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Five Intuitive Pro-Choice Arguments

My primary argument about abortion is that there’s a spectrum from a single cell (not a person) to a newborn baby (a person). My summary of the spectrum argument is here. This is in response to pro-life advocates who deny this spectrum to argue that we have a “baby” from newborn all the way back to that single cell.

I’d like to make five arguments in favor of my position, but since emotion plays such a strong part of the discussion, I’ll set aside intellectual arguments and focus instead on emotional ones.

1. Child vs. Embryos

Suppose a building were on fire, and you could save either a five-year-old child or ten frozen embryos. Which would you pick?

Of course, everyone would save the child.

But now imagine the same situation two years later. The ten embryos have become one-year-old babies and the child is now seven years old. Which would you save? Obviously, the ten babies.

As an aside, note that the decision in the second instance is much tougher. In the first, we lost ten insensate embryos, but in the second, it’s a child. No one equates a newborn or a child with an invisible clump of cells.

2. Different Reactions to Abortion Procedures

Anti-abortionists focus on the horror of a late-term abortion. Did you ever wonder why they don’t focus instead on a woman swallowing a Plan B (emergency contraceptive) pill? Or a drug-induced abortion (the most common procedure for first-trimester abortions)? Imagine anti-abortion activists carrying signs, not with a photo of an eight-month-old fetus but with life-size drawings of a 100-cell human blastocyst. The signs would appear blank.

By choosing as they do, they admit that all procedures are not equal and that there is a spectrum. Their story is more powerful the older the fetus is. A blastocyst is very unlike a person, but an 8-month-old fetus is very much like a person.

3. Slaughtering Animals for Food

Which would be more horrible to watch: a woman swallowing a pill of Plan B or a cow going through a slaughterhouse? The cow can experience fear and pain, while the single cell can experience neither. The cell’s claim to superiority is only its potential to be a person.

There’s a big difference from what is and what might be. A blastocyst has impressive potential but has vastly fewer cells than the brain of a fly. The only trait it shares with a person is its DNA, a vague and abstract commonality.

And there’s no guarantee that our imagined cell will develop properly during pregnancy. A single cell might become a human baby or not, just like betting $1000 on black at the roulette table might win or not. With half of all pregnancies ending in spontaneous (natural) abortion, the odds for each are about the same.

4. Cloning and Skin Cells

Imagine that in ten years we’re able to clone a human from a single skin cell. Would you never scratch your skin to avoid killing a potential human being, like the Jain who wears mesh over his face to avoid accidentally breathing in a flying insect? And if not—if “potential human being” is very different in your mind from “actual human being”—then why not see that same difference between a single cell and a newborn baby?

5. Saving Another Person’s Life

If a blastocyst is a person, would you give up your life for it? You might risk your life to save a stranger, but is the same true for a stranger’s blastocyst?

What we value changes across this spectrum, and, while we might intellectually argue that a human is a human is a human, emotionally we don’t see both ends of the spectrum the same.

Let me make clear that I’m simply arguing for the existence of a spectrum. We can agree on this and still disagree on when the okay/not-okay line is for abortion. The status quo seems to resolve this appropriately: society decides on the upper bounds and, before that date, allows girls and women to choose.

Show me why a single fertilized human egg cell is equivalent to a trillion-cell newborn. The newborn has arms and legs, fingers and toes, eyes and ears, a brain and a nervous system, a stomach and a digestive system, a heart and a circulatory system, and so on. The cell has … none of these.

These are not equivalent in any important biological sense; why should they be equivalent morally?

Nothing in the world is more dangerous
than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 1/6/12.)

Photo credit: ebmarquez

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    Nicely done, Bob!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      :-)

  • Arkenaten

    I have had several misgivings about this for a while. It’s always good to see another perspective.
    Excellent presentation.

  • smrnda

    You might want to look up some of Slacktivist’s posts on abortion. He documents that Christians of different sects were not always opposed to abortion, along with their reasons why.

    All said, I suspect there do exist people who would save frozen embryos and let developed, born, living people die.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve seen a detailed discussion of this (Valerie Tarico’s blog?). Anyway, thanks for bringing this up. Lots of churches’ opinions are moving targets.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        I just found that link about churches’ more accepting views on abortion just a few decades ago: here it is.

  • Jel

    The most compelling argument for abortion is that that a persons body is sovereign. No one has the right to your body. Even if we were to agree that from the moment of conception the embryo has exactly the same rights as a born, living child, we should still support the right to choose. We don’t require a mother to donate a lung or kidney to her child even if that child would die without it. We don’t even compel her to donate bone marrow or blood to her child against her will. Why is her uterus different? Pregnancy arguably carries more physical change and risk that most of the procedures mentioned above. Likewise, even if a mother consented to donating an organ to her child she can revoke that consent at any time.
    My position is that abortion should only be illegal when the abortion procedure would have the same impact on the mother as birth (i.e. would require either surgery or labour) and at that point birth can be induced if the woman doesn’t want to carry the child any longer.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      What bugs me the most is pro-lifers focusing exclusively on the harm to the fetus. I don’t agree on how big a deal it is, but that’s not the point. The point is that they give no acknowledgement of the downside of carrying a baby to term. I’d have more respect for their arguments if they did so.

      • sg

        Probably because so many pro lifers have had so many kids themselves and don’t see pregnancy as being difficult or dangerous enough to override their objections to abortion. Many follow a religion that exhorts followers to self sacrifice for the good of another. That kind of view of themselves in the world doesn’t square with a woman who feels it is better to put her own interests ahead of another. Two different worldviews.

      • M.S.

        I think, similarly, I have more respect for pro-choicers who are able to acknowledge the downsides of abortion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Fair enough. When pro-lifers bring up valid points (maybe: “There are parents desperate to adopt. Wouldn’t it be great to help them out?”) I’m happy to agree. In fact, I seek out opportunities to agree.

        • Monimonika

          Do those desperate parents seriously exist? If they do, why does it have to be this particular baby-to-be? What about the baby or toddler or grade schooler or teenage orphans who are still waiting for adoptive parents? There can’t seriously be a lack of children to adopt as long as the foster care system still exists.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I imagine they want healthy white babies. Brown, disabled, or older tend to wind up in the foster care system.

        • Monimonika

          Sadly, those were the answers that I thought of when asking my questions. :-(

          I think it makes a good counter to that particular “valid point”, though. Unless the people using that point are un-apologetically racist, able-ist, and/or find babies easier to train/hit/force-submission than willful older kids.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The true counter to the “You can just have the baby adopted!” argument is to note that of premarital pregnancies that are carried to term, two percent are put up for adoption.

          No, adoption isn’t the answer.

        • Monimonika

          Not sure how to interpret that two percent stat. Were there plans for adoption in all or just some of the premarital pregnancies studied? Does premarital imply single motherhood, or does it include other arrangements (delayed marriage, etc.)?

        • Kodie

          It tends to indicate that of the women who didn’t have abortions, almost all of them chose to raise the baby themselves rather than relinquish it to a stranger.

          I am not sure about any other information. Not every unmarried woman is in a bad position to handle a pregnancy or raise a child, but when people have a choice to make and they don’t choose abortion, they overwhelmingly do not choose adoption.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “2% of unmarried women at any age place their child for adoption.” Source: http://statistics.adoption.com/information/adoption-statistics-placing-children.html

        • Monimonika

          Just want to say thank you for providing the link to the source of your stat. Very interesting info at that link. I need to read more carefully in order to get what the stats might indicate, but it’s already challenging some of my assumptions.

          Just to put it out there, but about the only way I would become pro-life is if both of the following happened:

          1) There are more competent parents looking to adopt than there are children (of any type).

          2) There are publicly/government funded artificial external wombs that can carry fetuses to term. Of course, it has to be part of free healthcare.

          What am I thinking? The above can never become a reality in America. Free healthcare… as if!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m glad it was helpful! Like you, I sometimes come across some startling facts that I need to adjust to.

          Sure, if we could breed children in factories like in Brave New World, then there would be no downsides. But we don’t live in that world.

          Free healthcare?! Oh, please. Like Jesus cared about healing the sick!

        • M.S.

          Sure, we can all agree (I think) that abortion is not the best option to avoid pregnancy, and we can’t fail to address the physical / emotional / mental damage that it does to women. On the other hand, is birth the best option for all children? Based on a lot of child abuse articles I read, maybe not. :-(

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      I do agree in theory that once a fetus could survive outside, abortion may be substituted with induction, but then who pays? The technical viability time is 24 weeks, but that is a super-preemie with very low odds of survival, guaranteed mental and physical problems, and a $1 million+ NICU bill. At 28 weeks, survival goes up to 50% and there are only likely mental and physical problems, but the NICU bill is still over $1 million. With early labor/miscarriage, the parents decide whether or not to take heroic measures or just palliative ones- should an aborting woman be denied the same options? And if the woman knows she will opt for palliative care, why not just abort to avoid any suffering after birth? It would make more sense just to keep abortion at all stages legal.

      • jejune

        Thanks for those numbers.

        I had NO idea it could get that expensive.

        This is why I hate when people talk about ‘viability’ and how 23 weeks isn’t really a thing! No, it’s a huge thing, because, pragmatically speaking, lifelong disability and hospital bills that run into the millions are NOT exactly, well, practical.

        Perhaps my logic isn’t sound here, but, if 21 weeks really is ‘viability’ as some pro-lifers claim (only four 21 weekers have ever survived) then shouldn’t this mean that labour can just be induced at 21 weeks across the board?

    • Niemand

      My position is that abortion should only be illegal when the abortion
      procedure would have the same impact on the mother as birth (i.e. would
      require either surgery or labour) and at that point birth can be induced
      if the woman doesn’t want to carry the child any longer.

      In theory I have no problem with this position. In practice, I have some qualms. First, the vast majority of third trimester abortions happen because something is wrong with either the fetus or the pregnant woman. In fact, I’ve never heard of a legal abortion that wasn’t about one of those two issues. Labor with a dead or dying fetus, especially one with, say, hydrocephalus or spastic paralysis, can be a very different thing from a normal labor. The fetus may simply not fit through the birth canal. And a c-section is major surgery, especially a c-section to remove a fetus with a huge head (but no brain) or one spasmed into a bizarre shape.

      You might say, “Obviously, in these cases the health of the woman should come first and the abortion happen by whatever means is safest.” And this is what would happen in an ethical OB practice with no particular restrictions. But once you’ve invoked a law that restricts what the OB can do, you’ve introduced a problem. The OB may be unsure if xe can do an abortion in this case or if “natural” delivery (or c-section) is required. This endangers the mother.

      Finally, what if the woman wants a third trimester abortion because she has a twin pregnancy and one twin is dead or dying. This might occur at, say, 24 weeks gestation. She would want to maintain the pregnancy with the living twin, as it will have a better chance of survival and a healthy life if it gestates 30 or 35 or 40 weeks than if it gestates 24. But if the law says that abortion is illegal in the third trimester then her choices become wait for labor (with the risk of sepsis killing her and the living fetus) or inducing labor and maybe losing the second, still viable twin.

      So I don’t think that your proposal would be the right thing in practice. How about internal and external review of all third trimester abortions to ensure that there’s not a Gossell out there exploiting and endangering women and their fetuses, better prenatal care to reduce the chances of medical problems requiring a third trimester abortion, and better access to first trimester abortion to avoid the marginal cases where a woman wants a truly elective abortion at week 18 or 20?

  • WolfgangDS

    First example: Unless I simply don’t have the time for any reason, I’d get the kid and take him to the embryos and tell him to grab some and let’s get the heck out of here. Same same with the 7-year-old and the 1-year-olds.

    Second example: How a human reacts to something- or even a pool of humans- doesn’t quite factor into whether or not a life is considered human and precious at specific points in time. If it did, wouldn’t we also consider the reactions of people who have no emotions or who enjoy killing? Frankly, I think it’s wrong to say that something isn’t wrong just because a lot of folks don’t react to it. Lying, for instance, is nearly ALWAYS wrong and hurtful.

    Third example: Our first priority should be the survival and endurance of the human species. We are sentient. We are the most curious animals on the planet. And as such, we’ve taken steps to become the most curious animals in our solar system (that we know of). Comparing us to cows is… well, insulting.

    Besides, I love me some steak.

    Fourth example: Ugh. THIS argument? Obviously skin cells aren’t separate people… because they are a part of you. Rephrase it: Now it’s a tumor. Tumors don’t grow arms and legs and attempt find a job in their twenties. Tumors are nothing more than cells that used a Gameshark to give themselves infinite lives. They have the same genetic material as you, making them a PART of you.

    But a blastocyst? That contains half the genetic material of two individuals. Furthermore, it exhibits the characteristic traits of a parasite, gaining sustenance from the mother as it grows, to the point where it takes an interestingly divergent path from the parasite behavior and no longer relies on a physical attachment to its host. Skin cells don’t do that.

    And the cloning argument isn’t valid for other reasons. If a skin cell is used to create a clone, then all that’s happening is that the genetic material contained in the cell is being used as a starting point, kind of a template, and the remainder of the necessary information is extrapolated from it. It’d be like being able to reconstruct an entire operating system from just a few files.

    Fifth example: Give me one good reason why I can’t save them both. Just like the first example, if I can find a way to save them all, I WILL SAVE THEM ALL. One life or another is a choice I NEVER want to face, and I will always do everything in my power to make sure I never do. Even if it seems like I’m staring it in the face, it’ll blink and I’ll win and save everyone.

    “Just this once,” the Doctor said. Guess what? I aim for better than “Just once.”

    DISCLAIMER: Not particularly religious. No longer a Christian. I just prefer to use common sense, logic, and the scientific criteria for life as listed in any high school biology book (ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD). Emotions, while wonderful, beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, and mysterious, are utterly useless here. Both you and the right use emotions to determine the answer to this dilemma. I don’t. And until I am forced to choose between the woman I love and her unborn child, I never will.

    Seriously, just Google “life”. Look at the Wikipedia article. Look under “Biology” in the “Definitions” section. Some of those definitions can only apply to a species as a whole rather than the individual (i.e. adaptation, reproduction), but the others can and should be applied to an individual.

    And before you dismiss it as the skin cell argument, remember how I tore that apart: This is a new genetic combination, which is the basis for individual life.

    • Itarion

      1) To be fair, the embryos would be easier to save… Ten one year olds would be a nightmare. I haven’t got enough hands for two.

      2) You’re right emotional reactions really shouldn’t enter into the overarching discussion at all, but we’re emotional creatures – for the most part – and emotions are easier to use for persuasion than logical, reasonable, and well delineated arguments. Same with generalizations. Btw, thanks for that nearly on the lying is bad.

      3) Actually no disagreement here.

      4) So, are identical twins individual people, despite having identical genetic codes? Would a clone be merely an extension of you, because it’s got your DNA? The definition of what constitutes a person and what doesn’t is a prickly subject, and the main issue with the life/choice discussion is the variety of definitions and starting points for “person”.

      5) Here’s a reason. It’s a hypothetical situation comprised of absolutes. Mother has nutritional deficiencies that will cause her to literally starve to death if the child is carried to term. Low level autoimmune disease that will skyrocket out of control with a pregnancy. STI results in severe inflammation of the uterine wall in the case of a pregnancy. Sometimes, you won’t get your Everyone Lives result.

      Technically, with the advent of cloning technologies, skin cells – and any body cells, skin’s just the easiest to get a hold of – have the potential to be a new individual.

      Also, your computer analogy of cloning is flawed. Skin cells contain all the same genetic data – within tolerances, with mutations and whatnot – as all other cells in your body. The difference between skin, muscle, bone and other cells is which gene sets are active, and the main hurdle of cloning is “resetting” differentiated cells to the “potential” state of stem cells. Something more like, “this computer is optimized for word processing, lets take the OS and optimize it for video editing.” No matter how many Macs you reset, you won’t end up with a PC running Linux.

      • Lyra Belaqua

        A little off-topic, but regarding cloning, there’s a fantastic show called “Orphan Black” where the main character finds out she’s part of a secret cloning experiment. There are at least 4 other clones in season 1 that we meet. While the physical genetics play a role, I find it really interesting how epigenetics came into play, what with each clone being gestated & then raised in a different environment. Fantastically done show.

        Back on topic, I find it interesting that only people with distinct DNA are individual life; are clones considered less than a “naturally conceived” person? Like Itarion asked, are identical twins lesser persons because they share identical DNA? What if we came across another sentient species in the galaxy, but they were comprised of clones? Are we better than them because naturally selected variation is better, despite is massive failure rate?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Unless I simply don’t have the time for any reason

      Yes, you don’t have time. The example makes that clear—you must pick.

      How a human reacts to something- or even a pool of humans- doesn’t quite factor into whether or not a life is considered human and precious at specific points in time.

      Alternatively, instead of dismissing the argument, you could respond to it. Why do you suppose pro-lifers make that choice?

      Comparing us to cows is… well, insulting.

      Another sidestep instead of actually engaging with the argument.

      Obviously skin cells aren’t separate people… because they are a part of you.

      No, they’re now scratched off.

      Do you not care about a single living cell with the potential to grow into a full human being? Then why get in a lather about a single fertilized human egg cell?

      But a blastocyst? That contains half the genetic material of two individuals.

      Unrealized potential. Get back to me in 9 months and then we’ll have something to celebrate.

      Give me one good reason why I can’t save them both.

      Huh? It’s a thought problem. Your approach—saying, “I don’t like how this problem is worded so I’ll word it another way and resolve it so I win”—is off topic.

      if I can find a way to save them all, I WILL SAVE THEM ALL.

      Yeah, you can’t save them all. (I can imagine you in elementary school math class: “I reject this word problem and substitute my own!!”)

      Even if it seems like I’m staring it in the face, it’ll blink and I’ll win and save everyone.

      You get an A for Confidence. I don’t think reality works that way for mortals, Superman.

      • gimpi1

        It’s a thought problem. Your approach—saying, “I don’t like how this problem is worded so I’ll word it another way and resolve it so I win”—is off topic.”

        Kobiachi-Maru, anyone? (also off-topic, I know.)

    • Frank

      5 terribly ignorant reasons and five great responses to that ignorance. Well done!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Now that I’ve slapped Wolfgang silly, perhaps you’d like to step in and offer some responses that actually carry some weight.

        • Frank

          Wow you really cant see the truth can you? You hardly even scratched Wolfgang let alone slapped him silly. He owned you. Sad that you can’t see it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          No, what’s sad is that I threw down the gauntlet and you’re standing there, too cowardly or ill-informed to pick it up, claiming that actually you are the tough guy here.

          C’mon tough guy. Make an argument.

        • Frank

          Gauntlet? Lol! You may have thrown down your intelligence and reason and now your maturity but I recommend picking them back up.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I challenge you to give me an argument. I invite you to give me an argument. OK, I see that you have none.

          You could’ve just said that. Sorry for bugging you.

        • jejune

          Wolfgang looked like a fool, cupcake.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      WolfgangDS: First example: Unless I simply don’t have the time for any reason, I’d
      get the kid and take him to the embryos and tell him to grab some and
      let’s get the heck out of here.

      You would tell a five year old child to just grab some samples kept at -80C or colder? That’s child endangerment. And if you didn’t have proper storage waiting for those embryos, they would thaw out and be ruined.

      Third example: Our first priority should be the survival and endurance
      of the human species. We are sentient. We are the most curious animals
      on the planet.

      Allow me to suggest that the reason we value sentience and curiosity so much is because we are sentient and curious. Your concerns appear rather self-centered.

      Skin cells don’t do that.

      You seemed to have missed the point of the question. If skin cells could be manipulated and cloned into a new human being, then their potential is equal to that of an embryo. If you say, “well, that’s just potential,” then you have lost the point.

      Even if it seems like I’m staring it in the face, it’ll blink and I’ll win and save everyone.

      Walter Mitty alert.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      And before you dismiss it as the skin cell argument, remember how I tore that apart:..

      Your opinion of yourself is duly noted.
      .
      Paging doctors Dunning and Kruger.

    • jejune

      This is a new genetic combination, which is the basis for individual life.

      so?

  • Itarion

    The only trait it shares with a person is its DNA, a vague and abstract commonality.

    I would hardly say that DNA is vague or abstract. DNA is not an abstraction, it’s possible to identify a thing that is DNA. The abstraction comes rather in the association of DNA with personhood. (Yeah, it’s splitting hairs.)

    Really, though, I feel that the mind – a true abstraction – is a better measure of personness. I am of the opinion – and will doubtless catch flak for it eventually – that even a born child infant is not a full person, as might be a ten-year-old, teenager, mid-lifer or retiree. More of the spectrum stuff you’ve said previously. That being said, I do concur with your spectral analysis of the topic, and an infant is more of a person than a 7-month fetus is more a person than a zygote or blastocyte.

    I imagine that the abortive cutoff should be somewhere near the point of external viability, that is the fetus could survive outside the womb (with or without medical assistance). [Hits close to home as a preemie, but whatever.]

    • jejune

      You would be correct, human infants are born earlier than most other mammals because if they were born any later the large heads would kill the mother. Large brain necessarily entails an earlier birth.

      However, an infant:

      1) is not infringing on anyone’s bodily autonomy – if the person who gave birth to it doesn’t want to raise it,someone else can. Can’t do that with a zygote.

      2) a newborn can still suffer. A zygote cannot.

      • Itarion

        Relatively sooner, of course. Human gestation is actually rather long, again owing to the larger brain.

        As to bodily autonomy, that’s up to debate. Pregnancy causes a variety of permanent physiological changes to the body. So, while there is no longer a parasite – separate creature taking nutrients from a host – the body after birth is different from that prior to conception. Importantly, there is a drive to protect and raise this new person, which would not have been there. Free will – and thus autonomy – gets complicated.

        What is “suffering”? Feel pain, yes. I do not dispute that. But, to me, suffering requires a higher order. It is possible to feel pain, and not suffer. Little things, like a stubbed toe. Suffering first requires much pain, but, again, to me, the ability to consciously recognize that pain. Can infants consciously think, “this hurts me greatly, and there is nothing I can do about it”? Not even in words, necessarily, as it’s possible to think without those. I don’t think so.

        • Derrik Pates

          Importantly, there is a drive to protect and raise this new person, which would not have been there.

          Eh, that’s not even necessarily that simple. My ex-sister-in-law’s utter indifference to the well-being of her child, my niece, was amazing to me. As (in theory) the one person who should have cared about her most, she utterly failed to give a shit. That’s not to say that the instinct to protect one’s offspring doesn’t factor in, but not everyone who pushes out a baby (or has it cut out – my niece was a C-section baby) is going to actually give a crap.

        • Itarion

          Yeah, it’s a generality. The biological code that drives the adjustment during pregnancy is there, but, as you say, it doesn’t always make someone care about their child. The changes do exist, though, and the vast majority of women undergo them, as evidenced by the high number of women who keep the child when they are not in a position, financially or emotionally or what have you, to do so. Keeping a child isn’t a rational decision, it’s heavily emotional.

          Or so I’ve heard.

  • Pofarmer

    I think what pro lifers, and especially life at conception/no birth control because it might be abortion catholics need to understand, is that later term abortions would be less likely if things like plan B and contracetion via the pill/etc were encouraged. I am generally opposed to abortion, but have no problem whatsoever with things like plan b. The longer gestation commences, the trickier it becomes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I agree. If pro-lifers would discard the single cell = baby calculus and admit to the spectrum, they would see that an early abortion is better than a late one. It would change their strategy from denying information to pushing it on people so that they can make any decision ASAP.

      • Pofarmer

        I seem to be detecting a hint of sarcasm in that last sentence there. I certainly wish churchs would quit actively denying folks information and education, though.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          No intentional sarcasm. Why–does it not logically flow?

          My point is that realizing the (obvious, in my mind) spectrum of personhood means that the pro-lifer’s strategy becomes quite different. This “single cell = baby!!” argument is shooting them in the foot.

        • Pofarmer

          No, I think it does follow, I guess I’m just not used to someone agreeing with me!

          “This “single cell = baby!!” argument is shooting them in the foot.”

          I agree, but, especially the Catholics can’t see it. They have invested heavily in it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I wonder if it’s the Catholics or the politicians. Abortion is a valuable weapon for the Right. It’d be nice if believers would avoid being led around by the nose.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, I am generally fiscally conservative, socially probably middle of the road, although some would say liberal, and I am sick, sick, sick to death of the constant abortion debate. I can’t be the only one. I typically can’t vote for Democrats because of their dopey economics, and I don’t want to vote for Republicans because of their dopey social stances.

        • Jakeithus

          I believe we’ve had this discussion before, but the flaw is that your personhood spectrum is not as obvious as you believe. To me, the idea that personhood exists on a spectrum is only possible if you give up rational thinking and allow emotion to trump it.

          Besides your appeal to emotion, it appears that the criteria used to determine personhood is simply the amount of time an organism has been alive and the number and complexity of cells, which is nonsense if you give it any thought at all. You’re not measuring personhood on a spectrum, you’re measuring age or complexity, neither of which have anything to do with personhood, unless you believe a newborn is less of a person than an adult, or that an amputee is less than a fully-limbed individual.

          The use of emotion is particularly egregious when it comes to defining personhood, as emotion could lead someone to the conclusion that members of a different race are less than full people (which has unfortunately occurred in the past).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          To me, the idea that personhood exists on a spectrum is only possible if you give up rational thinking and allow emotion to trump it.

          Something exists on a spectrum. If “personhood” is the wrong term, fair enough. But saying that trillion-cell newborn with limbs and eyes and ears and a heart and a brain cannot be logically separated from the bin that holds the single cell that it was 9 months earlier is ridiculous.

          the criteria used to determine personhood is simply the amount of time an organism has been alive and the number and complexity of cells, which is nonsense if you give it any thought at all.

          Is a hundred-pound German Shepherd a good guard dog? If so, then it must be if it were 0.01% smaller.

          Repeat the reduction until you have a Chihuahua-sized guard dog. Hmm … maybe size does matter.

          You’re not measuring personhood on a spectrum, you’re measuring age or complexity, neither of which have anything to do with personhood

          Again, don’t quibble with a word I’m not adamant about. I’m adamant about the concept, and if you find a better label for it, that’s fine.

          unless you believe a newborn is less of a person than an adult, or that an amputee is less than a fully-limbed individual.

          A newborn is basically identical to an adult on the spectrum. Is this not obvious? The newborn has arms and legs and fingers and toes and a brain and a nervous system and a heart and a circulatory system … you know the rest. So does the adult.

          And the single cell has none of this. It’s not that it has fewer hearts or smaller brains, it has none at all.

          A really, really, really big difference, don’t you think?

          The use of emotion is particularly egregious

          I should’ve used “intuitive,” not “emotional.”

        • Jakeithus

          “Is a hundred-pound German Shepherd a good guard dog? If so, then it must be if it were 0.01% smaller.

          Repeat the reduction until you have a Chihuahua-sized guard dog. Hmm … maybe size does matter.”

          Size matters in regards to function, but nothing separates Shepherds and Chihuahuas in regards to an intrinsic quality of “dogness”. I don’t think personhood should be dependent on function, but something people naturally possess as humans, regardless of stage of development or biological complexity.

          I understand that you’re adamant about the concept of a spectrum…believing that is really the only way one can be supportive of abortion. I too agree that a spectrum exists, I just don’t think the spectrum is a good way to judge whether or not we should assign value or protection to individuals.

          Intuitive might be better than emotional, but I’m sure you can agree that what is true might not always be known through intuition. What your examples show is that people feel a stronger attachment to organisms that they can relate to more easily, this is intuitive, but it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Size matters in regards to function, but nothing separates Shepherds and Chihuahuas in regards to an intrinsic quality of “dogness”.

          And quite a bit separates Shepherds and Chihuahuas in guard dogness.

          Of course, the difference is far, far more dramatic in the cell-to-newborn spectrum. Shepherds and Chihuahuas and newborns all have 4 limbs and a heart and a brain and eyes and ears and all that. The single cell has … just a single cell.

          I don’t think personhood should be dependent on function

          You’re welcome to think about this however you want. It’s when you want to impose your views on others that there’s a problem. Do you?

          something people naturally possess as humans, regardless of stage of development or biological complexity.

          We’re not talking about that. I keep pointing to the spectrum, and you keep looking away, wanting to look at the commonalities. I imagine you looking heavenward, your eyes misting up, thinking about the fact that this single microscopic cell actually has … human DNA. Just thinking about the base pairs brings a lump to your throat.

          I just don’t think the spectrum is a good way to judge whether or not we should assign value or protection to individuals.

          But DNA is?

          I’m sure you can agree that what is true might not always known through intuition.

          Since pro-lifers’ arguments are usually emotional, I’m simply responding in kind.

          What your examples show is that people feel a stronger attachment to organisms that they can relate to more easily, this is intuitive, but it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

          I’m not so sure. Our instinctive reaction (babies and puppies are cute; snakes and vomit are disgusting) are where a lot of our moral reactions come from.

        • Jakeithus

          There is nothing that intrinsically separates Shepherds and Chihuahuas in guard dogness. I’d say you could measure guard dogness by a few factors: mistrust of strangers, frequency and volume of barking, physical intimidation. What a Chihuahua might lack in intimidation, they could easily surpass a friendly, lovable Shepherd in the other factors.

          Basically, in order to determine whether a dog can be a guard dog, you need to point to key factors. What I’m lacking from your argument when determining a person is what those key factors are, beyond biological complexity which I disagree with.

          “You’re welcome to think about this however you want. It’s when you want to impose your views on others that there’s a problem. Do you?” – Isn’t that the entire debate, trying to figure out how we as a society value human life? Unless we are willing to apply these standards even if people disagree with them, they’re pointless to hold. I can think of no other area where we allow people to self-define personhood.

          “We’re not talking about that. I keep pointing to the spectrum, and you keep looking away, wanting to look at the commonalities. I imagine you looking heavenward, your eyes misting up, thinking about the fact that this single microscopic cell actually has … human DNA. Just thinking about the base pairs brings a lump to your throat.”

          You can imagine what you would like about me, but as long as you’re more interested in trying to dismiss people who disagree with you as overly emotional and irrational, you’ll probably be wrong. I can see your spectrum, you’ve just failed to provide a rational argument for why the spectrum of difference should override the intrinsic value we share.

          “Since pro-lifers’ arguments are usually emotional, I’m simply responding in kind.”

          It’s pretty clear to me that both sides often fall back onto emotion. That’s why those on the pro-choice side often point to rape, or the struggling single mother. Emotion is a very powerful tool, but I try not to rely too much on it personally.

          “Our instinctive reaction (babies and puppies are cute; snakes and vomit are disgusting) are where a lot of our moral reactions come from.”

          I agree, but our instinctive reaction to someone of a different race or to a homeless person with mental illness shows that just because it is instinctive doesn’t make it moral.

        • Kodie

          This is among the top 5 stupidest arguments I have ever seen.

          You are talking about 2 different kinds of dogs, neither of which is bred to guard nor optimal breeds to be trained to guard. But you are talking about two breeds of dogs as pertains to a task a dog can be trained to do, which has nothing to do with abortion. Bringing up the difference between two different sized already born dogs is irrelevant to the topic of whether a couple cells is a person. What on earth makes you think this is a good analogy?

        • Jakeithus

          Are you speaking that to me or Bob? I agree it’s not a great analogy, I’m just trying to roll with what was brought up by someone else.

          What’s at issue is how we determine who or who not should be considered humans worthy of value and societal protection. I only see the analogy being useful in that it shows us that there are a number of factors that determine whether or not something can be considered a guard dog, and so determining personhood based solely on something as inconsequential as biological complexity is also flawed.

        • Kodie

          It’s like asking if a person with blue eyes or a person with brown eyes would make a better trapeze artist. Sizes of dogs is no comparison to spectrum – a chihuahua will never be a German Shepherd. Its size is its full grown size and its breed is what kind of dog it’s always going to be. Can it become more talented? Can it be trained? Yes, dogs of all kinds seem to be able to be trained, but it will never have pertinent instincts that certain breeds of dogs have been bred to retain. A chihuahua will never turn into a hybrid dog, only its offspring might. The analogy is completely stupid and irrelevant, and whoever brought it up is not the point, it’s who keeps using it to make whatever half-assed point they think it’s making. If you knew it was a stupid analogy, you shouldn’t have persisted using it.

        • Jakeithus

          I probably wouldn’t agree that it’s a stupid analogy, just an imperfect or less than ideal one. In any case I apologize that it’s caused you so much apparent frustration, although I stick with my ultimate point that in the same way you cannot determine a guard dog unless you set clear properties for what that means, you cannot determine personhood without knowing those properties.

        • Kodie

          A guard dog discourages strangers from the property it is guarding, it is like a dog having a job. Most dogs have the instinct to warn strangers, but not the factor of intimidation. Dogs still have to be trained to be proper guard dogs and not just barking and biting everyone. It is like I tell my cat – you’re not ferocious, just cute. She is obviously striking at my ankles because she has hunting skills and instincts, but she can’t bite my leg off like a tiger would, because she’s not a tiger. She will never be a tiger.

          None of this has anything to do with the topic. An embryo cannot do anything a person can. It someday may. A 5-year-old can be trained to be a trapeze artist as well as a 25-year-old, but that doesn’t mean anything. An embryo will have to wait, and most 5-year-olds are not trained to be trapeze artists, and neither are most 25-year-olds. That doesn’t stop anyone from swinging off branches or whatever, that seems to be something children naturally like to do. Embryos don’t do anything. They don’t think, they don’t have brains, they don’t like anything or have future plans to swing on the monkey bars at the playground.

          It is just a projection. When parents want to have a baby and they find out they’re pregnant, they have all sorts of future scenarios in mind, including trips to the playground. If they have a child and it dies before the age of 5, they still have projections of what the child lost, in terms of milestones they will never experience. The dead person has no thoughts on the subject, only the projections of the people experiencing the loss. That child will never graduate high school, fall in love, or get married. As if that is all a guaranteed right, “happily ever after”. Lots of born children do not graduate high school, and lots of born people get involved in destructive relationships, or marry and get divorced, or are not even allowed to get married.

          The embryo isn’t losing anything if the parent does not wish to continue pregnancy. The scenarios of the future include a lot of work, a lot of pain, perhaps poverty, and if the adult here would like to put their own life plans ahead of it, nothing is wrong with that. I really think it’s just sentimental, because most people who are pregnant wanted to be, expected to be, and are not averse to a future with a child. We have parties for these people and celebrate their “achievement”, and spend the rest of the time calling women sluts and shame people if they don’t welcome a child.

          Like I said elsewhere, it’s part of the culture, it’s not just religious. I don’t think there is anything at all wrong about abortion, and I wish people would not think of it as some monumental decision they can’t take back – you can’t take back a baby if that’s the wrong decision either. Mostly it’s the shame involved in not meeting society’s expectations – if you’re pregnant, you’re supposed to be married, financially stable, and want children. The “crisis” doesn’t involve killing anything, it’s the personal humiliation of not living up to the supposed standard.

        • jejune

          Africans, pink people, blue people, people in comas, newborns, sleeping people, etc. all share one thing in common.

          SENTIENCE

          A single cell organism, and a fetus at various points along the spectrum, is *incapable* of any kind of sentience.

          We routinely disconnect clinically braindead corpses from life support systems because the cerebral cortex is DEAD. A braindead patient can even survive with a beating heart and functioning body as long as the brain stem is still alive. But if the rest of the brain is dead, the ‘person’ is gone. Up until roughly 24 weeks, the fetus has the same EEG readings as that braindead patient.

          A zygote cannot suffer. A zygote is incomplete and not fully formed. A black person, a pink person, a newborn, and a person in a coma are all complete and fully formed. The underlying structures for sentience and sapience are already in existence. They do not have to be built. And all of the above can FEEL. Can SUFFER.

          Look at a zygote as a genetic blueprint. Because that is what a zygote is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          What I’m lacking from your argument when determining a person is what those key factors are, beyond biological complexity which I disagree with.

          Can you see any ways in which a single cell really, really different from a newborn? That.

          Isn’t that the entire debate, trying to figure out how we as a society value human life?

          No, there’s also the imposition thing. Do we impose Jake’s ideas on all of society or should we treat people like adults (up to a point) and give them the benefit of the doubt? I vote that we leave it up to the individuals.

          We do that for parents. CPS is available as a backstop, but we give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to raising their children. If we trust them, why not the pregnant woman?

          Unless we are willing to apply these standards even if people disagree with them, they’re pointless to hold.

          Your confidence awes me. Millions of people disagree with you vociferously, but you demand your standards be applied to them. They’re willing to let you do things your way for your life; you don’t feel compelled to reciprocate?

          I can think of no other area where we allow people to self-define personhood.

          Could you address the spectrum squarely instead of avoiding it? The newborn has important properties that the single cell doesn’t. That’s why pro-choicers think that adding the woman’s situation (or the baby’s, if it’s born) is relevant.

          You can imagine what you would like about me, but as long as you’re more interested in trying to dismiss people who disagree with you as overly emotional and irrational, you’ll probably be wrong.

          I continue to be frustrated that you sidestep the argument.

          I can see your spectrum, you’ve just failed to provide a rational argument for why the spectrum of difference should override the intrinsic value we share.

          What intrinsic value? That we all share the same frikkin’ DNA?

          Golly. Profound. Color me unconvinced.

          It’s pretty clear to me that both sides often fall back onto emotion.

          I find the pro-choicers more often based on intellectual arguments (and was trying to right the balance), but maybe that’s just me.

        • Jakeithus

          “Can you see any ways in which a single cell really, really different from a newborn? That.” – You’ve given some of these; arms, legs, fingers, a heart, etc. It’s pretty clear that a lack of these things don’t reduce someone’s humanity however. The one big difference I can see is brain function and the thoughts that go along with that, although a functional brain as determining factor would mess up your idea of a spectrum since it is in place far sooner than birth.

          “Your confidence awes me. Millions of people disagree with you vociferously, but you demand your standards be applied to them. They’re willing to let you do things your way for your life; you don’t feel compelled to reciprocate?” – This argument is irrelevant because as soon as doing something my own way harms another person, it ceases to be my decision alone. If we cannot agree on who should count as people worthy of value, we can’t determine whether or not our actions are harmful to another person to begin with.

          “Could you address the spectrum squarely instead of avoiding it? The newborn has important properties that the single cell doesn’t.” – Maybe I should be asking you address the spectrum squarely, since you seem to be unable to clearly define these properties you speak of and explain why they should be the determining factor of personhood.

          “What intrinsic value? That we all share the same frikkin’ DNA?” – I would argue that the only thing of any consequence that separate that single cell and myself is time; every other difference I’ve seen you raise is dependent on that factor, and if time isn’t a determining factor in personhood from birth to death, I don’t see why it should be one before that.

          A fully formed body is not important, or else it would mean I would become less of a person if I were to lose one of those body parts. Neither is brain function, as my personhood isn’t dependent on the number of neural connections I possess.The fact that a fetus is dependent on another for its survival isn’t important either, as this doesn’t change for many years after birth.

          All I ask is that you help me out by pointing out what properties a newborn possesses that makes it distinct from a fetus or embryo in a way that can allow me to rationally say, “This individual is worthy of personhood, and this one is not”.

          “I find the pro-choicers more often based on intellectual arguments (and was trying to right the balance), but maybe that’s just me.” – Maybe it is, as it certainly hasn’t been the case for me.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          It’s pretty clear that a lack of these things don’t reduce someone’s humanity however.

          Translated: “Yeah, OK, facing the spectrum squarely, I see insanely large differences between a single cell and a trillion-cell newborn. But, see, that plays havoc with my argument. So let’s instead look for commonalities. Let’s look at the humanity, which I define as having human DNA. From this perspective, the spectrum vanishes, and I win.”

          a functional brain as determining factor would mess up your idea of a spectrum since it is in place far sooner than birth.

          Huh? Are you admitting that a fetus along the way has a brain that the single cell doesn’t and so that there is indeed a remarkably vast spectrum?

          Anyway, that first nascent brain is very, very different from the newborn’s brain. See? A spectrum.

          This argument is irrelevant because as soon as doing something my own way harms another person, it ceases to be my decision alone.

          Imagine you have a child and you spank it. Does the same argument apply? Does society need to be pulled in to critique this harm that you’ve done?

          If we cannot agree on who should count as people worthy of value

          I’m sure we can’t. You say that a single cell is a person worthy of value—an intrinsic value that has only one interpretation. That single cell could be the most precious thing in the world … to a woman who wants a baby. On the other hand, it could be the most tragic and life threatening … to someone who doesn’t.

          Maybe I should be asking you address the spectrum squarely, since you seem to be unable to clearly define these properties you speak of and explain why they should be the determining factor of personhood.

          Stalling tactic.

          “I choose to see no significant difference at the two ends of the spectrum, so therefore, this view must be imposed on everyone else. QED.”

          the only thing of any consequence that separate that single cell and myself is time

          So this all devolves down to an argument of potential. The single cell will potentially be something important … though it ain’t much to look at now.

          Yeah, I agree.

          A fully formed body is not important, or else it would mean I would become less of a person if I were to lose one of those body parts.

          Again: the difference between you and a double amputee (for example) is trivial compared to the difference between the double amputee and the single cell.

          Neither is brain function, as my personhood isn’t dependent on the number of neural connections I possess.

          I don’t think this works for you. When someone is brain dead, they’re certainly a lot less of something than they were before. In many cases, they’re taken off life support and allowed to die.

          All I ask is that you help me out by pointing out what properties a newborn possesses that makes it distinct from a fetus or embryo in a way that can allow me to rationally say, “This individual is worthy of personhood, and this one is not”.

          I’ve raised two children from babies. I’m pretty much an expert on babies. Something so small you need a microscope to see isn’t a baby.

          If you’re determined to say that, after all this, you see no meaningful difference between a single cell and a newborn, then I’m out of arguments.

        • Jakeithus

          Way to twist my statements to suit your already made point. Yes I see differences between a newborn and an embryo, no, I don’t see those differences as being important. You’ve been completely unwilling or unable to explain why those differences are as important as you’re claiming.

          I am admitting that a fetus has a brain that an embryo does not. The problem is that if this is your determining factor, the spectrum does not end at birth. You might like it to admit it, but it clearly does not, and it’s nothing more than an arbitrary point. If that’s the case, that is fine, you can argue that if you wish, but it still leaves you free of good reasons why you choose that point and not sooner or later.

          “Stalling tactic.”

          More like asking for clarification, it’s a common tactic used in rational discussions if you’re not familiar with it. I disagree with your spectrum, partly because everything you use to determine it does not end at birth, but continues on past it.

          “So this all devolves down to an argument of potential. The single cell will potentially be something important”

          You’re putting words in my mouth that I haven’t used. It is not about potential from my perspective. What you are failing to point out, despite my asking, is what makes a newborn important? Is it the same thing that makes me as a 28 year old important? I too have the potential to be something else (some might say something greater) in 9 months time, but no changes I undergo will make me something fundamentally different or more important than what I am now, and I would argue the same for a fetus unless you can be more specific as to what we should value.

          I’ve had a pregnant wife for the past 6 months, does that make me an expert on fetuses? In any case, I would never claim that an embryo and a baby are the same, just that the differences aren’t as important as you make them out to be.

          I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere, as we disagree on a fundamental principle of what it means to be a human person and approach the issue in an entirely different way. You believe value should be assigned by us, based on the degree to which an individual fulfills any number of ill-defined and arbitrarily chosen criteria (from my perspective). I don’t think I could believe that, as it creates too many problems when I begin to think about it, and raises too many moral concerns for me.

          Of course, my position that humans have value simply on account of them being human (and not just on account of DNA) is likely far too meta-physical for someone of your taste. The whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and all that.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes I see differences between a newborn and an embryo, no, I don’t see those differences as being important. You’ve been completely unwilling or unable to explain why those differences are as important as you’re claiming.

          I’m obviously unable to make you see my point.

          I am admitting that a fetus has a brain that an embryo does not. The problem is that if this is your determining factor, the spectrum does not end at birth.

          How could anyone imagine that brain development is my point? There’s a whole lot more happening along the spectrum than just that.

          You might like it to, but it clearly does not, and it’s nothing more than an arbitrary point.

          And later in my last comment, I address this squarely. A newborn, a toddler, you, an old person, and a double amputee are pretty much identical when compared to a single cell.

          More like asking for clarification

          I’ve clarified all I’m able to do so. You’re free now to reject my argument in its entirety.

          You’re putting words in my mouth that I haven’t used.

          … giving you the golden opportunity to clarify. Win-win.

          It is not about potential from my perspective.

          Perhaps I can be forgiven for being confused. “The only thing of any consequence that separate that single cell and myself is time” sure as heck looks like an argument from potential to me.

          What you are failing to point out, despite my asking, is what makes a newborn important?

          You’re free to judge my explanations as on target or gibberish as you choose. I’ve said that a newborn is a person (or baby) and a single cell isn’t. I’ve described the insanely huge physical differences. I’ve appealed to emotion (babies are cute, microscopic things aren’t). I’ve appealed to your sense of justice—are you sure you’re bold enough to impose your opinion on the rest of the country? I’ve given parenting as an example (we give them the benefit of the doubt; why not the mother?). I’ve left it up to you—if you don’t like “person”; that’s fine; give me something better. And I’ve probably given 2 or 3 more arguments.

          You reject them all. OK, you won’t be convinced. I get it.

          Is it the same thing that makes me as a 28 year old important?

          A newborn and a 28yo are basically identical on the spectrum.

          no changes I undergo will make me something fundamentally different or more important than what I am now

          Precisely. ’Cause you’re a person. In fact, you might hope for your 28yo body when you get to heaven rather than the 85yo one you’ll have at death (let’s say). Contrast that with the single cell—not really at any sort of satisfactory point on the spectrum yet.

          I would argue the same for a fetus unless you can be more specific as to what we should value.

          I leave it to you. If in your mind the value of a single cell right now, not in 9 months, is far, far more valuable in an objective manner (that is, this view must be imposed on all of society) than a dog or cow, say, then I have no more arguments to offer.

          I would never claim that an embryo and a baby are the same, just that the differences aren’t as important as you make them out to be.

          What you claim are that the single cell and the baby are equally persons, and that this view must be imposed on everyone. We differ here.

          You believe value should be assigned by us

          Duh. Who else?

          Of course, my position that humans have value simply on account of them being human (and not just on account of DNA)

          Huh? What besides DNA are we talking about?? What else can you point to to show the humanity of this single cell? Your argument is all about DNA and potential. Mine is about people—both newborns and the mothers that bear them.

        • Jakeithus

          I reject the idea that I’m arguing based on potential because it implies that I, as an adult, possess something of sufficient value to classify me as a person that the embryo only has the potential to possess. That would be agreeing with your assumption/conclusion, which I do not.

          I’ll leave it alone, but just so I’m clear, personhood is dependent on an individual’s physical/biological features, whether we find something emotionally attractive, and if it makes intuitive sense to us. If I missed anything, I apologize. I’m of the opinion that you haven’t thought the consequences of this position out all the way through, but that’s just me.

          Am I bold enough to impose my opinion on the rest of the country? Perhaps, most likely because it wouldn’t be the first time that society has granted personhood to a set of individuals despite strong objections from the opposition.

          “Duh. Who else?”

          I would say value is not up to us to assign, it is something inherent to an individual or object that we are either capable of recognizing or not.

          “What besides DNA are we talking about??” – That’s the big question isn’t it? If human life is nothing more than the way a particular collection of DNA is organized, it makes talking about the value of human life at any point impossible, in my opinion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I reject the idea that I’m arguing based on potential because it implies that I, as an adult, possess something of sufficient value to classify me as a person that the embryo only has the potential to possess.

          Yes, I see your dilemma. You must reject the “potential” argument. And yet your way of dismissing the spectrum is by saying that only thing separating the cell and the newborn is time.

          What is potential if not something that develops over time?

          And that’s an odd use of “only.” That’s like saying that the only thing separating cave men from moderns is our society, technology, and education. Yeah, you can say that, but it almost sounds like you’re using it ironically.

          personhood is dependent on an individual’s physical/biological features, whether we find something emotionally attractive, and if it makes intuitive sense to us. If I missed anything, I apologize.

          What I think you’ve missed is how your view differs from mine. How a single cell fits in nicely with this view, I’m missing.

          I’m of the opinion that you haven’t thought the consequences of this position out all the way through

          That could be true, but I’ve gotten no insights from this conversation, unfortunately, despite the thousands of words we’ve shared.

          most likely because it wouldn’t be the first time that society has granted personhood to a set of individuals despite strong objections from the opposition.

          There was debate about Africans being persons. You mean like that?

          I’m having a hard time seeing the parallel between “An African man with the exact same traits (except some appearance ones) as you is not a person” and “a single microscopic cell that shares only DNA with you is not a person.”

          I would say value is not up to us to assign

          Who then? God? Is your argument a religious one?

          If human life is nothing more than the way a particular collection of DNA is organized, it makes talking about the value of human life at any point impossible, in my opinion.

          Is it Opposite Day? This is what you’re saying! The only thing the newborn shares with the single cell is DNA! They’re both H. sapiens. You’re saying that the DNA argument demeans humanity, and I agree.

        • Jakeithus

          ” And yet your way of dismissing the spectrum is by saying that only thing separating the cell and the newborn is time.”

          I do use it to reject the spectrum argument, however it goes further since it’s pretty clear to me that time or age is an insufficient basis to determine human value.

          “There was debate about Africans being persons. You mean like that?

          I’m having a hard time seeing the parallel between “An African man with the exact same traits (except some appearance ones) as you is not a person” and “a single microscopic cell that shares only DNA with you is not a person.” – Well, since we’ve already determined that personhood for you is dependant primarily on physical appearance, emotional reactions and human intution, it seems pretty clear to me how the same argument could be used in the case you bring up.

          Of course you will probably claim that the differences in that particular case are miniscule, but when human beings are the judge and the spectrum is arbitrarily determined, it’s tough to prove one way or the other.

          “Who then? God? Is your argument a religious one?”

          I never claimed God, I simply claimed value is something we inherently possess. I can see how this sort of statement might be in conflict with your chosen worldview, but no, I’m not arguing from religion.

          “Is it Opposite Day? This is what you’re saying! The only thing the newborn shares with the single cell is DNA!” – Again, you’re reading things I didn’t say into my argument. DNA might be the only physical trait we share, but I would argue what it means to be human is more than just physical.

          “”That could be true, but I’ve gotten no insights from this conversation,unfortunately, despite the thousands of words we’ve shared.” – That’s a shame. I apologize if I didn’t do my part. For what it’s worth, you’ve been as rational and open minded as I’ve come to expect from internet atheist activists. It’s given me much to think about, although I can’t say insight has been as apparent as one can hope.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          it’s pretty clear to me that time or age is an insufficient basis to determine human value.

          And we’re back where we started. I’m happy to label both ends of the spectrum “human.” Clearly, then, that’s not what it’s a spectrum of. Let’s focus on what it is of than what it isn’t.

          Seems pretty clear to me that you’re being squishy, jumping from “potential” to “human,” depending on which one I’m pushing against and saying, “Ya missed me!” each time.

          I agree with an earlier point: we’ve discussed it all and there isn’t more to talk about.

          Well, since we’ve already determined that personhood for you is dependant primarily on physical appearance, emotional reactions and human intution, it seems pretty clear to me how the same argument could be used in the case you bring up.

          Then do so.

          Of course you will probably claim that the differences in that particular case are miniscule

          Yep.

          when human beings are the judge and the spectrum is arbitrarily determined, it’s tough to prove one way or the other.

          I ask you what the difference is (what the spectrum is of), and you say it’s time, so I say that your argument is about potential and nothing more, and then you say it’s not.

          These are the clues that this argument has run its course.

          I never claimed God, I simply claimed value is something we inherently possess.

          ?? You said “value is not up to us to assign.” You’re not really good a picking up the cues: this is your chance to explain yourself.

          I can see how this sort of statement might be in conflict with your chosen worldview

          That’s not the issue. I’m just wondering what kind of argument you’re trying to use by which to impose on the rest of us. A religious argument doesn’t count in a country governed by a secular constitution.

          DNA might be the only physical trait we share, but I would argue what it means to be human is more than just physical.

          Then what?? Seductive teasing can work in a romantic context, but this isn’t it.

          If you’ve got something to say, say it.

        • gimpi1

          Do you understand, Jakeithus, that to give full personhood to a fetus from the moment of conception requires you to strip personhood from all women capable of conception? Many everyday actions can cause harm to a developing fetus. Damage can be caused before the woman knows she is pregnant. How far would you go to protect that single cell?

          You can’t have two people in one body, and give them equal rights to that body. One must take precedence. I believe that should be the woman, based on the undeniable fact that she can survive the loss of a developing fetus. The fetus can’t survive the loss of it’s mother.

    • jejune

      They oppose contraception because contraception begets abortion. One actually spelled it out for me. He said that if you allow contraception, then you have to allow abortion as a backup for when the contraception fails. Because clearly, when a woman is using contraception, she is *not* consenting to pregnancy.

      Of course, there is a large segment that just doesn’t want people having sex unless it is for procreation.

  • http://bodycrimes.wordpress.com/ Chloe Dawson

    Excellent post. If pro lifers honestly believed that fertilised eggs were humans, they’d be busting in to IVF facilities to stage a mass breakout of all those frozen humans.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks! Bizarrely, some pro-lifers are taking that path. You’ve heard of snowflake babies? That’s someone implanting and carrying to term someone else’s unwanted frozen embryos.

      • Itarion

        Please tell me you’re kidding, please tell me you’re kidding, please tell me you’re kidding…

        And you aren’t. Fantastic. http://www.nightlight.org/snowflakes-embryo-donation-adoption/

        • sg

          That doesn’t seem too surprising. It has to be cheaper and easier on the patient to just have the “snowflake” baby implanted than to go through the whole ivf process from start to finish. It probably saves thousands of dollars and much discomfort.

        • Itarion

          When you look at it that way, it makes sense. That’s not the way this organization is looking at it. That doesn’t seem to be the main concern of this organization.

          Pre-born children who once were highly prized now exist in a state of suspended animation, their future very much in doubt.

          Our purpose in emphasizing the personhood of the frozen embryo is not to subject the genetic parents to a moral and religious argument for not destroying the embryo — although certainly that is our unequivocal position.

          Please, give birth to one of these people in potentia – they have the right to life.

          I understand that there is a reasonable train of thought that would lead one to birthing someone else’s embryo. It does not appear to be the driving motivation behind this organization’s roots.

  • Kellen Connor

    If pro-lifers wanted to end abortion by preventing unwanted/unhealthy pregnancies before they happened, I would still be pro-life.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      There’s a difference between someone who’s personally pro-life and someone who’s so convinced that they’re right that they want to impose their pro-life stance on the country. The latter is what I’m concerned about.

      • Kellen Connor

        Well, yes, that’s true, and I do try to differentiate the two. It’s hard because the latter group has more or less appropriated the “pro-life” label, and it’s difficult to associate it with anything else.

  • R Vogel

    Very good post – I enjoyed how you approached the issue in a sensitive manner without being outright dismissive of the opposing view. I think your point about arguing over where the line should be is spot on. Too often I have seen pro-choice arguments that completely ignore the moral issue that those on the anti-abortion side are wrestling with, and the best way to open up dialogue is to bring up very poignant issues like you have done. Recently I read a comment on a blog where someone said they challenge the anti-abortion folks with the question “if abortion was made illegal, what punishment should be done against the woman who gets an illegal abortion?” If you truly believe all abortions are murder, then you should put her in jail, correct? Yet few would take that draconian view, especially if it is a question of the morning after pill or other chemical means.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Another good example, thanks.

      • Frank

        I was thinking of R. Vogel’s argument as I read this — to me this example shows that even pro-lifers don’t really believe their own stated convictions. Another way to show this is to examine their rhetoric about the “abortion holocaust.” If they really believed abortion was comparable to the Shoah (or even worse), then how could any of them possibly be satisfied with the mild level of political activity they engage in? Hey, Hitler’s killing the Jews again! Let’s vote against him! Let’s sign a petition! Let’s write a letter to our congressmen! No, if that was the moral reality of the situation, the only sane people in our society would be the violent extremists killing abortion doctors and blowing up clinics. But pro-lifers condemn such activity almost uniformly, and they’re right to do so. Because deep down, they know this isn’t really a “holocaust.”

        For myself, I think abortion should not be part of the Christian way of following Jesus, but it’s not murder and it’s not my business to force the following of Jesus on anyone but myself.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I like your thinking. I wish more pro-lifers had this interpretation: make clear their reasons for rejecting abortion personally, but don’t be so cocky to impose that on everyone else in the country.

        • jejune

          Yep.

          I mean, if pro-lifers actually believed that actual babies were being murdered – 10+ a day – they wouldn’t be content to whine on internet forums about it.

          If they truly believed that embryos were babies, they would be busting into IVF clinics, trying to save the ‘babies’ from being FROZEN or INCINERATED.*

          *50-100 extra ivf embryos are created and they either die of freezer burn or get burned to death

      • Frank

        Hey, I just realized I’m posting in the Atheist Channel! LOL, get me outta here!!

        I guess that explains why you didn’t base your arguments on scripture, though.

        But you’re still right, damn it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          We have lots of Christian readers who cheer or object as the spirit moves them. I hope you hang around.

          As for scripture, that doesn’t get anyone very far in making an argument for social policy. “The Bible says so!” isn’t much of an argument in a government controlled by a secular constitution.

        • Frank

          Agreed. But even for Christians, “The Bible says so!” should be seen as a BS methodology for arguing about anything except what actually is or isn’t in the Bible on a simple factual basis. If being Christian means anything at all, then Christians should use the resources available in scripture to draw non-Christians into seeing why we find it an authentic source for understanding the meaning of life. This should be the polar opposite of the fundamentalist approach.

          Yes, I’ll hang around, see what’s going on here.

  • Kodie

    I always think what is missing from these debates is society’s expectations. To some extent, religion places itself in charge of policing people to manage their lives in accordance with these expectations, but I would observe that religion and society aren’t the same thing. However, religion (in my opinion) arises from society and are not driving it or influencing it. When asked, a lot of people do rely on their gut feelings, and I think why atheism regarding abortion is not a single clinical view.

    What I mean is – there is an expectation and it is not unusual. When people get pregnant, it’s supposed to be good news. Most people wanted to be, and can’t wait to tell people the good news. They think of it as a baby and plan for its arrival, and everyone throws them a party. Being pregnant and not wanting to be doesn’t fit in the picture. Being pregnant without a husband, or being pregnant in high school or college, or being pregnant and poor – doesn’t fit a generic expectation where everyone has jobs and enough money, and gets married heterosexually, and plans to fit children into that arc. Being pregnant and miscarrying is a tragedy, and not being able to have children of your own is considered a sad thing, so how does getting pregnant and discontinuing it fit in with that picture?

    It is just really hard for people to fathom both being the case individually – that finding out you have a fertilized egg inside of you normally causes joy in people, how can it also be just a clump of cells, a parasite, a tumor, an inconvenience. Not wanting to be pregnant at the time you are is a signal you don’t have the rest of your life together – you don’t have enough financial stability or a steady partner to share it with, or you . Like the Christians tend to, remain pure for as long as you can hold out and get married and start having babies before you know what you really wanted to do with your life.

    That is a form of birth control. Sex and birth is inevitable, so for the assurance of future generations, women and men must pair up, fall into gender roles, and raise their children to do the same.

    They are confusing that with “natural law”. It takes a lot of pressure on girls and boys to stay within the lines until they grow to believe they want that kind of life. People who don’t conform are shamed – for having sex, for not getting married, for having jobs, for not having a job, and last but not least, wanting to have a life without children, either temporarily or permanently. Girls are raised with the idea of weddings and babies, to be “chosen” for that job and not to do anything to jeopardize one’s chances, because it’s all up to men to seek out the best repository for his sperm and the nicest, most amenable lady to clean and iron his work shirts and cook a hot meal for him and his lineage. To that end, they are superstitious against all other technological advances preventing pregnancy because that would undermine marriage and procreation as the goal of being alive.

    To go out of the way from that, well, society has loosened up, but not that much. Singles are still worthless, women who have self-worth are feminazis, and women who have sex are slutty. And people who don’t welcome children automatically are horrible, horrible people. Pregnancy is the ultimate achievement – every second of it is celebrated by people who want to be. There is no place for someone who doesn’t have their act together to conform with society’s expectations where every single pregnancy is worthwhile and welcomed. And should a pregnancy arise where your life is not in order to welcome it, you should welcome it anyway, because that is the expected response. Handling it another way just to buy yourself time enough to collect your shit is “cowardly”. We sneak off to get abortions, we don’t celebrate it. We don’t tell people, we don’t want them to know. It’s in the way of our other plans, and to them, an innocent child has to suffer death because you don’t have your shit together – yet, or ever.

    Now, and only in the last couple decades of my life, is it becoming normal to buy condoms, or to watch single people on tv having a sex life. It really never occurred to me what was going on with the characters of Three’s Company because I was too young, and it was only implied – a single man living with single ladies was still considered culturally offensive unless you make him gay. It is so weird to me now that it was ok because he wasn’t actually gay, but even if they made a little fun of Jack, the Ropers and Mr. Furley never said he couldn’t live there unless he was straight. Even Chrissy’s father, a minister, accepted his daughter living with a man as long as he wasn’t getting fresh with her (which he was, constantly!). Jack and his friend Larry, and even Mr. Furley, were portrayed as sexually active men, scoping out ladies at the Regal Beagle, but never going so far as show them leaving with anyone or waking up with anyone, but it never really occurred to me that Janet and Chrissy were there for the same reason – they even did an episode where the misunderstanding involved overhearing that Chrissy was pregnant, and it flew over my head – of course she wasn’t really pregnant, and how could you even think that of her?

    Now on later shows like Seinfeld or Friends that I watched, they openly talked about sexual encounters and body parts, and featuring openly actual gay people, gay marriage, and unexpected unmarried actual pregnancies, including an initial lack of enthusiasm for it.

    I know I have gone off on a tangent, but I think the emotional arguments against abortion have a lot more to do with creating ways to counter non-conformity to the schedule than they do to support sincere beliefs. They rely on religion, as most people have, for no very good reason, an aversion to disliking children. Even atheists have a special place for children when they are victims of religious adults, and that religious adults should have the power to overcome (because some do) their own childhood indoctrination into the system. If they get to that point, they have no problem with it, and neither should their own kids, get it? If you rationally believe that a zygote is a parasitic clump of cells, then how do you reconcile that with legions of parents who love their microscopic parasitic clump of cells as soon as they see an indicating line on their pee-stick?

    Growing up, getting married, and making babies is the order. Doing things out of order is not the order, and their full argument is that little babies shouldn’t be murdered because you didn’t stick to the format. They will say anything to coerce people to stick to the order, using shame and judgment and lies and diversion to do it, and bringing in god’s judgment to back them up, because god is really the only good reason to do anything since it has the power to override personal opinions; it is law above law, and they know god agrees with them because they can feel it with their emotions.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Being pregnant without a husband, or being pregnant in high school or college, or being pregnant and poor – doesn’t fit a generic expectation where everyone has jobs and enough money

      Pro-lifers only imagine the case when “You’re pregnant!” is fantastic news. It can instead be terrible news.

      Now on later shows like Seinfeld or Friends that I watched

      I wonder about the unconventional families on some of the older shows. The Brady Bunch (blended family), Beverly Hillbillies (single dad; Jethro and Ellie Mae are cousins), Andy of Mayberry (single dad), even My Three Sons (single dad, grandfather + 3 boys). Not every one was Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver.

      Were those danged liberals in Hollywood messing with our minds even back in the 60s?

      Growing up, getting married, and making babies is the order.

      My daughter recently went to the wedding of a friend who already has 2 kids from her fiancé. A relative who was managing the kids got a little frustrated and said to the bride, “This is why you have kids after you get married!”

      They will say anything to coerce people to stick to the order, using shame and judgment and lies and diversion to do it

      If that was just their way, that’d be fine. It’s when they want to impose their views on everyone else that we have a problem.

      • Kodie

        If that was just their way, that’d be fine. It’s when they want to impose their views on everyone else that we have a problem.

        Well, that’s what I’m saying – it is not just religions. Most people see religion as reasonable to have, even if they don’t share particular beliefs. Society has patriarchy, it’s not just religious. It is people judging and shaming people, not necessarily without the bludgeon of religion to pressure them. People actually do feel bad about themselves if they are not married by a certain age, if anyone is ever going to love them, and if they get too old, their dates see them as desperately seeking a sperm donor. This is what you get from watching tv or reading magazines and watching all your friends pair off and do things this way. If you are aware of popular culture, you are aware there is a social pressure to get in order and get there on time. Go to school, meet someone, fall in love, get married, and have babies. It is assumed you will find a decent job, and if you are marriageable (i.e., normal), who could look you over. If you are in order and on time, and care about your appearance, your packaging, you should get picked before you reach your expiration date. If you are sexual prematurely, you may not get chosen by the most choosy men, or you risk pregnancy, which is out of the order.

        Let me put it this way – when children die, when it’s reported on the news that people died, the children are highlighted as especially tragic, and they are framed in terms of milestones they will miss – falling in love, having their first kiss, graduating high school, and getting married. It is assumed they will not divert from those passages. They die in the potential of what normal righteous humans they would have become with none of the other things they may have chosen to be or what paths they may have taken. Everyone is expected to get there. When this is put in terms of embryos and fetuses aborted, the potential is the same. It’s expected their life will have the full potential to become the same as everyone else (if not far better, finding the cure for cancer or ending all wars or something lofty like that). Nobody would say killing children is a good thing, but it is difficult for me to say why it’s necessarily a worse thing than an adult – it is hard for parents, but dead is dead, and those children aren’t missing any milestones any more than you or I would miss living once we’re dead. And maybe they suffered in their last minutes or hours, and that’s truly horrible for anyone. However, should someone suffer for several minutes or hours or weeks, and live, we take “at least you’re still alive” as if the suffering just falls by the wayside.

        Let me make it clear that I do feel for people, I just don’t hold children in a different category of impossible grief than I do adults. Not too long ago, a local woman was killed in a freak accident while on vacation, but the kicker was – she was pregnant at the time. Her husband was left with no one and the utmost tragedy here was not that she was killed but that she had been pregnant when she was killed. That is how the news frames tragedies. It was as if she could experience the tragic loss of her (presumably) wanted pregnancy herself, but the loss of her own life didn’t matter as much. To put this with your example #1, if you have a choice to save a pregnant woman or a non-pregnant woman, people will save the pregnant woman. How do they know one is pregnant and one is not? Size.

        As for tv shows, single-parent homes up until the late 70s nearly always involved widowed parents. It was also not apparently unusual for people to take in a niece or nephew? It is never explained why that child can’t stay with their own parent(s). A blended family was probably a forward step, but single parents on tv have dated or courted. One Day at a Time was controversial since it featured a divorced mother who had sexual relationships, as did one daughter, apparently, but notably not the other, but who ended up being infertile, and ultimately lived with her husband, her brother-in-law, and her niece when Mackenzie Phillips left the show. Later shows still feature widowed parents, like Full House, while Will the Fresh Prince’s single mother had wealthy relatives in Bel-Air who took him in and apparently paid for him to go to private school while she stuck it out in a Philadelphia ghetto. This explains where inhabitant cousins come from on programs from earlier decades.

        • jejune

          Religion just makes it easier to legitimize ‘forcing other people to do what I want’.

          Religion legitimizes all sorts of nasty things. And it’s easier to point to a god and say ‘this deity says you must do this’ than to try to come up with other reasons to force people to conform to your will.

        • Kodie

          I really don’t feel that religious views are pertinent to me. I don’t get pressure from religion to be a certain way, and nobody has used religious reasons to force me to conform to anything. I live in a part of the country that never talks about their religions, not really, and I watch tv shows where characters may be Christian but not so you’d notice outside of a Christmas episode, if that.

          Patriarchy is just something that exists, and a lot of stereotypes and cliches abound. There are the subtler forces of socialization that manipulate a person’s self-esteem – to feel bad about everything that doesn’t match the formula. I think religious reasons try to shame people for having abortions, but we don’t really get into the personal internal shame one is supposed to be made to feel at failing to want something you’re raised to want. I also think among the non-deeply-religious, there’s the “we’re supposed to be smart enough to avoid pregnancy by now”; suspected of ulterior motive.

          There are more nuances to this topic than it is often given. I understand religious causes have a loud voice, but society judges people, and without giving a good reason, you just aren’t measuring up, and someone always lets you know it.

    • jejune

      Growing up, getting married, and making babies is the order

      Precisely.

      Great post Kodie.

      Can’t give you enough thumbs up!

  • alfaretta

    Here’s one, although I can’t come up with appropriately punchy phrasing:

    There are plenty of worse fates than never being born.

    You know how they say God always answers your prayers, but sometimes the answer is no? Unfortunately, that happened to my poor mother. She prayed to God to help her want her unborn baby (her third).

    She wound up with post-partum psychosis. Fortunately, no one died or suffered permanent physical damage, and since this was the late 50s/early 60s no one reported her, and no one wound up in foster care.

    But 50+ years later, everyone in the family is still suffering — especially that poor baby whose mother’s prayer apparently didn’t meet with God’s favor.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      A sad story.

      If you imagine your mother in a godless frame of mind, she might interpret that as despair (no one to help out) or as freeing (no nutty medieval beliefs to burden me). Unfortunately, the godless path isn’t always blissful.

      • alfaretta

        Bob — Thanks. I sometimes wonder how she can still be a believer after this episode. She is truly a kind, loving person, so this is not a case of a sociopath unleashing her inner monster.

        Unfortunately, she spent much of her life thinking of prayer as the only action she could take — and thus didn’t take concrete steps to improve her/our situation.

    • Niemand

      What I find particularly sad is that this is clearly a case where the woman who was pregnant wanted to do the right thing for her potential baby, but just couldn’t because of illness and, frankly, because she didn’t want it and couldn’t convince herself that she did. Not the greedy slut who wants an abortion to avoid gaining weight of the “pro-life” narrative.

  • BHG

    Perhaps the saving the embryo or the kid argument should be recast: would you save a child or a pregnant woman? (Of course, the pregnant woman is probably able to save herself…) Part of the problem is that we have separated early humans from their usual situation: people were never meant to be conceived or raised in glass; doing so has made it much easier to think in the embryo-person dichotomy. Nor were embryos intended to be frozen at any stage. And consider this– in the federal law, the penalty for destroying eagle eggs is the same as killing an adult bird. I think we are at least as significant as eagles… Like it or not, human beings at the very beginning of their lives look like fertilized ova because that is what they are….and should not look like anything else. Appearance does not dictate value and biology proves to us that appearance changes at stages of life….

    • Gus

      What do you mean, ‘people were never meant to be’? According to who? There is no plan for human life. There is no designer. People aren’t meant to be anything. The only limits we have are physical reality. If embryos can survive frozen, why not freeze them? Better for the woman who wants them, better for them as they get a chance to be born, rather than just withering in their mother as she goes through menopause.

    • fiona64

      Eagles are endangered. People? Not so much.

  • M.S.

    Interesting questions you asked. Thanks for posting. I too appreciate the respectful nature of your post. I’m pro-life, but I think pro-lifers have to go beyond just being pro-birth and look at the bigger picture. It’s a very complicated issue (hence all the debate) but I think if both pro-life and pro-choice people could get together in the gray area and realize its not a totally black-and-white issue, then communication between the two groups would go a lot further.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The biggest and most urgent issue for me is the imposition thing. Some pro-lifers are not only convinced that their position makes sense for them and should govern their lives but that they must impose their beliefs on others. That’s where we have a problem.

      • wtfwjtd

        Some pro-lifers are not only convinced that their position makes sense for them and should govern their lives but that they must impose their beliefs on others.

        I’ve always wondered what the pro-lifer’s preferred method of imposition of their beliefs is. Are we to have government monitors in doctor’s offices with women and their gynecologists? This always struck me as quite heavy-handed (and just a shade hypocritical), especially coming from people who like to spout phrases such as “liberty and freedom” and “less gov’t is always better”.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Well, less gubmint is better … except when it comes to moral issues that are obvious (to them). In that case, Big Brother sounds pretty good!

        • jejune

          I have posed this very question to pro-lifers and a majority of them laugh at me and tell me to stop being silly.

          They then say that abortion should be illegal ‘just like it was in the 1950s’ and that everything will be hunky dory.

          I think that a lot of it comes down to what ‘feels good’ vs. what is actually *practical*. As in, if you *really* believe that a zygote is a baby, you will *practically* treat it as one. And they have no intention of following through on that.

        • wtfwjtd

          Yes, a lot of classic cognitive dissonance going on here. Many, many anti-choicers like to sit in their comfortable arm chairs making up crazy rules, and leave the dirty work of actually enforcing them, or even making sense of them, to the big bad gubmint (which all of the sudden is a wonderful driving force for doing good–their good). Of course, these rules are for “you people”, and don’t apply to them. Hmm, now where have I heard that before?

  • Anna

    These hypothetical arguements have nothing to do with the reality of abortion as it is practiced. For most abortions, the life of the mother is not at risk. The real dilemma is ‘would you suffer an inconvinence so that someone else can live?’ ‘will you make a few ajustments in your lifestyle or will you kill your child?’ ‘What’s worse, feeling a bit sick and tired for nine months or ending another human life?’
    I’m happy to say that there is a spectrum when dealing with abortion. A late term abortion is worse than an early term abortion because the fetus can feel pain by that stage and is capable of suffering. But just because there’s a spectrum doesn’t mean early human life is worth nothing. There’s a reason punching a pregnant woman in the stomach is worse than punching a non-pregnant person. The fetus has some moral weight, and since the right to life is the most fundamental right, which all other rights depends on, that outweighs most of the reasons women give for wanting abortions. Especially when you factor in adoption as an alternative.
    If the life of the mother actually is threatened by the preganancy, that’s a different issue.
    (P.s. I’m a liberal, atheist woman. I don’t endorse punching people. Before anyone starts trying to strawman me.)

    • Anna

      Another analogy: I would save a child rather than a dog in a burning building, but I’d be against the owner of a dog shooting it if they had been told by an animal shelter than they could give the dog to them in nine months. To me, an embryo has at least the moral weight of a dog.

      • jasmine999

        You’re begging the question in both these posts by using wording that assumes a fertilized egg is human, when, in fact, this is something the article is inviting you to debate. Referring to the egg as “someone else,” is one such approach, as it is a given that “someone” is always human. The dog analogy is an improper analogy, in that both the creatures in it are dogs, not a dog and something else.

      • jejune

        The dog isn’t living inside someone’s body, threatening their life and health, and infringing on their bodily autonomy.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      For most abortions, the life of the mother is not at risk.

      Then why are they having the abortions? Do you think that they just don’t like that pregnancy makes them fat? Or are there more substantial reasons behind it?

      The real dilemma is ‘would you suffer an inconvinence so that someone else can live?’ ‘will you make a few ajustments in your lifestyle or will you kill your child?’ ‘What’s worse, feeling a bit sick and tired for nine months or ending another human life?’

      I’m a guy, so I don’t speak from personal experience, but I’m pretty certain that this isn’t what we’re talking about.

      Sounds like adoption is the answer you’re pointing to. Question: what fraction of premarital births in the U.S. are placed for abortion? Any guesses?

      A late term abortion is worse than an early term abortion because the fetus can feel pain by that stage and is capable of suffering.

      I agree. Let’s encourage education, give information to pregnant girls ASAP, and remove obstacles to abortion so that any abortion is done as early as possible.

      But just because there’s a spectrum doesn’t mean early human life is worth nothing.

      I’ll add another truism: being pregnant for most women is either one of the most fantastic things or one of the most tragic. There isn’t much middle ground.

      The fetus has some moral weight, and since the right to life is the most fundamental right, which all other rights depends on, that outweighs most of the reasons women give for wanting abortions.

      The right to life applies to persons. Not to the twinkle in my eye, not to some sort of vague potential.

    • Niemand

      Any pregnancy puts the mother’s life at risk. The risk of an AVERAGE pregnancy in the US is greater than the risk of flying on 9/11/01*. The risk of dying in pregnancy is greater than the risk of dying in a kidney donation, much greater than for donating marrow or blood. The risk of psychological damage from having a baby and giving it up for adoption is virtually 100%. Many times the damage is permanent and severe. And, of course, even the safest and healthiest of pregnancies causes permanent changes in a woman’s body. Anyone who tells you pregnancy is safe is lying or trying to sell you something. Probably a bad political argument.

      *Technically, of holding a ticket for a flight on 9/11/01, since most of the flights were cancelled, but that’s a detail. Buying a ticket for 9/11/01 shall we say if anyone’s upset about the technicalities.

    • jejune

      Pregnancy is more dangerous than skydiving.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        from a percentage standpoint (% of happy skydives vs. happy pregnancies) or from an absolute standpoint (there are fewer skydive deaths than pregnancy deaths)?

        • jejune

          fewer skydive deaths than pregnancy deaths

          The British government, comparing the risks of various activities, assembled these statistics:

          * Maternal death in pregnancy 1 in 8,200 maternities
          * Surgical anesthesia 1 in 185,000 operations
          * Hang-gliding 1 in 116,000 flights
          * Scuba Diving 1 in 200,000 dives
          * Rock climbing 1 in 320,000 climbs
          * Canoeing 1 in 750,000 outings

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I found the source for those stats here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/theory/r2p2.pdf (p. 71).

    • fiona64

      ‘What’s worse, feeling a bit sick and tired for nine months or ending another human life?’

      Hyperemesis gravidarum (which I had) is not “a bit sick and tired.” Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are not “a bit sick and tired.” Gestational diabetes (which can become permanent) is not “a bit sick and tired.” Pubic symphysis diastasis is not “a bit sick and tired.”

      And those are just a few of the most common, potentially fatal pregnancy complications.

      Adoption is not an alternative to pregnancy; it’s an alternative to parenting.

      • Itarion

        I’m almost afraid to ask, but could you perhaps describe, in general terms, the medical speak you spoke? Except gestational diabetes, I figured that one out.

        • fiona64

          Don’t be afraid to ask, ever.

          Hyperemesis gravidarum is like morning sickness on steroids. It’s 24 hours a day sickness. I had it for the entire duration of my pregnancy. I couldn’t even keep *water* down at one point. Women die from it; Kate Middleton was hospitalized for it. It causes severe dehydration (for obvious reasons). In addition, my senses of smell and taste were affected — I could smell the *salt* in things like chicken soup (I don’t know how else to explain it), so sometimes smells of perfectly normal things would make me vomit. Other women may not experience that aspect of it, but honestly? The HG was the main reason I swore never to be pregnant again. It was horrible.

          Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are related. Pre-eclampsia is a combination of high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine of a pregnant woman. It can lead to stroke, heart attack, seizures and even multiple organ failure. Eclampsia is *life-threatening.* It is basically an escalation of the previous condition. It involves tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures and can even lead to coma. It does not happen to non-pregnant people, ever.

          Pubic symphysis diastasis is a little more complicated to describe, so please bear with me. You know that a woman’s pelvic joints expand/separate during pregnancy, right? That’s the pubic symphysis (which, BTW, gets permanent striations every time a woman is pregnant — a forensic anthropologist can tell how many times a woman was pregnant by looking at her bones). Anyway, the pubic symphysis never fully reconnects post-partum … and stays further disconnected with each subsequent pregnancy. That’s pubic symphysis diastasis. In some cases (as with a friend of mine, who has five kids), the woman can no longer walk properly because her joints have ceased to be fully functional. My friend can also no longer ride a bike.

          I am sorry for the length of the post, but I hope this helps.

        • Itarion

          Don’t mind the length, this is very helpful. Thank you.

    • Helix Luco

      how would you feel about being legally required to make blood donations? it’s only a minor inconvenience. sure, it might make you a little bit sick and tired, and there’s a small chance you’ll faint and spill your brains out onto the front of a car, but you’re saving lives! and since life is a fundamental right, we have a fundamental right to your blood!

    • jejune

      if you are being raped by a schizophrenic person who happens to think you are a demon, do you have the right to kill him in self defense?

  • Edward

    Until it’s realized the mother’s body belongs to the child argument can not end.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Does the mother belong to the child? Yes, if we all agreed, that would stop the debate. I’m not sure it’s true, though.

    • gimpi1

      Really? I profoundly disagree. The pregnant woman can survive the loss of a fetus, the fetus can’t survive the loss of its mother. Therefore, to me, the woman must take precedence.

      Also, Edward, since I assume you can not get pregnant, or risk your life in childbirth, I don’t find your opinion compelling. You are demanding that all fertile women be expected to make a sacrifice that can’t be asked of you.

    • fiona64

      My body belongs to no one but me. That was the case when I was pregnant as well.

  • grumpygirl

    Please please please don’t equate the morning after pill to an abortifacient! It’s not! It works by preventing fertilization. There has actually been research done looking at women’s pelvic fluid, and there has never been a “cast off” fertilized egg found. This makes sense, as ectopic pregnancies have not become more common with the use of plan B.

    I just don’t understand why so many “forced birth” advocates are anti contraception. I know, I know, they think that using contraception makes you a slut because you are either planning for sex, or are going to have sex at an earlier age, which is the opposite.

    But if you want to prevent abortion, effective contraception is the best way.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I thought the morning after pill prevented implantation, not fertilization. No?

      The pro-lifers seem to have a bizarre view of the world. I mean, weren’t they teenagers at one point themselves? Isn’t it clear that becoming sexually mature early and getting hitched up late is weird for “God’s plan”?

      If abortion is the holocaust they say it is, who cares if teenagers screw like rabbits as long as no precious babies are killed? Sex education and easy access to contraception would then be the proper route. But no, they want to pretend that they can shut down premarital sex as well. Aren’t the results of that experiment clear already?

      • jejune

        The morning after pill prevents ovulation.

        If the woman has already ovulated, or the egg has fertilized, she is SOL

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    What most people forget is that we, as a society, value bodily autonomy more than we value life. We respect people’s DNRs. We allow for removing life support and, in some cases, for assisted suicide. We force no one to donate organs or blood. Pro-lifers are applying different standards to women and fetuses than they do to anyone else. What a fetus does is “borrow” the woman’s uterus and literally build itself out of her blood and nutrients. If a woman decides she does not wish to donate her blood, nutrients, and organ to the fetus, she can ethically remove it from her person. The fact that the fetus dies is not even a killing qua killing, but rather a removal of donations the fetus was never morally entitled to.

    Also remember that we don’t even require corpses to donate tissue, preferring to respect the once-living person’s wishes over the current needs of living (but soon dead) persons. The pro-life position puts living women’s rights to bodily autonomy and integrity below that of dead women.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yow! Interesting arguments. Thanks.

  • fiona64

    ::standing ovation::

    Thank you for laying out so very clearly the facts of the situation.

    What the anti-choice always seem to forget, in their rush to afford “rights” to an embryo is that, in so doing, they abrogate the rights of the born, sapient, sentient *woman.* You’ve laid out clearly why that position is so wrong.

    • jejune

      I have spent half the day reading many of Bob’s blog posts.

      I like it here :)

      Glad you could make it too!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks! My primary argument is the spectrum argument (link at the bottom of the post). Take a look and let me know what you think.

      • jejune

        I’ve been reading all of your abortion articles bob. Good stuff.

        I have a large basket of links for you, that I will compile either tonight or tomorrow.

        There is a lot of science behind what you’ve been saying in regards to conception/fetal development/danger of pregnancy + some philosophical arguments I came across in regards to ‘what is a person?’

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    Very good piece, Bob. I wrote something parallel to your “spectrum” a while back that you might like called “When Does a Fetus Become a Person?”


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