in Numbers 5, there is an arcane "test for fidelity" ritual performed by a rabbi that involves giving a suspected unfaithful woman a potion, and seems to suggest that the potion will cause an unfaithful woman to abort.


So this is not a straight Biblical thing. So from whence?

Among the leaders of the anti-abortion movement, opposition to abortion is part of a larger reaction to women's rights in general. Abortion is one more freedom that makes women more independent, and as such is to be fought. I read a lot of anti-abortion literature in the 80s and 90s, and the followon was always about women's "rightful place", always some variant of "barefoot and pregnant". A pregnant woman is less likely to be working outside the home, and a woman with children will be assumed to have overwhelming responsibility at home that will distract her from a career. (How often is the same assumption made of men?) So keep this in mind when you listen, and when you debate. Particularly from the leadership, you will find it always comes back to uppity wimmin. Watch for the property arguments to creep in.

This also makes sense of the "rape and incest" exceptions which are almost universally favored. The leadership sees rape as a property crime - a man's property has been violated, thus abortion is allowed to rectify the situation.

Anonymous said...

In response to the question of "why not just err on the side of assuming personhood . . .", the answer is, there is a competing interest at stake, and that is, the right of a woman to autonomy and to exercise liberty in making decisions about her life and her body.

Where there is doubt and debate and no clear answer on the status of a fetus, and where the answer is almost certainly one that is determined by individual conscience and context, "erring on the side of life" quickly becomes a means to deprive women of their liberty based on the conscience of others with no personal stake in the outcome. This is wrong, for all the reasons that Broken Yogi stated in his/her very articulate first comment.

Another anon

Anonymous said...

Doug- Roe v. Wade was a horribly reasoned decision, no matter your view on the subject. Read it if you dare. Moreover, Roe is not the current state of the law. Planned Parenthood v. Casey supersceded Roe and its reliance on trimesters to establish boundaries on the right to abortion.

Per Casey, the critical inquiry is whether the fetus is viable. If it is, the woman must show that abortion is better for her "health," which encompasses psychological health-- a quite low hurdle in practice. This is why McCain derided the "health of the mother" exception in the 3rd Presidential debate.

dsimon- your analogy is clever, but inapposite, in my view. the purpose of abortion is to destroy a fetus. there is no higher purpose, unless it keeps the mother from harm. driving, on the other hand, is more than an expression of self-autonomy. it is a means to an often necessary end.

finally, i have to address anonymous at 12:07. as a pro-life democrat who manages to attend church (ok, mass) only a few times a year, i can attest to the fact that being pro-life has nothing to do with religion. I'm simply not comfortable destroying something with eyes, a nose, a mouth and a heartbeat. I know that's simplistic, but it's no more simplistic than "my body, my choice."

Broken Yogi said...

Let me also add that in regards to the argument about always "erring on the side of life" because we don't know about the soul, the issue of whether abortion is "murder" or not - well, this is a fair argument to make to a woman considering having an abortion, but it's not a fair argument for passing laws making it a crime for her and her doctor to perform an abortion.

This is why the pro-life position fails to pass the legal test. Yes, it's fine for people to have their own personal beliefs and deeply rooted religious fears about abortion, and to both refuse it personally and condemn others for it, but it's not fine to make laws on the basis of those fears and beliefs.

Why not outlaw homosexuality because we "don't know if this is destroying the Godliness of our society, and therefore bringing the judgment of God down on our nation?" Why not err on the side of Godliness? Well, I think this is a decent argument some people might make to homosexuals to voluntarily refrain from homosexual acts. Ted Haggard probably finds this argument convincing. But what would be the justification for making this the law of the land? The notion that we should always err on the side of "safety"?

So the idea that we should err on one side or another, and as it so happens, always on the side of certain people's religious beliefs, is just an end-round meant to short-circuit any non-religious argument.

What if I told you that my religious beliefs were the opposite, and that I felt there was no soul in the fetus until birth itself? And that bodies that were not meant to have souls were to be aborted, and that not aborting them would mean giving birth to zombies? Should we err on the side of my religious beliefs? Do we really want to risk women giving birth to dangerous zombies roaming the earth at night? Why not err on the side of safety, and protect our nation from this zombie threat?

Broken Yogi said...

"the purpose of abortion is to destroy a fetus. there is no higher purpose, unless it keeps the mother from harm."

Not so. The higher purpose of having an abortion is to not bring a child into the world that is not wanted, to not endure all the difficulties and hazards of prenancy, the responsibility of caring for a child for the rest of one's life, and the disruption to a person's life such an untimely responsibility often involves. There are real world consequences to being a young single mother that you can't just set aside, as if the only desire of such a woman is some blood lust to murder the fetus growing inside her.

Most women who get abortions go on to have children later on in their lives. In fact, statistical studies show that women who have abortions tend to end up having the same number of children as those who don't, correcting for the usual demographics. The question is whether they will have them with a father they may not wish to marry, at a time that will disrupt their life plans and head them down the road to poverty and great difficulty for themselves and their child, etc. So you have to realize that in many cases, not having an abortion means "killing" the future children that woman would otherwise have some day, in favor of the one she is pregnant with now. This puts quite a different light on the matter of "life", its preservation and nurturing.

As regards your claim not to have any religious motives to oppose abortion, this is personal to you of course, but it seems highly unlikely, being raised a Catholic, that your religious background hasn't strongly influenced you to think of the pro-life position as the "default". Is it really some accident that virtually the entire pro-life movement consists of religious people, Catholics, evangelicals, etc. who wish to make their personal feelings and religious beliefs the basis for laws regarding abortion. Again, it's perfectly fine for you to oppose having an abortion for you or your wife (I don't know what sex you are), but why should your personal feelings about this matter be backed by the power of the state to imprison those who don't share your feelings about the fetus in their own bodies, or the doctor who would perform an abortion for them? Do you really think this is a personal moral issue, like religioun itself, or does it rise to the level of an objective criminal act the law should address?

Anonymous said...

broken yogi wrote:
Yes, it's fine for people to have their own personal beliefs and deeply rooted religious fears about abortion, and to both refuse it personally and condemn others for it, but it's not fine to make laws on the basis of those fears and beliefs.

* * *

As a pro-lifer, this is my sentiment exactly. Why are pro-abortion views being imposed upon me? I find it repugnant that so many fetuses are destroyed in the name of personal liberty, but I can't do anything about it.

dsimon said...

anon, 2:13 pm: Wade was a horribly reasoned decision, no matter your view on the subject.

Not that the comment was directed at me, but I am pro-choice and anti-Roe. There are some of us out there who support abortion rights yet believe that the Constitution has little to say on the matter and think that the issue belongs in the political arena, not the judicial one.

your analogy is clever, but inapposite, in my view. the purpose of abortion is to destroy a fetus. there is no higher purpose, unless it keeps the mother from harm. driving, on the other hand, is more than an expression of self-autonomy. it is a means to an often necessary end.

I disagree. Sometimes people drive because, well, they want to drive. Sometimes they drive even though other alternatives are safer (in fact, most other alternatives are safer). So in many instances, people drive for no good reason and create unnecessary risk to existing life, and we do not require them to err on the side of safety.

Also, I think few people think "I'm going to have an abortion just because I want to destroy this entity." Such a decision is not made lightly and almost always involves other consideration such as the woman's future (can she care for the child? Even if she puts the child up for adoption, will she have to drop out of school? Will the pregnancy drive her into poverty?).

The point of my analogy is that we don't err on the side of ultimate safety for all of our decisions; otherwise, we'd never do anything at all. Acknowledging that we constantly battle other considerations doesn't resolve the abortion dispute, since people can still come down on different sides even when those considerations are accounted for. I just wanted to note what I thought was the inadequacy of the "always err on the side of safety" argument, not resolve the abortion dispute altogether.

Anonymous said...

by:

first, not all pro-lifers want to criminalize abortion. this is a straw man. to make something illegal does not necessarly mean that criminal penalties would be imposed.

second, the "higher purpose" you claim is served by an abortion sounds an awful lot like parenting-a consequence of a pregnancy that can be easily avoided through adoption. I understand that some people might not be equipped to be parents and that having an abortion, to them, may be the lesser evil. but a lesser evil does not a higher purpose make.

i'm unmoved by the notion that "most" women who get abortions end up having children. good for them, but i'm not sure how this bears on the argument one way or the other.

my views are not informed by religion-- you can find that as hard to believe as you like. i have attended mass several thousand times and have heard 1 homily that mentioned abortion. people walked out of the church. contrary to popular belief, catholic churches delve into politics only sparingly.

again, briefly, as to ds' driving analogy. driving is itself a neutral activity. you can drive to visit sick relatives or to cheat on your wife. i don't think most people believe that abortions are a neutral activity. they are usually viewed as a necessary evil. even the clintons now view abortion as something that should be 'safe, legal and rare.' why the 'rare'?

Anonymous said...

Response to:
Let me also add that in regards to the argument about always "erring on the side of life" because we don't know about the soul, the issue of whether abortion is "murder" or not - well, this is a fair argument to make to a woman considering having an abortion, but it's not a fair argument for passing laws making it a crime for her and her doctor to perform an abortion
The reason it is fair argument to err on safety side as for passing laws is because if(Big IF, because as stated, we can not know) the fetus is "a human person" then it is also a de facto citizen with Constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Denial of these rights to a citizen, aka murder, is a crime in all other cases. If you want your right to not be murdered to be upheld constitutionally, then do you not want everyone else to have that equal right?

dsimon said...

not all pro-lifers want to criminalize abortion. this is a straw man. to make something illegal does not necessarly mean that criminal penalties would be imposed.

I don't understand. Would any penalties be imposed? Law without enforcement is meaningless.

I also don't think it's a straw man, at least as far as the original post is concerned. If someone believes that a human being exists at conception, then a deliberate to terminate that entity's existence is murder and logically must be punished as such.

as to ds' driving analogy. driving is itself a neutral activity. you can drive to visit sick relatives or to cheat on your wife. i don't think most people believe that abortions are a neutral activity. they are usually viewed as a necessary evil. even the clintons now view abortion as something that should be 'safe, legal and rare.' why the 'rare'?

I don't know what a "neutral" activity is, but driving does involve risk to oneself and to others. And unnecessary driving creates unnecessary risk. So I think an argument can be made that driving should also be made "rarer" if possible. But does that mean I can use the force of government to require others to drive less?

I don't think there are "neutral" acts. People make choices based on various considerations, including whether to have an abortion. The question is when a majority who is not engaging in an activity can require others to not engage in it either even though they have come to a different conclusion.

Broken Yogi said...

"first, not all pro-lifers want to criminalize abortion. this is a straw man. to make something illegal does not necessarly mean that criminal penalties would be imposed."

I really don't understand this. How can something be illegal, if there are no penalties for it? What, you're going to hand out the equivalent of parking tickets to women who get abortions? Or something more, like taking away the licenses of doctors who perform abortions, forcing unlicensed doctors to do the job? This really makes no sense.

Even more so, if abortion is murder, then how can you NOT give out criminal penalties for it? Your not wanting to criminalize abortion is a defacto admission that it isn't a crime, just some activity you want to discourage.

So, maybe you really aren't motivated by religion. I have to take that back. You don't really seem to support the pro-life agenda at all, because that is based on making abortion a criminal act, not a parking ticket. Like I say, I fully support people like you making strong arguments against abortion, that could well reduce abortion, but making it an illegal act simply makes no sense, and is more or less a confession that your arguments don't persuade very many people.

Now, as to the "higher purpose" argument, you seem to discount people's actual lives and bodies as not rising to that level. Could you define "higher purpose" for me in some way that isn't religiously based? Because that's what it seems like to me, a religious argument clothed in a pretty sounding phrase. A woman being forced to give birth to a child she does not want is a rather monstrous exercise of state power, if you ask me, and it's a very low purpose as well. Adoption is simply not an answer for many women, and does not compensate the women, emotionally or physically, for the pain and difficulty of going through with preganancy and birth when it is completely against her will. If you think abortion has emotional consequences, think of the emotional consequences compulsory pregnancy, childbirth, and adoption, all against a woman's will. This does not seem to me to be something the state should have any power over, criminal or civil or otherwise. You can argue that it should, but arguing that it "doesn't matter" or doesn't amount to some "higher purose" is just utter nonsense. What right does the state have to compel a woman to turn her body over to the state for the purpose of reproduction? What higher purpose is being served by that? It seems to me to serve a much lower purpose, of a theologically based power grab to make a woman's body and reproductive capacity subserviant to state power.

dsimon said...

anon. 4:28 pm.: The reason it is fair argument to err on safety side as for passing laws is because if(Big IF, because as stated, we can not know) the fetus is "a human person" then it is also a de facto citizen with Constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Then why not ban driving, since there's not even an "if" involved: we know driving will kill people. We know pollution (e.g. auto emissions) will kill people. Heck, we know drinking will ruin families and can lead to fatalities, so why not ban booze?

There are all sorts of activities that pose a threat to life. We could drive in tanks to make sure no one dies on the road, but we want cars that people can afford. We make choices every day that inevitably put lives at risk. In short: we almost never err on the side of absolute safety. So I don't think that argument gets us very far.

dsimon said...

anon. 2:59 pm: Why are pro-abortion views being imposed upon me? I find it repugnant that so many fetuses are destroyed in the name of personal liberty, but I can't do anything about it.

Because that's a part of living in a democratic society. I may not agree with the majority, but sometimes you have to put up with things you don't like. I don't like what a lot of my tax money is spent on, but I have to live with it unless I can get a majority to spend it differently. We disagree, we vote, end of story. Unless there's a constitutionally protected right involved, I don't get to impose my minority view on everyone else.

Broken Yogi said...

"The reason it is fair argument to err on safety side as for passing laws is because if(Big IF, because as stated, we can not know) the fetus is "a human person" then it is also a de facto citizen with Constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Denial of these rights to a citizen, aka murder, is a crime in all other cases. If you want your right to not be murdered to be upheld constitutionally, then do you not want everyone else to have that equal right?"

Yes, big IF. But that obviates the notion that "we can't know this". You are saying we can know that the fertilized egg is a person. I agree, that if a fertilized egg is defined as a person, it has the rights that all people have. But this is the very thing that we have agreed can't be known as the very premise of this argument. So given that premise, there's no reason to err on the side of presuming the fertilized egg to be a person, any more than we should presume to err on the side of any argument we can't possibly know the answer to. This is like making Pascal's argument for Christianity - that we might as well err on the side of belief than disbelief, becuase of the possible consequences of disbelief - into the basis for law. It's an argument from personal, irrational fears and beliefs, not reality.

The other problem, of course, is that even if we did define a fetus as a person, what person has the right to live inside another person's body? Do I have a right to live in your house and eat your food? No, I don't. So the fetus has a right to live, but not to live off of someone else. Which means that it should be removed from the woman's body, and let the state try to sustain it.

Well, that's obviously a mess. There's a good reason why no legal system in the history of the world has ever considered a fetus inside a woman's womb to be a separate "person" with legal rights of their own. Laws against abortion have never been based on this claim, and how could they? This would be defining a "person" based on a religious presumption and beleif, not a real world fact. The legal rights of a child begin at birth for good reason - until then, they are part of a woman's body, not a separate and independent living being.

dsimon said...

broken yogi: Laws against abortion have never been based on this claim, and how could they? This would be defining a "person" based on a religious presumption and beleif, not a real world fact. The legal rights of a child begin at birth for good reason - until then, they are part of a woman's body, not a separate and independent living being.

Well, I don't go that far. No legal rights (or at least no abortion restrictions) until birth? So an abortion an hour before birth is fine (because the fetus has no rights), but an hour later it's infanticide? That's quite a shift in the space of an hour for an entity that has hardly changed at all.

As I wrote above, I don't think there are bright lines or magic moments. I think people without a religious agenda and with tolerance for ambiguity use a sliding "like us" scale for resolving these issues. I admit it rests only on intuition, but since science can't answer the questions for us, many people are comfortable with the idea that more development requires increasingly more compelling reasons for an abortion.

Broken Yogi said...

"Well, I don't go that far. No legal rights (or at least no abortion restrictions) until birth? So an abortion an hour before birth is fine (because the fetus has no rights), but an hour later it's infanticide?"

No, there's a distinction between legal rights for an unborn child, and restrictions on abortion (or any activity which might harm a late-term fetus. The law does not recognize the unborn as a citizen with rights, but it does recognize the interests of the state in regulating late-term abortions. SImply because a fetus does not have rights, does not mean that there's no way to prevent late-term abortions. There are plenty of such ways. It just makes no sense to grant actual legal rights to a living entity that has not even been born, but which lives inside another living person. Nor is it necessary to prevent the kind of actions such as you describe.

Jake said...

dsimon:

great. i love democracy. let's overturn roe v. wade and let the states vote on whether they want to allow abortion.

real person said...

Seriously, broken yogi?
"The other problem, of course, is that even if we did define a fetus as a person, what person has the right to live inside another person's body? Do I have a right to live in your house and eat your food? No, I don't. So the fetus has a right to live, but not to live off of someone else. Which means that it should be removed from the woman's body, and let the state try to sustain it."

Human children are quite helpless and dependant long after birth...
Yet, we have laws prohibiting child neglect and child abuse-and rightly so. You gave a lame example in attempting to prove a point which cannot be validly proved.

Mason said...

@real person:

The difference between a fertilized embryo in the womb and a crying baby in the delivery room isn't obvious to you? Among other distinctions -- a single father can raise a crying baby on his own but not an undeveloped fetus.

And please don't jump in with "yeah with the proper medical equipment...". Up to the point of viability, there is no substitute for a woman's uterus. Right?

On a separate note, those women ("anita" and "A Mom") who claim that men shouldn't be able to have a voice on the abortion debate are both silly and edging into misandry. There are just as many pro-life women as men, so this idea that negating's men input will protect abortion rights is pretty facile. Men are affected by the acts of abortion and pregnancy, just not as directly as women. Or maybe you'd like to exclude sterile women from the debate as well? Or women who have reached menopause?

There are certainly some thoughtful pro-life advocates out there, but most of them seem to subscribe to a knee-jerk, judgmental, and Manichean outlook on the topic that makes it difficult to have a civil debate. Witness the the anonymous guy near the top of the thread, who became much less judgmental once he had his own scare with a seemingly pregnant girlfriend.

If zealous pro-lifers were more worried about fertilized embryos than "slutty behavior", I'm surprised there isn't a massive movement to use their own uteri(?) to birth as many of those embryos as possible.

Not so easy when it's your own uterus huh?

(That's not directed to the thoughtful pro-lifers, but to the morally condescending segment of them.)

dsimon said...

Broken Yogi: there's a distinction between legal rights for an unborn child, and restrictions on abortion (or any activity which might harm a late-term fetus. The law does not recognize the unborn as a citizen with rights, but it does recognize the interests of the state in regulating late-term abortions. SImply because a fetus does not have rights, does not mean that there's no way to prevent late-term abortions.

I think this distinction is only semantic. If we have a law, it's for a reason. And that reason in this case is the developmental status of the fetus. Whether one claims that the fetus has "rights" or not doesn't affect what the law actually is.

If states wanted to ban all abortions at 8.5-months of gestation or later except to save the life (and possibly health) of the woman, they could probably do so. Whether it's because one ascribes "rights" to the fetus or not doesn't seem relevant to me; what's relevant is that the entity is intuitively too much like a functioning child to warrant substantially different treatment.

I don't see how birth constitutes a legally magic moment any more than conception does.

Broken Yogi said...

"Human children are quite helpless and dependant long after birth...
Yet, we have laws prohibiting child neglect and child abuse-and rightly so. You gave a lame example in attempting to prove a point which cannot be validly proved."

If a mother abuses a human child, the state can and will step in and remove the child from that home. The woman precisely wants the fetus to leave her body, so in this case their interests are identical. Let the state have the fetus and care for it then. She is more than willing to deliver it up to the state. But for the state to require her to keep the fetus in her body is absurd, like requiring an abusive mother to keep the child she doesn't want in her home and be good to it.

Now, of course the problem is that until quite late in pregancy a fetus is simply not viable outside the womb, and removing it without killing it in the process is simply not possible. In the beginning it is just a clump of cells. A morning=after pill will keep it from attaching to uterus, thus letting it die. Is this murder? Is this the equivalent of a woman starving her infant child to death? Well, no. It's refusing to allow it to feed on her body, and become attached. Once it is attached, it's not as if the woman is obliged to keep it there.

And of course the problem is that for the state to step in and insist that the fetus stay a part of the woman's body, the fetus most be considered a citizen with rights of its own, includiing the right to reside in a woman's body until birth. That would require a constitutional amendment redefining the very notion of who and what a citizen is, and what rights they have. The very people who are against redefining what marriage is because that would go against thousands of years of custom have no trouble redefining what a human being and a citizen is, to advance their own causes.

Broken Yogi said...

"I think this distinction is only semantic. If we have a law, it's for a reason. And that reason in this case is the developmental status of the fetus. Whether one claims that the fetus has "rights" or not doesn't affect what the law actually is."

No, it's not semantic, it has a great deal to do with how the law can be used. We have laws against animal abuse, but that doesn't mean that animals are citizens with all the rights thereof, such as to sue in court. I'm saying it's perfectly valid for the state to pass laws of all kinds regarding abortion, even constitutional amendments banning abortion (since Roe doesn't allow the states to ban abortions), all without actually declaring a fertilized egg to a be a person, a citizen, with the full rights of any underaged citizen. That is a legal nightmare, I think.

Birth is not some "magical moment". It's a very real moment when the fetus leaves the mother's body and becomes an independent human being, a citizen of the united states, etc. You want to grant citizenship the day before birth? Why? Why not grant citizenship to immigrants before they even come to the United States? The whole business of actually, physically entering a country, leaving a country, moving into a house, leaving a house, these things matter in law. So physically leaving a body at birth matters in law. It's not intangible, it's a real difference. And it makes it possible for the baby's rights to be enforced without interfering with the mother's own bodily rights of personal integrity. These legal issues aren't minor or merely semantic at all.

Anonymous said...

I was brought up and in youth was extremely pro-choice. Then I got pregnant. A homeless alcoholic with few skills, I was still perfectly aware that the life in my body was that of someone else. Another person. As it turned out, two. There was simply no denying it. The babies had been moving on their own power without my involvement, feeling things of which I was unaware. But a close relation had drummed it into my head that the pregnancy was dangerous to my life -- I had to kill the children to save myself. Otherwise, we would all die. The abortion-pushers acted sweet and loving as they disoriented me and moved me physically about (they cared so much for my autonomy). As I felt death fill my blood I shuddered. I would always rememberr the feeling of death inside and around me. Then the "feminists" who cared for my "health and rights" froze over and herded me out like the livestock I was to them. I felt confused and stung. I nearly bled to death. No one of the "pro-choice" stance wanted to know the truth: I had endured an unnecessary act of violence and it was hurting me. But eventually a born-again pro-life man, another family member, took me to the hospital and made it clear that I was serious and in a real emergency. I suffered nerve damage from the loss of blood. My physical recovery started there. Since then I learned that the real death toll from legal abortion is similar to that from illegal abortion in the years just before Roe, and the number of abortions happening is at least ten times higher. I was in hardcore denial of the reality of the abortion for two years, taking a rage-filled pro-coice position to hold off the addition of guilt and sorrow for my children to the already heavy trauma and loss caused by the hemorrhage.
I have gone to college and graduated since then and learned a lot. I have learned that the brain begins forming almost immediately after conception and that the "masses of cells" those people mutilated and threw in the trash were capable of communicating, scratching an itch, crying and feeling the ridges on their nails. I have learned that the risk from legal abortion is still geater than that from hospital birth, and that the first three to five live births are usually a boon to the mother's long-term health, wiping out any self-defense claim except in rare circumstances such as ectopic pregnancy. I have learned that the things done to my mind during the "choice" process before my babies were killed is a widely-known process called coercive persuasion and is a subtle form of brainwashing. I have learned that my experience is so common that Planned Parenthood has created internal documents about controlling the damage to abortion's reputation from the leaking of the reality of it. I'm now passionately pro-life and study prenatal development. What we know now is astounding. It's not all in yet. Babies learn and develop emotional and sensory capacities several times faster than researchers once believed hey did. If it was wrong to kill a newborn in 1970, then for the same reason it's wrong to kill a child in the second half of the first trimester for the same developmental reasons knowing what we know now. The mother's supposed right to be free of unchosen family members is not in any way comparable to the child's right just to live; how can it be? To plan every year of one's life in advance is a fine thing, but not an essential right as life is. I don't mean to hurt aborted mothers. I want to heal them as I want to be healed. But the core of the issue is that abortion is the killing of a human being who wants to live (I've seen the babies frozeen in desperate struggle) and is not often in a self-defense context in any reasonable sene of the term.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful goods from you, man. I've understand your stuff previous to and you are just too great. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still care for to keep it smart. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a wonderful website.
Feel free to visit my website :: Kohlmueller.Net

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the recommendation. Let me try it out.
Review my page :: abused children caught on video

Anonymous said...

Woah! I'm really loving the template/theme of this blog. It's simple, yet effective.

A lot of times it's challenging to get that "perfect balance" between usability and visual appeal. I must say you've done a awesome
job with this. Also, the blog loads super fast for me on Safari.
Outstanding Blog!
My web site: aaron burr

Anonymous said...

If some one desires expert view concerning blogging and site-building after that i propose him/her to pay a quick visit this web site, Keep
up the pleasant work.
Also visit my blog post ... achilles tendonitis stretches

Anonymous said...

I am in fact pleased to glance at this weblog posts which consists of tons of valuable data, thanks for providing such information.
Also visit my homepage - acai detox

Anonymous said...

Great article! We will be linking to this great post on our site.
Keep up the good writing.
Look into my website :: stars1.eng.kagawa-u.ac.jp

Anonymous said...

That is a very good tip especially to those new
to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise information… Thank you
for sharing this one. A must read post!
Also visit my homepage : http://meratolreview1.weebly.com

Anonymous said...

Thanks , I've just been looking for information approximately this topic for a while and yours is the best I've came
upon so far. However, what about the bottom line? Are you certain about the source?
Visit my webpage :: adoption search for child

Anonymous said...

Link exchange is nothing else except it is only placing the other person's webpage link on your page at appropriate place and other person will also do same in support of you.
My website - meratol reviews

Anonymous said...

What i do not realize is in reality how you are no longer really much more neatly-preferred than you might be right now.
You're so intelligent. You already know therefore considerably relating to this matter, produced me personally imagine it from so many various angles. Its like women and men are not interested until it is something to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your personal stuffs nice. Always care for it up!
my webpage :: aaliyah biography

Anonymous said...

Wonderful site. A lot of useful info here. I am sending it to some buddies ans also
sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you in your
effort!
Review my web site :: adrenal glands and weight Gain