Logicians know that when you deduce a contradiction, your premises are broken. When human beings express a contradiction, it usually means their true beliefs are not their stated or conscious ones; they’re rationalizing a position which they may not be fully aware of.
The ‘pro-life’ right has a very simple story about abortion. Human life is sacred, and begins at conception. Killing a fetus is murder and should be prohibited. But almost all ‘pro-lifers’ will admit, when pressed, that they’d allow abortion when the mother was raped.
Excuse me? If all human life is sacred, why is the child of rape an exception? It’s not like any fetus chooses to have a rapist as its father. Pro-lifers say all fetal life is sacred, but they don’t follow through as they would if they actually believed that. So they must actually believe something else.
Rape is sex the woman didn’t want. Therefore, the obvious candidate for something else is “Women who want sex (and only women who want sex) must be forced to bear children whether or not they want to.” Gee, that doesn’t sound as appealing or noble as “All human life is sacred”, does it? It’s not about the fetus at all.
This is why I put the term ‘pro-life’ in sarcasm quotes. The core issue revealed in the actual behavioral prescriptions of ‘pro-life’ types (as opposed to their rhetoric) has nothing to do with the fetus itself and everything to do with the belief that sexual desire is a sin and should have heavy consequences.
Alternatively, what pro-lifers may be be most afraid of is the thought of people having sex just to satisfy desire, without the intention or potential result of childbirth. The Catholic Church follows this premise through to its conclusion explicitly, rejecting all forms of contraception.
I’m going to surprise a lot of my readers now by observing that being afraid of conscupiscience is not crazy. In fact, this kind of fear, and the suppression of non-procreative sex, may be an evolutionary advantage. Most of the developed world outside the U.S. is on a fast train to demographic collapse because the populations of Europe and Japan are not breeding at replacement levels.
The trouble with standing athwart this particular tide the way the Catholic Church is doing isn’t so much that they’re wrong, it’s that the attempt is failing. Catholics everywhere have refused to comply with the prescription and the reasoning. Evidently, if we want populations that reproduce under modern conditions, we have to find a more effective form of behavior modification than trying to moralize people out of having sex for pleasure.
But the standard form of ‘pro-life’ rhetoric is worse than merely ineffective, because it’s dishonest; the people uttering it won’t or can’t admit what their real issue is. Instead, they dress up their desire to control others in religious clothing.
By contrast, the “keep your laws off my body” rhetoric of the pro-choice side looks far more consistent and reasonable, even though it leads to the repugnant conclusion that there is no moral issue with killing an infant that has humanlike brain activity but happens not to be due to exit the womb for another five minutes.
(I sometimes think, by the way, that the whole abortion debate would change radically if Le Boyer birth were normal in our culture and people could see babies being born with their eyes open, smiling, aware of what is happening.)
Voltaire said, “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” He was right, and both extremes in the abortion controversy demonstrate that. But the ‘pro-life’ side has a worse case of absurdity than the pro-choicers, and that won’t change until (at a minimum) they face up to what they really want.
“if Le Boyer birth were normal in our culture and people could see babies being born with their eyes open, smiling, aware of what is happening.”
Are you talking about the babies being born or the people watching the birth?
>Are you talking about the babies being born or the people watching the birth?
The babies. When newborns are treated gently, birthed in dim light and immersed in warm water for few minutes before the cord is cut, they’re not the shocked, squalling mindless little blobs we think we know. Often their eyes are open. I’ve never seen this live, but the film footage I have seen suggest that newborns are very self-aware and alert through the whole process of birthing, if they’re not hammered by bright lights and pain into withdrawing into themselves.
There is an interesting case in the UK at the moment that is putting pro-lifers and pro-choicers under stress. See here for details.
>But the â€˜pro-lifeâ€™ side has a worse case of absurdity than the pro-choicers
I’m not so sure about that. If the average ‘pro-life’ woman has 3 children and the average ‘pro-choice’ woman has 1 kid and two abortions, then soon there will be damn few ‘pro-choice’ women. There’s a piece in “Foreign Policy” by Phillip Longman called ‘The Return of Patriarchy’ that examines this issue.
It seems to me that what the Left has wanted, in America at least, for a long time was to create its own subculture, a world in which good Lefties need never encounter anyone to their right, unless it was a servant. To a great extent, in Hollywood, New England, and many college towns, as well as in the mainstream media, the State Department (and other government bureaucracies, and to a lesser extent professions like law, they have gotten their wish. They have their Liberal Cocoon, where conservative opinion is verbotten. But what shall be the fate of their subculture?
I wonder if Conservatives like those in South Dakota, who recently voted to ban abortion, aren’t fools. If Liberals are eager to abort themselves out of existence, would it be such a bad thing to let them?
Consider that Liberal intellectuals are, in Orwell’s term, ‘objectively pro-fascist’ in that they may not want to see bin Laden win, necessarily, but they definitely want to see their own country lose. Those Yale administrators who invited that former Taliban PR guy to be a student, while seeking to deny campus access to military recruiters have made their position abundantly clear. They want to see their civilization burn. But they also want to abort their children. If they are to be denied their first wish, should they not be granted their second?
“Rape is sex the woman didnâ€™t want. Therefore, the obvious candidate for something else is â€œWomen who want sex (and only women who want sex) must be forced to bear children whether or not they want to.â€”
Sorry Eric, the leap in logic there is too great. In order to have support for this you’d pretty much have to show “pro-life” people are against birth control. Elsewise that leap fails.
Eric does have a good point, but draws wildly incorrect conclusions from it. The good point:
to be consistant, a pro-lifer should not make an exception for rape. The incorrect conclusion:
pro-lifers aren’t pro-life, they are anti-sex.
Eric’s argument that the pro-life position reduces to simple fear of sex is simply an insult
to the intelligence of any pro-lifer, although it may be good propaganda. A simple factual
observation: while some pro-lifers may believe that birth control is wrong, this position is
never – not even in the most heated presentations of Catholic pro-lifers – confused with a
pro-life position. The two are simply different issues.
In making an exception for rape (and incest; the two are usually joined in this argument),
pro-lifers are actually falling into the same emotional fallacy which characterises the
pro-choice position: life would be so much easier if we could just make exceptions for hard
cases. On the other hand, from a political position, allowing an exception for rape and incest
makes sense. If abortion were permitted only for serious threat to the life or health of the
mother, or in case of rape or incest, 98% of legal abortions (at a guess) would no longer be
Terry and Joe:
Eric’s conclusion isn’t supported entirely by the premises, but it is supported from elsewhere. Anyone who grew up among such folk knows how neurotic they are about sex; It’s quite difficult to explain, though. If you want a taste, find your local protestant church and attend their youth services. You will find preachers instructing girls, when they hug someone, to stand away and lean forward so that their breasts to not touch. Therefore the conclusion that many pro-lifers are motivated by fear and loathing is easy to jump to, and quite reasonable.
Left-wing politics is only very loosely a heritable trait, so natural selection doesn’t apply. Anyway, it’s one of Eric’s main points is that memetic, cultural selection does. Also, he only said that pro-life was more absurd, not that it is less advantageous.
Sorry for the discussion-creep, but this is just too similar to ignore.
Here’s another one, from more or less the same group of hypocrites: Same-sex marriage is wrong because marriage is about family and children.
So, then, should we allow post-menopausal women to marry? Where’s the child-bearing potential there? How about older couples (say, 60s or 70s) getting married?
Same-sex marriage isn’t wrong because marriage is about family and children. It’s wrong because God says so.
I’ve always been under the impression that the rape exception was a point of contention among pro-lifers, instead of always being assumed in one way or the other.
Perhaps that’s because I fall on the logically-consistent side of that question. On the other hand, I’ve never directly dealt with any cases of the hatred of sexulity that Eric mentions.
The existence of the rape-case inconsistency is another evidence that most of the abortion debate occurs on the emotional level rather than the logical level.
I’ve dealt with the more vocal right-wing ‘pro life’ types when I attended my ex wife’s church. I learned that there is a very diverse group in that camp, there for different reasons. In this case, the issue seemed to be control: Preacher didn’t like this sort of behavior, so it is not allowed… andbythewaythebiblesaysnottoanyway.
This same preacher’s daughter got knocked up and was quietly spirited off to have a li’l operation. As far as I know, only my ex and I know about it, outside her family. Can’t be admittin’ to that sort of grievous sin, after all.
Pick an issue, bad stuff happens on both sides. Folks just choose to be blind to what happens on their own side.
“Anyone who grew up among such folk knows how neurotic they are about sex; Itâ€™s quite difficult to explain, though.”
Wow, you kind of make it sound like they live under glass in some far off land. It’s not “difficult to explain” at all. Whenever a group of people are lumped together for generality sake something is lost. “All black people are” is a sentence that isn’t going to go well. Neither is “all leftists,” “all republicans,” “all baby boomers,” etc. Although I’d think they comprise more than 50% of the nation as a whole, and the number isn’t important here in a specific sense, I’d have a hard time believing 150 million people have the same attitude about sex. I suspect that the gradient is much greater.
But yes David, I did grow up amongst “such people.” Worse yet I have to deal with “pro-lifers” on a daily basis. In fact I think that might be about half the people I encounter on a daily basis. Not all of them seem to have sex neurosis. Conversely I know a few “pro-choice” people that do have sex hang-ups.
Pro-life != Fundamental Christian *1
Typically, those on the left are for the “deletion” of unborn humans*2, in spite of the fact that those unborn humans have done nothing against society. So why does the anti-capital punishment ranks draw so many from this side?
Typically those on the right are in favor of keeping those same unborn yet are all for executing at the other end.
So both sides are a little pro-life and a little pro-death.
At least I’m consistent. Reduce at both ends….
*1 I am neither.
*2 yes, they are unborn humans. I mean if left to go term they wouldn’t come out as chickens or rabbits would they?
> But almost all â€˜pro-lifersâ€™ will admit, when pressed,
> that theyâ€™d allow abortion when the mother was raped.
may be you are the one who starts with a broken premise here.
I don’t think that’s the position of the Catholic Church for instance.
It’s not about “life is sacred”. It’s about human rights. The anti-abortionist defends the right of the fetus.
The fact that the mother wants the baby or not (by mistake or rape) doesn’t make any difference.
The question is whether the fetus has rights.
I don’t really agree that the pro-choicers have a less-absurd argument. While I think both sides have their absurdities, I think the pro-choicers are the more obviously absurd. I think this because they base their argument that the fetus is not a human life on some arbitrary and effectively “moving” point that’s not even the same per-person. The reality is that eventually Science will allow for babies to be fertilized, gestated and born completely outside of the womb, so what will their argument be then?
>The reality is that eventually Science will allow for babies to be fertilized, gestated and born completely outside of the womb, so what will their argument be then?
In the womb or out of it, the moral issue doesn’t change. If we have a humanity test we believe (mine is humanlike frontal-cortex activity) it should be applicable in either case.
There is also the fact that the anti-abortion gang is quite prepared to keep on going. By this I mean they are attempting to ban all contraception. It just happens that abortion is the most politically vulnerable part, so it gets addressed first.
I recall quite vividly how, when back in 1991 I was teaching at a Roman Catholic high school, I was a part of a very revealing conversation.
There was a supreme court ruling on an abortion case coming up, I think it was about a Pennsylvania law. The discussion presumed that the case would be won by the anti-abortion forces.
It was made very clear by my fellow teachers, only about half of who were nuns or priests, that this was just a first step. Next would come a total abortion ban. After that The Pill would be banned and any other form of contraception.
It was absolutely clear that these people felt they had total moral authority to force their moral beliefs on the population at large fully backed by the power of the state.
The issue is like gun control in this. The other side is not after a compromise, they intend to take it all away.
In the womb or out of it, the moral issue doesnâ€™t change. If we have a humanity test we believe (mine is humanlike frontal-cortex activity) it should be applicable in either case.
I think this was part of my point. How can a moral issue not change if we have individually defined humanity tests? That’s complete moral relativism as far as I can see.
Pro-choicers also have a bit of cognitive dissonance. We’re to think that there is really no moral difference between a first-trimester abortion and a booger, but then what of the “safe, legal and rare” rhetoric? Do we hear about appendectomies being made safe, legal, and rare?
I’m going to repost here a few thoughts I’ve put down elsewhere, on the meaning of abortion, and about why having an abortion is like getting your box r00ted. Here ’tis:
Abortion strikes me as an inelegant method. I mean, it’s expensive, it’s nontrivial, and it’s way more complicated than a lot of other methods of not having kids. Which is, for me, where the idea that it should be a last resort comes from. There’s a particular chain of events that leads to the production of a mewling sack of child-meat, and a number of places in which that chain can be broken. (Well, it’s more like two converging chains of events.)
And there’s also an idea that abortion is an evil. A necessary evil, but an evil. I believe that if you ask some upstanding feminist ladies, “given the choice between needing an appendectomy at some point next year, and needing an abortion at some point next year (for absolutely nontraumatic reasons), which would you choose?”, a goodly number would rather have an appendectomy. I don’t think people are really entirely kosher with the idea.I doubt that women skip out of the clinic, paying their procedure no more mind than they’d pay the removal of an ingrown toenail.
See, if you’re getting an abortion, either you’re thinking, “there’s no killing going on here”, or “there’s killing going on here, but I’m okay with that, possibly for my own safety, or possibly for my own convenience.” And I’d wager that a lot of people who say the former have, to some extent, internalized the latter. ‘Cause if folks really believed the former, it’d be morally equivalent to getting that ingrown toenail out, now wouldn’t it?
Hell, I’ll go a little further. Anyone who says that abortion should be rare and doesn’t really give a reason for it (I don’t think I’ve ever heard “it’s expensive and inelegant”; I suppose socially induced shame would be a likely one, but that applies to individuals, not to global abortion rates) believes that abortion is murder, and is okay with that murder for their own safety, or much more likely, for their own convenience. I suppose verbalizing this would make for a big sack of cognitive dissonance–many of the things we believe to get by are self-contradictory–so we don’t talk about them much.
And yes, I do think that ‘convenience’ is a very small word for what can be a life-altering event. But that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? Either you believe it’s murder and won’t let yourself think about it too hard, or you believe it’s an ingrown toenail.
Man, no wonder people get so traumatized.
Abortion is seen as an indication that all other methods have failed. Through the marvels of technology, we construct systems ranging from “cross your fingers and hope” to combinations of techniques that stop the process at a variety of levels (for instance, the pill, condoms and spermicides can all be used together, but all work at different points in the process). It’d be easy to take the failure of that constructed system as an indication that something had been done wrong–and it’d be natural to assume that one would patch it to close the presumed loophole which had led to the system’s failure.
So, getting an abortion is like having your box get r00ted and needing a clean reinstall. It’s time-consuming, difficult and embarrassing, and you’ll face disapproval from your peers because of the belief that it shouldn’t have come to that.
What makes you think that dyed-in-the-wool conservatives don’t get abortions when it’s convenient for them as well? There are plenty of hypocrites out there.
Not to mention that political affiliation is hardly heritable. It’s laughable to speak about lefties being bred out of existence. Everyone knows they reproduce by budding on college campuses…
Conjecture: It’s morally equivalent, but not emotionally equivalent, because people are wired to keep their offspring alive.
Joe: I am obviously not talking about half the United States. I am talking about a specific set of people — the set of people who have the properties I described. ;)
Reproduction, not too long ago, was a purely social issue. Social issues, like abortion, adultery, and petty office theft, often work well on the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the “What they don’t know won’t hurt” principals. Noone can be 100% good, so rather than set the standard to 50% so everyone can clear it, religous organizations often set the bar at 100%, but accept 80%.
If you believe a fetus is a human life, then you can’t accept the “rape or incest” exception. I don’t think that they are hypocrits so much as people who set their moral compass by gut instinct and convention, rather than by analyzing their principles. The same can be said of the Pro-Choicers who, like a previous poster said, say “safe, legal, and rare”. If they believe it isn’t a human life, and that it is purely their own choice, then who cares how safe or rare it is? It should be a personal choice for them.
When people “feel” their way though morality using their instinct rather than their rational mind, they usually develop an inconsistant and contradictory world view. Personally this country would be better off if they dropped Calculus from High schools and inserted a Philosophy 101 course, and/or Personal Finance for Dummies.
Also… They should pass a law banning anyone under the age of 35 from quoting Nietzsche.
Eric, you are too keen to generalize.
I am “pro life”; I believe that abortion is tantamount to murder, so should be banned. The only exception I’d permit is where the life of the mother is in danger — either way you’re trading one life for another. I am also against destroying “spare” embryos produced during IVF for the same reason — all the embryos should be implanted. If people aren’t happy with the idea of triplets, or quads, or more, the doctors shouldn’t fertilise so many eggs.
If you don’t want a child now under any circumstances, don’t have sex. If you’re OK with the possibility of having a child now, but you’d rather not, use contraception. If you actively want a child now, or you’re happy with the idea, it’s more fun without.
Sex is great, and I’m not fussed who has sex with who, under what circumstances, or when, provided both parties are happy with the idea (the potential consequences of infidelity notwithstanding). However, people should be aware of (and prepared for) the potential outcome — this is an activity designed for reproduction, after all.
Rape is a nasty affair, and thoroughly unpleasant for the victim. I can sympathize with women who wouldn’t want to carry the rapist’s child, but I don’t think it gives them the right to murder it. If they don’t want to look after it (and I can see why they wouldn’t), they can always put it up for adoption.
Incidentally, I am not Christian; my sprituality is more aligned with yours, though I expect we disagree on the details.
David McCabe said:
“Same-sex marriage isnâ€™t wrong because marriage is about family and children. Itâ€™s wrong because God says so.”
Bullshit! That’s not what He told me. In fact He told me He was pretty fed up with people putting words in His mouth. God loves us and wants us to be happy. That’s why He gave us beer. And, that’s why He is not concerned about gay marriage. Since I got this from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, it makes me authoritative.
Can you imagine a greater hubris than to have the audacity to presume to know what God said? Or wants. When anyone starts in with that insolence, it’s time to run away, run far far away, in a hurry. ;)
I can tell you from personal experience that there is at least one sect of Christianity (not Roman Catholic) that really gets its rocks off by scaring youngsters into refraining from any and all kinds of sexual activity (and ensuring that they get a healthy dose of “divine” shame if they do dare indulge their natural urges). I could blame it on my father, but I know I’ve heard it from the pulpit one too many times to just chalk it up to parental influence.
Granted, this particular branch (the Born Agains–they get quite a bit of bad press, don’t they) is somewhat pathological in some of its beliefs and seems to use fear more than the average religion to get what it wants out of its constituents. Then again, I can only speak from the position of having been there… now, I don’t answer to any religion for answers and chicken pot pies.
> If people arenâ€™t happy with the idea of triplets, or quads, or more, the doctors shouldnâ€™t fertilise so many eggs.
Uh, do you have any idea how IVF *works*?
I’ll delurk for this one. I usually don’t chime in here because while I respect Eric’s perspective on many issues, the attitudes of Christians at this blog are rarely tolerated. Hopefully, I can at least cast some doubt in some people’s minds that all evangelical Christians are evil. That being said, I recognize the tenants of my faith prohibiting the practice of abortion in any case, nor do those tenants give me any hang ups about sex (its great fun by the way). I also recognize that one of the tenants of my faith prohibits me from compelling anyone else to follow the beliefs and practices that I follow. Attempt to persuade through discussion, yes. Convert at the point of a gun, absolutely not. This debate is one where I break with my conservative brethren. In my opinion, abortion is a matter left between a man, a woman, her health care provider, and any/all of their spiritual deities/leaders. Government involvement here is what bothers me. Both sides are equally guilty of attempting to use the force implicit in government regulation to impose their morality on the other side. The pro-choicers are equally bad on this one. Their attempts at making performing an abortion to be part of the licensing procedure for doctors (like the State of New York has tried) and their attempts to compell companies like Wal-Mart to supply morning after pills are no better than some of the subversive means the pro-life side takes. What I found interesting about Eric’s argument is that the hypocrisy of the pro-life side makes their position laughable. Conversely, the pro-choice side uses judicial legislation and an interpretation of the Constitution that should make any Libertarian shudder and that seems to be ok. By my read of the 10th Amendment, the entire debate over abortion is at best up to the states to decide. My preference is that it becomes a matter left to the people. Let the market forces within a community dictate the availability of health care providers that perform abortions. Roe v. Wade should be overturned, not on the merits of the case, but because its an egregious overextension of the authority of the federal government.
Like I tell my Discrete Structures class, in debates such as these the founding propositions must be determined before objective logic can be applied and by extension before laws should be passed. As such, (as is pointed out elsewhere in this discussion) the debate isn’t over the practice of abortion, but more specifically what constitutes human life. Since we (as a society) cannot agree on that, the remainder of the debate, and the exceptions that accompany it, is largely pointless.
The only significant problem I have with ESR’s position is that it pivots on a highly contentious threshold. The point of contention is the assertion that “human life = frontal cortex activity”. While I would agree that this is a measure of *quality* of human life (thus the ‘mercy’ of ending life-support for the brain-dead), I challenge its use as a litmus-test for the *presence* of human life. Why brain activity? Why not something else that makes us each uniquely distinguishable…like DNA? This exists from conception, and is the first clear point where one human life can be delineated from another.
This does not mean that I believe that all abortion, from conception onward, is murder. However, given my recognition of the *presence* of human life, from conception onward, I do consider all abortion to be homicide. This leaves my challenge as being one concerning whether all, some, or none, are *justifiable* homicide or not.
For rape and incest (well…it’s all rape…violent sexually penetrative crimes) I would justify abortion on the grounds of mental health for the victim. Of course, there is no denying that, even as a rape baby, the child is essentially innocent (as ESR correctly highlights), which is why I also support the death penalty for the rapist, should an impregnation/abortion occur.
As to the other ‘threshold’ issue, do I agree with a cutoff point a la ESR’s cortex-activity-threshold? Not sure. Isn’t this a little like establishing a cooling-off period? “You’ve got so long to make up your mind…are you happy with your ‘purchase’?”…leaves a bad taste in the mouth…but is it practically workable?
What is the real purpose of abortion? We’re not simply talking about disposing of garbage. We are considering the culling of our own species. Could it not be argued that to legally force any woman, at any point in time, to have her baby, is an act of brutality by the state? That this itself would be damaging to the mental health of the woman? I consider those that retort “but she can give the baby away for adoption” as ghoulish…they believe that the propagation of the species should be accomplished by legally forcing women to be breeder cattle? Horrifying.
Having said that, I have to also express disgust at the very real attitude of some women that view abortion as ‘last-ditch contraception’. In my darker moments I have expressed a desire to see women that have more than N abortions be sterilised…if we can shoot a maniac to stop further endangerment to life, why not sterilise a sociopath with no regard for how much innocent life she disposes of?
There was a good debate in another of ESR’s threads a while back…it was perhaps most remarkable for the fact that everyone kept a cool head and engaged in the argument sensibly, regardless of viewpoint…a rare quality for an “abortion” debate :-)
I hereby launch a world campaign to eradicate all usage of the word “tenant” when people really mean “tenet”
Sorry Jon… ;-)
My mistake. I thought I proofread my posting better than that. Its probably why I don’t get asked to teach English classes.
>I think this was part of my point. How can a moral issue not change if we have individually defined humanity tests? Thatâ€™s complete moral relativism as far as I can see.
I’m not a moral relativist. When I said “mine”, I meant “the humanity test I advocate and which I believe should be universal”. As I’ve pointed out before, it is nearly universally accepted by (non-religious) bioethicists with respect to decisions at the other end of life.
>If you donâ€™t want a child now under any circumstances, donâ€™t have sex.
That’s not an acceptable answer, because abstinence is not healthy for post-pubertal human beings. See the horrible recent scandals in the Catholic Church for what happens when you deny human beings outlets for normal sexual desire.
>Why brain activity? Why not something else that makes us each uniquely distinguishableâ€¦like DNA?
Any marmot, any pine tree, and any yeast cell are all uniquely distinguishable (not just by species but as individuals) by their DNA. You’re proposing a test that has nothing to do with humanity.
You are mischaracterizing the anti-abortion movement from the start. The most recent anti-abortion legislation from South Dakota makes no exception for pregnancies due to rape.
It is true that logic would dictate that no exception be made in the cause of fetuscide. Public policy about homicide is not always logical when evaluating human life. Various states have statues that impose a higher penalty for the murder of a police officer. They are not saying that police life is more important than other innocent life, are they? Similarly most states have exceptions to taking of a human life when another human life (or property) is in danger. I don’t see that this means that the political process is in error.
It is the gut reaction of many that fetuscide is particularly aggregious in the second and third trimesters when the child is more developed. Biology shows us that a great number of spontaneous abortions occur in the first trimester, often due to chromosomal abnormalities. Apparently nature too is unaffected by a logical dictate that all fetal life is equal.
Much of the abortion debate began because technology allowed humans to have recreational sex without the consequence of pregnancy and a great number of humans began to completely forget the causal relationship between sex and children. Now when they aren’t putting technology in place to prevent conception and oft times become pregnant they ask for additional technological means to extinguish the life they have created. Many of us find that somewhere between distasteful to despicable, especially in light of further understanding of the growth and development of children in the womb that was gleaned from advancing medical technologies such as ultrasonography. [Although we feel some pity on women who have not consented to have unprotected sex now being burdened to proceed with an unconsented pregnancy]
So in fact it isn’t just Christian dogma driving the abortion opponents. It is technology itself that has humanized the fetus as being more than an easily discarded sac of yolk. I myself advocate the elimination of second and third trimester abortion as being particularly aggregious. I find first trimester abortion similarly distasteful, but politically it is simpler to outlaw the procedures seen as most heinous by the electorate.
This intersection of biology, technology, politics, (and for some) religion, does not lend it self well to dialectic logic. I think you must tread lightly when trying to make inferences with that weapon,
“…Youâ€™re proposing a test that has nothing to do with humanity.”
I think perhaps that biologists might just disagree with you there ESR…I am not talking about marmot or yeast DNA…I am talking about perfectly distinguishable *human* DNA (mea culpa…I did not *specifically* say “human DNA” in my earlier post, I thought that was somewhat implicit).
I am not even talking of “humanity” (in a philosophical sense), but the unambiguous identification of something fundamentally *human*, and using the presence of same as a declaration of the *presence* of human life…not viability, not brain activity….just *presence*. No moral equivocation, no sanctimonious religious BS…*presence*…*existence*. A clear-cut point of reference that differentiates “no human life” from “human life”.
The humanity aspect comes into play soon after making this observation. Blood has DNA, so if I destroy blood is that not destroying human life too? Of course not, and surely none of us would argue such a point. What makes blood different from that first fertilized ovum? From a DNA perspective, bugger all…but from a broader *humanitarian* perspective, we cannot help but acknowledge that no drop of blood is going to become a living human being (until we perfect cloning…oy vey! what a conundrum that will be!)…but that fertilization, the unique DNA it produces, and the whole process over the next 9 months, is our one and only means of producing human life.
Given that the presence of unique human DNA occurs at conception, why is this any less valid an identifier of human life than your brain activity test? It would seem that you have settled on an arbitrary criterion, appropriate for differentiating levels of congnizance, and are issuing the non-sequitur that this standard also now encompasses the definition of human life in its entirety. That’s a big jump…I would have to say it is also most fallacious.
As I mentioned in t’other thread…I think we both generally agree on abortion-related policy, but I very much disagree with your thought process for arriving there.
> If you want a taste, find your local protestant church and attend their youth services. You will find preachers instructing girls, when they hug someone, to stand away and lean forward so that their breasts to not touch.
I’ve been to quite a few protestant churches, and even some snake-handlers, and I’ve never seen that.
I’m not saying that it hasn’t happened 20 times, but almost everything that is possible happens. That doesn’t make it common-place.
Fuck this dang fuckin’ shit, I’m rollin’ celibate henceforth. So when you guys get it all figured it out, just hit me with a text message. I’ll be sittin’ here, pants off, right in front of the computer, and I’ll have the cell phone on my desk — just hit me with a text, man.
The unfortunate thing about your attitude, Peter (and I do appreciate your exasperated humour ;-) , is that it gets nobody anywhere.
I agree with ESR’s brain activity definition. I see nothing wrong with abortion up to that point, and I see no reason that a woman can’t decide whether or not she wants the baby and get an abortion done long before then. Once the fetus is producing brain waves, then abortion should be done only for medical reasons. I could support regulations to that effect. OTOH, I might also support the total exclusion of government regulation from the abortion decision, considering how often all three branches of our government show the reasoning ability of a crackhead when it comes to making decisions based on scientific evidence.
But “If all human life is sacred, why is the child of rape an exception?” makes me want to play devil’s advocate:
There’s another issue here besides whether the fetus is a “human being”: whether another human being can be temporarily enslaved to keep a human being alive? This is not just an abortion question; if Jane Doe is too lazy to hold a job, and too stupid to use birth control or to identify the fathers of her six kids, is it OK to force others to pay for her rent and groceries? Real conservatives (and libertarians) will say no – even if that means that Jane and her brood are going to starve to death once voluntary private charities realize the hopelessness of inducing her to change their ways and decide to direct their resources towards more hopeful cases.
So why would a conservative force Jill to spend 9 months carrying a fetus she does not want? Because, in their opinion, she volunteered for the job by voluntarily having sex without adequate birth control. If you believe this, then it is quite logical to make an exception for the case when Jill did not voluntarily have sex.
Just one thing – it’s gross hypocrisy for anyone who thinks this way to claim to be for a “right to life”…
Then, having allowed one exception, how about other exceptions? If having the baby would be likely to kill Jill, we can kill it to save her. If the ultrasounds reveal some horrible and inevitably fatal deformity (say, the brain is growing on the outside of the skull), then killing it before it develops more ability to feel pain is just a matter of mercy. If the baby is likely to die and scar Jill’s uterus so that she cannot have another one… And finally, if the baby is dying with dire effects on Jill’s health because someone stuck a coat hangar up there and swished it around, then the hospital just has to complete the job, right? (This was how a good many back-alley abortions really worked, back in the bad old days. And Jill would never be charged with a crime.)
The idea of brain development was a criterion tried by states as a method of delineating when abortion was legal or not — as was lung development, for instance. All these methods failed in the courts because it was difficult to determine with any certainty, even with sonogram technology that the particular fetus was in fact protected by law.
In fact the Roe decision has been interpreted so broadly that any health reason for the mother has trumped the right of the state to make limits on the application of surgical procedures to destroy the fetus. Few other countries have so broadly determined abortion as being legal to the very moment when the head clears the birth canal. The health reasons allowing for abortion have included the emotional state of the mother.
I don’t think religiosity is a prerequisite for being against abortion.
I also am annoyed when fellow libertarians see *no* limits set by the state as valid. We do as a society in the U.S. vote on some limits on individual behaviour on a state by state case basis. In some states lethal force can be used on other individuals because they are trespassing on your property, other states don’t allow the use of lethal force except in reaction to the use of lethal force against your person. I would rather live in the former than the later, but that’s my taste.
I don’t think my distaste with abortion in general or my abhorence of late term abortion in particular is symptomatic of religious dogma. I’m an atheist.
What does this mean? I couldn’t find it in several
dictionaries, including the OED (which goes from
“conscriptive” to “conseale”).
What a shock, a post on abortion stirred things up! From the original post:
/* â€œWomen who want sex (and only women who want sex) must be forced to bear children whether or not they want to.â€
While it is true that only the women have the children, I do believe that most pro-lifers also believe in child support, marriage, etc. I’m not truly “pro-life”; I consider myself more “anti-abortion” (exceptions for rape, incest, life of mother in danger). Also, I believe getting somebody pregnant is no reason to get married (getting pregnant is a question of statistics and timing, neither of which is important in a marriage). Instead, I would recommend adoption.
/* The Catholic Church follows this premise through to its conclusion explicitly, rejecting all forms of contraception.
Although I realize that contraception can be defined to mean “artificial contraception” (as the Catholic Church puts it), I simply wanted to state, for the record, the the Catholic Church isn’t against “natural contraception” (or rather, avoiding conception in the first place, usually by playing off of statistics and timing).
As a liberal Catholic, I believe that we should respect the sanctity of life. But for me life is not a binary, rather there are degrees of life. A few cells in a womb is the potential for life, but it isn’t the same thing as fully conscious, self actualizing life. In nature, many of these potential lives are terminated all the time. As the fetus slowly gains in consciousness and size, I think it becomes less potential and more actual life. Many pro-lifers argue that we are *unnaturally* ending the life of the child with abortion or it is *against god’s will*, but if you are going to argue about nature or god’s will, you have to recognize that we routinely thwart nature’s course and god’s will in the creation of new life. Medical science has made it possible to extract premature fetuses and keep them alive with special equipment, and eventually we will be able to extract just the original zygotes and raise the child outside the mother’s womb. In a natural setting many fetuses would die in the womb and many children would die at childbirth and the first 5 years of life. Read _Death without Weeping_ about childbirth among the poor in Northeastern Brazil and you will see that our attitudes toward life have been dramatically affected by modern medicine and abundance of food. We expect every pregnacy to come to term and every fetus is expected to reach adulthood. These are profoundly unnatural expectations. The anthropologist who wrote _Death without Weeping_ notes how the poor of Brazil have a profoundly different attitude toward life, and don’t expect children under 5 to necessarily live. Through history, humans have been regulating their family sizes. Population studies from Ancient Athens and Medieval Europe show that humans have altered their family sizes according to inheritance systems and economic conditions. So let’s dispense with arguments about what is natural. As for people who argue that it is God’s will, God gave us intelligence and free will so we would be good stewards of the earth. If we just leave it up to nature or refuse to use God’s gift of intelligence, we will overpopulate the planet and destroy the basis of life. In other parts of the world, there is a real over-population problem, but in the US over-population isn’t the problem. Rather the problem is that we live such a polluting lifestyle that we are threatening the sustainability of life.
Now some social conservatives may argue that we should simply abstain from sex outside of marriage and use the rhythm method inside marriage to regulate family size and population growth, but that doesn’t work in reality. The majority of Americans simply don’t want to live by that sort of morality, and even if they did, it is a very ineffective form of birth control. My aunt ended up with 10 kids despite trying to limit the number of births by faithfully following rhythem method prescribed by the Catholic church. I have a number of conservative Catholic relatives and the only ones who advocate the rhythem method are the ones with large families who weren’t interested in limiting their family size in the first place. So let’s dispense with the arguments about nature and God’s will.
We need to recognize the fundamental contradictions in the prolife and prochoice camps. A prolifer demands that every woman carry every pregnancy to term, but most of the people who advocate pro-life positions, also refuse to bear any responsibility for supporting that child. The same people who vote to ban abortion are the same that refuse to pay for prenatal care. They refuse to pay for welfare for single mothers who can’t support their children. They refuse to support universal health care, adequate funding for education in low income areas, and a whole host of programs that would support children in our society. You can’t demand that people raise children if you yourself aren’t willing to pay for all those children. In a society where 20% of children live below the poverty line, pro-lifers aren’t respecting life when they are consigning many children to horrible lives. The states which have the largest restrictions on abortion today are generally the same states with the least support for children. Secondly, the prolifers aren’t really interested in reducing the number of abortions. If they were, they would support programs which are shown to reduce abortions such as sex education, greater access to birth control, income redistribution, universal health care, and adoption promotion–Western European countries have a lower abortion rate than the US for a reason. No, the pro-lifers are fundamentally interested in changing the morality of society–that is their primary agenda and they need to be honest with themselves about it. They aren’t interested just in changing their own morality–they want to change the morality of everyone in the society. I think they have a right to be angry that our society promotes sex so relentlessly, but I think they haven’t misidentified the problem. It is simplistic to label abortion as the problem. Banning it won’t eliminate abortions, it will just drive them underground and threaten the lives of women, which isn’t really greater respect for life.
If the goal is to change the morality of our society, I think social conservatives should focus on the overwhelming commercialization of sex and the body which is promoting immorality in our society. From an early age, we are bombarded with thousands of harmful messages. Turn on any sitcom or any commercial for deoderant and they are promoting the wrong moral message. How do we change this? Should we go back to 1940s style censorship? I think that there should be more limits on sex and violence in TV but really the problem isn’t the overt use of sex. Rather, it is the constant jokes about sleeping around and the overwhelming message that sex=popularity and success. How many times have you watched a commercial that linked sex with the product being sold, whether it be cars, personal hygene products, or beverages. The best solution would be to take away half of the TV and radio bandwidth given to commercial entities and give it to citizen’s groups. We own the airwaves, so why should they be given to corporations? I’d like to see community radio and TV in every town. I think churches, civic groups, and unions should all have greater access to the airwaves. In the 1920s before the FCC auctioned off the airwaves to the highest bidder, the radio was dominated by churches, civic groups, and unions and we should return to that state. It would promote democracy and provide a competing voice to all that commercial brainwashing. Evangelical Christians have done a pretty good job of getting their message on the airwaves, but most other religious groups haven’t. I have never turned on the radio and heard my form of Christianity espoused. Many groups both right and left think there is something wrong with morality in our society, but most of those groups aren’t being given a voice today.
As for the extreme pro-choice position, it is just as unrealistic as the extreme prolife position. The decision whether to have a child or not isn’t the absolute choice of the woman. The man had some part to play in its creation and the child is a member of our greater society. The community does have some say in the upraising and responsiblity of the child, so it isn’t just the individual choice of the mother. Now if the society renounces all responsibility, then the mother can take an extreme pro-choice position, but most women don’t want to raise their children in a world where the mother is the only one responsible for the child. They want the society to provide schools, playgrounds, and plays in the park for their children. They want their neighbors to be watching out for their kids when they run down the block and they want their government to subsidize child-rearing. When the child gets sick and they can’t pay, they expect the child to get health care, and they expect there to be welfare when they can’t support their children.
Most pro-choice women don’t believe that life only exists at birth or that terminating a pregnancy isn’t a profoundly moral decision. These are vast oversimplifications of their position. Most will say that it is a moral decision, but that you have to weigh many moral factors. You do have to weigh how good of a life the child will have and whether the mother will be able to provide a good life for that child. Many women such as my mother would never dream of terminating their own pregnancies, but they recognize that they aren’t in the same position as other women. Many say that what is most important is that every child is loved and wanted–that is a true pro-life position–and many women aren’t able to provide that to their children. Many women recognize that they might not be able to adequately provide for a child or they won’t be able to love a child properly. It isn’t reasonable to ask woman who is the victim of rape, incest or drug addiction to love her children, nor is it reasonable to ask a woman to properly care for her children when she is working doubleshifts as minimum wage and no support from society.
Rather than talking about pro-choice or pro-life positions, we need to talk about what is best for society, while still respecting life and respecting the humanity of women to make moral decisions. I think it is imperative that every child that is brought up in our society be wanted and loved. Many women aren’t in a position to do it, and our society has generally renounced responsibility for children. We have the worst support for children of any industrialized nation in the world. If we are serious about respecting life, we have to be serious about supporting the children who are born. Relegating 20% of children to live below the poverty line, forcing many to live without health care, and shuttling them off to substandard, racially segregated schools is a profoundly anti-life and anti-choice position. (Today’s schools are increasingly becoming more racially segregated and economically segregated.) We really aren’t giving poor women much of a choice nor are we respecting the life that they will bear in today’s world. Meanwhile, we do need to address the general messages which our society promotes–attacking women who get pregnant is the wrong way to stop the commercialization and promotion of sex and the body.
>I am talking about perfectly distinguishable *human* DNA
Which a human corpse has. BZZZT. Thank you for playing.
Catholic term, apparently now very rare. Means “sinful lustfulness”, with an implication that this is how people are rather than as some kind of exceptional state.
The argument that ‘pro-life’ advocates are contradictory is interesting. The ONLY contridiction you can name is the ‘abortion is OK for Rape victims’ and you are willing to declare the pro-life standpoint invalid?
Personally, I’ve always found the ‘pro-choice’ arguments much more contraditory. As has been discussed above, the most glaring contridiction is the argument about ‘when life begins’. How can we argue, or even decide, when life begins? Why is it that an aborted fetus wasn’t legally alive, but a fetus killed in a car wreck or through an assault WAS alive?
Even the term ‘pro-choice’ is contradictory. Did the woman not have a choice to engage in sexual activity? Did she not have a choice to use protection, or force her partner to use protection? A woman, except for in the cases of rape or a failure in protective measures, has already had a choice. How does supporting abortion, logically, improve her right to choose?
Another argument I’ve heard is that it’s OK because the fetus can’t survive without it’s mother. How is this a valid test. Does that mean that old people that have lost their cognitive abilities and are dependent on others should just be killed arbitrarily? Should anyone who is mentally or physically handicapped enough to rely on charity and welfare be euthanized? The very same ‘pro-choice’ individuals that promote abortion usually promote social programs to help others who are dependant on society.
I know many pro-life individuals and I can’t think of one who is against sex. Every one I know supports the pro-life cause because they are against killing babies, pure and simple. The catholic church used to be (and perhaps still is) against the use of any birth control at all with the reasoning that we should not prevent children from being born. None of the protestant pro-life group memebers I have had contact with have that stance at all. Generally the ‘rape’ agreement is just a concession to negotiate their position. Pro-choice groups use the rape argument to make pro-lifers seem inhumane while we all know that the VAST majority of abortions are the result of voluntary sex.
The pro-choice group is about one thing, and one thing only. They want to allow women to kill inconvenient children. There are valid arguments for this. Due to our biology, women have a difficult time passing the responsibility for their children on to anyone else. It’s difficult to collect child support, etc… Bottom line is I believe we should call a spade a spade. The pro-choice movement would come out and say that they are actually pro-death, that a woman’s future is more important than a child’s
“…Which a human corpse has. BZZZT. Thank you for playing…”
Come on…don’t be obtuse…now you’re just playing to the crowd when you’re on the ropes…I know you can do better than that.
You’re right about the rape exception being a contradiction, which is why I say no abortions ever. If the mother’s life is in immediate jeopardy, then the baby should be delivered by emergency C-section, and the best care that can be provided should be given to both. There is no justification for killing the baby prior to delivery to “save” the life of the mother. Any other position is not pro-life. Cases where a woman faces certain death within a 8 to 12 minute time-frame (more than reasonable time to perform a c-section) unless she becomes “un-pregnant”, and where achieving the status of not being pregnant is guaranteed to solve her immediate life and death crisis, are likely to be very rare indeed, except where the crisis is putting both the baby and mother at equal risk, e.g., the mother is bleeding-out from the womb.
The disestablishment of any homo-sapiens or groups thereof from the status as â€œhuman-beingâ€ or person is a dangerous position to take. Any criteria used to make the determination of which individual homo-sapiens, or groups thereof, should be disestablished as persons are necessarily capricious.
No, Dan. Human DNA really isn’t good enough. Corpses have it, even 3000-year old Egyptian mummies have it. If your thinking on this subject weren’t seriously muddled, you would at least have specified human DNA in a living organism.
But that seemingly more stringent criterion has the exact same problem as “human life begins at conception”, which is that it forces you to define a blastocyst with a handful of cells, no nervous system, and less informational complexity than a clump of brewer’s yeast as human. This is a ridiculous position which can only be justified by the argument from potential — which, as has been pointed out in a previous thread,
falls afoul of the rather high natural failure rate of early pregnancies.
Andrew, look up “eclampsia”.
I’ve got a longer discussion of this issue brewing in an upcoming post to my LJ. For now, however, I’ll say that I draw the line at a different place from Eric’s; I draw it at the point where the fetus can demonstrate the ability to exist biologically independent of the mother. (Not economically independent, or emotionally independent. I mean that it doesn’t have to be plumbed in to the mother’s body in order to survive.)
The mother has the absolute right to unilaterally terminate her association with the fetus. If that inevitably results in the fetus’s death, that’s too bad. If, OTOH, the fetus can be removed from the mother’s body without killing it, and doing so does not subject the mother to any risk she does not have to take, then the mother does not have the right to demand that the fetus be killed.
I expect this point to move over time, as the science of caring for premature babies advances. What is surely impossible now may well become possible in the future.
Jay: This limit of when the baby can survive ex-situ is your threshold would be labeled as radically anti-woman by many of the pro-abortion crowd. The extraction of a viable fetus^H^H^H^H^Hbaby from a mother is inherently difficult and involves considerable pain and or danger to the mother. That is unacceptably invasive to the intransigent NARAL folks. The gruesome D and X procedure is in fact looked upon as OK because the head need not be passed though the birth canal in a ‘dangerous’ manner.
ESR: As for the issue of viability from the point of view of ‘human-ness’ and protection under the law, it seems that defining a blastocyst as not-sufficientlly-human because of a low survival rate seems fallacious — after all, people with stage 3 metastatic cancer have a very grim survival rate, but I will nonetheless be prosecuted as a murderer if I extinguish such a life (especially without permission).
It sucks that women pay the higher burden in reproduction… but that’s biology.
We are not simply disembodied minds, we are apes. With technology we may equalize some things, but often we seem to deny our ape-ness too quickly.
FYI, the word is “concupiscence”.
Sorry, you lose a little credibility here with me. Being a mommy, and having experience with childbirth… well.. I just laugh at the idea of a quiet, hushed, relaxed birth. Yeah, I’m sure it happens for some people, but it’s not something they got by planning out a specific birth plan.
Some people will like to tell you they got a calm baby by having a certain parenting style, or that their birth was easy because they meditated… but honestly, it’s just you’re average anecdotal evidence.
Since my son was transverse, nothing short of an nasty, messy birth was going to get him out of there. (If you don’t know what transverse is, it’s when the baby isn’t facing up or down, but sideways. The parts, frankly, don’t fit so well that way. It’s the worst position to have the baby in, short of being breach. And I don’t think a lot of people will say it’s possible to just quietly have a first mother light some candles and gently push out a breech baby… ;D)
If the birth were easy though, I really don’t think it would change my feelings about abortion. Honestly, the labor and delivery is a tiny part of the pain and suffering of having a baby. (Okay, not to make it sound awful, but there certianly is unpleasantness and symptoms associated with it). Labor and delivery last a day or two tops, for most people, THe other 9 months are full of tiredness, headaches, throwing up, and pain in every part of your body. Unpleasant swelling. Weird symptoms you’d never expect. It’s surrendering your entire body to being taken over by a little alien you’ve never met. It’s way more impacting to your life than labor and delivery. ;)
Just thought I’d comment on that. I thought it was a bit of an odd statement… (Of course, it could jsut be me, pregnant again, wondering what on earth you’d know about it. ;) You’ve watched a video of it? Well sure, they didn’t show you the other 30 births they taped that didn’t work out that way!)
Oh, and most babies do have their eyes open or will open them, even in typical births in the US, unless they have swelling in their faces from scraping across pelvic bones (happens rarely). It’s the drops they put in the babies eyes on the off chance you have syphilus that makes them close them. (Well, and the fact that they just want to sleep!)
Okay, I went on way too long about this, and I realize it’s the same kind of annoying crap that makes a lot of bloggers quit. It’s just that I, like a lot of people, rate their sources credibility based on how the source ,anages to match their own beliefs on stuff they do know about. Not that you should reall ycare if I think you’re credible or not!
Okay, I need more sleep. I’m babbling.
Yikes ESR…way to lay down the assertions! Rather than cluttering your posts with fallacious proclamations of being “muddled” or “ridiculous”, how about addressing what I have actually put forward?
“Human DNA really isnâ€™t good enough” Really? Why? Care to elaborate? Or should I consider The Word Of Eric as sufficient? For now, let’s just remember that you just used the term *human* DNA.
“Corpses have it…” You keep trying to draw this out…but I have never claimed otherwise, as it is not relevant to my position. Keep reading.
“…it forces you to define…as human.” You yourself recognised *human* DNA, above, now you wish to assert that there is a problem with maintaining this definition simply because of the form of matter it is present in? Human is human…and the presence of such DNA is an unequivocal marker of this fact. This is, at a minimum, the first recognisable sign of *something human* existing, yet you insist on blindly asserting that this is not good enough, and instead have adopted an ironically religious insistence on human life being coterminous with a particular brain function.
“…can only be justified by the argument from potential…” I believe you yourself just unwittingly justified it for a completely different reason. Perhaps you are the one who is muddled?
“…the rather high natural failure rate of early pregnancies.” I accepted that fact on good faith in the previous thread, and have no reason to dispute it now. However, it has *nothing* to do with my analysis. Whether or not the pregnancy goes full-term, does not refute the fact that *there is something human* present.
I think what you are afraid of, and are desperately railing against, is giving any possible quarter to the notion that “human life begins at conception”, when actually such a recognition does not in any way render my support of abortion inconsistent. It leads me to begin with a view that *all* abortion is homicide (*not* murder), and opens up a separate discussion about what constitutes *justifiable* homicide within the context of abortion. As it happens, I am warming to your position regarding brain activity as a humanitarian end point for implicit justification, under a ‘quality of life’ argument (much as we ‘mercifully’ unplug the brain-dead from life-support). After this point, we have to address the rather nebulous “health of mother & baby” debate…not an easy one…but one which I see as clearly encompassing the extreme cases of rape and incest.
The most unpleasant part of the whole abortion debate comes, for me, at the other end…the so-called “late-term” abortions. If we are to agree that, under certain conditions, we can terminate (say) mid-term fetuses, why not end-term ones? They are all cognizant…the “health” arguments could remain satisfied. By objecting to late-term abortion, are we trying to express some “too near to the end post” rationale? How close is too close?
Man…this is an ugly discussion…and so intimately personal that I am happy to leave it in the “safe, legal & rare” category. I certainly don’t want to see a state powerful enough to compel a woman to carry a child, and perhaps better parenting and social standards of behaviour among individuals will help curb irresponsible promiscuity.
> If you want a taste, find your local protestant church and attend their youth services. You will find preachers instructing girls, when they hug someone, to stand away and lean forward so that their breasts to not touch.
Iâ€™ve been to quite a few protestant churches, and even some snake-handlers, and Iâ€™ve never seen that.
I was instructed never to let a hug with a boy last longer than three seconds. I was told that the way I dressed might lead to boys having ‘lustful thoughts’. I was told that if I didn’t make sure the bathroom curtains were closed and someone (presumably someone with binoculars) saw me naked, I would be guilty of leading them into sin.
This wasn’t one or two people trying to warp me, these were my parents, ministers, youth leaders, teachers, camp counselors… and so on. Basically they wanted me to believe t hat if I did everything right, teenage boys wouldn’t have any reason to think about sex. Ha! God only knows what t hey told the boys, or how they managed to guilt them over wet dreams and morning wood.
However, most of the people responsible for my warped upbringing wouldn’t ban contraception. They would just make it illegal for anyone other than married couples.
>For now, letâ€™s just remember that you just used the term *human* DNA
Yes, biologically human DNA, like you get in a Petri dish full of HeLa cells. Your thinking is muddled because you fail to distinguish between biological humanity and whatever additional quality is necessary for the biologically human collection of cells to have an ethical claim on us (e.g to be ‘fully human’).
(Note: I believe these traits are actually orthogonal. That is, I would be unsurprised to encounter a being that had a ethical claim on me not readily distinguishable from that of a human without being biologically human. In fact, I may already have met more than one such entity — dolphins, arctic seals and I joke you not when I tell you I am somewhat troubled about the ethical status of elephants.)
Biological humanity is not in itself sufficient — otherwise a corpse, a non-living thing, would qualify as fully human. Biological humanity plus life is not sufficient, otherwise that Petri dish full of HeLa cells would be fully human,
To un-muddle your thinking, develop a principled, observable distinction between a dish of HeLa cells and a three-day-old blastocyst. I don’t much care what that distinction is, the first step is being able to make one.
>ESR: As for the issue of viability from the point of view of â€˜human-nessâ€™ and protection under the law, it seems that defining a blastocyst as not-sufficientlly-human because of a low survival rate seems fallacious â€” after all, people with stage 3 metastatic cancer have a very grim survival rate, but I will nonetheless be prosecuted as a murderer if I extinguish such a life (especially without permission).
You missed the previous thread. The low survival rate is not a demonstation of ‘not-human’ status, it’s a block against the ‘potential’ argument for human status. It’s common to argue that the fetus must be considered fully human because. left alone, it will continuously develop into a fully human being. All I was trying to show by pointing out the low viability rate is that the ‘potential’ argument is fallacious.
Dan, I don’t get why your definition of human is useful. Obviously, we can’t just say that having human DNA makes you a living person. So we have to say “it has human DNA and…” But where to from there? The DNA thing just doesn’t answer anything, you still have to finish the definition of human. So what’s the other half of your definition?
And about my celibacy — that’s actually true. This shit is just too harrowing, and even though I think I’ve got myself sorted out (I’m in the esr camp, basically), I haven’t met a chick I’d trust with my life yet. Still intended to be funny, though.
… isn’t the word “concupiscence “? I have thought this was the correct word for many years, but when I looked it up on line, Eric’s version, “conscupience” also showed up. So, can anyone enlighten me?
The reason why the rape (and incest) exceptions are granted in debating with with pro-abortion advocates is because those two categories affect something like 1% of all abortions. So abortion would effectively be eliminated as an elective procedure while granting an exception to a virtually non-existent hypthetical situation to salve those who are uneasy with an absolute position.
But otherwise, you are absolutely correct. As an example, Jewish law knows no such exception.
Like someone else said, I’m basically in the position that brain activity and the abiltiy to live without life support (whether natural or artificial) defines human life. I think there is a crucial difference between human (King Tut’s mummy is clearly “human”) and human life. If we are to follow Dan Kane’s position, then a brain dead adult, on artificial life support, is human and cannot have anything done that might lead to ending the “life” of said human simply because it has human DNA and the chest rises and falls if you hook it up to a machine.
For me, if your position on when human life begins is not fully consistent with when human life ends, your position isn’t defensible. The only way that abortion can be considered ethical is if it meets the same medical ethics standards we would use for determining that life has ended. Anything else is not ethically consistent.
By the way, both my first and second wife had abortions when they were young. Both met the conditions I’ve outlined (i.e. the fetus could not live outside the mother and would not have exhibited conscious brain function). In both cases, they were emotionally devastated by the event, and deeply regretted. Both believed that the made the best possible choice in a horrible situation. One was raised Catholic, the other Protestant. Obviously, these observations are not statistically significant, but I think they jibe reasonably well with many other personal observations to say that they are fairly representative of the position of most women that have abortions. Side note, in both cases the abortion happened before I ever met them and do not involve me other than that both women were part of my life later.
It sounds like you and I have a lot of experience in common, Tina. If you wanted to know, they told us to slap ourselves whenever we thought about sex, and that, if we absolutely had to converse with a girl, that we should maintain unbroken eye-contact with her. Being told to hide yourself that way must have been very emotionally hurtful. Did you ever think of wearing a burka, just to close any possible holes? Also, I don’t remember and I’m curious: Did girls have to attend the Dreaded Accountability Groups?
These practices are common. They pervade the branch of religion that Tina and I were raised in (and of which I don’t know the correct name).
The time I saw a family of elephants in real life, I was struck by how emotive they were. They seemed to stare at us with sadness. Is it evident then that they are especially sentient?
I think that this point of Eric’s is entirely valid: Do you really think that our ethical system should be based on a person’s microbiology? Do we hold a person’s life sacred because of their amino acid sequences?* The ethically important thing about humans is that they are sentient, not the details of what their bodies are made of. Intelligent animals, strong AI, and disembodied humans can all lay ethical claims on us. Therefore I think that Eric’s frontal-lobe test is valid.
* Actually, that is probably a large part of why we care about each other, due to our selfish genes. But that’s not the ethical part, and we’re talking about ethics.
>Is it evident then that they are especially sentient?
Sentient, definitely. Are they sophonts, is the right question. And the answer is ‘maybe’…
They’re not as bright as humans. They’re probably not as bright as dolphins or chimps. But they use tools, engage in complex vocal communication (parts of which are infrasonic, entertainingly enough), have elaborate social behaviors, and play jokes on humans. And they really do have long memories; they’ve been known to wait years for a chance to take revenge an abusive human.
Subjectively…well, I’ve been nose-to-trunk with a wild elephant. I’ve looked in its eyes. And I received a very strong sense that elephants are, in fact, self-aware. That is, they know they have minds, and that there are other kinds of things that have minds (and that those other kinds of things include humans). They’re not as self-aware as a human, I don’t think, but I’m pretty sure they’re more self-aware than my cat, and I suspect they’re approximately as self-aware as a dolphin.
>The ethically important thing about humans is that they are sentient, not the details of what their bodies are made of.
Sentience is easy. My cat is sentient; it feels, it has an emotional life. What’s at issue here is ‘sophont’ or ‘sapient’ status — intelligence and self-awareness.
> Sentient, definitely. Are they sophonts, is the right question.
That’s what I meant. s/sentient/sophont/.
Oh, and just how bright do you suspect cats are? :)
Eric, based on splitting the hairs between sentient and sophont, are you saying that sophont creatures have a valid ethical claim to the power of life and death over sentient creatures that are not sophonts? One of the very troubling hypocrisies of the pro-choice crowd, for me, is that they are normally also opposed to things that they term “animal cruelty”. This is, to my thinking, at least as hypocritical as the pro-life “except in cases of rape and incest …. ” position.
>Eric, based on splitting the hairs between sentient and sophont, are you saying that sophont creatures have a valid ethical claim to the power of life and death over sentient creatures that are not sophonts?
Yes, I am. I agree with you that opposing “cruelty to animals” while being blase about late-term abortions is incoherent.
>Oh, and just how bright do you suspect cats are? :)
Candidly, not very. I like cats a lot, and they usually like me back, but this gives me no illusions about their intellectual capacity. They can be emotionally rather complex, but they have a lower average problem-solving and abstraction ability than some of the brighter birds (corvines and parrots). Whether they’re self-aware is a more interesting question; I think some of them have occasional flashes of it but it’s not normal for them.
>I thought it was a bit of an odd statementâ€¦
I think, based on your reaction, that you misunderstood it. I’ll expolain myself (and hope to get some credibility back :-).
I was not saying that I think attitudes about abortion would change if birth were less painful, I was suggesting they might change if newborns exhibited more humanlike behavior (self- and other-awareness) from the moment their heads poke out of the womb.
I think it would make even ‘pro-choicers’ a good deal more dubious about late-term abortions, basically. Which I would would regard as a positive development.
Blog about that, too, will you? It seems a rather baffling conjecture to me, but I’d like to hear more about it.
Okay, following up on that set of thoughts (note, I have no issue with humans making life/death decisions for, let’s say, dogs), it seems somewhat incoherent to argue that you can’t make a life/death decision for a fetus that is late term, but you can for a dog. In my experience, a new born is less self-aware, at least from external observation, than the smarter breeds of dogs. Are we now back to dealing with potential? A valid set of ethics for these kinds of decisions should not differentiate between biological species since, as you noted, the key issue is whether you are a sophont, or not.
As a minimum, as I said earlier, the ethics should be coherent between when death occurs and when life occurs. I will give the hardcore pro-life groups this, they are consistent on that. Life begins at conception and does not end until there is no heartbeat. Witness the recent Terri Schiavo tussle. I don’t agree with their position, but it is, at least on the surface, consistent. The pro-choice side of this is less consistent, typically favoring death occurring when no external consciousness is observable, but not considering life to occur until the moment of birth.
Thatâ€™s not an acceptable answer, because abstinence is not healthy for post-pubertal human beings.
Not *easy*, certainly. But they’ve always been willing to exchange a certain amount of downside for what sublimation can occasionally achieve.
See the horrible recent scandals in the Catholic Church for what happens when you deny human beings outlets for normal sexual desire.
Sad to say, a lot of those guys probably went into the church precisely because it offered particularly rich opportunities for the realisation of their already-established not-very-normal desires.
Consistency is no virtue here, because it leads you to try for murder mothers who miscarried. It’s also extremely obvious that aborting a -1 day old baby is murder. The problem is that at some point you have one life and at another point you have two lives, and you restrict one’s rights to protect the other’s you have done the one a harm. THERE IS NO GOOD SOLUTION; stop looking.
On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that a women who was raped should be able to have an abortion; her rights were violated so badly that the slim potential of another life can do without its rights. There is no way to respect both people’s rights at the same time. If you disagree with me, make your own compromise and live with it.
The real question is: who gets to use force to impose their compromise on other people?
Arse, I mean the Catholic Church have always been willing to make the exchange. For people in general it’s still pretty sweeping – I think abstinence can be healthy for some people at some stages, and channelled obsessions can make some surprisingly productive.
Eric, do you support a late-term abortion ban? I don’t; it’s usually such a judgement call that I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to the people closest to the case.
I’m intrigued by your proposed EEG test; it makes good intuitive sense, though I predict that if it were put into law we would see experts dueling in court over whether an EEG result is ‘humanlike’. (Do we see such in end-of-life cases now, Terri Schiavo notwithstanding?)
>>If you donâ€™t want a child now under any circumstances, donâ€™t have sex.
>Thatâ€™s not an acceptable answer, because abstinence is not healthy for post-pubertal human beings.
Nice of you to pull out that sentence, out of context. Contraception works in a very high percentage of cases, and by combining different contraceptive measures you can manage 99.9% effectiveness, or better. If that’s not acceptable to you, that’s your choice. It is very rare that a child would be a complete disaster for someone’s life, however inconvenient it may be, but if they aren’t happy with the possibility, however small, they shouldn’t take the risk.
Russell: “Consistency is no virtue here, because it leads you to try for murder mothers who miscarried.”
Come on Russell, that’s the kind of thing that fear mongers like to do. The old “if you legalize marijuana, then all our children will become crack addicts” argument. Consistent ethics about when life begins and ends will not, in and of itself, lead to such a thing. Rather, someone whose agenda is extreme will find a way to hijack that consistency for their own ends. But, that doesn’t invalidate the ethics, nor make them undesireable. I won’t even try to come up with a more convoluted way to ensure the mother isn’t charged for murder in such a case because it is fairly clear that spontaneous, natural abortions occur during the period of the gestation cycle where the fetus is not capable of living with the natural life support of the mother. By the set of ethics on defining life that I posited, that would not constitute a human life.
damnit, in that second to last sentence, it should read ….. where the fetus is not capable of living without the natural life support of the mother.
It’s almost comic that such a thread can evolve over arguing why people ultimately *agree* :-)
I think I see the distinction that you’re getting at, and that (on reflection) I did a poor job of stating an understanding of…your tangent regarded elephants convinced me of this ;-) I had a similar experience with a black bear while out hunting…
The crux of my position *is* the distinction between human *life*, and the condition of being *alive* (involving sentience/sapience) and *separating* the two.
At conception, we see the first evidence of human life…unique human DNA…but whether or not it is alive is another issue (I agree with you that it is not). As I said, I am warming to your position regarding brain activity as a signifier of a human actually being alive, although I am still troubled by considering an earlier fetus, with a beating heart but no frontal cortex activity, as not being alive. This is why I still have reservations about the validity of such a litmus test.
Philosophically, my respect for inalienable human rights presents me with a challenge…can such rights only be conferred on the ‘living’ as defined by your test? Does a seriously injured (or sick) person, with diminished brain function (so as to fail your test) suddenly lose their right to life? Can I walk in and shoot them without being guilty of murder? Considerations such as this are what shake my faith in the merits of such a test.
Although a blastocyst is not *alive*, to abort it is still destroying human *life*…and the justification for this is what is key.
“Although a blastocyst is not *alive*, to abort it is still destroying human *life*”
If it is not alive, its life does not exist. How can you destroy that which does not exist?
You need to pick another term than “alive” to denote a life that has the additional quality of sapience. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be misunderstood. It’s the exact problem that the FSF’s misuse of the term “free” causes.
Agreed, Jay…this isn’t exactly something I’ve spent years pondering for a paper ;-) My confusing terms are not helpful…
I think it is important to discriminate between a *human being* (that which is human) and *being alive* (sentience)…and where our notion of ‘rights’ become attached.
I second David’s suggestion:
(ESR): Whether theyâ€™re self-aware is a more interesting question; I think some of them have occasional flashes of it but itâ€™s not normal for them.
(David): Blog about that, too, will you? It seems a rather baffling conjecture to me, but Iâ€™d like to hear more about it.
I’d love to see an ESR piece exploring the possible other sophonts on this planet, and how we might tell. Also, maybe some thoughts on scientists’ obsession and fantasies about intelligent life on *other* planets while we generally neglect quality communication with the non-human sophonts we may already have among us?
Aaron, I think the problem with communicating with the other sophonts on earth (I’m persuaded that dolphins are, and believe there are likely others) is not that we’re neglecting it – but that we’re dealing with nothing less than a problem of first contact, and we don’t have a clue how to do it. I think we won’t learn how until we have a first contact with sapient extraterrestrial life, and once they teach us the techniques to do so, we’ll apply them locally – and surprise a lot of people.
Going back to the original topic:
I think that ESR was right on the money with his comment about the rank hypocrisy of those people who claim to believe in the absolute sanctity of human life, starting at conception; and then make an exception for the unborn children of rapists.
But his conclusion that *all* of those pro-lifers want to punish people for recreational sex is a bit of a stretch (although that may well be true in a few cases). The more plausible explanation is that they want to force people to accept the consequences of irresponsible behaviour.
To make an analogy: If I am driving down the road, and a front wheel suddenly falls off my (well-maintained) car with no warning, and the car veers across the road & kills somebody, then I am clearly not morally or legally responsible for the death. But if I had started out my trip, knowing that the wheel was only held on by one lugnut instead of five, then I would probably be guilty of manslaughter.
Or, to make another (imperfect) analogy: If I come home and discover that somebody has violently broken into my house, I am probably justified in shooting him. But if I had originally invited him in, and then discovered subsequently that he was a very boring guest, I am probably not justified in killing him — even if he says that he is going to stay for the next 9 months.
“Dan, I donâ€™t get why your definition of human is useful.”
Heck…perhaps it isn’t (although I *suspect* there’s some mileage in it ;-)…I’m just exploring here…I have always refrained from the dreaded ‘abortion debate’ in the past coz it commonly turns people into raving goons…but there’s a solid bunch of folks here, so I’m dipping my toe in the water ;-)
Abortion. Legal or illegal? If illegal, why? What is the aspect of criminality that is under scrutiny? It seems that this is fairly obvious…the debate over ‘life’, or absence thereof. More to the point, has a “right to life” been violated? To what do we ascribe rights? When? If we consider certain rights *inalienable*, what are they not able to be alienated from?
Again, I’m not anti-abortion, not pro-choice, not pro-life…I do find it sad that people choose to terminate one of lifes miracles…but ultimately I want to have an honest standard for such things – either it’s illegal (end of story) or it’s legal (and entirely up to individual conscience) – and dicking around with definitions just to fit the outcome one wishes to arrive at is deploreable, intellectually and morally.
My real problem is that I disagree with some of the reasoning behind others’ conclusions…not necessarily that their conclusions may be at odds with mine. Regardless of the outcome, I want to be satisfied that we get there for the right reasons. So much of the argument from the ‘religious right’ has a “thus spaketh the Lord” subtext I cannot even begin to take it seriously, and the ‘secular left’ wish to convince us that drlling holes in skulls, and discarding pregnancies like so much old chewing gum, is perfectly OK. So much of the debate misses the point entirely, and is instead a selfish territorial squabble.
Jay, I guess your idea isn’t *un*reasonable, however there are some aspects that trouble me:
1) it assumes we will have constructive first contact. what if we never do?
2) it assumes we’re wholly incapable of figuring out “the techniques” ourselves. why so sure?
3) 1 and 2 above taken together seem to shift the responsibility elsewhere (to the future, and to some theoretical other race). But I’d propose the responsibility is right here, on us, at home.
Then there’s the whole constitutional debate…jeez
I happen to think Roe should be overturned, as I consider it an incorrect constitutional decision, and instead the individual States should decide for themselves what their stance on abortion law will be. I would not currently support an effort to ban abortion outright, however…although my home state (VA) could teeter either way.
1) If we never have a first contact, that means we won’t have figured it out ourselves as well as never having had it done for us by others. I think the possibility that we on Earth are alone in the universe is vanishingly small (as noted above, I believe we are not alone on Earth), and to think that we are the most advanced sophonts in the universe is the height of arrogance. The likelihood that there are other species out there, and that they have learned how to do first contacts, is pretty overwhelming. It thus becomes not a question of if, but when, we will be contacted by some form of extraterrestrial intelligence.
2) A lot of good folks have been trying for quite a while to have a meaningful first contact with dolphins and other sophonts on Earth. They’ve failed, utterly, and not for lack of trying. Until we achieve it, I’m not going to assume we will do so unaided.
3) I’m not trying to duck any sort of responsibility. OTOH, I don’t believe that we know how, and I don’t believe that we have all of the knowledge we will need to figure out how. I certainly don’t think we should quit trying; I do think that not succeeding is in no way a sign that we are shirking our responsibilities.
Why would it be inconsistent for some anti-abortion people to make an exception for rape? If we use the war–abortion analogy that was popular in the early 1970s, aborting a rapist’s fetus is analogous to aiming bombs at civilian populations … which many anti-abortion people approve of even when it is unlikely to shorten a war. I doubt if there are that many, but the pro-lifers need all the allies they can get.
>> If you donâ€™t want a child now under any circumstances, donâ€™t have sex.
> Thatâ€™s not an acceptable answer, because abstinence is not healthy for post-pubertal human beings. See the horrible
> recent scandals in the Catholic Church for what happens when you deny human beings outlets for normal sexual
(Now you’re going all “I can’t control my urges” on us.)
Celibacy is a choice, as is abortion.
The Catholic Church forced celibacy on its eclesiasical leadership during the middle ages in order to protect its assets. (The very assets that are now being relinquished to settle the cases to which you appear to speak.)
Other religious practices avocate celibacy without the resultant carnage found in the Catholic Church. For example, Buddhism views sex as a natural part of human life, but also something that is associated with craving. As the Buddhist path involves overcoming craving this also means becoming less oriented towards sex. Not all Buddhist sects require celibacy. Tibetan and Shaolin Buddhists do not.
A Buddhist does not abdicate spiritual responsibility to the clergy, but rather strives on his own behalf to wake up. Clergy are there as guides, not as commandment givers or sellers of “indulgences.”
I think the (entirely sad) results to which you speak are more a result of coersion than celibacy itself.
1) My apologies, I should have written, “it assumes we will have constructive first contact *with extraterrestrials*”.
The likelihood that there are other species out there, and that they have learned how to do first contacts, is pretty overwhelming. It thus becomes not a question of if, but when, we will be contacted by some form of extraterrestrial intelligence.
I would certainly like to believe this, as it challenges the imagination more than any other possibility. And if I had to place a bet one way or the other, that’s the bet I’d place. However, it does smell a little of faith and optimistic assumptions, doesn’t it? I mean, I understand there are all kinds of equations showing how likely ET life is… but… I guess as an engineer I’m always a little uncomfortable until I see a working prototype or at least one successful end-to-end run.
2) Yeah, I feel your pain. I guess the most we can do here is hope for an unforseen breakthrough. I dunno, maybe an autistic savant who knows how to play ambassador? I read about this autistic who was strikingly good at designing cattle slaughterhouses because he could percieve the world as a cow percieves it and know how to design a calming environment… not that that’s a partularly bright example!
3) I fully agree. I’d just add that, well, wouldn’t it be nice if we could try more? ESR mentioned being ethically concerned about the plight of elephants. I guess in a happy shiny world, such species would be revered. Rather than hunting them, we’d be earnestly trying to connect, and on a much wider scale.
Another thing that troubles me about this line of thinking: Supposing we have a first contact with ET at some point, what are the chances that would be a “good” contact rather than a “bad” one? If we look here on Earth for sample case studies of more advanced species encountering less advanced ones, the chances are grim, no? I suppose this is only tangential to our previous comments, but thought I’d mention it.
Also: supposing it is a positive first contact *and* these ET want to teach the art of first contact. I guess we shouldn’t assume they’d choose to teach *us*first and not the dolphins, elephants, or arctic seals, eh?
Finally: apologies to those who are here to talk about abortion, not first contact. :-P
Nah; let’s talk about first contact :)
I can sense Eric brooding over his next blog entry now…
Iâ€™m not a moral relativist. When I said â€œmineâ€, I meant â€œthe humanity test I advocate and which I believe should be universalâ€. As Iâ€™ve pointed out before, it is nearly universally accepted by (non-religious) bioethicists with respect to decisions at the other end of life.
No, of course not. Understand that I didn’t mean to say you were one. I simply meant the acceptance of a standard that moves or is otherwise immeasurable leads to differing standards from person-to-person. What you end up with is the point at which society affords someone the full protection of the constitution varies from person to person.
That’s not too different from the days prior to the Civil Rights Movement, or even the days before Segregation. You had a society existing based on the same document, but people differed in who was allowed the protections of that document. Perhaps moral relativism was too loaded a term to use. Ethical inhomogeniety (if it exists) might work better.
When you have couple A (mother A?) who decide(s) to get an abortion at day X of the pregnancy, and have fully justified their(her) decision with their(her) own stance on when a fetus is a new person, and couple B who decide not to because according to them the fetus is now a person at day X of pregnancy, what are we saying as a society? It sounds like we’re effectively allowing some persons who should be allowed protection the protection they deserve, and denying it to others arbitrarily due to a relatively different set of morals.
I don’t believe that a society based on such moving standards is a stable one, and I find the lack of any solid stance by the pro-choice groups on seeking to define what is and is not a human being at what stage of development an interesting vacuum. It is one that leads to a more awkward argument that side-steps the real issue of who is a person.
Dan Kane: “I have always refrained from the dreaded â€˜abortion debateâ€™ in the past coz it commonly turns people into raving goonsâ€¦but thereâ€™s a solid bunch of folks here, so Iâ€™m dipping my toe in the water”
This is probably the only blog I’ve ever entered into an abortion discussion on. And it’s the same reason as yours. After watching the earlier debate, I felt comfortable that I could join in the current discussion without having to worry that it would go sideways into ad hominem attacks and religious zealotry.
Thanks, Eric, for the opportunity to have a civilized, productive discussion.
i agree with the essence of your post, and have stray musings re whether an underlying driver of the “desire-driven sex is bad” ur-meme arises from corruption of the sociologically rewarded (over time: this tends to a society’s dominance over other societies) ur-meme that selfishness is less good than community-focussed activity or consequence-focussed activity.
but another musing arose from a tangential note: Evolutionary implications from the leboyer/underwater birth. humans have a peculiar (for apes/most animals) need for fats and oils of a type which can only be supplied easily by seafood. these fats/oils are critical in brain development. failure to meet dietary needs for these oils typically leads to mental confusion and/or social withdrawal (eg, dyslexia, autism).
we also have a deep ur-meme for sexual selection (social reward) on the basis of intelligence/problem-solving ability.
but we’re not built like sea-mammals.
it occurs to me that humans may have developed our oddly large brain as a result of being shore-dwelling apes, reversing the pattern of many sea-dwelling creatures of laying eggs on land, by birthing in shallow water.
it occurs to me also that precrawling infants’ reflex ability to swim reinforces this.
Just my $.02, I think that this is a faulty argument from the very beginning because it views a single belief in isolation. Life is more complicated than that, we never have simply a single belief, but a myriad of conflicting beliefs that compete with each other and ultimately end up balancing against each other until we arrive somewhere lower than the lofty goals that we set for ourselves.
Let’s assume for the moment that my philosophy is that life (even unborn) is sacred and worth preserving. That doesn’t mean that is my ONLY belief to be judged is isolation against all other things. I might also believe in liberty and with that the responsibility that is part and parcel of the freedom to choose. I might also have a lot of other beliefs, again, some complimentary but some competing beliefs that arrange themselves depending on the strength of each individual belief.
A person who engages in consensual intercourse can be argued to have accepted responsibility and accountability for the outcome of that act. Much like bungee jumping. If you willingly leap off the bridge and fall to your death, you are arguably responsible and can’t blame anyone else. However, if you are tied up and pushed off the bridge, you can’t be argued to be responsible for your own death. Either way, the loss of life is the same, but I don’t view the former loss with the same sense that I view the latter. Because my belief in liberty compels me to accept that sometimes people will make choices that have consequences. And one of those consequences might be the loss of their own sacred life. In isolation, the answer would be to forbid bungee jumping and anything else that might result in the loss of life. But, pro-lifer’s aren’t also arguing that we should ground all of our airplanes, halt all of our cars, etc because they might result in the loss of sacred life. Just as they balance human needs against their desire to preserve life among other things, they are doing the same thing regarding abortion.
The same point holds for a woman who was impregnated via rape. As the biological mother, she bears the cost in terms of danger to her health, long-term consequences of pregnancy (health, psychological, career, etc), and, perhaps even legal responsibility and financial responsibility for the baby, once it is born if she proceeds with the pregnancy. Arguing that there might be others willing to step in and adopt the baby, whether or not that might be true, does not remove that liability from her until it actually happens. The state assumes she is responsible if she is the mother. If the baby is born with medical problems or defects (in a libertarian/limited government world), she would bear the cost of those issues unless someone else was willing to relieve her of them. That doesn’t take into account the psychological trauma, cost of lost time from work, lost opportunities and everything else that accompanies pregnancy, all of which was NEVER her choice. If it were possible to remove the cost from her and still spare the life, then obviously that would be the preferred choice. But, if it is not possible to do that, the argument that the fetal life is worth preserving doesn’t automatically outweigh the victim’s desire to avoid the further negative effects of an act that she NEVER chose to engage in. It is a balancing act whereby we basically say that the forcible act creates an affirmative duty for us to attempt to relieve the suffering of the victim as much as we are able, even at the cost of the fetus who otherwise would be worth preserving.
It is one thing to think that a woman who made the choice to engage in consensual intercourse and thus became pregnant, take responsibility and bear the consquences of that choice. It is quite another to force those consequences on someone who had no choice.
I believe that Eric has taken one tenet out of many and in isolation, he has demonstrated that competing beliefs sometimes outweigh that tenet and thereby, he argues, that the tenet itself is negated entirely. I do not believe that is a rationally acceptable argument.
Early on, ESR refers to the “The â€˜pro-lifeâ€™ right.” I thought it pretty obvious that he was talking about the more rabid strains of pro-lifers, happening to intersect with the population of rabid pro-Jesus folk. I don’t think ESR, or anyone else who generally agress with his sentiment in this post, has any delusions about the homogenity of the pro-life movement.
What I took from this is, if you ever meet an uber Christian, who argues an uncompromising pro-life stance because all life is sacred, yet an exception is made for pregnancy resulting from rape, they’re probably just trying to spread the sexual guilt thing. And… well, I’ve dated a hardcore Baptist. And a Catholic. And although the plural of anecdote is not data, I am very much inclined to agree with this position.
Bryan, while I find your argument interest, even compelling, I don’t believe it is the mainstream argument of the pro-life argument. Having known some of those folks myself and observing the majority of the core of that movement, I think that they are making just about exactly the argument that Eric has put forth.
Autism is not caused by lack of fish oil!
Heh, I was thinking that while I read it David, but decided to refrain.
Why refrains from yelling at quacks?
I got just as much fun out of yelling at my monitor. ;-)
And did as much good, no doubt.
I have no doubt.
That makes ONE HUNDRED comments! A record?
A few comments from my bored and tired mind…
I read someone saying that not all evangelical christians are evil. I can only agree, I’ve had many a debate with both hackers and non-hackers on similar issues. Many people fail to notice that people need to be together, and that it really helps when there is a guiding hand in that getting together. Only really bad thing about christianity (and really every other faith) is when people start taking the book (the Bible, in this case) litterally and being dogmatic and selfish, thereby completely ignoring the essence of the Bible.
I’m taking philosophy class at the moment, and maybe therefore this essay really impresses me. It’s all perfectly logical, I’ve just always been too lazy to think about it, i guess.
By the way: cool site, really. I wonder why I’ve never been here before.
You mean, when they become actual Christians? Because before that they’re heretics.
There are people who claim “meat is murder”. A great many people eat steak, yet do not consider themselves murderers no matter how much the PETA-types think they should. Why should abortion be any different?
Or you believe it’s not fully a human being and isn’t the same as a born child, and take the issue with some seriousness but not the guilt you want them to. Hint: not everyone shares your religion.
Dan Kane writes:
Societies from time immemorial have done so. Do you know what “Oedipus Rex” means, and its significance? Do you know much about ancient Sparta?
No. Regulating medical procedures so that unsafe (for the woman) ones are restricted is anything but. Of course, this means the state must stay out of decisions where a woman’s choice to terminate is safer than carrying to term.
You have it backwards. The “fetal murder” statutes are pushed by “pro-life” forces, and have been opposed by the abortion-rights community as a prelude to banning abortion. In short, there is no contradiction (the pro-lifers are just wrong).
Because the choice isn’t just to take the Pill or use a rubber, it is whether or not to have a baby RIGHT NOW.
Taking things your way is akin to saying that you’ve got to eat the tofu burger because the kitchen got your order wrong, even if you hate tofu. Your rights go beyond ordering what you want, they also include getting what you order.
You might notice that the handicapped are generally sentient, and often sapient. This distinguishes them from insensate fœtuses.
For that to be true, they would have to believe that an insensate fetus, embryo or even a one-celled zygote is a child. I doubt very much that they believe that; more to the point, even most pro-lifers don’t believe it (the “fire in fertility clinic, time to save one co-worker or a thousand frozen blastocysts” gedankenexperiment).
Eric Cowperthwaite writes:
That’s not consistent, that’s ad-hoc and self-serving. If the end of the heartbeat signifies death, then you could not have “life” before the heart exists and is functioning (a rhythmically contracting bundle of cells with no blood to move doesn’t count). Presumably 99% of all anti-abortionists have no moral qualms about e.g. heart, lung and liver transplantation, and perforce agree that brain death IS death regardless of the heartbeat, metabolism and human DNA involved. If human life is gone after the brain has ceased to function, you can’t have it before it is working.
It’s the examples of rape, the frozen embryos and the organ transplants which show how hypocritical the “pro-life” side is. They may win by shouting down the voices of reason, but they will never be right.
This continued styling of one side (and I don’t care which side you choose) as the voice of reason and the other side as not right is what has brought this to loggerheads. As should be evident by now, both sides are wrong in different aspects of the argument and the opposite relishes finding one of those aspects and savaging it. Its a kind of endless Pecksniffian circle jerk and it is long past tedious.
Indeed, it has descended inexorably into stale thinking and a kind of continuous group loop on both sides. Any time I see the phrase “Excuse me?” I know I’m going to have some glaring hypocrisy that I’ve seen a thousand times before dragged out into the light heavily rouged and touted as fresh, crisp insight. God knows I’m guilty of it a thousand times over.
This abotion argument is so old and so stale from both the Choice and the Life sides and so bitter that it makes me wonder if we can’t claw our way back to the middle regions. Indeed, that may be the sense that many are coming to and the main argument for pressing it back to the state level. What might be a middle way in a way that has no middle? I’m not quite sure yet, but it has something to do with considering abortion as a procedure that, while it may be maintained as a legal procedure, is still held to be deeply and abidingly wrong.
There are a number of things done “legally” which are still widely understood to be deeply wrong. Maybe, at the end of all this turmoil, that will be the place that we arrive at. Legal, but Wrong.
Engineer-Poet: “Presumably 99% of all anti-abortionists have no moral qualms about e.g. heart, lung and liver transplantation, and perforce agree that brain death IS death regardless of the heartbeat, metabolism and human DNA involved.”
You clearly didn’t pay attention to the Terry Schiavo case. As far they pro-life crowd was concerned, the fact that her brain was basically liquid and brain death had occurred long before did not matter. The anti-abortionists, as you term them, do not agree with what you just stated.
A) Being anti-abortion and being agnostic/atheist are not mutally exclusive conditions.
B) Being anti-abortion and being consistent in one’s views are not mutually exclusive conditions.
C) An embryo becomes a thinking member of a sapient species in the fifth week of development.
D) A thinking member of a sapient species has an inherent and unalienable natural right to his/her/its life, liberty, and other property.
E) Exercising one’s rights cannot justly involve the violation of the rights of another.
F) Being the victim of a crime does not permit one to violate the rights of a third party.
F) Logically fallacious statements don’t win arguments, only popularity contests.
>You mean, when they become actual Christians? Because before that theyâ€™re heretics.
Well there you are wrong. According to a few top-people in the catholic church theyll be heretic, but in the spirit of Christianity, they won’t. It is very silly anyway to believe things like “when you get baptized at the end of your life all your sins are washed away”. That is the Roman-Catholic Church, which has made very grave errors in the past.
You really shouldn’t judge Christianity by Roman Catholics.
Rich, I don’t think anyone was refuting your A). I do think that they evidence suggests that most agnostic/atheist folk are not anti-abortion, however.
>C) An embryo becomes a thinking member of a sapient species in the fifth week of development.
I’m with you on your entire list except this one. Why the fifth week? What morphological transition are you referring to?
Eric Cowperthwaite writes:
On the contrary, I paid very close attention to it. Schiavo was not brain-dead, she was in a persistent non-responsive state due to severe brain damage. She was minus all detectable cognitive functions plus some reflexes like swallowing, but she was NOT brain-dead. The question in play was what her wishes for treatment (or lack thereof) under such circumstances had been, so they could be carried out. If she was truly brain-dead, the issues would have been unworthy of news coverage and probably would never have seen a courtroom.
Rich Baumann blathered:
That statement is utterly false, and all conclusions drawn from it are unsupported and likely false also.
A FETUS (not embryo) acquires brain waves characteristic of consciousness around the 30th week of gestation. That’s not a month and a half, that’s seven months. This is why I have no qualms about first- or second-trimester abortions, save that they should be ENCOURAGED to be done as early as possible for medical safety. Waiting periods are immoral.
Damn. ANOTHER irony meter broken!
And on that note, I’m out of here for vacation. Back in 3 weeks, give or take.
The other interesting fact is that the catholic church is ok with natural ways of birth control such as having sex on days that woman’s reproductive system is not ready for conception. Very well written!
Eric: I have great respect for you and agree with you on most things you’ve written about.
However, in this case I think you’ve started from a false premise: Every pro-lifer I know views the best solution to a rape-induced pregnancy as adoption. Not all support a “rape exception,” and those who do support it as a political compromise. This is not entirely inconsistent — a pro-lifer can, and usually does, think something like, “If we can’t stop all abortions, stopping only non-rape abortions is better than stopping no abortions.”
If you believe that abortion is wrong, it makes sense to support any initiative that will stop even a small number of abortions. One need not make the best (to pro-lifers) be the enemy of the good (to pro-lifers) in order to be consistent.
Allow me to draw an analogy: suppose that the country was deeply divided on the issue of property rights for big corporations. That is, suppose that all right-thinking (which is to say, left-thinking) people, those who dominate the media, the universities, and so on, believed that banks were big evil corporations whose ever assets were ill-gotten gains, and as such believed that bank robbery should be legal, and that laws against robbing banks were unconstitutional. Their theory is the banks don’t deserve the money anyway, so how can it be wrong to steal it? Suppose also that a substantial minority (say, 35-45%) of people had an absolute, libertarian-like view of property rights, and believed that a bank’s property was full-fledged property just like anyone else’s, and that robbing a bank was the same as robbing a person. The “pro-choice” (i.e., pro-choose-to-rob-banks) crowd thinks this notion of “property rights” is based on the bogus religious notion that property was somehow sacred and the notion that a bank’s money was actual “property” was preposterous.
Now suppose that the pro-property crowd was having trouble getting majority support for their agenda, but they can get support for a compromise in which robbing small banks owned by less than 10 people is to be made illegal, but it’ll still be legal to rob big banks owned by corporations. Would the pro-property crowd be inconsistent if they supported such legislation? By ESR’s standard they would be inconsistent, since there is not principled difference between small banks’ property and big banks’ property. However, as a practical matter, protecting some property is better than protecting none, therefore prohibiting some bank robberies is better than prohibiting none of them. This is especially true if it were the case that over 98% of bank robberies in practice wer of small banks.
By the way, it is quite possible to hold that abortion is wrong even if one does not hold that it is the same as murder. Unless you believe that murder is the only crime, which most people don’t.
Different River, you made a good point. You also, perhaps without realizing it, articulated the problem with conservativism. Even though conservativism is opposed to socialism, it will accept compromise under the guise of small changes are better than big changes, protecting part of the principle is better than none. Hayek does a better job than I of discussing it in his essay Why I’m Not a Conservative.
I don’t know that there are very many non-politicians among people who oppose abortion who would draw a bright line at rape. I would rather expect the contrary. Anyone talking about a rape exception is most probably talking about achieveing a political compromise with people who are only tenuously pro-abortion. I should think anyone who is consistently pro-life must also be anti-capital punishment, if only because of the possibility of the erroneous execution of the innocent. From a still greater remove, no two thoughtful people will think alike, to the point that the entire argument seems to me to be a Hasty Generalization. If there is a logical error anywhere, it is here.
Consider: I am steadfastly anti-abortion, but even more steadfastly anti-legislation. In a culture without legislation, would abortions happen? Possibly. Would they be just? Never, not even in the case of rape, not even if the mother’s life is imperiled. The child is not morally or politically culpable for a rapist’s crime, nor for the mother’s loss of life, but the mother would be both morally and politically culpable for willfully killing her own child. (Think how far we’ve fallen that we even think of such an atrocity, much less do it millions of times a year.) Would any abortion under any circumstances be a valid tort case? Not if the action is brought by the child, since the child cannot possibly be a competent complaining party. The same logic would apply to dophins, chimps, cats and any other organisms presumed to have rights in the absence of rational moral agency. (Note that if you find this approach appealing with respect to so-called ‘animal rights’, it must reasonably be applied to born or even adult humans incapable of rational moral agency.) But what if the action were brought by the father, or by either set of grandparents? Could they make an argument of material injury if the child were killed? If so, what action might a civil court take, absent legislation and cops? It’s a conundrum.
There is a solution, though: Capitalism. Abortion, as repugnant as it might be, is in certain senses a rational response to welfare-state socialism. Similarly, a free-market in adoptable infants could do much to abort abortion. If you seek fewer of the unhappy consequences of government, seek less government.
Dan Kane: I’m a bit bothered by your focus on “unique” human DNA. It seems neither necessary, nor sufficient. My sperm (or a woman’s egg cells past division) are filled with the stuff, and it’s not the same as mine. Or, consider cancer cells that have mutated their reproduction controls off — unique human DNA, but we have no problem cutting it out of a body and killing it.
On the other side, there are identical twins, who have the same DNA, yet they in no way should be considered the same person.
Finally, consider chimps, which share over 99% of their DNA with us, vs people with down’s syndrome or kleinfelter’s syndrome, etc who have a fairly radical amount of difference, if you measure by base-pairs.
Finally, there are all sorts of other positions that are associated with the bulk of the anti-abortion movement (and I’m speaking of the movement here, where the funding comes from, etc, and not a minority of thoughtful members), and the ones that touch on sex and the punishment of women do support esr’s thesis fairly well. Contraception has already been mentioned. Another one to consider is the opposition to the vaccine for the human papilloma virus. The only reason to oppose this is to make sex more dangerous.
> Iâ€™m with you on your entire list except this one. Why the fifth week? What morphological transition are you referring to?
Brain waves are first detectable in the fifth week.
> That statement is utterly false, and all conclusions drawn from it are unsupported and likely false also.
> A FETUS (not embryo) acquires brain waves characteristic of consciousness around the 30th week of gestation.
So then sleeping people don’t have rights? Brain waves are first detectable in the fifth week, not the thirtieth week. I said nothing of consciousness.
> Evidently, if we want populations that reproduce under modern conditions, we have to find a more effective form of behavior modification than trying to moralize people out of having sex for pleasure.
We do have a more effective form of behavior modification to get populations that reproduce. It’s called Islam.
It seems to me that support in cases of rape and incest is simply a bowing to political realities. Many of us who campaign against infanticide (see the excellent Libertarians for Life site sometime) recognise that all abortion involves the killing of a human being, and that the justification therefor is extraordinarily limited.
While ESR exaggerates the anti-sex dimension of the pro-life movement, I can say–as a (theologically) conservative, pro-life, pro-sexual-pleasure Christian–it does exist. The pro-life movement would be better off divorced from it’s religious roots; it’s appeal is strong to anyone who opposes infanticide, yet liberals have successfully demonized it by association with the crazy side of the religious right. I think that cool contemplation would lead most people to reject late-term abortion, if we could ever set this issue free of all the demagoguery and dogma.
By the way, I’ve had five siblings born at home with a midwife, and they all came out peacefully with little fuss and much cuddling. The modern hospital birthing system is designed for the convenience of doctors, not for the welfare of mother and child, and ought to be eschewed wherever possible.
Consider another way of looking at this:
Ending a human life is always a terrible thing to do. This is true whether it is done so by abortion, execution, euthanasia, on the battlefield or in a self-defense situation.
However it will sometimes be true that the alternative to ending that human life is an even more terrible thing.
Aborting an “inconvenient” pregnancy is likely to be an unspeakably selfish action. I say “likely” as there are undoubtedly exceptions to this.
Abortion to avoid a significant danger to the mother’s physical and/or mental health is a very tough decision. There simply is *no* good choice. I pray that I am never called upon to make such a choice and I am reluctant to condemn somebody else’s choice in such a situation.
All of the above presumes the position that a fetus is a human life. This is hard to prove or disprove. As I am yet to hear a convincing argument as to exactly where a fetus becomes a human life, I take a conservative position that humanity begins at day one. Other positions could be argued. Regardless, from whatever point one defines a human life, the above applies.
I am pro-life, and the argument that abortion is acceptable in cases of rape bothers me as well.
To Christians: Children are a gift from God (Ps 127:3); I believe we do not have the right to jeopardize that life; (If the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, the situation clearly changes; it should be between her and God what she chooses to do). Life is sacred from the beginning.
Emotional/mental concerns over giving birth are spun to make it seem like women will suffer more from carrying a child full term than from an abortion–but to ignore the effect of taking part in infanticide on an otherwise healthy woman is a dire error. Women who abort children suffer from feelings of guilt.
A fetus should remain alive.
There are definitely enough people out there looking for adoptions to render the rape argument completely redundant, anyway.
What I find funny is that, mixed in with the emotional arguments of pro-life advocates is this one. A typical dialogue goes something like this:
me: So, if life doesn’t start at conception, when does it start?
them: Oh, at 12 weeks [or whatever the current politically correct number of weeks is]
me: Ok, but who decided that?
them: Don’t be stupid! It was a panel of respected judges and philosophers.
So much for free thought.
IMHO it’s not as much about being alive (every body cell is alive), as it is a matter of a mind presence inside the body.
Recently I was searching for interpretations of the Single transverse palmar crease also known as simian line over the web.
This search eventually led me to a webpage about toltecs and native american knowledge related to the simian line. (search for perakee to find this page).
There, I read about what’s referred to as “Pierce of the Earth Arrow” which is the instant when a foetus is imbued with life of its own. By definition, before this “piercing” occurs the foetus is just flesh growing inside the womb, as a part of the mother body ; and right after being “pierced” the foetus has becom a distinct living being of his own.
In religious words, it could be described as the moment where the soul enters the body.
Although I’m more of a pastafarian, IMHO this moment do exist and would be the last acceptable limit for abortion.
The objective should be to have a reliable accurate way of detecting if there’s a mind in the body before performing abortion. And a way that both sides can agree on, no less.
I believe the underlying problem is not really abortion:
what makes it acceptable to kill an animal, a tree or even a single cell but makes abortion unacceptable ?
what makes it acceptable to have an army sent to kill other humans but makes abortion unacceptable ?
This has a lot to do with how one perceive and understand the world, the concept of life itself, and so on.
The real problem is located in people and their beliefs.
Thanks for repeating this problem of logic in the position of those that are anti-choice (“pro-life”). I picked this site up while reviewing McCain’s illogical positions prior to the 2008 election. He seems to have the worst logical position, that of saying the issue should be returned to the states, where it can be battled from one bucolic legislature to the next, with a different result in “cosmopolitan” states – all leading to a situation where the rich pregnant debutante can be shipped off to California or Massachusetts for an abortion, but the powerless, poor woman in Mississippi will be forced to have unwanted births.
Another issue of illogic, that should be further explored is the stated exception for incest. Now when Daddy hammers his young teen daughter, it is incest, but the real problem is rape. However, when a thirty-something couple, brother and sister, have consensual sex – and possibly children (hey, I cringe at the thought of these pervs going at it, too) then choice to have sex is no longer a problem and the only concern of society is the greater possibility of defects and bad genetic traits. So if the exception is “incest” and not limited to “rape”, then the logical consequence is that the only problem is that the baby may have defects – a position that the anti-choicers have long criticized. They often rail about the straw-man of parents who would use abortion to choose gender or create better offspring.
I’ll be looking for further discussion regarding the incest (as opposed to rape) exception.
i got raped so i guess i can speak authoritatively on this. Even at the age of 13, i knew that i would keep a child if i got pregnant from the rape. Call me martyr if you want but that is what i believed as a catholic gal. As a believer in Christ, i would keep the child and love him/her.
Doing the right thing is not stressful, it is dealing with judgmental attitude that is crazy. they will make you a robot if they can so the first thing you should learn is that God loves you no matter which of the choices you make. Right now, all that pleases me is living to please God.