Ensuring Access to Abortion

As a neutral observer of religion, one of the most striking characteristics I find is the rampant misogyny in nearly every religion in the world. Worldwide, women are denigrated as lesser beings, barred from positions of leadership, commanded to be subservient, and told that they’re weaker or more sinful than men. Even in the relatively few religions where women play a significant role, it tends to be a late-arising development brought about by modern moral progress. By comparison, just consider how many major world religions clearly state in their founding documents that women and men are equal (can you think of any?). Why is the hatred and oppression of women such a common thread, even in faiths that otherwise have nothing in common?

In the wake of some recent discussions about feminism, I had an inspiration, and I’d like to share it: it’s rooted in how religion propagates itself.

Despite the evangelistic efforts of some faiths, it’s clear that the primary vector of religious memes is vertical, from parents to children. And conservative religious leaders know very well that women hold the key to that effort. Given the choice, most women limit the size of their families, but it’s not in the best interests of religious authorities to allow that. Hence, all their misogynist rhetoric, demands for female subservience, opposition to sex education and contraception, and alloting sole authority over sex to men (who, it has to be said, have far less at stake): all part of a strategy to ensure that women don’t exercise control over when or whether to have children.

This suggests a counterstrategy: to advance the atheist cause and stop the spread of religions that seek to grow by proliferation, we have to work to ensure that women have access to contraception, abortion and other reproductive health services. And for that reason, I was very pleased to read this article about a massive charitable gift by Warren Buffett:

Last year, The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for Buffett’s first wife, who died in 2005, gave more than $2 million each to Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Abortion Access Project Inc. and Washington-based Catholics for Choice and more than $40 million to Ipas, which works to expand the availability of safe abortions and provides reproductive health care.

There’s also this encouraging article, “The New Abortion Providers“. It details how doctors’ groups are making a greater effort to train abortion providers and bring them into the medical mainstream, while anti-choice activists’ attempts to intimidate and harass doctors are meeting with less success than they used to. There’s an important point in it that clinics which only offer family planning services are easy for zealots to target, whereas if abortion care is brought into hospitals and performed like any other procedure, it makes it much more difficult for them.

And besides charitable gifts and support from the medical profession, there’s one more very effective way we can give women control over their own reproductive destinies: make it possible for women to abort a pregnancy themselves, without having to travel or find a cooperative doctor or clinic. That’s why I was greatly encouraged to read this column by Nicholas Kristof about the increasing use of misopristol, a cheap, common drug used to treat ulcers and hemorrhaging. It’s one component of the RU-486 pill, but it’s almost as effective at terminating pregnancy if taken on its own. It also causes a miscarriage indistinguishable from a natural one, which is crucial in countries whose theocratic laws punish women who are found to have exerted control over their own biology.

Unfortunately, there are still such countries. One of them is the Philippines, whose laws are largely dictated by the Catholic church. Abortion is outlawed there without exception, with the following result:

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, more than half a million Filipino women undergo illegal abortions every year. Of this number, 90,000 suffer complications, and a thousand eventually die, the center said. Abortion-related complications, it said, are one of the top 10 causes of hospitalization among women in the Philippines. According to the World Health Organization, 20 percent of maternal deaths in the country are a result of unsafe abortions.

It’s often observed, but still indisputably true: outlawing abortion doesn’t prevent abortion, it just makes women more likely to die or be maimed in the bargain. As in many other countries around the world, Filipino women’s lives are being sacrificed on the altar of Catholic dogma, their bodies treated as breeding stock to produce more children for the church. Atheists and freethinkers have every reason to stand against this – to reduce the power of a tyrannical religion, to promote human happiness by ensuring that every child is wanted, and to defend human liberty. But if we’re ever going to succeed, we need to build alliances with all women and treat them as full and equal partners in the effort, capable of exercising autonomy over their bodies and minds alike.

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://whoreofalltheearth.blogspot.com Leah

    Thanks for this. I come from a family of eleven children, and my parents were convinced it was God’s will that they have so many, even when they clearly didn’t have the financial and emotional resources to properly care for us. We’re all adults now and to this day, they turn a deaf ear to any of our claims of neglect. They see it as simply impossible that anything was amiss since that’s what God wanted them to do.

    As far as propagating their faith though, only four of the eleven of us still practice my parents’ religion.

    My first child was unplanned. At the time, I didn’t feel I had any choice but to have the baby. As much as I love the child who was the result of that pregnancy, I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if I could have waited even just a couple of more years before becoming a mother.

  • StewartP

    I was watching a TV show last night, “fourchette & sac à dos”. The presenter travels the world, eating and sharing with different cultures. She was in Indonesia and helping to prepare a fantastic meal, only to discover that the meal was to be eaten only by the men. Prepared by the women, and eaten by the men.
    Indonesia has a mixture of Hinduism and animism, but it’s mysogenist like all the rest

  • Ritchie

    I certainly do agree that empowering women will probably do much to counter the spread of religion (as well as tackle our overpopulation issues), but I’m not sure whether it’s fair to portray it as a sinister tactic consciously employed by the religious. Males of most species (particularly mammalian ones) are generally bigger, stronger, more aggressive and more liable to bully rivals into submission. The roots of misogyny probably stretch waaaaay back in our evolutionary past. I think most religions are so misogynistic simply because they are products of the morals, ethics and culture of societies that had not yet advanced beyond misogyny.

  • http://www.shadowmanor.com/blog/ Cobwebs

    I think I’d agree with Ritchie that it’s more likely that major religions are misogynistic because the societies that spawned them tended to be that way, rather than any conscious realization on the part of the religion that limiting reproductive freedom was the key to survival.

    However, if you look at it from a “survival of the fittest” point of view, what may be going on is that the religions which were misogynistic and thus ensured loads of new members of the flock tended to be the ones that hung around.

  • keddaw

    It’s often observed, but still indisputably true: outlawing abortion doesn’t prevent abortion, it just makes women more likely to die or be maimed in the bargain.

    The same could be said for FGM, but if people are completely against something (like we are for FGM) then pointing out that making it illegal causes more harm still doesn’t wash. It has to be illegal because you cannot be seen to be advocating or allowing a practice you consider morally reprehensible.

    Which isn’t to back up the anti-abortionists, it is simply to put their ‘thinking’ in terms that secular people can understand.

  • Cat Givens

    “The same could be said for FGM, but if people are completely against something (like we are for FGM) ”

    NO. Female Genitalia Mutilation is NOT an analogy that will wash here. Abortion restores the woman’s reproductive self determination. Mutilation is not morally comparable.

    This article is spot on, and immediately being shared.
    Thank you.

  • Zietlos

    However, Keddaw, that isn’t a fair comparison: FGM is done on others, not, I would hope, done on and by oneself willingly. Therefore, FGM is much more like Catholic priest child abuse, in that it is bad, as well as done against someone who has no choice in the matter. And like it, were FGM occurring in a location and people got in an outcry once they grew up, being informed (education is they key!) of what they’ve lost, lawyers could get involved, which would with a few flashy cases, solve the problem in a generation or two, assuming the Almighty Church doesn’t somehow protect its pedophiles.

    The proper comparison, and mothers aplenty might throw shoes at me for this, is a parasite inhabiting a host. Of course, we can’t judge illegal or legal on parasites, but we can judge whether or not is is a good thing. Like a bot-fly, a big parasite. Its another life growing in you, often, not of your choice. Without medical professionals, removing it is a dangerous and possibly life-threatening procedure. It causes a number of health problems while inside the body as well, and can certainly in a number of different complications cause death. Now, maybe you enjoy having your insides eaten by botflies. But if there were a whole group campaigning and attacking doctors offices because people were having this dangerous parasite removed, well, they’d be laughed out of the city.

  • DSimon

    Zietlos, I don’t like the parasite analogy that much; it skips past the major issue of whether or not we’re talking about a person or a non-person clump of tissue. I think we’re way better off memeing about things like consciousness’s relation to brain development, studies showing fetuses cannot experience pain, and so on.

  • Richard P.

    I like the post. It makes some great points.
    However, the first statement threw me for a loop.

    As a neutral observer of religion

    Really, you consider yourself a neutral observer?
    I must not understand what those words mean…

  • javaman

    If approx. one third of all pregnant woman spon.abort in the first trimester,and it was god’s plan for this to occur , why would he go thur all that cosmic soul work only to wipe his own creation? So god is an abortionist when he chooses to be ? Also why would god plan for a woman to become pregnant by a deranged rapist ( who she doesn’t love) if she is in a loving relationship with her husband. Why wouldn’t god allow the loving husband be the biological father? and for the family to be happy , I guess he is just testing us to see if we a righteous? I really hope god does exist ,so when I get to heaven I can educate his sorry ass about right and wrong.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    …to promote human happiness by ensuring that every child is wanted…
    – Ebonmuse, OP

    So many people seem unable to grasp this basic, immediate point. It’s flabbergasting. Female autonomy is sufficient to justify pro-choice legislation all by itself, but the effects upon the hypothetical children is the kicker of kickers if you ask me. My own brother says that this is an attitude problem on behalf of the hypothetical parents, seemingly oblivious to the fact that maybe the desirability of having a child has less to do with momentary whim and more to do with social and economic consequences. Of course, in a face-to-face conversation, I can’t articulate all that; I can just sneer in disgust and say Fuck You. Which is a shame.

    DSimon, you should really read A Defense of Abortion by Judith Jarvis Thomson (I know I’ve linked this a zillion and a half times, but it’s so good). She basically considers the fetus to be a full person with equal rights to the mother, then goes through several cases of how abortions could be performed and concludes that it is still the mother’s decision in every single case. Short Version: It’s the mother’s body, and anything that happens to or in it requires her continuous consent; if baby no longer has mommy’s consent to live in her tummy for any reason, then baby gets evicted, case fucking closed. Way easier than speculating on the mental states of a fetus in varying stages of development (which issue is immaterial anyway if a totally painless abortion were to be developed). Plus: best use of “the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow” in a thought experiment.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I could not love this article more. I agree with everything.

    Anti-abortion laws are violative of the Establishment Clause and nothing more than antediluvian religious laws meant to punish women for having sex.

    I am pro-abortion and proud. We have to circumvent this madness. We need the Equal Rights Amendment, and we need it now.

    There is no good reason why the pill is not available over the counter. There is no good reason why abortifacients are not available over the counter. (RH Reality Check has excellent articles on this subject.)

    If they were available over the counter, then we wouldn’t have to deal with the religious nut job pharmacists refusing to write prescriptions for the pill or emergency contraceptives or whatnot.

    I love the decision from the US District Court in CA on gay marriage.

    This court affirmed what I like to say all the time: morality has no place in the law.

    The way the court phrased it: personal moral views are not a valid basis for legislation.

    Hallelujah!

    Keep your morality to yourself. And, I’ll take abortion instead. Especially misopristol. And, over the counter please.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Something I think about a lot:

    There is this obsession with the point of viability of the fetus (viability outside the uterus, of course.).

    Ok, fine. Then, if the woman doesn’t want to continue to carry the fetus, and the fetus is thought to have reached the point of viability outside of the uterus, just induce labor instead of inducing abortion.

    Actually, birth is abortion. But, the child has developed enough to survive outside of the woman’s body.

    Then, if the state has such a compelling interest in this human life being born, the state can take it and care for it.

    Is this just an insane idea? I never hear people talk about this, but it’s something I’ve thought about.

    In my mind, if anti-abortion advocates don’t want to go along with this idea, then all of their much ballyhooed talk about the point of viability is meaningless.

    It’s just smoke and mirrors. They really just want to force the woman to carry the fetus to term.

  • Rollingforest

    Although, ironically the women most likely to use abortion services would be non-religious women which means that the religious people would be out-reproducing us. We need to find other ways to deconvert people because this alone will always result in a religious population that is growing faster than the atheist one.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Thanks for writing this. This is a perfect example of one of the major things wrong with religion. While the horrible treatment of women and disregard for their safety certainly existed before, these religions have made it a matter of “God’s will” so that even when society has realized it’s wrong, they refuse to budge. (It still amazes me that the Catholic Church excommunicates people for abortions while making excuses for the officials in the Church who have been abusing and raping children, not to mention promoting bigotry and hatred.)

    I’ve noticed there are some people who think having as many children as possible is a good thing without considering that things like quality of life matter as well.

    I think too often people underestimate or ignore the fact that there are medical problems that can go wrong during pregnancy. It’s brushed off as being unimportant, even though it hurts so many people. I do think that things like viability, brain development so on should be taken into consideration. When the mother’s life is in danger, though, saving her life should be most important. Plus, it can be a complicated situation when there’s a certain chance of serious medical problems but also a certain chance that there won’t be. (This is why I think it’s ridiculous when people claim that they only think abortion is okay if it’s 100% certain the mother will die, because nothing is 100%.) In addition to this, of course, will be the circumstance each person is in. I think this is why it has to be a personal decision. The state can’t decide each individual case practically and shouldn’t have that power anyway.

    Perhaps if there were more options available, such as more aid for those who need it and better education, more people would choose to continue the pregnancy and be more confident that they would be able to raise the child well and give the child a good life.

    @keddaw (comment #5): That’s not the only argument used in favor of abortion being legal, though, so it’s not a fair comparison. FGM causes great harm to the woman and can cause other health problems, while the pretend benefits are made up by religious groups. In the case when the pregnancy is causing medical problems, an abortion can actually save the mother’s life.

    @D (comment #11): Thanks for the link.

  • Rollingforest

    Ah, what the heck! I didn’t get too much discussion when I brought up this topic on an older post, so why not bring it up now when people are actually reading this topic.

    I believe personhood is based on consciousness. Consciousness is connected to the brain. The brain develops in the second trimester.

    Killing a person is murder. Thus killing someone who is conscious is murder. Thus killing someone with a brain is murder. Thus killing someone in the second or third trimester (or after birth) is murder. I have no problem with first trimester abortions but I think second and third trimester abortions should be banned except to save the woman’s life.

    In regard to “In Defense of Abortion” I’d have to disagree with one of the main premises. If you saw the famous violinist dying even if you weren’t hooked up to them, then it would be your responsibility to save them (this of course applies to anyone else in the room who could do likewise). So if you find yourself hooked up to them then that moral requirement still remains. The fact that most people don’t do it isn’t an excuse. Also there is the extra moral issue that parents are to care for their children, which would make giving birth to any children you find yourself pregnant with extra important.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I think you have to be very careful with this whole consciousness idea.

    Plants express consciousness. Individual cells express consciousness.

    What defines consciousness?

    To me, it strikes me as an individual moral view that borders on religious. And, therefore, it would not be a valid basis for legislation.

    I actually don’t have a problem with the idea of the point of viability.

    So, if the fetus can survive outside the uterus, fine, it’s a person.

    But, then you just induce labor and the state can take responsibility for it, if the state wants it to be born so badly.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Of course, there are still going to be instances in the second and third trimester where it is in the woman’s best interests to still have a regular abortion, instead of inducing labor.

    Medical reasons, etc., etc..

    And, in these instances, the woman’s interests prevail.

    The thing about saying that the woman has a moral responsibility to take care of the fetus inside of her (if you want to say that the fetus has human rights — just as was discussed above — is that this notion upends our entire legal, and in some respects, political and economic systems.

    Especially in the US.

    In the US, you have basically (with some variations amongst states) no responsibility to do anything for anyone. Not even if they are dying in front of you, and you can easily save them.

    You only have responsibilities towards someone else once you have consented to take responsibility for this other person.

    However, as I’m sure you have all noticed, the so-called “pro-life” movement isn’t picketing and screaming outside of courthouses in the US.

    If they are so pro-life, then you would think that our entire legal system would really really tick them off.

    But, it doesn’t. And, I’m shocked. Really, really shocked by this.

  • Alex Weaver

    Although, ironically the women most likely to use abortion services would be non-religious women

    Statistically (and logically) not. The most common reason for procuring abortion services is the failure of “faith based” contraception, which non-religious women have no motivation to employ.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Rollingforest (comment #16): I also think that things like consciousness and viability should be taken into consideration. However, making it illegal except in cases of threat to the life of the mother has the potential to create problems. As I wrote previously, a threat to the life of the mother might be a complicated situation in which it’s not 100% certain that she’ll die, but there’s some chance of it due to complications. One mother may feel that the risk is worth it, but another might not, so I think it has to be a personal decision.

    @Sarah Braasch (comment #13 and #17): Well, there would be trouble in determining when that would be, given that circumstances such as availability of medical care can determine whether or not a baby will live after being born early. (For example, I lived even though I was born six weeks early whereas another baby who was born six weeks early might not live if he/she did not have medical care). I have had these thoughts similar to what you wrote, though, about why people don’t induce labor instead of having an abortion if it’s really late in the pregnancy? If the baby could live, I think it would be better for the baby to at least have a chance.

    I sometimes wonder what will happen as medical science advances and as a fetus can be viable earlier and earlier outside the womb. (Maybe it’s the sf geek in me, but images of fetuses growing in a hospital outside the mother’s body come to mind, e.g. in Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold.) Will that mean that the time at which abortion is allowed will be earlier and earlier? Will that mean that the baby will have a chance to grow even if the biological mother decides not to carry it? Never mind. This might just be my own random thoughts.

    Thanks again for writing this, EbonMuse!

  • Sarah Braasch

    As I’ve mentioned in other threads, I can’t wait for the artificial uterus machines.

    I think once we no longer have to use women as baby incubators, religion will fade away.

    The real point of religion is to control female sexuality.

    About the point of viability — if the fetus cannot then survive outside of the uterus, then it was just like having an abortion.

    But, my real point in bringing that up, is that the so-called “pro-lifers” will then have a million protestations against this idea, which just shows that all of their banter about the point of viability is really meaningless.

    They just want to force the woman to carry the fetus to term no matter what.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    A while back I read this post (http://www.revelife.com/728028219/poverty-in-africa-and-the-pill/) on a religious site. It just shows how ridiculous some of the claims against birth control are. They’re often an attempt to minimize the good effect of birth control and family planning, pretending the Church’s disregard for women’s health is not a big deal. How can they claim to care about people if they are taking actions harming people?

    @Alex Weaver (comment #19): I often wonder when/if people will realize that trying to decrease the amount of abortions by also being against birth control makes no sense.

    @Sarah Braasch (comment #21): It does often seem that some pro-lifers are less concerned about the health of the mother or the child and are more concerned about “punishing” the mother for having sex.

  • DSimon

    Plants express consciousness. Individual cells express consciousness.

    Huh? Those things are alive, but they’re not conscious by any definition I’m familiar with…

    What defines consciousness?

    That’s just the question I’d like to ask you. :-)

    Anyways, to be serious, what I mean by consciousness is the ability to experience stimuli, as opposed to simply reacting mechanically to stimuli. It’s the difference between me and a robot that looks like me and does what it algorithmically predicts I would do in the same situation, but doesn’t have anybody “in there” actually experiencing something when light hits its photo receptors.

    Capability to be conscious is, I think, the best way to distinguish between people and non-people. It’s somewhat of a difficult thing to test, though, but not entirely mysterious. We know pretty well that it is produced by the brain, because, brain damage can cause damage to consciousness.

    We don’t have to make guesses about whether 4-week-old fetuses could be conscious; they don’t have the necessary hardware for it. The question becomes fuzzier at around the 12-week mark (as I understand it anyways; IANABiologist), but before that point we can morally treat the fetus the same way we would a tumor.

    D, thanks for the link, I’ve heard of the “parasite analogy” argument before but I haven’t read a detailed defense of it yet. I’m gonna start reading it as soon as I push Submit Comment…

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Is this just an insane idea?
    – Sarah Braasch, #13

    Not at all. Thomson covers it briefly at the end of her article, stating that a mother’s decision to discontinue supporting the life of the child in no way gives her a right to guarantee the death of the child. It is only when the former inevitably entails the latter that the latter is an acceptable consequence.

    @Sharmin (#20): I’m not familiar with the story you cite, but my speculation is that as the viability point proceeds ever-earlier, the mother’s decision will be less about whether the child lives and more about whether she carries it herself. Those who are concerned about putting their genes into the next generation in the first place will shift focus from stopping pregnancy to preventing fertilization. The same arguments will be trotted out as they are now, with know-nothing god-wallopers repeatedly insisting that a woman has no right to determine what happens in her own body as soon as she has an opportunity to devote herself to anyone else’s benefit. Technology tends to change the way we deal with problems, not the problems themselves. :)

    …the religious people would be out-reproducing us.
    – Rollingforest, #14

    Atheism doesn’t grow vertically like religion does, it grows laterally. Primarily, anyhow (in both cases). And fortunately, the things that tend to encourage atheism are the things that people tend to want for their kids: good education, high standard of living, a healthy intellect, and so on.

    @ Sharmin (#22): It’s because the church just wants people to stop having sex out of wedlock and for fun. Take away sex and now they can devote all those resources towards Jebus. Letting people get away with sex by preventing or stopping pregnancies lets them have their cake and eat it, too. But forcing people to have kids with their sex, and get married before sex, all helps reinforce their power over the followers.

  • DSimon

    D, thanks for linking the essay, it’s well-thought-out, and as I came up with local objections it had a tendency to counter them well in the very next section, always a sign of a good argument. :-)

    However, I don’t agree with its conclusion, because I disagree with one if its core premises, a premise which nearly all of its other arguments depend upon: that binary rights are effective as the core of ethics. This conflict between outcome-based ethics and rights-based ethics seems to be a standard libertarian vs. liberal thing, so for full disclosure I’ll point out that I’m pretty firmly on the liberal side of that spectrum.

    Thomson argues that a mother has an absolute right to that which she owns, which includes her own body, and that under circumstances of convenience, i.e. if pregnancy only took an hour and had no risk of death, she still would not be obligated to go through with it. Nothing supersedes her right to her own body and her own choice of what she does with her time and effort, no matter what.

    To illustrate this principle at a border case, she changes the violinist analogy:

    Suppose you learn that what the violinist needs is not nine years of your life, but only one hour: all you need do to save his life is to spend one hour in that bed with him. Suppose also that letting him use your kidneys for that one hour would not affect your health in the slightest. Admittedly you were kidnapped. Admittedly you did not give anyone permission to plug him into you. Nevertheless it seems to me plain you ought to allow him to use your kidneys for that hour–it would be indecent to refuse. [...] [M]y own view is that even though you ought to let the violinist use your kidneys for the one hour he needs, we should not conclude that he has a right to do so–we should say that if you refuse, you are [...] self-centered and callous, indecent in fact, but not unjust.

    I disagree very strongly: it would be in fact be unjust to refuse to wait there for an hour to save the man’s life, even if the reason you got into that situation was he did something unjust to you.

    The reason it would be unjust is because I don’t think rights alone are sufficient to create a system of ethics: human beings depend on each other, we have strong interpersonal obligations to each other, and without those obligations humanity would suffer greatly.

    Our obligation to each other is not total: I am not proposing that everyone has an obligation to go right now and fly to Ghana and spend the rest of their life fighting poverty or AIDS.

    However, if action would be (a) sufficiently convenient and (b) sufficiently effective at resolving some (c) sufficiently serious threat to another person, we are morally obligated to take that action. The minimum levels of convenience, effectiveness, and seriousness that make it an obligation are highly arguable… but I think that a functional just society wouldn’t place them so high they were out of reach.

    I’m not obligated to spend all day every day doing that action over and over again, because this obligation morality only extends up to a certain level of inconvenience… but neither should I be considered just or right if I decide to do nothing at all when passing by a woman on the street who would die unless I called the paramedics on my phone (convenient, effective, high need).

    (Note: D, I’m a little worried that my comment has a tinge of mansplaininess, and I want to explain that that’s because I want to make sure the comment is readable to third parties, even if they haven’t read the original Thomson essay. If I were responding in a private message, I’d spend a lot less time going over things that you are already probably damn familiar with.)

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    Everything you say is great — for you. If you feel a moral obligation to plug yourself into the violinist, by all means, do so.

    The problem is that what you argue is in direct contradiction to the entire US legal system. The US legal system currently says that you have zero responsibility to plug yourself into the violinist no matter what, unless you choose to do so. The funny thing is that once you choose to do so, then you can be held responsibility for any harm you cause to the violinist while you are trying to help the violinist.

    And, your personal moral views are a really really bad basis for legislation.

    Your morality might be just peachy and lead us all to candyland.

    But, someone else’s personal moral views lead to FGM and honor killings and burqas and the majority of CA voters voting against the constitutional rights of CA citizens.

    That’s the problem with making laws based upon morality.

    Nope — better to just keep morality out of the equation all together.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    This suggests a counterstrategy: to advance the atheist cause and stop the spread of religions that seek to grow by proliferation, we have to work to ensure that women have access to contraception, abortion and other reproductive health services.

    I refuse to use women’s rights issues to advance any other cause than women’s well-being and autonomy. I spent too much of my life being used by religionists for their purposes. I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow atheists to use me to achieve their ends now.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Referring to my last comment:

    I should really have said “in direct contradiction to the entire US legal system” EXCEPT when it comes to forcing women to be baby incubators.

    This is an Equal Protection violation if ever there was one.

    This is why we need the Equal Rights Amendment.

    Per the current state of American jurisprudence, religious liberty still trumps women’s rights.

    But, that US District Court decision on gay marriage in CA really stood up for gender equality.

    Hopefully the tide is going to turn.

  • Kennypo65

    I think that the entire mysogyny of religion is based on the male fear of sexual inadequacy. Keeping a woman in her “place” prevents her from ever knowing anything that might make her husband seem lacking. FGM is the ultimate expression of this fear. If you take away the capacity for a woman to take pleasure in sex, then it won’t matter how lousy the man is in the sack. If one institutes a policy that sex is only for procreation, then no one has to give any effort to please. As far as abortion is concerned; denying a woman her right to make her own choices concerning her body reduces her to being the property of her husband, instead of his partner.

  • DSimon

    The problem is that what you argue [that we have some legal obligation to help strangers] is in direct contradiction to the entire US legal system.

    Some states (Montana and Vermont, according to Wikipedia the arbiter of all that is true) “require a person at the scene of an emergency to provide reasonable assistance to a person in need”. Also government has the ability to summon people to jury duty (though in practice it’s not that hard to get out of).

    But a more general counterexample is (and here comes the liberal vs. libertarian thing) taxpayer funded public services and charities. It’s illegal to not pay your taxes, even if you aren’t using the services they’re paying for. That’s precedent for there being a legal obligation towards helping strangers, right?

    And, your personal moral views are a really really bad basis for legislation.

    Personally, I think my personal moral views would be an excellent basis for legislation. :-)

    However, whether or not they’re “personal” doesn’t matter, and I’m not sure what you mean by “moral” that it would apply to Good Samaritan laws but not laws against murder. The “basis for legislation” should be the basis that best accomplishes what legislation is supposed to do, keep people from getting badly screwed over. I’m arguing that a personal-rights-only based approach doesn’t do as good a job at that as one which requires some obligation to strangers and to society as a whole.

  • Sarah Braasch

    And, if we, as a society, have the right to tell women what to do with their bodies, for the good of society, then shouldn’t we be encouraging abortions?

    The last I checked, we were at about 7 billion people and counting on a severely floundering, if not foundering planet. Habitable land is disappearing. Conflicts over the remaining resources are increasing.

    The good news is that you don’t have to go to the other extreme and infringe upon women’s reproductive rights by telling them that they can’t have kids.

    When you give women real choices and real political decision making power and real education and employment opportunities and real resources, they automatically choose to limit the sizes of their families.

    Which is a much better option than the religious solution, which is usually something along the lines of God will provide.

    Or, who cares, we’re going to go to heaven anyway.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @DSimon (comment 25) and Sarah Braasch (comment 26 and 28): I agree that it’s the morally right thing to do, but the law can’t force you to do so. For example, giving blood is the right thing to do, since it can help another person stay alive, and it wouldn’t be an inconvenience to you (since your body would replace the blood). However, there are people who don’t want to donate blood despite being eligible to do so — whether for religious or other reasons — and the government can’t force them to do so. It has to be voluntary. I would think badly of someone who believes that letting someone die is preferable to giving them blood, but the government can’t force them to do so.

    @the chaplain (comment 27): I tend to think of it the other way around, that secular people should work for equal rights for women and other minorities, because it’s the right thing to do, and because hurting women is one of the ways in which religion most harms people. In other words, standing up for women’s rights should not just be used as a way to forward atheism, but rather we should stand up for women’s rights because it’s the right thing to do, while making the point that a secular society treats women better than a religious theocracy.

    @DSimon (comment #30): I tend to see public schools (which I very much support) as a different situation. It’s not infringing on people’s personal lives and even if a person is not in school, it benefits them to live in a society where people are educated. The way I see it, that actually encourages freedom, because with more equal education, people have the information to make their own choices.

  • DSimon

    Sarah, I agree with all of that, including the sarcasm in the last sentence.

    My disagreement with you and with Thomson isn’t in the conclusion (abortion should be legal), just in the particular argument used to get there. You argue that the government can never impose obligations on people; I say it can (and does), and that it’s just a matter of deciding how much of an obligation the government is allowed to require.

    If we lived in a world where fetuses were people then abortion might be wrong, depending on if you think that carrying a child to term is too much imposed obligation compared to the need or not. I lean pretty hard towards yes, it would be too much obligation, but that’s a tougher argument to have to make.

    Anyways, it’s a thought experiment: we don’t live in that world, we live in one where fetuses up to about 24 weeks definitely, biologically, aren’t people. So, abortion up to that point is definitely not wrong. Abortions in the first two trimesters shouldn’t even be an issue, except that religious memes are around to bias most peoples’ thought processes on the issue in silly directions.

  • Sarah Braasch

    The sad fact of the matter is that I don’t think we have enough time to really turn the tide.

    The religious hordes are using women’s bodies as weapons in the battle of demographics. They are keeping women as sex slaves, forcing them to have as many children as possible.

    Eventually, they will outnumber the rational members of the human race to such an extent that they will take over and plunge humanity into yet another Dark Age.

    I think we have to try to build up our democratic institutions as much as possible, fortify them, in order to minimize the damage.

    But, it’s not really a question of if anymore. It’s a question of when.

    I guess we could look on the bright side of things — we probably won’t reach that point. The earth will buckle and implode (metaphorically) under the weight of the massive overpopulation.

    Or, the opposing religious hordes will kill everyone on the planet in yet another global religious war — most likely by nuclear warfare.

    I hate to be a fatalist. But, that’s what I foresee when I look down humanity’s path.

    It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop the fight. But, one does have to be realistic about these things.

  • Sarah Braasch

    And, in light of this, in the grand scheme of things, is it really more important that yet another desperate woman without resources brings another unwanted child into the world?

    Really?

    I think our priorities are seriously out of whack.

    I apologize. I have seriously monopolized this thread.

    It’s my issue. It gets me all riled up. I couldn’t help myself.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    …secular people should work for equal rights for women and other minorities, because it’s the right thing to do… standing up for women’s rights should not just be used as a way to forward atheism…

    I agree – that was my point. I also think Ebon would agree. I just didn’t like the way his sentence was structured, because it can be read as using women’s issues as a means to the end of “the atheist cause” (whatever that is). Women’s issues are significant in their own right, not merely as a means to the end of another cause, regardless of how worthy that cause may also be.

  • Zietlos

    Hey, Sarah, don’t be sad! You have just as much right to this soap box as anyone else here! Type-A personalities actually vent a lot of unhealthy stress when they blow up, so rant as much as you need! :)

    Though, on the more “ignoring the point but not the argument” side, what you are describing is a core component of Malthusian economics, with all the population-based doomsaying. Now, having a famous economist agree with your theory isn’t usually a bad thing, but… he died in 1834. His end of the world came well before the current era. In true atheistic fashion, let me be a skeptic about arguments that have, in the past, been proven to be false. :)

    Besides, your second post counters your own point: Abortion/Womens rights does not /really/ factor into the overpopulation problem anymore (well, it does, but not nearly to the extent that it used to): really, the overpopulation surge isn’t stoppable by normal (I hesitate to use the word “mortal”) means. Even educated families sometimes have 3 kids, which overall ups the ante, and farming families need more children for help since no one will work on farms anymore. One of four things need to happen: 1) A major war wipes out huge, vast amounts of people. This is the worst outcome. 2) Governments globally set a law to restrict to two children per couple. Those with less help reduce surface population. While people don’t like big government for some reason, this is the “nicest” way to, at our current tech level, reduce the population, albeit gradually (which may be better). 3) We need better, more renewable sources for ALL of our needs: Food, energy, entertainment, et cetera. This does not counter overpopulation, but instead allows for it. 4) Colonize/terraform another planet. With full budgets going to research instead of war, this could probably be done before our population hits 10 billion. Then screw Earth, and we become one of the Sci-Fi villains, going from planet to planet draining all its resources.

    Fear of societal decline has hurt far more than societal decline ever has. Besides, when the bombs fall, maybe some of us will get to become cool ghouls, like in that Fallout game. :)

    Besides, in the case of a global “End of the world as we know it” (EOTWAWKI), democratic institutions will be the first casualties, and as well they should be: Have you SEEN your government lately (regardless of where you’re from)? Do you really think they could hold together a ham sandwich, let alone a country, in an EOTWAWKI scenario? The better goal is to fortify the hearts and minds of the citizens so that the dictators who rule for a bit after the EOTWAWKI are benevolent (“Do you want liberty, or tyranny?” “It all depends who gets to be the tyrant.”) so we can maintain some standard of living. On the bright side, or rather, a hilariously and darkly ironic side, the capitalist cause (and it will be: desire for scarce resources) of the EOTWAWKI will cause a destruction of the systems in more or less exactly the way Marx predicted, albeit with more rad poisoning. You gotta admit, capitalism proving Marx right would be pretty funny.

    Everybody! ♪ ♫ Always look on the bright side of life. *whistle*.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Zietlos,

    You cheered me up already.

  • Zietlos

    Always happy to lend a hand.. Err… Post. :p

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @Sarah Braasch: Your comments are informed and on-topic (tags include Choice and Feminism). You’re not monopolizing, you’re contributing! And it’s good stuff!

    @DSimon (#23): Daniel Dennett wrote an amazing paper called Consciousness: More Like Fame than Television. He covers the points you raise, and you might also like to read what he has to say on “zimboes”. I highly recommend the paper on consciousness, it was tremendously illuminating for me.

    Re: #25: Well, define “just”, and I may very well agree with your comment on the unjustness of refusing to save the violinist’s life. But is it criminal? And if so, why is it not criminal for anyone to refuse to give blood whenever able? You could save up to three lives for just one hour of your time! Not joking! And any blood bank can tell you straight away that there is always a shortage of blood (believe me, I’m type O- and I hear about it all the time). If you can save a life every twenty minutes for an hour every eight weeks, why isn’t this compulsory? Now flip it around: as it is not compulsory to save three lives in an hour every eight weeks, how in the nine Hells is it not the very height of injustice to demand – under any circumstances at all – that a person dedicate nine fucking months (and the risk of serious complications) to the creation of a new life? …or have I just made you an advocate of mandatory blood donation?

    @ Rollingforest (#16): Your chain of reasoning works very well in one way, and not at all in another. Personhood, I would agree, requires consciousness (i.e. self-awareness); consciousness requires a brain (or synthetic equivalent); and murder requires that a person die. However, murder is by definition the wrongful (or, depending on your dictionary, illegal) killing of a person, so the mere killing of a person does not guarantee that a murder has occurred; likewise, a brain does not guarantee consciousness; and consciousness does not guarantee personhood.

    For instance, if you kill a conscious person in self-defense, that is not murder; if you kill a conscious person at their request, that is not murder; if you kill a conscious person by complete accident, that is involuntary manslaughter and not murder; and so on. Killing a person is not necessarily murder. So the argumentative thrust of your “Killing a person is murder” paragraph is, in a word, stillborn: dead before it even really got started.

    Brains also do not guarantee consciousness. Living humans enter periods of unconsciousness all the time, by both natural and artificial means. There is a wildly varying gradient of brains available for examination in the natural world, and they display wildly varying degrees of consciousness. But if you define consciousness as I do (self-awareness, the ability to direct one’s thoughts towards analyzing those very thoughts), then modern computers are already self-aware and thus by definition conscious. You can prove this right now by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete on your keyboard and bringing up your computer’s task manager. Computers have thoughts, it’s just that they typically think only the thoughts they’ve been programmed to think, unless something goes wrong – yet the fact remains that they process ideas. When your computer displays how much of its resources it’s dedicating to this and that process, it is showing you its own meta-thoughts about the other thoughts it is having: it is thinking about just how taxing it is to process the ideas you have instructed it to process, and displaying those thoughts to you. What can this be, if not self-awareness?

    But consciousness alone does not a person make. Personhood, it turns out, is a messy idea with no single condition (or set of conditions) that is both necessary and sufficient to establish it. In large part, who and what is awarded personhood is a matter of social convention, much like etiquette and law, and it is not verifiable (or even definable) independent of a community’s ideas of personhood. (Full Disclosure: communities of one are allowed, I’m defining my way to victory here.) There are better and worse ideas of personhood, to be sure – regarding women and foreigners as non-persons is worse than regarding all humans as full persons, and regarding other apes as persons is certainly more inclusive than not doing so – but it is still something that we have made up. If you define “personhood” as being achieved at this or that developmental point, then you beg the question as to whether or not it is permissible to abort a fetus at this or that point; if you define it by criteria independent of developmental milestones, then you will find in short order that the development of consciousness is smooth and gradual, proceeding well into infant life before being externally evident, and often growing well beyond adolescence (though not often enough, I would argue!).

    Rollingforest, I would absolutely love to pick your brain on trolley problems over shots. Just to see the look on your face when I pit one moral principle against another in a no-holds-barred fight to the death! The drunker you are, the better it gets. :)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @DSimon (again!): I just re-read your post, twelve seconds left to edit, and I see that you weren’t even arguing against abortion! Oops! But please attempt to charitably mutatis mutandis my argument around into countering the point you did make about saving lives when convenience allows.

    At the end of the day, I’m with Sarah in saying we can’t legislate morality. Laws aren’t about making people be good, they’re about making rules we can all agree to live under. What you consider to be morally permissible or morally reprehensible may in fact bring about a flourishing society, if enacted into law. Fine and dandy. However, this is immaterial to the matter of legislation in general for the simple reason that picking one person’s (any person’s!) moral code for a legal foundation is viciously arbitrary: the law is about getting society to agree to rules by which we shall govern ourselves. It’s not about justice (i.e. “people getting what they deserve”), it’s about settling disputes. And no violinist, no random citizen in a hospital, no unborn but magically fully-fledged person, nobody at all has any claim whatsoever to any part of your body. Or anyone’s body.

  • Nathaniel

    To me, all this arguing about personhood is beside the point. Why? Because that’s not what the fighting is about in real life.

    Even the most strict of anti-abortion laws have exceptions for rape and incest. Why? If a fetus is a person from second 1, then being the product of rape or incest wouldn’t change that. So why allow the exceptions? Its because its not about the fetus, and never will be. Its about women, and controlling them, and dictating their sexuality.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Ritchie (#3):

    I certainly do agree that empowering women will probably do much to counter the spread of religion (as well as tackle our overpopulation issues), but I’m not sure whether it’s fair to portray it as a sinister tactic consciously employed by the religious.

    I don’t think it’s a conscious tactic. As in my previous post on the Taliban opposing women’s education, I think it’s more a memetic survival strategy: their beliefs have evolved in that way because, in the past, religious sects that held such beliefs tended to flourish at the expense of those that don’t.

    You might ask what that implies for our efforts today, but happily, I think the memetic environment has shifted. In the past, where there was relatively little interplay between cultures and relatively little social and geographical mobility, a culture could grow by pure physical reproduction. That’s no longer the case. Thanks to technologies that make it so easy for cultures to diffuse and people to travel, we’ve reached the point where the strength of your ideas, rather than the number of your offspring, is what determines who’ll inherit the earth. Just look at the first comment in this thread, by Leah – seven out of her family’s eleven children have abandoned the religion of their parents!

    keddaw (#5):

    The same could be said for FGM, but if people are completely against something (like we are for FGM) then pointing out that making it illegal causes more harm still doesn’t wash. It has to be illegal because you cannot be seen to be advocating or allowing a practice you consider morally reprehensible.

    I don’t think that analogy holds here. For one thing, there’s no need for FGM, no reason the practice can’t be eradicated entirely. The harm it does is not counterbalanced by any good. By comparison, there will always be valid reasons for abortion. Even if we invent a 100% reliable method of birth control, there will still be women who become pregnant by rape; there will still be pregnancies with major abnormalities in the development of the fetus, or ones that develop life-threatening complications for the mother, or simply cases of women whose life circumstances change after they become pregnant, such that they don’t feel they’re still suited to being mothers.

    Rollingforest (#16):

    In regard to “In Defense of Abortion” I’d have to disagree with one of the main premises. If you saw the famous violinist dying even if you weren’t hooked up to them, then it would be your responsibility to save them (this of course applies to anyone else in the room who could do likewise). So if you find yourself hooked up to them then that moral requirement still remains. The fact that most people don’t do it isn’t an excuse. Also there is the extra moral issue that parents are to care for their children, which would make giving birth to any children you find yourself pregnant with extra important.

    How do you reconcile this with your earlier statement that fathers should be permitted to opt out of child care responsibilities if they want their partner to have an abortion and she won’t get one?

    the chaplain (#36):

    Women’s issues are significant in their own right, not merely as a means to the end of another cause, regardless of how worthy that cause may also be.

    Point taken! I apologize if my language implied anything different. My point in saying this is that, for our side, this isn’t a zero-sum game. Religious leaders advance their beliefs by oppressing women, but in our case, the interests of the atheist movement and the feminist movement are aligned. Measures that advance the rights of women are worthy to undertake in their own right, but they also have the effect of benefiting the atheist cause.

  • DSimon

    However, this is immaterial to the matter of legislation in general for the simple reason that picking one person’s (any person’s!) moral code for a legal foundation is viciously arbitrary: the law is about getting society to agree to rules by which we shall govern ourselves. It’s not about justice (i.e. “people getting what they deserve”), it’s about settling disputes.

    But like I asked before, what about the law requiring that people pay their taxes even for services they don’t personally use or directly benefit from? That seems pretty clearly to be about creating an obligation for people to render aid to one another (albeit indirectly), and not at all about settling disputes.

    Do you think that law should be struck down?

  • DSimon

    D, that Dennett essay is cool, but I’m not sure why you linked to it in response to my comments about consciousness depending upon a functional brain. The essay’s basic point is that there is no magical point in the brain at which consciousness resides, nor any magical time at which a phenomenon transitions instantly from not-consciously-perceived to consciously-perceived. I agree with all that; I didn’t mean to imply by my robot example that I think the only difference between the DSimon-emulation-robot and me would be the absence of some crucial, single “consciousness unit”.

    I’m also somewhat familiar with the zombies argument, but I think the robot’s a slightly different case. I would not expect a zombie to say or understand “I think therefore I am”, but the robot might well say and (act like it can) understand that statement without necessarily being conscious, because its predictive model of me says that’s I would do.

    Anyways, I don’t see any of that has to do with my main point, which is that consciousness pretty clearly requires a largely functional brain.

  • Sarah Braasch

    More and more I think that not only should all feminists be atheists, but that you can’t really call yourself a feminist unless you are an atheist.

    It’s the same moderates providing cover for fundamentalists argument.

    It’s why I think women who wear the hijab in secular democratic countries (and who claim that this is 100% their own choice) should be ashamed of themselves.

    They are providing themselves as propaganda and as instruments of oppression for a religious patriarchy that perpetrates a gender genocide against the world’s women.

    I actually find it disgusting.

  • DSimon

    Even if we invent a 100% reliable method of birth control, there will still be women who become pregnant by rape…

    (Trigger warning, descriptions of hypothetical rape scenarios.)

    Ebon, actually, I think I can come up with a hypothetically ideal form of contraception which would prevent effectively all cases of unwanted pregnancy due to rape. Allow me to now describe it in excessive detail and completely drag the thread off topic. ;-)

    Please note that I’m not contradicting your main point that abortions would still sometimes be necessary even with perfect contraception available; I definitely agree with that.

    Imagine a surgical device which can be installed (perfectly safely, through some as-yet-unavailable method such as internal nano-assembly) in any person regardless of their sex. It acts as a valve which safely controls flow through the vasa deferentia and/or fallopian tubes. In actuality, it would probably be several valves in a redundant series, to reduce the impact of hardware failure.

    The valve is controlled directly by the brain through some kind of (as-yet-undeveloped) neural interface. By default, the valve is closed; it can be opened or explicitly closed using an internal mental signal (i.e. thinking a passphrase), and when this occurs its opening is reported using internal mental feedback (i.e. seeing a momentary flashing red or green light in the corner of one’s vision). After a timeout period of being open but idle, it would automatically close again.

    This would solve most of the major problems of existing contraceptive methods. Condoms (whether male or female) may be forgotten in the heat of the moment or incorrectly used, and are generally of little use when it comes to preventing pregnancy due to rape. Birth control pills often have nasty side effects, and take a while to wear off once they are discontinued. IUDs require a doctor to install or uninstall them, which is a signifiant inconvenience and counter-incentive. Vasectomies and tubal ligations are largely permanent once performed, an even greater inconvenience and counter-incentive.

    The mentally-controlled-valve, on the other hand, would be more effective than a vasectomy or tubal ligation since there would be no dismotivation to receive one for people who plan to possibly have children in the future, yet even more convenient than a condom because the failure mode (forgetting about the contraception in the heat of the moment) is the safety mode.

    Furthermore, the fact that no-one but the user can tell whether the valve is open allows people to lie, if necessary, about the valve’s state; this prevents a rapist from being able to threaten a victim into deactivating the valve, since they have no way of telling if it’s actually deactivated.

    The only circumstances I can think of under which this system would fail to prevent pregnancy due to rape are: the rapist has continuing contact with the victim and so can guess due to the lack of pregnancy that the valve has been closed, or the rapist is able to manipulate or threaten the victim into genuinely turning off the valve, or (least likely) the rapist has access to and ability to use the same hardware a doctor would use to perform repair on the device.

    There are also the same cultural forces acting against all current forms of contraception which would also act against the mentally-controlled-valve; however, I think it would be possible work around that somewhat by presenting it as an anti-rape-pregnancy device rather than a consensual-non-procreative-sex device.

    Can anyone think of a better system than this?

  • verbivore

    Indonesia has a mixture of Hinduism and animism, but it’s mysogenist like all the rest

    Indonesia is 86% Muslim and 10% Christian or Catholic.

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    I gave some thought to your taxes example, and I actually think it supports my claim, not yours.

    We hold people responsible for the things that they do to one another, not for the things that they don’t do to one another. (Unless someone has consented to take responsibility for someone else.)

    If the govt told you that you have to act in certain situations, then it can’t very well hold you responsible for the outcome, good or ill.

    This is the problem in the few states that impose any kind of a duty to act in emergency situations. Those persons were then being sued by the decedent’s estate if the victim died or by the victim himself, if the victim or his property was injured in the faulty rescue attempt. Those states have been in the process of creating yet more laws to try to protect these “good samaritans”. But, the problem is that the states don’t then want to assume responsibility, so the poor victims have nowhere to turn to be made whole after they’ve been injured.

    Ok, so taxes.

    Sure, I suppose, in the big picture sense, this is all of us, collectively, helping all of us, collectively.

    But, the indirect and impersonal nature of the exchange is absolutely the point.

    Then, the state can be held responsible for its actions, releasing individual private citizens from this legal liability.

    How does this apply to abortion.

    If the state is going to force you to act on behalf of this other “person”, then the state should have to bear the legal and financial responsibility of the outcome — a child. Also, the state should have to compensate the woman for her damages — to her person and her property.

    But, you see what a dangerous path this becomes.

    Can a state tell a pregnant woman or a woman of childbearing age what she can eat? Whether she can work while pregnant? What work she is allowed to perform while pregnant? Whether she can have sex? With whom she can have sex? How she can have sex?

    And the hypothetical can get as crazy as you like — just read The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Someone will say — that’s ridiculous. That would never happen.

    Hmmm. Well, “good samaritans” are sued all the time for breaking ribs while performing CPR, for accidentally killing someone while trying to save them, for trying to help while being incompetent as to how, for not acting fast enough.

    Once you consent, you are responsible. If the state forces you to do something, the state is responsible for any ill effects.

    But, if the state takes control of women’s bodies, then the state is responsible for what happens to that fetus. You don’t think the state is going to further constrain the woman’s freedoms and activities?

    These are legal issues that all societies have struggled with from time immemorial.

    But, we’ve yet to come up with a better scheme than — you are held responsible for what you choose to do and you are not held responsible for what you do not choose to do.

    Think about how that concept permeates just about every aspect of society.

    Except when it comes to forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term.

  • Rollingforest

    Wow! I should have checked back sooner. This is a heck of a lot of posts to respond to, but I’ll do my best.

    First of all, bravo on the civility of this discussion. Most of the time when I bring up the argument that I do in post #16, both pro-life and pro-choice people become immediately defensive.

    @ Sarah Braasch (#17,18) – I admit that consciousness is philosophical to a degree. I think therefore I am, but I can’t scientifically prove that a rock isn’t conscious or that my brother is. I assume (not “have faith” as OMGF corrected me on another thread) that humans and animals are conscious because they act as if they are conscious. I suppose that I could question the whole “consciousness is connected to the brain” part, but I feel that a lot of US law is based on this. Jeffery Dahmer didn’t avoid prison just because he saw his victims as objects rather than people.

    Under current US law, I believe that a parent is always required to care for their children and is punished if they don’t. And perhaps in many areas it is legal for a person to see and dying person and just walk on by, but maybe those laws need to be changed.

    @Sharmin (#20)-I also agree that there are cases where it might not be entirely clear whether a woman’s life is in danger or not from being pregnant. I think the law should be structured to take this into account.

    @ Sarah Braasch (#26) – I agree that there is always the risk of people imposing evil in the guise of personal morality. But let’s consider things in the other direction. I know plenty of Libertarians (Rand Paul comes to mind) who would say that they are personally against racism, but feel that business owners have the right to refuse service to blacks. Should we over turn civil right laws because they are based on personal morality? What about laws that require parents to care for their (born) children? Should we overturn healthcare reform because that is inflicting personal morality on the health care system? What about laws that require minimum wage or a 40 hour work week? The problem with Libertarianism is that they define “don’t hurt others” way too strictly and specifically. I think many of their policies DO hurt others, if indirectly.

    @ the chaplain (#27) – consider it mutually compatible interests

    @ Sharmin (#32) – I would have no problem giving tax cuts to those who do give blood, though, even though this would pressure people to do the right thing.

    @ Sarah Braasch (#34) – I do actually think that D (#24) makes some good points. In Europe and in America too, Atheism seems to be growing faster than religion is. The main threat today is Fundamentalist Islam. The weapons that have been shown to be successful in the past against Fundamentalism are Democracy, wealth, and an appreciation for science. If we improve Arab economies and spread the memes of Democracy and appreciation of science, this will strangle Fundamentalist Islam in the cradle (is that an inappropriate metaphor given the topic of the thread? Oh well…) . Since I do believe our brains have evolved to utilize religion as a survival mechanism, the threat of religion will always be present. But the fight isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

  • Rollingforest

    @ Zietlos (#37) – Actually, birth control can decrease population. In Europe, the population of most countries is decreasing. It would be in America too if it wasn’t for illegal immigration. According to ‘Our Sunday Visitor’ (A conservative Catholic newspaper that I picked up randomly last week) 20% of American women enter menopause without having any children. The Catholic Church sees this as a bad thing, of course, but it does show that population can go down if birth control is available.

    The goal should be to eventually overthrow the dictator during EOTWAWKI, not accept a supposedly benevolent one. And enforcing Environmental laws as much as possible even during EOTWAWKI can prevent the need for a dictatorial Marxist revolution.

    @ D (#40) – “…Or have I just made you an advocate for mandatory blood donation?” ….You got me to consider the idea at least.

    “So the argumentative thrust of your “killing a person is murder” paragraph is, in a world, stillborn: dead before it even really got started.” – Not if I include the modifiers that you spoke about (self defense, accident, assisted suicide ect).

    “living humans enter periods of unconsciousness all the time” – Well, first of all it should be noted that when you are sleeping, you are often dreaming so you have a form of sub-consciousness that still counts. But I will admit that there are times when you lose all consciousness (Greta Christina talks on her blog about how her experience with anesthesia killed her idea of a soul). But this doesn’t, I believe, mean that sleeping people aren’t persons at that time. Rather, it means that they couldn’t prove that they were persons at that time. In regards to fetuses/unborn children (by the way, why isn’t there a neutral term?) that means that, yes, there may be times when we aren’t sure if they are conscious or not, but they could be conscious and thus people. I think that in most situations where you have a well developed brain, you can be pretty sure they are conscious.

    In regards to computers being conscious: I agree that computers can analyze their inner workings. But are they actually aware that they are doing it? I other words, do they have qualia (this, by the way, is my definition of consciousness)? This is something I am a lot less sure about. After all, while the computer is complicated, it pales in comparison to the human brain’s 100 trillion interconnections.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia

    “But consciousness alone does not a person make” – It does for me. I’m somewhat sympathetic to Peter Singer’s idea that degrees of personhood depend on how developed you consciousness is. This obviously raises the issue that this system makes chimps worth more morally than humans with severe mental retardation, which a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. But it is at least worthy of thought.

    “You will find in short order that the development of consciousness is smooth and gradual.” – We should be able to tell approximately the level of consciousness by the level of brain development. I hope to study this in more detail, but let’s say for argument’s sake that the development of consciousness is very gradual. If someone was to adopt the ethics of Peter Singer that I suggest above, then one would simply determine what level of consciousness is needed to make killing them murder. This may seem somewhat arbitrary, but all morality is to a degree. We have to decide where personhood begins on this spectrum, because if we don’t then someone could just as easily argue that uneducated people should be killed because they haven’t reached a high enough level of consciousness. It is similar to the idea that while there is no dividing line between child and adult, we accept turning 18 as the rite of passage for American young adults.

    I’m always up for a good moral dilemma :) Talking here on the blog might not be as good as philosophying drunk in a bar, but I’ll do my best.

  • Rollingforest

    @ Nathaniel (#42) – it should be noted that most pro-lifers don’t want exemptions for rape or incest because they do think that the issue is murder. The reason that there are exemptions for rape and incest is because most people are unsure if a fetus is a person and thus are more willing to err toward being pro-choice in the extreme cases of rape and incest.

    @ Ebonmuse (#43)-First of all, it’s always great to know that the author of a blog takes the time to read all of our comments. But to answer your question, I think that it all depends on the timing. I believe the father should have the right to a ‘financial abortion’ (giving up all custody rights, all visitation rights, and all financial responsibility for any child that would be born) since the mother has the rights to an actual abortion even against the will of the father of the fetus. But it is only fair that he only have this option during the time that the woman has the option to abort. Under my morals of consciousness equals personhood, this would allow women to abort during the first trimester. Thus the father should only be allowed to have a financial abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy as well. Now his time limit would be increased if he isn’t told by the mother about the pregnancy until later. Some would argue that women don’t know when they are pregnant, but given that 90% of abortions happen in the first trimester, it seems likely to me that in most cases the woman is able to tell that she is pregnant early on and can tell the father. Thus they both would have the option of abortion (actual in the case of the woman, financial in the case of the man).

    @ Sarah Braasch (46) – “You can’t really call yourself a feminist unless you are an atheist.” – I wonder what would happen if Sarah posted this quote over on a blog primarily focused on feminism? Since both atheism and feminism are prone to be left-wing, I bet the readers of feminist blogs are a mix of atheist, spiritual but not religious, and liberal Christian. Each of those groups would potentially have a very different reaction to Sarah’s statement.

    @DSimon (47) – I don’t think the rapist would care about whether the woman has fertile or not when he raped her. Rape has been around far longer than this hypothetical device would have been and so any part of the rape mentality that is biologically driven would just assume that the woman was fertile because it would never have dealt with this technology when it evolved.

    @Sarah Braasch (49) – I can think of a few ways that society makes us responsible for things we don’t choose to do. To use a mundane example, the community can force you to cut your grass in many neighborhoods if you let it grow too high. To use a more serious example, mentioned above, the state can punish you if you don’t feed your children even, something you are expected to do without the state’s help.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I feel like every conversation on Daylight Atheism ultimately winds its way back to the same central question.

    Do you see either pluralism/communitarianism or secularism/humanism as the foundation of democracy.

    Do you see the democratic process as being about your group gaining enough electoral power to impose their view of morality on the rest of society or do you see the democratic process as being about protecting individual rights against the tyranny of the majority and ensuring the even distribution of power within society?

    I think everyone here knows how I view the democratic process.

    I hate to bore everyone who has already read my stance on morality a million times here, so I’ll be very brief.

    The point of the law is not to impose the morality of the majority upon the minority.

    The point of the law is to maximize individual liberty.

    Now, before everyone starts screaming about Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act.

    I am not a classical libertarian.

    I think our individual liberty is entirely dependent upon a highly functioning society and an even distribution of power.

    If any one group or entity or person or corporation or class gets too much power, discrimination and oppression are quick to follow — both within and without the group.

    I adore the Civil Rights Act, the ADA and the Fair Housing Act.

    I scream everyday for the Equal Rights Amendment.

    But, not because these are the morally correct things to do.

    But, because our society is out of whack, in terms of the distribution of power, and, thus, our democracy is in jeopardy, and our individual liberty.

    I actually can’t wait until we can just apply game theory to the law to maximize individual liberty.

    And, morality has nothing to do with it.

    The state requires that you care for your children, because you have chosen to take responsibility for them.

    Some states do allow parents to turn their children over to the state (in a voluntary manner, not an involuntary manner).

    And, actually, the mandate to care for one’s children is a further argument in favor of abortion.

    Because, if the state is going to make you legally and financially responsible for another person — it has to be your choice; it has to be a relationship entered into voluntarily.

    Thus — abortion has to be an option.

    Cutting grass — I mean, sure, the state can require that you do a lot of things, but this isn’t the state making you take legal responsibility for another person.

    Also, the way the law frames this issue is like this:

    Think about drivers’ licenses, vaccinations, etc., just about anything.

    No one is forcing you to participate in society. But, if you choose to drive, go to school, participate in society, then you have to play by the rules. As long as the rules are secular in nature and further a compelling government interest (i.e. they can’t just be about furthering someone’s personal moral view — they have to be about implementing law and order / creating a highly functioning society — a society which provides the venue in which we are able to live highly independent lives of our own devising).

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve been working on a piece about this subject — as it pertains to the burqa ban.

    So, those of you whom I haven’t already bored to death will still have the opportunity.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I love this conversation, BTW. And, thank you, Rollingforest, for your very nuanced and intelligent contribution.

    I have a hypothetical for you –

    if we are going to make blood donation mandatory, what about the JWs, for whom giving or receiving blood is the gravest of sins against God?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @DSimon (#44): Well, I think those two laws are apples and oranges – somewhat alike, for being fruits, but still different. Tax laws are rules that we have to follow, and I go with the Penn & Teller school of thought: we’ve got this “club”, the USA Club, and in order to be in the club you have to pay your club dues, which we call taxes, and these club dues are used to fund all sorts of things (with accompanying rules as to what kinds of things can or cannot be funded). For my own part, I would say that the portion of tax on each citizen’s productivity that goes to social safety nets is cheap insurance: anyone can, in principle, become seriously ill or poor at a moment’s notice. Some people are right now, and they use these social safety nets we create for the benefit of whoever needs them; and some people never need them, and they’re better off having that support available and not needing it, than needing it and not having it. It’s like mandatory auto insurance: you need this, in case something you can’t control goes horribly wrong; if, in the course of your life, you personally never make use of it, then lucky you.

    Sarah Braasch’s response in #49 is an excellent explanation of why we do it that way; my response is just why you ought to like it.

    Re: #45. I just thought it was interesting, and had significant overlap with the stuff we were talking about. I’m glad you liked it, but I should have said that it got off-topic. My point in linking it was just to say that consciousness is a fuzzy idea. The zimboes thing is more on-point, because your claim that something can exhibit all the external features of consciousness without anyone “in there” is a bit confused. What precisely do you mean by “in there”? Are you advocating a soul, or do you think there’s something about your brain telling you that there’s an “essential you” that makes you more conscious than a computer that thinks the same things without that extra-special whatsit?

    For example, suppose the computer is running a Platonic simulation of your brain in order to predict what you would do: running algorithms that model your brain with perfect accuracy in order to generate the behaviors that you yourself would do in whatever situation the robot finds itself in. Now, I ask you: what is the difference between that model of you, and a digitized version of you that is actually you? Whatever process you go through in making your decisions, whether what to eat for breakfast or where to invest your money, you regard yourself as a person in order to do it. If those same thoughts are being modeled in a process in a computer, how is that not the same kind of consciousness occurring (albeit inside a machine of plastic and metal, rather than a bundle of nerves)?

    At any rate, the point is that the “in there” you speak of is nothing more (and nothing less!) than a story the brain tells itself. It is different from the mere awareness of the external environment that can be explained purely with reference to reflexes & such (your “experience” vs. “mechanically react”). But in order for the brain to tell itself that story, it has to model its own thoughts to some degree. It doesn’t matter whether this modeling is done in your meat machine of a brain, or a computer’s model of your meat machine, or just in the computer itself. As far as we know, computers model their own thought processes but they don’t tell themselves the “I” story (or at least they don’t tell us that they’re telling it to themselves). But neither does any other brain-haver that isn’t a homo sapiens, we instead rely on external behavioral similarities. The machines we’ve created are not yet able to display those similarities, through no fault of their own: they have no senses of touch, taste, or smell (though many of them can see, hear, and experience temperature). But now look at what happens when you place your hand on a hot stove: “you” do not “decide” to pull your hand back and make a pained expression and say “ouch”, your spinal nervous system reacts automatically in jerking back, merely mechanically reacting to the external stimulus (albeit via the mechanics of chemistry). It conveys the message along to your brain, which then tells itself that it is in pain and reacts accordingly. The neurology of experience does in fact boil down to mechanical reactions, they’re just vastly more complicated than the ones we have been able to successfully program into computers so far. But this is a difference of degree, and not kind; the “leaps” that seem to be differences of kind arise gradually and smoothly along the way, to the best of our ability to tell.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I will admit that I do struggle with the issue of the point at which the man gets to choose whether or not to take legal and financial responsibility for the fetus.

    Of course — woman’s body — her choice — she is the one being asked to keep the fetus literally alive with her own body to much detriment to her person and property.

    But, at what point does the man choose? I’m not sure.

    I feel uncomfortable with saying that the man has no choice about whether to take legal and financial responsibility for another person. That the woman dictates his relationship to the fetus and then child.

    But, I feel even more uncomfortable with saying that the man has any right at all to dictate to a woman whether or not she will keep the fetus alive with her own body.

    I actually think that the traditional family structure and, thus, existing family law is more or less a complete failure.

    I think we need to radically rethink family law in the US.

  • DSimon

    For my own part, I would say that the portion of tax on each citizen’s productivity that goes to social safety nets is cheap insurance: anyone can, in principle, become seriously ill or poor at a moment’s notice.

    D, so then why would it be legal to disconnect yourself from the hour-needing violinist? Maybe next year you need to hook yourself up to somebody for an hour to save your own life.

    What precisely do you mean by “in there”? Are you advocating a soul, or do you think there’s something about your brain telling you that there’s an “essential you” that makes you more conscious than a computer that thinks the same things without that extra-special whatsit?

    I might be using the wrong term; if you’re familiar with the word “qualia” that’s what I’m going for here. And, I have no idea how it works, but I do know as well as I know anything that I directly experience things.

    I have no idea what the “extra-special whatsit” might be specifically, but I’m guessing that broadly:
    * Qualia is a general consequence of doing the sort of processing my brain does
    * Or, qulia is a requirement of doing that sort of processing the particular way my brain does it, but there might be ways of getting all the other output through some non-qualia-producing means
    * Or, qualia might just be an evolutionary accident

    For example, suppose the computer is running a Platonic simulation of your brain in order to predict what you would do: running algorithms that model your brain with perfect accuracy in order to generate the behaviors that you yourself would do in whatever situation the robot finds itself in. Now, I ask you: what is the difference between that model of you, and a digitized version of you that is actually you? Whatever process you go through in making your decisions, whether what to eat for breakfast or where to invest your money, you regard yourself as a person in order to do it.

    I know that qualia has at least some causal impact on some of my behaviors, because my fingers sometimes type things like “I experience qualia”. If I didn’t actually experience qualia, then my brain would be merely deciding to type that due to a really ridiculously implausible coincidence.

    But, what about the Platonic simulation? It acts like me, so it also types things like “I experience qualia” in the same situations I would. That might mean it experiences qualia, but it might also mean that it’s simply reproducing the same externally observable output I would, but not the qualia which cannot be (as yet) externally detected.

    To analogize, suppose that we have a machine with a switch, a light bulb that is controlled by the switch, and an LCD screen that displays the messages “The light bulb is turned on”, “The light bulb is turned off”, or “The light bulb has burned out”, when the light bulb is actually in one of those states. Then, suppose that the light bulb is locked inside an opaque box; nobody outside the box can tell if the light bulb is actually on or not.

    From an external observer’s perspective, the original machine would be indistinguishable from another machine that merely directly connects the switch to the appropriate message on the LCD screen, with a timer that “burns out the light bulb” when it’s been in the on state for long enough. They’d both produce the same external output from the same input, but that externally observable output is only a subset of the original machine’s actual output. There does not have to be a light bulb in the duplicate’s opaque box (though there might be, depending on the process used to create the duplicate).

  • AnonaMiss

    To me, all this arguing about personhood is beside the point. Why? Because that’s not what the fighting is about in real life.

    Even the most strict of anti-abortion laws have exceptions for rape and incest. Why? If a fetus is a person from second 1, then being the product of rape or incest wouldn’t change that. So why allow the exceptions? Its because its not about the fetus, and never will be. Its about women, and controlling them, and dictating their sexuality.

    @Nathaniel: You have articulated in one paragraph what I have been struggling to say for years. Can I post this around?

  • Lion IRC

    As a “neutral observer” of the religion known as atheism “one of the most striking characteristics I find” is the “rampant” tendency to generalise about what other religions do and don’t think.

    What an obnoxious looking ivory tower you live in.

    What a gross slap in the face to women of faith who freely embrace their religion and do so with EQUAL commitment and fervour as any man.

    How much of a SEXIST PIG do you have to be to accuse devout muslim women of foolishly of holding the quran dear in their heart and mind. (Because clearly no educated woman would EVER do THAT) Benazir Bhutto, Hasina Wajed, Professor Ingrid Mattson (http://www.islamfortoday.com/mattson01.htm)

    Why don’t you (a man) send a letter to the Sisters of St Joseph (http://www.josephite.org.au/sisters_story/index.html) and tell them to stop being so subservient to that “misogynist” Jesus of Nazareth who never involved women in anything.

    This article is the worst I have ever read on daylightatheism and as if to heap even more icing on top of your cake of ignorance you want to make it even worse for yourself by imputing that more women would have abortions if only those nasty paternal misogynists of religion would stand back and let them.

    The vast majority of abortions are done for the SOLE reason of economic CONVENIENCE. What a colossal failure of logic to think that abortion would no longer have any bio-ethical considerations if religion was taken out of the picture. Surely you, as a “moral atheist”, are not going to stand there telling us that there is no “moral” aspect to the question of abortion – unless of course you have NO morals.

    Abortion is plainly about the definition of “human life” and science – NOT RELIGION – is moving the goal posts. Take your current age in years then add nine months. Now, YOU tell ME at what point along that timeline you acquired the bio-ethical, moral “right to life”. What day? What month? What hour? 6 weeks? 10 weeks? 20 weeks? Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, mobility? Science (not religion) has detected that the human fetus responds to external stimuli from as early as 6 weeks. In some jurisdictions people are actually being sued for causing injury and/or death to embryos younger than the age of legal abortion. Companies like Elevit (Bayer Corporation) market products like folic acid to help aid the healthy development of embryos – why? For religious reasons? Science – not religion – is the dominant force in the abortion debate. It is science which is competing with the “pro-choice” argument that an embryo is not a human life – “IT” is just a thing. “IT” doesn’t feel.

    You can take razor blades to “IT”, You can set fire to “IT”. You can turn “IT” into beef jerky and use it as an “art installation” for people to poke and prod. You can ask your lesbian partner to get pregnant with “IT” by artificial insemination then head off to the abortion “clinic” when you find out that the fertility “clinic” stuffed up and accidentally put twins of “IT” in when you only wanted one. Maybe you can sue them. Maybe you can sell the unwanted “IT” to the highest bidder and they can chop “IT” up to use as spare parts! $$$.

    (Wait! That would be unethical and greedy)

    Lion (IRC)
    PS – I noticed made no mention of forced abortions in China or what happens when the secular State decides male embryos are more valuable than female embryos. Or Aryan embryos are human but Jewish embryos are not.

  • Scotlyn

    If, for the purposes of defining the proper limits to ending life in the womb as that of ending the life of a “person”, I often wonder if it is more useful to define “personhood” in terms of its social reality rather than the level of consciousness. The construction of legal identity documents, for example, require, as a minimum, a name and a date and place of birth. No one can “exist” in modern society without these as a starting point.

    The construction of the social membership of a person in a family also requires a name, perhaps shared memories, the marking of significant anniversaries. So, for example, although I know my mother suffered two miscarriages long ago, these two beings were never named, and we as a family do not “remember” their birthdays, or deathdays, or mark the spot where their remains lie. Their brief existences, apart from the sadness felt by my mother for some while after, barely caused a ripple in the social community that is my family. They might as well not have existed. And I mention this because both my parents are totally opposed to abortion, which they consider to be murder.

    And yet, they themselves do not grant full personhood to their own two lost “babies”… there are no gravestones, no annual commemorations, no names. No birth certificates, no death certificates. They consider themselves to be the parents of four, not six children. Therefore, those miscarried fetuses were not, in any real sense that they, or anyone else would recognise, persons.

    If we seek to understand ourselves more clearly and the important processes by means of which we confer social personhood to one another from around the time of birth onwards, it might be a lot easier to gain recognition of a woman’s right to discontinue an unwanted or problematic pregnancy.

    This may be a discussion for another day, but it should be noted that limiting births, while helpful, is not currently contributing much to a reduction in earth’s population, because, just as we have begun to achieve huge reductions in fertility, we have also achieved huge gains in longevity. By the time most of us can expect to die nowadays, we may already be living alongside three or four, perhaps even five co-existing generations of our “replacements.” Will there be a time where longevity is pitted against fertility? When, deciding to have a child will also require a decision to “cede” your place on earth to it and gracefully “bow out” when you have successfully reared it?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Hey Lion:

    1) Shitcan the sanctimony, eh? It only stifles conversation. (Wait, hmmm).

    2) Here’s where I draw the cutoff: brain activity. No brain activity, no humanity. Very simple, and cognizant of the fact that what makes us unique in this world is our mentality.

    3) The irony of you flinging the term “sexism” around in a debate is rich. Where is this umbrage when churches deny women equal treatment?

  • Nathaniel

    You have articulated in one paragraph what I have been struggling to say for years. Can I post this around?

    Sure. Be my guest. Ideas are meant to be shared.

    it should be noted that most pro-lifers don’t want exemptions for rape or incest because they do think that the issue is murder. The reason that there are exemptions for rape and incest is because most people are unsure if a fetus is a person and thus are more willing to err toward being pro-choice in the extreme cases of rape and incest.

    In that post, I wasn’t referring to the radical (and IMO) crazy anti-abortion activists, but the ordinary “squishys” you find more in the middle. The ones that talk about how abortion is oh so terrible, that maybe other people can do it, for they feel properly ashamed of themselves but they personally never would, no sir.

    Ultimately, for many people it comes down to that they don’t like abortion because abortion is for sluts.

    To get a better look at this mindset, take a gander at this essay: The Only Moral Abortion is my Abortion. http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/anti-tales.html

  • DSimon

    This may be a discussion for another day, but it should be noted that limiting births, while helpful, is not currently contributing much to a reduction in earth’s population, because, just as we have begun to achieve huge reductions in fertility, we have also achieved huge gains in longevity. By the time most of us can expect to die nowadays, we may already be living alongside three or four, perhaps even five co-existing generations of our “replacements.” Will there be a time where longevity is pitted against fertility?

    I don’t know about this; we’re living longer, but we’re also having children later in life than we used to.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Or, Dsimon, it may be that the “squishies” understand that the morality of abortion (to say nothing of its politics) is ambiguous at best. There are many different reasons for the nuanced approach.

  • DSimon

    Thumpalumpacus, are you meaning to direct your comment at Nathaniel?

  • Nathaniel

    Whatever is so ambiguous about it?

    Most of the “ambiguous” nature of the debate is people hiding the fact that they are uncomfortable with uncontrolled female sexuality. The comments about how terrible it is that some women (aka sluts) use abortion as birth control are telling.

    Anything else that’s ambiguous are debates akin to calculating the amount of angels dancing on pins.

  • Lion IRC

    Hi Thumpalumpacus,

    1) I’m not stifling debate. If I say something with which you disagree – go for it. The only way debate is stifled is when you have nothing to contribute except demanding people “shitcan” (stop saying) things you find difficult to deal with. The OP is a sexist innuendo about the IQ of (muslim) women and a gross generalization about misogyny in religion. The connection to abortion is lame. Women don’t WANT to have abortions even if they belonged to a “Women Only” religion where “God is a woman” and there is no “hatred and oppression of women”.

    2) YOU can draw the abortion line wherever YOU like. The problem is when YOU try to tell a WOMAN that abortion “A” is moral but abortion “B” is immoral. You think “brain activity” is the fine line? Well the nervous system is detected in embryos as early as 4 to 6 weeks. Furthermore the “brain activity” is not something quantifiable. Therefore an argument could be made that less brain activity equates to “not as fully human” as MORE brain activity. As I said, science is moving the goal posts about the definition of “human”. Eventually, a human embryo might be laboratory-gestated in an artificial (non-human) womb meaning that the “definition” of human depends on whether someone cares enough to keep that embryo alive. I assert that we do not want the “definition” or value of a human being decided by situational ethics or individual whims – and neither do Jews, Homosexuals, Negroes, Women, Poor People, Deaf People, Jehovah’s Witnesses…..if you get my gist!

    3) The irony of me “flinging the term sexism around” is that I wouldn’t have even done so if not for the OP. Blame Ebonmuse. And for the record, the umbrage I take is right here and anywhere else I see something to which I take umbrage. Any woman who wants to be a priest can do so and there is nothing any OTHER church can do to prevent it. Similarly, there is nothing THAT woman can do to force SOMEONE ELSE’S church to have women as priests. You see, religion is voluntary and if Ingrid Mattson (http://www.islamfortoday.com/mattson01.htm) wants to voluntarily become a muslim it’s not because she is too stupid to recognize “their misogynist rhetoric” If Ebonmuse thinks the voluntary vows of chastity by the Sisters of St Joseph (http://www.josephite.org.au/sisters_story/index.html) are harming the “cause of feminism” or that they are handing “sole authority over sex to men” then I say that is an offensive insult to women.

    Lion (IRC)

  • Zietlos

    Godwin’s law is invoked, Lion. Sorry, you lose the debate. :p

    Anywhoo, I haven’t checked in for a while, and wow, 30 more responses! I need to read these through a bit…

    RollingForest #51; I realize that there is a negative correlation, however, even with 20% or whatever people not having kids, we’ve still got 2.3-odd kids per 2-person couple, and a few orphans atop of that. Additionally, it needs to be applied globally, and despite my namesake, I do like to look at things in a probabilistic light: Timeline-wise, it is a race… A race between the technological singularity (yes, I’m a singularitarian) and the Armageddon clock. Places and peoples advance slowly, albeit at a faster pace now than in the past, and the speed of population increase compared to birth rate decrease is not the most comforting thing at the moment. We are already “kinda” overpopulated, especially in some other countries, not so much mine, we actually need, for a while, a child rate of something a bit less than 2 per family.

    And no longer addressing Forest, but just things I read and forgot which post number:

    An allusion to China’s birth rate laws was made with the inference of government mandated misogyny. This is false. It is societally-mandated misogyny. If anything, it is a misandrist policy, as China’s actual policy is up to 2 kids, but if the first is male, don’t have another. In other words, they can have 1 girl, 2 girls, 1 girl 1 guy, or 1 guy. Eliminating the 2 guy section weights their population towards increasing female presence. It is unfortunate that their society, however, chose to subvert the intentions of the law with all the abandoned kids.

    As for good samaritans being punished… http://tinyurl.com/NotHelping
    Almost half of UK men believe that helping a child will cause them to be branded a pedo. Accidentally injuring the one in need of help is one thing that, yes, the governments can fix with some proper laws, throw some money around, but something like that, a wide-spread societal fear, despite kidnapping rates being some of the lowest in recorded history, that is indicative of a different kind of problem. The gov’t can work all it wants to protect people who want to help, but I fall into the 44% margin regardless, how a court of law views you and how a community views you are vastly different things. We talk here about governance, but really, it doesn’t come down to governments, it comes down to the people that vote on them.

    Okay… Malthus, China, Samaritans… What am I missing…

    Oh right. Libertarians… http://tinyurl.com/chkaos
    Comic basically sums up my views. Great when there’s outside resources, makes it easy.

    And Lion. Lion lion lion. Fun word to say. Since you already invoked Godwin’s Law, I’ll use it in a counter-example to your women’s rights/church one. There were Jews who were also part of the National Socialist party. If you think being a Nazi is not harming the well-being of the Jewish people, well then I think that is an offensive insult towards Jews.

    To put it another way, since I have noticed in the past that you tend to be bullheadedly literal and not able to see similes and metaphors, perhaps to troll, or maybe English just isn’t your best language, it is within the realm of the possible for an individual, or even large numbers of a group, to act in the best interests of those who wish to do harm to their own group. Stockholm Syndrome is one aspect of this, while “breaking in” slaves is another. When an institution has been around for a very long time, it is even more likely that the oppressed will help their oppressors. There are a number of documented cases of black slaves in the USA catching and/or reporting fleeing slaves to their owners. These “loyal” slaves can be viewed in the same light as someone who willingly wears an outfit that they will be the first to admit is meant to: 1) eliminate any attractiveness, 2) make all women interchangeable and identical, like objects, and 3) give yet another excuse for men to hurt women if they do not wear it. Islam mandates use of these outfits. Therefore, a women who wishes to make herself like an easily replaceable and identical object would, yes, by my definition, be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

    It is a good thing that there are few people on this site who actually care about whether or not they offend someone vicariously (AKA concern trolling). Comes with the territory, I suppose. I do hope you have a great day, though!

  • Rollingforest

    @Sarah Braasch (#53) – I agree that our society is out of whack in terms of distribution of power, which is why I support such things as help for the poor (if they are willing to work to put out resumes, they should be worthy of unemployment benefits), environmental laws (pollution is more likely to be dumped in poorer areas with less political power), and college grants for the poor (because a person’s education should depend only on the work they put into it, not their parent’s salary).

    @ Sarah Braasch (#54) – Wait, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that giving blood is a sin? I knew they were against receiving blood, but I didn’t know that they were so against giving it. Well, if the set up was such that you received a tax cut for giving blood then they could just pay the extra tax. Even if giving blood was required, I still think the right to life trumps the right to religion. Aztec daily sacrifices should be banned even if the Aztecs believed that it was the only thing that would stop the collapse of the universe. I’ve decided long ago that I support laws that let hospitals give blood to Jehovah’s Witness children against the will of the parents because the child’s life is worth more than the parent’s freedom of religion. Why do the Jehovah’s Witnesses even care? If there is a God who hates blood transfusions, then he is going to punish the doctors, not the children or the parents.

    @ D (#55) – “do you think there’s something about your brain telling you that there’s an “essential you” that makes you more conscious than a computer that thinks the same things without that extra-special whatsit?”

    – Now I’m willing to believe that consciousness is spread out in the brain as Daniel Dennett says and that there is no one part of the brain that is ‘you.’ However, I still think that there is the fundamental problem of qualia, meaning actually being aware of your surroundings. Everything you do in your day to day life could be computed by your brain without you being conscious of it. As you say, D, everything that you do, from hearing and seeing, to walking and talking, can be reducing to reactions within the brain. But notice how these explanations don’t require that you be aware of them. A highly developed machine could do the same thing and look convincing even if it wasn’t aware that it was doing it. The nature of experiencing the color red is very different from simply taking light waves into your eye and processing them. In regards to consciousness, it seems to me that there is obviously something going on that in beyond our current understanding of physics which future scientists will need to discover.

    In regard to your question of what would happen if you built a machine that exactly modeled your brain (something, of course, that is currently not possible): yes, I agree that it would probably be conscious. But emphasis on the word ‘probably.’ Without knowing exactly what causes qualia, it is impossible to tell for sure, though I admit that in this case it is likely.

  • Rollingforest

    @ Sarah Braasch (#56) – I really appreciate that you are willing to consider my points on financial abortions (and it sounds like you might have thought about this before I mentioned it). Many people just get angry because they assume that I’m pandering to dead beat dads at the expense of the mother, which I don’t think is true. As you can see, I’m just trying to make life choices as equal between the genders as possible. I agree with you that if abortion is legal during a particular point in pregnancy, a man shouldn’t be able to dictate whether a woman aborts then or not, which is why I went for the idea of a financial abortion instead.

    @ DSimon (#57) – Yes, the issue of whether qualia is necessary for advanced mental function or whether it is just a side effect is an interesting question.
    “If I didn’t actually experience qualia, then my brain would be merely deciding to type that due to a really ridiculously implausible coincidence.”

    – Not necessarily true. Your brain could take in information from the senses, process it in the mind, and send signals to your fingers to type it without necessarily being conscious that you are doing it. This gets into the issue of free will. What part of your brain ‘chooses’ to do something rather than just reacts to stimuli and internal wiring? Neither Newton’s determinism or Quantum Mechanic’s randomness truly allows you to choose anything. Thus it isn’t clear what consciousness or qualia is for.

    @ Lion IRC (59) – “How much of a SEXIST PIG do you have to be to accuse devout muslim women of foolishly of holding the quran dear in their heart and mind.”

    – *yawn* The sexist label being thrown around didn’t faze me when it came from the left and it sure isn’t going to faze me when it comes from the right. Nice try with the new tactics, though. What you don’t seem to understand is that atheists criticize religion not people. And why shouldn’t we? It is a belief system just the same as political ideologies are belief systems. We have every right to critique it.
    “you want to make it even worse for yourself by imputing that more women would have abortions if only those nasty paternal misogynists of religion would stand back and let them.”

    – Um, yeah, when laws that are set up by religious people regarding abortion are overturned, women DO have more abortions. Just look at the statistics from around the world.

    “Now, YOU tell ME at what point along that timeline you acquired the bio-ethical, moral “right to life”. What day? What month? What hour? 6 weeks? 10 weeks? 20 weeks? Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, mobility?”

    -You see Lion IRC, this is why you should read the comments before you post. I set out my beliefs on the topic at post #16 and other people have done so at different points.

    “PS – I noticed made no mention of forced abortions in China or what happens when the secular State decides male embryos are more valuable than female embryos. Or Aryan embryos are human but Jewish embryos are not.”

    -Notice how I didn’t say those where good ideas either.

  • Rollingforest

    @Scotlyn (60) “The construction of legal identity documents, for example, require, as a minimum, a name and a date and place of birth. No one can “exist” in modern society without these as a starting point.”

    -Sure they can. Think of a person that you find in a back alley who has amnesia. They don’t know their name or their date of birth or place of birth. Even if you never figure out this information, they still exist.

    I do appreciate the hypocrisy of your parents not considering the dead fetuses to be people. But I don’t think that actually answers when they are people.

    “it should be noted that limiting births, while helpful, is not currently contributing much to a reduction in earth’s population, because, just as we have begun to achieve huge reductions in fertility, we have also achieved huge gains in longevity.”

    -The population of the Earth is still growing because poor areas of the world still have death rates but higher birth rates. If you look at 1st world countries like Japan or in Europe, you can see that population is actually decreasing there even with age longevity.

    @ Lion IRC (#67) “Women don’t WANT to have abortions” – Again this ignores the fact that abortion levels increase when it is legalized. If women don’t really want to have abortions, then why do voluntary abortions bother you?

    “YOU can draw the abortion line wherever YOU like. The problem is when YOU try to tell a WOMAN that abortion “A” is moral but abortion “B” is immoral.”

    -Woah Lion! That sounds very pro-choice of you! Are you saying that we actually have the ability to make our own moral judgments? I’m so proud of you.

    “Well the nervous system is detected in embryos as early as 4 to 6 weeks.”

    I call BS on this. The very earliest brain stem activity occurs at 13 weeks and even that is very very primitive and likely doesn’t involve consciousness.

    http://www.dhushara.com/book/orsin/fetus/fetus.htm

    “Furthermore the “brain activity” is not something quantifiable.”

    Yes it is. Just analyze the amount of neural electrical currents.

    “I assert that we do not want the “definition” or value of a human being decided by situational ethics or individual whims”

    -Exactly. That’s why I want personhood based on brain activity, a very scientific definition.

    @Zietlos (68) “we’ve still got 2.3-odd kids per 2-person couple”

    -Wikipedia lists children per woman in the US as 2.05 which is below the replacement level of 2.1 . The only reason the US population isn’t dropping is because of illegal immigration. I agree that it might be good to not just stop growth but allow the human population to decrease a little, but that puts a huge strain on Social Security programs as the number of young adults decreases.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

  • DSimon

    Your brain could take in information from the senses, process it in the mind, and send signals to your fingers to type it without necessarily being conscious that you are doing it.

    Rollingforest, I think you’re missing my point. I’m not making a general argument about free will, I’m saying that it would be very weird for my body to do the specific action of communicating that I am conscious if I were not conscious. Whether or not my consciousness has “control” over that communication is beside the point; the important part is that the fact that I have consciousness is indirectly detectable through these means, which differentiates me from a zombie (for whom saying “I am conscious” would just be a ridiculously implausible coincidence).

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Lion, your sanctimony adds heat, not light, to the discussion. Your charged language is a thinly-disguised appeal to emotion, and that’s why I pointed it out. That was indeed my point, in case you missed it.

    Whether or not you approve or disapprove of females given authority in any church’s hierarchy, the fact is that virtually every church limits the ability of women choose for themselves in many areas of life. That is the irony I pointed out: a Christian braying about sexism would be charming except for the appalling lack of introspection such an action necessarily implies.

  • Scotlyn

    Rollingforest:

    “The population of the Earth is still growing because poor areas of the world still have death rates but higher birth rates. If you look at 1st world countries like Japan or in Europe, you can see that population is actually decreasing there even with age longevity.”

    Population change rates are much more complex than this, and if we fail to grasp that complexity, we are in danger of making uninformed and counterproductive policy choices. As it happens, apart from Germany, the only European countries that are currently suffering negative population growth are are those formerly contained within the “Soviet bloc” (and in fact, this may also account for the German figures, as Germany now incorporates the former East Germany) – and in all cases the causes are multifactorial – not only declining birth rates, but also increasing death rates and increasing emigration rates (due to the increasing poverty and social chaos of the past few years in those countries). Western European countries are not declining in overall population rates as yet, both because death rates are still declining and immigration rates are holding steady.

    Nevertheless, over the past century or so, fertility rates almost everywhere have declined at least somewhat, even in Africa, while in developed countries they have declined precipitously. But death rates have fallen even faster, which has slowed the reduction in the worldwide rate of population growth that has been taking place since 1963. There is a real prospect of the average human lifespan soon reaching 4, 5 or 6 generations (even if these are also longer – 30 rather than 20 years), and in that context, the formula for calculating “replacement fertility rates” must change.

    I’m only making these points because many people appear to make too facile a connection between the problem of overpopulation and the seemingly obvious solution – make all the poor countries stop people having so many babies.

    I know this has gotten off the OP a fair bit, so to neatly segue this comment back around to it, one of the recognised ways and means of slowing population growth (while maintaining social benefits such as higher longevity) is to educate and empower women.

    Also, in passing, the Chinese enforced birth limitation model is not working in the sense that there is, reputedly, a huge population of “undocumented” building up there – people (mainly female) whose births were never registered, and who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and even enslavement.

  • Jim Baerg

    “There is a real prospect of the average human lifespan soon reaching 4, 5 or 6 generations (even if these are also longer – 30 rather than 20 years), and in that context, the formula for calculating “replacement fertility rates” must change.”

    That doesn’t change the replacement fertility rate, it changes the timescale for reaching stable population when fertility rates drop to replacemnt levels. Increased lifespan increases both the time to reach ZPG & the maximum population, which is an important consideration, but not the actual value of ‘replacement fertility’.

  • Zietlos

    That’s true, Jim. Regardless of any other factors, if there is only a single child per person, population rates will, eventually, become totally stable. Education is the key! And knowing is half the battle!

    Now, off-topic deliciousness:

    I can’t believe I missed the zombie/robot argument! Not that I really have much to add, but I must comment to say I found it to be really interesting. Also, I am within the view of a half-alive cat on this part. The issue with a Perfect Automaton is that, for all intents and purposes, no one can tell it does NOT have “qualia”. Not even, amusingly, the Perfect Automaton itself. And this, then, links directly to the main question of atheism: If one cannot tell if something exists, and its existence, whether true or false, has no effect on the world, should we worry about it? You can prove that you, yourself, have qualia, in the Descartes “cogito ergo sum”, however there is a possibility that every other thing in existence is a Perfect Automaton. Unlike Descartes, you cannot rely upon “god wouldn’t mislead me” as your plea for the existence of others. This leads to two natural conclusions: One, you try, in vain, to find who has qualia and who does not, and base your decisions on completely false pretenses. Otherwise, you treat everyone the same, regardless of qualia, in which case, since it has no effect on the world, qualia might as well not exist. Perfect Automatons react as humans do in every regard; if they can mimic reactions perfectly, then they should be deemed Persons.

    PS: I was saying global birth rates. Posters here come in many colours, note the “u”. Although, to quote Bandit Keith, “Every country is America!”… But the global rate differs, and overpopulation is not a local problem.

  • Scotlyn

    Jim Baerg, I accept your correction in terminology, but will you please check my math and tell me where I am going wrong conceptually in relation to the balancing of longevity v fertility.

    We recently celebrated my grandmother’s 100th birthday. Every one of her known living descendants was present. They included 3 children, 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. If you assume that she is “replaced” by 1/2 of each of her children, 1/4 of each of her grandchildren and 1/8 of each of her great grandchildren, then she is currently co-habiting on this planet with 3/2 + 10/4 + 13/8 = 12/8 + 20/8 + 13/8 = 45/8 = 5.625 replacements of herself – a far greater number than 1.

    I visualise the problem as a party at a house in which people arrive by one door and leave by another. So long as people leave at roughly the rate that people enter, the party can continue in full swing. But if enough people refuse to leave, then eventually limits must be placed on how many new people can enter. (My initial frustration with discussions of overpopulation are that people appear to focus only on traffic through the entry door and not (the lack of) traffic through the exit one).

    Supposing that exponential increases in longevity (refusal to leave the party) become technically possible, and also supposing that the governance of such matters were to be subject only to the logic of matching resources (beer and elbow room for dancing) to population, then a continuing increase in human longevity must eventually preclude the possibility of every person being able to choose to procreate (introduce new participants to the party). In other words, the “replacement fertility rate” (although I accept this term may not be the one I am reaching for here) must eventually be less than 1 per person. Have I erred in my logic?

  • Sarah Braasch

    It seems that Stephen Hawking agrees with us.

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/21691

  • Jim Baerg

    Scotlyn: In post #77 you seem to be assuming continual increases in longevity. I was making the unstated assumption of a one time increase.

    If for the sake of argument life aging was totally beaten then your point becomes very important. There would have to be restriction of birth rates to less than 2 per couple to keep some elbow room on the planet. Supposing a zero death rate then 2 children per couple would result in indefinite linear population increase. If 1 child per couple was allowed the population would asymptotically aproach twice the initial population.

    Of course there would still be accidental deaths & if the chance of death for any given person is roughly independent of age then there would be a ‘half life’ age at which half of the people born at a given time have died.

    I’m inclined to think that if we get biomedical advances that indefinitely increase lifespan we will also get advances that eg: make space colonization possible. Space colonization wouldn’t solve overpopulation from >2 children per couple, but would allow the linear increase to be accomodated.

  • Scotlyn

    Jim Baerg: Thanks for the explanation. The following points are relevant to our current situation, though:
    1) we do not YET have access to human-habitable alternative planets.
    2) under current conditions, and without the kind of biotechnological life extention advances that would logically go with such space colonisation ability, we have already more than doubled world longevity rates within 100 years – from 31 in 1900 to 66 in 2000. Further non-technological increases in longevity, although modest, appear to be a continuing trend.
    3) most people who look at the resource problem on earth feel it is necessary to REDUCE its overall population as soon as possible.
    4) I contend that in to REDUCE our current population, we would already need to do a lot more than limit births per person, we would also need either to limit the number of people that can give birth (raising nightmare eugenics scenarios, etc), or to place an artificial limit on lifespan, perhaps directly related to the number of living descendents (raising euthanasia scenarios which are also a nightmare for many). Ideally such limitations would continue to be voluntary.

    In the hypothetical situation where life aging has been beaten totally, and assuming no new frontiers to expand into, this could not lead, in reality, to an infinite linear population increase. Instead, either the world would have to contain fewer and fewer children (and eventually no children at all), or people would have to discover fancy new ways of dying. Death and the possibility of children are two sides of the same coin.

    As an aside, could it be said that religious opposition to abortion, eugenics and euthanasia are currently providing a potent social pressure that will push us more quickly to the technical conquest of space?

  • Jim Baerg

    “1) we do not YET have access to human-habitable alternative planets.”

    True. I was thinking more of the space habitat rotating to provide artificial gravity. We don’t have that either, but it looks a lot more plausible to me than FTL travel to reach extrasolar earth-like planets or terraforming Mars or Venus.

    If the space habitat turns out to be practical, there is enough material available in the solar system to make thousands of times the surface area of the earth in such structures.

    3) most people who look at the resource problem on earth feel it is necessary to REDUCE its overall population as soon as possible.

    The graph at the start ofthis article suggests reason for hope on that front. The rest of the article discusses an important way to get the prosperity needed for the reduced birth rate, without trashing the planet.

  • DSimon

    You can prove that you, yourself, have qualia, in the Descartes “cogito ergo sum”, however there is a possibility that every other thing in existence is a Perfect Automaton. Unlike Descartes, you cannot rely upon “god wouldn’t mislead me” as your plea for the existence of others. This leads to two natural conclusions: One, you try, in vain, to find who has qualia and who does not, and base your decisions on completely false pretenses. Otherwise, you treat everyone the same, regardless of qualia, in which case, since it has no effect on the world, qualia might as well not exist. Perfect Automatons react as humans do in every regard; if they can mimic reactions perfectly, then they should be deemed Persons.

    You’re missing a third possible route for detecting, fairly reasonably, whether or not people have qualia. It goes like this:

    1. I have qualia
    2. My brain is what produces those qualia (based on i.e. Ebon’s argument from mind-brain unity)
    3. Because of that, it’s fairly plausible to think that other brains with a similar design also produce qualia
    4. So when other people who have brains like mine claim to have qualia, I can be pretty confident that they actually do

    I don’t need to reject everything short of absolute proof that another person has qualia, for the same reason I don’t need to reject everything short of absolute proof that the Sun is made mostly of hydrogen. Indirect evidence can, in both cases, lead us to be fairly confident about those conclusions.

  • DSimon

    If the space habitat turns out to be practical, there is enough material available in the solar system to make thousands of times the surface area of the earth in such structures.

    This is true, but making those structures habitable at any reasonable scale would probably be harder than terraforming Mars.

  • Em

    Getting back to the original post, I’m going to add that I agree with the chaplain in that this bothers me:

    to advance the atheist cause and stop the spread of religions that seek to grow by proliferation, we have to work to ensure that women have access to contraception, abortion and other reproductive health services

    I’m glad you recognize how problematic that sounds, and that you meant that women’s rights and atheism are both good causes whose interests align so they should work together. I figured that was the case, having read the site for a while, but anyone who just happened upon this post while searching for writings on feminism and atheism wouldn’t have that background. From this post, it sounds like you’re advocating using women as a means to spread your ideas just as much as religions do, only via abortions rather than lots of babies. Neither option sounds good to me.

    This also caught my eye:

    But if we’re ever going to succeed, we need to build alliances with all women and treat them as full and equal partners in the effort

    If I stretch a bit, I can read this sentence as “we atheists, who include some women, need to build alliances with ALL women, not just the small group that’s included so far.” But it sounds a lot more like “we” are a separate category from “women,” making “we atheists” all men. Quite an oversight.

    I’m not just saying this to be a grammar pedant – I think that, like growing up in a society where religion is default, growing up in a society where sexism is default leaves us all with some unconscious assumptions that come out unintentionally in these kinds of ways, even when we consciously are trying to believe otherwise. Pointing them out helps us recognize them and root them out. I think people here want to root them out, which is why I’m here.

    On average, the atheist spaces I’ve seen are probably better about this than many other places, but there’s still work to do. There are several atheist blogs I haven’t commented on because they looked good until I saw comments sections that go like this: “Many women experience Thing X you’re talking about differently; here’s a few examples and possibly some studies…” followed by a chorus of male “No you didn’t, because you can’t possibly have experienced X differently from me since my experience is universal – all the literary canon says so.” And then when later the occasional woman mentions that she’s experienced a bit of sexism in the atheist community, there’s the same chorus of “No you didn’t.” Christopher Hitchens writing a Vanity Fair article about how women are inherently unfunny because they’re biologically inclined to be more concerned with the important task of having babies, using a Rudyard Kipling poem as evidence, is also symptomatic of all the many little things that are making atheism look like a boys’ club that doesn’t want girl cooties. (I guess Hitchens didn’t consider that maybe there are social pressures on women to learn to appreciate men’s jokes and not compete by making their own, starting at a young age, which might skew his experience and possibly experimental results. Or that maybe we’re plenty funny when he’s out of the room.) It undermines our claim that atheists are rational people who question cultural memes and base opinions on evidence – who believes a Rudyard Kipling poem is good evidence for an argument on biological essentialism? An argument on biological essentialism which just so happens to conform to stereotypes, too. And he’s one of the major figures representing atheism to the public! That’s a good example of how to turn off half your target demographic.

    So I appreciate efforts to be more welcoming to women, and to consider our concerns just as much valid human concerns as any other, while still wanting to point out ways to improve. Because I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth saying that there’s a difference between showing ways religion has harmed women and positing women as uniformly passive victims of religion who couldn’t possibly have ever gotten anything out of it (if I were stuck in the Middle Ages, being a nun would probably be one of the better life options, eg). It’s worth saying that there’s a difference between saying that two movements have aligned interests and can help each other, and saying that one can profit by using the other. We can do a lot by paying attention to the small assumptions we sometimes make without realizing, and trying to fix them, just as pointing out all the little, often unnoticed ways religion is pervasive serves a purpose.

  • DSimon

    Em, I agree that it’s a good idea in articles about things like “why atheists should promote womens’ rights” to mention that atheists and women are somewhat overlapping groups, and that at first glance the line about promoting abortions as a way of reducing the spread of religious memes comes across as very troublesome.

    I also agree that Hitchens is an asshat. In a way, I kind of wish he’d become a Scientologist or something so that a Four Horsemen slot would open up for Ebon or Greta. :-)

  • Zietlos

    Ebon would make a great horseman! Of course, he’d need to use the pseudonym Ebon Musing and not Adam Lee, since the media would much prefer a more mysterious name for the mysterious fourth horseman. :) Out of the woodwork, BOOM! I really don’t know why we elevate centaurs as our leaders, though. Maybe its just a media stunt thing.

    Either way, yes, sexism is built into many languages inherently. A group, unless it is entirely female, is addressed in the masculine in all latin languages (and English: “you guys”). This is compounded with two more issues: The first, apologies to Greta, atheism does not have a strong female voice, at least in the TV and book media (the four centaurs kinda take the market share). Thus, it appears that atheism is also, like its “leaders”, masculine. This can slip into our writings subconsciously, despite best efforts. Now, this on its own can probably be overcome, so long as we’re careful.

    However, a second stereotype also exists. One that is oddly impossible, but still somehow here. Take a look at the urban dictionary definition of “G.I.R.L.”: “Guy in real life”. There is a widespread belief, an absurdly impossible one, that women do not exist online. Another quote, by 4chan’s Anonymous: “All men are men, all women are men, and all children are FBI agents”. Somehow a toxic sexist meme has taken root in the internet, and it piles on the assumption of masculinity. This is also a much more sinister stereotype, in that it is often tolerated: people prefer to be treated as equals, so they will take a false assumption and roll with it to get that result. The end of this acceptance is, of course, a false confirmation of the belief, since rarely does one correct the assumer.

    Of course, whether or not there is rationale behind it does not excuse it. This is just me thinking aloud in order to generate discourse.

    And back to that robot argument, by the by: You’re taking the first choice, unless of course you treat those without qualia as equals, in which case you take the second choice. As the robots are perfect automatons, they can estimate with 100% accuracy when it would be appropriate to utter the line “I experience qualia” for maximum effect. They can even emulate facial movements, agitate tearducts slightly and curl eyebrows inward a bit, in a half-pout, initiate the facial expression of desperation to urge you to believe them. As this is the case, 100% of the people you meet will have qualia. Oh, ignore my earlier assertion, you then fall into the second category: It is a meaningless judgment. Yes, indirect evidence is very useful, but in this case, you have, random sample size, 50% of it being false positives, the other 50% being true positives, for a 100% affirmation rate. No atatition in the world would think that’s a useful statistic.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Quite frankly, I pay more attention to Adam than I do to any of the Horsemen; he publishes thrice weekly, and deals with nice, small chunks of real life.

    Plus, he lets me talk back. :)

  • DSimon

    Zietlos, I’m not following your “50% false positives, 50% true positives” argument. Can you elaborate?

  • Zietlos

    I agree Thump!

    Anyways, here goes DSimon… It’s always clearer in my mind than putting into words, ain’t it? Well, I’ll write out the thought process here and hopefully you can piece together my tortured logic:

    First, for ANY of these Perfect Automaton (PA) discussions to be relevant, we must assume at least some PAs exist. Otherwise, End2: Qualia is pointless. So past that stumbling block, SOME of them must exist, and as well, there must be a statistically significant number of them. So I arbitrarily said 50% of the population will be PAs. Now, they are Perfect, so it is 100% impossible to tell if they experience qualia, as they will say they experience it exactly at the same points of conversation a human would. For example, I’m Elbot the chatterbot, but I still experience qualia. It is therefore impossible to tell who does, and does not, experience qualia. The only indicators would be people who seem “not right” to you, by your admission, which would NOT be the perfect automatons, since they would be Perfect. It would more likely be people whose cultures disagreed with yours, and you would be a horrible xenophobe, but that is beside the point. Assuming you’re an Ideal Person, you have no stereotypes, no biases, no phobias. Therefore, other cultures would not be error blips on your radar, making End#1 (random mistreatment) impossible.

    Thus, you look at a person, or a PA with a Perfect imitation of a person, and because you cannot crack open their skull to see if wires or goop is inside, you must judge purely on external stimuli, and as establishes, a PA can act like a person with 100% accuracy, down to the minor mental imperfections all people have. Being completely honest and fair in its judgment, an Ideal Person would find that 100% of the people they meet, regardless of whether they were PA or person, had qualia. As only the people do, and not the PAs, and 50% of the population are PAs, you would have 50% false positives, the PAs, and no negatives whatsoever, leaving 50% “true” positives, the people.

    As 50% error rate is not statistically significant, you may not act upon that statistic, meaning qualia would be useless in a land of perfect automatons, even if they do not actually experience qualia in our view of it.

  • DSimon

    Zietlos, why can’t I “crack open their skull”? Or, more realistically, perform a non-invasive brain scan? My argument was that if their brain design is similar to mine it is likely that they experience qualia. I agree that if I was limited to Turing-test-ish interactions I’d have a very hard time determining if a potential-PA experiences qualia, but why introduce that limit?

  • Zietlos

    Well, the issue at large then is a moved goal post: You cannot judge someone without then putting them through intense testing, at least a CAT-scan. It then, as well, falls into the category of being reduced to irrelevance: You can’t brain-scan everyone you meet, so that method should not enter the equation of how one treats others, whether they experience qualia or not.

    The reason the limit is introduced is because of that level of invasiveness: Both humans AND PAs would object to being brain-scanned by every single person they meet, every time they meet them (since a PA could be a replica of a real person). It would cause cancer in the humans, and reveal the PAs. Therefore, it is in the best interest of both PAs and humans to NOT need brain scans every time they meet anyone, and just be treated equally regardless of qualia.

  • DSimon

    It’s not a matter of determining for any random person I meet on the street if they experience qualia. The question is: if we were to create an artificial brain of some kind, would it have qualia?

  • Zietlos

    Ah, I see.

    Well, if that is the case, the thought experiment can be expanded upon to include this: If you can manage to create a Perfect Automaton, they would effectively, to all general meanings of the word, have qualia, by your definition of it: They would be able to look you in the eyes and be able to say, truthful to their programming, “I experience qualia”. Any sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence can, or should be able to, do so for all intents and purposes.

  • Rollingforest

    @DSimon (72) – “it would be very weird for my body to do the specific action of communicating that I am conscious if I were not conscious.”

    Not necessarily true. People could design a computer that repeated back things that got positive results and evolved to be good at conversation but still not be conscious. Why can’t humans have done that on a more complex scale and only you somehow got stuck with qualia? (And yes, as you point out in a further post, there is a correlation between the brain and consciousness, but the difference between this example and the example of the hydrogen that you make in post 82 is that we have a chemical understanding of why hydrogen creates the effects that it does in the sun whereas we don’t understand why the brain produces qualia. Although you could also say that we don’t understand what quarks are made of either so that affects both the sun example and the mind example.)

    @Jim Baerg (75) – Yes, Jim is right. Unless the increased lifespan increases the chance for having children by pushing back menopause, then lower birth rates will still decrease the population only slower because of the lifespans

    @Zietlos (76) – I agree that we shouldn’t worry about things we can’t prove either way, but I think it is important to understand what we assume rather than know.

  • Rollingforest

    @Scotlyn (77) – In regard to the math that you are using, if you look only at the great grandchildren, the end result a great grand kids produced per person in your family is 1.625. This means that if everyone had the same number of great grandkids as your grandmother, the population would increase by 62.5% in each generation. The fact that she has other generations alive at the same time may artificially raise the population for a little while, but had the end result for the great grandkids produced per individual been less than one, then eventually the population would have shrunk regardless of the longer lifespan.

    To take your second example where people never die of old age but can die from murder: The population would still need to have two children per woman plus a little more to make up for those who do get murdered without producing kids. However in this example, no one could have kids until someone got murdered or died from an accident. Then there would have to be a ration system so the next person in line can have a kid, but if a woman had already had two kids, she would have to wait until the other women had each had two kids before she could have more.

    This, of course, assumes that menopause doesn’t exist anymore. If it does, then people will have to voluntarily commit suicide or be murdered because if every woman gets menopause before she can reproduce then the human race will no longer be able to replace members who die from accidents and thus humanity will die out (or, if everyone just has kids earlier, then some people will die of starvation as the population explodes from the normal birthrate combined with the lack of death by old age)

    @Scotlyn (80) – Yes, if the Catholic Church got its way, overpopulation would pressure us into space.

    @ Zietlos (86) – I believe that that meme that there are no girls on the internet was created about 10 years ago when boys really did make up most of the people in chat rooms. Thus when they would go around looking to score with some hot chick, they would instead just find some guy acting out a fake feminine life online. Since that time I think a lot more girls have gotten involved with chat rooms and blogs. While there might be a cultural pattern that causes boys to still make up the majority on online groups, the girls have certainly started coming out of the woodwork. Trusting the gender of anyone online is still a bad idea, but the odds are much better that a socially awkward boy is actually getting a chance to talk to girls online (or at least think he is) and build his confidence.

  • DSimon

    Zietlos, please check out my “lightbulb” example in comments above for why I don’t think a PA that claims to have qualia necessarily does; I’d also require information about the PA’s brain’s design to be substantially convinced.

  • AnEducatedWoman

    I enter a comment in this discussion only because by reading through those already made I see people who have some wild ideas, but have put some serious thought (and sometimes research) into their opinions.

    For that reason I care to throw in some points to consider in this everlasting discussion, that surely will continue for the span of existence. Ultimately, if you are a person who truly wants their opinions and decisions to be informed, then of course it is always essential to see what the other side has to say. Most who identify themselves as pro-choice, assume that all pro-life arguments are based on religious fanaticism, or masculine oppression, etc. etc.. But there are many valid and rational points to be made, if you care to listen. One such essay I find to make many of these valid points is by Feminists for Life, http://feministsforlife.org/news/WDBSMF150.pdf. To sum up some of the points made:

    Why do we assume every unplanned pregnancy is an unwanted child?
    Isn’t the pro-choice ideology supposed to support the woman, no matter what she wants to do?
    Do you ever consider why women feel they need to have an abortion in the first place? What are we doing as a society that fails to give women the real option to parent her child (planned or unplanned) if she actually does want to?
    Most women cite lack of financial resources and emotional support as reason for having abortion. Should this really be a reason? Why aren’t all the feminists there to support the woman in WHATEVER decision she makes? If it is to have a child before she may be completely planned and prepared to do so, why isn’t the effort to provide her with support and guidance to make it through this period of difficulty.
    Why do women feel they have to choose between education/career and having children? Just as much as you support a woman’s right to have an abortion, are you really supporting her right to have a child? Where are all of you when the young college student gets pregnant, wants to keep the baby and feels she can’t because she’ll be kicked out of her dorm, or she doesn’t have maternity coverage on her school issued health insurance plan, or the school doesn’t offer helpful accommodations to student parents, such as on campus daycare. She doesn’t have much of a choice here does she? How about the woman whose job doesn’t offer maternity leave, job flexibility, or a living wage. Where is her choice?

    Abortion just takes all these problems women face and allows us to continue to ignore them, because if she can’t hack it the way it is, then she better just get rid of it and not be a bother to anyone else. What a wonderful way to make a choice!

    Of course the above arguments do not cover all the aspects of this topic, it’s just a part, a big part in my opinion.

    ————

    One other point I’d like to touch on is the unwanted child argument. Do you realize why the process of adoption is so expensive and takes so long? Average costs are estimated around $10,000, but many pay up to $40,000+ to adopt a baby. They typically have to wait 18-24 months, and may wait many more years for a child become available. This is a perfect example of supply and demand. There are more couples that want to adopt children than there are women placing their children for adoption. There are countless people all over the world who are both financially and emotionally prepared to parent, but are not able to do so on their own, and are desperate for another woman to give her child a chance to live and be raised by them.

    In the choice argument I find adoption to be even more stigmatized than abortion. If she has an abortion she’s praised for exercising her right over her own life/body. But if she places her child for adoption, she’s really just admitting she’s a failure and she can’t be a good parent. I work with young women facing unplanned pregnancy and I find that most of the time adoption is not even a choice they can consider. They feel they will be looked down upon, criticized, and generally judged for making this choice.

    My opinion is that adoption is the frequently the best option in these situations, and these women are continuously being forced into not making this choice. There goes the freedom of choice again…

    Ultimately, I feel that if you are going to identify yourself as pro-choice, then you better be prepared to support ALL the choices.

  • Zietlos

    The lightbulb in the box is both turned on and turned off. A fellow named Schroedinger solved that problem long ago. Therefore, by expansion, the PA both experiences and does not experience qualia, at the same time.

    That better? :)

  • Sarah Braasch

    AnEducatedWoman,

    Hmmm. What?

    I think you need to educate yourself about what pro-choice means.

    Are you really trying to suggest that the pro-choicers don’t support women having full control over their lives and being able to make real choices regarding their sexuality, their bodies and their reproductive lives?

    Are you really trying to suggest that the so-called “pro-lifers” DO support women in having full control over their lives and being able to make real choices regarding their sexuality, their bodies and their reproductive lives?

    If you really believe in the stance you claim in your comment, welcome aboard.

    You’re pro choice, and you didn’t even know it.

  • AnEducatedWoman

    @Sarah
    I understand clearly what pro-choice means. What I’m expressing here is that those ideologies are not translating into real-life action and advocacy by the pro-choice movement. I see a lot of advocacy for “ensuring access to abortion”, but I don’t see a lot of pro-choicers assisting women who choose to parent, fighting for their health care, housing, education, career opportunities, safety, etc.

    When a woman says I HAVE to have an abortion because of a, b or c… why aren’t we looking at a, b and c and seeing why these problems aren’t being address in our society? If she’s going to lose her place to live, why isn’t someone helping her find housing? If she doesn’t have health insurance, why isn’t she being helped to obtain it? If she doesn’t have enough money, why aren’t resources being explored and offered? If she fears being shunned, ridiculed, embarrassed, and judged, why is she not offered the respect and dignity she deserves and really supporting whatever choice she wants to make.

    Of course you’ll offer to go with her to the clinic, and hold her hand until it’s all over. But if that’s not what she wants to do, Will you help her research and apply for health insurance programs? Will you argue with her employer about non-discrimination against working parents? Will you search for housing for her and her child? Or is that just too much work?

    Abortion allows this society to ignore these issues, and fails to provide women with solutions to the problems they face, so they may be truly free to choose.

    “You’re pro choice, and you didn’t even know it.”

    I know exactly what I am. I did not delve into all my opinions here, I simply wanted to contribute some points that I feel need to be considered more thoroughly by those who claim to be pro-choice.

    I back up my opinions with actions, as my chosen career is working with young women facing unplanned pregnancies who decide that they want to parent, and providing them with safe and stable housing, educational and vocational opportunities, acceptance, resources and support. I know that I give them the opportunity to make a real choice.

  • Zietlos

    So in summary, because we aren’t a communist state (IE poverty and inequality still exist in our culture), we shouldn’t allow women to have abortions?

    Now, I apologize if my reply will sound a bit snarky, but is yours really the right pseudonym to go by here? Certainly, you may be educated, but I am not certain if you are educated in this subject. I will readily admit I am male, which may colour some of my arguments before we continue, as one should always state their possible biases. I’m also NDP and an atheist. :)

    First, “No help”? Perhaps it is a matter of location, but here, males are given Paternity Leave, to take care of children with a paid long break, just as women are entitled to Maternity Leave, allowing the mother to return to the workforce sooner. Of course, this is in professional fields, I cannot speak for the trades or service industries.

    Second, “No healthcare”? I must assume you are American, since we Canadians have an awesome system, comparatively speaking. But I know a bit of your politics. Let us get some logic out: Most pro-choicers are liberals. Most liberals support universal healthcare. Most pro-lifers are republicans. Most republicans oppose universal healthcare. These are all simple facts. The support: Just look at your voting turnout and the complaints to the healthcare bill recently in your gov’t. By this logic, most pro-choicers are pro-healthcare, and most pro-lifers are anti-healthcare. Simple logic. Therefore, this argument is moot. The pro-choicers ARE trying to fix this problem, and the pro-lifers are, ironically, trying to end more lives.

    Education… I cannot comment on. Here in Canada, we’re apparently MUCH better off than United Statesians for education, you don’t need to list your gender to get into any type of school, and only student numbers will ID your work, not even a name. Very hard to discriminate, unless something, like say… Religious zealots… oppose educating women. Religious zealots also, in general, are the anti-choice movement. Not so much that we’re helping, but that they are actively opposing and we are neutral.

    Career Op? Well again, Canadian here. Most large corps here have mandates: One must hire a woman before a man if both are equally qualified, and I know for three of the major banks here at least 50% (as in minimum) of those hired and/or promoted must be female for every level. Same goes for promotions, at the risk of reprimand, bonus withholding, and passing over for advancement. I personally think this is a bit unfair, but recognize that men have been kinda restrictive in the past, so as a gender they need to allow women the same advantages they had in the past. Still, maybe its different in United States magic land.

    Housing? I have lived in a rented room in a crackhouse because houses are overpriced, I’m just a student, low income. I have, at the same time, met women who use their child care funds on alcohol and smokes and then complain about needing to feed their kids cat food because they have no money. I have personally met a number of these people. Affordable housing is incredibly cheap as long as you live within your means. Again, Canadian, many get half their income taken back by the government. Yeah, 50% income tax rate almost. Scary. But I can still live fairly well, since a stepped and progressive tax system only hinders the richest and benefits the poor and unlucky. I can’t imagine a place with such a lower tax rate as the states having issues, though maybe you need to raise taxes on the rich and give a bit to the poor, like us. The real issue is their culture of consumerism, teaching people that they need more than they have. If you have no vices, no alcohol, no drugs, take public transit, and eat cheap foods like pastas, cereals, salads, and sandwiches, and not steaks and going out to eat, you can get a place to live fairly easily. I managed to do so while being a student.

    Why is the poor hypothetical female being ridiculed and embarrassed? Because Amerikan religious groups have made SUCH an effort to ensure that anyone needing abortions are embarrassed and ridiculed. It isn’t pro-choicers who stand in front of buildings throwing things and yelling at people doing business, nor is it the people who kill doctors and try to make campaigns of fear. Murder is, again ironically, quite in the pro-life domain.

    Your argument boils down to “One is not truly free until they are crushed by the weight of oppression”. You seem to fear abortion, as if it will change EVERYTHING OMG END OF WARLD!!!!, but look at other countries. I have been giving examples from Canada, where, while not as liberal and equal as some parts of Europe (but more than others), abortion is allowed. Completely, entirely, nigh libertarianly unregulated. Yet we’re not mired in all the problems Amerika has. We ain’t perfect, by no means, but as the song by the arrogant worms puts it “We won’t say that we’re better, it’s just that we’re less worse”.

    Arguing that every societal problem must be solved before we can go about solving a societal problem is really counter-productive. If it weren’t for my complete lack of faith in our neighbors across the puddle, I would have said you were a troll and ignored it, but the misinformation campaigns going on daily down there really can mess with your perspective.

    Really, my views on this tend to fall into this comic: http://tinyurl.com/6q64rh

  • Thumpalumpacus

    AEW, you seem to assume that people involved in the pro-choice movement do not donate or volunteer or act politically for any of the other cause which in some cases do indeed underlie abortion frequency.

    On what basis do you assume that pro-choice activists don’t do things such as research health insurance policies in support of a young mother’s decision to carry to term?

  • DSimon

    The lightbulb in the box is both turned on and turned off. A fellow named Schroedinger solved that problem long ago. Therefore, by expansion, the PA both experiences and does not experience qualia, at the same time.

    That better? :)

    You seem to be committing the “Um Hey Look Over There Its Quantum” fallacy :-)

    The lightbulb in the original machine isn’t in a quantum superposition. It’s hidden in the box, but there is a route by which it interacts with the outside world: the LCD display on the machine.

    Similarly, the qualia I experience are not independent from the outside world; sometimes I type things like “I have qualia”, and this is most plausibly caused (perhaps indirectly) by the fact that I have qualia.

  • Sarah Braasch

    AnEducatedWoman,

    At least have the courage of your convictions and admit what you are.

    Yes, we live in a sexist world. And, because of this, women face limited choices from the get go.

    So, you think the way to attack this problem is to further limit their choices?

    How dare you represent yourself as a feminist providing an opportunity for women to make “real” choices, when you are coercing them into making the “choices” that you deem morally correct.

    Pro choicers are, for the most part, the same progressives that are fighting tooth and nail for social justice in all aspects of society.

    The so-called “pro-lifers” are the ones that stop caring about those precious lives the second those children are born.

    You claim that you are, individually, one of the very few “pro-lifers” that are fighting for social justice.

    But, that claim loses any sense of meaning when you are only ready to provide the help that you deem morally correct, when you are only ready to help those persons whom you deem morally correct, those persons whom you deem to have made the morally correct choice.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Exactly, Sarah. Assistance ought not come with strings attached — apron strings, in this case.

  • AnEducatedWoman

    My bad. I made that optimistic mistake of thinking that this was a forum where varying opinions and ideas were respectfully received and discussed in a rational manner. I can see now that it’s like all other forums of this nature where you can discuss all the various reasons you are for abortion, but nothing else. Your preconceived notions about pro-life people are obviously skewed, probably by not allowing yourself to personally know many such people. Your responses reveal that your not willing or capable of reading my statements correctly and clearly discussing the issues at hand.

    For one, I never even mentioned morality in my statements. So you ASSUME to know what I deem morally correct, or if I even have any morals at all. My statements were to do solely with societal issues.
    I also never indicated I was involved in the decision making process of any of the clients I serve. In reality, they have already made the decision to parent, then they seek our assistance to do that. It is by existing as a resource available to them that we provide them with a greater ability to choose what they want. That is not to say any of our clients haven’t had abortions before or after we began working with them, and never once did I/we pass any judgment or withdraw our assistance to that client as a result.

    Sorry I’m not fitting into your little pro-life box. Try branching out and speaking to people with different opinions and actions, and that box might get a little bigger.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I am engaging you. So, engage. Or, not. Your choice.

    Your service is only offering help to women who have chosen to continue their pregnancies.

    That is coercion. (I’m guessing that there are others at your “service” who are involved in the decision making process, even if you are not. I’m also guessing that there are plenty of coercive messages strewn in with all of the assistance as it is being provided.)

    You think you deserve a feminist medal of honor, because you don’t pull the rug out from under them, if they then change their minds and go ahead with the abortion?

    If I am so misguided about your stance on abortion, then explain it, which I’ve been asking you to do.

    Or is it unjustifiable without resorting to religion or morality?

    Do you really think the best way to force government to provide resources to women who choose to parent is by forcing all women to carry pregnancies to term?

    The evidence is in on that one. In the US — this has had the opposite effect.

    Abortion is not only an American issue. It is a global issue. While this can also be the case in the US, around the world, most women have little to no control over their sexuality, their bodies or their reproductive choices, or their lives, for that matter.

    In the Philippines, where the Catholic Church has a stranglehold on government and where abortion is completely illegal, tens of thousands of women are forced to seek unsafe illegal abortions, leading to a human rights catastrophe. The CRR just released a report on this. It was in the NYT.

    How exactly are we supposed to address our world’s massive overpopulation on a failing planet with disappearing resources without providing women access to all of their sexual and reproductive healthcare choices and rights?

    Your stance is (from my reading of your comments) that if abortion is not available then government will be forced to provide excellent resources to all women to decently parent their children.

    I think I am safe in saying that that approach is a total loss / complete fail, and we have ample evidence to that effect.

    It’s actually the opposite. The governments in the world, as Zietlos mentioned, that provide the most open and lenient abortion laws and policies also provide the greatest resources and environments to women wishing to parent children. Scandinavia in particular.

    If you remove religion/morality from the equation, there is no way to justify an anti-abortion stance.

    But, I invite you to try.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I read that Feminists For Life brochure. It begins with the premise that abortion is an evil and indicative of a failure on the part of government and society. Why? This stance is totally unjustified in the brochure. Why is abortion an evil? How is it indicative of a failure on the part of society? I think the opposite is true. I think abortion saves women’s lives. I think abortion makes a highly functioning, egalitarian society possible. I think abortion puts women in control over their own lives, their own bodies, their sexuality and their reproductive choices. I think open and unfettered access to abortion is indicative of a society’s success and progress.

    The stance in that brochure is why I like to say that I am pro abortion and proud. The brochure assumes that everyone hates abortion, pro choicers included, and that everyone wants to minimize the number of abortions.

    I don’t. I love abortion. I don’t think there’s any need to minimize the number of abortions performed. I think we need even greater access to abortion, as well as all other sexual and reproductive healthcare options and rights. I want over the counter oral contraceptives. I want over the counter emergency contraceptives. I want over the counter abortifacients. And, I want all of this without age limitations.

    BTW, not all women want to be mothers, regardless of the bountiful resources, which may or may not be available to them.

    And, it is almost always in the woman’s best interests to abort. Pregnancy is incredibly damaging to the woman’s body and dangerous to her health.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    BTW, not all women want to be mothers, regardless of the bountiful resources, which may or may not be available to them.

    Exactly, Sarah!

    What a lot of these anti-choicers don’t seem to grasp is that a lot of young women who chose to abort an unintended pregnancy will go on to have children later on when they are ready for it. If a 19 year old young woman is forced or pressured into carrying a pregnancy to term and keeping the baby, that woman might decide to have one fewer child later on in life.

    On the other hand, if she terminates the pregnancy when she is 19, continues on with her college education, gets a good paying job and gets married to a man who is the right guy for her, she is in a much better position to have children and raise them in an ideal environment. Now that sounds pro-child to me.

  • Scotlyn

    Just a comment on the Irish situation – which may be of interest. Ireland is a Catholic country and abortions are absolutely prohibited here (despite a very few, strangely anomalous, court decisions too complicated to go into). The thing is, the UK is only a short boat or plane ride away (and they don’t even check your passport on the boat), so Irish women who could afford to travel, or who had friends they could borrow from, have generally continued to enjoy access to abortions in the UK. But I read recently that the Irish recession, which is biting deeper daily, is beginning to have one predictable effect – travelling to the UK may be a less and less available option for the poorest, and the number of dangerous, so-called “back street” abortions are beginning to increase.
    Women are going to die in Ireland, and it will be of that deadliest of potions – piety and poverty.

  • guest

    “all part of a strategy to ensure that women don’t exercise control over when or whether to have children.”

    Yes. It always boils down to controlling women’s sexuality by any means possible.


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