Evangelicals and Abortion

An excerpt from the new book Head and Heart: American Christianities by Garry Wills, along with commentary by Martin Marty:

Wills contends, “It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even the Evangelicals act as if it were. In that case, the woman seeking the abortion…is killing her own child.” If the fetus is regarded as a person, why would the murderous mother be exempt from the death penalty, in which most Evangelicals believe? And many Evangelicals allow abortion in the case of rape or incest. That won’t work: “We do not kill people because they had a criminal parent.” Some allow for abortion to save a life. Wills asks, “Why should the mother be preferred over the ‘child’ if both are, equally, persons?” Why opt for the “certitude” of murder over only the “danger of death?”

Wills, himself a Catholic, raises the temperature even higher: “Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person—calling for baptism and Christian burial.” But this was never the case. “And no wonder,” says Wills. The subject of abortion is not scriptural, “it is not treated in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or anywhere in the Jewish Scripture, the New Testament or the creeds and the early ecumenical councils.” Augustine? He could never find in Scripture “anything at all certain about the origins of the soul.” And the most notable Thomas Aquinas, “lacking scriptural guidance” and using Aristotelian distinctions, “denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation.”

After recalling that homosexuality is also mentioned so few times in the Bible (but is obviously a major wedge issue in this country), especially when compared to issues such as poverty, Harold Henderson asks this question:

… why rely so heavily on a single very old book that offers so little moral guidance (either way) in today’s drastically different world?

(via Daily Harold)


[tags]atheist, atheism, abortion, gay, lesbian[/tags]

  • Jen

    I read recently, but I cannot recall the verse, that there is a verse in the Bible where a priest is ordered by God to perform an abortion. Anyone know which one I mean? It was something about a priest causing a sinning woman to lose her baby and have her “thigh” run with blood. I am going to try to look it up…

  • aaron

    there is a similar discussion on this post at feministe. and there was an illuminating video early in the comments section but youtube took it down.

  • Stephan

    I am a Christian who is pro-life, but I really don’t use the Bible to back it up.

    I see it this way. An unborn baby might be a human life, therefore abortion might be murder. I would put that probability pretty high, particularly as the pregnancy gets farther along. Unless someone can prove to me that an unborn child is not a human being, I will always be pro-life.

    Wills statement, “It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons,” presumes that the onus is on pro-lifers to prove that a fetus is a person. I see it the other way around. Prove to me that it is not a person and I will switch sides. Wills’ perspective is like saying a person facing the death penalty has to prove his innocence or be put to death. Our legal system forces us to do it the other way – you have to prove someone is guilty before they can be put to convicted and executed.

    Many court cases deal with balancing rights – one person’s right against another’s. In the case of abortion it appears to be the right to an abortion (which is not in the constitution or amendments, but was created by the Supreme Court) with the right to life (which is pretty much the basis of the constitution). That seems pretty clear to me.

    Regarding Christians who would accept abortion in cases of rape or incest, I think it is a case of pragmatism. They still believe those are wrong, but no legislation would ever pass without those caveats. If they can stop 0% of abortions or 98% of abortions, which one sounds like a better deal to them? They still might not like the 2% that continue, but it’s worth it to gain back the 98%.

  • Polly

    @Jen,

    What you’re describing sounds like the test for an unfaithful wife. I never linked that to an abortion, but that could’ve been the practical effects of drinking the concoction. By the way, words were written in parchment and then washed into the cup. This is pure black magic. Written words were believed in many cultures to be containers of power. Probably a leftover of the Hebrews’ “pagan” past, now written into their laws.

    A closer example of abortion in the Old Testament:

    (NIV) Exodus 21:22,23 — “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

    It’s incredibly vague. Is it talking about injury to the woman or the baby? Some versions have translated “given birth prematurely” as “miscarried.” In fact, it’s a footnote on the Biblegateway.com site that I got this from. But, I am highly suspicious of that translation.

  • Karen

    Someone once gave an illustration that I thought was particularly instructive:

    Say you’re in a burning building and have only a few moments to get out. Do you run down to the basement and save the five frozen embryos in a laboratory, or do you run upstairs and save the sleeping two-year-old girl? If the embryos as just as much “human lives” as the two-year-old, it’s technically more ethical to save five lives versus one.

    But absolutely no one (I hope!) would let a little girl burn to death in favor of running out with a petrie dish. That’s the difference between “potential life” and “life,” and everyone gets it instinctively if they examine the issue closely.

    Yes, in an ideal world all life and all potential life would be protected. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and thus we have to make hard choices. For me, it’s a choice between a living, breathing woman and her right to decide what happens with her body versus a potential life that, particularly in early pregnancy, is quite tentative anyway. In the case of stem cell research, it’s a choice between the potential to help millions of disabled and hurting people versus a frozen embryo that’s destined to be destroyed anyway. That’s a no-brainer right there.

  • Aj

    I see it this way. An unborn baby might be a human life, therefore abortion might be murder. I would put that probability pretty high, particularly as the pregnancy gets farther along. Unless someone can prove to me that an unborn child is not a human being, I will always be pro-life.

    What is the basis for these statements? What research are you using to conclude that the probability that a fetus is a person?

    Wills statement, “It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons,” presumes that the onus is on pro-lifers to prove that a fetus is a person. I see it the other way around. Prove to me that it is not a person and I will switch sides. Wills’ perspective is like saying a person facing the death penalty has to prove his innocence or be put to death. Our legal system forces us to do it the other way – you have to prove someone is guilty before they can be put to convicted and executed.

    And Wills is correct, the burden of proof is on the anti-abortionists. We don’t go with the assumption that everything is a person until proven otherwise, that would be irrational. Just because X has certain attributes does not mean that something that later becomes X has those attributes.

    In your analogy the anti-abortionists claim of personhood is equivalent to the claim of guilt, and they’re asking people to prove the innocence of a something, say a clump of cells, a fetus, or an amphibian, it doesn’t matter. The crime is personhood, and it just so happens that they don’t have any evidence of the crime.

  • Aj

    I believe Sam Harris in the End of Faith uses the analogy of a house of fire with embryos in the basement and a small child, he also states that stem cell research uses embryo’s that would be destroyed after being unused in IVF.

  • Stephan

    Aj, have you ever seen a fetus become something other than a human being? If your answer is yes, I would love to see proof. If there are documented cases of human fetuses becoming, say, rats, then maybe we can dismiss the notion that a fetus is human.

    I’m not saying we assume everything is human, but a fetus is created by human procreation and inevitably becomes a human life if not interfered with. I think it’s safe to assume that makes it human, at least from a purely scientific and medical perspective.

    Also, if there was any kind of medical consensus regarding when a fetus becomes human (conception? birth? 3 months? viability (whenever that is)?) I think we might be able to draw some kind of line. But since no such consensus exists I am not comfortable with the procedure at all at any stage.

    I also use the “what if I’m wrong” argument.

    If we assume it is not a human life and allow abortion, and it turns out we were wrong, we have committed millions of murders.

    If, on the other hand, we assume it is a human life and disallow abortion, and it turns out we were wrong, we have millions more people in the world, many of them poor and unwanted. While this may in itself be tragic, I think it is better than the death of millions. You may be able to add more bad outcomes to this side of the equation, but I don’t think any of them will add up to what amounts to genocide.

  • Polly

    @Jen,

    I read recently, but I cannot recall the verse, that there is a verse in the Bible where a priest is ordered by God to perform an abortion. Anyone know which one I mean? It was something about a priest causing a sinning woman to lose her baby and have her “thigh” run with blood. I am going to try to look it up…

    Numbers chapter 5 starting at verse 11 and going on and on.

  • Aj

    Stephan, that doesn’t make any sense. If we’re talking about a human fetus, it was never not human, it started with two humans, male and female, there was a human egg and a human sperm, then a human embryo. It is always human life. There’s the medical consensus, embryos and fetuses are human under several definitions of species. And when did I say that human fetuses can turn into other species?

    Consensus isn’t necessary for one conclusion to be supported by the evidence. I’d really like to know where you got this idea, there’s no medical opinion on when a “fetus become human”, because it’s an absurd idea, it’s always human.

    Since we’ve established this, we’re not talking about the property of being human. When I scratch my nose, more human cells are killed than are part of a blastocyst.

    I also use the “what if I’m wrong” argument.

    That’s not surprising.Lets assume that if we (the readers of Hemants blog) don’t each masturbate every day a person dies. Lets give a risk analysis. We masturbate, it’s pleasurable, we risk stains and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. On the otherhand, if we don’t masturbate everyday, millions could die! Quick quick, run for the lube!

    Even though it’s a logical argument, that says nothing of the likelyhood of the premises. Anyone can justify anything with this argument if they accept the premises. I asked you what basis you use when you state it’s likely that a fetus is a person, but you did not answer, and I have a good idea why.

    Your argument only persuades you because you accept the premises without questioning them. You probably do this for more than just abortion.

  • Stephan

    Aj, I assume a fetus is a person because a fetus always becomes a person. It never becomes something else. I stated this several times in my post above, and I am guessing you ignored it because it does not fit your conclusion. The cells on your nose will never become a person no matter how long you refrain from scratching them.

    I agree that the “what if I’m wrong” argument loses it potency if one of the assumptions is extremely unlikely. I submit that the likelihood of a fetus being a person is pretty high, but I suppose it depends on how you define a “person”. It doesn’t sound like you see “human” and “person” as synonymous. I see the two words meaning the same thing.

    You said above:

    I’d really like to know where you got this idea, there’s no medical opinion on when a “fetus become human”, because it’s an absurd idea, it’s always human.

    I did not say that there is no medical opinion, but there is no medical consensus on when it is a human life. Otherwise abortion would always be seen either as acceptable or as murder.

    If you agree that a fetus is human, how can you say that abortion is not murder? How can ending a human life not be murder?

  • Mriana

    If the fetus is regarded as a person, why would the murderous mother be exempt from the death penalty, in which most Evangelicals believe?

    I get VERY upset when I hear things like this. Do these people know that when one has a miscarriage it is called Spontaneous Abortion? I know this because I had a miscarriage and when the dr said, “You’re having a Spontaneous Abortion.” I asked, “What?” I misunderstood his words, but I was young and I only knew the word miscarriage. I got an education that day. BTW, it was more painful emotionally than physically.

    Now, according to that quote, I should be accusing an unseen deity of murder, because IF God does such things, and in such cases it would be attributed to God by the religious AND they would be saying “He had his reasons.” HE had his reasons? Now wouldn’t a woman who could die giving birth and leave behind X amount of children without a mother if she gave birth to said baby have good reason too? Worse yet, two people instead of one could very well die if she gave birth.

    Truth be told, I had a Spontaneous Abortion (miscarriage) because my body was not ready to carry another child after my oldest child was born. They would have been about 10 or 11 months apart IF I had been able to carry the baby to term. As was, my body decided at 3 months along that it just could not sustain another pregnancy. Nature did what it was suspose to do without any help from anyone, but sometimes nature doesn’t always work as it should then it becomes a decision and choice as to whether or not two people should die or just one. Personally, I would prefer to see only one person die than two.

    Even with my last son, my husband and I had to make a very hard decision when I was 8 months along and the question from the dr was If push came to shove and he had no choice BUT to save only one of us, who did he want us to save? We both chose myself to live. Luckily, the worst did not happen and the dr was able to save us both.

    I’m still sadden sometimes when I think about the child I lost, but there is no one to blame. God didn’t do it and if anyone believes there is a God and He did it, then by the reasoning of the statement above, they should accuse Him of murder too, because a miscarriage IS a natural form of abortion. By the same token, IF He had his reasons to “murder the unborn child”, what makes HIS reasons any better than a woman’s reasons?

    Sorry, but it just does not work to blame a deity for something nature does and let that deity go free, when a HUMAN THINKING FEMALE decides to do the same for whatever reason and then accuse her of murder. If someone is going to put the human on trial for an abortion due to religious dogma, then Zeus should be on trial too for every single one of the Spontaneous Abortions HE has done, which mind you far out number induced abortions. Thank you very much.

    End rant.

  • Aj

    -Stephan

    Aj, I assume a fetus is a person because a fetus always becomes a person. It never becomes something else. I stated this several times in my post above, and I am guessing you ignored it because it does not fit your conclusion. The cells on your nose will never become a person no matter how long you refrain from scratching them.

    I didn’t ignore any of your points, you seem to be confused.

    a) If X has the ability to become Y, then X is not Y. If X was Y, it would not become Y, it would be Y.
    b) If a fetus dies, it does not become a person, if it doesn’t develop a brain, it does not become a person etc… etc…
    c) I didn’t suggest the cells on my nose would become a person.

    I agree that the “what if I’m wrong” argument loses it potency if one of the assumptions is extremely unlikely. I submit that the likelihood of a fetus being a person is pretty high, but I suppose it depends on how you define a “person”. It doesn’t sound like you see “human” and “person” as synonymous. I see the two words meaning the same thing.

    What do you think a person is? What do you think a human is? They have meanings, and they’re not the same thing. Did you understand any of the article Hemant posted?

    I did not say that there is no medical opinion, but there is no medical consensus on when it is a human life. Otherwise abortion would always be seen either as acceptable or as murder.

    What do you mean by “human life”? A fetus is alive, it is human. That’s the medical opinion, it’s compatible with several, and the most common, definitions of human and life.

    If you agree that a fetus is human, how can you say that abortion is not murder? How can ending a human life not be murder?

    You can’t kill something without life. The property of being human is not important to the right to life.

  • Polly

    @Stephan,

    This statement of Aj’s:

    The property of being human is not important to the right to life.

    pretty much sums up the difference between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. The whole paradigm is different. For many, the question isn’t about being human but being conscious and capable of experiencing pain – which requires a nervous system and brain; these don’t develop until the 2nd trimester.
    For others it’s purely about location: if it’s in the woman’s body, it’s HER body and it makes no difference what it is. Again, humanness has no bearing.

    I agree with you, I think the property of being human and having the potential to develop into a person is important regardless of stage of development or the probability of failure to attain. But, among atheists (which I am) that’s the minority opinion. But, it’s not 0%. :)

  • Stephan

    Polly, I think you nailed it. The pro-choice definition of “alive” and “person” are, by necessity, very narrow. That is the only way to rationalize abortion.

    But I have to wonder, then, how they draw the line, or even if they can? If it only has to do with position (inside or outside the mother) then is abortion ok up to the moment of birth? If it is ok until the fetus can feel pain, how do they determine that? The logic seems very fuzzy in order to justify an abhorrent practice.

    Aj, the ability to become something is very closely tied to being that thing. It is a crime in most places to steal the eggs of an endangered bird. Why would this be so? An egg is not a bird. Environmentalists seem to get it where those who are pro-choice do not.

    You say:

    The property of being human is not important to the right to life.

    I cannot disagree with this more. To be human is to have the right to life. You say that to be human is not the same as being a person. What, by your definition, is the difference?

    Mriana, I am very sorry for your loss and pain. I know there are Christians that would try to comfort you by saying it part of God’s plan. I am not one of those Christians. I believe there are terrible things that happen that are outside of God’s control and He is saddened by them as much as anyone else.

  • Aj

    -Stephan

    But I have to wonder, then, how they draw the line, or even if they can? If it only has to do with position (inside or outside the mother) then is abortion ok up to the moment of birth? If it is ok until the fetus can feel pain, how do they determine that? The logic seems very fuzzy in order to justify an abhorrent practice.

    Atleast there is a rational basis to it, even if the situation is nuanced enough to require thinking. You obviously haven’t read anything about the secular ethics of abortion that doesn’t involve arbitrary specieism.

    So, if human is the only important factor, you’re saying that if another species were to develop the same, sentience, self-awareness and consciousness that we enjoy, killing them should not be murder?

    I find that abhorrent, considering how they could be capable of experiencing what an adult human experiences while being murdered, and they could be missed in much the same way we are missed.

    Aj, the ability to become something is very closely tied to being that thing. It is a crime in most places to steal the eggs of an endangered bird. Why would this be so? An egg is not a bird. Environmentalists seem to get it where those who are pro-choice do not.

    The important part of that is, the endangered part. If eggs aren’t allowed to develop into birds, there is no furthering of the species. Enviromentalists don’t care about eggs, or individual birds, they care about a species. Why did you think that only endangered species eggs are protected? Are you being serious?!? That was completely ridiculous, on the level of “bananas are an atheist’s nightmare”. I am an enviromentalist, I think we should protect species from extinction, I think the only one who seems not to get it is you.

    I cannot disagree with this more. To be human is to have the right to life. You say that to be human is not the same as being a person. What, by your definition, is the difference?

    Human is the species homo sapien.
    Person is defined by the characteristics of reasoning, consciousness, and persistent personal identity.
    Human being is defined by being a member of the species homo sapien, and being a person.

    What do you mean by them?

  • Karen

    But I have to wonder, then, how they draw the line, or even if they can? If it only has to do with position (inside or outside the mother) then is abortion ok up to the moment of birth? If it is ok until the fetus can feel pain, how do they determine that? The logic seems very fuzzy in order to justify an abhorrent practice.

    The Supreme Court already drew the line very fairly in Roe v. Wade. That is why many of us are fighting to keep this the law of the land. It’s a balancing act; this is the best way to balance two competing interests in an imperfect world. Up until the fetus is generally viable outside the womb – when it is dependent on the mother for life – the woman is paramount. Once the fetus becomes viable, and thus can sustain life outside the womb, the fetus’s rights become paramount unless the life of the mother is at stake. From Wikipedia:

    The central holding of Roe v. Wade was that abortions are permissible for any reason a woman chooses, up until the “point at which the fetus becomes ‘viable,’ that is, potentially able to live outside the mother’s uterus, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”[1] The Court also held that abortion after viability must be available when needed to protect a woman’s health, which the Court defined broadly in the companion case of Doe v. Bolton.

    Many states already outlaw second-trimester abortions – very few are performed annually. The vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester, when many embryos spontaneously abort to start with. I had two “spontaneous abortions” myself and I scarcely know ANY women who haven’t had one or more. They’re incredibly common, you just don’t hear much about them because they occur early and people keep the information private.

  • Mriana

    I’ll put it this way guys… Which is more important? The woman’s life or the life of an unborn child, even if the mother could die and the child end up an orphan?

    Or what if both mother and child die because the mother was high risk, yet she could have lived it she was allowed an abortion?

    IMHO if the possibility the mother or both mother and child could die if the child is carried to term, then it’s better for one to die early in the pregnancy than for two to die later. It’s no different than spontaneous abortion if the mother choose an abortion.

  • Jen

    I believe there are terrible things that happen that are outside of God’s control and He is saddened by them as much as anyone else.

    I have to ask, Stephan- what good is a god figure that is not all-powerful? I am very curious here, why Mriana’s miscarriage is something beyond your God’s control?

    Mriana- I am sorry to hear your story, but it does remind me how important it that women have reproductive rights, especially when you talk about your rough pregnancy where you might have really had to make that tough choice. Often times, when pro-lifers debate, they completely ignore or brush off the very real possibility that some women will die from complications relating to their pregnancies.

    Polly- yes! That’s the book. Thank you.

  • Stephan

    Wow, so many questions to answer.

    I’ll start with Aj, with whom I seem to have the most disagreement. I would say that a human and a person are the same thing, both worthy of life. From there I guess we will have to agree to disagree, since we can’t even agree on a definition of terms.

    Karen, thanks for your input. I realize it is a balancing act, but I believe the right to life outweighs any other right. It is the right upon which all others are based. Without it, no other rights can be exercised.

    Mriana, if it were a clearcut case of the life of the mother or the life of the child, I suppose I would have to err on the side of saving the mother. I doubt that there are many cases that are this clearly defined, however.

    Jen, that’s a very big can of worms, but I will try to handle it briefly. I believe God created us with free will, and that requires Him to cede some of His power to us. It means He won’t stop us from doing this against His will and He won’t always stop bad things from happening to us. I know this answer is never satisfactory to atheists, but it is what I believe.

    The bottom line for me on abortion is that I do not believe laws alone will fix anything. I believe the real battle is not in court or in the legislature but in people’s hearts and homes. People need to be convinced to value life, not because it is the law but simply because it is right. If we outlaw abortion but do not convince people why it is wrong we will have accomplished nothing of long lasting substance. That is why I base my arguments not on what separates us (religion) but on what unites us (humanity).

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    If we outlaw abortion but do not convince people why it is wrong we will have accomplished nothing of long lasting substance.

    The choice that the anti-choice position characterizes as the choice between legal abortion and no abortion is false. It is an absolute certainty that making abortion illegal will lead to illegal abortions and history tells us what that leads to, dead and injured women. So the choice is between safer, legal abortions and unsafe, illegal abortions. At least for women without the money to go abroad or pay for a safe, illegal abortion here.

    Second, the right of the state to regulate ends at a person’s skin. A person absolutely owns their own body, women too. There is absolutely no way to enforce laws against abortion and contraception without the state, in effect, nationalizing womens’ bodies. Since so many conservatives don’t think the state has a right to regulate business practices, even those that cheat, injure and kill people, it’s telling that they have no trouble with the state regulating women’s bodies.

    If you are against safe, legal abortion the only way that has a proven record of reducing those is to educate and promote the use of effective birth control. It’s a matter of priorities, do you really believe that abortion is killing enough to prevent it or is the pretense of enforcing your views on the sexual practices of other people more important to you?

  • Stephan

    It’s a matter of priorities, do you really believe that abortion is killing enough to prevent it or is the pretense of enforcing your views on the sexual practices of other people more important to you?

    I am in favor of sex education that encourages abstinence but also teaches contraception. I think it’s the only realistic way to go. I am in favor of reducing abortions by whatever means possible and reasonable.

    The law, but the way, does not always stop at a person’s skin. Otherwise prostitution, drugs and a host of other things would be legal. Things that you do to yourself that cause harm to you or others can and often are legislated. Not to mention the fact that there are two bodies involved in an abortion – that of the woman and that of the fetus.

    Sadly, you are right about illegal, unsafe abortions. That is why the more important priority is to convince people why life is valuable. That would make abortions unnecessary rather than illegal. In the long run that will be best for everyone.

  • Mriana

    Mriana- I am sorry to hear your story, but it does remind me how important it that women have reproductive rights, especially when you talk about your rough pregnancy where you might have really had to make that tough choice. Often times, when pro-lifers debate, they completely ignore or brush off the very real possibility that some women will die from complications relating to their pregnancies.

    I know and I find it painful. IF they really want to be Pro-life, then they should think about those already living in this world and have been living it for a long time. That to me is Pro-life. To sacrifice a woman for an embryo or a child who has not lived this life is inhumane to me and murder of the living.

    Mriana, if it were a clearcut case of the life of the mother or the life of the child, I suppose I would have to err on the side of saving the mother. I doubt that there are many cases that are this clearly defined, however.

    Maybe, maybe not, but I think it is only right to let the woman decide that.

    Even so, I agree with sex education too, but this does not elimate women who are high-risk and most don’t know they are high-risk until they become pregnant with their first child or sometimes subsequent children. Because of my small stature, my dr worried even with my first child, but it did not become obviously evident that more children could mean my life until later pregnancies. This is something sex ed does not teach, so the option of safe and healthy abortion must remain open to women. HOWEVER, I also think sex ed should include teaching girls the possible and potential risks of having children also. It’s not always the best 9 months (or less in some cases) of a woman’s life and I think girls should learn this too.

  • Jen

    olvlzl- I can’t believe it, but I agree with everything you just said. I don’t necessarily agree that the government thinks they shouldn’t regulate past our skin, but in general my beliefs run towards autonomy for adults, and I wish the government agreed with me.

    Sadly, you are right about illegal, unsafe abortions. That is why the more important priority is to convince people why life is valuable. That would make abortions unnecessary rather than illegal. In the long run that will be best for everyone.

    Stephan, dear, I am pro-choice and I absolutely believe that life is valuable. I also know that if I got pregnant tomorrow, I would abort as soon as I could. There are plenty of reasons why women have abortions, and its not because we don’t think life is valuable. Sometimes, we just can’t afford to have a(nother) baby (this is why abortions tend to go up during Republican presidents and down during the Democratic presidents). Sometimes, we realize that we can not realistically go through a pregnancy, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Sometimes it is because then we are forever tied to a bad man. We sometimes realize we cannot give up a baby for adoption, and while I am pro-adoption, I know that it is a damn complicated thing for all people involved. And finally, some of us just don’t want to have children, ever, period. Those reasons are complicated, too, and not everyone who doesn’t want children has the same reason. I can think life is valuable and still not want to have a baby, and so can any other woman.

    I realize it is a balancing act, but I believe the right to life outweighs any other right. It is the right upon which all others are based. Without it, no other rights can be exercised.

    You really didn’t address Karen’s point, that the law has come up with a line to draw in which women still get to be treated as real, autonomous, rights-having people. Why shouldn’t I have the right to safe, doctor-performed surgery? And who is to say that the right to life is the one that all other rights are based? I think the most important right is the right to dignity. For me, part of that dignity is being able to make my own medical decisions- abortion, the right to suicide, the right to refuse medical treatment, the right to medicine despite poverty, etc, etc.

  • Richard Wade

    olvlzl, that was one of the most incisive and intelligent comments I’ve read around here in a long time.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Richard Wade, you don’t have to act THAT surprised.

  • Stephan

    Jen, I guess we also will have to agree to disagree. If you say you value life and that you would have an abortion we define terms differently. I’m not sure which word we disagree on – either “life” or “value” – but I don’t see that we will be able to come to any mutually satisfactory conclusion.

    Why shouldn’t I have the right to safe, doctor-performed surgery?

    If you are the only person affected by the surgery, I see no problem. But in an abortion I believe there is another person involved, with competing rights. If my right to surgery means that someone else dies, I think my right has to be curtailed. That is where I see competing rights, where you apparently see none. Again, it goes to definition of terms. You don’t appear to see an unborn child as a life worthy of rights and protection. I do. I believe it is incumbent on us as people to look out for and take care of those who cannot care for themselves. Protecting the unborn falls in line with this, as does a host of other things.

    And who is to say that the right to life is the one that all other rights are based? I think the most important right is the right to dignity.

    But how would I exercise that right to dignity if someone has taken my life? How can any right take precedence over life? Without it I am unable to exercise any other right.

  • Mriana

    But how would I exercise that right to dignity if someone has taken my life? How can any right take precedence over life? Without it I am unable to exercise any other right.

    That’s precisely what I’m saying. IF women’s reproductive rights are taken, esp the right to choose and abortion or not, her life maybe the one that’s taken. The woman’s life SHOULD take precedence and she has the right to life regardless of the reason she made the choice to abort. I think if people would stop worrying about an embryo/fetus’s life and start thinking about the human being (the woman) then we’d be thinking about Right to Life more accurately.

  • Stephan

    Mriana, you speak as if every woman’s life is at stake if she gives birth. That is simply not the case. We are not asking women to give up their life for their child. It is this kind of dishonesty (on both sides, by the way) that keeps things so heated.

  • Mriana

    No, that is not what I’m saying, BUT if you think about it, a rape victim’s life is because if she conceives from the rape, it could be detrimental to her life and her child’s due to the possible psychological outcome, if a woman, like say in Law school or medical makes that mistake, it could drastically change her future possibilities (and could be adversive to her relationship to the child), etc etc. I can think of a lot of different situations that it could be an issue psychologically, which is just as bad as life threatening. Yes, there is adoption, but when one is forced to carry a child to term, it’s not as simple as one may think.

    No one knows why a woman chooses an abortion, but sometimes psychologically, it could be the best choice. When the potential of carrying a child to term can be psychologically damaging, it could be as bad as having one’s life threaten. I’ve seen that one too and I’m sure some others have too if they think about it. If one honestly thinks about it, they can see how psychologically life damaging being forced to carry a child to term, esp in the case of rape. We are dealing with living humans in such instances and you have to think of the woman in every case.

  • Autumn Harvest

    Aj, I assume a fetus is a person because a fetus always becomes a person. It never becomes something else.

    Well, assuming that the fetus doesn’t die first, the fetus will eventually become an elderly person. Do you also assume that a fetus is an elderly person? Does it have the right to vote?

    Prove to me that it is not a person and I will switch sides. Wills’ perspective is like saying a person facing the death penalty has to prove his innocence or be put to death. Our legal system forces us to do it the other way – you have to prove someone is guilty before they can be put to convicted and executed.

    But this is a false analogy, because we’re not arguing over guilt, but over whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is equivalent to a person. Our legal system doesn’t require you to prove that your cow isn’t a person before you kill it. Like the other atheists here, I would define “person” differently than “human.” A zygote/embryo/fetus is human, but it’s not a “person.” We can argue over semantics, but what I take you to mean is that a z/e/f is equivalent to a fully formed and conscious human being, with the same legal rights and moral rights. And that unless someone can prove you wrong, we should all assume this, to err on the safe side. Is this correct?

    If so, how do I distinguish you from a vegan (or Buddhist) who tells me that it’s murder to kill vertebrates? Both of you tell me that there’s a large class of entities that should be treated, in certain ways, like persons. The vegan argument that their entity is like a born person is, for me, much more compelling, because the main similarity between a zygote and a born person, is that they both have souls (which I don’t believe in), while the main similarity between a person and a cow, is that they can both feel pain (and I am opposed to pain). In terms of erring on the side of caution, the vegan argument is also stronger, since if they are correct, the error we are committing is much greater—many more vertebrates are intentionally killed each year than zygotes/embryos/fetuses. If I accept your argument, should I also not favoring erring on the side of caution, and banning eating meat?

    Finally—and here I just echo Garry Wills’s question—if you really believe that a z/e/f is morally and legally equivalent to a person, what is the appropriate punishment for a woman who has an abortion? Is there any rationale for treating it different than any other murder-one case, with a typical punishment for 25 years to life (with the possibility of the death penalty)? Obviously there are political difficulties to getting this punishment passed, but I’m asking what you think the morally appropriate penalties would look like if you and other pro-lifers got to rewrite the laws.

  • Stephan

    Mriana, I agree that the woman should be considered. Again, though, we are talking about competing interests. I consider the unborn child to be a person, and to say that you should kill a person to spare someone else hardship is anathema to me. Rape and incest are serious considerations, but the percentage is so low that most people who are pro-life are willing to make exceptions in these cases.

  • Mriana

    Stephan said,

    October 12, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Mriana, I agree that the woman should be considered. Again, though, we are talking about competing interests. I consider the unborn child to be a person, and to say that you should kill a person to spare someone else hardship is anathema to me. Rape and incest are serious considerations, but the percentage is so low that most people who are pro-life are willing to make exceptions in these cases.

    I never once said it is not a person and if you noticed I call it an unborn child more often than not. The thing is, it hasn’t lived life and doesn’t know what life is, so such things are less detrimental to the unborn child. It is a zygote, embryo, fetus, but it has not lived in this world so it’s not worried about death nor does it know about such things. It’s brain is not fully developed to comprehend what life is. Now if it feels pain, we don’t really know.

  • Stephan

    We can argue over semantics, but what I take you to mean is that a z/e/f is equivalent to a fully formed and conscious human being, with the same legal rights and moral rights. And that unless someone can prove you wrong, we should all assume this, to err on the safe side. Is this correct?

    Yes, you got me right. I disagree with your vegan logic, because a cow is not, nor will it ever be, human. I am speaking more from a legal perspective here, but we recognize the rights of people, not animals or plants. If our constitution were amended to recognize the rights of cows, then we would not be able to kill cows, but I really don’t see this coming any time soon.

    I’m asking what you think the morally appropriate penalties would look like if you and other pro-lifers got to rewrite the laws.

    That’s a nasty pit you are drawing me into, but I suppose I and other pro-lifers deserve it. It’s not a simply answer. Part of the consideration has to be that women have been told for so long that it is simply “the contents of the womb”. We have been conditioned to believe it is not a life. Plus, the reasons for seeking an abortion, as Mriana mentioned, are varied and complex, so a one-size-fits-all law would be hard to construct.

    But this is also why I am not strongly advocating legislation. I believe a better long term strategy is to make abortion unnecessary rather than illegal. By teach about birth control, promoting responsibility and adoption, we can cut down on abortion rates without changing any laws.

  • Mriana

    A zygotes and embryo’s brain is NOT the equivalent to a fully formed human’s brain. It hasn’t developed. The brain stem is about all a zygote may have, if that. Now a fetus has more of a brain, but it is not fully formed. In fact, this is the reason why so many premature babies don’t survive- their brains are not fully form. Those that do survive take a few years to catch up and some may have neurological problems for many years to come, if not for life.

    My older son made an interesting point about birds and other animals too. If a bird’s egg smells funny, they kick it out of the nest.

    OK we aren’t birds, but the thing is spontaneous abortion happens more often than elective abortions. I seriously doubt this will really change, esp with education.

    Now if a woman is say 4 months pregnant and find out that her baby will be disabled (Down Syndrome or some genetic disorder). She and her husband are not capable of caring for it’s needs (maybe it’s a financial question so that it can live life as fully as possible) do you really expect her to carry the child to term?

  • Stephan

    The thing is, it hasn’t lived life and doesn’t know what life is, so such things are less detrimental to the unborn child. It is a zygote, embryo, fetus, but it has not lived in this world so it’s not worried about death nor does it know about such things. It’s brain is not fully developed to comprehend what life is. Now if it feels pain, we don’t really know.

    Mriana, I am concerned about a line of thinking that ties the quality of ones life to the value of ones life. Euthanasia is a pretty short step from this type of reasoning.

  • Stephan

    Now if a woman is say 4 months pregnant and find out that her baby will be disabled (Down Syndrome or some genetic disorder). She and her husband are not capable of caring for it’s needs (maybe it’s a financial question so that it can live life as fully as possible) do you really expect her to carry the child to term?

    Again here you are linking the quality of a life with the value of a life. If you can abort a child because they might be disabled (and those tests are sometimes wrong), why not terminate a live person who is disabled? The step between those two is shorter than it may appear to be.

  • Mriana

    Mriana, I am concerned about a line of thinking that ties the quality of ones life to the value of ones life.

    Sometimes the quality of a woman’s life changes drastically if she has a child- for many reasons.

    Now, my younger son did have Prevassive Developmental Disorder (PDD, a form of high functioning Autism), which we did not know until he was 2 1/2 because he had no verbal skills. Without therapy he might not have come out of it, but might have gotten worse. However, he started talking two word sentences by the time he was almost five and started getting better. Even so, he still cannot relate emotionally to others. I would not change anything concerning his life, but my life did change because I was busy taking him to therapy and alike for years. Financially as a divorced single parent (and no help from his father), it was VERY difficult.

    However, I would not change anything. I’m glad the dr. managed to save both of us, but it’s been difficult.

  • Stephan

    Mriana, you sound like a kind, compassionate, caring person. I am sorry for your struggles but impressed with how you have persevered. It would be a pleasure, I’m sure, to meet you some time.

  • Aj

    -Autumn Harvest

    Well, assuming that the fetus doesn’t die first, the fetus will eventually become an elderly person. Do you also assume that a fetus is an elderly person? Does it have the right to vote?

    You’re not going to get an answer. I already asked this and got nonsense in reply:

    -Stephan

    Aj, the ability to become something is very closely tied to being that thing. It is a crime in most places to steal the eggs of an endangered bird. Why would this be so? An egg is not a bird. Environmentalists seem to get it where those who are pro-choice do not.

    It’s a problem that anti-abortionists are not able to overcome. Just because something becomes something else, doesn’t make that something the something else. It doesn’t follow, to suggest so is irrational. It’s usually titled the “potential-life argument” against abortion, and it’s absurd.

    -Stephan

    Yes, you got me right. I disagree with your vegan logic, because a cow is not, nor will it ever be, human. I am speaking more from a legal perspective here, but we recognize the rights of people, not animals or plants. If our constitution were amended to recognize the rights of cows, then we would not be able to kill cows, but I really don’t see this coming any time soon.

    That’s So, ignoring the meaningful definition of person, that is used in philosophy for a purpose. Is there an attribute of humanity that makes the members persons? Examples:

    “People, not animals or plants”, so we are not animals? Why do some people make this distinction?

    Some people think that humans were made by God above beasts, which makes them special, different from animals. You mentioned your belief about freewill, this usually comes with beliefs of grandeur about the species and God.

    Some people think the soul enters the zygote at fertilization, Catholics mainly. This soul is what some people think God gave humans that separates them from other animals. Descartes thought that animals were like robots, but not humans.

    In-group, out-group behaviour, “anything outside my group is not a person regardless of attributes”. Of course, there was a time when the group was the tribe, then the nation, then skin tone (and some other features), then species. This is probably the basis of the creation of the theology above. There’s theology in Chrisitanity and Mormonism in their histories about different “races”, the old testament is very much nationalistic, and sometimes the new testament is nationalistic.

  • HappyNat

    I am concerned about a line of thinking that ties the quality of ones life to the value of ones life. Euthanasia is a pretty short step from this type of reasoning.

    You say euthanasia like it is always a bad thing . . . .

  • Stephan

    Mriana, I tried to post earlier, but apparently it did not stick. I admire your courage and perseverance in what is clearly a difficult situation.

    Aj, you accuse me of in-group, out-group behavior, but my group appears to be bigger than yours. I would say it is you who are “out-grouping” the unborn. They don’t look like you, so they are not worthy of your consideration. I honestly can’t say for that they they are people worthy of rights, but I believe there is a strong possibility that they might be, and I’m not willing to risk that we might be condoning murder by saying abortion is OK.

    You also said:

    “People, not animals or plants”, so we are not animals? Why do some people make this distinction?

    From a biological classification we are part of a bigger group called “animals”, but I would say that we are a separate group, and I would say we are more highly developed. Your mileage may vary.

    Sorry, I ignored AutumnHarvest’s early question because of its obvious ridiculous nature. The answer, of course, is no. I would not treat a fetus like an elderly person just as I would not treat a young child like an elderly person. But I hope you would agree that both a child and an elderly person are to be afforded the same basic right to life. I am just extending that downward 9 more months.

    HappyNat said:

    You say euthanasia like it is always a bad thing . . .

    Never mind the slippery slope. I guess some atheists are already there.

  • Vincent

    Yes, you got me right. I disagree with your vegan logic, because a cow is not, nor will it ever be, human. I am speaking more from a legal perspective here, but we recognize the rights of people, not animals or plants. If our constitution were amended to recognize the rights of cows, then we would not be able to kill cows, but I really don’t see this coming any time soon.

    That’s a cop out.
    You cannot lay the border of the argument on the Constitution when discussing morality.
    The Constitution is a law, written by men. You cannot say one law written by men is immoral but that another is the basis of or limit to morality.
    You can take the position that what the law says defines morality. If it’s legal it’s moral. But you disagree, since abortion is legal but you find it immoral.
    So you have to take the position that morality somehow exists in the absence of law.
    Now if the moral question is what life is entitled to rights, you can take the Buddhist view that there is no distinction, or you have to draw a line.
    You have to give a fundamental reason why human life is different from other animal life other than “because the law says so.” Why do you draw the line where you do?

  • Stephan

    Vincent, I may agree with the Constitution but disagree with a recent court’s interpretation of it. I’m sure there are laws you disagree with, but you probably still believe that Law, in general, is a good idea. I don’t see that as inconsistent at all. To go once again to the origin if this nation and its view on rights, let me quote from the Declaration of Independence (written, but the way, by a non-Christian and reputed atheist):

    We hold the Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    They saw the equality and the right to life as “self-evident”, meaning “we just know it is true”.

    To be blunt, I believe people are different from lower animals because I am a person. When dolphins get around to writing their own Constitution, it’s OK with me if they leave me out and don’t extend “dolphin rights” to me. Oh, that’s right, dolphins can’t write their own Constitution. Maybe that’s part of what makes us different.

    If you are really stuck on “what makes us different from other animal life” then you are not one of the people I will ever be able to convince. The answer is “self-evident”.

  • Mriana

    Again here you are linking the quality of a life with the value of a life. If you can abort a child because they might be disabled (and those tests are sometimes wrong), why not terminate a live person who is disabled? The step between those two is shorter than it may appear to be.

    Stephen, I wasn’t saying I would do that, and obviously I wouldn’t, but some families would for various reasons- sometimes financial. The tests are sometimes correct. Would you really want to put a low income family into that financially difficult situation? Would you want the child to be institutionalized by the government because the family could not afford to raise a disabled child, with the possibility that the child still might not get the help s/he needs? By the time s/he is adopted the window of opprotunity might be gone and they might never overcome some of the difficulties of their disability only to have to live off the government for the rest of their lives? Is THAT quality of life? Sometimes the quality of life is more valuable than the value of life.

    Mriana, I tried to post earlier, but apparently it did not stick. I admire your courage and perseverance in what is clearly a difficult situation.

    Thanks. No, it was not easy, but I would not change what I did even if I had it to do all over again. However, I have seen children far worse off than my son, one who could not move due to so much brain damage. He had to be tubed fed, moved, bathed, diapered, clothed, everything because he could not move or talk or do anything for himself and he was a teenager. All he could do was lie there and watch life go by without him. That was not a life, IMO. Did his life have value? I don’t know because he couldn’t do anything, not even play his whole life. He was born like that. His mother gave up her career to tend to his needs, even with an in-home nurse- a luxery that most people cannot afford. Her own quality of life went down too, but she had a husband who was willing to stand by her and help her when he wasn’t at work. Even so, she may spend the rest of her life caring for her invalid son. I found it sad and thought to myself, that it may have been better to let him go at birth and hope for a more healthy and mobile child.

    I’m not sure if his life had any value. It all depends on how one defines value. If the fact that he was alive, just barely, value, well then I think they MIGHT have a warp sense of value, because this child never has had the chance to run and play with other kids or the ability to communicate his needs. He will never be able to support himself either. His education amounts to things like a feather being placed on his cheek to see if they get a response from him and telling him it’s soft, plus moving his limbs for him as a form of exercise and prevent “bed” sores. He is lifted from the floor where he just lies there on a blanket to chair and back again or bed to chair and back again. He just stares out into space with MAYBE an occassional smile for whatever reason we don’t know. So, what value does his life have- except to the parents? No one can ask him IF he finds value in his life, because there is no response or facial acknowledgement, but to say he is a vegetable would be cruel given he smiles from the touch of the feather. Is that a conscious reaction or a physical neuro-response? No one knows. What happens to him after his parents die? Institutionalization? That’s not all it’s cracked up to be even for a teenager who is struggling to learn social skills and independent living skills- my son rather be home where I do some of those things for him, instead of being taught to do them on his own. I can’t do them for him and with me around he won’t, but the boy I just mentioned can’t ever learn independent living skills nor can he get up and walk to the bathroom- ever.

  • HappyNat

    You say euthanasia like it is always a bad thing . .

    Never mind the slippery slope. I guess some atheists are already there.

    We are all on a slippery slope, some of us just don;t know it, which is why i recommend shoes with good traction. :)

    I won’t derail the comments, but to say there are instances when death is a more attractive option than life.

  • monkeymind

    Stephan writes:

    Now if the moral question is what life is entitled to rights, you can take the Buddhist view that there is no distinction, or you have to draw a line.

    I think this better describes Jainism, possibly. Really from what I know of Buddhism (limited!) it tends to emphasize responsibilities rather than rights, the main responsibility being to act mindfully to minimize suffering of all sentient beings.

    I think the traditional view from Buddhist scriptures is that human life begins at conception, but the Dalai Lama and other leaders also take the position that Buddhism does not have to be stuck with the understanding of the material world that prevailed when the scriptures were written, but can incorporate modern scientific understanding.

    This is from the BBC web site on Religion and Ethics:

    Buddhists are expected to take full personal responsibility for everything they do and for the consequences that follow.

    The decision to abort is therefore a highly personal one, and one that requires careful and compassionate exploration of the ethical issues involved, and a willingness to carry the burden of whatever happens as a result of the decision.

    The ethical consequences of the decision will also depend on the motive and intention behind the decision, and the level of mindfulness with which it was taken.

    I can accept this.

    Also, I agree with Jen that I don’t see the need to re-draw the lines drawn by Roe v. Wade – before the age of viability, which interestingly corresponds fairly well with the time of “quickening” (when you can feel the fetus move – quick=alive in Old English.) there’s no reason for the state to get involved at all in this very personal ethical decision. People often say well, premature babies are surviving at ever earlier stages of gestation, but there is a threshold at which to create a life support system for an embryo you’d basically have to create an artificial womb. If that ever happens, (not likely any time soon) you’ve cut out the middlewoman so to speak and a whole new set of ethical dilemmas opens up.

  • Aj

    -Stephan

    Aj, you accuse me of in-group, out-group behavior, but my group appears to be bigger than yours. I would say it is you who are “out-grouping” the unborn. They don’t look like you, so they are not worthy of your consideration. I honestly can’t say for that they they are people worthy of rights, but I believe there is a strong possibility that they might be, and I’m not willing to risk that we might be condoning murder by saying abortion is OK.

    It’s like you don’t read what I have written, or are incapable of understanding. I treat dogs like dogs because of their attributes not because they’re not in my group, and the same goes for embryos and fetuses. I never said anything about the looks of embryos and fetuses, but that’s the third time you’ve accused me of something that I haven’t posted about. You seem to be unwilling or not capable of giving a reasoned answer to why you think embryos are persons. I assume, like many anti-abortionists before you, that you don’t have one, thus ingroup, outgroup.

    From a biological classification we are part of a bigger group called “animals”, but I would say that we are a separate group, and I would say we are more highly developed. Your mileage may vary.

    What, you mean personhood? Reasoning, consciousness, and persistent personal identity. That would be a major turn around. You didn’t seem to care about that before. Perhaps you mean God’s chosen, souls, and freewill?

    Sorry, I ignored AutumnHarvest’s early question because of its obvious ridiculous nature. The answer, of course, is no. I would not treat a fetus like an elderly person just as I would not treat a young child like an elderly person. But I hope you would agree that both a child and an elderly person are to be afforded the same basic right to life. I am just extending that downward 9 more months.

    You are arbitrarily extending that right, that you have not justified to begin with. This is not an answer, you have not justified it again.

  • Stephan

    You seem to be unwilling or not capable of giving a reasoned answer to why you think embryos are persons.

    I have given several reasons why I think unborn babies are people. You haven’t acknowledged any of them, maybe because you just disagree with them. If you disagree, that’s fine, but don’t say I haven’t given any reasons.

    I’ll add another one for good measure. Their DNA is human, and uniquely their own, distinct from their mother early on. This would not be true if they were simply a “growth”.

    My argument all along is that there is a strong possibility that an unborn baby is a person, and we do not know for sure at what point they become a person. Therefore, abortion might be murder. That’s not a chance I am willing to take, as an individual or as a member of a larger society. If there was some medical consensus on when life begins, when a zygote or embryo or fetus becomes a “person” then I might be willing to accept abortion up to that point. But there really is no consensus. There are a lot of ideas, but many of them are tainted by money, politics or pure selfishness.

    I would not use the terms God’s chosen, souls, or freewill in this discussion because I know they would mean nothing to you. Those would only be more reasons for you to disagree with me, and we appear to have enough of those already.

  • Aj

    -Stephan

    I have given several reasons why I think unborn babies are people. You haven’t acknowledged any of them, maybe because you just disagree with them. If you disagree, that’s fine, but don’t say I haven’t given any reasons.

    I did say reasoned answer, you have given answers, here they are:

    I would say that a human and a person are the same thing

    To be human is to have the right to life.

    the ability to become something is very closely tied to being that thing

    I assume a fetus is a person because a fetus always becomes a person

    Are you seriously going to tell me that your argument consists of “humans have a right to life”, and “a fetus is a person because a fetus becomes a person”?

    I’ll add another one for good measure. Their DNA is human, and uniquely their own, distinct from their mother early on. This would not be true if they were simply a “growth”.

    Growths can have their own DNA, mola hydatidiforma. That’s a real world example, what about the hypothetical? What about clones, if we create a clone from a mother they are not persons to you ever? What about identical twins?

    My argument all along is that there is a strong possibility that an unborn baby is a person, and we do not know for sure at what point they become a person. Therefore, abortion might be murder. That’s not a chance I am willing to take, as an individual or as a member of a larger society. If there was some medical consensus on when life begins, when a zygote or embryo or fetus becomes a “person” then I might be willing to accept abortion up to that point. But there really is no consensus. There are a lot of ideas, but many of them are tainted by money, politics or pure selfishness.

    You say there is a strong possibility but give not reason for this. The first sentence I posted in these comments was a question asking you for an explanation of this. You did not answer. You do not define what you mean by person, despite requests, so I do not know what you mean. I’ll give you one last chance, but if you still refuse I see no point in discussion with you. I have no idea how anyone else would be able to follow your arguments.

    You say there is no medical consensus. Please provide me with the references to the papers you are talking about, there must be at least two differing opinions.

  • Stephan

    Aj, I have already answered and you refuse to accept my answers. I suggest we mutually discontinue the conversation.

  • Autumn Harvest

    Sorry, I ignored AutumnHarvest’s early question because of its obvious ridiculous nature. The answer, of course, is no. I would not treat a fetus like an elderly person just as I would not treat a young child like an elderly person.

    Well, I don’t think it was a ridiculous question, although I’m biased of course. But I think you’re missing the point. Obviously I’m not looking for a debate over whether fetuses have the right to vote. You argued that because a zygote can become a person, a zygote is a person, and has the rights of a person. I’m saying that if we accepted that logic, we would also give zygotes and young children the right to vote. The conclusion is obviously wrong, so reductio ad absurdum, your argument is wrong.

    I disagree with your vegan logic, because a cow is not, nor will it ever be, human. I am speaking more from a legal perspective here, but we recognize the rights of people, not animals or plants.

    This is begging the question. Obviously a cow is not a human, and under the current law, has no legal rights, but those are nonanswers. I’m asking about the basis for the distinction, not just a statement that we/you have decided to make a distinction.

    I thought my point was pretty clear the first time, but we’re not connecting, so let me try again. There’s a class of entities, born humans with a functioning brain (BHWAFB for short—I would say “person,” except you seem to use that term differently than I do), that everyone agrees have certain rights. As a starting point, we all agree that BHWAFB’s have certain rights. There are other entities that we all agree obviously differ from BHWAFB: cows, zygotes, radiators, etc. . . For each of these, when someone insists that entities should have the same rights as a BHWAFB, it’s natural to ask what important similarities those entities have with a BHWAFB, that they should be treated similarly.

    Vegetarians point out an important similarity between BHWAFB’s and cows—they can both feel pain. Now I’m not a vegetarian, but that’s seems like a strong and relevant similarity. The vegetarians that I know just themselves abstain from eating meat, but pro-lifers actually want to enforce their belief that zygotes=BHWAFB’s on others. That’s a pretty strong position, so I think it’s incumbent on you to give a strong argument for that, and not just to say “zygotes might be morally equivalent to BHWAFB’s, so let’s just act as if they were, to be safe,” as you did initially Because if I accepted that argument, I would also be in favor of government-enforced veganism.

    So what’s your compelling argument that zygotes are morally equivalent to BHWAFB’s? As far as I can tell, you’ve given two reasons. First, that zygotes can become BHWAFB’s, so they are BHWAFB’s. As I pointed out above, if I accepted that logic, I would also think that zygotes had the right to vote—so that’s bad logic. The second, which you’ve repeated many times, is that a zygote is “human.” I’m not sure what you mean by this, because you appear to use “human” and “person” interchangeably. If by repeatedly stating that a zygote is “human” you mean that zygote=human=person=BHWAFB, then all you’re doing is asserting what you wish to conclude—you could just as well assert that a radiator was a BHWAFB, and it would be just as convincing. If you mean that a zygote is biologically human, with human DNA, then I agree, but then you need to explain what’s so imporant about human DNA—for example, I would say that a person on life support who has suffered irreversible brain death has human DNA, but is no longer a person, and no longer has rights. I would also say that flakes of skin that fall off of my body have human DNA, but is not a person, and has no rights. So what makes the human DNA in a zygote special? (And here I’m going to pre-emptively point out that an answer of “because it can become a person” is the fallacious argument that AJ and myself have already answered.)

    Wow, this post is long.

  • Mriana

    Stephen, may I ask you what you think a soul is? Is it a ray of light? Something that gets recycled into the great comos of Brahman? What is it to you? I ask this because you mentioned that as one of the things as making a zygote a person. I’m not sure how a soul makes anyone a person. Shoot an animal could have a soul, for all I know. To be honest, I don’t even know if I have a soul. Of course, I don’t believe in dualism either. However, last I looked a soul is not one of the requirements for sentient life.

    I’ll add another one for good measure. Their DNA is human, and uniquely their own, distinct from their mother early on.

    Actually no. The egg has 1/2 of the mother’s DNA and the sperm has 1/2 the father’s DNA. So the zygote is 1/2 the mother and 1/2 the father. It is not uniquely it’s own.

  • Jen

    Mriana, I agree that the woman should be considered

    …Should be considered a mother, because she doesn’t deserve to have an abortion, unless….

    I consider the unborn child to be a person, and to say that you should kill a person to spare someone else hardship is anathema to me. Rape and incest are serious considerations, but the percentage is so low that most people who are pro-life are willing to make exceptions in these cases.

    … the pregnant woman was raped or a victim of incest, in which case the woman had no choice (ie: didn’t choose to have sex) and therefore, according to pro-life logic, she should have the right to kill her unborn baby-person.

    I look at arguments like this and I am perplexed. You, Stephan, are purposing that I cannot have an abortion because it is killing a person (or likely killing a person). Fair enough. I disagree but I can understand where you are coming from.

    But then you say that if I am raped and become pregnant as a result, I can have an abortion. Why is it that the fetus is no longer a person? The only difference is that in one scenerio, I am an autonomous, sexually active adult woman having sex for orgasms and pleasure and generally for the hell of it, and in one, I didn’t have all that premarital fun. I cannot draw any other conclusion than that you want to punish me for having that fun sex, and for desiring to not necessarily have a baby as a result. This thread I see in pro-lifers is that women shouldn’t have fun unless there are consquences, damnit, and why should she get to have sex without a baby or at least a good stoning?

    If it isn’t about personhood, its about punishing women.

  • Mriana

    I agree with you, Jen, that is what it sounds like he is saying to me too. Sounds like he’s not only being sexist, but also a double standard going on there too. If a woman can’t then a man shouldn’t either IMHO.

  • Autumn Harvest

    Actually, to be fair Jen, based on his previous comments, I think Stephan is saying that while rape and incest should not be an excuse for an abortion, he and other pro-lifers are willing to be pragmatic, and make an unethical exception in these 2% of the cases, to get the more ethical abortion ban in the other 98% of the cases. (“Ethical” and “unethical” by his terms, not mine, as I’m pro-choice.)

  • Stephan

    Autumn Harvest, thanks for clearing up my point a little.

    Jen, you said:

    This thread I see in pro-lifers is that women shouldn’t have fun unless there are consquences, damnit, and why should she get to have sex without a baby or at least a good stoning?

    It’s not about punishing anybody, it’s about taking responsibility for your actions. I also think men should be held accountable and be involved in the life of any child they assist in creating. Sex for fun is a great thing, but most fun things come with responsibilities. This is no exception. And a child is only one of the consequences. STDs, emotional entanglements, possible legal problems depending on the people involved, etc. are also serious possibilities.

    This idea of fun with no strings attached is one of the largest problems in our society. Take a look at the illegitimacy rate among poor inner-city children. Fathers are nowhere to be found. And that’s with legal abortion. This is part of the reason I think we need a more holistic approach rather than just making abortion illegal. If people start to realize that actions have consequences, and start taking responsibility for those consequences, our country would be a much better place. And I’m not saying people should not have sex. Use birth control, be smart about how many partners you have, and take responsibility if a child is produced.

    The bottom line is that I see abortion as a symptom of several bigger problems. Making it illegal will not solve those bigger problems, but solving those bigger problems will make abortion unnecessary.

  • Jen

    Abortion will never be unnecessary, as long as birth control fails, women are unable to use or take birth control, women are in abusive relationships, and women just don’t want to have a baby for whatever reason. We can bring down the numbers with proper sex education, with social services and free birth control, but the number is never, ever going to be zero. Ever.

    If I get pregnant and I don’t want to carry to term, I can get an abortion in my state. Why isn’t this a responsible thing to do? I can take stock or myself and my partner, of my life circumstances, of my desire to carry to term, and I can make the responsible decision to abort. There I am, taking responsibility for my actions rather than just hoping I will miscarry, hoping my parents or the state will support me through my pregnancy, hoping my partner will decide to pay child support, or hoping I can make the decision to give it up for adoption.

    There are plenty of things in this world that have consequences. I get that, most people over 25 (the age at which the frontal lobe is fully developed) get that. Driving is a responsibility- but if I crash my car, I can go to the car shop and get it repaired, and I don’t have to drive around with a crunched fender. There won’t be a bunch of Christians yelling outside the repair shop about how actions have consequences. My health is a responsibility, but if I break my leg, the doctor will set it, not tell me that I deserve a broken leg as a reminder of my mistake. My job is my responsibilty, but if I lose it, the government will give me unemployeement. Actions have consequences, but there are ways to fix them, sometimes.

    By the way, why does illegitimacy matter? Illegitimacy doesn’t mean the father is absent, and it doesn’t mean that there is no father figure in the child’s life. All that has to do with is the marriage status of the parents, not necessarily the relationship between the two of them. I knew some people who I used to work with who had illegitimate kids, and all these people worked with their exes (and sometimes at least one set of families) to raise the kid.

    Autumn Harvest- yes, I get that, but its still an inane distinction for something that is still supposedly murder. And call me crazy, but I don’t think the pro-lifers would really stop and continue to allow abortions for the raped if they managed to make abortion illegal. See Bush’s current foreign policy re: abortion and contraception for third world nations.

  • Mriana

    Jen said,

    October 13, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Abortion will never be unnecessary, as long as birth control fails, women are unable to use or take birth control, women are in abusive relationships, and women just don’t want to have a baby for whatever reason. We can bring down the numbers with proper sex education, with social services and free birth control, but the number is never, ever going to be zero. Ever.

    I agree, Jen. Birth control is not 100%, not even tubal ligation. The only thing that is 100% is abstance or having one’s uterus and/or overies removed. There are even some women who cannot take birth control too as well as all the other things you pointed out.

  • Stephan

    Jen, I agree that there will always be unwanted pregnancies, but that does not mean that abortion will always be necessary. And I think reducing the number of abortions is a good goal for everyone, not just pro-lifers. I don’t think anyone would stand up and say that abortion is a good thing, other than maybe a few radicals feminists. I see abortion not as a way of taking responsibility for your actions, but as a way of avoiding responsibility.

    And I think illegitimacy matters because it is a symptom, like abortion, of a bigger problem. Maybe you know a few people with children that take care of, but the number of kids raised by 1 parent or a grandparent because neither parent wants them is staggering. It’s this “I can have sex with no strings attached” mentality that leads to broken homes and abortions. That attitude is one of the root causes of both of those symptoms. It’s a lack of taking responsibility.

  • Mriana

    I see abortion not as a way of taking responsibility for your actions, but as a way of avoiding responsibility.

    It’s a lack of taking responsibility.

    That is simply an untrue and offensive stereotype of ALL women who get abortions and I wish it would stop. You just can’t make blanket statements like that, Stephen. What if it so happened that when I was married and using birth control that I had ended up pregnant, would you tell me, even though there would be a very high chance I could die and maybe the unborn child too, “Oh you need to take responsibility” and deny me an abortion that could potentially save my life so I could raise my other sons who weren’t that husband’s children, but the previous husband’s who has not taken responsibility for them? Or would you prefer they end up in an ophranage because my second ex wanted nothing to do with them?

    See? Your blanket judgement gets a bit ignorant in the view of complexity concerning human beings.

  • monkeymind

    this “I can have sex with no strings attached” mentality that leads to broken homes

    I have never been able to understand the view that a child is punishment for having illicit sex or just for having a condom break. Really, you’d think that having your nose fall off and your brains rot out from tertiary syphillis would be a much more effective deterrent to promiscuity. So why not outlaw treatment for VD?

  • Mriana

    Yeah. Monkeymind has a point..

  • Aj

    Like campaigning against a certain vaccine that works against a virus that causes cancer? When they talk about responsibility, they’re talking about punishment, that being going through a pregnancy then labour. I don’t buy that anti-abortionists that aren’t trying to outlaw abortions in rape cases or when the mother could be in danger are thinking for political gains, it’s inconsistant with their skewed ethics. Isn’t it telling that they talk about responsibility and abstinence instead of making a case against abortion itself?

    -Stephen

    Maybe you know a few people with children that take care of, but the number of kids raised by 1 parent or a grandparent because neither parent wants them is staggering. It’s this “I can have sex with no strings attached” mentality that leads to broken homes and abortions.

    Abortion would be the solution to parents that don’t want children. It doesn’t lead to broken homes. This seems to be just a campaign against sex. I would say that it’s a “I can have children with no strings attached” mentality.

  • Stephan

    You’re all obviously well versed in demonizing your opponents, taking quotes out of context, ignoring things you don’t want to hear, and generally refusing to engage in any kind of enlightening dialog. I’ll take my leave now and allow you to not listen to somebody else.

  • Mriana

    :roll: Seems Stephan misses the point in favour of getting his view across and making us believe he is right. He is refusing to see the other side of things.

  • Jen

    ignoring things you don’t want to hear

    From the man who JUST DOESN”T GET that women will always need abortions, and ignoring the fact that I, and other pro-choicers would love to reduce abortions- we just don’t think it is possible to get rid of forever and in every circumstance.

  • Aj

    -Stephan

    any kind of enlightening dialog.

    That’s funny, I can remember you refusing to answer questions, constantly switching arguments, and throwing red herrings about. I think the record, it’s all there to read, reflects unfavourably on you, and favourably on others. I would say that you’re not interested in enlightening dialogue at all. I did actually read every word you have written here, I just disagreed, and I think I made a good, honest attempt to clearly explain what I disagree with. I also tried pretty hard to understand you, and gave you plenty of opportunities to explain yourself.

    -Jen

    From the man who JUST DOESN”T GET that women will always need abortions, and ignoring the fact that I, and other pro-choicers would love to reduce abortions- we just don’t think it is possible to get rid of forever and in every circumstance.

    Only for the mothers, it’s surgery they might not need to go through. I would like birth control to be developed to be more effective, sex education to be taught, and for women to have equal rights and empowerment. I don’t think there’s a scientific case for fetal pain, and I don’t think there’s any case at all for embryos and fetuses to be persons with rights.

    Can fetuses feel pain? by Stuart W G Derbyshire


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