Book Review: The Means of Reproduction

Summary: An outstanding book, broad in its sweep and compelling in its use of fascinating detail, that paints a clear picture of the international forces opposing women’s rights – and what’s at stake in the fight against them.

I’ve said in the past that I believe all feminists should be atheists, the better to deny power and legitimacy to the religious belief systems that have treated women unjustly throughout history. But after reading Michelle Goldberg’s outstanding new book The Means of Reproduction, I’m convinced that the converse is also true: all atheists should be feminists, in recognition of how many of the goals of religious fundamentalists entail the subjugation of women, and how effectively we can defeat them at home and around the world by working to uphold gender equality.

Goldberg’s book examines the state of women’s rights throughout the world and explores how the inevitable clashes with fundamentalist religion and traditionalist culture play out in the lives of millions of women. It’s not, as I had assumed, primarily about the culture wars in the U.S. over abortion – although both abortion and American culture war politics do play a central role. But the legal and cultural equilibrium in this country hasn’t changed much in the past several decades, and as Goldberg brilliantly shows, by far the most consequential impact of America’s shifting political winds isn’t felt at home, but abroad.

The opening chapters of the book offer a historical perspective on this fight by showing how, ironically, the U.S. was once the biggest provider of contraception and abortion services to developing countries worldwide. This happened during the Cold War era, when Malthusian fears of overpopulation were intertwined with concerns over the spread of communism in impoverished countries. The ways that American politicians lined up to combat this seem bizarre to anyone used to today’s ideological battle lines. (One of many great tidbits is that former president George H.W. Bush, when he served in Congress, was so zealous an advocate of contraception that he was nicknamed “Rubbers”.) By fighting overpopulation, politicians hoped to check the spread of Marxism – and so the U.S. in its heyday spent millions of dollars to launch family-planning clinics and distribute birth control pills around the world.

But these programs, in many cases, were victims of their own success. Most of them focused only on preventing births, while doing little or nothing else to help or empower the poor and disenfranchised women who most needed them. As a result, the growing international conservative movement, which took off during the Reagan administration, was able to frame them as Western racism and cultural imperialism – a charge that was not always without merit. Today, the worldwide feminist movement is opposed by a bizarre, but equally transnational, coalition of Christian and Islamic conservatives who join together in defense of patriarchy – often working hand-in-hand at the U.N. even as they denounce each other at home.

Goldberg next traces the origins of the international conservative movement. At the root of this bitter tree stands the Roman Catholic church, which was and is the staunchest opponent of women’s rights in the world – as she points out, even Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran have a more permissive view of abortion than the Vatican. There are some truly amazing details here: I was startled to learn that a papal commission in the 1960s actually recommended that the Catholic ban on birth control be lifted – but Pope Paul VI overruled his own commission’s advice and issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, reiterating the church’s absolute ban on contraception. Several prominent bishops explained at the time that the pope had to do this, because anything else would have been a tacit admission that the church’s prior beliefs were wrong and that can never be permitted, regardless of the consequences.

But the Catholic church alone was largely ineffective in stemming the tide of women’s rights, until it was joined by conservative Christians from other denominations. Goldberg argues that, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Roe v. Wade that galvanized Protestant evangelicals into entering politics, but the rise of the feminist movement that threatened traditional notions of the patriarchal family and the subservient wife. This reactionary movement, which began mostly in America, has been exported abroad in recent decades. The effects can be seen in Latin American countries like El Salvador, where pro-life groups have triumphed. In these countries, women who come to the hospital hemorrhaging from a miscarriage are handcuffed to their hospital beds until they can be examined by forensic vagina inspectors, to ensure they didn’t obtain an illegal abortion; other women die horribly from ruptured Fallopian tubes because their country’s laws don’t permit abortion even in the case of an ectopic pregnancy.

However, not all anti-woman practices come from religion. In Africa, we learn of a few incredibly brave activists fighting the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, a tribal custom which predates Islam but has been perpetuated by many Islamic societies. In even the mildest versions of FGM, the woman’s clitoris is sliced off with crude instruments like scissors or razors, without anesthetic. (This is the practice that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was subjected to as a child.) But there are even more extreme versions, such as infibulation, in which the woman’s clitoris is cut off and her vagina is sewn shut, leaving only a tiny hole to urinate – on her wedding night, her husband must literally rip her open. Bizarrely, this practice is still defended by some women – even well-educated, cosmopolitan women – who argue that it’s an ineradicable part of their culture and a necessary step of womanhood.

As the FGM controversy shows, feminist issues don’t always play out along familiar ideological lines. In India, Goldberg discusses the rampant practice of sex-selective abortion, which has led to dramatically skewed sex ratios – in some areas, as imbalanced as 700 women to every 1000 men. The resulting demand for wives not only encourages human trafficking and sexual slavery, but poses a threat to societal stability from the millions of angry, frustrated, unmarriageable young men.

Yet India is a clear example of the principle Goldberg repeatedly returns to: the root problem isn’t the availability of birth control, but the need for female emancipation. She describes how India’s growing wealth has encouraged an explosion of ever-more exorbitant demands for dowry, making daughters more and more of a financial drain on their families and increasing the pressure to have sons. Shockingly, in some places, dowry has become not just a one-time payment but a steady stream of demands from the groom’s family – and if the woman’s parents refuse to pay, their daughter may be beaten or murdered by her own husband and in-laws. The depth of the problem is summed up in a local saying she quotes: “Having a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden.”

But despite all the horrible sexism that Goldberg chronicles, all the discrimination and oppression she details, her conclusions are not wholly pessimistic. The cause of women’s rights is advancing, albeit frustratingly slowly and haltingly, but advancing nevertheless.

One of her arguments that came as a revelation to me is that the United Nations does a lot more good than most people are aware of. Its treaties and resolutions on the rights of women, so often disparaged as powerless symbolism, have had major, concrete effects in reforming the legal systems of many countries and establishing reproductive choice as a human right before national and international judicial bodies.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, Goldberg argues convincingly that the greatest effects of American politics are felt abroad rather than at home. Abortion politics in the U.S. have settled into an uneasy but stable equilibrium, one that changes little regardless of which party is in power. But in the developing world, it makes a huge difference whether and to whom the U.S. provides aid. The most infamous example is the “global gag rule”, which forbids family planning groups that receive any federal aid from providing, or even acknowledging the existence of, abortion. This rule, which has been repeatedly canceled by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republican presidents, makes all the difference in developing countries whose only source of family planning aid is the U.S. When in effect, it’s forced the closure of countless clinics that provide not just contraception or abortion, but also prenatal care, checkups, vaccinations, and other help for new mothers and families.

There’s even more in this book that I haven’t mentioned, but I’ve written enough to support the conclusions from my opening words. Goldberg makes a clear and compelling case that all the evils she mentions, all the battles that feminist groups are fighting, all of this stems from the same source: the refusal to recognize women as full human beings with equal rights, including autonomy over their own bodies and the right to decide for themselves when and whether to have children. This pervasive sexism is still entrenched throughout the world, and although religion isn’t solely to blame for this, it has always been the strongest and most enduring friend to patriarchy. Only when its malignant influence is defeated will women truly be free. And conversely, by freeing women, we take one of the most effective steps to roll back religion’s power and influence.

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.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Thanks for this. I had meant to get this some time ago but then it fell off my radar screen. I got to meet Michelle Goldberg at a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn several years ago and she signed my copy of Kingdom Coming. Very nice lady.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    My fiancee and I picked up our copy at a talk she gave in Manhattan last month. I concur that she was very gracious and well-spoken, and pretty honest about some of the political challenges (like the Stupak amendment) that women’s rights face in this country. She’s not a fiery polemicist; she has a rarer gift, that of being able to convince you of a point by the simple accumulation of facts without emotive language.

  • Alejandro Sills

    You seem to imply that women have a right to abort their fetus and that the denial of this constitutes sexism. Yet I find it interesting that you also mention selective abortion against female fetuses that is prevalent in countries such as India. Let me ask you: if the fetus is not human either way, why should we feel horror at such a thing?

  • jemand

    @Alejandro Sills, um, did you read the article? Because it leads to sex trafficking of women, and is a symptom of devaluation of women such as shown in the dowry requirements and accepted domestic abuse, etc? Are you capable of reading comprehension in any way?

  • MissCherryPi

    Goldberg’s book explicitly illustrates the harmful effects of both outlawing abortion and looking the other way from sex-selective abortion.

    When abortion is illegal: women die in septic wards, women suffering from miscarriages are chained to their beds because their vagina may now be the scene of a crime, and women die and suffer health effects like blindness due to complications from pregnancy that they could have avoided if they could get an abortion. In such a regime, the state would have to investigate every woman for proof of menstruation and administer a pregnancy test every month. This was done in some eastern European countries during communism, and a similar situation is taking place right now in China to force women to have abortions who already have one child. If you want to use the power of the state to stop or punish all abortions (or to make women have them), you need to know who is pregnant.

    When we allow sex-selective abortion we see a society where the girls who are born are malnourished, abused and otherwise mistreated, and the number of single men who cannot find wives leads to social unrest, violence, war and terrorism.

    It’s not a question of “is the fetus a ‘life’?” It’s a question of “What would happen if we use our resources to do X?”

  • JulietEcho

    Great review – it sounds like a book I might go buy. I like the way that you phrased this: “[...] religion [...] has always been the strongest and most enduring friend to patriarchy.” I’ve ended up in a lot of frustrating conversations (usually with liberal theists) that devolved into chicken-or-egg arguments about religion and different social ills (patriarchy, abuse of trust, hypocrisy, etc.) and by using “friend” you remove any connotations that religion is the *cause* of the problem or the only contributing factor while retaining the implication that the two feed into each other. It’s a good use of language.

  • Alejandro Sills

    I agree that any such crimes against women are despicable. This should not be minimized. But my point is not finished. Suppose a well-off woman who is pregnant and wants a male child finds out via sonogram that the fetus, although healthy, is female, and wants to abort it as a result. Let us further suppose for the sake of the argument that she is not compelled by any overbearing authority (husband, state, etc.) to either do it or not do it. The decisions is entirely her own.
    Most people I know would feel shocked at the prospect of such a motive. But again I state the question: Why feel horrified if the fetus is not human in the first place? I’m curious: are any of you for ANY regulative measures surrounding abortion or do you think a woman should be allowed to do it for whatever reason at whatever time?

  • Jormungund

    Bizarrely, this practice is still defended by some women

    When I was forced by my university to take a class on feminism, we learned that African men in regions that practice FGM are mostly against it. It works out that most of the men do NOT like it while most of the women do. So oddly enough this isn’t the fault of a women oppressing patriarchy. It is a women oppressing matriarchy that is in opposition to the desires of most of their society’s men.

    are any of you for ANY regulative measures surrounding abortion or do you think a woman should be allowed to do it for whatever reason at whatever time

    Every reason, but only certain times. I’m not shocked by that scenario at all. People get abortions primarily for what I consider to be convenience. I am not opposed to that. I can’t imagine why a woman using abortion to obtain a daughter is morally inferior to a woman wanting an abortion because she wants children later in her life rather than right now. Both situations are just desiring children (or the lack of children) to be convenient to the parent. I don’t object. I do object to late-term abortions, but when an abortion can be performed and for what reasons are two entirely separate issues.

  • Alejandro Sills

    So then the embryos are brutally destroyed over a manner of “convenience.” Where is the option of adoption in this issue? What kind of a person KILLS the fetus rather than give it a chance to be happy with someone else if she does not want it?
    I find your rhetoric very frightening. Reducing this to a matter of expediency only shows to undermine the very value of life which you seem to affirm. A threat to one is a threat to all.

  • Alex Weaver

    Alejandro:

    Have you ever experienced a pregnancy?

  • jemand

    pregnancy is not “expedient.” You are free to make your case to individual women, to convince them to carry to term, or to give up a child for adoption. Go right ahead! But pregnancy wreaks havoc on teeth, bones, organ systems, all sorts of things. It’s not “trivial” and not carrying to term because she does not want a child now, or does not want THIS child, shouldn’t necessarily be called “convenience.” If your persuasion is ineffective, and the woman chooses to abort anyway, you may not ethically move to force, to forcibly seize her organs and use them for purposes against her will.

    *IF* it were possible to remove a fetus from a woman’s body alive, and incubate it outside of her, than abortions as they are known today would become unethical. A woman has complete authority over the use of her body, she does not have the right to ensure that any fetus becomes dead. With modern technology, those happen to be mostly the same. Maybe go try to invent something new.

  • Alex Weaver

    Even better idea, jemand: develop technology that would allow a fetus to be implanted into anyone’s body, male or female, and born by Caesarian section.

    Alejandro, given how concerned you are about the well-being of embryos and fetuses, you WOULD volunteer for that if the technology existed, right?

  • http://dangerousintersection.org/ Erich Vieth

    Excellent post! Lots of unexpected twists and turns regarding a topic on which I thought I was well informed.

  • CSN

    Alejandro, please stop disingenuously acting interested in others’ opinions in order to give yourself the excuse to preach.

    The George “Rubbers” Bush factoid is an enlightening exposure of the conservatives’ true interest in controlling sexuality. It’s a weapon of control.

    Ebonmuse or others, are there other books along these lines you would recommend? I’ve recently become increasingly interested in patriarchy’s role in the world’s power structures and especially being of the privileged gender I feel the need to learn all I can.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Alejandro Sills “Where is the option of adoption in this issue?”
    Adoption is an option. For some. Others aren’t healthy enough (mentally or physically) for pregnancy. More simply can’t afford it.
    I’d be closer to “your” side if the State was willing to pony up the cash for, say, free medical and subsidized diet/housing/etc for the duration of the pregnancy (and, to lessen the pressure for abortion in the first place, teach competent comprehensive sex-ed in schools and heavily subsidize, if not outright pay for, contraception). As it stands now, it’s more of a “You’re pregnant. You deal with it. Whore.”, which helps no one.

    “What kind of a person KILLS the fetus rather than give it a chance to be happy with someone else if she does not want it?”
    …because there’s a giant queue for the “less popular” babies (unlike the perfect, white babies, who can’t even be given away)…

    “I find your rhetoric very frightening. Reducing this to a matter of expediency only shows to undermine the very value of life which you seem to affirm. A threat to one is a threat to all.”
    We’ve got “safe”. We’ve got “legal”. We’re working on “rare”. One problem is that the “other side” is both trying to cut the “legal” while simultaneously obstructing the things that realistically help lead to “rare” (comprehensive sex-ed & cheap, effective contraception are pragmatic, if imperfect paths to “rare”. Abstinence-only sex-ed and restricting/banning contraception are idealistic and unrealistic paths. Pragmatism is harm reduction, and works okay in the real world, while idealism (in this case) is harm elimination, and succeeds only in consistent failure in the real world (scattered personal anecdotes might say that it works, but proper studies show the opposite). Also, another goal of the “other side”, banning abortion, does not reduce the number of abortions. Banning abortion only cuts the “safe” from “safe, legal and rare”).
    On a side note, one of the leading indicators for likely to get or look for an abortion is poverty. Look to the Christian Right (or the Right in general) and tell me if they promote programs (like the Social Safety Net or any State assistance to the poor, whether straight monetary help like welfare or “hand-up” like retraining for adults or well-funded public schools) that ameliorate the effects of poverty or promote an egalitarian, supportive State that helps those who need it. The wildly irresponsible rhetoric over (what, to the rest of the world is) a simple thing like Univeral Healthcare in the US shows that they are not only not for it, but are willing to lie, spread fear and, in some cases race-bait, to ensure that “people poorer than me” don’t get it (it’s to the point of absurdity, where there are Americans arguing against their own long-term best self-interest just to make sure that “the other guy” doesn’t get it).

    Pragmatic realism isn’t perfect, but it works better than the alternative, absolutist idealism, which ends up, despite its self-professed lofty goals, magnifying suffering (which, in an ironic twist, is hardly ideal).

    So, in short, we’re aiming for “safe, legal and rare”. The opposition is doing everything they can to promote the polar opposite of those.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Wups. Apologies for the “double brackets”. I only noticed that the backstory had backstory when it was too late to undo the voodoo that I do.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    And “race-bait” should probably be “playing to petty Nationalism”, in the case of the uproar of the mere possibility that illegal immigrants might have some access to the system.

  • Alejandro Sills

    Re: …because there’s a giant queue for the “less popular” babies (unlike the perfect, white babies, who can’t even be given away)…

    This is not the fault of the babies, but an attitude of older folks, and a mortifying one at that. That is another thing in society at large that should not remain at the status quo. What does it say about us in limiting our “caring” ethic only to the white “popular” healthy babies.

    Re: Alejandro, given how concerned you are about the well-being of embryos and fetuses, you WOULD volunteer for that if the technology existed, right?

    An ethical person could only say yes to that. (I have no idea what my former church would teach on this, but you might be surprised to learn I no longer consider myself a Christian for a host of separate, technical reasons). I do not know if I would follow up on this or not, but if I did not when presented with the offer to carry a baby to term so it may live, this reflects not a deficiency in the ethic but my own cowardly weakness, and I would know it.

    On universal health care, funding for poor women who are pregnant, etc., I am totally for those things. Indeed, even though I seem in your eyes to share much in common with the right-wing group, I, too, am puzzled and frustrated at the inconsistency in their “pro-life” ethic and their simultaneous refusal to help poor women who are pregnant. If anything, their platform should at least be structurally consistent. (And so should the left-wing’s platform, which is for those programs, even though they also allow for abortion).

  • Sarah Braasch

    I honestly don’t understand why we don’t just create artificial uteri (?) (the plural of uterus).

    This would solve the problem.

    It seems to me that we should be able to do this — just create machines that allow foetus to gestate outside of a woman’s body.

    Problem solved.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Ebonmuse or others, are there other books along these lines you would recommend? I’ve recently become increasingly interested in patriarchy’s role in the world’s power structures and especially being of the privileged gender I feel the need to learn all I can.

    The next book I plan on reading is Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky, which I understand is about similar topics (though more on feminism generally than women’s reproductive rights specifically).

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Alejandro Sills “I, too, am puzzled and frustrated at the inconsistency in their ‘pro-life’ ethic and their simultaneous refusal to help poor women who are pregnant.”
    That’s because it’s not about protecting the fetus. It’s about punishing women for “sin” and protecting the patriarchy, which is probably the most feministy thing I’ve ever said.

    “(And so should the left-wing’s platform, which is for those programs, even though they also allow for abortion)”
    We, and as usual I speak for all liberals, don’t expect people to be ideal. Real life is far messier than that. Ignoring life’s shades of grey doesn’t make the world black & white, it just hurts those who are grey. We don’t like abortion (it’s not “Oh, dear. I’m pregnant. Oh, well, time for another abortion!”, for instance), but the alternate as it exists now is worse.

  • CybrgnX

    There seems to be two genetic types to the human population.
    The genetic structure is a mutation that can be traced back to the stone age.
    The 1st is the extremely common male that has a brain the size of a pea and its located at the end of his dick and is controlled by the sperm that initiates fear of women but at the same time requires him to impregnate as many as possible. They fear woman because they cannot handle (emotionally) the idea that they may not be better then a mere female. These types also seem to be highly attracted to fundamentalist type religions but this may just be a correlation.

    The 2nd type has a larger brain located on his shoulders that allows for a higher thought process and so is happy and safe in his man-ness and does not fear the woman and actually appreciates her ‘self’ and abilities and does not feel his manhood threaten by the woman should she be superior to him in some way.

    The studies I’ve done in my family indicate that my #2 brother is the 1st type, I’m of the 2nd type, and my #3 brother is mostly of the 2nd type but has a hint of the 1st type. This suggests that there are a few genes involved in the mutation, which will make it very difficult to find a cure for the penis-brain disorder.

    As far as Alejandro Sills comments. I’ve seen others of this type ‘if abortion is OK then THEY will have abortions all the time’. The simple answer to this is BS!!!!
    Another BIG FAT LIE from the religious. Go to any country where abortion is legal (US for example) and look thru the records (I know science work – AAHHhh a sin!!!) and find me just 5 women how do such a thing. Just five from the many how have had abortions. Oh prostitutes don’t count unless you go to a country where prostitution is also legal. If you make up lies then at least make up the statistics to back you up.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Oh, and can we just make over the counter abortifacients available in the US already? Thanks.

    Another symptom of the fact that anti-abortion laws are really only about punishing women for having sex.

    If a woman chooses to have an abortion, then we are going to make it as difficult and as painful and as humiliating for her as possible.

    I’m also sick of the “we all want to decrease the number of abortions” rhetoric. I think this is just buying in to the nonsense that abortions are “evil”.

    I reject this entirely.

    Someone tells me, “But, if we make it easy and cheap and shame free, if we provide abortifacients to everyone, then everyone will be aborting their unwanted pregnancies all the time. They’ll use abortifacients and abortions like birth control.”

    I say — So? Sounds good to me.

    I am tired of pro choice. Pro choice is for wimps.

    I am pro abortion.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Well, I want to decrease the number of abortions in the same way I want to decrease the number of open-heart surgeries: by making them less needed, as opposed to less available.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    Of course religion is intertwined with subjugation of women. All cultures must provide for the same thing; indeed, one could be forgiven for concluding that all culture exists solely to provide that thing. That is, giving men a stake in childbirth.

    “The workers will never be free until they control the means of production.” What is the most valuable thing produced on the planet? Children! Who controls reproduction, lock, stock, and barrel? Women!

    Men of the world, unite! Let us form a union and collectively negotiate for ownership rights over children. Let us demand some return for our investment, which while admittedly small is still manifestly necessary. And of course let us punish strike-breakers with savage fury, since they work the ruin of us all.

    :D

    Seriously, though, in the stampede to make men and women equal, let us not forget nature did not. One of us is the bedrock of the race, and the other is an expendable specialization. Women should have control over their bodies, but not to the point where men are excluded from parenthood save at a woman’s pleasure.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    They’ll use abortifacients and abortions like birth control.”

    I say — So? Sounds good to me.

    I am tired of pro choice. Pro choice is for wimps.

    I am pro abortion.

    Are you sure you mean that like it sounds Sarah? Sure abortion should be a (free, easy, guiltless) option when prophylactic methods of birth control have failed. But abortifacients and abortions come with there own health risks and psychological traumas, so as a method of first resort they are not ideal.

  • Jim Baerg

    #19 Sarah Re: artificial uteri

    Have you read any of the SF of Lois McMaster Bujold?
    The ‘Uterine Replicator’ is part of the technological background of most of her stories & the social effects of it are often major plot points.

    She seems to regard the UR mostly a major benefit like vacinations or reliable contraception, though some of the stories revolve around the possible abuses.

  • Wednesday

    Sarah – as much as I wish abortion access were better in the US, I’m not sure over-the-counter medical abortion is the best answer.

    I can certainly see an arguments in favor – women in areas that lack providers would still have access to an important part of health care. And women who cannot take time off from work, or who cannot go to a clinic because of class or social shame issues, would also be able to get abortions early rather than later.

    However, there is important follow-up care in the case of medical abortion – making sure that the abortion was complete, for example. (Hell, just making sure the pregnancy isn’t too far along for medical abortion to work is important.) And complications, while rare, do exist. So I’m worried that if we make medical abortion available OTC, women who get it and then have complications may be screwed if they can’t get the aftercare they need, either because they can’t afford it or social issues prevent them from seeking it.

    I also worry about assholes in the medical profession branding women who have natural miscarriages as “baby-killing sluts” because the OTC abortifants would give them an excuse to further denigrate women. (Hell, if Virginia wanted to make it a crime to go more than a day without reporting a miscarriage…)

    I also, frankly, worry about abusive partners buying it and attempting to terminate pregnancies that women want to carry to term, or secretly giving it to non-pregnant partners in an effort to prevent “oopsing”. (Because, you know, women always lie about being on The Pill in order to trap poor, oppressed men. *eyeroll*)

    In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need OTC medical abortion because every woman would have safe, legal, and affordable access at a legitimate health care clinic. But, as Ebon points out, this is not an ideal world, and idealism can make things worse than pragmatism.

    So, I’m torn. And since I’m fairly economically privileged (I could afford a day trip to a clinic out of town), I’m not in a position to judge if I’d rather risk a complication that no one will give me treatment for in exchange for having any sort of legal and mostly-safe access to abortion, because that’s not a choice I have to make.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I mean it. But, sort of in the same way that themann1086 means it.

    I also just feel like I want to push back on the “we all think abortion is evil, it’s just that pro-choicers think it is a necessary evil” rhetoric.

    It’s not evil. It’s a medical procedure. It saves lives.

    Here’s what I really think: if we can fly to the moon, then we can build an f’ing artificial uterus machine already, godamnit.

    And, I want over the counter abortion pills too.

    Women will only be free from religious terrorism when we make our babies in laboratories.

    I know it all sounds strange and scary, but probably no scarier or stranger than when the pill first became widely available, and everyone thought the world was going to hell in a handbasket.

    Reproductive technology is a girl’s best friend.

    And, will people stop suggesting wonderful and interesting books for me to read? It makes me feel like I just crawled out from under a rock in the desert. (J/K) I love it. Keep them coming. Even if I have time to read none of them.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Good points, Wednesday.

    But, I still want over the counter abortion pills.

  • Brad

    At the root of this bitter tree stands the Roman Catholic church, which was and is the staunchest opponent of women’s rights in the world – as she points out, even Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran have a more permissive view of abortion than the Vatican. (OP)

    Wait, what? Abortion is just one right for women; Saudi Arabia and Iran have practically every other woman’s right conceivable save for independent breathing outlawed. And even that’s taken away when their very lives are at stake. How much would women’s rights expand globally in proportion to their ideal realization if the Roman Catholic church suddenly started supporting a woman’s right to abortion? Those societies entrenched in the harshest patriarchies and women-oppressing cultures will barely be affected in their total scope of crimes against women.

    Let me ask you: if the fetus is not human either way, why should we feel horror at such a thing? (~Alejandro)

    First because half the women in need of abortion are being denied one for completely arbitrary and contingent factors not under their control, and second because it destabilizes and drains society in the all the ways explained by Ebonmuse in the OP (original post).

    What kind of a person KILLS the fetus rather than give it a chance to be happy with someone else if she does not want it? … Reducing this to a matter of expediency only shows to undermine the very value of life which you seem to affirm. (~Alejandro)

    Upwards of 60% of all abortions in the United States are performed prior to nine weeks of gestation – at which point the fetus is slightly over an inch large and is growing the brain. Upwards of 90% of all abortions are performed before the end of twelve weeks of gestation.

    The first twelve weeks of gestation there are still no signs of EEG whatsoever. In this time period, there can be no chance for happiness, there can be no chance for sadness, there can be no chance for anger, there can be no chance for processed sensory feeling, there can be no chance for forming memories, there can be no chance for conscious thought, there can be no chance for anything resembling subjective experience, and there can be no chance for anything akin to a personality. A fetus is not a person; it is the biological scaffolding upon which a person will later emerge, plain and simple.

    Also, Modus is a satirist, so take him seriously but don’t. ;-)

  • jemand

    “Re: Alejandro, given how concerned you are about the well-being of embryos and fetuses, you WOULD volunteer for that if the technology existed, right?

    An ethical person could only say yes to that. (I have no idea what my former church would teach on this, but you might be surprised to learn I no longer consider myself a Christian for a host of separate, technical reasons). I do not know if I would follow up on this or not, but if I did not when presented with the offer to carry a baby to term so it may live, this reflects not a deficiency in the ethic but my own cowardly weakness, and I would know it.”

    Then I assume you are for legal abortion. A random person off the street has a legal RIGHT to be a coward. Sure, you can say they are not standing up to the proper ethics, but unless you have volunteered and received special training such as for the military, police force, medical staff, or firefighting units, you should not *legally* be required not to be a coward. Ethically, you can make that argument, but then again, you would simply be persuading women, not *forcing* them, to follow your ethic, and to be strong enough to follow it if in fact it’s hers as well. Forcing random people off the street, with no special training, to never behave cowardly, as it is quite human to do, is just a recipe for disaster.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Jemand — genius point.

  • http://piepalace.ca/blog Erigami

    Here’s what I really think: if we can fly to the moon, then we can build an f’ing artificial uterus machine already, godamnit.

    Chemistry is easy. Biology is hard.

    I seem to remember an article in New Scientist about an Australian team testing an artificial womb for goats around 2000. It wasn’t successful.

  • Alex Weaver

    And “race-bait” should probably be “playing to petty Nationalism”, in the case of the uproar of the mere possibility that illegal immigrants might have some access to the system.

    Nah; the Right’s obsession with illegal immigrants is fundamentally racial, not national.

  • Alejandro Sills

    See this link.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6351

    (Abortion and Presidential Politics)

    This is targeted at Brad, but anyone else can read it. Your approval of abortion with a clear conscience is contingent on denying the personhood of the fetus to begin with. I do not know what you think of Craig. I think he is wrong on the position of gay marriage and inter-religious marriage, but to be wrong on some is not to be wrong on all. Analyze this argument on its own merits, please.

  • Alex Weaver

    I honestly don’t understand why we don’t just create artificial uteri (?) (the plural of uterus).

    Contributing factors technical hurdles, funding issues, and two out of three (“barefoot” and “in the kitchen”) not being good enough for the wingnuts, but probably the biggest reason is that the idea squicks gullible, nonrational people the same way cloning and GMO foods do.

  • Polly

    In India, Goldberg discusses the rampant practice of sex-selective abortion, which has led to dramatically skewed sex ratios – in some areas, as imbalanced as 700 women to every 1000 men.

    India’s growing wealth has encouraged an explosion of ever-more exorbitant demands for dowry, making daughters more and more of a financial drain on their families and increasing the pressure to have sons.

    Baffling. It defies the law of supply and demand. With the relative scarcity of women, the groom’s family should be offering dowry nowadays, not demanding even more. Moreover, with economic expansion, women are earning money, too. Not to be crude, but this is the equivalent of hookers paying their jons to sleep with them.

  • Sarah Braasch

    “Your approval of abortion with a clear conscience is contingent on denying the personhood of the fetus to begin with.”

    It is quite possible to think the fetus is a human being with rights and still approve of abortion with a clear conscience.

    In fact, this line of reasoning is the basis of our American legal system, especially our criminal justice system.

    So, if this is the reason why you oppose abortion (because you think a fetus is a human being with rights), you’ve got far bigger fish to fry.

    ( On a side note — the enlightenment concept of inherent human rights is a denunciation and repudiation of religion, and I am just as sick of the religious trying to twist the concept to their own aims as scientists must be of the religious twisting the achievements of science to their own corrupt and intellectually bankrupt aims. I know mimicry is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, but, in this case, I wish religion wasn’t quite so jealous of the achievements of humanism.)

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Dang, of all the places I didn’t expect to find MRAs, daylightatheism was one of them. Yahzi, I really hope that you’re kidding.

    To say that a fetus is alive at the moment of conception is to completely undermine all the work that women’s bodies do to create new life. I agree that we should have artificial wombs- it would be a step in freeing us from what is basically biological sexism.

    Additionally, if the concern for “fetuses” was what was driving the anti-choice movement, they would be the first to support measures that would help motherhood, contraception, et cetera. I did some extremely crude measurements in that back in the day http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com/2008_07_01_archive.html, but the point is still there.

    Polly-
    You’ll often find that the “law” of supply and demand is more like a working model. Pet rocks took off and they were literally rocks. Never discount how much people are irrational.

  • jemand

    “Your approval of abortion with a clear conscience is contingent on denying the personhood of the fetus to begin with.”

    Nothing of the sort. If we approved of the destruction of the fetus when technological advances allowed for it to be gestated outside of another human being, than you would have a point. The personhood or lack thereof of the fetus is irrelevant to abortion rights, what *is* relevant is that persons are empowered to self-determination and their consent must be gained before their bodies can be used for another’s purposes. Come on now Alejandro, the rights of personhood extend for men beyond the grave! It is legally allowable to put in your will that you do not wish your organs to be donated, and that is legally respected. That person is DEAD! And yet you wish for us to legally overturn the personhood and autonomy of *living women.* Your position is sexist and controlling, it has nothing to do with “respect for life.” I’m done engaging with you.

  • paradoctor

    Polly: I agree, it’s against supply-and-demand for the bride’s family to offer dowry. I see this as sub-optimal market behavior due to irrationality custom. Tradition as friction.
    But I think that sooner or later the penny will drop. The bride’s family will say, pay _us_ or we walk.

  • Nes

    Alejandro,

    That is perhaps the most cogent argument I’ve ever heard from WLC. Yet, he completely misses several arguments for abortion, many of which don’t agree with his defining line for human. Take a look at this post and the comments.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    Antigone, I’m not kidding. Are you suggesting that men should have no rights whatsoever to childbirth? That we should just unilaterally divorce half the population from the most important activity of humankind?

    I find it surprising that you find it surprising that someone would be concerned with fairness and rights on this blog.

    I’m not arguing for the status quo; I am only pointing out that there are rights in conflict here, and whatever solution we come up with has to acknowledge that. Unless, of course, your solution is the complete disempowerment of an entire class. The thing is, if we wanted to go that route, we already know how. We’ve done it for millennia. I thought people were unhappy with that kind of solution, though, so I’m not sure why it would work any better by changing the group that got disempowered.

    As for artificial wombs – that’s not going to happen in our lifetimes, so it’s not really a solution.

  • MissCherryPi

    Women should have control over their bodies, but not to the point where men are excluded from parenthood save at a woman’s pleasure.

    Right. And women should have control over their bodies, but not to the point where men are excluded from sexual intercourse save at a woman’s pleasure.

  • jemand

    @Yahzi, surrogacy exists for a reason, the problem comes when people want a service (gestation) but do not wish to pay the going rate, so resort to attempting to force social slavery to get what they want. I’m not sure you were going there, for all I know, you do accept that paying market rates for surrogacy is the ethical way men may become parents if they cannot find a woman to volunteer her (considerable) labor for free. Like paying market rates to non-trafficked sex workers is the ethical way to achieve sexual intercourse if they don’t have anyone volunteering for free.

    And of course, in the later case, a whole plethora of technological alternatives are available, from pocket pussies to blow up dolls to electronic gadgets, to vibrators for both sexes, etc. Unfortunately, those options aren’t currently available for gestation, and I think there should be a considerable push to make them available.

  • http://dsimon.typepad.com/ DSimon

    My provisional opinion is that abortions should be legal during the first two trimesters or so under all circumstances, and legal in the third trimester only if deemed medically necessary for the mother.

    Why is the end of the sixth month the dividing line? AIUI, that’s about the earliest point at which it’s at least feasible that we’re talking about a potential human being (i.e. something that is capable of consciousness) as opposed to a pre-human biological process, because that’s the point at which the fetus is developing its Thalamic brain connections. That point, at which the fetus is capable of having its own distinct existence as a thinking entity, is the point at which it also has inherent human rights.

    I’m not saying this situation is fair to mothers who have no wish to go through the last term of pregnancy and through labor. What I argue is that, once the fetus is a distinct person but isn’t yet born, we’re stuck with nothing but shitty choices. Being legally forced to finish the pregnancy all the way through is very shitty, but less so than violating the right a person to ownership over the rest of its lifespan.

    The reason I say my opinion is provisional is because my understanding of biology, particularly pre-natal biology, is nearly non-existent (I had to go to Wikipedia just now to remember how to spell Thalamic!). If someone can give me a hard-core factsmackdown, that would be fine by me.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Yahzi-

    Men should have the same rights of childbirth as women- when you gestate it you get to decide what to do. So, yeah, basically men get no rights in regards to childbirth, because, with the exception of Mr. Beatty, I’ve never heard of a guy getting pregnant (I would have supported his right to get an abortion, if he wanted it, and I support his decision to bear the pregnancy to term). Because you are not the one giving birth.

    How is it fair to force a woman to give birth, or to get an abortion, because a guy either wants kids or doesn’t? Women don’t ever get to skip out of the consequences* of sex- why do men decide that they want to?

    Jemand is right- you want a kid? Surrogacy or adoption. You don’t want a kid, condoms, vasectomies, and still accept that these things happen. Based on everything I’ve seen, guys get off easy on the whole reproduction kick.

    *A pregnancy is a possible consequence of sex. Thus, women have to worry about abortion or a full-length pregnancy. Neither one of those are pleasant.

  • Entomologista

    Shorter Yazhi: You poke it, you own it.

  • Brad

    Alejandro,

    You don’t need to qualify your overall feelings about Craig with me to merit rapport, though I don’t look down on your caution.

    In the link you offered, Craig tacitly equates human beings with people and individuals, even going so far as to refer to a single cell as a human individual. If my head is blown off by some freak accident and my brain is no more, then the body left behind I once used is a human being (it certainly isn’t canine, feline, or bovine, echoing Craig), and it is also not an individual and it is not a person, as should be obvious. Conversely, it is an easy exercise to imagine alien species with similar sophistication in mind and feeling to earn itself the recognition of individuality and personhood, but not bona fide humanity. Clear separation of variables delivers to us the conclusion that being a person is not a matter of having human DNA. It is actual people, actual minds – the stuff of thought and feeling – that deserve intrinsic moral consideration, not just biology.

    Craig goes on to dissect strawmen, make pivotal points sans foundation, and generally ignore logic in favor of easier modes of persuasion, but the central error is already undone.

    That is perhaps the most cogent argument I’ve ever heard from WLC. (~Nes)

    You’re kidding, right? This one is built entirely upon a single elementary equivocation between human cells and people. Completely invalid.

  • CybrgnX

    A few of you have insinuated that male-female are not equal and were not created equal. To which I say 100% correct, there is probably not two of you making those statements that are equal to my 1 daughter. She held her own when loading bombs on Navy planes and in fact she picked up one end and the 2BOYS were needed for the other end. No she is not a BODY BUILDER type. She is a rock climber, skilled archer, precision target shooter(gun), skeet shooter, skilled fencer with many guys on her ‘kill’ score card, martial artist, goes on 5mi hikes weekly with a 25lb load (also called the kid) on her back, a beautiful graceful dancer, and a mother of two lovely children, and has a masters in biology (works for NIH). All that and a wife.
    Yes I know many REAL men who can match her and they all have loads of fun being defeated.
    She has an aunt and a mother who can also do as well. So yes most men are not equal to the women I know!!! Yes I’m on her fencing ‘kill’ card as well, but I taught her archery so I get her there, but I’m afraid she can beat me up.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Along the lines of what CybrgnX is saying, the “differences between men and women” can be best illustrated by 2 mostly-overlapping bell curves.

  • Alejandro Sills

    One definition of life that does not seem to have been touched on here, but seems worth attention, is growth. A human grows for all of his/her life. Even after (s)he stops getting taller at either age 18 or 21 depending on the gender, old cells in the body continuously die and new ones grow in their place. This coordination only stops upon death. A fetus qualifies as living under this comprehensible definition. You cannot say it is not living, unless it dies in the uterus or someone aborts it. If it fits a tangible definition of life, it becomes harder, if not practically impossible, to argue against its humanity.
    Now I know that one might possibly use this logic to inquire as to whether cancerous tumors are alive and hence deserving of legal and moral protection. This attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, however, does not work because it is not the entire coordination. Removing the tumor does not inevitably lead to destroying the entire biological structure. What I refer to in the first paragraph is the total phenomenon of decay and re-growth taken as a structural whole. A fetus is a distinguishable entity in terms of its makeup from conception on out. It is not a tumor. Therefore, to terminate it is to destroy an entire biological and living reality in a sense distinguishable from eliminating the part, as with tumors (or overgrown nails or hair). If the fetus is a life in this sense, then it is a human life (not feline or bovine or equine). But if it is a human life, then how can one do anything other than argue for its humanity?

  • Sarah Braasch

    You can argue for its humanity until his Kingdom comes.

    It doesn’t change anything.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Women should have control over their bodies, but not to the point where men are excluded from parenthood save at a woman’s pleasure.

    Uh, what? Are you seriously suggesting that men should exercise a vote over what their partners may do with their own bodies? That would be revolting, if so. Each person should have autonomy over their own body – full stop.

    After a child is born, when both the mother and the father contribute to its nurture and upbringing, then one could argue convincingly that both parents should have an equal vote in what happens to that child. That is not the case before birth. Biologically speaking, the woman does 100% of the necessary work to develop a conceptus from embryo to fetus to infant. More importantly, the woman assumes 100% of the risk associated with pregnancy and childbirth. It seems the only rational conclusion to me that, until a point is reached where a fetus plausibly acquires human consciousness and therefore human rights, the woman should have the sole say in whether that pregnancy is to continue.

    A fetus is a distinguishable entity in terms of its makeup from conception on out.

    Alejandro, tumors are not only genetically distinguishable from their host, they are capable of independent existence outside a human body. By your definition, they are every bit as human as a fetus, and would deserve the same legal protection.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m not saying this situation is fair to mothers who have no wish to go through the last term of pregnancy and through labor. What I argue is that, once the fetus is a distinct person but isn’t yet born, we’re stuck with nothing but shitty choices. Being legally forced to finish the pregnancy all the way through is very shitty, but less so than violating the right a person to ownership over the rest of its lifespan.

    Are you in favor of forced organ donation?

  • Twin-Skies

    Thank you for the book review Ebon!

    Thank you for the book review Ebon!

    I cannot help but feel its research strikes close to home, in light of an upcoming Reproductive Health Bill here in the Philippines.

    The bill is being met with stiff opposition from the Catholic Church, whose congregation has resorted to distorting and demonizing what the bill actually says.

    They claim it will promote abortion, when the bill explicitly states it aims to minimize abortions by educating people regarding their family planning options, for example.

    They have also threatened to ostracize any Catholics who support the bill, and have explicitly called on their followers not to vote any of the politicians who wrote or support the bill.

    My thanks again – I will need a copy of this book for our local circle of freethinkers. We stand to learn much from it :D

  • Leum

    My provisional opinion is that abortions should be legal during the first two trimesters or so under all circumstances, and legal in the third trimester only if deemed medically necessary for the mother.

    You probably know this, but since a lot of people aren’t aware, this is the current status wrt abortion’s legality in the US.

  • Lynet

    [T]he root problem isn’t the availability of birth control, but the need for female emancipation.

    Yes! Which is why this is about so much more than the abortion debate, distracting though that is (my own brief, regular contribution to that perennial debate is below, on the off-chance that there’s anyone here who hasn’t seen it before). If we want to be less imperialist about women’s rights, a lot can be achieved by taking steps to ensure that women have the ability and the right to speak for themselves, by giving them an education and supporting the right to free speech. That said, contraception is also key inasmuch as it allows women so much more control over their lives.

    Yahzi, an infertile woman cannot force another woman to have a baby for her; nor can a man force a woman to have a baby for him. I do not think disenfranchisement of the male sex from child-rearing will result from this. Many women would be overjoyed to find a man who wanted to share equally in the joys and burdens of raising a child, and, of course, there are also options such as adoption or surrogacy which allow (some of) those who cannot become pregnant the opportunity to raise a child. My father is very important to me, and I dearly hope to have children whose father is important to them. So fear not.

    Leaving this for last, Alejandro, since abortion debates are so ubiquitous:

    If the fetus is a life in this sense, then it is a human life (not feline or bovine or equine). But if it is a human life, then how can one do anything other than argue for its humanity?

    Well, but humanity is irrelevant. Aliens with similar-to-human consciousness would be deserving of similar consideration to humans despite their lack of humanity. Consciousness is the key, here, so the question of where to draw the line for abortion depends largely on when we think that consciousness begins to arise. Given our current understanding of fetal brain development, I’m with those who think that stringent restrictions on abortion (i.e. not unless there are health risks to the mother) should probably begin in the third trimester.

  • Nes
    That is perhaps the most cogent argument I’ve ever heard from WLC. (~Nes)

    You’re kidding, right? This one is built entirely upon a single elementary equivocation between human cells and people. Completely invalid.

    I was referencing Alejandro’s comment, “I do not know what you think of Craig.” If this is the most cogent argument I’ve heard from him, imagine how bad his other arguments are…

    Rereading my comment, I see that I worded it very poorly and that this intent didn’t really come through. That’s what I get for quickly whipping something up before leaving for work.

  • Danikajaye

    Does anybody know if “Right to Life” groups are made up of equal numbers of men and women? Are there any statistics that anybody knows of? It just seems that whenever I come across a very vocal right to life person they seem to be male. Could just be a coincidence.

    I’m also interested to know if opponents of abortion due to “life begins at conception” reasoning are also against turning off life support in the case of brain death. It would seem a little odd to consider that a fully grown human being can be classified as dead when brain function ceases and yet an undeveloped embryo with no brain function is considered alive. If brain function is a key indicator of life in one instance why is it not considered in the other? I’m wondering about the consistancy of beliefs among right to life people.

    What irks me is that people will fight for the right of an unborn fetus and then when that child is born female, grows up as an active member of society and then becomes pregnant with a life endangering ectopic pragnancy, suddenly their right to life somehow diminishes and gets trumped by the “rights” of a POTENTIALLY sentient flesh nugget. Religion seems to focus on what “could be” as opposed to “what is”.

  • http://dsimon.typepad.com/ DSimon

    Alex, no, because removing someone’s vital organs will kill them, and even removing a single lung or single tumor will have a major impact on the donor’s quality of life for the rest of their life. Pregnancy, when done with high-quality medical care (and in the “forced to carry to term” scenario, the government has a clear obligation to provide excellent medical care), does not have that risk.

  • jemand

    @DSimon, I think you need to research pregnancy a bit more. A live kidney or liver donation is just as safe or safer. And I’m SURE you’re in favor of all DEAD bodies immediately being stripped by the state of any usable organs regardless of the family’s wishes or the will?

    ETA, oh, you are talking third trimester abortions here, well, it probably is true that the women with greater pregnancy risk would no longer be in that pool because they would have been likely to abort in the first two trimesters, when you don’t believe there should be any restrictions. And I also assume that you agree that if a doctor and the woman decide she is in significant medical danger, the pregnancy will end. Though in the third trimester in pretty much nearly 100% of cases the pregnancy would end in a very early C-section or birth rather than abortion, the abortion only being used for a dead fetus beginning sepsis or something.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Sex is both a recreational and a procreational activity and in the modern world we have a reasonable expectation that with diligence we can seperate the two (even Catholics accept this, hence the rhythm method). Sometimes those expectations are not met, either by accident or malicious intent (rape etc). Given that a foetus is essentially parasitic on the mother (and if allowed to go to term remains so until it graduates from college)the option of abortion should always be open to a mother at least up to the point where we can objectively assume the foetus has its own conciousness. A potential personality is irrelevent. Every egg, every sperm every spontaneously aborted conceptus is a potential personality. It is the possession of a conciousness that is the issue.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Religion seems to focus on what “could be” as opposed to “what is”.

    Plus, another thing at work here might be that they view unborn children as the ultimate incarnation of innocence. Unborn children don’t poop in diapers, cry all night and keep you awake, constantly demand you pick them up and so forth.

  • http://dsimon.typepad.com/ DSimon

    A live kidney or liver donation is just as safe or safer [than pregnancy].

    They’re closer than I was expecting, but still not the same: pregnancy is safer. Wikipedia says rate of maternal death in the US is 0.01%, while Google says death rate for kidney donors is 0.06% and for liver donors it’s at least 0.10% (the last is not as well-documented).

    That said, they turn out to be close enough that I’m re-thinking my assertion a bit.

    And I also assume that you agree that if a doctor and the woman decide she is in significant medical danger, the pregnancy will end.

    Yep; in fact, no need to assume it, I explicitly said this.

    And I’m SURE you’re in favor of all DEAD bodies immediately being stripped by the state of any usable organs regardless of the family’s wishes or the will?

    Yes! Furthermore, I think there should be a general social expectation that this is done with dead bodies (or something else useful, like donation to a teaching college or medical research institute). Nobody should die because of someone’s nostalgic attachment to a lump of cells.

    That said, I’m frankly not sure how this process should be managed, and I am wary of the potential for corruption if we were to put the government or the market in charge of it.

    (If someone wants to talk about the dead-bodies organ thing with me, we can take it elsewhere. Starting a long discussion about it here would be thread-jacking.)

  • jemand

    @DSimon, well, I’ll agree with you on the “should be general social expectation.” But I don’t really think laws requiring it are really ethical. But this is a bit off topic.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Danikajaye-

    If you look at my link above you can see the break-down of the leadership of the anti-choice groups. It skews to male, though not universally.

  • Alejandro Sills

    Thank you for the link, Nes. The definition of life as presented in the article is not without its difficulties. Some of the bloggers brought up the case of a born baby who is hydracephalic. Since (s)he incapable of rational thought, is (s)he a non-person that can be destroyed? What about a person who has had a lobotomy? Since his/her prefrontal cortexes have been severed to alleviate their conditions, (s)he is rendered incapable of the rational thought which you consider to be a prerequisite for personhood, but is still “viable.” Is it all right to kill him/her? What about a person in deep sleep mode who is conscious of nothing, including dreams? Does their unaware state mark him/her as a “thing” that can just be eliminated? One might answer “But (s)he will be conscious in a little while. It is wrong to kill this person in this state.” But that is precisely what I am claiming for the fetus as well; think of it in a state of “sleep” if the issue of brain activity or lack thereof early in its development is important to you.
    The viability argument is problematic as well. One does not know the precise moment at which a fetus is viable. This even varies from fetus to fetus. Some can survive outside after only 20-odd weeks in the uterus, while others cannot. What one DOES know about the pregnancy process is that a moment of conception occurs. The time of development of brain wave activity or viability can vary. There is no possibility of variability for the moment of conception, however. It is the one definite happening, the “anchor” event upon which all other developments with their variability and considerable indefinability depend. Hence your criteria for life along these grounds, even under the pretext of an average, is suspect at best.
    Some people out of the womb have issues of viability as well. Some people have completely compromised respiratory systems or suffer great traumas that require them to go into an iron lung or other breathing system. Some of these people may still be conscious, so does the issue of their compromised biological viability disqualify them from personhood?
    Defining personhood along these imprecise lines, then, treads very treacherous waters. It is logical to say that defining personhood at any time post-conception is wrought with the specter of arbitrariness. There is no logically precise line in the developmental process of the fetus behind which one can say it is not a person but beyond it one can say it is. To posit that its personhood begins at conception, however, does not run into this difficulty, for prior to conception there is nothing to abort.
    The personhood of the fetus is what may be called an intrinsic defeater. That is to say that the fact of fetal personhood trumps all other considerations. I have seen some of you write that even if the fetus’s personhood can be established, it does not matter if the mother sees its presence in her uterus as an invasion of her bodily sovereignty. The fetus has no malicious intent to “infest” her. (S)he cannot help the fact that (s)he is in the mother’s uterus and dependent on her care. A mother has no more objective right to kill the child because (s)he lives in the mother’s womb than the father would have a right to kill a neonatal infant just because it lives in the father’s house. Neither of these things constitute an “invasion” on the part of the child. His/her dependence on the parents (in utero or out) is not of his/her own choosing, and it is unsettling to mark him/her for destruction for such a fundamental non-choice.
    Ebonmuse’s link to the tumor article is quite interesting, and I think I have read about it before. But a tumor is not a fetus, so it is doubtful that Ebonmuse’s sarcastic suggestion actually rings merit.

  • monkeymind

    Alejandro – I think you mean anencephalic and not hydrocephalic. With hydrocephaly you get varying degrees of disability. Anencephaly is a condition where the forebrain and cerebrum are missing. Another reason why these decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, and not a woman, Alejandro, and her doctor.

  • Alejandro Sills

    Thanks for pointing that out. I stand corrected. Nevertheless the other arguments I put out are worth your attention as well.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Brad “Also, Modus is a satirist, so take him seriously but don’t. ;-)”
    I’m quite certain that I was entirely serious. That’s why I get to speak for all of you. Well, that and I stuffed the ballot box at the Secret Liberal, atheist ‘n’ More Meeting Place.

    Erigami “I seem to remember an article in New Scientist about an Australian team testing an artificial womb for goats around 2000. It wasn’t successful.”
    I assume the accountants got to it. Apparently a million dollar uterus for a ten dollar goat “made absolutely no sense whatsover”. The only people left researching artificial goat uterii are mad scientists. This is because they are trying to breed goats that are extra ornery. If there’s time, they’re gonna try for even creepier eyes.

    Alex Weaver “Nah; the Right’s obsession with illegal immigrants is fundamentally racial, not national.”
    Well, yeah, mostly. I was thinking “Mexico” (and various Central American countries), and “Mexican” isn’t a race. It’s a race for the border! (Bah-dum tish!)
    …”probably the biggest reason is that the idea [artificial uterii] squicks gullible, nonrational people the same way cloning and GMO foods do.”
    Pah! We already do it. How do you think we got baby carrots? And don’t even get me started on spider monkeys!

    Antigone “Dang, of all the places I didn’t expect to find MRAs, daylightatheism was one of them.”
    I hardly see what the Manitoba Runner’s Association has to do with this.
    “Pet rocks took off and they were literally rocks. Never discount how much people are irrational.”
    It was the 70′s. They had to choose between pet rocks and feathered bangs. They chose both. This resulted in Reagan. I rest my case…whatever my it was.

    Steve Bowen “…with diligence we can seperate the two (even Catholics accept this, hence the rhythm method).”
    You may want to check the statistics. The rhythm method isn’t to divide sex in to procreation-recreation. It’s planning when to accidentally get pregnant.

    DSimon “They’re closer than I was expecting, but still not the same: pregnancy is safer. Wikipedia says rate of maternal death in the US is 0.01%, while Google says death rate for kidney donors is 0.06% and for liver donors it’s at least 0.10% (the last is not as well-documented).”
    It should be pointed out that the statistics don’t tell the entire story, as nobody accidentally becomes a kidney donor.

    Alejandro Sills “To posit that its personhood begins at conception, however, does not run into this difficulty, for prior to conception there is nothing to abort.”
    Now carry that out to its logical conclusion. No coffee (for women). No exercise (for women). No breastfeeding (for women). No stress (for women).
    This is because:
    1) Unless you’re a virgin, up to a point in the pregnancy you are pregnant but don’t know yet it, and
    2) All the above are known abortifacients, among others.

  • Brad

    Modus,

    “I’m quite certain that I was entirely serious.” You almost had me. :-)

    Alejandro,

    (1) As for anencephalic babies, why prolong the existence of an empty shell for the few more months it may improbably have? With no cerebellum or cerebral cortex to speak of, it is not just “rational thought” that is precluded in these beings: there is no consciousness of anything whatsoever, their own thoughts or otherwise. If you believe in such a thing as a “ghost”, then this spirit will never connect with the shell anyway.

    (2) The difference between a young fetus and a dreaming person is that a young fetus has never had a consciousness while a dreaming person is a real consciousness on hiatus. A dreaming person has experienced life, has made memories, has made connections, has thought thoughts, felt sensory qualities, made friends and so on.

    If a valuable program is running on a computer, then don’t stop it. If the program was running and will be running, don’t stop it from returning. If the program has yet to start, then take the advantage of the situation to begin it at a time and place that’s best for it.

    (3) I don’t personally care about viability, so all points concerning it are moot to me. (Although conception does have its own variability too, because of the rate of miscarriage.)

    (4) You say its logical to assume defining a person post-conception is a saturated with arbitrariness. And that there is no precise line. That there is no precise line is not a problem, no more than Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a problem for defining position or momentum. If we get a conservative lower estimate that precludes all consciousness, then mission accomplished. But here we’ve all submitted our standard for defining a person – consciousness – and you have declined to analyze it, writing it off as “arbitrary.” It’s not arbitrary; the existence of consciousness is a necessary condition for personhood.

    (5) The only “merit” that Ebonmuse’s suggestion had was riding completely off of your previous definition for a person, that of human DNA and biological completeness. If the suggestion seems silly then that’s only because your previous comment didn’t fully take into account the possibilities. This is a simple issue of reading comprehension.

  • http://dsimon.typepad.com/ DSimon

    It’s not arbitrary; the existence of consciousness is a necessary condition for personhood.

    I’m going to go even further and claim that the capability of consciousness is the prerequisite condition for having a right to life. And that is why I’m a vegetarian. :-)

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    For Modus, any anyone else-

    MRA stands for “Men’s Rights Activists”. Anything else I could say about them would be snide.

  • Leum

    MRA stands for “Men’s Rights Activists”. Anything else I could say about them would be snide.

    I’ll do it for you. MRAs, realizing the horrible travesty of feminism, as best illustrated by the fact that mothers generally get custody of children; that the sluttiness previous sexual activity of rape victims is not taken into account when determining whether they consented; that fathers are expected to pay child support even if (choose all that apply) a) they wanted her to get an abortion, b) the mother bitch left them, c) they didn’t get as much child custody as they wanted; and the general tendency of women to be out in the world, making more money than men.

    Or were we trying not to be snide?

    A few of the MRAs points are either legitimate or have a grounding in legitimate grievances. MRA organizations tend to suck in fathers looking for help with fighting for custody of their children, then fill them with misogynistic lies; there aren’t many groups helping fathers who can’t afford lawyers to have custody, so they’re vulnerable. However, underneath this helpfulness there’s a ton of misogyny, rape apology, etc.

  • Alex Weaver

    Re MRAs:

    Given that bigotry and discrimination demonstrably harms everyone, there is a compelling case for eliminating sexism in laws and society, even the (minority of) manifestations which have historically privileged women (such as the “of COURSE she’s the better parent, SHE HAS A VAGINA!” syndrome from which my ex-wife suffered horrifically secondhand).

    These idiots aren’t helping.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Antigone “MRA stands for “Men’s Rights Activists”. Anything else I could say about them would be snide.”
    Now I’m extra confused. So why do they have a runner’s association in Manitoba? Do Manitoba men not have the legal right to run in their province? Is it because of the snow? It’s the snow, isn’t it?

  • Alejandro Sills

    For those of you who took the time to read the Craig link, even though you do not like him, you probably noticed the part where he distinguished between entities of extrinsic value and those of intrinsic value. Those of intrinsic value, he said, must always be treated as ends and never as mere means (this sounds a lot like Kant, too).
    If an entity is a person, it follows that (s)he possesses intrinsic value, and as such deserves protection under the community of persons. This intrinsic value cannot be dependent on anything that may vary in magnitude or temporality, for that would undermine the very definition. Many of you insist that a human fetus is a person only when it acquires the trait of consciousness, as indicated in the link one of you provided me. I had said earlier that the time that this happens varies from fetus to fetus, with you retorting with the case of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the guideline of the conservative lower estimate.
    This is a debate over the existence of personhood in the uterus, you all. It does not carry the same moral weight as wondering whether an electron is at position A or position B. In any case, your criteria of consciousness serves precisely to undermine the definition of intrinsic value of a person. Even you would agree with me that an entity exists in the womb, even before the point that it acquires consciousness. But it makes no sense to say that this entity does not possess intrinsic worth before a certain condition is met and yet postulate that it does once that threshold is achieved. You are saying, in effect, that it it is only extrinsically the case that such an existing entity possesses intrinsic worth.
    No, intrinsic worth, by its nature, begins to exist when the entity itself begins to exist. Hence, my conviction that personhood begins at conception better fits this mode of philosophy than your own. Your “consciousness clause” appears persuasive at first glance, but suffers from the problem of variability, and an imprecision cannot be the ontological foundation for sanctity or moral worth. Conception is a constant in the process of pregnancy in a way that other events in the process are not, and thus is the proper starting point for the perception of personhood.
    Of course, this argument only has even a remote chance of working if you believe in such a thing as intrinsic worth in the first place. I do not know what any of you make of that concept.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    But it makes no sense to say that this entity does not possess intrinsic worth before a certain condition is met and yet postulate that it does once that threshold is achieved.

    Alejandro, you are still failing to grasp the position being offered in opposition to yours. To phrase it in your terms, we believe that consciousness itself is the entity that possesses intrinsic worth. The assemblages of cells which we call bodies are only extrinsically valuable, depending on whether or not they host consciousness. And since “intrinsic worth, by its nature, begins to exist when the entity itself begins to exist”, there is no intrinsic worth until there is consciousness.

    For instance, take the case of anencephaly: a fetus that, in essence, never develops a brain. Even when such fetuses are born alive, they will never be conscious and inevitably die within a few hours or days. Does an anencephalic fetus have “intrinsic worth” in your worldview? Why or why not?

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Alex-

    I completely agree that there are legitimate issues that men need to worry about. However, most (all?) of them are better served by male feminists. MRAs are completely counter-productive.

    Take, like was stated, the fact that women get custody way more often than men. Some of this still is a response of sexism- most courts have the gender neutral language of “the primary caregiver”* but, the ones that do still favor the woman explicitly have been attacked by feminist organizations.

    Or, say the issue of the draft, which is sexist and privileges women** NOW and almost every feminist group goes “We don’t support the draft, but if there is to be a draft, we want it to effect everyone.

    * Since women are STILL the primary caregiver, that means, most of the time, that it de facto is “Women get preference”. Of course, the easy way to fix this is to be a primary caregiver BEFORE divorce. Then again, the position is not paid, it involves intimacy with various bodily fluids, and you don’t get to talk to adults for most of the day, but that’s parenthood.

    **Well, it’s a mixed bag. It privilege women because, hey, we don’t have to go get shot in a war that we don’t sign up for. Of course, on the other side of that coin, it’s born of belief that women are helpless and need men to protect us; which makes it harder for women who ACTUALLY want to serve in the armed forces.

  • Alejandro Sills

    For reasons I touched on but seem to need to elaborate on, yes, even an anencephalic baby has intrinsic moral worth. One of the factors I listed pertaining to this is the need for an egalitarian foundation of some sort. You are claiming that consciousness itself is the entity that bestows intrinsic worth. But it is given that this does not happen at the exact same time after conception for every single fetus (if ever, when one considers the anencephalic infants).
    What that means is that, on your view, fetuses are not equal in when they receive intrinsic worth. The corollary, then, is that they are not equal in their intrinsic worth. If some have this trait earlier than others, the logic would seem to say that their intrinsic worth, regarding when they receive it, is a matter of chance.
    But it is absurd to interpolate a variable quantitative factor (when the fetus receives a trait) into a judgement of qualitative value (intrinsic worth). You cannot say “This fetus developed intrinsic worth at three months, but that one received intrinsic worth at three and a half months.” The essence of intrinsic worth is that all entities concerned receive it at an equal time in the course of their existence. The moment of conception satisfies that condition since it is the initial event upon which the others depend.
    Now you might protest this on the grounds that people do not die at equal times after the start of their existence. I agree that they are certainly not the same in terms of when they end. But what is the same is THAT they end. Their deaths all involve total system failure and cessation of growth. As per my logic in the above paragraphs, this should serve as the equalizing measure of when personhood ENDS, just like my insistence that conception is when personhood BEGINS.
    Thus the condition of consciousness is not one that can be taken as a logical or moral prerequisite for personhood and thus must be rejected in life value judgements. I would appreciate the anencephalic infant by mere virtue of its existence, knowing that it will not be with us much longer. The “entity” I speak of is the being in itself and not what it possesses. Nature, not man, should handle the duty of dispensing death; our job is to love the person for who (s)he is, not because of any predicate (consciousness, viability, etc.) but because (s)he exists.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    You are confusing “intrinsic” with “unconditional”. While they are similar in meaning, they most certainly are not identical.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Also, again, you’re missing the point. The intrinsic worth is consciousness. I would find consciousness to be worth, no matter the vessel. Heck, I was watching Star Trek the other night where they came across the “microbrains”- non-organic sentient life. That’s intrinsic worth. If it’s in a tree, in a rock, in a fetus, whatever- it’s the sentience that is valuable, not the body it’s made of.

    And, you still don’t seem to see any intrinsic worth of the woman who’s actually carrying the thing. I would consider the value of my autonomy to be the nature of it’s being.

    Also, you say “The essence of intrinsic worth is that all entities concerned receive it at an equal time in the course of their existence”. You say this as if it is truth, but I don’t see anything to suggest that. Certainly we don’t say that sperm or ovum have any intrinsic value- why the line at conception? It is arbitrary point.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Alejandro Sills “Hence, my conviction that personhood begins at conception better fits this mode of philosophy than your own.”
    Again, see the last part of this comment. “At conception” bears a enforcement cost that even the hardiest and most paranoid Police State would find hard to shoulder.

    “The essence of intrinsic worth is that all entities concerned receive it at an equal time in the course of their existence.”
    Except that there’s no “entity” in an anencephalic fetus. Enough basic function is there for it to not die (for a while), but there’s no “I”, nor is there the potential for “I”. It’s not a person (nor will it ever be, nor can it ever be). It’s a heartbreaking biological tragedy.

    Antigone “…it’s born of belief that women are helpless and need men to protect us; which makes it harder for women who ACTUALLY want to serve in the armed forces.”
    I always viewed conscription, and military service in general, more as being that the men of the tribe are disposable, compared to the far more valuable* women**, which is probably just a less coarse way of phrasing what you said. Granted, this may be because I’m all sensitive and emotional ‘n’ shit. Alternately, I’m terrible sexist, depending on how the answer is phrased. I prefer my way. It is both more poetic and it makes me appear better than I am.

    * …as well as softer and better smelling
    ** I’m not against women serving. I’d just rather they didn’t***.

    *** I’d rather men didn’t, either. War would be far less warlike if nobody bothered to show up.

  • Alejandro Sills

    Antigone, see the post #69 for the answer to your last question. I judge personhood and intrinsic worth by what the “shells” (as Brad put it) have in common (conception and biological death), not what some of them are lucky enough to have (i.e. consciousness), while others are not. There is no such thing as “lucking out” on intrinsic worth. It is a constant like conception and death.

  • Alejandro Sills

    This will be my last post (I promise).

    I did not come into this blog intending to win any popularity contests. I understand what the purpose of this page was, to promote feminism. Indeed, I am wholly supportive of female suffrage, of women holding high positions of influence, of determining what they will do with their lives. But it does not translate into a right to do wrong.
    I am grateful to all of you who were able to bear with me over the course of my postings. The idea of personhood in a fetus does not strike you as self-evident, but I am sure you have realized that you were not dealing with a straw-man. You may have noticed that at no point did I make any recourse to the Bible, to religion, or to God. Chances are you do not believe in those things (I actually do not believe in the first item anymore, I consider myself a type of deist) so I made sure to engage you all on your own terms. I kept my postings relatively civil, all things considered, and took the care to probe every difficulty that might arise from your mindsets on this issue.
    It always pains a pro-lifer whenever (s)he reads or hears a denial of the personhood of the smallest among us. However, I noticed the slightest hint of a recognition of the personhood or the possibility thereof of the fetus in some of the postings, particularly Jemand’s post #11. Jemand suggested that abortion as we know it would become unethical if we developed the technology to incubate all fetuses in functional artificial wombs. But I ask my question a third time: If the fetus is not a person either way, why should it be immoral even then? If it will be immoral in the year 2500, then it is immoral now and always was, just like the fact that slavery is wrong now means it was always wrong even before 1865. Objective moral judgements do not change.
    I realize that the modern political pro-life movement consists of a lot of cynical politicians who only use the personhood of the fetus for their own selfish ends. Such people are indeed despicable. But it would be wrong to dismiss the pro-life platform AS SUCH as invalid on those grounds. That is what is called the genetic fallacy, or trying to undermine a system of belief by pointing out base motives of the adherents. Their ploys no more undermine the objective truth value of the stance than the fact that we live in a scientific age undermines the truth of the heliocentric system. We do not need to feel discouraged when a person says “You only believe the Earth revolves around the Sun because you have lived after the time of Copernicus.” The pro-life initiative should be judged on account of those whose motives are sincere, not cynical.
    I also want you to know that I have nothing personal that I am gaining from posting here. I am not getting a book deal or running for political office, nor am I planning to become a doctor or a religious figure. You might be wondering why then I am bothering to write. My answer is that it is precisely BECAUSE I have no personal stake that I feel somewhat entitled to write about it.
    You may have wanted to ask me, and I would have been alright if you had, “Alejandro, have you ever just considered the possibility that you are wrong?” Yes I have. But let us put this in perspective. If the pro-life platform is wrong, then pro-lifers are guilty of trying to take away a constitutional right. But if the pro-choice platform is wrong, then pro-choice people are guilty of something far worse: failing to condemn, aiding and abetting, even participating in, systematic mass murder that is practically occurring under our noses.
    You can continue with your postings in peace now, while I go off and do other things (I do have a life outside of this blog, don’t worry). Just think about everything I said. I cannot force you to believe anything, but I hope, as a pro-lifer, that you will have a change of heart.

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    Modus-

    Women aren’t naturally softer and better smelling. You’d be surprised at the effort we put in to get that way.

    Also, if we were more valuable, we wouldn’t be raped and killed at the same level of guys. “Protection” is all well and good, but I highly doubt that Iraqi women, for instance, feel “protected”. I’d rather, if I had to fight (which I avoid) know how to fight, not have someone fight for me.

  • abusedbypenguins

    At any one given point in time 1000 women become pregnant, roughly 667 of those will spontaneously abort. 90% of those within the first month. The human genome is very complex and if something is not quite right the women’s body rejects the fetus. The first sperm that reaches the egg is only the strongest swimmer and not necessarily the smartest. Which is why there millions of the little buggers because there is something wrong with most of them. Ideally the strongest, fastest and brightest(potentially) is the first one to the egg and goes in. Most of the eggs have a problem, so actually it’s a wonder that there are as many successful births as there are. So, the woman’s body has a say over which pregnancies come to term. A woman’s mind must have an equal say in the matter and to say otherwise is to discount the value of a woman’s mind. To only let the woman’s body have a say in a pregnancy and not her mind is to reduce the value of a woman to nothing more than a baby maker. Anyone who states otherwise is morally bankrupt.

  • Alex Weaver

    Just think about everything I said.

    We have. You’ve said one thing over and over and it’s been refuted, poked full of holes, and reduced both to absurdity and to chunky kibble in the course of this argument.

    By the way, the analogy to slavery is disingenuous since you clearly don’t believe it’s wrong, at least if it’s women who are being enslaved and if the term of slavery can potentially expire after 9 months.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Antigone “Modus- Women aren’t naturally softer and better smelling. You’d be surprised at the effort we put in to get that way.”
    And you’d be surprised at how much effort it takes us to simply reach the remarkably low bar of “hairy and gross”. It takes all of my strength, for example, to not scratch my ass in public.

    “Also, if we were more valuable, we wouldn’t be raped and killed at the same level of guys.”
    Just because others might not recognise your value doesn’t mean that you aren’t valuable. And if that isn’t the caption for a motivational poster, I don’t know what is.

  • Zietlos

    Everyone has intrinsic value, even those born brain dead, in terms of their raw materials that can be processed from them. Because of my blood type, I can sell that for a premium too if the world requires it. Marrow as well. Beyond that, I do not sell muscle as I need the little of it I have, instead I regularly sell electron usage in my brain to others, on an hourly rate. In terms of value, I am really only a bit above the chop-shop sum of my parts at this time. Some are far more. Some are barely at par, if they cannot offer physical nor mental effort.

    Maybe one day we, as Earthlings, will look back and shake our heads at the stupidity of our ancestors. Both Capitalism and Communism work better when everyone has an equal starting playing field, after all.

    Shame I missed the conversation with Ale Sills though, it is always fun to horrify people with my cynicism.

    …Modus’ low bar is too high to reach. So long as I am not actively repulsing people due to my physical traits, I chalk it up to a victory over the bar.

  • MS Quixote

    there is no intrinsic worth until there is consciousness.

    I’ll pass on the debate, but I would like to know at what point it’s generally thought here that a level of consciousness obtains which would produce intrinsic worth.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    For reasons I touched on but seem to need to elaborate on, yes, even an anencephalic baby has intrinsic moral worth.

    I thought you would say that, but I’m glad we have it for the record. Let’s be clear, then, that Alejandro’s position is that a woman who learns early on in her pregnancy that her fetus is anencephalic should still be forced to carry it to term, should still be forcibly subjected to all the dangers and exertions of pregnancy and childbirth, all for the sake of delivering a baby which will be dead within hours. Such moral absurdities are what these philosophic word-mangling games ultimately lead to.

    What that means is that, on your view, fetuses are not equal in when they receive intrinsic worth.

    Yes. You act as if there was something bizarre about this, when in fact it makes perfect sense. Arguing that consciousness can’t be the criterion of personhood because fetuses may develop it at different times is as absurd as arguing that conception can’t be the criterion of personhood because not all pregnancies begin at the same time of the month.

    Nature, not man, should handle the duty of dispensing death; our job is to love the person for who (s)he is, not because of any predicate (consciousness, viability, etc.) but because (s)he exists.

    But, yet again, we deny that a person exists if there is no physical architecture of consciousness. This is the point you repeatedly fail to comprehend. If there is no possibility of consciousness, there is no person; there is only a body.

    I’d also like to call attention to one very strange fact of Alejandro’s argument which I don’t think he’s come to terms with: this strange animal he calls “intrinsic worth”. He claims that possession of this quality is the sole defining characteristic of personhood and moral value, and yet he explicitly rejects the idea that any empirical test could tell whether it’s present or not (he dismisses all such criteria as merely “extrinsic”).

    That being the case, I would pose this question to him: How do you know whether “intrinsic worth” is present in a given entity or not? Is it possible that some fetuses – or some adult human beings – simply fail to possess it? Is it possible that some animals do possess it, making them the moral equivalent of human beings? Why or why not? Since you reject the idea that any empirical test could prove the existence of this quality, on what basis do you assert that all human beings possess it?

    This idea of “intrinsic worth” seems to me to be the doctrine of ensoulment under a different name: just another faith-based test whose outcome is wholly dependent on the subjective judgment and belief of the speaker.

  • Lynet

    Quixote,

    I’ll pass on the debate, but I would like to know at what point it’s generally thought here that a level of consciousness obtains which would produce intrinsic worth.

    Mm, as a vegetarian I often muse on that myself. Perhaps there are degrees of these things. The capacity of anything to feel pain strikes me as a reason not to inflict pain unnecessarily, and this has me extending some rights to animals, but I confess I still support the poisoning of possums in an effort to save New Zealand’s native bush from destruction, so obviously I’m not extending to animals the same consideration that I would to humans.

    When it comes to fetuses I’d like to play safe. I really am in the ‘safe, legal, early, and rare’ camp. But (and I know this is an awkward confession) simple self-interest — simple fear — as a woman means that the harder it is to obtain an early abortion, the more inclined I am to slide the limit into the grey area. Forcing a woman to carry a baby to term is not a nice thing to do — how does it weigh against the interests of a being with a brain the size of a walnut? How about a being with a brain the size of a golf ball? I would much rather avoid the need to decide this question than answer it!

    I do think it’s worth noting that I’m thinking in terms of the extent to which something has interests that are morally worthy of consideration. It’s much easier to put that on a sliding scale than it is to make a sliding scale of ‘intrinsic worth’, even though (as far as I can see) the notion of intrinsic worth is really only being employed here as proxy for the former. Actually, if you have thoughts on any important differences between those two notions I’d be interested to hear them.

  • Alex Weaver

    But, yet again, we deny that a person exists if there is no physical architecture of consciousness. This is the point you repeatedly fail to comprehend. If there is no possibility of consciousness, there is no person; there is only a body.

    Which is a pretty simple point to grasp, really; the inability to comprehend this idea is striking. While I would be loath to suggest that our dear antagonist’s insistence on the personhood and intrinsic moral worth of genetically human organisms without functioning brains might be based on ulterior motives…

  • MS Quixote

    Actually, if you have thoughts on any important differences between those two notions I’d be interested to hear them.

    Hey Lynet,

    It’s good to hear from you, as usual. I’ve committed not to debate this here already, but you’re always welcome to contact me via email. Regardless, I hope things are well with you.

  • Polly

    Here’s a potential discussion topic for another time. The intersection of big money, free speech, and abortion combined with a heartfelt personal story of a major football(right?) hero and his mother.