Abortion and Morality

Abortion is a highly divisive issue, which often ends up discussing morality.  We have no problem with that.

All the bloggers here support a pro-choice position.  We believe that being pro-choice is a morally consistent position to take, as it gives women control over their own bodies, rather than needing to seek permission from others in regard to whether or not they have to continue a pregnancy.  We believe it is unethical to insist that a woman continue with a pregnancy against her will.  We may have slightly different ideas about what pro-choice might look like in a legal or practical framework, but on the above we do agree.


There has been much discussion of many facets of abortion on this blog, particularly recently since abortion law reform became a hot topic again.  It's a key feminist issue and it's not going away any time soon.


You can see some of our past posts that touch on, or fully address, the morality of abortion below (most recent first, new posts will be added at the top):

Some commenters want to constantly discuss the morality of abortion, particularly the issue about fetal personhood, regardless of whether that is relevant on the post in question.  So we've established this separate page for discussion of that element of the issue (the moral arguments, not just fetal personhood).

When a blogger indicates, via comment directions at the end of a post about abortion, that they want morality issues to be discussed here instead of on their post that should be respected.  We won't be shifting comments from other places to here - we will most likely just delete comments that don't respect comment directions.  So best to put it here, unless you want it sent to trash.

General commenting rules will apply on this page, in particular:
  • Anonymous comments require some form of consistent handle.  This can be an initial or a psuedonym.  Where someone is sharing something they obviously need to be anon for privacy reasons we may waive this requirement.
  • Disagreement is fine.  Moderation is not done on the basis that you disagree, it's done on the way you disagree.  For example, any comments that call women "murderers" or similar for having abortions will be deleted.  Imagine you are arguing with your grandmother listening in, if that helps.
  • Moderation is at the total discretion of the bloggers.  Your right to free speech is vigorously protected by your right to set up your own blog, for free, as we have done.
As this is a new initiative (August 2010) we will monitor how it goes and appreciate feedback on this idea.

Last updated August 21st 2010.

47 comments:

Deborah said...

I've deleted an anonymous comment here that I felt was abusive to anti-choice people. The abuse wasn't all that bad (just a nasty epithet), but when it was coupled with the comment being anonymous, I felt that it was poor form. To the person who made it, if you are willing to sign your name or recognised internet handle to the comment, then I would consider publishing it.

Carlist said...

I made the comment and I stand by it. I don't think it's abusive. Not when you consider the abuse anti-choicers heap on us ever day.

Julie said...

The concern is more the content plus the Anon, rather than just the content on its own. We have been having some minor difficulties with borderline anon comments lately and when that happens we tend to get stricter. Thanks for adopting a handle, if you stick to it in future not only will it make comment threads less confusing it will also mean your comments are more likely to remain!

Deborah said...

If you want to resubmit the comment with your handle attached to it, Carlist, I'd be okay with letting it stand.

Carlist said...

OK well this is not a direct replication of the earlier comment but here goes.

I think it's very interesting. This post has been here for a year. Not a single anti-choice poster like ZenTiger or Muerk or any of the other usual crowd have had the courage to come here and make the case for taking away women's control of their bodies. It seems they are only interested in whining about abortions when they can derail by doing so. They aren't interested in actual debate probably because they know they would lose. And that's presuming they could actually make their point without abusing women who have had abortions and getting their comments deleted because of that abuse. Which I doubt. They're cowards. We gave them a chance to have a civilised debate and they ran, terrified. Not a single attempt at a post. Pathetic, anti-choicers. I never took you seriously so this doesn't surprise me but I hope everybody who thinks you are rational and capable of debate reads this and decides to stop wasting their time.

Rageaholic said...

Hi Carlist, I have been checking back here periodically since this specific page was established and noticed the same thing. Somewhat ironically, I never commented on it because I didn't want to derail but at this point, I have to think you are right - anti-choicers are not interested in having a debate which is purely about the morality of abortion, they only want to use bullying tactics on unrelated posts to get their point across.

I welcome anti-choicers to discuss their stance with me, and especially to defend using their usual tactics as opposed to posting here; but until they do, I'm putting this in the win column.

Julie said...

It has been an interesting experiment. When we set this page up I thought it would be either a raging torrent of comments with some tricky moderation or silence.

Also just a note - because of the age of this page all comments are going automatically to moderation. This wasn't a deliberate move on our part, for this page, as it's something that applies to all posts and pages over a certain age on the blog. However for this page it's very useful as it allows us to moderate before rather than after.

goodgravey said...

My wife made an interesting comment on this. The particular argument that a foetus is not human (as a sole justification for abortion) is the same argument once used for the oppression and murder of ..well ... anyone not white male.

Women were regarded as not entirely human once - not until they married. Here in Wellington, we have the story of the man who murdered a Chinese man in the street and went into the Police station to ask them to clean up the dog he had to put down.

It is possibly an argument that needs to be made carefully for that reason. I'm not saying it isn't a valid argument, just that great care is needed.

goodgravey said...

Sorry - had to break my post in two for Blogger to accept it.

To my mind, there are few people that would consider the morning after pill - destroying a couple of dozen cells at most - is killing anything. Similarly, I can't imagine anyone considering that aborting a foetus immediately before it is due for delivery to be acceptable. The truth appears to be somewhere in the middle.

As we have all commented, choice is the key thing. You don't need to support abortion to support the right to choose it.

What I think I would like to see is an anti-choicer provide an argument where they put aside their own views of whether abortion is right or wrong, and put up an argument of whether a person should choose to do something they (the anti-choicers) personally consider immoral.

Do people who are vehemently opposed to divorce, for example, believe that those who are quite happy with it to do so?

Our personal opinions, and the right of people to do something we disagree with are poles apart.

Bene said...

Just discovered this blog and this page. Don't know if you'll allow my comments, but thought I'd post them just the same.

To the point about morning after pills just killing "a couple of cells", the part that always confuses me is the judgement call being made about a stage of human development. Isn't the equivalent of saying that killing a 4-year old isn't the same as killing a 30-year old because the former is not an fully-developed adult? You're just choosing a stage of human development and making a judgement call on its worth.

Seems a bit wrong to me.

Put another way, when has that "clump of cells" in a pregnancy turned into anything other than a human being? I mean, it's not like a woman is giving birth to cat or a penguin or something, right? It is a human being...just at the very start.

As for the feminist argument, what about the women in the womb? I mean, some of those aborted children would have been women, right? They don't get to have a voice?

My final point is on the choice of the words "pro-choice". How about thinking about the first actual choice involved and fighting for that - namely, the choice of when to have sex. Everything after the sexual act is a consequence of that act - fact. We, as a society, with all our contraception etc. have just pushed the decision point further down the process, but really these are all just effects of the one choice - the choice to have sex.

Why not, then, make everyone "pro-choice" - i.e. everyone should have the right to choose when they have sex - and fight against rape, incest and all the other instances where that choice is removed? Those are the true evils - a baby is not.

Carlist said...

Bene as a woman who has had an abortion I find your comments hateful and bigoted. How dare you accuse me? What gives you a right to say what I can do with my body?

This comment is just utterly despicable and hateful and shows a disregard for the humanity you pretend to want to defend.

Bene said...

Wow Carlist! I'm a bit confused. Could you please let me know what part of my comment was hateful or bigoted? Or where I accused you of...well, anything?

I thought the point of this page was for people to express their views? I thought I had done so with no intended malice. Given your views on "anti-choicers" I was careful to not make this a religious matter. I was simply putting across some ideas.

Sorry if I offended you, but would you care to actually respond to my points? Have I said something wrong or incorrect? Your response seems out of character with your previous comment: "We gave them a chance to have a civilised debate and they ran, terrified. Not a single attempt at a post. Pathetic, anti-choicers"

Well, I'm here. Not terrified. Happy to discuss. But am a little confused at your response!

Julie said...

Bene, I felt your comment was very very close to the wind in terms of the comments around "killing". As Carlist has replied and you are both now discussing it I'll let it stand, kindly refrain from that kind of language in this thread or I will delete. That is clearly outlined in second bullet point above.

In regard to the substance of your point - you appear to be arguing Good Ol' Fetal Personhood, with a bit of I'm Pro-Choice As Long As The Choice Is Abstinence. Both of these have been dealt with in some of the posts linked above, but if other commenters want to debate further on them go for it. I will add a further comment if I get a chance sometime later in the week.

Bene said...

Julie,

Thanks for the clarification. Re: "killing", I'd happily re-phrase my example to something less inflammatory to get some rational debate going.

What about wine? :). The "clump of cells" argument (being the earliest form of human development) is surely akin to saying that a wine that has just been bottled is not wine - not until it's drinkable many years later. It just seems illogical to me to claim that it's not wine. That clump of cells is still a clump of human cells in a specific and unique configuration that can only be a human being, not any other creature. Surely we agree on that?

It seems where we disagree is on the arbritrary point at which said cells become important enough to warrant "human rights". But I was more interested to explore the root of your side of the argument.

I'll explore those other posts more, but I thought this was the place for the morality discussions?

Re: "pro-choice as long as the choice is abstinence", that's actually not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that I should have the choice of when (and with whom) I have sex with. That is a true choice. Now whether I wait for marriage or whatever is actually secondary - the point is no one should be forced to have sex...ever. Surely we agree on this point.

So, what I'm contending is that that is the choice we should focus on. If one chooses to have sex, fine (see where I'm differing from the abstinence argument?), but once that choice is made, whatever the results/consequences are what they are.

If pregnancy results, it was the result of the choice to have sex. You don't "solve" that with abortion - if the baby wasn't wanted, don't choose to have sex.

I'm genuinely interested in the argument against this position, hence trying it on this blog. If I should raise it elsewhere, please direct me.

Thanks.

captiver said...

Happy to engage in respectful debate with you Bene: I can agree that the “clump of cells” are a clump of human cells indeed. I presume you privilege embryonic human cells over any other kind of human cells because you talk about “human development”. Your wine analogy isn’t strong. It can be countered with the ‘brightness of the sky’ analogy (which shows how these kinds of analogies aren’t useful for abortion discussions). There is not a big difference between the brightness of the sky at noon and one second after, and so on all the way to midnight (see Boonin, 2003), but we don’t conclude that they are the same, simply because one leads to the other, by degrees. Just as the brightness changes by degree, so does the development from zygote (btw, immediately after fertilization, the zygote is single celled, not a ‘clump of cells’). But I imagine you would argue that the zygote has a special status (unlike the brightness of the sky), with which I would agree. But there’s another answer to your slippery slope argument. Why do you, dare I say it, arbitrarily draw the line at conception? What about cells that also lie along the ‘what can/will become human’ spectrum, i.e. sperm and eggs etc.? Philosophically/logically, how do they differ from the result of their combination such that they don’t have the same value as when they are combined? But, OK. I’ll let you start with the fertilised egg, i.e. to assert that it’s the fertilised egg that deserves human rights (pre-implantation, I assume) under this view. As noted, the fertilised egg is a single cell, so per your argument, this cell has the same ‘human rights’ that I do, as a grown woman. In other words, as Julie pointed out, you are arguing for the personhood of the fetus, the embryo, the zygote. Can I ask you a question that was asked of an anti-choice philosopher at a debate over abortion in California a few years back: If you were forced to choose between shooting a grown woman in the head or stepping on a one-celled zygote, which would you choose? Or, to put it another way, would you consider shooting a fully grown woman in the head to be equally morally condemnable as stepping on a fertlised egg?

Bene said...

captiva,

Thank you for engaging with me.

The "clump of cells" moniker was actually goodgravey's term; I've never been a fan of it given the inherent inaccuracy of the word, as you illustrate. You are correct that in moral matters, when talking about human development, I "privilege embryonic human cells over any other kind of human cells" as they are unique in their ability to form a human being. 

Re: the ‘brightness of the sky’ analogy vs. my rather tongue-in-cheek wine metaphor, actually both speak to my specific point - whether 3am or 7pm, we still refer to the "24 hours in a day". We distinguish between am and pm, certainly, but we are clear that all are components of the same day regardless of brightness.  3am and 7pm aren't identical, but they are both times in the same day.

And this, I guess, is my answer to your question re: why at the point of conception? It's all about the process. Once sperm has fertilized egg, you have life - or, the start of the day. Prior to that point, you have two separate components that cannot, in and of themselves develop any further into anything else. Right? Sperm is sperm, until it fertilizes an egg. It then ceases to exist because a new product - life - has formed. It's chemistry (well, it's biology, but I hope you see my point.)

All of this is me struggling to see how "pro-choicers" justify some of their position by putting forward the argument that life, once formed, is anything but that?

Now, your point on assignment of rights. Let's be clear on which human rights we're talking about here, because an embryo doesn't have exactly the same rights as you do as a grown woman - it cannot vote, for example. :) But, I contend, why doesn't it have that one basic right we all have - i.e. To live? That is the purpose of life, is it not? That fertilized egg exists to live. 

And then we get to the real meat of it - the measure of how bad something is. Isn't your question about "shooting a fully grown woman in the head to be equally morally condemnable as stepping on a fertlised egg" exactly the same as choosing between any (arbitrary) forms of human life? i.e. Which is worse - to shoot a woman or to shoot a man?  Both are human; you are left to associate value as per your value system. This is how you get to the euthanasia debate pretty quickly! ;)

Personally, I see it as better to take the black and white position that human life is human life - regardless of what stage of development it is in. It should all be respected, otherwise you really do go down a slippery slope - the type used by racism, sexism and other types of discriminations.

Keen for your thoughts on that though.

Carlist said...

If I had known that my calling out Bene on his hateful bullshit would be considered to be validating it I would never have posted.

Bene, where is your compassion for women who are suffering? Do you know how hard it is to have an unwanted pregnancy without having to deal with arrogant people like you castigating us as immoral? My pain is already more than you can ever understand. God it's lucky I have a thick skin but I am standing up to you because while to me your pitiful attempts to undermine my self esteem are just pathetic to others they may cause genuine pain, pain to people who have already had to endure pain and mockery simply for daring to be born women or daring to have sex, or even daring to be raped.

There is nothing respectful about your argument. Just because you don't swear it doesn't mean that your message isn't a message of hate - hate for women, hate for women's bodies and hate for the idea that a woman could ever have any control of herself. Why is the idea of that so terrifying to you?

captiver said...

Hi Bene:

POST PART I

Thanks for your response. We do get frustrated that opponents of abortion rights insist on restating the terms in order to render them equivalent. E.g. re the ‘brightness of the day’ – you just insist I’m really talking about “24 hours in a day”. Sure, you can use other ways of describing days such that it’s the same day whether you’re talking about 3 a.m. or 7 p.m. But equally you need ways of distinguishing real differences, since 3 a.m is not the same as 7 a.m. Sure, on a ‘potentiality’ or ‘development’ account, you can say the acorn is the same as the oak. But in many other real and important ways, the acorn clearly is not equivalent to the oak. Sure, you can use those same potentiality/development arguments to claim the fertilised egg is the same as a grown woman, but there are real and important ways in which they are not the same. Language and concepts are useful and flexible in those ways, so that we can describe the same thing in different terms. My only point here was to show that these kinds of acorn/oak, vinegar/wine analogies aren’t useful for the abortion debate, because for every one that intuitively helps argue against abortion rights, there’s one that doesn’t work. On both sides.

So, yes, 3 a.m. and 7 p.m. are the SAME DAY. Yes, a fertilised egg is ALIVE as I am ALIVE (not inanimate, not dead). But by then insisting this be the only criterion on which we attribute worth or value leads one immediately to having to hold that the fertilised egg has the same right (you suggest simply the right to live, not necessarily other rights) as I do. Though, apparently, the sperm and egg, even though they are ALIVE and are human, don’t have that same right. Which leads me to your rather hasty rejection of moving the developmental process back before fertilization, even though I was happy to start that argument from conception. I’m still happy to start there, but this rebuttal is mainly to try to point out that the anti-choice argument itself draws the kind of arbitrary lines we are always accused of drawing.

CONTINUED ON NEXT POST

captiver said...

POST PART II

You say: “Sperm is sperm, until it fertilizes an egg. It then ceases to exist because a new product - life - has formed. It's chemistry (well, it's biology, but I hope you see my point.)” Fertilisation is a gradual process. There is no “point” or “moment” of conception…it takes more than 20 hours usually. There is no more a sudden change than there is at any other stage in fetal development, e.g. the emergence of brain activity. When exactly does the sperm “cease to exist”? Is it when the sperm is fully inside the egg (but it remains distinct for a while even though it is wholly inside the egg, having shed its tail, so there are really still two organisms.)? Is it when the male and female chromosomes have started to mingle, even though they are not yet connected, as they will be? You can say, oh, it’s when the process is completed. OK, but that doesn’t get around the fact that you can’t actually point to a “moment of conception” in this biological process – and I know you consider “the process” to be important. So somewhere in there, there is a line, even if you can’t say exactly when it is. But if one is going to cite biology, it’s important to note that there is no “moment” of conception. That you are drawing a line, perhaps if we knew which sperm was going to make it to the egg, it would be to protect that sperm; perhaps it’s when the sperm first penetrates the egg even though they are both still distinct, perhaps it’s ¾ way through the process; perhaps when the fertilised egg is on its way down the fallopian tube. But it is a line. And it would have huge implications for the law if protections were enshrined in the law. More on that below.

I thought the euthanasia crack was a low blow in what I had hoped would be a serious discussion, and not worthy or your goals of a respectful debate. I was nowhere near the euthanasia debate. This was a thought experiment and, actually, it involved murder, not euthanasia, which is surely just as bad in your view (or equivalent?). And I notice you didn’t answer the question. Which do you consider most morally condemnable: murdering a grown woman or deliberately killing a fertilised egg? If that’s too distressing, I suppose one could put it this way: If you only had the resources to save one or the other from certain death, which would you save. (No, I’m not talking about euthanasia. It’s a thought experiment!) This kind of triage does happen in real life.

Can I assume from your arguing that my question is about the difference between killing any form of human life that you see no moral difference between the two? That wasn’t clear to me. You wrote this: “Which is worse - to shoot a woman or to shoot a man? Both are human; you are left to associate value as per your value system.” I don’t know what you mean here. If you want my answer, shooting a woman or a man are equally morally condemnable. I believe most people would consider killing a grown man or woman to be hugely more morally condemnable than a fertilised egg. Some would consider killing a fertilised egg to not be morally condemnable at all. (I’m one of those people, fyi, which is why I think emergency contraception is not morally problematic.) Per above, should I assume you consider the deaths of grown woman/fertilised egg to be equally morally condemnable?

CONTINUED ON NEXT POST

captiver said...

POST PART III ['LAST POST']


In terms of human rights, you raise some interesting points. You point out, rightly I think, that the fertilised egg doesn’t have exactly same rights as I do, e.g. the right to vote. And, as I understand you, you want to claim the only right of importance we need to talk about in this discussion is the right to life, that we can forget about many of the other rights that accrue to born persons. (This is something worth debating in itself, but I won’t here.) But I feel you nevertheless sidestepped the question I asked, which is ultimately whether you consider the fertilised egg to be the moral equivalent in terms of a grown woman.

As you note, you prefer to take “the black and white position that human life is human life regardless of what stage of development it is in … It should all be respected, otherwise you really do go down a slippery slope - the type used by racism, sexism and other types of discriminations.”

I agree that human life should be respected. As do all pro-choice people. There is no slippery slope of the kind you suggest in our case, which is actually just as black and white as yours, and draws a line, just as you do. Ours is that the decision is the pregnant person’s to make. Because when we’re talking about lines, it’s important to remember that what we are actually talking about here is involving the state in enforcing that line. I assume you want legal protection for fertilised eggs, that is, this protection to be enshrined in the law such that the state will ban anything that puts fertilised eggs at risk and punish those who do so. Since if you only want to change hearts and minds, and do not want state involvement, that’s great and I applaud you. But then, that would be being pro-choice. i.e. saying that the decision is up to the pregnant person as far as the law and the state are concerned. And that’s what we believe. We respect your view that fertilised eggs should be protected, and fully support your right to refuse to take emergency contraception. But we also fully support the right of others to take it, and the right of pregnant people to make decisions about their zygotes, embryos, fetuses.

So can I ask another question: Do you think the state should enforce protection of fertilised eggs? There would be a really interesting (scary, I think) slippery slope involved in mandating protection of fertilised eggs. How far would we go to protect them? But I won’t go into that. Just finally, I don’t see how leaving this decision up to the woman/person involved leads to racism and sexism. We appreciate that too many women live in societies that are racist and sexist, and in some countries this leads some women to choose to select for sex. We oppose any and all coercion with respect to pregnancy: coercion to abort, coercion not to, be it overt or subtle and for whatever reason. But in those cases, the racism and sexism are surely the drivers of, say, sex selective abortion, not the outcomes of access to birth control and abortion. And racism and sexism at a societal level would only be manifested if there were mandates on abortions, i.e. if the decision were up to the state and the state chose to select for race or sex. But being pro-choice is all about insisting the state not be involved in reproductive choices. The state can’t tell you with whom to have sex, either.

Thankfully.

Bene said...

Carlist,

Who ever said I was a man?

I am sorry that you are in pain. I genuinely feel absolute and total compassion for any woman who has suffered because of abortion, exclusion, abuse or ridicule. I am sorry that you personally are hurting - I really am. And I do not mean to have any of my comments taken as castigating you or anyone else for who you are or what you have been through.

To be clear though, my posts on this page are a direct response to the topic at hand - namely the moral implications of abortion. You yourself have called out various pro-life commenters for not having the guts to come in here and face the music. I literally stumbled across this blog by accident, but thought that I could maybe contribute a slightly different perspective.

I am not here to judge. I am not here to "undermine your self esteem" and I am definitely not trying to hurt or "cause genuine pain" to anyone.

And, to be clear, anyone who thinks that women should be chastised for being women, or for having sex, or for being raped is no friend of mine and is definitely not on the same page as me!

"There is nothing respectful about your argument." I don't know how I could be any more respectful than I am being. I am not trying to hurt anyone. And I definitely don't "hate women, hate for women's bodies and hate for the idea that a woman could ever have any control of herself."

To your question: "Why is the idea of that so terrifying to you?", none of that is terrifying to me in and of itself - but some of the results of how you interpret "control" are. I personally think there are serious moral implications for a society that proposes abortion as being a valid choice, and I thought this was the forum to discuss those concerns.

If not, I'll go. No skin off my nose - I just honestly thought that some people here might like to have a rational, logical debate about the morality of this topic, separated from the typical "hate speech" both sides are known for throwing at each other.

None of this is meant to undermine, hurt, or disrespect you or anyone else. I am so sorry for the pain you have felt, and are feeling, and don't know what more I could say to tell you that without you interpreting me as being condescending or patronising. I have not been through what you have been through, so there is no way I could possibly understand it nor try to.

I just hope that things get better.

Carlist said...

I don't know how I could be any more respectful than I am being.

You could respect my right to control my own body.

Bene said...

That's quite a response! I'll do my best to answer your points as best I can.

Re: the metaphors, okay - let's agree that either side could interpret any metaphor to suit their purpose. So rather than continue down that path, let me try to state my position clearly and I'll use a metaphor only if you don't get me. :)

I'm not saying that an unborn child is identical to a grown woman - that's just not true because there are obvious differences. I simply contend that they are both human, just at different stages of development. 

Re: ALIVE vs life, there is a difference. I'm not referring to not inanimate, but to human life. Sperm and egg are constituent components; neither is human life. Human life begins at conception.  

Re: your pre-conception and arbitrary lines comments, I recognize that conception and, indeed, fertilization are processes, rather than a moment, but I am arguing that that process is what should not be interrupted. 

I see your point re: moment of conception, but I never actually referred to a "moment" but rather the whole process of conception.  And that's partially my point (unpopular though it may be) that the choice is...well...before even sperm or egg meet - the process of conception begins with sex. If sex is seen as the choice and everything after is the product/result/effect, you can focus on the process.  Life, I would contend, is the result of that process. I say don't mess with either.

Re: my "euthanasia crack", wasn't intended to be a crack or a low blow. I was pointing out that making value judgements over which type of human life, and at what stage, is more valuable than the other is how some people justify euthanasia. Or racism. Or sexism. It's about assigning worth and value to one form/colour/gender/stage of human life over the other. How can that not be a slippery slope?

Which leads to your question on which I consider more morally condemnable: "murdering a grown woman or deliberately killing a fertilised egg?"  My view is that both are equally morally condemnable. That is with all other factors removed. Try and see it from my perspective: if a child in the womb is just a child not yet born, your question is the same as me asking you which would be worse - a toddler or an adult? Or a teenager vs. an old man. Morally, no difference. Plenty of other differences, but all options are still human life. 

Re: "I believe most people would consider killing a grown man or woman to be hugely more morally condemnable than a fertilised egg", why? Sell me on that point if you will? How do you assign value to one over the other?

Re: "I agree that human life should be respected. As do all pro-choice people", but how do you people consistently define human life?  

Re: "talking about involving the state in enforcing that line", why is the decision up to the pregnant person? I mean, beyond the obvious biological connection, why? Because biology alone doesn't let me make decisions like this for my born children - wanted or not. And some pro-choicers are for that decision being the woman's right through almost to term...others, not so extreme, but I just don't see what that's based on? Carlist's contention that it's her body? What about the other body involved? Your talking two human beings here - granted, as connected as two human beings ever can be, but separate nonetheless. Why does one's rights trump the other? Genuinely interested on your framework for making that call.

Re: the state and legality, if, as I assert, abortion is morally wrong, then why should the state not intervene as it does for other morally wrong actions that it makes illegal?  

CVB said...

Carlist, I don't understand the reasoning you are employing on this thread.

On the one hand you challenge pro-lifers to come debate your abortion supportive position, but then when they do this you just launch into name calling and other ad hominem attacks.

Are you actually willing to debate, or are you only interested in calling people names because they refuse to accept your ideological stance on the issue of abortion?

I'm more than willing to have a discussion, but not if it's just going to be me presenting reasoned arguments and then you just hurling insults back.

captiver said...

POST I

Hi Bene,
Thanks for your considered response.

Re your comment that you acknowledge fertilization is a process, not a moment, but that the process should not be interrupted – as I mentioned in my previous post, this would have huge implications for the law given that you do think the state should intervene and, presumably, make interrupting this process illegal and punishable by law. How would that work in reality? Which relates to my/your next point:

Re your wanting to focus on moving the “choice” back to the sex act, and not its result: Should a woman who has been raped be forbidden from taking the morning after pill? If so, then she gets no choice at any stage of this “process”, right? One result would be than men could force their partners to have children through rape, since once impregnated, the woman must be forced to continue the pregnancy. Do you support that outcome? Or should allowances be made depending on the circumstances of the pregnancy? (More on the role of “circumstances” later.)

Re your seeing the murder of a grown woman and the deliberate killing of a fertilised egg as equally morally condemnable, thank you for answering clearly. Here we have a fundamental and I think perhaps unbridgeable point of disagreement. (Though you do say “with all other factors removed,” and I’m not sure whether those factors would change that.)

Arguing that fertilised egg v. adult is the same as toddler v. adult, essentially says that the fact that the fertilised egg is inside a woman’s body is of absolutely no relevance to the matter at hand. More than that, you also appear to be arguing here that if I allow that woman to have a role as moral decision maker regarding the fate of that fertilised egg, since its fate is intimately entwined with her own, then that is the same as saying the “life” of that egg has no or lesser value.
CONTINUED NEXT POST

captiver said...

POST II

Continued From Previous Post:
I disagree on both matters. And let me explain. Society makes decisions about the fate of humans all the time, applying different sanctions with respect to the killing of humans depending on the circumstances. That is: war, self-defence, manslaughter v murder, and so on. Do you think all killing should attract the same legal prohibition or sanction? If so, then one would hope you would be fighting equally diligently for soldiers to be imprisoned for murder, and so on. But, if you do accept that circumstances play into the sanctions society imposes with respect to killing (the soldier was ordered to do it, there was a war on, the householder was defending her property, etc.), then based on your quite black-and-white view with respect to fertilised eggs, you seem to be doing what you object to – valuing different human lives differently. Also, if you do accept that circumstances have a role to play in how society sanctions killing, then that opens the door, surely, to the very special situation of the potential human being inside the woman’s body and intimately attached to her in myriad ways being treated very differently from other situations. In this case, for me, simply that the woman should get to decide. For me, there is no contradiction between valuing all human life and allowing that different circumstances mandate different laws with respect to killing. In this particular instance, giving the pregnant person this choice is simply not the same as saying that life has no value. The woman gives it value, she makes a moral decision for herself. If the woman wants to continue the pregnancy, then any third party who would try to end that pregnancy is subject to full sanction of the law.

You might argue that, OK, circumstances should be taken into account but that being pregnant, i.e. the fetus being inside the woman, isn’t one of them. Then we might be having a different argument, but surely not one where you could claim the same black and white position that all human life must be valued equally such that it is all equally morally condemnable and thus prohibited equally in the law and attracting equal societal sanction.

I think the above also addresses your question of why the different approaches to children v. fetuses, since in one case we think the woman should have the right to decide the fetus’s fate and in the other, we accept that infanticide should be outlawed. For pro-choicers like me who think abortion should be the woman’s choice throughout her pregnancy, we clearly meet opposition from society to this right in later term pregnancies. Just as for abortion opponents like yourself, you meet opposition from society at the early end, i.e. wanting to ban emergency contraception. Again, I think this reflects society’s ‘intuitions’, if you will, with respect to the fact the different circumstances mandate different moral judgments, that it is not black and white, but that allowing these differences is not the same as saying life has no value, or even that we value it differently.

For me, when the person is pregnant, there is a unique circumstance that mandates that person be given the decision-making role. Women get to make decisions about their pregnancies. And so I draw the line at birth, too. But, as already noted, this is not the same as saying the life of the fetus has no value or is of lesser value. Just as society’s other ‘decisions’ about sanctions for killing isn’t the same as saying those lives have different or no value. (Though of course, as a society, we do and should argue about this constantly – it’s important.)

CONTINUED IN NEXT POST

captiver said...

LAST POST!

Perhaps you can understand why women feel picked on and believe this is not just about abortion when this black-and-white position of ‘abortion is murder’ or ‘taking emergency contraception pill is murder’ and must be banned doesn’t seem to apply to other state mandated killing; that there is little of the same ferociousness of campaigning in these other areas. e.g. war should be banned. I don’t hear those seeking to ban women from taking emergency contraception arguing that war should be banned. For example, from anti-choice politicians in the U.S., which is constantly killing in its wars as we speak. You might argue that you are anti-war. Great…but do you put as much effort in to those campaigns? Do you see that in the same black and white way? If not, why not? We think it’s because abortion is not just about abortion, that it’s part of a wider conservative agenda that targets women.
END

Thurgle said...

Zygotes and my wife are not morally equal human beings

Here are the basic facts of human gestation as I know them:

1. Conception and the cell divisions that result in a human fetus are simply stages of DNA-driven chemistry: cells differentiate as they divide, different kinds of cell are produced in such ways as to be concentrated at different sites in the growing cell-mass; eventually, after the DNA has multiplied, differentiated, and concentrated enough cells at enough loci in the cell-mass, the cell-mass can be christened an ‘embryo’; and after further DNA-driven chemistry has taken place, we can rechristen the cell-mass a ‘fetus’.

2. The facts relevant to a fetus’s personhood are, above all, neurological. One’s personhood and one’s mind are for nearly all intents and purposes the same. But minds, science has determined, are completely dependent on the operations of the brains in our skulls (damage that brain in a particular way, and particular mental powers are lost, impaired, or transformed, and consciousness itself may be lost or destroyed).

3. Human brains have to have attained a certain level of development and functionality before they can operate as a newborn infant’s mind (much less a child’s mind, an adolescent’s, a young adult’s, etc.). Neurophysiology shows that fetuses have only the most rudimentary neural networks in place and are far from being able to support anything approaching a newborn’s level of mentality. It is therefore as nonsensical to describe a fetus as a person as it is to describe anything else that lacking the complex neural architecture of a full-term fetus.

Ignorance of 1 - 3 was a good excuse for people living in the Middle Ages to have explained human life in terms of ensoulment. But souls have no place 1 and 2, and so ought to have no place in any rational deliberation regarding pregnancy and its termination.

Just to drive home the point. We are all soulless, not just as zygotes or embryos, but right now. We have brain-based minds, not God-given souls; and given the fact that minds are completely dependent on brains, whatever lacks the requisite neural architecture to have a mind and so be a person is, ipso facto, not a person.

Fetuses (not to mention embryos and zygotes) are very nearly mindless, and so do not count as persons. The women carrying them, however, are persons: living, feeling, intelligent agents with full, unqualified moral rights. It is thus a simple matter of biological fact that the rights of a person can only be accorded to the woman, not to her fetus. And to me this means that none of us have a right to take away her right to choose in the name of any supposed rights pertaining to the fetus as a person.

This conclusion cannot be evaded by the subterfuge of saying that fetuses are potential people and potential people have rights that weigh in the moral scales against the rights of women. Only actual, not potential things, admit of being killed. So, if the abortion of a fetus is killing (which it obviously is), then it is not a potential person that dies but a clump of cells lacking all, or nearly all the attributes of newborn human personhood. (If someone had killed my father when he was a child, there would have been one crime and one crime only: killing him; I would not have been killed by that murder, nor my sister, nor my sister’s daughter, nor all my father’s potential progeny down to the extinction of his line.) Thus, abortion is not a crime: a killing that kills no person, innocent or otherwise, just a product of DNA-driven chemistry interrupted before the process could continue to full term, cannot be murder.

Carlist said...

No acknowledgement or response of my call for respect Bene?

Coward.

Bene said...

POST I
captiver,
Re: the process being interrupted and that should be illegal, yes, I believe it should. How would that work? The same way it did for the hundreds of years before Roe v Wade, and before we changed the Hippocratic Oath.
Re: a woman who has been raped, I agree that she has had no choice in the process, and that is why I think that our focus and attention should be on stopping rape. I’m not saying it’s easy, but that is something that I think women should absolutely have total choice in – i.e. when and with whom to have sex with. Your example of men forcing their partners to have children through rape speaks even further to my point – that is such a despicably evil concept and our focus as a society should be on removing the very thought from people’s consciousness!
Re: allowing any women the morning after pill, regardless of circumstances, I don’t think it should be allowed, no. And for why, you simply need to see as I do that this is a human life we’re talking about (albeit in very early formation). So I can’t see how you can solve one evil (i.e. rape) with another.
Re: our “fundamental and I think perhaps unbridgeable point of disagreement”, you may be right. Because I just don’t see us having the right to make a call on the value of a life – regardless of point of development. I think that the fact that the fertilised egg is inside a woman’s body is absolutely of relevance to the matter at hand, but not enough so that the woman has the right to end that life.
Re: your examples of war, self-defence, manslaughter v murder, and so on, these are commentaries on society’s ability to deal with different levels of guilt on the behalf of the parties involved. For an unborn child, there is no possible guilt that could be assigned to them that could justify them to be an aggressor, in terms of an enemy soldier, attacker you are defending yourself from etc.
None of these are placing different value on human life, but rather are judgements on their actions. Also, if I was more skilled in such areas of moral philosophy, I’d get into a whole “cause-and-effect” argument with you here – i.e. if my action is to defend myself from a person who is attacking me, and that person is injured or dies, that is different in terms of moral culpability to me murdering someone I don’t like, for example. But I won’t explore this too much as I don’t have all the best examples to hand. I can get you in touch with people who do though, if you like?

Bene said...

POST II
Re: "the very special situation of the potential human being inside the woman's body and intimately attached to her in myriad ways being treated very differently from other situations", no, I don't think that this biological (and other) connection is enough of a connection to provide the woman with the right to decide. Another fundamental, unbridgeable point maybe? I just don't see why. Why is that different to a woman making such a decision to a (born) child who is a few weeks old? The child still requires the woman for protection and nourishment etc. Why is the birthing process suddenly a point where that decision goes away?
To follow your logic through, a woman would have the right to make a moral decision about that life right up until the point where the umbilical cord is cut? Really? Why do they have that right? How does enshrining them within the womb give them the ability to evict them at will? I'm not being facetious – I'm genuinely interested as to why you think that is okay?
Re: your interesting "women feel picked on" and "ban not applying to other state mandated killing" comments, I'd put this to you – I think that any taking of innocent life should be banned. I also actually believe that, in a modern, "sophisticated" world, I see no valid cases to take the life of guilty people either. But, if you bring back your self-defence argument from before, I can see cases where someone's life is ended, but the intention was not to kill them, if you get what I mean. So me personally, I see it simply as a matter of priorities. Let's make sure we're not ending any absolutely, 100% innocent life. So, I would say abortion fits that category totally as the unborn child does not have the opportunity to commit any crime. Then, let's move on to make sure that we're not ending any life of people who may be innocent. I'm thinking murder, manslaughter, collateral damage in wars etc. Then, let's move on to make sure that we have better ways of dealing with seriously guilty people than killing them. War, death penalty etc. It's all about the culpability of the victim, and the "crime" being worse the more innocent the person is.
Plus, if you want to get statistical, there have been far more abortions than there have been deaths by war (http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/wrjp3310.html) in recorded recent history. That's pretty scary to me, and explains why the focus is placed here first and foremost.
Re: "a conservative agenda that targets women", my "agenda" actually targets women and men – to look at the reasons why they have sex in the first place and to make changes there…as that's the choice I think people (regardless of gender) should be focused on. Everything after is no longer a choice.

Bene said...

Thurgle,

Re: 1, conception and the associated cell divisions are not "simply stages of DNA-driven chemistry" – they are the only stages of DNA-driven chemistry that create human life. There is no other purpose for them. Your description of the biological process, while accurate to my knowledge, does nothing to remove the fact that the particular process involved is started with only one intended outcome – human life.

Re: 2, "one's personhood and one's mind are for nearly all intents and purposes the same" – why? Are you saying someone who is brain damaged in a car accident is somehow less of a human being?

Re: 3, unless you can provide the point at which the development of neural networks reaches a critical mass to be considered complex enough to be human, you are providing an argument that has no relevance to the moral state of that creature. The foetus is still a human foetus – the word simply means the young of the same species. There is no separation there. You can argue about neurological function, but that is not equivalent to moral existence.

Re: souls, I haven't even gone there, but I would be fascinated in your proof of your claim "we are all soulless" and that we do not have "God-given souls". You state that as though it is fact, yet you provide no evidence to the point. If you can, of course, then you can give up your day job and get on the lecture circuit debunking what the greatest minds of our species have been unable to do so since the dawn of time.

If, however, you are saying that your opinion on the unprovable is that we don't have souls, then fine. But your opinion is not fact, and should not be rendered as such.

Re: your claim that "foetuses (not to mention embryos and zygotes) are very nearly mindless, and so do not count as persons", "very nearly mindless" and "mindless" are still separated by a chasm that currently cannot be bridged by science (i.e. creating life without the constituent biological elements) nor, so far, found anywhere else in the universe. So I wouldn't belittle a foetus who is "very nearly mindless" (by your assessment) as they are still infinitely more mindful than any other cell cluster in the human body, or any other life form on the planet as they are the only ones with a human mind. Granted, in early development, but a human mind nonetheless.

Re: the potential people argument, a foetus is an actual unborn person and therefore can be killed. That is simply biological fact (which you later admit). The moral culpability of this act is however influenced by the fact that it is a person in development we are talking about here. You cannot run away from that with subterfuge referring to "almost" or "nearly" not – they are. Early in development, sure. Very young, fine. But no foetus in human history has ever turned into anything other than a human being. Interrupting the process of the development is still ending life. And I hold that to be morally wrong thing to do.

Bene said...

Carlist,
I am no coward. Childish name-calling aside, I respect you like I respect all people. And I respect all women and the rights they have over their own bodies. I do not, however, believe that this respect translates into them having the right to choose about the bodies that are within their own. That too is a human, and has the right to live. Let them make the choices over their own bodies. Who is the mother to make that choice for them?

Moz said...

Bene: a foetus is an actual unborn person

I don't agree that a foetus is a person any more than I agree that a person is a corpse. Sure, a person will inevitably develop into a corpse, but that doesn't mean they are one now. They're a pre-corpse. They have, and should have, different rights and obligations.

can be killed.... The moral culpability of this act

The moral culpability argument is an interesting one. To what extent is the foetus morally culpable for stealing blood and nutrients from an unwilling mother? I argue that there is no moral equivalence at all, since the foetus is not a person and thus bears no responsibility for its actions, but by the same token has no right to consideration. (Right in the sense of "legal right" rather than the "a contested moral right").

By the "foetus=person" argument it would seem appropriate for an unwanted foetus to be charged with theft and enslavement at birth and immediately incarcerated. That's the obvious consequence of grant legal personhood at conception (well, that and charging anyone who has a miscarriage with involuntary manslaughter). Introducing a special category of "unborn person" with even fewer rights and responsibilities than a child seems problematic to me - I would immediately argue that such a class of person has no right to life, except insofar as they can live without enslaving another.

Actually, if we were to charge a woman with child abandonment in this situation how would you feel?

I can see a certain value in handing a pro-enslavement person such as yourself the freshly liberated unborn person and saying "it's still alive and now it's yours".

Thurgle said...

POST 1 of 3:

“ Bene said...
Thurgle,

Re: 1, conception and the associated cell divisions are not ‘simply stages of DNA-driven chemistry’ – they are the only stages of DNA-driven chemistry that create human life. There is no other purpose for them. Your description of the biological process, while accurate to my knowledge, does nothing to remove the fact that the particular process involved is started with only one intended outcome – human life.”
It is a category mistake to speak of chemical processes as having "intended" outcomes. It's like saying a rock falling down a slope into a gully "intended" to go there. DNA is just like any other chemical process: physical interactions of molecules explainable 100% in terms of valences and the like. When I reminded you of the fact that what happens before, during, and after conception is a DNA-driven chemical processes, I was trying to remind you of the fact that the process is entirely natural, in no way intention-governed, in no way dependent on the intercession of angels, devils, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or anything else non-chemical. The only way you can speak of the "intended" outcome of a chemical process intelligibly is when, say, scientists at a soap powder factory intended the materials they are combining to produce saleable, profitable soap powder. When you speak of an "intended" outcome, you are surreptitiously smuggling in intentional agency of some kind (purposes, motives). And it is not hard to guess they you are most likely thinking of the process in terms of the intentions of supernatural entities invented by Iron Age peoples.


I wrote previously: “Re: 2, ‘one's personhood and one's mind are for nearly all intents and purposes the same’” and you responded: “why? Are you saying someone who is brain damaged in a car accident is somehow less of a human being?”
My response: I said "nearly" because the two concepts are not the same. Still, if the mind is destroyed, say by removing the brain and destroying it while keeping the rest of the body alive, I would indeed say that the person has been destroyed as well. Wouldn't you? Or do you think that if the brain was removed from you skull while machines kept your body alive, you, qua person, would/could continue in existence? If so, I would like to know the neurophysiological facts you would cite to support that view.

You wrote Bene
 “Re: 3, unless you can provide the point at which the development of neural networks reaches a critical mass to be considered complex enough to be human, you are providing an argument that has no relevance to the moral state of that creature. The foetus is still a human foetus – the word simply means the young of the same species. There is no separation there. You can argue about neurological function, but that is not equivalent to moral existence.”
So far as I can tell, you aren't making any point here, you are simply saying that if the adjective 'human' applies even to anything so minimal as a single cell, then it has "moral existence". If you were right, then it means, for example, that all the fertilized ova that are expelled without attaching to the womb have moral existence. Since this happens 1000s of times daily, it means there is a moral summons that you and all those who feel like you are callously ignoring: the moral imperative to shift all scientific resources to saving those zygotes from the being flushed down the john. For these are human zygotes, which, by your criterion, suffices to accord them a moral existence. So isn't it the moral duties of our societies to transfer massive resources to saving these moral beings? Indeed, as young and innocent, shouldn't society redirect medical resources from all people who are less innocent than these zygotes to saving these zygotes -- i.e. reduce cancer research, Alzheimer's research, and all the rest to save these young, innocent morally valuable zygotic lives?

TO BE CONTINUED….

Thurgle said...

POST 2 OF 3: CONTINUED FROM ABOVE….

Another example: each skin cell, colon cell, and other somatic cell you and I and everyone sheds every second of every day has a full human genetic complement. By your standard, it therefore has moral existence. So shouldn't we be devoting massive resources of money and brains to advance cloning technology so that these moral existences can be saved too, and each of us we blessed will millions of identical twins? Don't these cells have the same moral claim on us that zygotes, blastocysts, and fetuses have?

I would answer yes: but then add that this moral claim is zip.

Bene wrote:
”Re: souls, I haven't even gone there, but I would be fascinated in your proof of your claim ‘we are all soulless’ and that we do not have ‘God-given souls’. You state that as though it is fact, yet you provide no evidence to the point. If you can, of course, then you can give up your day job and get on the lecture circuit debunking what the greatest minds of our species have been unable to do so since the dawn of time. If, however, you are saying that your opinion on the unprovable is that we don't have souls, then fine. But your opinion is not fact, and should not be rendered as such.”

My response: The burden of proof is on the soul affirmers. I can't prove to you that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist. I can't prove that the Cookie Monster isn't real. But I feel quite confident in denying their existence for the same reason I am confident that there are no souls. Souls, like anything else posited to exist in reality, have to prove themselves; their existence has to explain something about us. Perhaps if you acquainted yourself with the science literature more thoroughly, you would know that everything that our Iron Age and Medieval predecessors thought could only be explained by souls has now been so completely and thoroughly explained by chemical processes (especially neurophysiological ones), that there is no longer any evidence at all for supposing that souls exist. They are now as totally debunked as the four humors, phlogiston, and phrenology: relics of a time before science discovered the facts. And why should you wish to think as an Iron Age person did? I doubt if you would want to live the lives they did, so why would you wish to think as they did?

You wrote:

 “Re: your claim that ‘foetuses (not to mention embryos and zygotes) are very nearly mindless, and so do not count as persons’, ‘very nearly mindless’ and ‘mindless’ are still separated by a chasm that currently cannot be bridged by science (i.e. creating life without the constituent biological elements) nor, so far, found anywhere else in the universe. So I wouldn't belittle a foetus who is ‘very nearly mindless’ (by your assessment) as they are still infinitely more mindful than any other cell cluster in the human body, or any other life form on the planet as they are the only ones with a human mind. Granted, in early development, but a human mind nonetheless.”
My response: Locke said that an oyster probably has some small sensation that distinguishes it from the inanimate. I don't know if he was right but I suspect that insects and chordates from fish upwards probably have some level of awareness. Which is why not being absolutely mindless does not, in and of itself, confer moral standing (unless you subscribe to Jainism, which I don't).
As for the rest, what you say is contradicted by the neurophysiological facts of which neural systems come "on line" at which point in embryonic and fetal development. Chimps have a more advanced, more "human" consciousness, than even a human newborn does, much less a human embryo or fetus (I say this about newborns because human brains are born premature and require another year for all the systems we know as a "human mind" to come on line -- this seems to be because a mature brain would have a head too large to fit through the birth canal).


TO BE CONTINUED….

Anonymous said...

POST 3 OF 3:

For several weeks, the developing embryo brain no more can support a mind than your liver or spleen can. Then it becomes something on a par with a fly's mind, then a tadpole's, then a salamander's, etc. In other words, if the human brain stopped developing its mind-supporting capacities at four weeks, human minds would be a pretty pathetic thing indeed, far beneath a rat's mind. Think about that: think about what actually exists when people have abortions, i.e. think about what they are killing in terms of what it would mean if development stopped at that moment. For then if you still oppose women having abortion, you would also have to oppose the killing of rats on moral grounds too because their minds are too "human" to be denied a moral right to life (and their minds are just as "innocent" as fetuses minds are).


Bene wrote: “Re: the potential people argument, a foetus is an actual unborn person and therefore can be killed. That is simply biological fact (which you later admit). The moral culpability of this act is however influenced by the fact that it is a person in development we are talking about here. You cannot run away from that with subterfuge referring to ‘almost’ or ‘nearly’ not – they are. Early in development, sure. Very young, fine. But no foetus in human history has ever turned into anything other than a human being. Interrupting the process of the development is still ending life. And I hold that to be morally wrong thing to do.”
My response: I never admitted a fetus is an actual person; I denied it. I asserted that it is simply a biological fact that it is not a person. If I wrote anything else, it was a typo.

Your "person in development" argument applies to those zygotes that fail to attach to the womb lining and are expelled as well as to the skin cells you are shedding at this very moment, with their full complement of human DNA.

No aborted fetus, or miscarried fetus, in human history has ever turned into a human being, i.e. attained a stage in development at which personhood, even of an attenuated kind, could be attributed to it. Why? Because they weren't yet people when they died. The point is as obvious as this: if you order chicken in a restaurant and the waiter brings you eggs, I doubt that you will accept his explanation that he did bring you chicken because an egg is a chicken "in development," or a "potential" chicken, i.e. that a chicken is a chicken if it has a chicken's genome.

Yes, having an abortion is ending a human life. The life of something with a mentality well below a rat's or a trout's. At such a stage of development, it seems to me ridiculous to ascribe a moral standing to the cell-mass. That is what my reason tells me, and that is why my conscience tells me abortion is best left to the choice of the woman carrying the fetus.

What makes this more than an intellectual disagreement, of course, is the use of vast sums money and huge institutional power (e.g. the Catholic Church) to impose views like yours on people like me: to criminalize abortion where it is legal and keep it criminal where it is not. I don't want the law to force you to have abortions, but you probably want the law to force my wife or any other woman not to have one even if an abortion is what she wants and both her reason and her conscience tell her it is right. You, or at least all too many of the people you agree with, seek to suppress her conscience and judgment with police force, to treat abortion as murder in law courts. I ask you: what wisdom do you have that I and my wife and other women lack that gives you the right to set your conscience above ours? Of course, if you are happy to make abortion safe and legal even though you oppose it, then we have no quarrel, and we can continue debating the matter without causing people like me to fear you.

captiver said...

POST 1 OF 3:
Hi Bene, (Aloha Thurgle and Moz, refs to your great posts here, too.)

Thanks for your response. Here’s mine:

You wrote: “Re: the process [of fertilization] being interrupted and that should be illegal, yes, I believe it should. How would that work? The same way it did for the hundreds of years before Roe v Wade, and before we changed the Hippocratic Oath.”

That’s the best self-refutation I’ve seen in a long time! Yeah, outlawing abortion really worked great before Roe v Wade. No one got abortions then, just as no one drank a drop of alcohol during Prohibition. And of course in the golden days before Roe, no women were dying of back-alley abortions, no harmful abortifacients were bought or sold that destroyed the health of women, etc. Even farther back in history, infanticide was commonly practiced. How much better off women would be today if, instead of clean hospitals operated by qualified specialists, they could benefit from the ministrations of amateurs, well-meaning and not so well-meaning – just like the good old days.

But aside from that, you don’t really answer the question of how the state could possibly construct or enforce a prohibition on the interruption of the process of fertilization considering that, as I pointed out above, there is no line one can draw in that process between when sperm and egg don’t need protection (per your argument) and when they are, in lay terms, ‘together enough’ to be constitutive of a fertilised egg, i.e. a microscopic person that (on your view) does need state protection. (See Post II June 28 above that goes into biological details.) Would you also want to see contraception banned, just to be sure? Or would you go so far as to have all non-procreative sex banned so as to be extra sure?

Also, before humanity knew the details of how sexual reproduction worked, presumably you would only have banned abortion from ‘quickening’? Meaning scientific advances will cause you to perhaps adjust your view of what must be protected. Perhaps, one day, sperm and egg? The pro-choice position is clear and not subject to discovering that sperm, too, are tiny people, and need protection (hence no more jerking off).

You wrote “Re: a woman who has been raped, I agree that she has had no choice in the process, and that is why I think that our focus and attention should be on stopping rape.”

I agree we should work hard to stop rape, but in the meantime, a raped woman on your account must be forced to continue the pregnancy against her will. She can’t even take the morning after pill, since you say this would be replacing “one evil (i.e. rape) with another” (which other? premeditated murder? carrying the death penalty?). We simply fundamentally disagree here and I don’t think we have any common ground.

CONTINUED NEXT POST:

captiver said...

POST 2 OF 3:

However, this relates very closely to the following: “Re: your examples of war, self-defence, manslaughter v murder, and so on, these are commentaries on society’s ability to deal with different levels of guilt on the behalf of the parties involved. For an unborn child, there is no possible guilt that could be assigned to them that could justify them to be an aggressor, in terms of an enemy soldier, attacker you are defending yourself from etc. None of these are placing different value on human life, but rather are judgements on their actions.”

You are wrong. These ARE placing different values on human life. Sure, you say you have reasons based on the actions of the individuals. But those are just your REASONS for placing different value on human life.

Why is justifiable homicide (eg. killing in war or self-defence) not, as you put it in rejecting the taking emergency contraception after rape, “[solving] one evil (i.e. rape) with another”? You want to suggest that the perpetrator in those cases has some level of guilt or culpability (though civilians killed in wars of self-defence have none) and that this is what makes the difference. And you want to allow much more slack in these cases than in abortion, and so far as I can tell, the only reason you have for this is: “innocence.” Whatever reasons, excuses, justifications, rationales, there really isn’t any way in which you can cogently claim that you are valuing the life of the “innocent” fertilised egg and the “guilty” attacker, or even me, the same – at least not in terms of the criterion you set up early on, which is the simple ‘right to life’.

On pain of hypocrisy, you really do need to modify your original avowal that all humans from conception on have the same right to life (or, as you put it, “the black and white position that human life is human life … It should all be respected.”) You have admitted in this exchange that all human life need not be respected equally with respect to the ‘right to live’. So, you do not really accord to all humans the same ABSOLUTE right to life that you insist on for fertilised eggs and fetuses. Rather, the more “innocent” that life is, the greater its right to live. Indeed, under your account, fertilised eggs have a GREATER right to life not just than a criminal who is attacking you in your home and whom you kill in order to defend yourself, but greater than you or I, because it is more “innocent”. And this is where Thurgle’s argument comes in: it is a category mistake to attribute innocence to what, having not yet developed a mind, can no more be innocent (or guilty) than it can be wise (or foolhardy), righteous (or wicked), or witty (or dull).
CONTINUED NEXT POST:

captiver said...

3 OF 3:

Re your response to my Post II:

You wrote: “To follow your logic through, a woman would have the right to make a moral decision about that life right up until the point where the umbilical cord is cut?”

No. Following my logic this is precisely what would NOT happen. This is about the woman’s right to control her own body. Clearly, once the fetus is out of the woman’s body, abortion is not an issue because the right to control one’s body is no longer at issue. There is no slippery slope here, on any count. Infanticide is not connected with it because it has nothing to do with the woman’s right to control her body; treatment of the mentally ill and handicapped is not at issue for the same reason. For you, the location of the fetus has no relevance, but for me it is crucial. For, in my view, the only right of persons at stake in the abortion question is the right of women to control their own bodies, free from police, church, and other externals interference. (This is not to say that the right is absolute, it is just to say that since the fetus is not a person, it has no rights that can outweigh a woman’s right to control her own body.)


(A shoutout here to Moz with zher interesting argument about fetal culpability “for stealing blood and nutrients from an unwilling mother”. An interesting one to explore. I assume, Moz, this is inspired by Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous paper “A Defense of Abortion” in which she considers some interesting thought experiments, including that you find yourself attached to a famous violinist who needs to use your kidneys for nine months or he will die. (In 9 months, he’ll be cured.) JJT points out that just as the violinist has no right to use your body against your will, nor does a fetus.)

You talk about abortion killing more fertilised eggs/fetuses than people killed in war. Thurgle raises the excellent point about natural embryo loss, pointing out that more than 50 percent of fertilised eggs are naturally lost (medical fact) either because they fail to implant in the womb or because they are lost after implantation. This actually amounts to an estimated 220 million a year world-wide. Way way more than your wars and your abortions combined. Why don’t anti-abortion advocates have a similar moral imperative to fight to prevent his unbelievably huge annual human zygote death toll? You could save many many many times more “people” with even the smallest medical advance on this than you could by banning abortion and emergency contraception and war. Religious folks tend to respond to this by saying, oh, but that embryo loss is natural, abortion isn’t. But plagues and viruses and tsunamis are natural and yet we work incredibly hard, and feel a very strong moral imperative, to prevent deaths from those causes, so why not work just as hard to prevent this huge human zygote loss?

The importance you give “innocence” leads to a much steeper and slipperier slope than anything in the pro-choice canon! Under this scenario, the state, you and/or your god get to decide who is “innocent” and therefore who has a greater right to life, right? But despite arguing in good faith, as a woman, I will step out of my somewhat dispassionate shoes for a moment and express to you the visceral horror I felt at understanding that if I were raped tonight, you would – if you had the power – forbid and even use force (e.g. the police; powers of the state) to prevent me from taking emergency contraception. You would force me to carry my rapist’s child and to give birth. All because that fertilised egg is “innocent” and because you consider taking emergency contraception to be an evil equivalent to that of my being raped. Consider that the horror you appear to feel about emergency contraception/abortion is perhaps 1% the horror I feel at the prospect of living in a world in which a fertilised egg has a greater right to live than I do. Because it is more “innocent” than I am.

Julie said...

(This comment is not from me, I accidentally deleted it, thinking it was anon without a handle, then realised "no excuses" is the handle, sorry about that)

no excuses says,
we all started as cells and it is my understanding that right from conception each pregnancy is completely unique which suggests an element of preciousness. this world is just us trying to decide what is right and what is wrong or perhaps what we can allocate consequence too and what we cannot via law. laws constantly change, some to harsh and some to soft. freedom of choice is the right thing? using that freedom to destroy is not? we all rely on the majority to decide but is there no one who can say for sure? over 500 million abortions..many more children born who are severely neglected. it seems the problem is with free choosing adults that choose options which lead to destruction, of cells of foetus's of children and of lives. The damage done is more than criminal and law or no law, some consequences will not be escaped? good choices lead to good outcomes. if pregnancy is not a good out come for you -perhaps you should address the choice that lead you there.

Nicholas O'Kane said...

It appears that Berne has left this debate, so I will try to take over the pro-life side here where Berne went of (with constraints on my time meaning my postings may be limited).

Obviously the fertilization/conception process can be complicated, and it can be difficult to draw a precise line between a fertilised egg and an egg and a sperm that are still seperate but just touched each other. Even the conception moment may not be the sole beginning of a new life as the zygote once created can split in two leading to identical twins (twinning). I differ slightly from the pro-life position in regarding it as possible that the moment when life is considered to begin can be complex, and the moment when the zygote becomes worthy of human rights such as the right to life may be difficult to determine.

If one holds the view that human rights are not merely conditional on the location of the human (I will use the term human to apply to all humans in a scientific sense of having their own DNA and being a unique animal from their biological parents, regardless of location inside the womb of their biological mother or not) but from their very existence as humans then the use of methods of birth control that cause the near-certain death of a newly created Zygote are to be considered a breach of human rights and morally wrong.

The issue of natural human zygote loss of 50% of zygotes is a difficult question from the pro-life position. If one takes the view that some human rights exist (including the right not to be killed)come from the biological reality of being human (as opposed to the mere location of the human inside or outside the womb, or some measure of its intellegence or capabilities)then this natural zygote loss can only be considered a tragedy which we are morally compelled to do all possible to prevent/reduce. This issue may be problematic and raise uncomfortable questions. However merely because a moral position may cause uncomfortable conclusions does not invalidate the moral position. One can also take the view that while a Zygote may have a right not to be killed it does nesscitate all possible actions to save such lives from natural causes (in the same way some animal rights activists believe killing animals is wrong but do not say we must go out of our way to stop as many animal deaths in the wild as possible). This latter view does require the ZXygote to be something less than the moral equal of an adult, a view I lean against. Lastly and perhaps most importantly the portion of Zygotes lost to natural causes does not justify the killing of zygotes, just as if a third world country had a 50% infant mortality rate it would not justify infanticide (killing infants after birth).

Perhaps instead of debating the begining the beginning of life issue (which I concede can be difficult) perhaps we can work backwards. What is the best equivalent to a fetus/unborn child
about to to be bornin moral standing, a comatose adult (my view yes), a animal, a tree, or maybe even something inanimate like a rock.What is the essential difference between between a newborn baby and a fetus about to be born? And how does this difference give the person whose body the fetus is in the right to kill the fetus?

more latter

captiver said...

@Nicholas O'Kane, welcome to the discussion.
You say that “the use of methods of birth control that cause the near-certain death of a newly created Zygote are to be considered a breach of human rights and morally wrong.”
I’m glad you have stated clearly and unequivocally that you consider certain methods of birth control to be equally morally condemnable as abortion of, say, an 8-month fetus. But correct me if I’m wrong here.
Re the issue of natural human zygote loss of at least 50%, which you acknowledge is a tragedy from the ‘pro-life’ position, you say that just because it “may cause uncomfortable conclusions does not invalidate the moral position.”
It may not, I agree, invalidate your moral position, however I believe it undermines it if one can assume that one’s actions reflect one’s moral position (What is a ‘moral position’ worth if one does the opposite, after all?) The primary point being made with this example is to illustrate the apparent disingenuousness of anti-abortion advocates. That is: why are 99.9% of the efforts by anti-abortionists aimed at elective abortion, and virtually none – so far as I can see – toward this much greater loss of embryonic life? I’ve already discussed why I think this is so above, but you don’t address this. Are you/they all mistaken? Or do you/they care less about natural embryo loss than elective abortion? I never claimed that natural zygote loss justifies abortion (a point you make). I have other reasons for arguing that abortion is more than justified, but justice – but I’ll stop at that for now. (You probably know what they are, if you’re steeped in this debate.) I do believe, however, that this discrepancy does undermine the ‘moral position’ of the anti-abortion camp.
Re your suggestion that we not debate the beginning of life issue (which is, you note, “difficult”), but work backwards: I thought it was all about the “beginning of life issue”? But, OK, what, you ask, “is the best equivalent for to a fetus/unborn child about to be born in moral standing”, and you suggest a few options including your preferred option of “a comatose adult”. I appreciate that you have earlier decreed that the location of the human doesn’t matter. Does this mean that if this comatose adult was inside a non-comatose adult who did not want that comatose adult to remain inside them (but the comatose adult would die if removed) that you hold the non-comatose adult has no right to have that comatose adult removed, indeed no say in the question whatsoever, no matter what the circumstances of his or her or zer life? (Have you read Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous paper “A Defense of Abortion”, which discusses comparable cases?) And, if so, why is there absolutism in this respect, but apparently none with respect to natural zygote loss? (That is, as noted, the efforts to overcome natural zygote loss are essentially non-existent compared with efforts to prevent those seeking abortion from accessing it.)
I believe that location does matter – when that location is inside another human being’s body. That if a non-comatose adult had a comatose adult inside their body, that this unique circumstance would give the non-comatose adult some rights with respect to the comatose adult. Just what rights, I can’t say because I don’t believe one can simply say this situation is precisely equivalent to that of zygote/pregnant woman. Clearly it isn’t in lots of important ways. I’ll leave it there for now…

Thurgle said...

Part I
1. Nicholas O’Kane doesn’t really address the points I raised in response to Bene. That’s his choice, so let it pass. But before commenting on his remarks, there is one thing I would like to recall from that correspondence and ask for a response: the asymmetry between anti-choice and pro-choice positions. If anti-choicers were content to accept that the scores of millions who hold pro-choice positions should be left to do as their consciences dictate, then all would be fine. Instead, anti-choicers seem to want to amass all the power influence and wealth they can so as to use the police and prosecutors to force their opinions down the throats of those they disagree with. Since O’Kane evidently regards the killing of a zygote as the killing of an innocent person, and so as morally no different from the killing of an infant, a child, or anyone else going innocently about their business, moral consistency would seem to require that he treat women who have abortions and the physicians who aid and abet them the same way first degree murderers and their abetters are treated, including being liable to the death penalty. I’m merely spelling out in plan terms the logic of most anti-choicers’ positions, which they generally go to great lengths to hide. I find it not just horrible and obnoxious but terrifying. Only two things seem to save women and physicians from such fates. First, most anti-choicers really don’t believe that zygotes embryos and fetuses are persons, or at least somewhere deep down deny the logic of their professed positions. Second, those fanatics who are true to this logic are kept in check thanks to the influence of secular ideas and values in most western and some other societies. However, if the fanatics had unchecked power, I have no doubt that they would, if they thought it necessary, inflict unspeakably horrible cruelties in the name of religion that would make Torquemada proud. This difference between our positions should never be forgotten: the logic of mine is that you and the women in your life be free to bring any pregnancy to term unmolested by the police and the justice system; the logic of yours is that I and the women in my life be put behind bars or worse for terminating a pregnancy. Or, are you after all pro-choice: morally against abortion, but, as a legal matter, for choice?

2. I do not think it makes sense to compare a fetus near term to an infant or comotose adult because the issue of abortion only arises when the fetus is inside a woman. The issue ceases to exist the moment that relationship ends. I also am not inclined to accept the proposal to consider the issue backwards from birth towards conception because it is only in the other temporal direction that the issues at stake are clearest. Accordingly, I call on O’Kane to explain why a single-celled zygote is entitled the full complement of human rights and the protections the state offers those already born. For although he says the exact moment when a zygote is entitled to full rights and protections is unclear, he still speaks of these single-celled entities as entitled to them at some point. Would I be right to presume that this view has something to do with the endorsement of some notion of ensoulment? Otherwise, I can’t see why O’Kane sees the case of twins as a complexifying complication. It seems to be so only if one takes seriously such angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin questions as whether one soul can become two (and if so, when and how), or does each twin get only half a soul (triplets a third etc.), or do the additional souls somehow bud off the first, etc. etc. etc. To me, the whole notion of souls entering zygotes, or blastocysts, or whatever agglomeration of cells one decides should have moral and legal status, is rank superstition with no place in any informed, critical consideration of the issue. CONTINUED IN NEXT COMMENT

Thurgle said...

PART III of III
4. “What is the essential difference between a newborn baby and a fetus about to be born? And how does this difference give the person whose body the fetus is in the right to kill the fetus?” I can only reply: do these questions matter? Prove to me that they do. For I can see no legal issue there. It reminds me of US Republican efforts to pass voter-ID laws as a measure to prevent voter fraud: these are laws in search of a crime, for voter fraud based on false IDs almost never occurs and has never been shown to tip an election; it is a law in search of a crime, laws in fact motivated by the desire to depress the turnout of Democrat-voting minorities, poor, and homeless. So too abortions within days of natural birth: these seldom if ever occur; so what need is there to decide from a legal perspective? In other words, why restrict the right of women to choose if women seldom if ever wish to kill a fetus on the point of being born? If there were such women, how could they find medical personnel willing to aid and abet? Late term abortions are typically cases where it is learned late in pregnancy that the fetus has a fatal defect, and will die horribly in the days or weeks after birth. Once in a while a woman doesn’t realize she is pregnant until quite late; but these cases are usually 7 months or earlier; if they are later than that, I imagine there would be great difficulty finding medical personnel willing to kill a healthy fetus in the eighth month, much less the ninth. Since O’Kane’s questions seem to have little or no relation to the reality of abortion, I can see no need for them to be addressed. What then of the moral dimension? That seems to me a matter of conscience best left to each woman and doctor to decide for themselves -- like abortion itself.

Thurgle said...

HI THM, I did post a part II, but had a bit of trouble, so there must have been a glitch. Hoping you can slip this in between I and III. Not sure what happened. here, tis, thanks:

Part II of III
For is there a scientifically respectable definition of souls as there is of zygotes, HOX genes, and the like? Of course not; souls, as the ordinary Joe and Jane understand them (or the Pope), are a vestige of Medieval mumbo-jumbo with no business in rational discussion. We can talk about the mental capacities a fetal brain is capable of at each stage in development, e.g. at how many weeks or months a fetal brain has capacities comparable to a fly, a gecko, a mouse, or a marmoset. But we can’t talk about souls and still have a debate based on knowledge and critical reasoning rather than ignorance and superstition.

3. If, however, O’Kane’s views about zygotes et al are not based on souls flying into wombs to take up residence, but on nothing more than the possession of a full human genetic complement, then I need him to explain why an entity no more like him or me than an amoeba should be granted full moral and legal status. And what about the implications? Each human skin, mucous, rectal, etc. cell that all of us shed every minute of every day has that same genetic complement; so should they be given moral and legal status too? If he says no because they don’t have the potential to develop a human phenotype, then I would ask him if he has ever heard of cloning? To be sure: we don’t have the technology yet, but no doubt some day, if society invested sufficient resources, each of the cells that currently gets spat out when we brush our teeth or excreted when we relieve ourselves could be saved, implanted in a womb, and brought to term. And then of course there is the issue he slides over of the holocaust of zygotes that for one reason fail to attach to the womb and are expelled: if they have full moral and legal status, what reason can one possibly give for not advocating a crash program paid for with a blank cheque to save these millions upon millions of potential humans? If anti-choicers say they aren’t worth saving, aren’t they as guilty as those who abort? To me, it is absurd and dogmatic to extend moral and legal status to zygotes or any other entity developmentally remote from a newborn. Put another way, anti-choicers have to prove their rational bona fides by conceding that there is no basis not rooted in Iron Age superstition for extending legal protections to cellular agglomerations developmentally remote from newborns and threatening adults with incarceration or worse for killing them, and accept the implication that the burden of proof is on anti-choicers, not us, to show when in a pregnancy, if ever, it IS justified to extend some or all these rights to fetuses.

Acid Queen said...

I see you anti-choice dipshits have once again tried to bring up your bullshit in the main comments. Thanks Julie to deleting their crap.

But fundies, woman-haters and racists alike, I'm telling you now - I'm not scared of you. Got something to say? Say it here.

Just don't cry if I rip you a new one.