Further Thoughts on Abortion

Last month’s post on the morality of abortion generated – as one might have expected – a wide variety of impassioned responses. Happily, the debate remained mostly civil, which is a rarity when it comes to this issue and one that’s entirely due to the thoughtful, rational commenters here at Daylight Atheism.

There were several issues I didn’t get into in that post, since I wanted to focus on the core issue of whether and under what circumstances obtaining an abortion can be judged a moral or immoral act. Some of those other issues were explored in the comments in that thread. But there are a few others that didn’t come up, and in this post I want to write some more about them.

One of the most remarkable facts about the abortion debate is that the groups which say they want to stop abortion are overlooking one of the most effective ways to achieve this. Namely, most groups which oppose abortion also oppose comprehensive sex education and the distribution of contraception, two measures which have proven to be highly effective at reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore the number of abortions. If the conservatives’ goal was to prevent abortion to the greatest extent possible, why wouldn’t they be all in favor of these measures? Why wouldn’t they be eager participants in the effort to make contraception as widely available as possible?

If anything, we find the opposite. Most religious groups which oppose abortion are also against contraception. They oppose the teaching of responsible sexual practice in schools, favoring abstinence-only programs which have been repeatedly shown to be ineffective. They favor putting as many obstacles and roadblocks as possible in the way of men and women who want to use contraception; some of them want to ban it altogether. In short, they favor the policies that are certain to lead to a greater number of unwanted pregnancies – which means a greater number of abortions – not to mention a greater number of STDs, unmarried mothers, and all the other ills that come with that.

A related, astonishing phenomenon is the surprising number of self-avowed pro-lifers who come in for abortions themselves. In some cases, women who go in to a clinic for an abortion one day are back the next day to picket that same clinic. Many of them insist that they are “different” from the other women in the waiting room with them, that their case is somehow special and justifies an exception.

One morning, a woman who had been a regular “sidewalk counselor” went into the clinic with a young woman who looked like she was 16-17, and obviously her daughter. When the mother came out about an hour later, I had to go up and ask her if her daughter’s situation had caused her to change her mind. “I don’t expect you to understand my daughter’s situation!” she angrily replied. The following Saturday, she was back, pleading with women entering the clinic not to “murder their babies.”

And a similar story from Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith, in which Barker relates a conversation with a Catholic attorney:

“Well, I was raised to respect the sanctity of life,” he said, “and I will always vote with my church.”

…He looked at me for a moment, and in hushed tones said, “But you know what? I don’t know what I would do if my fourteen-year-old-daughter got pregnant.”

“You would get her a quick, quiet abortion and worry about the morality later,” I offered. With a guilty grin, he nodded his head in agreement. “You have the money and you have the contacts,” I continued, “but if you keep voting wrong you may not have the option.” He didn’t know what to say, the big hypocrite.

These bizarre-seeming actions, I believe, fall cleanly into place when one understands the mission of the anti-choice movement through the correct lens. Any large political movement will have a diversity of opinion among its members, and I have no doubt that some people oppose abortion because they genuinely (though mistakenly, in my view) believe that a human life exists from the moment of conception. But among the politically organized wing of the religious anti-choice movement, I believe there is one primary, overriding motive – and it is not concern for the fetus’ life, but desire to control and oversee the woman’s.

Subjugating women’s bodies to the state has always been part and parcel of every theocratic movement. It’s an outgrowth of the misogynistic belief common to nearly every major world religion that women are inferior to men and must be controlled by them. This spirit of bigotry is why the Catholic church does not permit women to be clergy and why the Southern Baptist Convention expects wives to pledge to obey their husbands. It’s why Islamic mullahs forbid the education of women and allow men to marry multiple wives, but never wives to marry multiple husbands. It’s why Orthodox Jews pray to God every day to express their gratitude for not being born female, and why Mormon women are taught that they can only reach Heaven if they’re married so that their husbands can pull them through.

Naturally, the members of this movement tend to grant exemptions to the principle of female inferiority on a case-by-case basis – for themselves and for their loved ones, as necessary – which explains why they don’t oppose abortion for themselves or for their daughters. It’s only those other women, those untrustworthy outsiders, who need to be controlled for their own good. In these people’s minds, enforced pregnancy is an appropriate punishment for women who choose to have sex in unapproved ways. This neatly explains opposition to contraception and abortion alike: in their minds, both these are things are ways for sinful women to avoid the natural and deserved consequences of immoral sex.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Adrian

    “You have the money and you have the contacts,” I continued, “but if you keep voting wrong you may not have the option.” He didn’t know what to say, the big hypocrite.

    Barker is right, but is still missing a big point. People have always had abortions and even if they are outlawed, people will still have abortions. If this guy has money and cares as much about the way people will view him as is implied by the story, it’s a good bet that he would still get his 14 year old daughter an abortion. The difference is that today this choice makes him a hypocrite, but if abortion is outlawed, it could make him a hypocrite with a dead daughter.

    I want to see the lives of people improved just as the anti-choice (“pro-life”) camp does, but I’ve yet to see any of them show any concern for the lives of women. Until they are willing to deal with reality, they’ll just have a blind dogma and not a realistic or rational alternative.

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    You have put your finger absolutely on the button with this post! You are completely correct, the abortion “debate” is indeed merely a veiled excuse for the continued oppression of women by religious faiths birthed in the patriachal cultures of antiquity. As long as we continue to hold true to tenets of faith appropriate to a Bronze Age Palestinean tribe, we will always struggle to accept women as equals. Never has the Exterminator’s term “anti-forced-maternity” been so apt.

  • HairTonic

    “The following Saturday, she was back, pleading with women entering the clinic not to “murder their babies.””

    Babies.
    People react emotionally to this word. Pro-lifers deliberately and maliciously manipulate this to culture a false notion that abortion = murdering babies. They make out embryos to be babies, despite jarring differences. A check on many pro-life websites will reveal pictures of radiant, glowing babies basking in white purity placed prominently to invoke a protective feelings among viewers.

    Sadly, many people respond better to these emotional propaganda than the logical and rational arguments by pro-choicers. Many myopic people swallow the trap hook, line and sinkler. They are unable to see below the surface. To them, abortion is simple. It’s just plain murder of “babies”.

    Pro-lifers opposing abortion on religious grounds have no right to impose their beliefs on others. It’s their personal choice whether they want abortion for themselves or not, and they can reject abortion if they think it immoral. But to campaign to ban abortion for EVERYONE and claiming the moral high ground based on their faith? —-that’s plain self-centred, arrogant and myopic.

    It’s infuriating how pro-lifers manipulate people.

  • Entomologista

    Exactly right. And this is why I feel that feminism and atheism go so well together.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter (I think).

    I just wanted to say that this post is spot-on. Opposition to abortion is part and parcel with the opposition to the HPV vaccine in Texas. Namely, religious folks see these things as punishment for sex. It’s not that they’re pro-life. They’re anti-woman, certainly, and even more generally, they’re anti-sex. They see it as a sinful, dirty act. Like the mother in Carrie.

  • Dennis

    On topic, McCain wants to change the abortion platform to include exceptions for rape victims, incest, and the mother’s health, and the religious right is outraged.

    Obviously they are, they want to punish women for being women. There’s a great comment there that does a good job explaining my thoughts on the issue:

    I think the morally inconsistent position that “abortion is murder” and “it’s OK for cases of rape and incest” can be easily explained by the second leg of the anti-abortion argument: She spread her legs, so she deserves to have a baby. I think a lot of anti-abortion people actually believe that a fetus doesn’t have full personhood. Take away the “she knew what she was getting into” aspect of the situation, and these people are uncomfortable imposing a pregnancy on the woman for the sake of preserving a life that is less-than a full-fledged person.

    Of course, she didn’t know what she was getting into, because some irrational folks didn’t want comprehensive sex-ed.

  • jack

    Right on target, Ebon. It is the supposed immorality of sexual behavior, guilt over their own sexual feelings, and the need to subjugate women that has the pro-lifers so bent out of shape over abortion.

  • OMGF

    I think it goes a little deeper than just controlling women, in that I think that many of those pro-lifers feel that they need to control women because women are incapable of making their own decisions. Hence, the reluctance to punish women who have abortions and the desire to go after the doctors instead.

  • Kelltrue

    Excellent point, Ebon, as usual. I usually agree with you, except when you go on about “free will.” Not because I don’t agree, but mostly because it goes far above my head.

    Back On Topic:
    You’re right, but it doesn’t matter. The link to the tales of pro-life women getting abortions won’t be believed by most pro-lifers. They’ll say it was made up by pro-choice people to weaken the pro-life case.

    But that’s neither here nor there. What we are dealing with is people with a phenomenal ability to compartmentalize their morality and ability to reason. Until we come up with a way to shock that atrophied part of their brains back to life, we’ll live with generation after generation of delusional people.

  • hrd2imagin

    I think it goes a little deeper than just controlling women, in that I think that many of those pro-lifers feel that they need to control women because women are incapable of making their own decisions. Hence, the reluctance to punish women who have abortions and the desire to go after the doctors instead.

    My mother is a born-again Christian and a Pro-Lifer through and through. In my experiences with her and her pro-life friends, they believe that it is better to die for the good of the fetus, or have both the woman and the fetus die than to have an abortion. And it’s not really about “controlling women”.

    It’s more like they believe that God has this ranking system of sins, and abortion is at the top of the list. If every human is one of God’s perfect creations, then you are in essence, rejecting the work of God. Also, just as they glorify the martyrdom of Jesus, they believe that dying for a fetus is acting in a Jesus-like manner, which will bring rewards in Heaven.

    Controlling women really isn’t a part of it, rather, they feel that a woman should want to willingly die for the life of their fetus, without any hesitation.

  • hrd2imagin

    I’m not anti-abortion, but I am pro-life.

    Whether you believe that a fetus is a human life or not, or whether you believe it becomes conscious at 3, 6 or 9 months, it really doesn’t matter. That little clump of cells will become a human if allowed to. We all were that clump of cells at one time and we were given the opportunity to enjoy life.

    The aborted fetus will not have that chance to enjoy life as we do. We’re robbing that clump of cells of ever even having a shot at being human. And to me, this is what is wrong with abortion.

    I advocate a secular respect for human life, in addition, a secular respect for sex. There is no excuse for a person, well-educated and respectful of the consequences of sex, to get pregnant (or get someone pregnant). It’s too easy to avoid this outcome. Therefore, I agree with Ebon that better sex-ed is a must for our teens.

    Last, I think men must be held much more responsible and accountable in these situations. Even though the woman must carry the baby, it’s just as much his as it is hers. And men in today’s society are allowed to just walk, I could even argue that they’re encouraged to.

    Whether the woman wants to raise the child or not, it should at least have the opportunity to live, somewhere or somehow.

    If you had to choose between being raised in an orphanage and never knowing your parents, or being aborted, which would you choose?

  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thatonegirl TheNerd

    Let’s get this straight: in the case of the woman who would want to die with their fetus than get an abortion, THE FETUS IS GOING TO DIE ANYWAY! Why the hell should I sacrifice my life for a thing that won’t live? I’m getting that kid out of me as late as is safely possible, and if it can’t survive on it’s own, so be it – there was nothing further I could have done. If they have anyone to blame, it’s god for not letting it remain within them safely. (But I don’t ever blame god – that would imply god had any control over it to being with.)

    The fact of the matter is that these people DO want to control women, because if the really cared about life rather than control, the would get off the sidewalks and into people’s lives. They would be showing love and helping people with unexpected pregnancies. They would be giving women the money they need to get medical help, and (in the case of young mothers) they would be helping them continue their education and help them get support from their parents and other leaders in the community. But many don’t. For those people, it IS about control, and sidewalk judgement.

  • Adrian

    hrd2imagin,

    We’re robbing that clump of cells of ever even having a shot at being human. And to me, this is what is wrong with abortion.

    So what? Why do we owe anything to this clump of cells?

    Why don’t we owe more to the living to control their lives than to clumps of cells, whether they have a shot at being human or not?

  • Adrian

    Whether the woman wants to raise the child or not, it should at least have the opportunity to live, somewhere or somehow.

    If you had to choose between being raised in an orphanage and never knowing your parents, or being aborted, which would you choose?

    I think this is a red herring.

    When a woman gets an abortion, there are reasons. In many cases, it’s a bad time and if it’s a bad time for the mother it will be a very bad time for the child. Instead, an abortion allows women to have children when they are ready and able to care for their child. A child is still being born, just at a different time.

    There’s nothing sacred or magical about us. Yes, we’re glad to be alive, but our life means that many potential children who would have been conceived after us were never born. Should we feel guilty? When my mother became pregnant, any attempt that my parents might have made to conceive were blocked – is this a tragedy? No more so than when a woman choses to have an abortion so that she can time it better.

  • Dennis

    I think everyone here is rational enough to state that being “pro-life” and anti-birth control/protection is contradictory. When taken together, I think a strong case can be made for ulterior motives. I think arguments from those who are pro-life and pro-protection have an entirely different position and motive.

  • Samuel Skinner

    When ever I hear potentiality arguments…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0kJHQpvgB8

  • hrd2imagin

    Adrian: So what? Why do we owe anything to this clump of cells? Why don’t we owe more to the living to control their lives than to clumps of cells, whether they have a shot at being human or not?

    It’s not that we owe them anything. There is no afterlife, we know this. So there is only one life to be had. And to take that opportunity for life away from something defenseless is what is wrong about abortion.

    There’s nothing sacred or magical about us. Yes, we’re glad to be alive, but our life means that many potential children who would have been conceived after us were never born. Should we feel guilty? When my mother became pregnant, any attempt that my parents might have made to conceive were blocked – is this a tragedy? No more so than when a woman choses to have an abortion so that she can time it better.

    This is a straw man. A prerequisite for human life is that a sperm and an egg come together. In cases where no conception takes place, there is no potential for a human life, thus nothing to worry or feel guilty about. There is nothing wrong with recreational sex. But if an unplanned pregnancy occurs, I think it’s cowardly for either the man or the woman to dodge responsibility for their actions.

    To me, it’s a matter of responsibility and accountability. If we allow teens to think that there’s nothing wrong with abortion, then the chances of them taking safe sex seriously are slim to none.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    In my experiences with her and her pro-life friends, they believe that it is better to die for the good of the fetus, or have both the woman and the fetus die than to have an abortion. And it’s not really about “controlling women”.</blockquote
    Actually, it is. And, it’s sad that some women submit to the oppression.

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    “It’s why Orthodox Jews pray to God every day to express their gratitude for not being born female”

    I express my gratitude daily for not being born female. The thought of sqeezing out something with a head the size of a canteloupe scares the crap out of me. Women are tough.

  • velkyn

    hrd2imagin wrote “If you had to choose between being raised in an orphanage and never knowing your parents, or being aborted, which would you choose?”

    Well, hrd2imgain, let’s rephrase your question. “If you had to choose between being abused and killed by parents who didn’t want you or foster parents or the trustees at an orphanage, or being aborted, which would you choose?”

    You have attempted to set up a strawman argument by saying that the “feelings” of a “clump” of cells is worth more than those of an actual human. If you think that “life” is so precious, then why aren’t you promoting the incarceration of pregnant women so they couldn’t possibly harm the baby? Hmmm? As for your claim that teaching kids about abortion as an option will make them promiscious or not using “safe sex” as you put it, really? Any evidence of this? At all?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Oops. In my post above, I didn’t close out the blockquote correctly. The third line is my response.

  • hrd2imagin

    “If you had to choose between being abused and killed by parents who didn’t want you or foster parents or the trustees at an orphanage, or being aborted, which would you choose?”

    Well the end result is still the same. So I’d pick the first to at least experience something. But considering the rarity of such events, I’d say your question is silly.

    You have attempted to set up a strawman argument by saying that the “feelings” of a “clump” of cells is worth more than those of an actual human. If you think that “life” is so precious, then why aren’t you promoting the incarceration of pregnant women so they couldn’t possibly harm the baby?

    That’s not what I said. I’m not saying that a woman shouldn’t be able to have an abortion if she wants one. I’d just like to see the “abortion as birth control” mentality changed or diminished. No we’re not precious, but we’re not trivial either. When conception occurs, a life starts to grow. Abortion robs that fetus of any chance of enjoying a life, whether that life ends up being good or bad.

    Through teaching and practicing safe sex, we can reduce the number of birth control abortions. My only “dream scenario” is that women who do get pregnant may think to themselves, “I may not want to raise a child now, but this child probably would appreciate having a chance to live its life, somewhere, somehow.”

    I don’t see what’s so controversial or fundamentalist about my proposition. I’m not trying to change laws, just the way we view or consider the life of a fetus.

  • hrd2imagin

    Hmmm? As for your claim that teaching kids about abortion as an option will make them promiscious or not using “safe sex” as you put it, really? Any evidence of this? At all?

    I’m not suggesting that we don’t teach them about abortion. But I also don’t think it’s wise to promote it as being on par with wearing a condom or being on birth control pills. And no, I really don’t have any evidence for my claim. I just think that if we as a society can place a higher value on the life of a fetus, people may think twice before being careless with sex, or males will take more responsibility when a woman becomes pregnant.

    What’s so repulsive about this?

  • hrd2imagin

    Actually, it is. And, it’s sad that some women submit to the oppression.

    I won’t argue that it’s not about controlling women in some (or many) cases. I’m just speaking from experience with my family. For my mother, controlling women isn’t the goal, but an unfortunate side-effect in the avoidance of sin. That’s the mentality.

    I could see how it’d be easy for an outside observer to conclude otherwise. The result is the same, but that’s why it’s easy for them to deny “controlling women” as a motive.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Thank you for this post, Ebon. You are spot on that the anti-choice movement is really anti-woman and anti-sex, nothing more. I worked in an abortion clinic for many years, and I remember the anti-choice women who were convinced that their situation was “special” or “different.” Cognitive dissonance is an amazing thing.

    I also think it’s worth mentioning that people frame this as a “religious” issue, and yet there is no scriptural basis for claiming that abortion is murder (not that I accept the bible’s authority, but hear me out). In fact, there is good reason to claim the opposite. According to the OT, the penalty for murder is death. However, if you injure a pregnant woman and cause her to miscarry, you have to pay a fine. Church authorities did not even mention abortion until about the 19th century. Sounds to me like the spiritual practice known as Making Up This Shit As You Go Along.

    hrd2imagin, I do have one question for you. It seems, by your logic, that abortion ought to be allowed at least in cases of contraceptive failure. No method is 100% effective, after all. So how would you propose writing the law? How exactly is someone supposed to prove that?

    As soon as people start talking about legal restrictions on abortion, I picture a woman standing before a judge, having to explain her sex life in court. There are as many reasons to have an abortion as there are women who have them, and no law can foresee ever situation. Given the option of the government getting to decide, versus the woman herself, I know which I would choose, thanks very much.

  • Adrian

    Abortion robs that fetus of any chance of enjoying a life, whether that life ends up being good or bad.

    So what? Billions of things rob potential humans of the chance of life, yet no one freaks out about contraception, masturbation, or even the rhythm method. After all, being in a relationship and not conceiving children will rob these potential children of their chance of enjoying a life. Big deal. You need to do better than this.

    Through teaching and practicing safe sex, we can reduce the number of birth control abortions. My only “dream scenario” is that women who do get pregnant may think to themselves, “I may not want to raise a child now, but this child probably would appreciate having a chance to live its life, somewhere, somehow.”

    What about women who say “I want to raise a child, but not right now.” Hundreds of millions of women do this all the time, and abortion is just one of many methods of selecting the timing of a birth.

    And no, I really don’t have any evidence for my claim. I just think that if we as a society can place a higher value on the life of a fetus, people may think twice before being careless with sex, or males will take more responsibility when a woman becomes pregnant.

    You’re absolutely right you don’t have evidence. When you look at other societies today and in the past, you’ll see that whether or not abortions are legal and safe, women will still have them. Instead of getting an abortion in a safe, sterile environment where they have access to doctors and therapists as well as all the necessary information about the procedure, they will get them in alleys or closets and frequently pay for this with their life.

    The net result is not a reduction in abortions, but a significant increase in the number of women who die or become infertile due to botched abortions. You say you support life, then support the life of the mother.

    Frankly, if you’re going to try to put up an argument that says women should be compelled to act as a breeding chamber for a child they don’t want and which could impair their career, their health or even their life, then you better come up with a better argument than “in my head, I imagine this might lead some people to value life.” You better find some way to account for the shocking waste of lives which result when women have babies they don’t want.

  • mikespeir

    But, hrd2imagin, isn’t a major object of religion to be controlling–both of men and women?

  • Steve Bowen

    hrd2imagin

    I’m not saying that a woman shouldn’t be able to have an abortion if she wants one. I’d just like to see the “abortion as birth control” mentality changed or diminished.

    I doubt abortion is regularly seen as a form of birth control outside of the strawman fantasies of pro-lifers. Most women I’ve met (or had relationships with) who have had abortions for one reason or another found the decision difficult and live with consequential guilt that colours the rest of their lives. Regardless of whether a foetus is concsious, viable or has a soul, the knowledge that a potential life has been created is a significant event in any woman’s life; and from experience most men’s too. To be honest I feel your comments have a “concern troll” aspect about them which suggests that your agenda is less than transparent.
    My seventeen year old daughter is due a baby next month. She left a good school and has compromised good prospects because she felt that she had an obligation to raise the child she and her partner created. I respect her and their decision, but would have been equally supportive of a decision to terminate the pregnancy if they had felt it prudent. From my point of view the ability to choose, legally, pragmatically and according to circumstance is all that a mature society requires in this matter. Details of timing etc should be informed by the science.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I won’t argue that it’s not about controlling women in some (or many) cases. I’m just speaking from experience with my family. For my mother, controlling women isn’t the goal, but an unfortunate side-effect in the avoidance of sin. That’s the mentality.

    And, like I said, it’s sad that women like her submit to the this control. The “avoidance of sin” in this case is just another euphemism for control of women.

    Well the end result is still the same. So I’d pick the first to at least experience something. But considering the rarity of such events, I’d say your question is silly.

    I would say that your original question was pretty silly considering that a clump of cells doesn’t have the cognitive faculties to understand that it is alive or that it could become a human.

    I’d just like to see the “abortion as birth control” mentality changed or diminished.

    Please tell me you aren’t resorting to the mythological woman who decides that she can do what she wants because she’ll just go get an abortion if she becomes pregnant argument.

    I don’t see what’s so controversial or fundamentalist about my proposition. I’m not trying to change laws, just the way we view or consider the life of a fetus.

    It’s controversial because your position basically amounts to shaming women into having unwanted children and punishing them for mistakes or failures in contraception.

    But I also don’t think it’s wise to promote it as being on par with wearing a condom or being on birth control pills. And no, I really don’t have any evidence for my claim.

    Another myth. You’re right, you don’t have evidence for this, because this only lives in the minds of anti-choicers.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    hrd2imagin:

    “Using abortion as birth control.” Oh please. What the frack does that even mean? As far as I’m concerned, it IS birth control. It is a form of family planning. It is a fundamental reproductive right.

    I strongly suspect that what people really mean when they say this, is that the woman is being cavalier about her decision. Well, I counseled women about their decisions for seven years, and I never once encountered a woman who thought it was no big deal. Women are moral agents, and they have brains and consciences, and are acutely aware of what being pregnant means.

    Women can be very sure that having the abortion is the right thing for them to do, and they can be glad that they have the freedom to choose it, but it’s always a difficult and sad thing to go through. They do not need you or anyone else telling them how they should feel about it. Sheesh.

  • Judy

    Bravo, Ebon.

    And Nurse Ingrid, too.

  • Type

    * Standing ovation for Nurse Ingrid *

    Seems a shame for my first comment here to be so unhelpful in furthering the discussion, however her comment was so relevant and important, IMHO, I simply could not resist. Thank you, Nurse, thank you.

  • Alex Weaver

    Controlling women really isn’t a part of it, rather, they feel that a woman should want to willingly die for the life of their fetus, without any hesitation.

    And given that many women do not want to willingly die for the life of their fetus, your mother and her political allies, by seeking to outlaw abortion, are indicating their willingness to force others to unwillingly die. How is this not “a desire to control women?”

    I’m not anti-abortion, but I am pro-life.

    …meaning what?

  • Alex Weaver

    I’d just like to see the “abortion as birth control” mentality changed or diminished.

    Considering that this mentality exists only in the imaginations of anti-choicers…

    I’m not suggesting that we don’t teach them about abortion. But I also don’t think it’s wise to promote it as being on par with wearing a condom or being on birth control pills. And no, I really don’t have any evidence for my claim. I just think that if we as a society can place a higher value on the life of a fetus, people may think twice before being careless with sex, or males will take more responsibility when a woman becomes pregnant.

    What’s so repulsive about this?

    The fact that it’s difficult to believe that someone could be so thoroughly disconnected from reality as you seem to be. Can you point to a single instance, anywhere, of any pro-choice party promoting abortion as trivial, or as being on a par with condoms and the pill?

    The mindset you describe is completely fictitious. It has been made up out of whole cloth by anti-choice propagandists, a fact that can be easily documented, which Ebon has explicated multiple times, and I suspect other commenters have as well (I’m not through the comments yet), to the extent that what you’re saying about is logically equivalent to “I’m not anti-semitic, but I wish that the Jews would stop trying to take over the world.”

    More later.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Some of these comments are getting too personal. Chill out, please.

    hrd2imagin, I understand your position, but I think there’s a crucial flaw in its reasoning, which is this:

    If you had to choose between being raised in an orphanage and never knowing your parents, or being aborted, which would you choose?

    You write as if “being raised in an orphanage” and “being aborted” are two separate options for me. I don’t think that’s the case at all. If my parents had had an abortion, I’d never have come into existence at all, and there never would have been a “me”. For this choice even to arise presupposes the existence of a person who can prefer one option to another, and by the time that circumstance exists, abortion is no longer a possibility.

    You ask us to imagine the relative value, to ourselves, of existence versus nonexistence. But that can’t be done. Again, the very concept of value to a person presupposes the existence of that person. If I don’t exist, nothing can be of any value to me, either positive or negative, and so the question as posed is not a meaningful one.

  • MS (Quixote)

    As you know, I am a Christian. Predictably, much of the pro-choice rationale presented here and in response to last month’s post fails in my estimation, though there were a couple of interesting comments I had not previously considered. Likewise, anything I would offer by way of argumentation from my perspective would likely fail in your estimation.

    So what are we to make of this? I believe much of the difficulty surroundng this issue surfaces in an area familiar to many atheists, but to which most modern Christians are blind to. It is my sincere contention that most atheists would not harbor resentment toward Christians and the Church if the Church would remove itself from politics, from organizing rallies, and from public protesting.

    This, in my opinion, is the source of the vitriol, and the cause of the bitterness on both sides. And make no mistake, it is plainly the Christian’s fault. By abandoning the Church’s true mission, Christians have duely incurred the wrath of the world.

    This wrath is a natural and logical consequence of the Church’s sin of entering politics. As such, the Christian cannot claim persecution from the world where the issue of abortion is concerned. To wit, persecution of Christians only occurs where the Christian is in the right. In this case, we are clearly in the wrong when we seek to regulate the world, in this instance abortion, through legislation and Supreme Court justices.

    Sorry for the sermonic introduction, but I am passionate about this issue. The Church should disassociate itself from politics completely, both on the left and on the right. Actually, disasscoiate is not a strong enough verb. Cease and fully desist, perhaps? I predict if this were to happen, the hate so common on both sides would disippate rapidly. Am I off base here? I cannot help but believe that a pro-choice advocate would not begrudge me for being a pro-lifer if they were being entertained in my house. It is only when I barge in their house and tell them what is right and wrong that they become irritated, and rightly so…

    If this is correct, we then have a great common ground, the separation of Church and State, from which to press forward.

  • Valhar2000

    Indeed, Nurse Ingrid rocks!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    MS,
    I agree with what you are saying, that the church should get out of politics and we should have separation of church and state, but I don’t think it’s just the church. Normal Xians have trouble separating themselves from their beliefs. For instance, many Xians get very upset at the thought of anyone criticizing Xianity and take it as a personal insult (it’s not just true for Xians BTW). These people are also part of the problem in that they will not separate their personal beliefs from politics.

  • MS (Quixote)

    For instance, many Xians get very upset at the thought of anyone criticizing Xianity and take it as a personal insult (it’s not just true for Xians BTW).

    Sad but true, my friend. You may not know the full extent of how right you are on this. It even occurs in intra-christian debates.

    These people are also part of the problem in that they will not separate their personal beliefs from politics.

    I have no problem expanding my complaint in the manner you have indicated. It’s just another form of Christians entering politics. All forms are destructive, always have been. A brief overview of history is enough on its own to demonstrate this…

  • Cass

    I cannot help but believe that a pro-choice advocate would not begrudge me for being a pro-lifer if they were being entertained in my house. It is only when I barge in their house and tell them what is right and wrong that they become irritated, and rightly so…

    I may be misinterpreting this, but you seem to be saying that you would not accept abortion as the right decision for yourself, but you don’t feel that your personal opinion should be forced on others. This may offend you, but I would actually consider that pro-choice. I have no problem with someone who would simply not consider abortion as an option during an unplanned pregnancy. In fact, that’s what we’re fighting for – abortion as an option, to be taken or not, at your discretion. Pro-life, as I define it, means that you personally feel uncomfortable with abortion, for whatever reason, and you feel that you have the right to remove that option and force pregnancy on me, even if I do not wish it. State-coerced pregnancy is the problem, not any one person’s opinion about abortion.

  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thatonegirl TheNerd

    Standing ovulation for Nurse I!

    [Sorry, couldn't resist that groaner.]

    I’d just like to see the “abortion as birth control” mentality changed or diminished.

    Please tell me you aren’t resorting to the mythological woman who decides that she can do what she wants because she’ll just go get an abortion if she becomes pregnant argument.

    Does anyone have any idea of how much an abortion costs? Also the time, effort, and mental anguish that is a result of an unplanned pregnancy and the need to terminate it? Why, then, would someone who is in a weakened position in life want to spend all her resources on an unplanned pregnancy/abortion, when that very same person could have spent less on simply preventing it all it the first place? After all, a woman on the pill can “do what she wants” too. (This is only in response to the objection that a woman would purposely pre-choose her method of birth control to be an abortion.)

    The fact of the matter is that this argument does not apply to mentally/emotionally rational persons. Someone who is actually unable to judge the results of her actions is either uneducated, and society has failed her; or she is in need of serious clinical help because she is unable to take care of herself. Or she has been denied access to birth control – and this DOES happen.

    In all cases, this is not the time for our society to say “F you, you shouldn’t have been born with a uterus if you wanted freedom over your own body”. This is the time for us to stop wasting our collective resources on oppressive legislation, and start getting our hands dirty (and perhaps our reputations tarnished!) by being a personal non-judgemental angel to those less fortunate than us in their most vulnerable moments.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    My take on it is this, for women or teenage girls who find themselves pregnant and are not prepared to carry the pregnancy to term or raise a child, abortion is the best of a limited choice of bad options.

    And ultimately, what people who want to criminalize abortion are saying is that a pregnant woman’s uterus is public property.

  • MS (Quixote)

    No offense taken, Cass. Your interpretation is close enough to suit me. At any rate, labels can’t diminish the common ground we seem to have.

  • StaceyJW

    It seems like the people that are against abortion because it ends life/potential life always forget that there is a life- already existing- that needs to be considered-THE WOMANS LIFE!!!
    Why isn’t her life worth safeguarding? Why is a potential human more important than a real live one?????

    You can think its cowardly if you want, but I don’t see any reason that the only way to responsibly deal with an unplanned pregnancy is by having a baby- whether you keep it or not! Why isn’t having an abortion responsible? I can think of MANY instances where it is THE MOST responsible thing a woman can do!

    Does anyone ever think about how difficult it is to give a baby up for adoption- forget about carrying it for 9 months, and how that will affect your life and your family- babies ARE a lifelong thing. Its so easy to tell people to put a baby up for adoption, but the reality can be much more difficult.

    I WAS ADOPTED- and hearing what my birth mom went through made me so sad, I realized that it is not a decision for everyone. I think adoption is a great option, but its not the only one, and often not the best one- if you consider long term consequences.

    And as far as teens go, if they are told the truth about sexuality and all that goes with it, they will be responsible- they need correct info. Do you really think that fear or guilt stops a teen from doing anything? There is nothing wrong with having an abortion- and if a teen has to have one, making them feel like they are doing wrong will only hurt, not help.

    STACEY

  • StaceyJW

    I am sure this will bother someone, but it needs to be said-

    Not everyone having an abortion agonizes over the decision, it is not always a big part of a womans life, and most women are not bothered by it afterwards. No one wants to seem heartless, and in our society, taking care of YOUR needs first is often considered selfish. Many of us knew the moment we found out we were pregnant that we would get an abortion, and were relieved to have that option available.

    I was very surprised by this. When I found out I was pregnant (the 1st time) I waited for the hurt, the worry, the sorrow to come- it didn’t. I was adopted and thought that I would never have an abortion. But when I thought about having a baby, the future looked bleak and depressing. I didn’t feel guilty going to the clinic to save myself.

    When I woke up from the surgery, I felt like I was given a new lease on life. I cannot describe the feeling of relief that I had, it was like beating a fatal illness- I felt like I was once again in control of my destiny.

    As far as using abortion as the sole form of birth control, I don’t think this is commonplace. I am sure those people are out there, but really- if someone is so irresponsible they do nothing to prevent pregnancy while having lots of sex, do you really want them having a baby??? What woman wants to have surgery when they could just take a pill? In reality, most women have sex at 15-18, until menopause. There is a LOT of room for error, even for very responsible, careful people, let alone the rest of us.

    However, it should not matter how the woman got pregnant- whether it was carelessness or rape- she has every right to control her reproductive organs. If you believe that abortion is neither immoral nor dangerous, say so- in ANY situation!!!

    Stacey

  • StaceyJW

    I think this sums up this horrible attitude towards a womans body and punishment of her “sins”. I found this on the pro-life action network, where theypost letters they get-

    “…Abortion is not a women’s right. She gave up the right to her body when she “opened her legs” and allowed a man’s seed to enter her body. ”

    Niiiiice…………..

  • StaceyJW

    Here’s one more gem from that site- I think we should all be aware of the hate that these people promote in the name of “love”

    “ALL THOSE WOMEN WHO GET ABORTIONS ONLY GET THEM BECAUSE THEY’RE TOO STUPID TO USE PROTECTION OR ABSTAIN. IF THEY THOUGHT ABOUT KEEPING THEIR PANTS ON, MAYBE THIS WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED.”

    Another brilliant thought from a rabid anti-choice man.

    -SJW

  • StaceyJW

    The hate that is inspired by religion, against women, is a scary throwback to the dark ages. I am only posting these here because as I read through this site full of hateful letters (referenced above in the article), I could not believe how many were directed at the “harlot” who “disobeys god”, and how much they all sounded the same.
    Sorry for not putting them all on one comment.

    Here is one of my favorite ignorant comments:
    ” Because most women get pregnant to seize men, the fact is that women have abortions as an act of vengeance against the men that later “dump” them…..”

    One more brilliant rant, sounds like Falwell……
    “1) she opened her legs and had sex (probably without protection).

    2) she is looking for an “easy” way out because she can’t be a mother.

    3) she is so uneducated about sex and isn’t prepared for the consequences.

    4) she is just plain ignorant and stupid.

    5) she shouldn’t be having sex in the first place.

    Women should not be given the right to have casual sex with multiple partners and then resort to such a terrible act in killing her child. There is “NO” excuse for a woman to have an abortion based on the grounds that she had sex and now wants an easy fix for her irresponsible actions. Keep your legs closed and find another activity that won’t support the killing of babies. Women should be ashamed of themselves for displaying such nasty behaviors and helping other young women think it’s ok to screw as many men as you want because you have a loophole called abortion. Remember the 12 commandments and the quote “thou shalt not kill”. Apparently a lot of women don’t care. One day you will stand before the creator and look at the child you killed.”

    And of course, there is the anti- womans rights- as a non-being has more rights than a woman in religious thinking.
    “Women’s rights should not be above those of an innocent baby, they chose to do what they did and having a child should not be a consequence or a punishment but should be dealt with in the best interest of the baby…..Every Mother Shirking Her Duty Is Another Child Murdered.”

    YIKES!!! I bet these guys go to church every weekend, even on weekdays. And I bet they hate birth control too. A womans duty is NOT to be a walking uterus.

    But the winner is…
    “If legalized abortion is the sign of a “civilized” society, then I’m in favor of the Stone Age. ”
    I bet this person wishes that we could still stone adulteresses and burn witches!

    Of all of the letters I read, NONE of them chastised MEN for having pre/extra marital sex. It is ALWAYS the womans fault, even though it clearly takes 2 to get pregnant. The only comments about men were about how women make them victims when they choose to abort the man’s baby. Its always the stupid woman- who is probably stupid about sex from growing up in the bible belt and being denied any actual facts about sex!!!!

    OK, I am done ranting now.
    SJW

  • Kelltrue

    I know I’m late to the party and I’ve only brought two beers, but anyway here it goes:

    Some people have mentioned abortion as “birth control.”

    Technically, that’s correct. The pill, condoms, abortion, etc. are all forms of birth control.

    I think some are getting caught up on the idea of abortion as a contraceptive, which it is obviously not, as abortions can only happen post-conception.

    So I just want to make sure everyone realizes that an abortion is birth control and is not a contraceptive.

  • MisterDomino

    I recently finished a book about the Mongols by anthropologist Jack Weatherford. There were many interesting contrasts drawn between Mongol society and the European and Middle Eastern societies further West. In a time when the Catholic inquisitions were just emerging and Islam had a spiritual and political stranglehold on Persia and Arabia, the Mongols granted total religious tolerance and outlawed the use of torture.

    The most interesting tidbit, however, was a small passage regarding the Mongols’ treatment of women. In steppe society, women were not relegated to positions of inferiority, and women even ruled as regents for ten years after Genghis Khan’s death (1241-1251). The author mentions that this upset many of the groups located within their empire, particularly the monotheistic religions, as in such societies a man’s honor was directly linked to his ability to control a woman’s sexuality.

    Given the comments espoused by many in the pro-life crowd, I’d say that this archaic attitude still persists today.

    Barker’s example of the Catholic attorney demonstrates the internal conflict that many religiously devout citizens face: they identify with the antiquated tenants of the religion, yet common sense and reason tell them otherwise. Since they fail to rectify the conflict, they start making concessions, such as proffering the idea that abortion focuses on “the sanctity of life” in order to justify their confusion.

    In my opinion, the pro-life argument has nothing to do with the question of life and everything to do with making women into slaves.

    Cheers to you, Ebon, for doing a wonderful job exposing the hypocrisy behind the motivation. The most telling part of the whole deal is that the same groups that oppose abortion also oppose contraception and sex education, and you were apt to point that out. If they cared so much about life, they wouldn’t treat the process of birth in such a haphazard fashion.

  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thatonegirl TheNerd

    Remember the 12 commandments and the quote “thou shalt not kill”.

    This guy Stacey quotes does the job of killing his credibility for himself – we don’t even have to touch him!

  • hrd2imagin

    Okay, I’m going to try to address as many comments as I can here… But one thing you should take note of is that I *am* on your side! I believe in a woman’s right to abort.

    Nurse Ingrid: I do have one question for you. It seems, by your logic, that abortion ought to be allowed at least in cases of contraceptive failure. No method is 100% effective, after all. So how would you propose writing the law? How exactly is someone supposed to prove that?

    I am not proposing that we change any law. Abortion is and should be legal because no person has any right to tell another person what to do with their body. I am merely suggesting that we shift the discussion from whether it should be legal or not, to “It’s legal, now how do we reduce the number of abortions in a healthy and productive manner?”

    I am an atheist, I do not believe in an afterlife, I believe in my life, my family and my future. I, like every one of you, was conceived and began to grow. If I had been aborted, surely I would have never known it, and maybe with the exception of a few people, no one would’ve never noticed that I wasn’t alive. The Earth would continue to spin as it always had.

    But given that all of us in this discussion understand what a joy and privilege it is to have a life, to be able to live our lives freely, to be a child, to grow up, to start a family; why is it so easy for some of us to take away some other person’s only chance at enjoying a life as we do?

    Because they’ll never know? Bah. That’s poor reasoning in any judgement.

    Nurse Ingrid: Women can be very sure that having the abortion is the right thing for them to do, and they can be glad that they have the freedom to choose it, but it’s always a difficult and sad thing to go through. They do not need you or anyone else telling them how they should feel about it. Sheesh.

    Of course it’s a sad thing to go through, I’ve never said anything to the contrary. It’s this very sadness that leads to my conclusion. Women understand that they’re stripping a person, their own offspring, of their chance at life. It’s got to be a terrible decision to make. Doesn’t this sadness imply that they’re decision wasn’t correct?

    Nurse Ingrid, this is an honest question I’m asking here. Is it your role to make the woman feel okay about her decision after the abortion? Or is it to counsel her on making the correct decision before choosing whether or not to have an abortion?

    Nurse Ingrid: “Using abortion as birth control.” Oh please. What the frack does that even mean? As far as I’m concerned, it IS birth control. It is a form of family planning. It is a fundamental reproductive right.

    Steve Bowen: I doubt abortion is regularly seen as a form of birth control outside of the strawman fantasies of pro-lifers. Most women I’ve met (or had relationships with) who have had abortions for one reason or another found the decision difficult and live with consequential guilt that colours the rest of their lives.

    It is my opinion that family planning should be done before the pregnancy. “Abortion as birth control”, in the way I use it, means aborting for any reason that is selfish, any reason other than “This pregnancy might endanger my life”. This includes “I’m too young,” “I’m not ready,” “I want a career,” etc. These are things that should’ve been taken into consideration at the time of intercourse, not after. This is why I strongly support a reformation in sex education.

    Again, isn’t the sadness that these women feel a confirmation of my position?

    Steve Bowen, I applaud your daughter’s decision.

    OMGF: I would say that your original question was pretty silly considering that a clump of cells doesn’t have the cognitive faculties to understand that it is alive or that it could become a human.

    But our developed cognitive faculties understand what the fetus can become, the potential it has, to give it the benefit of the doubt, and a chance to live.

    Adrian: So what? Billions of things rob potential humans of the chance of life, yet no one freaks out about contraception, masturbation, or even the rhythm method.

    If you even read my previous posts, you would know that this argument is fallacious. No conception takes place in these instances, so there’s no life, and no human.

    Alex Weaver: The fact that it’s difficult to believe that someone could be so thoroughly disconnected from reality as you seem to be. Can you point to a single instance, anywhere, of any pro-choice party promoting abortion as trivial, or as being on a par with condoms and the pill?

    Okay, you’re correct in saying that pro-choice parties don’t promote it as trivial. I didn’t mean to imply that that was my assumption. I’ve been around this debate for a long time, up until the past year or so, I was a catholic and a typical pro-lifer. So I understand the rationale behind both sides.

    What happens, I think, is that when the pro-life and pro-choice start debating, each side takes the most polarizing views to defend their position against each other. In doing so, the pro-choice side can tend to come off as uncaring about the life of the fetus, and pro-lifers come off as uncaring about the mother.

    It’s these most polarized views that become the sound-byte for the layperson and to the opposition. To the average person, this is your position.

    I’m saying that we need to move past this tired debate, and on to a new one. Let’s stop arguing with anti-choicers and start fine-tuning our position. (It’s like arguing with a creationist) Abortion is legal, and the chances of that changing are slim. Let’s start talking about how we can take the entire discussion on sex, from intercourse, to STDs, to contraception, to abortion and respect for human life, bundle it in a rational way, teach it to our children, and ensure that the future of this debate leaves silly arguments like pro-life vs. pro-choice in the past.

    This is what it means to be pro-life and pro-abortion. Simply changing the mindset to first consider the future life of the fetus. And if the mother still wants an abortion, that option is still there.

    I don’t argue that there aren’t women out there that haven’t taken this position, I only argue that there could’ve been more.

  • http://www.yunshui.wordpress.com yunshui

    You’re forgetting the extra two Commandments God gave Moses:

    11. Life beginneth at conception, when egg and seed doth meet.
    12. Thou shalt not listen unto a rational argument.

  • Polly

    @hrd2imagin,

    I think what you’re saying is pretty non-controversial even in a pro-choice forum. Maybe, you should have led-in with the part about presuming the law will remain the same, i.e. allowing women to make the choice.

    I had a discussion with a pro-choicer who pushed the case for abortion as birth-control for herself, citing the fact that she never wants children. So, in at least one case, this wasn’t a strawman or anti-choice “fantasy”. I suggested preventive measures including tubal ligation or vasectomy for her partner, but she rejected those.

  • velkyn

    hrd2imagin, I really don’t see how you are “on our side” when you say you agree that a woman has a right to abort a pregnancy. You bring up many many claims of how abortion does this, that and the other and have no evidence. This seems to be an attempt to use fear and to put it bluntly, lies, to prevent abortions. I don’t see how someone who is pro-choice would do this.

    I do wonder why you did not answer this part of my post “If you think that “life” is so precious, then why aren’t you promoting the incarceration of pregnant women so they couldn’t possibly harm the baby?” What about this is different than being against abortion or “pro-life” as you claim you are?

  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thatonegirl TheNerd

    Yunshui: I bow before your great wisdom.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Kudos to Ebon. I want to add: I don’t think the anti- abortion, anti- contraception, anti- sex- education stance is just about controlling women. I think it’s also about hating and fearing sex, and wanting sex outside heterosexual marriage to be punished.

    The exception that’s usually made by people who want abortion to be illegal — namely, pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest — make this clear. If your argument against abortion is that a fetus is a human being, why should the circumstances of its conception affect that? You wouldn’t kill a two- year- old, or for that matter a twenty- year- old, just because they were conceived by rape or incest. The rape and incest exceptions make it clear: With the exception of a few individuals, the anti- abortion movement is clearly not about protecting human life. It’s about wanting women who have sex outside of marriage to be punished for it.

    And how screwed up is that? How screwed up is it to think that children should be brought into the world so that women will always regret having had sex? How screwed up is it to think of children as punishment? Is that a child- loving, life- loving attitude?

  • Jon

    hrd2imagin: “Potential people” is the zone where we disagree. What is a potential person, and does it have any rights? or any claim upon us?

    I had a vasectomy after the birth of my fourth child. Without that step, we would undoubtedly have had several more children. But we didn’t, so those potential people never came into being. Do I feel guilty for my denial of potential personhood? No. A non-existent entity, a potential entity, does not exert any moral imperative.

    The case with abortion rests on deciding when “a person” begins. There are arguments for various stages, from conception (frankly ridiculous) to birth and indeed after. I’ve seen rational arguments that most (full-term) new-borns are not conscious in any sensibly defined way for about 2-4 weeks after birth. In some ways full personhood starts at around 20 years after birth – so perhaps we should consider acquiring personhood as a gradual process.

    But before that beginning, wherever each of us marks it – no. There is no duty owed to the “potential person” that might be realized if we choose one path over another.

  • rob

    Hello,

    I just want to try to bring one more side to this dodecahedral argument. My wife is pro-life and I am prochoice. It is one of the few areas of politics on which we disagree. She is otherwise a progressive liberal – and an atheist – but this is a very personal issue for her because she was nearly aborted. To her, suggesting that abortion is ever right in any circumstance (including rape or incest) except when the mother’s life is threatened is tantamount to suggesting she should never have been born. I am practically the polar opposite, as I believe the choice for abortion carries no moral baggage and that any society must provide for sane population management – which to me means putting that power into the hands of individual women and families by means of safe, free abortions. As it has become something my wife and I just don’t talk about (sort of like when I forget to clean out the litterbox or end up spending two hours arguing at the comic book shop when I was supposed to be home making dinner), I will try to argue her position here based on the last time this was discussed in our household.

    Abortion is morally wrong for basically the same reasons murder is morally wrong – the artificial depredation of human life. While the kernel of the violation is the same, it is not identical to murder. It is incumbent upon a society to provide the woman and fetus/child with the support they need in order to deal with an unwanted pregnancy in a morally acceptable manner – this is what adoption is for. Included as corollary is the idea that all women need to be taught how to avoid pregnancy whenever possible through birth control and safe sex. (Now that we are married, she has made it very clear that this is OUR problem and not HER problem, and I am supposed to be getting a vasectomy.) The fetus, as a potential human, has rights but not the same rights as a true human.

    In response to some of the objections already brought up in this conversation:

    1) It is not necessarily inconsistent to punish one party in a crime but not another. There are currently very different penalties in the US for buying drugs versus selling them. As well, in the US we typically prosecute prostitutes but far less often Johns. It is the opposite in other parts of the world, where it is illegal to buy sex but not to sell it. In the same way, you could make it illegal to provide abortions but not to receive one.

    2) At the moment, she does not vote her conscience on this issue for a few reasons. Among them, we do not have universal healthcare in this country, which makes pregnancy far more dangerous in the US than it really ought to be.

    3) I don’t think she would argue that anybody is being irresponsible or evil by providing abortions now, in the same way that not everybody who owned slaves was automatically evil back when that was common. Like slavery, she sees our permissiveness of, and the necessity for, abortion as a pervasive societal problem that we must all take some measure of responsibility for. Also like slavery, she believes (yes, in the face of all evidence) that it is something our society will eventually outgrow.

    4) This didn’t work on me, but she has managed to corner other prochoicers who believe that abortion does have moral baggage but ought to be permitted anyway by asking them if there was a hypothetical way to raise an unwanted fetus without the mother, would they still think abortion was acceptable? An interesting question to ask yourselves to clarify your own views on abortion. (My answer: yes.)

    5) She sees the fact that women have to deal with this and not men as a biological accident, and if we someday find the means to impregnate men, she will still be anti abortion (and I will still be pro), but there are others (on both sides, I believe, but her point was to refute those who claim that a law against abortion is unfair to women) who will have to change their positions.

    If you made it this far, thank you for reading what I believe is an interesting and not unique perspective on the issue. We are living proof that two people can disagree on this and get along, and although our conversations on this are heated they are always civil. I believe the conversation is dominated by too many nutcases on the prolife side whose only interest is punishing women for sex, obscuring some very reasonable ethical concerns about abortion. People like my wife are left with no where to align themselves at the moment (and too often end up as pawns to the powerful anti-woman lobby if they do not do due diligence), but this will continue to be a volatile subject even after the Atheist Revolution, which I am planning for October 19th 2009.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    And now, into the hornet’s nest.

    hrd2imagin:

    I do think that the question of “at what point does a fertilized egg become a human being?” is a difficult one, and one that’s at the heart of the abortion question. You clearly think that the answer is “the moment of conception.” But you haven’t made a case for why that should be. You’ve just asserted it, over and over and over. You keep saying that the clump of cells is a person, or a potential person… but a sperm and an egg that are an inch apart is also a potential person. Is using a diaphragm immoral? If not, then what makes the moment of conception the magic moment?

    I think a better line to draw is the point at which an embryo develops a human brain, and develops the possibility for consciousness. And I’m not just going to assert this. I can make a case for it.

    Consciousness is what defines human beings. The special nature of our consciousness is what distinguishes us from other animals. And an eight- week- old embryo simply does not yet have that consciousness, or anything even approaching it. And there’s a fair amount of science to back me up on this — both on the specialness of the human brain and mind, and on the lack of it in early embryonic development. Embryologists have likened the stages in embryonic development to stages in evolution; an overly simplistic description, but one that will do for our purposes. An early- stage embryo is more like a fish than a person (or like a non- human mammal in somewhat later stages). Unless you’re a vegetarian, your position that an early- stage embryo is a special form of life that deserves protection is not tenable.

    What’s more, there are some basic pragmatic issues that you’re ignoring. One is that contraception sometimes fails. Another, probably more important one, is that sex education in our schools is currently in an abysmal state. Teenagers are being given false and harmful information… including false and harmful information about contraception that leads them to making ill-informed choices about it. And access to contraception isn’t always readily available for teenagers. Finally, we have a culture that promotes the idea that preparing and planning for sex makes a girl a slut. As long as all of these things are true, nobody is in any position to make moral judgments about unintended pregnancy. (I don’t think we would be in that position even if those things weren’t true, but that’s a different argument.)

    (Side note: For some reason I couldn’t get the HTML link about the abysmal state of sex education in the U.S. to work, So here’s that URL: http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=734 .)

    As to this:

    Of course it’s a sad thing to go through, I’ve never said anything to the contrary. It’s this very sadness that leads to my conclusion. Women understand that they’re stripping a person, their own offspring, of their chance at life. It’s got to be a terrible decision to make. Doesn’t this sadness imply that they’re decision wasn’t correct?

    I’m sorry, but that’s a terrible argument. When I had my elderly and dying cat euthanized, so I could give her a quick peaceful death instead of a slow agonizing one, it was an unbelievably sad choice. It was one of the worst days of my life. I’m crying again now just thinking about it. And yet I have absolutely no doubt that it was the morally right decision. Feeling deeply and wrenchingly sad about a choice doesn’t imply that it’s the wrong choice. Plenty of good and right choices in life are hard and sad.

    I am merely suggesting that we shift the discussion from whether it should be legal or not, to “It’s legal, now how do we reduce the number of abortions in a healthy and productive manner”

    No. You are not “merely” suggesting that. If that were all you were suggesting, there would be no debate. You are also suggesting that abortion, while it should be legal, is still morally wrong, and that many women who get them are being “selfish” (your own word) about a choice you think should hardly ever be made. And that is why I, along with many of the rest of us here, are up in arms.

    We have some agreements on practical and legal issues. We agree that our society should be providing people with the means to prevent unwanted pregnancy, in order (among many, many other reasons) to minimize the need for abortions. But we are not on the same side. Your attitude towards women who have abortions is patronizing, moralizing, judgmental, and completely lacking in understanding. You are not on my side.

  • hrd2imagin

    Velkyn: I do wonder why you did not answer this part of my post “If you think that “life” is so precious, then why aren’t you promoting the incarceration of pregnant women so they couldn’t possibly harm the baby?” What about this is different than being against abortion or “pro-life” as you claim you are?

    Please read all that I’ve already written, I am not anti-abortion. Quite the contrary. All I’m saying is that we as humans should be taking more measures to reduce the number of abortions. This means reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies through teaching better sex education and respect for the life that could be created if contraceptives are not used.

    Jon: “Potential people” is the zone where we disagree. What is a potential person, and does it have any rights? or any claim upon us?

    A potential person is an embryo, a fetus, egg fertilized by a sperm. That’s a potential human. Nothing else. I’ve said it twice already in this thread, so please read this people!! If there is no conception, then there is no human to protect or respect. Therefore there is no reason to feel guilty about using contraceptives or having a vasectomy. There is no potential for a human when people successfully use contraceptive measures. Why do I have to spell this out for people?! Three times!?

    Polly: I had a discussion with a pro-choicer who pushed the case for abortion as birth-control for herself, citing the fact that she never wants children. So, in at least one case, this wasn’t a strawman or anti-choice “fantasy”. I suggested preventive measures including tubal ligation or vasectomy for her partner, but she rejected those.

    Thank you Polly. People’s perceptions of this topic are all over the map. I’m just trying to find a common ground that is agreeable to every rational person. And I believe that starts with sex-ed.

    Rob: I believe the conversation is dominated by too many nutcases on the prolife side whose only interest is punishing women for sex, obscuring some very reasonable ethical concerns about abortion.

    This is why I think we shouldn’t concern ourselves with debating the legality of abortion anymore. Why debate with the kooks and give their position equal footing with ours? It’s legal, and I can’t see that changing.

    However, we need to respect that conception creates a human life. You can argue all day about when it really becomes a life, or when it becomes sentient. But you can’t deny that abortion ends a life that would’ve grown into a conscious adult had it been given the chance. In addition, odds are pretty good that the conscious adult would be thankful that they weren’t aborted.

    When viewed this way, abortion does sound a lot like murder, but it clearly is not because first we cannot prove abortion is murder because we cannot prove it is actually a life, and second we cannot treat these women as murderers and call ourselves a civilized society. So to me, the answer is to place as much value in the life of the fetus as the mother puts on her own. Then see how many women still choose to abort.

    As Jon stated, women who choose not to abort need to be given all the help she needs to raise the child or to find someone who can. For those who do abort, we cannot lay judgment upon them because they made the choice that they felt was best for them.

    Again, let’s just start changing the framework of the discussion.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Nurse Ingrid, this is an honest question I’m asking here. Is it your role to make the woman feel okay about her decision after the abortion? Or is it to counsel her on making the correct decision before choosing whether or not to have an abortion?

    Neither, actually. My job was to find out — before the procedure took place — whether she was sure of her decision, whether she was aware of all her options, to make sure no one was coercing her into it (which sometimes meant sending the boyfriend or the mother out of the room), and to assess whether she was particularly distraught and might need some extra counseling afterward. There were times when I sent women away because they were not sure that an abortion was the right choice for them. It was certainly not my job to determine what was the “correct decision” for my clients. That was up to them.

  • Polly

    No. You are not “merely” suggesting that. If that were all you were suggesting, there would be no debate. You are also suggesting that abortion, while it should be legal, is still morally wrong

    @GC,
    I’m interested in what you say about this.
    What do you want hrd2imagin to do? Deny his/her own conscience because of your own personal definition of when life begins? Didn’t we already see in the last post that that was by no means a settled question? Does this person HAVE TO stop feeling about fetuses whatever (s)he’s feeling?

    Is it OK if people don’t feel the same way about abortion as you do, given the caveat that they don’t try pushing it onto others via the law or unethical pressure?
    So what if they’re suggesting it’s wrong…maybe it is.

    I thought Pro-Choice meant each woman comes to their own conclusion, not coming to the conclusion that abortion is OK.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Oh, one more thing.

    Abortion is legal, and the chances of that changing are slim.

    I’m sorry, but you are flatly wrong about this. The legal right to abortion is very much under attack in this country, and the rights have already been whittled back considerably. Federal funding has been denied. Teenagers in many states can’t get it without parental permission. Many states require waiting periods, which create an intolerable burden on poor women who have to travel long distances to get abortions. Women in the military can’t get abortions at military medical facilities, which effectively denies women serving overseas the right to abortion. And these battles are continuing to be fought, and the right to abortion is being whittled back further and further, all around the country.

    What’s more, the battle over abortion has created a de facto lack of access to abortion in much of the country. As of 2000, 87% of all counties in the U.S. did not have abortion providers. Many states have fewer than five providers anywhere in the state. Thus, even though abortion is technically legal, the access to it in many states has been restricted to the point where it’s become virtually inaccessible.

    Are you really arguing that the legal battle has been won, and that pro-choice forces now need to focus our energies on “fine-tuning” our position? If so, then I respectfully suggest that you take a much, much closer look at the political reality in this country.

    (Link to the stats on accessibility of abortion: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NNR/is_1_35/ai_97873953/pg_12 )

  • rob

    hrd2imagin:

    To be clear, I disagree with you. I do not think it is obvious that abortion will remain legal, and I do not think it is our reponsibility to minimize it. I believe we need comprehensive sex ed. for many reasons, and preventing abortions is not high on the list. Like any medical procedure, abortion carries risk. However, it is not societies’ place to attempt to “minimize” abortions, only to empower women to make informed decisions.

    My wife would also disagree with you. She thinks abortion is morally wrong and ought to be illegal.

    Also:

    But you can’t deny that abortion ends a life that would’ve grown into a conscious adult had it been given the chance. In addition, odds are pretty good that the conscious adult would be thankful that they weren’t aborted.

    But you can’t deny that abortion ends a process that might’ve grown into a conscious adult had it been given the chance. In addition, odds are pretty good that the conscious adult would be thankful that they weren’t aborted.

    Fixed that for you.

  • hrd2imagin

    Greta Christina: When I had my elderly and dying cat euthanized, so I could give her a quick peaceful death instead of a slow agonizing one, it was an unbelievably sad choice.

    This is not a selfish decision. This decision was made to alleviate the pain of a dying cat. Yes it’s sad, but not selfish.

    Greta Christina: Teenagers are being given false and harmful information… including false and harmful information about contraception that leads them to making ill-informed choices about it. … Finally, we have a culture that promotes the idea that preparing and planning for sex makes a girl a slut.

    I completely agree. Reforming sex-education to correct these shortcomings would be Step 1 of my plan.

    Greta Christina: Consciousness is what defines human beings.

    I respectfully disagree. Our level of consciousness is simply an attribute that separates us from other species, it does not define us. I argue that being the offspring of two humans, and having human DNA is what defines a human. A human embryo cannot grow into something other than a human.

    Greta Christina: You are also suggesting that abortion, while it should be legal, is still morally wrong

    No I am not. I simply believe that more care should be taken to ensure that abortion isn’t perceived as a trivial thing. As you said yourself, our teens are grossly ill-informed. It is my opinion that many teens don’t understand the seriousness of the decision to abort until it is too late. I simply want to focus on educating teens and young adults to make better decisions prior to engaging in sex so they never have to make these decisions in the first place.

  • hrd2imagin

    Rob: However, it is not societies’ place to attempt to “minimize” abortions, only to empower women to make informed decisions.

    I think making informed decisions prior to engaging in sexual activity will lead to minimizing the amount of abortions.

  • rob

    It is my opinion that many teens don’t understand the seriousness of the decision to abort until it is too late. I simply want to focus on educating teens and young adults to make better decisions prior to engaging in sex so they never have to make these decisions in the first place.

    I personally do not understand the “seriousness” of abortion. We can always make more fetuses. They are practically an inexhaustible resource, or we might as well treat them as one, in the sense that when we run out of them there won’t be any humans left anyway. While I love my wife, it would be wrong of me to impose on a 19 year old mother to carry her baby to term and raise it for 18 years just because somebody like me might fall in love with it someday. “Odds are” that the next egg that travels down that fallopian tube that ends up getting fertilized, that gets carried to term and raised by loving parents, that would never have had that opportunity if her mother and father were already struggling to raise a child they didn’t want and possibly don’t love, will be just as happy to have the opportunity to exist as the fetus who was aborted might have.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Oh, one more thing:

    Abortion is legal, and the chances of that changing are slim.

    I’m sorry, hrd2imagin, but you’re flatly mistaken about this. The legal battles over access to abortion in the U.S. are by no means over. Federal funding for abortion has been denied. Teenagers in many states need to get parental consent to get abortion. Many states require waiting periods between counseling and the procedure, which create an intolerable burden on poor women who have to travel long distances to get them. Women in the military can’t get abortions at military medical facilities, which means that for many women serving overseas, abortion is effectively unavailable. This battle is continuing to be fought, and the legal right to abortion is being whittled further and further back, all across the country.

    What’s more, the battles over abortion have created a situation in which abortion is technically legal but actually unavailable. As of 2000, 87% of all counties in the U.S. did not have abortion providers, and many states have fewer than five providers in the entire state. (I’d provide a link on those stats, but my last version of this comment went kaflooey and I think it might have been the URL. Email me if you want to see it.)

    Are you really suggesting that the legal battle is over with, and that the pro-choice movement should now put its efforts into “fine-tuning” its position? If so, I respectfully suggest that you take a much, much closer look at the political realities in this country.

    And in response to Polly: If hrd2imagin believes abortion is immoral, then he/she shouldn’t have one. But if you’re going to argue your moral position on a public blog — especially on such a hot-button topic — you should expect other people to argue that your moral position is inconsistent and untenable. What’s more, hrd2imagin isn’t just arguing that he/she thinks abortion is immoral. He/she is arguing that individual women should modify their personal choices about abortion — and that the pro-choice movement should modify its methods and positions — in order to be in more in keeping with his/her own personal morality. And that I absolutely do not agree with.

  • hrd2imagin

    “Odds are” that the next egg that travels down that fallopian tube that ends up getting fertilized, that gets carried to term and raised by loving parents, that would never have had that opportunity if her mother and father were already struggling to raise a child they didn’t want and possibly don’t love, will be just as happy to have the opportunity to exist as the fetus who was aborted might have.

    Do I really have to explain this one more time? I’ve already done so 3 times! If you want to debate with me, at least read and understand my positions. K thx.

  • rob

    I think making informed decisions prior to engaging in sexual activity will lead to minimizing the amount of abortions.

    You may be right, but you also describe abortion as “cowardly” and “wrong,” and said that there is “no excuse.” I think these are the positions that people, including myself, are taking umbrage with. I think teaching children that abortion is cowardly and wrong, and that they need an excuse for not wanting to raise a child places undue burden on them. We should teach them that abortion is the most risky and expensive form of birth control available and should therefore be used as a last resort, but any other moralizing you can keep to yourself.

  • hrd2imagin

    GC, point taken. Perhaps I oversimplified the stability of abortion laws.

    GC: He/she is arguing that individual women should modify their personal choices about abortion — and that the pro-choice movement should modify its methods and positions — in order to be in more in keeping with his/her own personal morality. And that I absolutely do not agree with.

    I’m debating, and letting my opinions be heard. Perhaps some will be swayed, perhaps many will not. I’m not proposing top-down legislation of my personal philosophy. I’m just placing my views in a public forum, and seeing if people can learn from it, and seeing what I can learn from others. It’s a pretty American thing to do. And GC, you are free to disagree.

  • rob

    Do I really have to explain this one more time? I’ve already done so 3 times! If you want to debate with me, at least read and understand my positions. K thx.

    If you are referring to your explanation for why you find contraceptive acceptable but abortion not, I don’t think this has anything to do with my statement here. I am explaining that every pregnancy prevents another pregnancy, and that the 2 weeks to 3 months you have invested in the potential child/potential death sentence that you do not want should not interfere with you investing 18 years of your life raising a child you love and cherish. It has nothing to do with contraceptives or preventing pregnancy. I am assuming here that you are referring to this statement:

    If there is no conception, then there is no human to protect or respect. Therefore there is no reason to feel guilty about using contraceptives or having a vasectomy. There is no potential for a human when people successfully use contraceptive measures. Why do I have to spell this out for people?! Three times!?

  • hrd2imagin

    Rob: You may be right, but you also describe abortion as “cowardly” and “wrong,” and said that there is “no excuse.” I think these are the positions that people, including myself, are taking umbrage with…

    Perhaps “wrong” isn’t a good word, but “cowardly”, yes. I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility and accountability. In every other area of life, a person is held accountable for their actions, but sexual responsibility is the exception. That’s what I object to. And this burden of accountability should be placed equally on the man and the woman. I find it particularly egregious how men are able to wash their hands of any responsibility, and in some ways encouraged to.

    Despite the fact that I find that selfish abortions as cowardly acts, I’m proposing nothing to outlaw such abortions. It’s still a personal choice, just one that I happen to find cowardly.

    …but any other moralizing you can keep to yourself.

    Wow censorship, really?!

  • rob

    Wow censorship, really?!

    It’s hardly censorship to suggest that you keep these views out of sex ed. classes. You seem to suggest that possessing these views is necessary to making informed decisions and that children should be taught to feel guilty for their abortions – i.e. the “weight” and “seriousness” of the decision. If you are trying to explain your personal objections to abortion – an endeavor I hope you know I sympathize with, which is why I shared my wife’s story – then that is fine, but you have repeatedly suggest, despite your claims to the opposite, that some kind of policy change should be made to reflect your opinions. To whit: that prochoicers should change their public positions to reflect your opinions and that children should be taught it in school. The rest of us are arguing that your moralizing of abortion has no place in the policy debate, neither amongst the prochoice activists who want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to resolve their own moral issues with abortion, nor amongst sex ed. activists who want the information to be based on evidence and remain morally neutral.

  • hrd2imagin

    Rob,

    The importance of sexual reproduction is hard wired into our brains, so much so that humans have evolved to reward sexual intercourse with some of the most pleasant physical feelings that can be experienced naturally. In the same manner, we’ve evolved to feel deep emotional sadness when children and offspring are lost. (This is the sadness described by Nurse Ingrid in so many of her patients.)

    Love is not a mystical feeling given to us by a sky-god. It’s a biological mechanism that helps ensure the survival of our offspring.

    And abortion is acting in a manner that is completely counter to our evolved instincts. That is why women go through emotional distress after an abortion. Teens should be taught that the only way to avoid this emotional distress is to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

    This is how you teach my viewpoint in schools.

    I gotta go, I’m away for the weekends, so I probably won’t be on the site again until Monday. Nice talking with you all.

  • Polly

    @Greta Christina,

    He/she is arguing that individual women should modify their personal choices about abortion — and that the pro-choice movement should modify its methods and positions — in order to be in more in keeping with his/her own personal morality.

    Thanks for responding. I don’t see them trying to impose anything on anyone anymore than anyone else expressing their opinion. And I think the clarification he/she provided bears this out.
    Many can and have pointed out that drawing the line anywhere before birth for when it’s morally acceptable to abort is untenable.

    The only thing I see that might be authoritarian here is:

    That is why women go through emotional distress after an abortion. Teens should be taught that the only way to avoid this emotional distress is to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

    I don’t have any data on negative psychological effects of abortion on women, if any. But IF there is something to that argument, the relevant statistics should also be presented in any sex-ed class as part of comprehensive information.

    Again, nothing really too controversial about any of this, IMHO.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    This is not a selfish decision. This decision was made to alleviate the pain of a dying cat. Yes it’s sad, but not selfish.

    Fine. Use another example, then. Divorce. Leaving your hometown. Severing, or stepping back from, a close friendship. Adult life is full of hard, sad, wrenching choices which are nevertheless morally acceptable. The fact that women often feel sad about having abortions is absolutely not evidence that they are really morally wrong.

    Our level of consciousness is simply an attribute that separates us from other species, it does not define us. I argue that being the offspring of two humans, and having human DNA is what defines a human. A human embryo cannot grow into something other than a human.

    Yes, you argue that. But again, all your argument consists of is restating this position again and again and again. I have neurology and embryology backing up my opinion. What do you have to back up yours?

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion, and if you feel that humanity and personhood begins at conception, then by all means, don’t have an abortion yourself. But if you don’t have anything to back up that opinion other than just that it’s how you feel, then I respectfully suggest that that’s not a very good basis for going into public forums and trying to make women feel guilty and ashamed about their reproductive choices, simply because they don’t share your opinion. And I very strongly suggest that it’s not a very good basis for trying to reshape the entire pro-choice movement — not to mention the education of our children.

    You are also suggesting that abortion, while it should be legal, is still morally wrong.

    No I am not.

    I’m sorry, but you are. You’ve said, “this is what is wrong with abortion.” You have referred to women who have abortions for reasons you don’t approve of as “selfish,” “cowardly,” with “poor reasoning” and “no excuse.” You can say all you want to that you’re not passing moral judgment, but the language you have consistently used in this debate shows otherwise.

    You keep harping on this one straw man — the mythical hordes of women who have abortions as casually as they get their hair cut. And you seem to be suggesting that the pro-choice movement should shape our methods and policies, and that our educational system should shape its methods, to prevent this one straw man from ever happening. Given the political realities of the abortion battle in this country, do you really think that that’s what our priorities should be? Do you really think that the pro-choice movement and the educational system should be focusing its energies on making women who have abortions feel really, really bad about it?

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Something has been bugging me about this discussion, and it’s just dawned on me what that something is.

    The fact that women who have abortions often feel sad about it, is given as proof that abortion is morally wrong.

    But the fact that some mythical women have abortions and DON’T feel sufficiently sad about it… is ALSO given as proof that abortion is morally wrong!

    Talk about trying to have it both ways.

    p.s. I would like to applaud Stacey JW for sharing her story, not an easy thing to do when people can be so judgmental. I neglected to mention in my earlier comment that for many women, the most overwhelming emotional reaction after an abortion is relief. Apparently hrd2imagin would have us conclude that their decision was therefore wrong…

    No, wait, it must mean that it was therefore right!

  • Jim Coufal

    Two brief comments:

    1. The original post said “A related, astonishing phenomenon is the surprising number of self-avowed pro-lifers who come in for abortions themselves.” This issue has largely been ignored in the many responses above. The original backs up the statement with two anecdotal stories; not strong evidence for those who value evidence. Maybe the issue being ignored follows from this. Is there any hard evidence that the asserted phenomenon is so?

    2. The responses seem to me to indicate that everyone seems to think they have the truth. This leads to a circular argument, not in the classical sense but rather in the sense of “round-and-round we go,” talking past and not convincing each other. Is it any clearer why abortion is so difficult an issue when emotion seems to be so prevalent?

  • rob

    “And abortion is acting in a manner that is completely counter to our evolved instincts. That is why women go through emotional distress after an abortion. Teens should be taught that the only way to avoid this emotional distress is to avoid unwanted pregnancy.”

    This is, of course, incorrect biologically, psychologically, and morally, and contrary to the personal anecdote shared earlier in this very conversation. And generally twisting science to indoctrinate students is, uh, the goal of the other side.

    There are a couple of points of hrd2imagin’s that I would like to pick up on. First of all, let me say I think abortion should be available on demand and covered by healthcare until the end of the second trimester. After that, the situation gets murkier and objections are much more reasonable, as the fetus rapidly develops the ability to survive outside the womb. Personally, I would support a legal abortion at this stage, but I am far more willing to make compromises.

    I do not think the point at which “personhood” begins is one that anybody can claim is settled or supported scientifically. A fetus is pretty clearly a potential person and not a fish or a monkey. As hrd2imagin correctly points out, a fetus cannot become anything but a person (well, or a cancer or other life threatening condition), and a fish is never eligible for personhood. A human fetus is a unique class of organism and the law should recognize this. Introducing the problem of personhood clouds the issue, by bringing in unrelated issues such as the mentally retarded, coma patients, and those requesting euthanasia. These are completely different problems that only relate to abortion if you make the question about “personhood.”

    As far as the law is concerned, the only question is “Is a woman obligated to carry any fertilized egg to the last possible term allowed by nature?” I like phrasing it this way because it makes the question about the woman and her body. hrd2imagin’s argument that women need to be responsible for their actions is correct. If a woman does choose to give birth – a choice she can only fairly make if safe abortions are available – then we feel comfortable forcing her to take responsibility for that decision. She must provide for the child or make arrangements for its survival, and we will correctly punish her for infanticide, abandonment, or neglect for the next 16 years of that child’s life. So it is a proper question to ask as it relates to abortion, and framing the issue as I have makes it clear that it is a similar but not identical problem.

    I do not think we can assess the moral quagmire of abortion by retreating to pat answers like “It’s not a person.” Well, no, it can’t dance yet. Maybe it can’t see or breathe, but our opponents are not so foolish that they will believe just because a fetus doesn’t have a brain at six weeks doesn’t mean it won’t at six months. It is the other side that needs black and white, one-size-fits-all answers. We should be able to safely acknowledge that a fetus is special and a special class of person while simultaneously making the argument for the necessity of abortion.

  • random guy

    Jim Coufal said:

    This issue has largely been ignored in the many responses above. The original backs up the statement with two anecdotal stories; not strong evidence for those who value evidence.

    Actually the original references two studies from the early and mid 80′s on the subject. While it is true that anecdotes are not the best evidence there are other data points the suggest the overall point still holds true. The estimated abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed for downs syndrome is close to 90%. DS fetuses are indiscriminate, they develop randomly and will have parents from all walks of life. So clearly a large number of pro-lifers find it necessary to abort a DS fetus, despite the fact that many people with DS are capable of leading healthy, happy lives.

    I don’t really have a problem with that decision, except for the potential hypocrisy of the aborter. Many pro-lifers rail against abortion precisely because they see it as reducing life to an issue of convenience. Yet when faced with the inconvenience of a child with DS (I’m not trying to be rude, they are children with special needs after all, with many needing full or part time care into adulthood) they are more than willing to get an abortion. Essentially pro-lifers get abortions for the same reasons as everybody else, they just suffer under the delusion that they are exceptional.

    Your second comment is a little easier to address. I believe that abortion is such an emotional issue because essentially it is a philosophical, scientific, and legal question revolving around the definition of personhood. How or why does a thing (an inanimate clump of cells) become a person requiring rights and certain degrees of legal protection within a fair and just society? I think the abortion debate relies so heavily upon emotion because most people lack the scientific or philosophical understanding to come to a reasoned conclusion.

    For example: Pro-lifers assert that souls are present at conception, the presence of a soul grants personhood, therefore fetuses are human beings. The easiest method to refute this is to ask them to prove the existence of the soul. Yet because religious claims are often immune to criticism in public discourse, they will take offense at the question and just get angry that you called their bluff. They have no evidence for this claim, and cannot independently verify it.

    If you remove the ridiculousness of souls from the equation then the personhood of the fetus becomes a question about consciousness or suffering. It is then easy to see why most reasoned debate (and for that matter legal conclusions) surrounding abortion revolve around the issues of consciousness and suffering.

    Rob, I think your being a bit dishonest when you state that personhood has not been established scientificly. It has long been established the points at which a fetus develops the ability to feel pain, the brainwave patterns that indicate conscious thought, and when the fetus is capable of surviving outside of the mothers womb. If you use any of these criteria to establish your definition of personhood, then the answer is readily available. I wanted to respond to the rest of your post but upon rereading I can’t quite figure out the point your trying to make.

    Sorry for the long post – Random

  • mikespeir

    This, in Reason magazine, has implications that will affect the discussion: http://www.reason.com/news/show/126434.html

    Varmus continued, “One might even in fact imagine generating a cell that is totipotent [able to develop into a complete organism] in that manner.” In other words, researchers may one day take human cells all the way back to the embryonic stage, at which point they could be implanted into a womb, where they could eventually develop into complete human beings. This is the direction in which iPS cell research is heading. So instead of switching off one gene to make sure that an entity is not worthy of their moral concern, pro-lifers may soon have to worry about the opposite, pushing an adult cell so far back in its developmental stage that switching on a single gene will turn it into an embryo.

  • Christopher

    I find this whole “potential person” argument just plain ridiculous if taken to its logical conclusion: if it’s criminal to destroy a “potential person” that would make every destruction of reproductive tissue a mass “murder” – if society executes a serial killer it also “murders” any children that the serial killer may produce some day; if some one assaults another person and irreparably damages their reproductive organs they kill off all that person’s potential offspring; if a man ejaculates in a place other than a woman’s vagina the sperm will die without any chance to fertalize an egg – thus eliminating thousands of potential people; etc…

    In short, this nonsense about a “potential person” is just plain laughable and any sane person will dismiss it as a poor camoflauge for the real agenda of the pro-life crowd: dictating sexual “morality” to those of us that don’t have their narrow-minded mores and values.

  • rob

    It has long been established the points at which a fetus develops the ability to feel pain, the brainwave patterns that indicate conscious thought, and when the fetus is capable of surviving outside of the mothers womb. If you use any of these criteria to establish your definition of personhood, then the answer is readily available.

    OK, so which of those actually establishes personhood, and should we then ban abortion after that point? If all three happened at exactly the same time you might have a point, but the point that a fetus is able to survive outside the womb gets earlier and earlier (I believe 24 weeks is now the record, although the baby will likely have severe retardation, as well as blindness and possibly lifelong paralysis), the point that a fetus can feel pain is debatable (prolifers say 8 weeks, some scientists say 28 weeks, many won’t commit to anything more specific than “during the third trimester,” and long before they can feel pain they are capable of producing the stress hormones that can trigger pain in the fully born), and consciousness is a condition that has not been completely pinned down even in adults (and also introduces the unrelated question of euthanasia of people in persistent vegetative states).

    I think the question of whether a woman should be required to carry an embryo or fetus should not be dependent on these questions, particularly given our incomplete understanding of the fetal condition. Even if some generalizations could be established – if we assume we are someday able to establish that most fetuses are able to feel pain, have conscious thought, and survive outside the womb by, say, 30 weeks, and the legal definition of person is amended to include such fetuses, what happens if a woman wants to abort at 29 weeks? Does she have to have tests performed on the fetus to establish whether it has crossed these thresholds? What if it has crossed two but not the third? Consciousness, in particular, may describe a property that emerges gradually as a result of an elaborate process that starts when the brain stem first forms and isn’t completed until the child retains its first longterm memory.

    While the answers to your questions may be readily available (although I think you overstate the confidence scientists have in these measures), I don’t think you will find a single scientist who will say that yes, scientifically speaking, before this point the fetus was a fetus but after this point it is a person. It’s simply not a scientific question.

  • John

    Hi there,
    I refer to the original post of Ebon, which drew attention to the coexistence of anti-abortion views with opposition to contraception among prominent pro-life groups. This should not be surprising, because the goal of religious/conservative groups is usually not simply to prevent abortion to the greatest extent possible, but also to do this in a way which is morally acceptable – which they do not say of contraception.
    However, even considering the issue solely in relation to abortion, they might say that abortion is the fruit of the contraceptive mentality itself. For the unifying discourse of contraception and abortion is that of the freedom and rights of women. But this freedom is not a freedom which respects the truth of woman as such: in a woman, sexuality is intrinsically connected to conception and new life, and therefore to responsibility; whereas contraception – as a social “institution” – represents the separation of freedom from ultimate responsibility. The message proclaimed by society to women thus becomes, “you can have the advantages of sex without the responsibility of motherhood and children”. In this way, abortion is seen as the natural consequence of the contraceptive revolution and its volte-face regarding the meaning of womanhood, and of human sexuality. Abortion is simply necessary, to render the contraceptive revolution consistent and to guarantee the message which it proclaimed. Even where personal responsibility does intrude upon freedom (in the shape of a child), it can be swiftly eliminated.
    Hence it makes sense for pro-life groups to oppose both contraception and abortion as symptomatic both of the same social disease, which opposes freedom of self determination to absolute responsibility and of the philosophical-theological rejection of “natural law” in favour of the law of mere majority, man-as-received in favour of man-as-self-made.
    You might be able to tell I have sympathy with this view. I don’t expect you to agree. But at least it gives a reasonable account of that puzzling phenomenon: the simultaneous opposition to contraception and abortion by pro-life groups.

  • Mark

    Forget religion for a moment.

    A human being is a clump of cells that never stops changing and occasionally and sometimes permanently becomes incapable of surviving on its own (inside the womb or otherwise). There are times when we can’t speak or even think rationally. Some humans lose their self-awareness. And so on.

    Physically, scientifically, we become human beings at conception and it’s wrong to kill people that aren’t trying to kill you.

    In a free and just society we should be permitted to make personal choices that don’t harm, much less kill, others (inside the womb or otherwise).

    Abortion is wrong.

    To believe otherwise is either the result of ignorance, hypocrisy, or an acceptance of the notion that some humans can be killed simply for being what they are (or aren’t). None very praiseworthy.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    …the point that a fetus can feel pain is debatable (prolifers say 8 weeks…

    It should be noted that pro-lifers have pulled this number out of their posteriors.

    John,
    Thank you for pointing out what Ebon was saying, that pro-lifers oppose contraception because they wish to control the freedom of women.

    Mark,

    Physically, scientifically, we become human beings at conception…

    Wrong. Rob was right, there is no scientific definition of when a human being is formed, whether it is at conception, brain activity, or birth. We can scientifically measure when these things happen, but science doesn’t tell us when the fetus becomes human, that’s for us to decide using the scientific facts. Your argument thus boils down to, ‘It’s my opinion that a human is formed at conception, therefore abortion is wrong.’ Please back up your statement that a human is indeed formed then, and tell me why it over-rides the rights of the woman in question.

  • John

    OMGF,
    I’m sure Mark can answer for himself, but I would like to respond to your criticism of his point. It seems to me you are not distinguishing person from human being.

    It is very clear from science that a certain “being” comes into existence at conception – the newly formed being cannot be considered merely a part of the mother’s body. This is because (among a number of reasons) it has its own complete human genome, different from all the other cells of the mother’s body; it manifests the characteristic behaviour of a living organism (it has its own highly complex and programmed process of development, which is clearly ordered to a certain end from the very beginning, given the presence of the specific genome, and is not reducible to the development and self-regulation of the mother’s organism) and its development continues uninterrupted until the event of birth and beyond (all possible “interruptions” – like implantation – are simply changes in relation to its environment which prove, rather than compromise, the continuity and finality of fetal development). So if we consider the basic scientific facts, the “being” which is conceived through fusion of gametes is numerically and specifically identical with the “being” that is born nine months later, and with the “being” that dies 70-80 years later. (Note that so-called a-gametic reproduction, the generation of a twin from his largely “undifferentiated” sibling, does not compromise this numerical and specific identity: we are dealing with one new being from another one, not with two new beings from one amorphous blob).
    Anyway, it is clear from this that the embryo is a new living “being”, of the species homo sapiens. And what else does “being a human being” mean other than this? Nothing. The embryo is, therefore, a human being.
    But this does not mean that it is a person, not automatically: it depends on how you define person. This is where we move from science into philosophy. You might equate personhood with “being” human (as I would); or you might equate it with some secondary act or event of this living being (eg. being born, or gaining consciousness). Fine. The problem with the second option, in my view, is that personhood is turned (in the language of Aristotle) into an accidental quality, something that is disposed to come and go without changing the identity of the subject in which it inheres. If that is what you mean by the word person, you should be aware that
    a) it is an unstable basis for the rights of each person. If personhood is fluid in relation to being human, what is to stop anyone, any state power, from arbitrating according to its whim where personhood begins and ends?
    b) it leads into the philosophically murky waters inhabited by Peter Singer and his companions who justify, in certain circumstances, infanticide- because infants have not yet achieved consciousness (or some other secondary quality – take your pick).
    c) you would be equivocating on the meaning of words, and inventing new meanings (personhood as event/accidental quality) that have no basis in our culture nor our language.
    In sum, we must distinguish the scientific and philosophical questions, and their objects of inquiry (“being human” and personhood respectively); we should also be aware of the difficulties involved in separating ontologically what is in fact only separated methodologically (human being and person). Further, we should be more rigorous in subjecting our opinions to critique: if they don’t measure up to scientific data (eg “embryos are just balls of cells”), then maybe it’s time to change them.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John,
    On the contrary, it is Mark that is not distinguishing, since his argument relies on bluring that line.

    (all possible “interruptions” – like implantation – are simply changes in relation to its environment which prove, rather than compromise, the continuity and finality of fetal development)

    What now? If the blastocyst fails to implant on the uterine wall, somehow this strengthens your case, even though that means certain death of the blastocyst?

    (Note that so-called a-gametic reproduction, the generation of a twin from his largely “undifferentiated” sibling, does not compromise this numerical and specific identity: we are dealing with one new being from another one, not with two new beings from one amorphous blob).

    So twins are one being? How about siamese twins with two brains? Are they one being? They are according to your definitions.

  • rob

    John,

    You should be aware that

    a) it is an unstable basis for the rights of each person. If personhood is fluid in relation to being human, what is to stop anyone, any state power, from arbitrating according to its whim where personhood begins and ends?

    “Personhood” is already interpreted differently by different states – and more to the point, “personhood” is not the basis for rights, privileges, or citizenship in many states. Dominionists here in the US would make professed christianity, or in some cases racial whiteness, a requirement for full personhood.

    b) it leads into the philosophically murky waters inhabited by Peter Singer and his companions who justify, in certain circumstances, infanticide- because infants have not yet achieved consciousness (or some other secondary quality – take your pick).

    You are absolutely correct. If personhood is scientifically measurable, and we wish to defend our positions scientifically, we must be consistent in their application. There are some modern day, mainstream prochoicers who argue that a baby is not a person until it takes its first independent breath. There are, in fact, good reasons to consider this the defining moment – before this moment we hardly have an independent being. In fact, the developing baby could fairly be considered a parasite on the mother.

    c) you would be equivocating on the meaning of words, and inventing new meanings (personhood as event/accidental quality) that have no basis in our culture nor our language.

    Actually, for many years here in the US, a white man was one person, while a black man was only 3/5 of a person. The bible, the basis for all of western morality (or so its adherents tell me), treats fetuses differently from persons. The punishment for killing a person was significantly more severe than the punishment for causing a miscarriage. Some legal scholars have expressed concern that due to the wording of some states’ constitutions, banning gay marriage will put the state in the position of defining “person” on the basis of sexuality. None of these may be very morally attractive arguments, but the point is that the idea that personhood is a separate concept than human-ness is hardly a novel one, even in our own culture.

    As it pertains to abortion, the issue actually becomes less muddled if the fetus is considered the same as a full-fledged born human. If this is the case, the fetus is clearly using the body of the woman desiring an abortion – her organs, her food, the very air she breathes – against her will, something the supreme court has made quite clear no person has the right to do to another. She is then perfectly within her rights to expel the fetus and let it attempt to survive on its own.

  • StaceyJW

    “…represents the separation of freedom from ultimate responsibility. The message proclaimed by society to women thus becomes, “you can have the advantages of sex without the responsibility of motherhood and children”. (Mark, above)

    It does not surprise me at all many of the anti-choice believers are against BOTH birth control and abortion. The idea that women can actually enjoy sex without having to have kids is only part of it- the real issue is that birth control/abortion removes the consequences of sex- and those consequences are the basis for their whole conception of sexuality. Their belief is that sex is a sacred act, that should only happen between a man and wife, with the main purpose of creating new life.

    This way of thinking is the foundation for the society that religions hope to promote. The family unit- based on God as the head of the man, man as the head of house and his wife as a helper and child bearer, is essential for this society. Men were to be the head of the household, church, and world- they controlled the creation of life via control of sexuality.

    It was the consequences of sex that kept this structure viable, and the patriarchial family as the standard, the ideal. Women were (rightly) terrified of losing their virginity before marriage, even to rape. Since women could not support themselves financially, they had to marry. Marriage meant becoming a man’s property and having children- men controlled sex, women had to live with the consequences. Once there were kids to feed, the woman was unlikely to leave, and was required to obey him- her life depended on it.

    These are the forces that kept the “nuclear” family together, but there is nothing admirable about oppression. Anything that disrupted this would be fought. A woman’s right to control her body, including conception, allowed her to control her own destiny- without regarding a man. For centuries, men were in full control of women- their actions made babies. Choosing sex was not part of this world, for women.
    Then women gained control of conception- abortion only furthered this by allowing women FULL control from the sexual actions of men. Men could still force sex, but women were no longer left with a lifelong duty because of it.

    What is often forgotten is that people weren’t more “pure” back then, families weren’t stronger or more functional, men weren’t more responsible, marriage was not about love or partnership, parents did not love their kids more, ignorance, war, violence and torture were part of life, and sex was not more sacred. Children were abandoned or killed (infanticide), women were beaten, killed, and often died in childbirth, and sexual crimes were common- prostitution and rape are not new. Limitations on sex did not help the quality of life, but were useful in controlling women, and thus, society. Religion flourished in this world.

    Sex without lifelong consequences helped to destroy all of the things that had kept the patriarchal society together- premarital sex was no longer feared, sex before marriage was made possible, marriage was no longer seen as a necessity, women could wait as long as they wanted to have kids-if they had them at all! Women could even participate in, and enjoy, sex- a true sign of equality. Many people found this intolerable, and have worked to go backwards in time. Many churchgoers will even admit they think the world is out of balance because women do not submit to men!

    So, when someone opposes abortion and birth control, they are really objecting to sexual freedom, and all of the social changes it has brought. The sexual revolution did bring change- some negative, but many more are positive- especially with regard to the rights of women. Its ironic to hear anti-choice women talk about how abortion and birth control demeans and harms women, when it has done more to free them than any other idea or invention. There’s nothing moral about forcing women to be mothers.

    The belief that women should not have sex unless they are willing to bear children is unfair and unrealistic. Women are expected to have control over their sex life, but only through abstinence. But without birth control/ abortion, women would not even have the rights that allow them to live in a world where they can say NO to sex. These rights cannot be removed, they are fundamental to the functioning of a modern society that allows sexual equality.

    There are ways to reduce abortions, but these things are fought by the same people who hate abortion the most. If anti-abortion activists really cared about “killing babies” they would support free, available, birth control and accurate sex education- these are the only things shown to lower the # of abortions and keep teens from having sex. Instead, they live in fantasy land, refusing to acknowledge the world that we live in, hoping for a day where sex is again dangerous. Their attitude towards condoms, AIDS, and HPV vaccines are proof of this.

    We can’t have a modern society without the rights of women, and women cannot have meaningful rights without the ability to control their bodies, and thus, their lives. The rights of fetuses cannot be more important than the rights of living women if we want to continue to have a modern society.

    Staceyjw

    Did the sexual revolution cause sex to lose its “sacredness”, or is it more accurate that sex was held to be sacred, but was never treated as such?

    Removing the consequences of sex was one of the most important aspects of building a free, modern, society, where women have rights as equals

  • Mark

    OMGF,

    Wrong. Rob was right, there is no scientific definition of when a human being is formed, whether it is at conception, brain activity, or birth. We can scientifically measure when these things happen, but science doesn’t tell us when the fetus becomes human, that’s for us to decide using the scientific facts. Your argument thus boils down to, ‘It’s my opinion that a human is formed at conception, therefore abortion is wrong.’ Please back up your statement that a human is indeed formed then, and tell me why it over-rides the rights of the woman in question.

    I disagree, the fetus is a human being because (as John has pointed out) it is genetically unique and *will* continue to grow and mature under normal circumstances. By introducing conditions or criteria to the definition of a human being, I believe you are proceeding down the path I mentioned in my earlier post that allows society to judge human status based upon mental and physical capabilities. The physical, and hence scientific, reality is that the fetus is a human being, albeit different from the walking, talking, blogging variety. That it is particularly innocent and vulnerable makes it even more dependent upon society’s care and protection. I believe the a society can and should be judged primarily on it’s “humanity”, meaning in this case mercy and compassion. How we treat those most vulnerable elements in our society is a prominent component of that judgment.

    John: Regarding your comment concerning the distinction between human being and person, I now see and appreciate the distinction you’ve explained. Like in My Fair Lady/Pygmalion, what defines a person is not how they act (or what they know), but “how they are treated.” Simple, dignified, humane.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Namely, most groups which oppose abortion also oppose comprehensive sex education and the distribution of contraception, two measures which have proven to be highly effective at reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore the number of abortions. If the conservatives’ goal was to prevent abortion to the greatest extent possible, why wouldn’t they be all in favor of these measures? Why wouldn’t they be eager participants in the effort to make contraception as widely available as possible?

    A while ago I pointed this out to a friend’s Bible study group I joined in on (don’t ask). The response basically boiled down to the idea that people should not be allowed to “escape” their sins. After my repeated questioning over some period of weeks on a number of different issues, the group members expressed a similar attitude towards many other things as well. From sex ed that would prevent AIDS to education that would prevent crime to social welfare that would prevent poverty, it was the same idea. It even turned out that they were altogether against charitable works unless there were religious strings attached. When I explained to them what the Green Revolution was and asked them what they thought about that, they expressed resentment because the movement lacked in the “more important” work that Christian missionaries provide by “saving souls.”

    It has since occurred to me that this is how Christians seek validation for their moral code. Seeing other women punished for having had sex helps reinforce their own notion that sex is a disgustingly vile act. There is no god, heaven, or hell, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re actually pretending to be god themselves.

  • John

    OMGF,
    In your first citation of my argument, I was speaking of interruptions that don’t lead to death. But even in your case – failure to implant – the blastocyst still clearly emerges as a living being, programmed and ordered towards its own full realization. It fails to implant – but it remains what it was and is; it dies as a result – but why does this show that it wasn’t a living being (of species homo sapiens)? Rather, it shows that it WAS.
    Your second objection does not appear to be sound. Twins are not one being (obviously); neither were they one being. I specifically denied that by calling the second twin a “new being”. Rather, in the case of a-gametic twins, one being comes from another, without the other being annihilated; we are not dealing with a two-in-one original embryo, but rather another-one-FROM-one. The first twin continues on his course of development and organization; but the second twin comes into being, full stop.

    Rob,
    American law is not my speciality, I must say. But my argument was not legal. Indeed, the appeal to law is never an adequate moral response for any responsible human being, since laws have to be just and interpreted justly. If the supreme court makes an unjust ruling, or applies a legal principle unjustly, then that should be opposed. How do we oppose it? By reason.
    I say this regarding your last point: the embryo (assuming its human status) uses the mother’s body against her will; the Supreme Court explicity forbids this; therefore, abortion is a woman’s right. But here there is a problem in the application of the principle of law. Laws are universal, but they must be applied to concrete cases. Good legislators know that to every universally stated law there are almost always exceptions based on particular cases and circumstances. The law should provide for these too, if it is to be just. In the case of the embryo, we do not have the unjust “intrusion” of one party upon another, or the “exploitation” of another, because the embryo did not “intrude” upon the mother’s body except according to a ridiculous equivocation of terms. The law punishes offenders against the law (in this case, physical exploitation). In what sense can the embryo be called an offender, ie. one who actually offends against the law? For criminal prosecution, we normally need “mens rea” (guilty mind) and “actus reus” (guilty act): how can these be said of an embryo without falling into sheer nonsense? And yet, you would have it that embryos, if and when the mother doesn’t want them, fall foul of the solemn prohibitions of the Supreme Court?! It is clear that the general law cannot be applied in this particular case, and that your argument is therefore invalid.
    Further, we should remember that it is normally by the woman’s (the “victim”‘s) choice, or as a result of a choice she made (eg. having sex with a man), that the embryo is conceived. In other cases of intrusion or exploitation where the law might apply, this is not the case. Here, the victim of the crime is the very cause of the criminal activity (the existence of the embryo).
    I am hoping you can see how ridiculous this all is – all of it as a result of viewing pregnancy (which, lest we forget, is a NORMAL, HEALTHY state for a fertile woman to be in) in terms of intrusion, injured right and legal sanctions.

  • Polly

    A while ago I pointed this out to a friend’s Bible study group I joined in on (don’t ask). The response basically boiled down to the idea that people should not be allowed to “escape” their sins.

    This probably explains why deconversion didn’t change my mind on this issue. I never thought of a fetus as a punishment. If that’s the only reason, it certainly is not, from my stand point, a valid argument against abortion. Of course, many here would say none of MY arguments are much better ;)

    I know a xian who on more than one occassion has expressed displeasure at the prospect of developing an AIDS-vaccine. I was shocked (both times) they said this because they are compassionate in every other way. It takes religion to make a good person hateful.

    I think the argument about an unwanted intruder is ridiculous. Applying B&E type legal analysis to this situation is a complete misapplication of the law and the underlying principle. If taken to its logical conclusion we end up imposing the death penalty for trespassing, disguised as “eviction.” Even deadbeat renters are afforded some grace period under the law to arrange for alternative accomodations. What about children who suck up family resources? Can parents toss them into the street?
    In fact, under this line of reasoning no one has any responsibility to anyone else in even the most dire, life-threatening of circumstances (barring personal risk). This is actually a libertarian argument. One that is at libertarian’s most selfish extreme.

  • Polly

    I wonder if one day far in the future, when religion and sexism have (hopefully)faded from the scene, if there won’t be more atheists and feminists who will see abortion as a morally bad choice.

    Among atheists, the pro-life position is in the small minority now. Behind the supposed iron-clad rational arguments (which haven’t convinced every single rational atheist), I think most of the support for abortion on demand comes from a reactionary perspective against the domineering forces of religion and patriarchy. Once these forces are removed, and people are allowed to breathe a sigh of relief, I predict about a 50/50 split among freethinkers on this issue.

    OTOH, by then technology could very well provide us with other tools so that an embryo only a few days old can be safely removed and allowed to grow in an artificial womb. Then all this will be moot, except that I forsee a whole new set of ethical dilemmas – inheritance rights, higher probability of accidental incest, taxes spent on raising “unwanted” people, etc.

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    Polly, just don’t attach yourself to my views because I am fully in support of abortion rights at any stage of pregnancy with no questions asked.

  • Polly

    bbk,
    Ha! Thanks, but I wasn’t under any misapprehensions about your position.
    I simply wanted to add to your comment about the “Suffer sinners!” xian attitude I’ve seen, too. We can agree on some things, can’t we?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Mark,

    I disagree, the fetus is a human being because (as John has pointed out) it is genetically unique and *will* continue to grow and mature under normal circumstances.

    That time it was I who conflated in that I meant “person.” Although “human being” is not so cut and dried as you would make it out to be. What human being do you know of that must parasitize another organism in order to survive, must physically attach to another to survive, is capable of splitting into multiple beings, etc?

    That it is particularly innocent and vulnerable makes it even more dependent upon society’s care and protection.

    If you are religious, then this argument holds no weight. If you are not, then it’s still debatable. Innocent and vulnerable? It has no consciousness nor any of the things that make us what we are and it is dependent on the woman to physically nurture it. It is impinging on the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Again, it’s not as cut and dried as you would like it to be.

    John,

    In your first citation of my argument, I was speaking of interruptions that don’t lead to death. But even in your case – failure to implant – the blastocyst still clearly emerges as a living being, programmed and ordered towards its own full realization. It fails to implant – but it remains what it was and is; it dies as a result – but why does this show that it wasn’t a living being (of species homo sapiens)? Rather, it shows that it WAS.

    As I asked Mark, how many humans do you know of that need to parasitize others to survive? Your argument is that because it can’t exist without implanting on the uterine wall that that proves it’s a human???? Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t alive, but I’m saying that it’s not so cut and dried as you make it out to be and your definition is lacking.

    Your second objection does not appear to be sound. Twins are not one being (obviously); neither were they one being.

    Where do you think identical twins come from? If it is one being at the time of conception, then it suddenly becomes 2 beings, how does that fit into your definition? Answer: it doesn’t.

  • Polly

    how many humans do you know of that need to parasitize others to survive?

    535, at least.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Polly,
    Am I missing some pop culture reference here?

  • Polly

    OMGF,

    100 in the senate
    435 in the House of representatives

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Polly wrote: Behind the supposed iron-clad rational arguments (which haven’t convinced every single rational atheist), I think most of the support for abortion on demand comes from a reactionary perspective against the domineering forces of religion and patriarchy. Once these forces are removed, and people are allowed to breathe a sigh of relief, I predict about a 50/50 split among freethinkers on this issue.

    For some people, there is an aversion to appearing allied with a position that is central to an opposing group. If the religious are pro-life – then it just has to be wrong. So there is probably a certain knee-jerk reaction among some atheists to take the opposing position. That’s not to say that some atheists don’t have what they feel are good reasons to be pro-choice. But it’s understandable that an atheist may not want to appear in bed with a street corner demonstrator holding a Bible quote placard. Frankly – I don’t. Fortunately there is no reason to climb in bed. One can rightly reject the “god says” line of argumentation, while still supporting a pro-life position that aligns with atheism. That’s probably one of the central tragedies inflicted by the religious in terms of abortion. By injecting overt religion into the debate, they provide a path for some to dismiss (wrongly) the entire issue on religious grounds. In that respect, I sometimes wonder if the abortion issue is, for the religious practitioners, similar to intelligent design, being in some respects a proxy used to push religion.

    If religion and history of misogyny were not part of the equation, would more atheists support the pro-life position? I think so. The science of human development is on the side of pro-life. We now have a clear understanding of human development removed from superstition. (Irrespective of the never ending and intellectually vacuous tumor or parasite analogies.) Our unique human development begins at conception, occurs for roughly nine months in the womb, and then continues outside the womb. We are able to comprehend cause and effect. We understand the consequences to each of our existence if our development is tampered with. It’s really not all that complicated. Given an atheist’s understanding of what in all likelihood is our one and only existence for all time, we should not support a scheme that would take it away – simply because the destruction may occur early in our development, and for no reason other than someone else felt like it.

    Why then do some atheists go pro-choice? Well, there is the affore mentioned desire not to support what is deemed a religious position. Then there is the fact that, in respect to imposition, it’s extremely unfortunate that we are intimately dependent on another person during a portion of our early development. But to quote Richard Dawkins when dealing with reality – “that’s just tough”. And I don’t mean that in any way to minimize the imposition pregnancy places on a woman. What an incredible burden that can be. But it’s the reality of our biology. I would like to not have this connection – when it’s unwanted. Yet I am not going to offer up my existence, or the existence of any of you, on the alter to break that connection. I am all too aware that the majority of commentators support a scheme where I would not be here typing these words, with a nod and a wink that it would be ok, since “I” would not yet have existed, or “I” would not have felt anything anyway. Or as someone stated on an earlier thread – “I” would not have known what was happening to me, as if not knowing what is happening to you makes it somehow ok. But then, it’s often easier to destroy something, the farther it is removed from us, and the less human we can make it, and the less we have to deal with the consequences. So maybe it’s not surprising that people attempt to turn a developing human into nothing more than a tumor.

  • Mark

    OMGF,

    That time it was I who conflated in that I meant “person.” Although “human being” is not so cut and dried as you would make it out to be. What human being do you know of that must parasitize another organism in order to survive, must physically attach to another to survive, is capable of splitting into multiple beings, etc?

    If you are religious, then this argument holds no weight. If you are not, then it’s still debatable. Innocent and vulnerable? It has no consciousness nor any of the things that make us what we are and it is dependent on the woman to physically nurture it. It is impinging on the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Again, it’s not as cut and dried as you would like it to be.

    Once again, you’re defining human status in terms of mental and physical capabilities, all the while ignoring the logical and genetic reality of the actual human being. You speak as if a human being would cease to be human if they have to parasitize or physically attach to another organism to survive. What would you say about the baby which “latches-on” to the mother’s breast to feed… about every two hours (and frequently more often)? Keeping this baby alive clearly impinges on a woman’s bodily autonomy. Is it moral for the mother to kill this baby? If not, given your reasoning, why not?

    You seem not to take into account that, as humans, we’re constantly changing, gaining some abilities and characteristics and losing others as we age. Our size, appearance, mental and physical capacities change dramatically throughout our lives. Our dependency on other people and things also (for most people) changes dramatically throughout our lives. The one thing that doesn’t change is our physical existence and genetic identity. These two constants we possess both within and without the womb. Each one of us has always been a human being and, in a moral and just society, also considered a person.

    Regarding your comment about the religious and/or moral relevance/relationship between “innocent and vulnerable” and “mercy and compassion”, I’m not sure what point you were trying to make. If the most innocent and vulnerable elements of our society aren’t deserving of our mercy and compassion, then who is?

  • Nurse Ingrid

    “It is concluded that the fetus is, or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak tree, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that we had better say they are.”

    –Judith Jarvis Thomson, from “In Defense of Abortion,” 1971.

    To me it seems clear that the termination of an early pregnancy, in our society and in just about any other, is not treated the same as the death of a living, breathing child. When a woman we know has a miscarriage, we may tell her that we are sorry for her loss, but we don’t have a funeral. It’s estimated that up to 50% of early pregnancies may end in miscarriage, often without the woman’s knowledge that she was even pregnant. That would be a lot of funerals for all those “people.”

    What about in vitro fertiliazation (IVF)? It’s common for a woman to have four, five or more embryos implanted in her uterus, with the expectation that one or two of them will grow to full term. If these were three or four living children, being deliberately killed so that their sibling could survive, we would consider this a monstrous procedure. Obviously there is something unique going on here, and to argue otherwise is to ignore reality.

    I can’t remember who said this, but it’s true: the fact that there is twilight does not mean that there is no difference between night and day.

  • Kelltrue

    I thought I had already made up my mind about abortion.

    After reading and re-reading this post and the comments, I’m not sure anymore.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Bravo Nurse Ingrid; very well said.

    The acorn anaolgy is similiar to why we ask which came first, the chicken or the egg, not the chicken or the chicken, nor do we conflate the two on a menu. If we do it for other plants and animals, why not people too?

    While personhood is a debate in and of itself, I still feel it’s perpherial to the issue of the woman’s rights; if she’s to be carrying and providing for the fetus inside of her own body, a task which no other woman can do. It’s her to right to decide if she wants to to keep it or not, and that right remains hers until the fetus has been born and others can take on the job. It’s a simple case of rights, in this case, the right to decide when a woman wants to be pregnant or not.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I have to comment on this:

    …it leads into the philosophically murky waters inhabited by Peter Singer and his companions who justify, in certain circumstances, infanticide- because infants have not yet achieved consciousness (or some other secondary quality – take your pick).

    This is not an accurate description of Peter Singer’s views. The position you’re referring to is called the Groningen Protocol. It calls not for the acceptability of infanticide, but for the compassionate euthanasia, with the parents’ and doctors’ consent, of severely disabled newborns who have no possibility of a normal life or consciousness and who will only ever exist in extreme pain. In these circumstances, it’s already widely agreed to be medically acceptable to withdraw life-sustaining treatment and let nature take its course. Singer’s position is that it’s more compassionate to actively and painlessly end those lives rather than passively waiting for them to die.

    See Singer’s own site for a further explanation of his views.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    ROS,

    Or as someone stated on an earlier thread – “I” would not have known what was happening to me, as if not knowing what is happening to you makes it somehow ok.

    The point is that without consciousness, there’s very little difference between an egg that has just been fertilized and non-existence. If you had never implanted and had miscarried as potentially 50% of all pregnancies end, you would never have existed in any real sense of the word as we know it. And, your argument presupposes a happy life. So, why is it more important to bring children into this already over-crowded world, wanted or not, giving them a happy life or not, than it is to make conscious decisions about it and be more selective, especially when the zygote in question will not have any notion of existence?

    Mark,

    Once again, you’re defining human status in terms of mental and physical capabilities, all the while ignoring the logical and genetic reality of the actual human being.

    No, I’m pointing out the your “genetic reality” is messier than you are making it out to be. You can assert all you want that it is cut and dried, but that doesn’t make it so, and my examples speak to that.

    What would you say about the baby which “latches-on” to the mother’s breast to feed… about every two hours (and frequently more often)?

    I would say that other women can care for it, and we also have formula that can be used to feed the baby, so your example is lacking.

    Each one of us has always been a human being and, in a moral and just society, also considered a person.

    Because of your say so? All my cells have the same genetic code, so are they all human beings in themselves? It’s already possible to clone organisms from their cells, so these cells have the capacity to become fully human on their own. So, what now? Admittedly we can’t do humans yet, but there’s no reason why we can’t clone humans in the future. And, might I also point out the pregnant women are human beings as well and have rights.

    Regarding your comment about the religious and/or moral relevance/relationship between “innocent and vulnerable” and “mercy and compassion”, I’m not sure what point you were trying to make. If the most innocent and vulnerable elements of our society aren’t deserving of our mercy and compassion, then who is?

    In regards to Xians, their doctrine of inherent sin means that those unborn souls are not innocent.

  • rob

    For criminal prosecution, we normally need “mens rea” (guilty mind) and “actus reus” (guilty act): how can these be said of an embryo without falling into sheer nonsense?

    If you are not American then I suppose I apologize for not explaining. The US supreme court is not a criminal court. It is the final arbiter of protected rights in this country. The case I was referencing determined that requiring a person to donate organs would be a undue violation of their health, and other courts have determined that even requiring a person to have a test to determine if they are a compatible donor would be an undue violation of their privacy. If the fetus is a person, it is not a stretch at all to apply this rule to the fetus, as it pretty clearly puts the woman’s health and privacy at risk. Is that a little absurd? Well, yeah, but if we can establish special consideration of a fetus because it’s, y’know, a fetus, then the table is open to what exactly those considerations should be – including whether or not a woman can abort it.

    Admittedly, these are legal arguments. I’ve already made my argument for the morality of abortion (the fetus is undeveloped and barely differentiated; the investment of energy, emotion, and resources is minimal; the abortion is to the benefit of the woman, the man, any prospective children they might have; there will never be enough resources available, to either the individual parent or the society, to care for every conceived child; and banning abortion will only lead to an increase in infanticides, which is hardly a moral victory). That individuals may come to different conclusions is an argument for maintaining the availability of choice, not restricting it.

  • John

    OMGF,
    In answer to your first point: I am not arguing that “because it can’t exist without implanting itself in the uterine wall that proves it is a human” (a ludicrous statement). I am arguing that whether it does or it doesn’t, it is a living being of the species homo sapiens, and therefore a human being. If it does implant, it continues to be such, and (normally) develops into a baby; if it doesn’t, then it quickly dies – but that doesn’t mean that it WASN’T a human being when it was alive. It is quite simple really.
    As for your “parasite” comment, I know plenty human beings who were “parasites”: you, me, and everyone else on the face of the planet: I have already shown that, from a scientific point of view, you, as an organism, are identical to that organism that was conceived in your mother’s womb nine months before you were born. We can say, then, that the phase of maternal nourishment and dependence (better than “parasitism”, I think) is integral to the process of human life. By the way, all this is 100% scientific. If it conflicts with your opinions, then your opinions, and not the facts, are in need of alteration.

    In response to your second point: my point is perfectly sound. Let me try to explain more clearly. At the fusion of the gametes of mother and father, ONE embryo (one twin) is formed. But at an early stage in its development, another twin comes from the first twin; this can happen (in rare cases) because at this stage of its life, the cells of the first twin are still “totipotent”, are still without functional specification. Such “second twins” are therefore the unique exceptions to the rule that human life begins with the fusion of sperm and egg. I don’t think there is a good understanding at the moment of how this unusual form of reproduction happens – but it does happen, that is for sure.
    If you have followed this, you will see that the phenomenon of “monogametic twins” do not threaten the humanity of the embryo from conception, which was my original point.

    Ebon,
    But Singer does say does he not (correct me if I am wrong) that the life of a highly evolved primate – a chimpanzee, say – might be of greater value that that of a newborn child: or perhaps better, that to kill such a primate would be worse than to kill a newborn child. If so, this is a perfect example of the kind of thing I had in mind: personhood defined in terms of a secondary act (lacking in a newborn child) rather than on the basis of identity in being.

    Nurse Ingrid,
    We obviously can’t mourn miscarried children we don’t know about. For those we do know about, well, I would say it is usually a big deal, no mere nothing, for a woman to suffer a miscarriage. Of course, mourning is not as deep, because the emotional links have not been established, and it is unlikely that the embryo suffered. But the reality is the same – she has lost her child. This can be backed up by the arguments I put forward above.
    As for IVF, let us state matters as clearly as possible: 4 or 5 living embryos in a woman’s uterus means 4 or 5 living human beings in a woman’s uterus. The expectation in IVF is that only 1 or 2 will survive. Therefore (NECESSARILY) the procedure foresees and makes use of the death of 3-4 human beings.
    These are the bare scientific facts. What is your moral response to them? If you think every human life as such is valuable, as I do, then it will (if you are being consistent) be moral horror. If you don’t think every human life is valuable, then you can justify it as you please.
    But this strikes me as a morally problematic option to take.
    Of course, lots of mothers are pleased that IVF is possible, from their own point of view. But we have to base moral judgement on the FACTS OF THE CASE, not what is more convenient or pleasing.

  • John

    Thanks for the clarification, Rob (I am not American).
    I’d just like to say, about your last point: it DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. Why should the mere fact of diverse opinions in a ‘polar’ debate automatically favour ONE SIDE of the debate? Obviously, it shouldn’t: it should stimulate us to discover which of the two sides is right.
    But you say, The diversity of opinions in the debate over abortion automatically favours the pro-choice side. WHY?! Should it not rather stimulate us to discover which of the two sides – pro-choice or pro-life – is right?
    Basically, your comment implies selling out on reason, admitting that reason can’t come to any definite conclusions, and just falling back on voluntarism. But reason can get us a long way in this debate. Unfortunately, it is a long way away from your current position!

  • http://deconbible.blogspot.com bbk

    But you say, The diversity of opinions in the debate over abortion automatically favours the pro-choice side. WHY?! Should it not rather stimulate us to discover which of the two sides – pro-choice or pro-life – is right?

    It certainly should. And until such a time when the correct side is discovered to everyone’s satisfaction, the debate favors freedom of choice. Another thing that you should take into consideration is that here in America, at least, the majority opinion is one of pro-choice. The actual situation we have here is that a vocal minority refuses to acknowledge that the larger majority did in fact discover which side is right, and it’s not the pro-life side. It’s plainly obvious that the pro-life side not only believes that everyone else should comply with their demands, but they believe that their demands should trump the very fundamental principles of a free, democratic society. If this was a question of building a political movement and getting people to see the value of pro-life arguments, that would be fine. But the path they take is to do everything in their power to obstruct the freedom of others, even if that means bombing clinics and murdering doctors. They also believe that they should be in charge of passing the laws even when the majority of the population says no, they can’t be in charge of passing the laws.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    John,

    If it does implant, it continues to be such, and (normally) develops into a baby; if it doesn’t, then it quickly dies – but that doesn’t mean that it WASN’T a human being when it was alive. It is quite simple really.

    Which humans that you know are dependent on attaching to another human in order to survive? Again, it’s not so black and white.

    I have already shown that, from a scientific point of view, you, as an organism, are identical to that organism that was conceived in your mother’s womb nine months before you were born.

    No, you haven’t. And, again, it’s not so black and white. I’m not the same organism as I was 5 minutes ago. I have the same genes, that much is true, but is that enough? The only reason I hear from you is because you say it is.

    By the way, all this is 100% scientific. If it conflicts with your opinions, then your opinions, and not the facts, are in need of alteration.

    Oh, so your opinions count as science now? I’ve already called into question your black and white opinion of the science, because it’s not so cut and dried as you assert. Either way, you can claim all you want that the science supports your contentions that abortion is immoral, but you would be wrong wrong wrong. And, no, the science does not conflict with my opinions. I’m aware of how the reproductive system works. I’m very aware that the zygote has all the required chromosome pairs (usually), and my opinion is still very much that the pro-choice side is right, and it’s not in spite of the science being against my position as you state.

    Let me try to explain more clearly. At the fusion of the gametes of mother and father, ONE embryo (one twin) is formed. But at an early stage in its development, another twin comes from the first twin; this can happen (in rare cases) because at this stage of its life, the cells of the first twin are still “totipotent”, are still without functional specification.

    Then you do know how twins come to be, and you must now realize that your definition of a single human being is somehow lacking. Once again, it’s not so black and white. If you get anything out of this discussion, please at least get that point from it.

  • rob

    But you say, The diversity of opinions in the debate over abortion automatically favours the pro-choice side. WHY?!

    What I meant to say was that the diversity of opinions in the debate regarding the morality of abortion favors the legal position of pro-choice. Some people who take the political/legal position of prochoice are in fact morally opposed to abortion. You can generally see this attitude in most people who say, “Well I would never get an abortion, but…” I can comfortably consider myself not only prochoice, but pro-abortion. I believe it is absolutely necessary for a civilized society to make this option available to women. I believe abortion is morally acceptable in most situations. I also believe that, if wikipedia (I know, I know) is correct and 1/4 of all pregnancies end in deliberate abortion, actually eliminating abortion would be devastating to many societies, ecosystems, and lives.

    Incidentally, wouldn’t the absolute safest and best way to minimize abortions be mass vasectomies for teenage boys? The process is safe, reversible, and 100% effective. In the long run, it’s probably less expensive than birth control, and doesn’t require artificially flooding a person’s body with hormones. It has fewer complications than the most common forms of birth control, some of which require over a year for your body to recover before you can safely get pregnant.

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    I am arguing that whether it does or it doesn’t, it is a living being of the species homo sapiens, and therefore a human being. If it does implant, it continues to be such, and (normally) develops into a baby; if it doesn’t, then it quickly dies – but that doesn’t mean that it WASN’T a human being when it was alive. It is quite simple really.

    And eggs are genetically chickens, but they aren’t actually called chickens are they?
    Do you treat an egg as you do a chicken?
    Whether you want to call it a human being or not is perpherial to two points you have failed to address.
    A) The woman’s right to choose what happens in her own body; if she doesn’t want to be pregnant and carry the fetus full term, then give birth and raise it for a lifetime, then it’s her call. There’s no law requiring people be kept on life support, but rather it become the call of their medical proxy. In this case, the woman’s body is life support, and if she chooses to withdraw that life support, she is perfectly within her rights.
    B) Outlawing abortions does not stop them, it just makes them less safe and more likely to result in the death in both mother and fetus, and/or be done in unsafe conditions that can lead to severe harm. If you’re so concerned with life, then keep that fact in mind as well; are you more concerned with outlawing the option and imprisoning woman or letting them die in greater numbers along with the “people” they’re carrying?

    As for your “parasite” comment, I know plenty human beings who were “parasites”: you, me, and everyone else on the face of the planet

    Parasites their mother’s wished to carry to term.

    I have already shown that, from a scientific point of view, you, as an organism, are identical to that organism that was conceived in your mother’s womb nine months before you were born. We can say, then, that the phase of maternal nourishment and dependence (better than “parasitism”, I think) is integral to the process of human life. By the way, all this is 100% scientific. If it conflicts with your opinions, then your opinions, and not the facts, are in need of alteration.

    We are the same genetically than from the moment of conception; right on. No argument there, and yet, that still does not change the matter of rights or safety for the woman. If you think the morally responsible thing to do is to make sure woman who either don’t want kids or can’t afford them have to have them then I think you’re the one who’s opinions may need some alteration.

    In response to your second point: my point is perfectly sound. Let me try to explain more clearly. At the fusion of the gametes of mother and father, ONE embryo (one twin) is formed. But at an early stage in its development, another twin comes from the first twin; this can happen (in rare cases) because at this stage of its life, the cells of the first twin are still “totipotent”, are still without functional specification. Such “second twins” are therefore the unique exceptions to the rule that human life begins with the fusion of sperm and egg. I don’t think there is a good understanding at the moment of how this unusual form of reproduction happens – but it does happen, that is for sure.

    If you have followed this, you will see that the phenomenon of “monogametic twins” do not threaten the humanity of the embryo from conception, which was my original point.

    Twinning occurs two ways; either two seperate eggs get fertiziled by two seperate sperm, leading to Dizygotic twins, which are genetic siblings, or one egg gets fertilized by one sperm and during the first few days of the zygote dividing, the body splits into two identical copies, called identical twins, or Monozygotic (not mono-gametic; a gamete is a sex cell, either an egg or sperm). Sometimes one twin is miscarried and the other isn’t, sometimes one twin absorbs the other twin during early stages of fetal development; how many ‘people’ do you know of that can boast such feats? Or how many families say “we have two kids and one on the way” instead of “we have three kids” when the mother is still pregnant.

    It’s why we call fetuses and babies two different things; they’re genetically no different, but still different organisms that act in different ways. To not make a distinction between the two is medically and practically silly.

    But Singer does say does he not (correct me if I am wrong) that the life of a highly evolved primate – a chimpanzee, say – might be of greater value that that of a newborn child: or perhaps better, that to kill such a primate would be worse than to kill a newborn child.

    There’s is nothing “highly evolved” about any species on earth; we’re all precisely as evolved as the next. Of course, chimps are 98.6% or so genetically related to humans, so is killing a chimp worse than killing someone’s pet dog? After all, if you’re arguing from a genetic number point of view, killing a chimp is the near equal to killing a human.

    If so, this is a perfect example of the kind of thing I had in mind: personhood defined in terms of a secondary act (lacking in a newborn child) rather than on the basis of identity in being.

    I define personhood the moment the child is born and is independant of the mother’s body (independant meaning outside it); for most practical purposes, that seems to be the standard.

    We obviously can’t mourn miscarried children we don’t know about. For those we do know about, well, I would say it is usually a big deal, no mere nothing, for a woman to suffer a miscarriage. Of course, mourning is not as deep, because the emotional links have not been established, and it is unlikely that the embryo suffered.

    Certainly with you so far.

    But the reality is the same – she has lost her child. This can be backed up by the arguments I put forward above.

    If the reality is she lost a child, then why should the mourning be any different?

    As for IVF, let us state matters as clearly as possible: 4 or 5 living embryos in a woman’s uterus means 4 or 5 living human beings in a woman’s uterus. The expectation in IVF is that only 1 or 2 will survive. Therefore (NECESSARILY) the procedure foresees and makes use of the death of 3-4 human beings.

    And yet, people aren’t protesting IVF, but they protest abortion. I also wonder if those same people that protest abortions are in favor of much more child health care, and also dont support wars (due to death on both sides, friend and foe) or the death penalty. What do you suppose they thing about chimps being killed, or animals used in research?

    These are the bare scientific facts. What is your moral response to them?

    That abortion is a right of the woman, no questions asked.

    If you think every human life as such is valuable, as I do, then it will (if you are being consistent) be moral horror. If you don’t think every human life is valuable, then you can justify it as you please.

    Life is life; it’s only as vaulable as we make it. Personally, I’d perfer no child to be born unwanted or unable to be cared for, and am more concerned with suffering than number of people. At some point we need to confront the issue of rising populations beyond which our planet is capable of safely or happily supporting, and if we ignore that, we’re going to see a whole lot more death and unhappiness. I think it’s more important to value rights than to try and bring every possible person into the world; what ever happened to “give me liberty or give me death”? I think it’s also important to protect the lives of the pregnant woman, which outlawing abortion will only endanger.

    I think you’re not considering the full picture on equal scales.

    I’d just like to say, about your last point: it DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. Why should the mere fact of diverse opinions in a ‘polar’ debate automatically favour ONE SIDE of the debate? Obviously, it shouldn’t: it should stimulate us to discover which of the two sides is right.

    And what if your side simply isn’t right( A. provided there is a right and wrong answer and B. in most advanced countries, abortions are legal)? Do you think they’d just accept that and change their views?

  • John

    OMGF,
    Excuse me, but I feel we are going round in circles in relation to your first point: I already said that all human beings do have to “attach” themselves to another in order to survive. This is because embryos all have to do this; and embryos (scientifically speaking) are human beings.
    Your second point doesn’t show what you want it to show, because the difference between “you” and “you-five-minutes-ago” is predicated upon your biological unity as an organism. This is clear from what you said: “I am not the same organism as I was 5 minutes ago”: temporal difference (5 minutes ago), but organic and ontological unity (“I”…”I”). Indeed, unless 5 minutes ago you were a horse (say), you ARE the same organism as you were 5 minutes ago, despite all the changes involved in bodily processes.
    Your third point is not an argument, but a refusal to engage in argument.
    Your fourth point,… I’m afraid I don’t really get your meaning – sorry!
    I know you think it’s “not black and white”: but you need to present arguments as to why it is not, why what I have said is wrong, where the gray area lies. Your second point (above) attempted to do this – but it wasn’t a sound argument. If you wish to bring other arguments, or clarify the fourth one for me, I will try to respond. But it is not enough just to say “you are wrong, wrong, wrong, it’s not black and white!”

    Rob,
    I don’t agree with the legal preference of choice either; but I think I should let this one go.

    Mrnaglfar,
    that was certainly a long one! I will try to reply to it when I have more time tomorrow, or more likely the day after. (Busy tomorrow) However, may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on an excellent mixed metaphor: “you are not considering the picture on equal scales” – genius! :-)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    John,

    I already said that all human beings do have to “attach” themselves to another in order to survive. This is because embryos all have to do this; and embryos (scientifically speaking) are human beings.

    This was in relation to your assertion that them having to attach somehow proves your point that they are human beings. Look, I’ll grant you that they have the genetic makeup of humans, but so do skins cells and other things, including pregnant women. It’s telling that you wish to ignore the women’s rights in this and solely focus on the clump of cells that have the correct number of chromosome pairs.

    Your second point doesn’t show what you want it to show, because the difference between “you” and “you-five-minutes-ago” is predicated upon your biological unity as an organism.

    Yes, I was the same organism as in the same entity of sorts, but it’s murky depths you are plumbing. Certainly, before I had the ability to think or feel pain, I was a vastly different entity than I am now, and if I suffer an accident that leaves me in a vegetative state on life support, I’ll be vastly different still.

    Your third point is not an argument, but a refusal to engage in argument.

    Because your whole argument is predicated on taking a scientific “fact” (which I’ve shown is not as factual as you imply) and stating that it has moral gravitas, which is simply doesn’t. Your argument also ignores all the other tough questions as you simply repeat over and over that the embryo has the right number of genes, so therefore abortion is murder. Yet, no one is claiming otherwise.

    Your fourth point,… I’m afraid I don’t really get your meaning – sorry!

    Your argument is that at conception a single human entity is formed. If that is the case, then twins are really one entity, yet we know that even identical twins have differences, even genetically. Why is that? It’s because there’s more to human beings and development than simply having the correct number of genes or chromosome pairs.

    I know you think it’s “not black and white”: but you need to present arguments as to why it is not, why what I have said is wrong, where the gray area lies.

    I’ve done that and you’ve simply ignored it.

    But it is not enough just to say “you are wrong, wrong, wrong, it’s not black and white!”

    Which is why I didn’t do that.

  • Mark

    OMGF,

    I would say that other women can care for it, and we also have formula that can be used to feed the baby, so your example is lacking.

    That’s fine in the wealthy society you appear to be taking for granted, but what about when there is *no* formula and *no* other woman able or willing to nurse the baby? What then?

    … And, might I also point out the pregnant women are human beings as well and have rights.

    I’m only prepared to say that I believe killing is morally defensible in the case of defense (of self or another). However, I’m also definitely *not* saying that this is an easy or desirable burden for women to carry (literally). It is a hard reality… maybe too hard for many (even most) to not turn away from, I don’t know. But there are at least two lives involved and killing one of them doesn’t appear to be a moral choice unless that is the *only* option to prevent one from killing the other.

    What I do know is that this long, articulate thread is testimony to the difficulty of this problem. Not that the problem is necessarily itself overly complex, but rather the profound implications of the answer cloud our rationality and seem to make the objective appear subjective. Note, however, that on one side of this issue *something* is allowed to live and on the other side it is not.

    Indisputably, that something grows into what we eventually all agree is a human being *and* a person. Killing the something ends the development of this person. A person that *would* have been, now never will be. Whether one chooses to see the person as directly or indirectly killed as a result of the abortion, the consequence is not in dispute. An eventual person we that can all agree *is* a person is gone forever.

    I humbly submit that the moral position when faced with complex problems involving persons is to avoid killing *anything* until we are very sure about our facts. It is reasonable I think to expect that the moral burden of proof *always* rests on the side that chooses to kill.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Mark,

    That’s fine in the wealthy society you appear to be taking for granted, but what about when there is *no* formula and *no* other woman able or willing to nurse the baby? What then?

    Good question. In a society where the woman has freedom of choice, we can certainly claim that the woman has probably chosen to have this child and should care for it. I think the complications come in once you start limiting that choice and forcing unwanted babies to come into the world.

    What I do know is that this long, articulate thread is testimony to the difficulty of this problem.

    I’m glad you see that, because your earlier statments didn’t lead me to believe you thought it was a difficult subject at all.

    Note, however, that on one side of this issue *something* is allowed to live and on the other side it is not.

    Yeah, and is it always a good thing to make sure, by force even, that things are allowed to live? We kill other living things in the course of our day unavoidably and in order to survive ourselves. Killing is not necessarily a bad thing, even when humans are involved. Our world is overcrowded and resources are becoming more and more scarce. Is it that important that we continue to bring excess children into the world? How about the importance of being a loved and wanted child? Is it more important to have life, any life, than a life with loving parents? Also, I’ll refer to Mrnaglfar’s point that outlawing abortion does nothing to stop it, so instead of one dead lifeform, the mother puts herself at risk as well from getting back alley abortions.

    Killing the something ends the development of this person. A person that *would* have been, now never will be. Whether one chooses to see the person as directly or indirectly killed as a result of the abortion, the consequence is not in dispute. An eventual person we that can all agree *is* a person is gone forever.

    Yet that “potential person” had no clue about it all, so that potential person really didn’t lose anything. Before you existed, you were nothing. If you had been aborted, you would never have known it. Sure, you can look back and say, “Geez, I’ve had a good life, so it would have been bad had I not experienced this,” but had you not it would not have mattered to you because you would have been unable to express the idea.

    I humbly submit that the moral position when faced with complex problems involving persons is to avoid killing *anything* until we are very sure about our facts.

    If you listen to John, we are 100% sure of the facts. Yet, I still find the woman’s autonomy to trump the life of the fetus, especially with all the other attendant factors, like the fact that abortions still happen even after being outlawed.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    BTW Mark,
    From your stance, I could make an argument for abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, but what is your stance in the case of rape or incest? AFAICT, you would have to conclude that the woman should carry the fetus to term, correct?

  • StaceyJW

    People can talk all day, but what it comes down to is that when someone finds themselves in a situation where they need an abortion, they will have one. All bets are off when its you with the unwanted pregnancy.

    Anti-choice fanatics having abortions proves that they are necessary- if anyone could live a life that would ensure that they would never need an abortion, a fanatical anti-choice Christian should be able to. If they can’t manage to keep themselves from getting knocked-up, how do they expect the rest of us too?

    Oh yeah, I forgot- its OK for them because their situation is special, everyone else is just a slut avoiding the consequences of their sin…..

    Also,
    If anti-choice people have such an great argument, why so much misinformation online? Is this because its OK do do anything if you are doing it to save souls for god??? I was amazed at amount of inaccurate information, most laden with guilt- I Googled “Abortion” and “Pro-Choice”, just to see what I got, and about 95% of sites were the type that offer impartial info on the first page, and anti-abortion propaganda on the rest. The these are the online kin to the “Pregnancy Advice Center” that won’t refer for abortions or birth control.

    How confusing for someone trying to learn about the ACTUAL reality of abortion. I don’t know why I am surprised, they are notorious for passing off lies and trash as the truth.

    StaceyJW

  • John

    Mrnaglfar,
    Your points about the rights of women as related to those (allegedly) of the fetus (most of your initial ones) are important. But forgive me if I put them to one side for now. Because what matters first of all, from the point of view of debate, is to be able to establish the status of the fetus: human, person, or blob. Without that, we can’t begin to weigh the values on each side of the scales: the woman’s freedom of choice and apparent well-being on one hand, and the life of the “x” growing indside her on the other. (That SOME values can trump freedom of choice is apparent. Even JS Mill, that champion of individual freedom, knew that the freedom of one person is intrinsically limited by the existence of others, and the possibility of harming them.)

    Your point about monozygotic twins (thanks for the correction) seems to have a 2-fold thrust: 1) interpretation of scientific data 2) considerations about language.
    Concerning (1): granting all that you say, your point is still far from proven. My second post (first response to OMGF) shows how it is scientifically correct to call a human embryo, a zygote, even, a human being. (No one has yet refuted this; where they have tried, their arguments have not been sound. And it is NOT based on mere genetics, although this is important). The phenomena you cite don’t change that: they just describe some particular properties – surprizing but scientifically verifiable – of human beings at their earliest stage of development: giving rise to other human beings without syngamesis, capacity to re-absorb (other human beings, or broken-off collection of cells? If the former, it would clearly mean the death of the re-absorbed party, not a “two-in-one” embryo), etc – all due to the extraordinary adaptability of embryonic stem cells. But this adaptability is the property of a being, a being which develops without interruption into a baby, a child and an adult, and is therefore biologically identical with all these.
    This brings us to point (2): language. Note that we use different names for different stages in life: a baby is not a toddler, who is not a youth, who is not an adult. No pregnant woman says, “my adult is due in 4 weeks time”: but the biological continuity and therefore identity between the baby and the adult is indubitable. The same applies to the way we speak about embryos. They are not “babies” (at least in the early stages): but their biological continuity and therefore identity with babies is indubitable.

    Next, your definition of personhood: on what basis do you assert it? “Practical purposes” won’t do, since your practical purposes (which include the possibility of abortion) are very different from my practical purposes, which don’t. My definition has a solid base in the biological reality of human being – what basis does yours have? Consensus? Hardly: this page shows the general lack of that, if it shows anything!

    Next, IVF. The fact that people don’t protest it does not qualify as a refutation of my claim. Abortion is the decisive issue, because it is the paradigmatic case. In both cases, though, human beings are killed (directly in abortion, indirectly in IVF). So even if it hasn’t got the public attention, anyone who opposes abortion would be consistent in also opposing IVF as it is practiced today.

    Finally, I see that you disagree that human life as such is valuable. I would be interested to see how you flesh out the consequences of your maxim “Life is… as valuable as we make it”. As who makes it? The one who is living? His family? Society as a whole? Do you think suicide is OK in all circumstances? Do you wake up each morning and feel competent to constitute your life as valuable simply by judging it to be so?

    Your points about the claims of women and their rights deserve an answer; but a) I’ve not got much time and b) as I said above, I think it is better to sort out first things first. Then, with all seriousness, properly equipped, we can turn to the question of women “versus” their children. (O unhappy phrase!)

  • rob

    Because what matters first of all, from the point of view of debate, is to be able to establish the status of the fetus: human, person, or blob.

    No, no, no. The question of whether or not a fetus is a person is an interesting philosophical and legal matter, but it is not the central issue concerning abortion. Whatever else it might be, a fetus is a FETUS. If it is a person, it is a unique phase of person, with unique characteristics and unique factors at play. One of those factors is the extraordinary commitment of the woman required to carry it, and whether that commitment is a moral obligation cannot be written off as casually as saying, “well, the fetus is a person too,” or “the fetus is not a person.” Changing the word we use to describe it from “flegarmin” to “corfekant” does not change the reality of a fetus, and saying it is not a corfekant does not endanger the rights of any other corfekants who are not flegarmin. It’s a meaningless vocabulary change.

    On the philosophical issue of humanity, I wonder what you would make of HeLa cells. Based on your definition of person, it seems you believe that Henrietta Lacks herself has evolved into a new species and become immortal, and that the destruction of these cells is a morally repugnant crime akin to murder.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    OMGF wrote: The point is that without consciousness, there’s very little difference between an egg that has just been fertilized and non-existence. If you had never implanted and had miscarried as potentially 50% of all pregnancies end, you would never have existed in any real sense of the word as we know it. And, your argument presupposes a happy life. So, why is it more important to bring children into this already over-crowded world, wanted or not, giving them a happy life or not, than it is to make conscious decisions about it and be more selective, especially when the zygote in question will not have any notion of existence?

    The fertilized egg either exists or it doesn’t. A fertilized egg is a fertilized egg – with all that entails related to human development. The fertilized egg not existing, and the fertilized egg existing, do not equate. Lack of consciousness does not mean the fertilized egg does not exist.

    If you are attempting to claim that it’s fine to destroy my human development in the womb, because the person typing this message right now did not exist in the full sense at the time of destruction, the answer is no. The science is clear that a portion of our human development occurs in the womb. Meaning we don’t arrive with the stork. Barring any natural process of which we can’t account for (alluding to your non-implantation comment), and sans any active destruction, the human development in the womb will continue to develop. We have the evidence for this all around us – else we would not be engaged in this discussion. As atheists, we simply should not condone an abortion scheme predicated on the wanton disregard for cause and effect related to our existence in this world.

    Regarding the “saving a person from an unhappy life” excuse, unless there is a crystal ball, that is at best a guess, and I am not aware of a “predicted happiness measurement” requirement of abortion on demand. The “well, they wouldn’t have been all that happy anyway” excuse is a poor rationalization. But I have to reserve the main surprise at reading the “majority must be right” excuse put forward elsewhere in this thread. Honestly, I’m a bit taken aback that an atheist, given what we have faced from religious majorities, is making a majority rules argument here.

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    Because what matters first of all, from the point of view of debate, is to be able to establish the status of the fetus: human, person, or blob.

    This depends on the state of the development. Genetically, from conception the fertiziled egg has the proper number of chromeones to be a human (well, some of the time anyway. Sometimes it ends up with an extra one or missing one, in which case the woman’s body normally aborts it, or an extra one and survives to end up with downs syndrome).
    It is genetically a human, in the fetal stage of development, meaning that it has not yet achieved personhood. After all, every cell in everyone of our bodies contains a full set of our genome, yet not all of them are a person, though genetically they are human.

    Same you don’t call eggs chickens, or raw metal a car, or acorns trees.

    No one has yet refuted this; where they have tried, their arguments have not been sound. And it is NOT based on mere genetics, although this is important

    On the contrary, the only thing it is based on is genetics; What else do you propose it’s built on? As for refuting it, what kind of refutation are you expecting? Once you let me know that, perhaps we could make some more headway (as well as establish the premise of whether your mind is open to changing on the matter).

    That SOME values can trump freedom of choice is apparent. Even JS Mill, that champion of individual freedom, knew that the freedom of one person is intrinsically limited by the existence of others, and the possibility of harming them

    Unless you consider that making a woman carry an unwanted pregnancy for 10 months, give birth to a child and raise it (regardless of whether she’s interested in raising it) is more harmful to both child and mother than abortion.

    But this adaptability is the property of a being, a being which develops without interruption into a baby, a child and an adult, and is therefore biologically identical with all these.

    It’s not biologically identical; it’s genetically identical. Biologically indentical would imply that it’s body and organs were all fully grown, which they aren’t. Clumps of cells that are no bigger than a kidney bean up until 2 months or so of development are no the biolgical equal to a fully grown person, conscious and capable of thinking and feeling pain and interacting with the world in meaningful ways.

    but the biological continuity and therefore identity between the baby and the adult is indubitable. The same applies to the way we speak about embryos. They are not “babies” (at least in the early stages): but their biological continuity and therefore identity with babies is indubitable.

    Again, I need to stress this point; they’re genetically identical, not biologically identical. And just because one has the potential to reach the next stage in development, it doesn’t mean it should be treated as if it already has. Eggs are treated different from chickens, babies are treated differently from adults, and fetuses are treated different than babies. Different rights apply to all stages, as all are at differ stages of development, independance, and consciousness.

    Next, your definition of personhood: on what basis do you assert it? “Practical purposes” won’t do, since your practical purposes (which include the possibility of abortion) are very different from my practical purposes, which don’t. My definition has a solid base in the biological reality of human being – what basis does yours have? Consensus? Hardly: this page shows the general lack of that, if it shows anything!

    Your definition says genetically, it’s a human (i.e. belongs to our species). My side says it’s completely reliant on living inside another person’s body, has not yet developed it’s internal organs, does not have capacity for even the most basic of thought, is not counted on any government survey, is not charged admission into any location as another person, is not treated legally as another person, and is living under total medical proxy of the mother, who can choose to terminate her life support of the fetus if she so chooses. It has concensus in people treating fetuses as if there were different things, not having funerals for miscarriages, not being able to interact with fetuses, all of which are considered more or less ‘normal’ for the way people tend to act and be treated.

    Next, IVF. The fact that people don’t protest it does not qualify as a refutation of my claim. Abortion is the decisive issue, because it is the paradigmatic case. In both cases, though, human beings are killed (directly in abortion, indirectly in IVF). So even if it hasn’t got the public attention, anyone who opposes abortion would be consistent in also opposing IVF as it is practiced today.

    Or it’s the case that those who oppose abortion are trying to control a woman’s life and tend to see getting pregnant as a ‘natural consequence’ of having sex, and want to punish woman for doing so. If they were being consistent in opposing abortion ,as opposed to controlling women, they’d be pushing for cheap, available birth control for all along with better health information, yet they don’t do that consistently either.

    Of course the reason IVF takes so many fertiziled eggs in order to achieve implantation is because the mother’s body rejects them (her body is actually killing all those people! The horror). But of course, if they’re being consistent, they also oppose all forms of war, killing as capital punishment or in self-defense, ever terminating the life support of what has effectively turned a human into a vegatable, and so on. IVF allows otherwise sterile women (and their parteners) that want children of their own to have that, and since religion is all in favor of children they don’t see IVF as a negative, since it brings more children in to the world, not that it results in the death of other zygotes. This is something the point of the article; regardless of what many anti-abortion crowds say, they’re being inconsistent; they could give a shit about the morality of it when it incoviences them many times, but so long as they don’t have to worry about it, they can make all the claims they want to make themselves look so much more moral than everyone else (or at least try to make everyone else look worse).

    Finally, I see that you disagree that human life as such is valuable.

    And here’s a final example of that last point; I said life is as valuable as we make it, and you jumped to the conclusion that I don’t value life. What you missed is that I value quality of life more than quantity of it, or that I value life itself as well, but realize my judgement is not the absolute standard.

    I would be interested to see how you flesh out the consequences of your maxim “Life is… as valuable as we make it”. As who makes it? The one who is living? His family? Society as a whole?

    People who are living attach value to their lives and the lives surrounding them, and the value of life is equal to the sum value of what people tend to attach to it, but people’s actions towards others are only influences by their view of the value of other’s lives; who else do you propose does that if not people?

    If all life is equally valuable to you, can I assume you attend everyone’s funeral that you have the ability to reach, even people you didn’t know, as if they were your own family? If you had to save the life of either ten serial murders and rapists, or the life of your own child, which would you choose? What about your own life? Would you sacrifice yourself so that a random stranger could live (and side note, think carefully about your answer because that option is always open to you)?
    Not only that, but the word “life” in this case only refers to humans it seems, why is that? Is there some reason you ascribe more value to the life of a human than the life of a chimp, or a kitten, or a cow, or so on down the line?
    All of this seems to point to the value of life kind of varying from person to person, depending on who’s making the call. Some people obviously don’t feel the lives of others are worth very much and some people feel they’re worth more than anything.

    Do you think suicide is OK in all circumstances?

    I think suicide is a rather selfish, stupid decision, but then again so is telling someone they need to live a life they don’t want to in pain and suffering. Really, what I feel about suicide varies from situation to situation because no one brush stroke, no matter how broad, is capable of covering the nuiances that are in everything. In some cases, I’ll call the person who killed themselves selfish and stupid, and in others, I’ll condone terminal patients in pain putting an ending to their suffering.
    Of course, presuming my value of someone else’s life trumps their value of their own life seems pretty arrogent. Does it seem that way to you to?

    Do you wake up each morning and feel competent to constitute your life as valuable simply by judging it to be so?

    Yes, though other people judging it as valuable is always nice too.

    Your points about the claims of women and their rights deserve an answer; but a) I’ve not got much time and b) as I said above, I think it is better to sort out first things first. Then, with all seriousness, properly equipped, we can turn to the question of women “versus” their children. (O unhappy phrase!)

    I would perfer to discuss that, as this entire debate is about rights, not if a fetus is genetically a human. Most advanced cultures have realized abortion/reproductive rights are rights of women, as well as the consequences of outlawing such things (neither point you have tried to adress, rather focusing on the genetic aspect as your entire point).

  • Mark

    OMGF,

    Good question. In a society where the woman has freedom of choice, we can certainly claim that the woman has probably chosen to have this child and should care for it. I think the complications come in once you start limiting that choice and forcing unwanted babies to come into the world.

    I’m curious what has changed in the fundamental relationship between the mother and child in this situation to make something that could have been killed without remorse only a day, or week or month before suddenly something that must be sacrificed for and protected from harm. It’s not the child’s absolute dependency on the mother for survival and it’s clearly impinging on a woman’s bodily autonomy (not to mention a fun new element, sleep deprivation!).

    I believe that if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that the change is not with the child, but rather in your *perception* of the child. And once you experience that epiphany, as I did several years ago, it will trigger a serious re-evaluation of many things you were previously *absolutely* convinced of.

    From your stance, I could make an argument for abortion when the mother’s life is in danger

    Yes. When a mother’s live is in danger because of the pregnancy, I believe she has the right to choose to kill the baby if there’s no other alternative. Everyone has the right to self defense. I would hope, though, that a c-section or other medical advances would make such a decision unnecessary.

    …but what is your stance in the case of rape or incest? AFAICT, you would have to conclude that the woman should carry the fetus to term, correct?

    And yes. That child doesn’t deserve to die for crimes of the father. Though wrong by my own stated standards of what justifies killing another, I would rather see the rapist die than the child.

    I know this is very hard to understand… until you come to see the fetus as a child.

    In fact, over time I’ve become increasingly put-off by those who steadfastly oppose abortion “except in cases of incest and rape”, as if either circumstance affects the humanity of the child. Those that adopt this position are either very cynical, bigoted, shallow, or a combination of the three.

    I also think it’s worth mentioning that *all* of us almost certainly have an ancestor that was born as a result of rape or incest.

    Peace

  • Mrnaglfar

    Mark,

    I’m curious what has changed in the fundamental relationship between the mother and child in this situation to make something that could have been killed without remorse only a day, or week or month before suddenly something that must be sacrificed for and protected from harm. It’s not the child’s absolute dependency on the mother for survival and it’s clearly impinging on a woman’s bodily autonomy (not to mention a fun new element, sleep deprivation!).

    Except once the child is outside of the mother’s body, then other people are capable of caring for it outside the mother. I can’t think of how many times I’ve answered this same claim.

    I believe that if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that the change is not with the child, but rather in your *perception* of the child. And once you experience that epiphany, as I did several years ago, it will trigger a serious re-evaluation of many things you were previously *absolutely* convinced of.

    So you changed how you view the situation, and naturally everyone else will now too because you did? Sorry, doesn’t work that way. Once the child is outside the mother’s body my perception of it changes; not the child however, the situation.

    Yes. When a mother’s live is in danger because of the pregnancy, I believe she has the right to choose to kill the baby if there’s no other alternative. Everyone has the right to self defense. I would hope, though, that a c-section or other medical advances would make such a decision unnecessary.

    And she also has the right to remove her life-support from the ‘baby’ so long as it’s still inside of her.
    What about if the fetus has some horrible birth defect detected before it’s born; can the woman choose abortion then? Some of those are pretty gruesome.

    And yes. That child doesn’t deserve to die for crimes of the father. Though wrong by my own stated standards of what justifies killing another, I would rather see the rapist die than the child.

    Rape is hard for a woman to come forth about, hard to prove in court, hard to convict, and even then you’re suggesting the woman has to suffer for the crimes for the crimes of the father (this child will probably also not grow up with a father, who in your world has been killed – shouldn’t you be opposed to killing him too?). That’s some seriously warped moral view you’re proposing.

    I know this is very hard to understand… until you come to see the fetus as a child.

    And I know must be hard to understand when that’s your sole assumption and you ignore the suffering of the woman as well as the child likely to grow up fatherless by a mother that never wanted to be pregnant with it. Sure, then it sounds great.

    In fact, over time I’ve become increasingly put-off by those who steadfastly oppose abortion “except in cases of incest and rape”, as if either circumstance affects the humanity of the child. Those that adopt this position are either very cynical, bigoted, shallow, or a combination of the three.

    They’re bigotted and shallow because you don’t care about women’s rights or the suffering they go through, whereas these people do? On top of being raped you’re advocating that now these women need to raise a child for the rest of it’s life because of that (once you killed the father that is- tell me, what about being a rapist changes the humanity of that man? Sure, it makes him a terrible person, but he’s still a living person you’re advising we kill because you don’t happen to like him. That’s called being a hypocrit).

    I also think it’s worth mentioning that *all* of us almost certainly have an ancestor that was born as a result of rape or incest.

    And many of us would not be alive today has other mother’s not elected to have abortions prior to our pregnancy. Many of us would not be alive if sex had lasted about 5 seconds longer, or our mom had swallowed.

    And because some people alive are the product of a rape induced pregnancy, doesn’t mean need to keep it around. Many of us would not be alive if our ancestors hadn’t abused their parteners severely, but I don’t think that means that the results of abuse need be tolerated, much less forced on a woman.

    A further point everyone in the anti-abortion misses or simply disregards; women will have abortions if they want them regardless of their legality (even in countries where the punishment is death), and making abortions illegal simply mean that these women’s life will now be in danger too from botched or home abortions, on top of imprisoning many “potential” mothers or current mothers that want more kids, just not now, ensuring the further stop all these “potential” people from ever being conceived, and harming or destroying current families or relationships.

  • John

    Mrnaglfar,
    Your responses are certainly thorough, which I appreciate. I would like to respond to what I take to be your 3 central points:
    1) The relation of genetic and biological identity.
    2) The value of human life.
    3) Womens’ rights as the basis of abortion debate.

    1) You object that my assertion of biological identity is only based on genetics.
    In my first post to OMGF, I put forward an argument to establish biological identity. My first point was the genetic novelty of the zygote, with which you are familiar. This, as you rightly say (as does OMGF), does not suffice: if having a full, specific human genome were sufficient, then skin cells, lymph cells….. would all be “humans”, would be classed as “organisms”.
    But then I made some other points. I argued that from the very beginning of its existence, it manifests behaviour characteristic of a living organism (this is where genetics moves into biology). Allow me to develop this. Nutrition and growth with a view to self-preservation and realization: this is what distinguishes an organism from a part of an organism – for example, an adult from a skin cell. Indeed, we observe that all the parts, in their complex interaction (systems, organs, tissues, cells…) function in view of the whole organism, and are only understandable in relation to the whole (although genetic information is multiplied in many cells). Thus, in relation to the process of development, the organism itself has the character of a natural “end”, for it is only the organism as a whole that explains the functional differentiation of its various parts, since they are inherently in-relation to the whole. But this means that the organism itself must be the cause of differentiation in its component parts: otherwise, the phenomenon of development is utterly incomprehensible. The organism is therefore the natural “end” of development process: but this presupposes that it be the “beginning” of it, too. In the first sense (temporal/developmental) differentiation brings about the whole (qua differentiated); in the second sense, the whole brings about the differentiation (qua in-function of the whole).
    Let us now look at the human embryo. It is extremely clear that the embryo does not act in function of the mother as an organism. This is seen especially by the fact that the mother’s body in a sense “sacrifices itself” for the development of the embryo, which nourishes itself from the mother’s own bloodstream. It is inconceivable that a whole organism should act to its own biological detriment for the sake of one of its own parts. From the biological point of view, then, the embryo is not a part, but a whole; not a means, but a (natural/organic) end; not an organ, but an organism.
    And this organism is of the species homo sapiens. It is therefore definitely a human being.
    You objected that it has “not yet developed its internal organs”, in the early stages (of course, this happens very quickly). But as I have said here, organs are in function of the whole, not only in their operation, but in their adequate cause: they can only be understood as developing for the good of an organism, which cannot be simply the end-result of the process, but must also be at the beginning as that which regulates it and orders it to the natural end of self-preservation and realization.
    So this objection doesn’t stand. The embryo is still a human being, the same one as the one that will be born (or does another human being get born? If so, what happened to the first one?).
    I don’t want to comment on the chicken-egg thing, nor the acorn-oak, simply because I don’t know enough about the process of development involved. The car/metal one is completely different, as a moment’s reflection will assure you.
    The kind of refutation I am looking for is one that shows this argument is either insufficient or wrong. I am quite prepared to listen to all attempts, and weigh them seriously.

    2)I never jumped to the conclusion that you don’t value life, but to the conclusion that you don’t value life AS SUCH. And this is manifest from what you say in your posts. You feel your own subjective judgment renders your life valuable: hence, it is not your life AS SUCH that has value, since a change in your judgment can change the value of your life.
    The problem with this viewpoint is with regard to those who cannot make judgments about the value of their own life: for example, people who are in a prolonged or permanent vegetative state; people who have not attained the use of reason; people who are not, for whatever reason, able to communicate their thoughts to others; embryos. Is their life valuable? According to me, yes. According to you, we don’t know, as they either can’t judge, or can’t communicate their judgment. So we are left to judge as we think fit – does their life seem valuable to us? Perhaps not? Then, by Jove, let’s put an end to it! Does this kind of judge-jury-and-executioner situation not seem a bit problematic to you, especially regarding something like human lives?
    As for the point about animals, I certainly do not think their lives are as valuable as ours. If you would like to pursue this, just ask. For now, I will just say that and move on.

    3) You would like to discuss womens’ rights: fair enough. But the exercise of rights is limited by the existence of others who also have rights. A woman has a right to make decisions regarding her body: fair enough. But if the existence of others who have rights falls within the potential scope of this right, we must at least consider the possibility of a limitation of that right. Here the status of the embryo vis a vis rights becomes absolutely crucial. If it has none, the woman’s right suffers no limitation. But if it does have rights (and I maintain it does, as a human being and a person), then a woman is not free to cite her own personal and biological autonomy as justification for the destruction of another human being (perhaps also a female) who is also the subject of rights, who also has a body, who also has an existence of its own.
    Indeed, by seeing the embryo as a human being (which biology permits us to do) and as a person (a philosophical development of biological data) the whole tenor of the question changes. We are not entitled, on this view, to restrict ourselves to the woman’s right over her own body: we must consider her alleged right over the body of the child she is carrying, since 2 bodies, 2 human beings, are involved. Here some of the points in (2) above come in.

  • John

    Rob,
    Reg. the HeLa cells, I refer you to my first point in response to mrnaglfar (above). These cells 1. are derived from cancer cells and 2. seem to exhibit no behaviour characteristic of a human organism in development (differentiation, finality, organ development). So destroying them would be absolutely no problem: they are not an organic whole, but a collection of wholes (cells). And they are certainly not a human being.
    Reg. your first point, I say it is very important whether or not the fetus is a person, and not just a shift of vocabulary. You argue, whether or not it is a “person”, it is a FETUS, and therefore is inherently less valuable. I say, it is the same being as the baby, the child, the adult and is inherently of fundamentally equal value. You are defining value in terms of what it looks like, or what it can do, or experience, or some other secondary reality. I am defining it in terms of the primary reality, of what we are ACTUALLY dealing with: a human life.
    And I think that human life is inherently valuable. You might disagree. But as I have said elsewhere, I think this is a morally murky, slimy rockpool to inhabit.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    ROS,

    Lack of consciousness does not mean the fertilized egg does not exist.

    Never said it does. What I said was that your argument that you enjoy your life so others should be allowed to live is faulty because those others have no conception of what it is like to live.

    If you are attempting to claim that it’s fine to destroy my human development in the womb, because the person typing this message right now did not exist in the full sense at the time of destruction, the answer is no. The science is clear that a portion of our human development occurs in the womb. Meaning we don’t arrive with the stork.

    The stork? You’re being obtuse intentionally, and I fail to see what it actually brings to the argument, because no one is claiming what you seem to be imputing onto me. In response to whether it is fine or not, you are still using your hindsight to determine what ought to have been in the past.

    Regarding the “saving a person from an unhappy life” excuse, unless there is a crystal ball, that is at best a guess, and I am not aware of a “predicted happiness measurement” requirement of abortion on demand.

    And thus you defeat your own argument. Your argument is that life is good, so we should give life when we can, yet by your own admission you don’t have a crystal ball to determine that all life will be good, so you’re hoisted on your own petard on this one.

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    1) You object that my assertion of biological identity is only based on genetics…I argued that from the very beginning of its existence, it manifests behaviour characteristic of a living organism (this is where genetics moves into biology). Allow me to develop this. Nutrition and growth with a view to self-preservation and realization: this is what distinguishes an organism from a part of an organism – for example, an adult from a skin cell.

    Nutrition and growth happen within every cell of our body, the only difference is that our cells are already differentiated, so skin cells will not grow into other cells than skin cells, yet they will grow with a sense of realization as you put it, but only to realize other skin cells. They do, in fact, act in self-preservation, but they are 100% genetically identical to the other cells in our body, so they’re self-preservation is one of protecting the whole organism. Of course, cancer cells within our body are also genetically human and they also grow in relation to self-preservation and realization (granted, what they’re realizing is a tumor, but that’s still realization).

    Let us now look at the human embryo. It is extremely clear that the embryo does not act in function of the mother as an organism. This is seen especially by the fact that the mother’s body in a sense “sacrifices itself” for the development of the embryo, which nourishes itself from the mother’s own bloodstream. It is inconceivable that a whole organism should act to its own biological detriment for the sake of one of its own parts. From the biological point of view, then, the embryo is not a part, but a whole; not a means, but a (natural/organic) end; not an organ, but an organism.

    The mother’s body sacrifice’s itself when it feels it would be best, and that’s not that often as 50% or so of all pregnancies are estimated to end in miscarriage when the mother’s body spontaneously aborts the fetus itself.

    The fetus is a genetically distinct organism from it’s mother; no one has claimed otherwise. Of course, since the mother has the sole responsiblity of carrying and providing for it from her own body and own life at this point in development, she should have a say in whether she wanted another organism taking up residence in her own body.

    So this objection doesn’t stand. The embryo is still a human being, the same one as the one that will be born (or does another human being get born? If so, what happened to the first one?).

    Again, that’s not a point I disputed; the fetus indeed has all the genetics to be a human. I said it was genetically human.
    What I did not grant it is ‘personhood’. The fetus is not a person the same way an egg is not a chicken.

    The kind of refutation I am looking for is one that shows this argument is either insufficient or wrong. I am quite prepared to listen to all attempts, and weigh them seriously.

    And that is why the argument is insufficient; genetically, the fetus is a human. However, you’re jumping from that point to “because it’s genetically a human, therefore it is a person who has rights equal to all other people on the planet who’s rights trump that of the mother who has to carry the fetus inside of her and spend her life raising it”

    I never jumped to the conclusion that you don’t value life, but to the conclusion that you don’t value life AS SUCH. You feel your own subjective judgment renders your life valuable: hence, it is not your life AS SUCH that has value, since a change in your judgment can change the value of your life.

    As such? What does as such mean?
    If you’re going to argue that changes in values can alter the way people view their life and the lives of others, you’ll hear no disagreement from me, as it’s demonstratably true. Also, you avoided answering specifically any one of my examples; kind of lends a believablity to that view point.

    The problem with this viewpoint is with regard to those who cannot make judgments about the value of their own life: for example, people who are in a prolonged or permanent vegetative state; people who have not attained the use of reason; people who are not, for whatever reason, able to communicate their thoughts to others; embryos. Is their life valuable?

    Their decisions are made by their medical proxies; some people value their life before being put into a vegatative state, and then would rather simply have the plug pulled, because everything that made them a person, what made them who they are is gone; in the case of a fetus, what will make it who it will be if the mother decides to carry and give birth to it are not there yet. In both cases, the humans in question are not people, and are highly dependant on their life-support system for their body to continue functioning biologically, but there’s no personhood in them.
    As for the question of if their life is valuable? In my view, the person in the vegatative state’s life has no more value than if they had died; from that point on they’ll never again be a person. The fetus? I attach no special value in my heart for it, no, because there’s nothing personal about it I can ascribe value to. I feel sympathy for the mother if the loss of the fetus causes her emotional pain (not as much pain as a an actual baby dying would cause, not even close), but not for the fetus itself.

    Does this kind of judge-jury-and-executioner situation not seem a bit problematic to you, especially regarding something like human lives?

    There’s no judge, jury, or executioner, merely someone who can make stand in medical decisions.

    You’re still making the mistake of conflating “this is genetically a human” to “this is a person”. It doesn’t seem problematic from the point of view of the vegatative state because personhood has been lost; all that will be left is the biological functioning of the body; no thoughts, no interactions, nothing one would consider a person. In the case of the fetus, this is even less problematic because they never were a person, and in the case of most abortions, have not even come close to developing yet, but more to the point, because it’s the question of the mother’s right to bodily autonomy.

    As for the point about animals, I certainly do not think their lives are as valuable as ours. If you would like to pursue this, just ask. For now, I will just say that and move on.

    Most people would agree with you that human life is more valuable than animal or plant life, but that kind of mentallity, if unchecked, will kill far more people than many understand. We are dependant for our existance of the life of other animals and the world around us, yet we tend to see ourselves as much more important the rest of the natural world. We feel our value is greater than our impact, naturally because we’re alive At some point however, the amount of people on this planet will surpass the planet’s ability to support them, which means people will start dying off, which of course they won’t idly take. As it is, our population, without the use of fossil fuels, is not sustainable. There simply are not enough resources and space on the planet to support as many people as it currently does unaided.

    At some point, it seems simply economically natural that other parts of the environment or other speices will become more important than more humans; simply the law of diminshing marginal returns. More people need more resources, more resources for people mean less for the rest of life on earth, which means less of other life on earth, which means less things we’re dependant on, which means less room for people, except at the point when it reaches it’s conclusion, there will be so many people they very well may outstrip more resources on their way out, meaning less for everyone else, meaning more people getting more desperate, etc etc.

    Though I am curious as to why you feel people are more valuable than other life on earth.

    Here the status of the embryo vis a vis rights becomes absolutely crucial. If it has none, the woman’s right suffers no limitation. But if it does have rights (and I maintain it does, as a human being and a person), then a woman is not free to cite her own personal and biological autonomy as justification for the destruction of another human being (perhaps also a female) who is also the subject of rights, who also has a body, who also has an existence of its own.

    You’ve told me how you feel fetuses are humans, which I agree with, but not you’re using the word ‘person’ as well. What makes the fetus a person, exactly? What defines it, as a person, outside of it’s genetics and development?
    Of course, if you’re going to treat a fetus equal to a person, then the law needs to apply to other people as well. In this case, the fetus is both a minor and incapable of making medicial decisions, as well as being on life support that also just happens to be inside the woman’s body, so the fetus’s medical proxy now gets to make the call. Severing life support from someone does not constitute murder, so the woman is free to remove that support if she so chooses. Ontop of the medical proxy justification, the fetus is trespassing where the woman doesn’t want it to be and is taking from the woman what she does not wish to give, which constitutes stealing. She has not granted consent to be pregnant by having sex, though many who oppose abortion would say otherwise. Even ontop of all this, the fetus has yet to be shown to have “personhood”.

    And even all of that skirts the moral issues of overpopulation, the fact that woman will obtain dangerous abortions anyway which puts their life at risk, the issue that one would need to imprison these women for having an abortion (if it’s actually equal to murder it should be treated as such), and more that I won’t list here as most of this has been covered in the previous thread.

  • rob

    You argue, whether or not it is a “person”, it is a FETUS, and therefore is inherently less valuable.

    I am not arguing some meaningless abstraction like “inherent value.” A fetus is different from a born person in several specific, observable, verifiable ways. You may believe that a fetus has some “inherent value,” and that value is roughly or exactly equal to that of a born person, but I really don’t care if its “inherent value” is fifty dollars or a bajillion yen. What is important is the actual, real world conditions of a fetus, not its abstract value relative to other people.

    Nobody should be forced to act as living life support for another person for nine months. Nobody should be forced to put their health and life at significant risk for a person who thanklessly parasites off of them. Nobody should be forced to remain in bed, to abstain from coffee and alcohol and cigarettes, to suffer permanent bodily alteration, or to assume the huge financial and physical burden of another person’s constantly fluctuating health. Nobody should be forced to undergo unnecessary hormone fluctuations, hours of agony, days lost to doctors visits, invasive surgeries and tests… and all that assuming they have the opportunity to give the child up for adoption, and don’t end up keeping it and the burdens that come with it.

    Parenthood must be a gift freely given, and the bond of family one imbued with near magical power by love. Making parenthood a burden and family a curse creates a poisonous environment for everyone.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Mark,
    Mrnaglfar answered you pretty well, so I will not add much.
    I will note that in your case of the child that has been born, we can certainly say that the woman’s reproductive choice has been made and she has chosen in that case. Again, I find it funny that the only reason that your question would come into play is when the choice of the woman is restricted. It seems that only unwanted children would be shunned by their mothers, mothers who were forced to carry them and are now forced to nurture them. If we give women reproductive choice, this objection goes out the window.

    And yes. That child doesn’t deserve to die for crimes of the father.

    But the woman does?

  • Arch

    Parenthood must be a gift freely given, and the bond of family one imbued with near magical power by love. Making parenthood a burden and family a curse creates a poisonous environment for everyone

    Taking innocent human life at any stage creates a poisonous environment for everyone. If we consider it acceptable to take the lives of the most vulnerable human beings, we are degrading life at all stages, whether one realizes it or not. And can you please define the word “love”? How do you know what love is? Where does a standard for authentic love come from? How do you distinguish between a loving and an unloving action?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Taking innocent human life at any stage creates a poisonous environment for everyone.

    I’ll repeat what I said before, according to your own theology, this argument holds no weight, because the embryo is not innocent. Besides, you might want to catch up on the whole discussion around human being vs. personhood as well as whether it is moral to bring children into this world that are not wanted and forcing women to do so in an effort to control them.

    How do you know what love is? Where does a standard for authentic love come from? How do you distinguish between a loving and an unloving action?

    Haven’t you learned your lesson about this yet? Besides, where does your standard of love come from? The genocidal maniac you call god? Face it, love comes from our evolutionary history.

  • Arch

    You have given me absolutely no answer as to the definition of love or where a standard of love comes from.

  • John

    Mrnaglfar,
    In the last post, you seem to grant me that the fetus is human – that it is a human being – saying (eg) “The fetus is a distinct organism from its mother”, and “it is genetically human” (although as I was at pains to point out at length in my previous post, it is not ONLY genetically but also biologically a human organism). I hope we may consider that matter as settled: the fetus is a human being. This is “step 1″ of my argument.

    However, you are 100% right to say that this does not of itself force one to believe that the fetus is a person – I have said as much myself elsewhere. This is “step 2″ of my argument. And even if it is a person, is the mother obliged to care for it or is she free to abort it (this is “step 3″). Therefore, it seems we have these 2 points to consider.

    1) Is the fetus a person?
    You say, “the fetus is not a person in the same way that an egg is not a chicken”. I disagree with this statement. The cases are not parallel. As far as I understand it, the whole egg does not develop into a chicken, but only the embryonic chicken which is contained within the egg. The rest of the egg is food, or liquid “padding” – it is not a part of the embryonic chicken, just like the amniotic fluid and the placenta are not parts of the embryo. So if you say, the fetus-plus-placenta-plus-amniotic-fluid-etc is not a person as an egg is not a chicken, I will agree with you. But as it stands, I don’t agree with you, on the basis of the biological arguments I offered in my last post.

    But all of this still doesn’t address the question, Is the embryo a PERSON? It seems to me we have two very basic options. We have already agreed, as far as I can make out, that an embryo is biologically a human being. So,
    Option one would be to say, Whatever is a living human being is a person. This is my line.
    Option two would be to disagree with this, and define personhood on the basis of something that a living human being does, or something that happens to a living human being. On this picture, being a person has a variable relation to being a human being: some living human beings are persons, some are not. Some were, and are no longer, some were not and now are. This is your line.

    Here I cannot pretend that biology proves the case conclusively – it doesn’t. The question is more “philosophical” than anything else. However, biology does give me a basis for my position. For we can establish through biology that the fetus is a human being. Now, human beings are beings that, having reached the full realization of their nature, are able to think, to be self-conscious, to make deliberative decisions, to act freely (that is, rationally) and so on. But we must note that these are all secondary activities of a being that is already existent. For a child to actually speak, he or she must already be a being who can potentially speak. Now, this potentiality regards not the fact that he or she is a being whose nature involves speaking, but only the present realization of that particular capacity. In other words, potentiality in capacities PRESUPPOSES actuality in being. Otherwise, how could any of us go from not-speaking to speaking, or any other change that takes place in human development?

    So, all of the capacities that I mentioned above (thinking, deliberative decisions etc) are dependent on actually being something of a definite biological nature. Now I would ask, when I am conscious of myself, what am I conscious of? When I have an experience, what is the subject of that experience? I am conscious of myself as a biological organism; the biological organism is the subject of experiences. You see, therefore, how consciousness contains within it an indellible reference to the organism which is the subject of consciousness: as the phenomenologists rightly said, consciousness is always “consciousness-of”. It needs to be grounded in biological identity and biological activity (that is, in life). Without this grounding, we are faced with an infinite regress: I am conscious of being conscious of being conscious…

    Therefore, anything I am conscious of being or doing, I am conscious of it because I AM it or ARE doing it (or have been/done it). The conclusion is that consciousness cannot ground identity, but rather depends for its identity upon a previous real (“ontological” if you will) identity. This is why, in my view, we cannot coherently make personhood coincide with consciousness-of (whatever it may be, usually self). For consciousness-of-self depends on actual/biological-self.

    But the fetus is biologically the same human being as the one who will be born and grow up (as I think we’ve agreed). ERGO, the fetus is the same actual/biological-self of which I become conscious at a certain point in my development.

    I have to go now, but let me know what you think of the argument. It’s not complete, but as I say, I can’t write any more just now

  • John

    Rob, just a quick one:
    maybe no woman is obliged to carry a child for 9 months – but that is the consequence of having sex, isn’t it? Sex is connected to responsibility, one can’t just engage in sexual activity without a thought for the consequences: and that goes for men as well. So if anyone doesn’t want to have children, they shouldn’t have sex. I know that sounds terribly illiberal of me. But I happen to think that the divorce of sex and moral/personal responsibility and commitment was NOT a good thing for society.

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    although as I was at pains to point out at length in my previous post, it is not ONLY genetically but also biologically a human organism

    Biologically, a fetus is not a person until it’s finished a rather large portion of it’s development. It’s genetically a human being, yes, but biologically during the beginning stage it’s simply a clump of undifferentiated cells. At some point during development it lacks arms, legs, internal organs, a nervous system, a functional brain, and so forth. Biologically, it’s a human when it has, at least in some form of the word it’s anatomy is in place and differentiated. To say it’s genetically and biologically a human from the moment of conception from then on is to make the words essentially the same concept, which they aren’t.

    You say, “the fetus is not a person in the same way that an egg is not a chicken”. I disagree with this statement. The cases are not parallel. As far as I understand it, the whole egg does not develop into a chicken, but only the embryonic chicken which is contained within the egg. The rest of the egg is food, or liquid “padding” – it is not a part of the embryonic chicken, just like the amniotic fluid and the placenta are not parts of the embryo. So if you say, the fetus-plus-placenta-plus-amniotic-fluid-etc is not a person as an egg is not a chicken, I will agree with you. But as it stands, I don’t agree with you, on the basis of the biological arguments I offered in my last post.

    While that is all correct regarding the composition of the egg, the point is more of one that we don’t treat eggs (or the little chicken fetuses inside them) as if they are chickens until they hatch. Most people in this day and age would not be comfortable going into a field and beating two chickens to death, yet would have no problem cracking some eggs to make an omlet. The point is that we treat these two things differently, though genetically they are the same.

    Option one would be to say, Whatever is a living human being is a person. This is my line.

    So you have equated “genetics” (the basis for human) with “biological development” and “personhood”, but even under this model were I to use it (which I don’t), different people still have different legal considerations. People in vegatative states are still people under this definition, but they are unable to express their desires for care, so these calls are left up to their medical proxies, who can pull or retain life support as they feel fit/can afford. Minors are also under the medical supervision of their parents; so if these mothers feel like terminating their life-support they are still fully within their rights in the current system in both the US and most advanced cultures in this world.

    I think the jury has settled it’s verdict on this point.

    For we can establish through biology that the fetus is a human being

    Through genetics; if I gave you pictures of fetuses of different animals throughout their development, it would not be until pretty far along you would be able to accurately discriminate between which was which bases on their biology.

    Now, this potentiality regards not the fact that he or she is a being whose nature involves speaking, but only the present realization of that particular capacity. In other words, potentiality in capacities PRESUPPOSES actuality in being. Otherwise, how could any of us go from not-speaking to speaking, or any other change that takes place in human development?

    A fetus can potentially do a lot of things; it can potentially be born, learn to walk, speak and be a person. However, because it can potentially does not mean it has already, nor that we should treat it as if it has. If a minor has the potential to become an adult we do not treat a minor as an adult from day one, nor do we treat a minor legally as an adult. Because a baby can learn to speak does not mean it is speaking, and because a fetus has the potential to become a person does not mean that we need to treat it as a person from the moment of conception. Of course, sperm and eggs also have the potential to become humans, but we don’t treat them as such either; granted they don’t have a full genome, but they do have half and the potential to become human if fertilized. However, we’d both agree that the potential argument there is ludicrous, as it is elsewhere in this debate.

    consciousness is always “consciousness-of”

    And if the being is not, and indeed, cannot be conscious (i.e. before the brain has developed and becomes used for functions of consciousness) then it is also not a person; one way in my mind someone can lose their personhood is through loss of these functions when they enter vegatative states. This was Ebon’s original point for fetus personhood; when the fetus starts to display certain brainwave patterns consistent with those of a conscious person (if I remember correctly).

    Therefore, anything I am conscious of being or doing, I am conscious of it because I AM it or ARE doing it (or have been/done it). The conclusion is that consciousness cannot ground identity, but rather depends for its identity upon a previous real (“ontological” if you will) identity. This is why, in my view, we cannot coherently make personhood coincide with consciousness-of (whatever it may be, usually self). For consciousness-of-self depends on actual/biological-self.

    You cannot have consciousness without the proper biology (brain at least), and you cannot have that biology without it developing from an organism’s genetics. So there need to be at least three things in place to define a person:
    1) Genetics
    2) Developed biology
    3) Consciousness

    Genetics makes you human, biology gives those genetics the capacity for consciousness, and consciousness allows that biology to experience the world. Whether that all defines personhood is dependant on the situation. In the case of a fetus, that does not define personhood for me because the fetus is still within the mother, living off her body. Once the fetus is outside the mother, it retains it’s personhood until it loses consciousness in a severe or permenant way (i.e. enters a vegatative state, loses functionality of consciousness, or dies). However, the rights of that person can also be altered depending on the situation (one does not have the ability to make medical decisions while in a coma, and so those rights fall to the medical proxy for instance).

    But the fetus is biologically the same human being as the one who will be born and grow up (as I think we’ve agreed).

    Genetically the same; I cannot stress that enough. Biologically, even after the fetus is born it has a lot of growing to do, though the general anatomy is in place. At the very least this anatomy is required for biological identity.

    Also,

    but that is the consequence of having sex, isn’t it? Sex is connected to responsibility, one can’t just engage in sexual activity without a thought for the consequences: and that goes for men as well. So if anyone doesn’t want to have children, they shouldn’t have sex. I know that sounds terribly illiberal of me. But I happen to think that the divorce of sex and moral/personal responsibility and commitment was NOT a good thing for society.

    I’m sure other people will tell you this too, but sex has functions outside of getting pregnant (like feeling good, for instance), and that you might as well say AIDS and STI’s are also consequences of sex, though entirely avoidable. Not to mention that pregnancy is only a consequence women have to deal with; do you think if men could get pregnant too that abortions would even be debated?

    Not to mention it’s completely not practical to simply try and push that line of thought; it hasn’t worked for as long as it’s been tried, so why keep trying and plan bound for failure, tried and tested? There are at least two types of sex I can think of off the top of my head that don’t result in pregnancy, meaning there must be more to the picture than you’re letting on. People are horny, people like sex, it feels good, maintains relationships, and it’s a natural need of people. Do you really only have sex when you want a child, and become disappointed in every sexual act that doesn’t result in conception? Do you honestly expect others to do the same?

    Contraceptives work to prevent the unwanted ‘consequences’ of sex (same way herpies is a ‘consequence’ of kissing), like unwanted pregnancies and disease. I don’t see how forcing people to have unwanted children (because as I’ve mentioned before at almost every turn, women will still get abortions, they’ll just be more dangerous) they don’t want or cannot afford is somehow a moral thing to promote, especially with population levels in the world being as high as they are, threatening to cause loses of lots of ecosystems, species, and ensure many people live lives perpetually mired in poverty and overcrowding.

    Not only is the idea not practical, it ignores a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and is dangerous to an already over-taxed environment. If you want to do the responsible thing, you should support measures that work to prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancies, as well as work towards reducing population worldwide to sustainable levels through measures like child caps and free birth control distrubuted everywhere.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Oh, one more point,

    So if anyone doesn’t want to have children, they shouldn’t have sex.

    That seems to grate against this point:

    I also think it’s worth mentioning that *all* of us almost certainly have an ancestor that was born as a result of rape or incest.

    So if a woman doesn’t want a child, she shouldn’t have sex in your mind. However, if she’s raped against her will and ends up pregnant, she has to carry and give birth to that child (then either raise it or give it up) because getting pregnant is a consequence of getting raped?

    That could certainly be one of the most immoral stances I’ve ever heard on the matter, next to the middle-eastern philosophy of women getting killed for the crime of being raped unless she has several male witnesses.

  • John

    Mrnaglfar,
    I think you are not thinking clearly about genetics and biology. You affirm that “genetics makes you human” – maybe, but it can’t make you a human BEING, not on its own. This is the old argument about skin cells, which you yourself raised in objection to me: a skin cell is genetically “human”. But it is not a human being. And that is because of biology.
    I have already given an argument that responds to your problems in this area, especially when you say that it is only upon being differentiated/developed that one achieves biological identity. What kind of “biology” is that? Development is internal to the very concept of biological identity! So how can the latter result from the former? See my post from May 23, 11:58am. It shows how the fetus should be considered biologically identical to the baby.

    Next, we think about chicken-embryos inside eggs differently than we do chickens, either because of what they looks like, or because we haven’t sufficiently reflected on the matter, or because we’re not interested about the biological aspect of the question. Beating a chicken to death would be bad in my view, but not cracking an egg. That is because in one case I am causing suffering and distress, the other, no. But suffering is not the only thing that comes into the question when we are dealing with human life. And the biological reality remains the same regardless: not with regard to development (obviously) but with regard to fundamental biological continuity and unity as an organism.
    So, it doesn’t matter whether I could distinguish a human fetus from an animal one or not. Why would the fact that I am able to PERCEIVE the identity of something tell us anything about the identity of the thing? It doesn’t affect the fundamental biological identity at all! (The “Biology” of something does not just mean the observable characteristics of an organism at a given stage in its development, “anatomy” as you have it, but also the relation of this given stage to all other stages. If it is a relationship of continuity and – mark ye – DEVELOPMENT, then basic biological identity can be asserted. I hope that is clear. I don’t know what else I can say to make that clear.)

    Next, potentiality. You are right that the concept of potentiality cannot be rightly be said of the gametes before fusion – possibility expresses this state better. But Once they are fused, we can speak of a potentiality. But this is the point: this kind of potentiality assumes already a basic actuality, which underlies the whole movement from potentiality to actuality known as “development”. So this is the same point I just made above – the point, I venture to say, that you seem to be missing.
    That a minor is not (yet) an adult, and should not be treated as one does NOT mean that that it is not (now) a human being and should not be treated as one, for exactly the same reasons as above.

    Next, criteria for personhood. Genetics and biology (not according to your definition of it, though!) I agree with (without going into possible “exceptional cases”). But consciousness: on what basis do you assert this? Current laws? But laws of themselves do not justify the status quo, rather, they must be subjected to scrutiny. On what basis, then?
    It seems, because being conscious is the necessary condition for valuing one’s life, from a subjective point of view. Is this necessary for the idea of person? Well, it constitutes a fundamental shift in the use of words.
    As long as “person” has had a place in the tradition of Western thought, it has been conceived as the individual, the unrepeatable, and as having consistency in itself. “Persona” (although it had an interesting prehistory) was the Latin equivalent of the Greek “hypostasis”, meaning that-which-lies-under, which has consistency in itself, the individual. What it refers to is not some secondary property of the being, like consciousness, but the very being itself, the person, who possesses consciousness, and rights and all the rest. Our language itself has developed with this fundamental meaning in view. We should be wary of attempts to alter it.
    But when we do alter it, as we (or you, at least) have done with the term person, does that change the reality? Do things change when we decide that we want to change the rules of language? No, they obviously don’t. But because things are mediated to us through language, the way we relate to things DOES change: and this is what I think is very dangerous.
    We are all agreed (I think… I hope!) that “person” – whatever it refers to – refers to something that is very valuable, that is the subject of rights, that we should treat as we expect to be treated (etc). Yet, while we maintain approximately this same meaning of “person”, we subtly shift the reference: now it refers, not to the “hypostasis”, that which is the subject of consciousness, rights and so on, but to some subsequent determination of the hypostasis, in your case, consciousness. But does this linguistic shift mean that the hypostasis, the “person” according to the established way of speaking, ceases to actually be what it was?

    These are comments intended to “make you think”: they are not in themselves conclusive. Because you could reply, “It’s not that the reality has changed, only that the old language was wrong in its reference. What “has value” is not the hypostasis, but the hypostasis-qua-conscious.”
    I tried to offer reflections in my previous post as to why that should not be the case. But actually, I think to answer this question with as much rigour as is required, we would have to delve into the history of thought, the metaphysics and philosophical anthropology of the great Scholastics, its misunderstanding, corruption and refutal by the nominalists, the modern view of subjectivity and the foundations of metaphysics initiated by Descartes (and based on a rejection of the nominalist corruption of Aquinas), its consequences for the notion of the person, which is eventually cut off from its roots in being… a discussion far too wide to realistically undertake.

    Therefore, after this extensive, sometimes frustrating but always interesting discussion, I am going to have to sign off. I really can’t spend any more time at this, given other commitments. And at any rate, I think we’ve covered quite a lot of ground. I will come back to read any reply you might give, but I will try my best to resist the temptation to write a reply (even if you still say “genetically, but not biologically”!).

    PS – in relation to your question, “do you really only have sex when you want a child?”, well, I think that every sexual act has to be at least open to children. And so if people are definitely NOT prepared to have children, and (consequently) to raise them, they shouldn’t have sex. This effectively means that sex should be within marriage (or at least a stable and established relationship).
    This is a whole other debate, it is probably a view very foreign to your way of thinking, but one that makes perfect sense if only we understand that everything about human beings (persons), including their sexuality, is ordered to committed, self-giving love, and fulfilled therein.

  • Mrnaglfar

    John,

    First and foremost, I’d like to say while personhood is an interesting point of this debate (subjective as it is through history and cultures), it is a debate about rights, something that has yet to be addressed, along with several other points.

    I think you are not thinking clearly about genetics and biology. You affirm that “genetics makes you human” – maybe, but it can’t make you a human BEING, not on its own. This is the old argument about skin cells, which you yourself raised in objection to me: a skin cell is genetically “human”. But it is not a human being. And that is because of biology.

    I’m thinking perfectly clearly about them, you just seem to be either misunderstanding me or conflating the two. Genetics is what makes us human, and it’s from this genetics that our biology (anatomy) develops. Until at least all our anatomy is in place, you can still be genetically human and not be a person, as you lack the full set of anatomy that a person has.
    Of course, that brings up the interesting point that no one cell in your body can be said to be a person, merely that it can be a human cell of some nature; only when summed up can these cells equal a biological person. So if individual, differentiated cells cannot be considered people, then neither can the clumps of cells of a fetus during early developmental stages be considered a person.

    I have already given an argument that responds to your problems in this area, especially when you say that it is only upon being differentiated/developed that one achieves biological identity. What kind of “biology” is that? Development is internal to the very concept of biological identity! So how can the latter result from the former?

    If one does not have human anatomy, one cannot be said to be human unless through examining the genetics. If one has a full human anatomy, one can rightly be said to be a human in the biological sense of the word. This isn’t complicated to understand.

    Simply put development is under the control of genetics, one’s biology is merely what has already developed.

    Beating a chicken to death would be bad in my view, but not cracking an egg. That is because in one case I am causing suffering and distress, the other, no. But suffering is not the only thing that comes into the question when we are dealing with human life

    Sure there’s more to consider; like the mother’s rights compounded with the fact that the fetus is not yet developed, living as a parasite in the mother’s body (be it a welcome parasite when the mother wants to have a child), and the fact that the fetus will not suffer ontop of being under the medical proxy of the woman. None of which I have seen you raise as legitmate argument against.

    Why would the fact that I am able to PERCEIVE the identity of something tell us anything about the identity of the thing?

    It tells you how differentiated and developed it is, for starters.

    (The “Biology” of something does not just mean the observable characteristics of an organism at a given stage in its development, “anatomy” as you have it, but also the relation of this given stage to all other stages. If it is a relationship of continuity and – mark ye – DEVELOPMENT, then basic biological identity can be asserted. I hope that is clear. I don’t know what else I can say to make that clear.)

    I read you loud and clear. Yes, different stages entail different developmental periods working on different parts of the body, in some cases growing them further or beginning their growth, and they follow predictable patterns given no errors. However, if large portions of this development hasn’t yet happened, they are not part of the fetus’s biology, and whether it will develop further or not is not part of the question of “how do we treat such things as they currently are”. It’s simply another argument of potentiallity.

    Next, potentiality. You are right that the concept of potentiality cannot be rightly be said of the gametes before fusion – possibility expresses this state better. But Once they are fused, we can speak of a potentiality. But this is the point: this kind of potentiality assumes already a basic actuality, which underlies the whole movement from potentiality to actuality known as “development”. So this is the same point I just made above – the point, I venture to say, that you seem to be missing.
    That a minor is not (yet) an adult, and should not be treated as one does NOT mean that that it is not (now) a human being and should not be treated as one, for exactly the same reasons as above.

    Potentially and possibility mean the same thing. You could say that a fetus’s development begins with sperm and egg (which it does), and they form the opening stages of this “actuality known as development”, or that the sperm and egg both contain that “actuality” to become one organism.
    Minors are treated like humans, but humans are treated differently from each other and have different rights and considerations according to circumstance. Humans with developed brains, for instance, are treated differently from those without brains yet.

    But consciousness: on what basis do you assert this? Current laws? But laws of themselves do not justify the status quo, rather, they must be subjected to scrutiny. On what basis, then?

    I base it on personal opinion. Life without consciousness is, for all intents and purposes, a plant; it can never interact with you, does not have any wishes or in fact, even understanding of it’s own existance. It cannot suffer and it cannot think. There is nothing definable about it, outside of the possibility of what may happen in the future and what parts of it’s anatomy have already developed. However, what may develop does not mean we should treat it as if they have developed; Human life without consciousness might as well be a doll, when it achieves consciousness it becomes something more, but as always, the issue of the rights of the already living, conscious and person of a mother arch over all this debate.

    We are all agreed (I think… I hope!) that “person” – whatever it refers to – refers to something that is very valuable, that is the subject of rights, that we should treat as we expect to be treated (etc). Yet, while we maintain approximately this same meaning of “person”, we subtly shift the reference: now it refers, not to the “hypostasis”, that which is the subject of consciousness, rights and so on, but to some subsequent determination of the hypostasis, in your case, consciousness.

    Except we don’t maintain the same definition of person; you maintain a different view of what defines personhood, essentially beginning from the genetic moment of conception (because let’s not forget, this development you claim to be essential to biological identity is written in the genes; in case you missed that point development is regulated and controlled by genetics, biological identity is only what has already developed). Not to mention, different stages of development in people entail different rights; there are different considerations based on circumstance, again getting back to that fact that we do treat minors differently from adults, and they do have different rights, same way pregnant women have different rights when it comes to their fetus then after they give birth, then again after 18 years.

    PS – in relation to your question, “do you really only have sex when you want a child?”, well, I think that every sexual act has to be at least open to children. And so if people are definitely NOT prepared to have children, and (consequently) to raise them, they shouldn’t have sex. This effectively means that sex should be within marriage (or at least a stable and established relationship).

    How has that advice worked out in previous history anywhere it’s been tried?

    This is a whole other debate, it is probably a view very foreign to your way of thinking, but one that makes perfect sense if only we understand that everything about human beings (persons), including their sexuality, is ordered to committed, self-giving love, and fulfilled therein.

    Except of course when they’re not. I mean, it makes perfect sense if I think about people in an unrealistic way, sure.

  • rob

    You have given me absolutely no answer as to the definition of love or where a standard of love comes from.

    A standard definition of love is unnecessary and irrelevant to the point being made. Forcing a person to risk their life and future for a hypothetical situation they are resolutely opposed to devalues their rights, privacy, freedom, and life. Eliminating one of the hypothetical scenarios can only be their own choice, even if that hypothetical option is a hypothetical new person. It’s not like we’re running out of people. Allowing freedom of choice is to the benefit of every person on this planet with the exception of the fetus, who has no awareness of, feelings on, or emotional investment in the situation whatsoever.

    The only argument for a ban on abortion is the emotional appeal of an abstract child. Once the case becomes specific, most people realize the woman must at least be considered on par with those of the child.

    If abortion is banned on the basis the fetus’ safety, expect criminal charges against women who drink alcohol or coffee or smoke or do drugs while pregnant – in fact, any sexually active woman who does any of these things, because you never know when she might become pregnant. And since there’s no way to identify a sexually active woman, might as well ban all those things for all women. Ideological consistency would also require an inquest for any miscarriage. Taking this to a logical extreme would lead to women being considered constantly “pre-pregnant” and expecting them to behave always in the best interest of their potential child. It sounds like some absurd Handmaiden’s Tale-like dystopian future, but in fact the early stages of this process are already taking place.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Arch,
    As Rob pointed out, your questions have nothing to do with the thread’s topic, so I can only conclude that you haven’t learned your lesson about derailing threads. Either way, your questions are lacking in one serious regard in that you presuppose that you have an answer, when you clearly don’t. Any lack of answer on our part does not constitute some victory for you; this is fallacious thinking.

    The other glaring problem for you is that evolution explains these things quite well. Since you were off-topic I didn’t go into any detail, and I’m not going to go into a whole lot right here. Survival is enhanced by couples or groups entering into relationships based on “love” and giving and receiving such. Other animals show it, so humans are not unique in this regard, and we can obviously see how it has developed. So, unfortunately for you, we do know where it came from and your default non-answer was insufficient anyway.


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