Abortion is about the right of women to control their bodies

This is something I’m posting on Facebook, in part for the benefit of a high school friend, but I’m posting it here so non-Facebookers can see it. To some extent it’s a rehash of this post, but I’m going to see if I can make the points made in that post even clearer.

Let’s start by talking about rape. The extreme anti-abortion position is that abortion should always be illegal, even if the embryo was conceived as the result of a rape. This is because people who hold this view think aborting a 1 month old embryo (or a single fertilized egg cell, for that matter) is morally no different from killing a newborn baby. Therefore abortion is murder, and we don’t have a rape exception for murder, so we shouldn’t have a rape exception for abortion.

Yet the idea that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape ought to horrify you. To say that is to say that a woman can be legally compelled to give up control of her body for nine months as a result of a traumatic event which she never chose to experience.

And forbidding infanticide even in cases of rape is pretty obviously not the same as forbidding abortion even in cases of rape, because forbidding infanticide doesn’t force women to give up control of their bodies. If a woman decides she can’t bear to raise her rapist’s child after it’s born, she can give it up for adoption, but abortion is the only option for a woman who doesn’t want to carry her rapist’s child to term.

Maybe you even a single fertilized egg cell is a person, and because of that you think it would be good for a woman who was pregnant with her rapist’s child to carry it to term. But that’s irrelevant to the question of whether abortion should be legal, because there are lots of things that would be good for us to do that the government doesn’t force us to do. And forcing a woman to carry her rapist’s child is something the government clearly shouldn’t be doing.

You may not realize it, but if you’ve agreed with my reasoning so far, you’ve already admitted that abortion isn’t murder. Because the anti-choice extremists are right about one thing: we don’t make a rape exception for murder. Where the extremists go wrong is in failing to realize that, even assuming that embryos are people, abortion still isn’t morally equivalent to killing a newborn, because the right of women to control their bodies matters.

I suspect that for some anti-choice folks who read this, their first thought will be to bring up late-term abortion. Focusing on late-term abortions is a popular rhetorical tactic among the anti-choice movement, but it’s largely irrelevant to the abortion debate in the U.S.–or at least the abortion debate we should be having in the U.S.

Here are the facts: in the U.S., nearly 90% of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and less than two percent are performed after 21 weeks. However, in many U.S. states, anti-choice politicians have passed laws making it extremely difficult for women to get an abortion. A friend of mine who used to live in Arizona (one of the states colored dark-purple on the map in the previous link) described abortion as being “pretty much illegal” there. That’s what reasonable-sounding restrictions on abortion often amount to in real life, and it’s what rhetoric about “partial birth abortion” is used to cover for.

Now let’s return to the topic of exceptions for rape. Suppose by now you’ve recognized that abortion isn’t murder, but still think it should be generally illegal, just with exceptions for rape. If you say that, realize that this amounts to saying that a woman chooses to have sex, she must chance losing her legal right to control what happens to her body. And while you may be convinced you’re motivated purely by concern for the fetus, that position looks a hell of a lot like just wanting women to be punished for having sex. At the very least, it suggests you don’t place much value on a woman’s right to control her body.

Again, I need to emphasize that we’re not talking about what’s good for women to do, or even whether abortion is immoral. Even if you argued abortion is immoral, that wouldn’t be enough to justify outlawing it, because it would be crazy to try to outlaw every immoral action. When we’re talking about making something illegal, we’re talking about the government using force to stop people from doing it.  So you need to ask yourself, are your reasons for being anti-abortion strong enough to justify the use of force to stop it? If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to that question, you can’t justify being anti-choice.

There’s a lot more I could say about this, and I recommend reading my previous post on the subject, as well as two posts by ex-fundamentalist blogger Libby Anne at Patheos. But the bottom line is this: I used to shrink away from arguments about abortion, because I bought the line that they depend on hard-t0-resolve debates about what a person is. But no more. If you take women’s rights seriously, there’s no way to support the things anti-choice politicians are doing in this country, regardless of what you think about when personhood begins. And I can no longer take abortion seriously as an excuse for supporting Republican politicians who only care about the interests of rich people.

  • Nepenthe

    Another thing I’ve never heard forced birthers with an exception for rape address is how that exception is accessed. Does one have to obtain a conviction of the rapist? Merely prove that one was raped? And how? Will sexually active women who are raped be denied access to this exception since the conceptus might be the result of consensual sex?

    No. They haven’t thought that through. The only reason they throw in the rape exception clause is to conceal–mostly from themselves–the monstrosity of the position that baby fact–excuse me, slu–excuse me, women must be chained to their biology.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com tommykey

    To every politician or activist who wants abortion illegal even in the case of rape, I would ask them:

    So, say you have a wife or daughter who can’t handle a pregnancy because of physical injury or other serious medical problems and I rape and impregnate her, you’re really going to force her to go through with the pregnancy, even if it could potentially kill her?

  • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

    Great post Chris, and I in general agree with you.

    However I am obliged by my nature to find something to disagree about. And I think that this is whether personhood is important.

    If a foetus was really a person, if a foetus had desires and thoughts and sentience, I’m not sure I would support abortion. You’re weighing nine months of inconvenience (and much less than that of severe inconvenience) against the life of a person. I don’t want to trivialise pregnancy too much, I recognise it comes with risks also (but then so does abortion).

    Even so, for me, it hinges on the fact that a foetus is not a person. And the earlier the term, the clearer this is. This is why earlier abortions are preferable.

    Imagine some contrived hypothetical case – say you have a parasitic twin who is a small sentient human growing out of your shoulder. He pisses you off one day and so you decide to have him amputated because you have the right do decide what to do with your body.

    Is that moral? Is it clear-cut? I’m not at all sure that it is. And compared with lifelong disfigurement, nine months of inconvenience is not so bad.

    Again, I want to reiterate that I am very firmly pro-choice. I just don’t think the issue can solely be boiled down to the rights of the woman, ignoring the issue of whether an embryo is a person.

    • ischemgeek

      Let me ask you this: Would you support forced living organ donation in the case of life-saving transplants? After all, it’s a few weeks of discomfort and minor lifestyle adjustments balanced against the life of another person.

      • Nepenthe

        We don’t even take away that right to bodily autonomy after death. You get to keep your organs, even if they save a genuine, obviously a person human’s life, after you’re dead! Even if all you want to do is burn them! Even if the only objection you had, when you were using said organs, was “that’s icky”! Even if you made no statement whatsoever regarding other people using your organs after you finished with them, the default is to bodily autonomy.

        It’s only in the case of a living uterus that the organ owner is supposed to give up their rights to their body for another for-the-sake-of-the-argument person. The whole “personhood” thing is more dodges and bull, just like the rape exception. At the end of it, it’s the belief that women who have been impregnated have less moral standing than a corpse.

        • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

          Personally, I would be in favour of mandatory organ donation.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        Yeah, it’s an interesting question, and I’d have to say “No”.

        But would it be easier to say “No” if the recipient of the organ was a comatose vegetable? Hell yes.

        I think the difference between your analogy and mine is that now you’re proposing active intervention which entails risks and an uncertain outcome rather than passively maintaining a status quo which seems stable.

        I’m not saying these questions are easy. There may be no right answer. All I’m trying to say is that the non-personhood of the embryo is relevant to the issue. I’m not even saying that I’d necessarily be against abortion if the embryo was a person, but I’d certainly be far, far less comfortable with it.

        It’s relevant! That’s all!

        • Nepenthe

          For the record, pregnancy is where a woman parasitizes her own body to grow a human being. From scratch. Really think about that for a second.

          It’s a pretty freaking impressive feat and hardly passive. It carries a great deal of risk in the permanent damage sense and is hardly maintenance of the status quo. Which is to be expected because pregnancy is growing a human in nine months.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            True, it’s hardly passive. But an organ donation is perhaps riskier than a pregnancy.

            Again, I’m not coming down against abortion. Just making the point that non-personhood is relevant. Do you think it isn’t?

          • ischemgeek

            Actually, no. Risk of death from living kidney donation: ~0.03%. Risk of death in a developed country from pregnancy per official maternal death records: 0.02%.

            When you factor in that maternal deaths are severely underreported, it’s safe to say that it’s at the very least on par, if not more risky to have a baby than it is to donate a kidney.

          • Nepenthe

            Just making the point that non-personhood is relevant. Do you think it isn’t?

            No, not particularly. It might be relevant to an individual making decisions about whether to continue a pregnancy, just as the person on the other end of organ donation is relevant to an individual deciding whether to donate that extra kidney, but it is not relevant to the legal status of abortion. Even if it was a tiny little real person, clogs and all, an embryo would not have the right to use my body without my permission.

            But since embryos and fetuses definitely aren’t people, this is all just jaqing off.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            But since embryos and fetuses definitely aren’t people, this is all just jaqing off.

            Well, it is to you and me, but I suppose the importance of the debate is to decide what approaches are the best to take in advocating for pro-choice.

            I think the issue of the mother’s choice to have control over her body and the issue of non-personhood of the embryo are both valid arguments to make.

            Perhaps not equally important? Don’t know!

        • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

          @ischemgeek

          Yeah, maybe you’re right. That’s why I said “perhaps” riskier. I don’t have the facts.

          Nonetheless, after you donate a kidney, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re down a kidney. You won’t have that kidney to donate to somebody else who you might care for more deeply, and you’re that much more at risk of suffering consequences if something happens to your remaining kidney.

          If you could donate an organ safely without suffering any permanent consequences, and if this would save a life, then perhaps in the abstract it might be a candidate for a moral if not legal obligation.

          However, who has the responsibility to donate? If you’re the only person in the world with a matching organ, then perhaps the responsibility would be yours. But that would provide an incentive for people to hide their blood types and avoid this information about them getting out, which could cause other problems.

          Basically, it’s a practical nightmare.

          Compulsory donation from living donors only really works as a thought experiment. It’s unworkable in practice. Compulsory pregnancy is, unfortunately, quite workable. The anti-abortion stance is wrong because the “lesser of two evils” is overwhelmingly on the side of the mother’s right to choose as a sentient being.

          • ischemgeek

            I disagree that compulsory pregnancy is workable. Y’know what happens when safe and legal abortions are unavailalbe?

            Women who would abort choose illegal, unsafe abortions instead.

            And then, because of the unsanitary conditions and inadequate post-procedure care, they may suffer complications ranging from perforation of the uterus to gangrene or death.

            Please start putting ~30s into Googling this stuff before you write something: You’ve been wrong on almost every factual claim you’ve made, and I’m getting tired of correcting you.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            The consequences of illegal abortion are a different argument so it’s not relevant to my point.

            I’m not making too many factual claims. I’m just explaining that I don’t see why limiting one person’s liberty and autonomy is worse than killing another person.

            There’s no point in referring to real-world statistics such as these because it doesn’t matter. We’re both pro-choice. The negative consequences of making abortion illegal are irrelevant to the issue of whether personhood is pertinent.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            I’m reconsidering a bit. I’m being unfair in criticising your point as irrelevant. After all, I’m saying compulsory organ donation wouldn’t work because of negative social consequences.

            Let me just say that making abortion illegal is much more workable than compulsory organ donation. Abortion is illegal in plenty of countries but there is no country which makes organ donation mandatory (that I know of).

            Perhaps this is just down to misogyny?

            If you’re frustrated with correcting me all the time then just view it as educating me. You are providing me with facts which I had not considered, and I thank you for it.

            Furthermore, I just want to reiterate that I would not necessarily be anti-abortion if I believed the foetus was a person. I’d probably be on the fence. I just don’t see a justification for prioritising one person’s liberty and safety above another persons’s life.

          • ischemgeek

            Why should I have to spend my time educating you? You’re supposed to be a skeptic, right? Educate yourself. Those links I found took me about 15 minutes in total to search on Google. It’s not like it’s some Herculean task to find this stuff out on your own. That you don’t want to means you either don’t care or would rather have someone else do the work for you.

            Either way, I’m done.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            Nobody says you have to educate me. I for one take pleasure in pointing out stuff to people that they hadn’t previously considered.

            I’m dealing in thought experiments and matters of principle here. The actual statistics are almost beside the point. They might factor in if you’re doing a cost benefit analysis of the effects of allowing abortion, but they’re not really going to help decide the fundamental issue of whether it matters at all that a foetus is not a person.

            So I don’t think I’m being lazy. It’s not like I’m coming in here and demanding that people furnish me with statistics for kidney transplant mortality. I’m just articulating why I think that it is important that we recognise that a foetus is not a person and so has no rights.

          • ischemgeek

            If you’re making claims of workability, that’s a factual claim and the statistics do matter. And you’re arguing that forced organ donation would be unworkable because of social effects while forced pregnancy is workable, so I pointed out that forced pregnancy is unworkable because women who want to end their prenancies will end it anyway – and put themselves at huge risk of complications and death in so doing. Then you come back by claiming that forced pregnancy is ‘more’ workable? That makes no sense. I’ve just shown that women who want abortions will get them anyway regardless of legality (thus negating any workability whatsoever), so how is it more workable?

            Oh, and besides that, it’s all irrelavent because you’re dealing in matters of thought experiment and principle. Right.

            Why am I reminded of that old sitcom? “I’ve got my mind made up! Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

            I’m of a camp that believes the facts are what matters in pretty much everything. Pure communism and pure capitalism both work perfectly well in theory, but in practice both lead to horrendously unjust real-life environments. This is why reality matters. So long as you want to throw observable reality out the window because we’re dealing in “thought experiments” about stuff for which the facts exist (thus ignoring the purpose of a thought experiment, which is to examine the consequences of a new hypothesis for which facts are not known yet), I don’t think we have any more constructive conversation to make.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            @ischemgeek

            If you’re making claims of workability, that’s a factual claim and the statistics do matter.

            The facts would be relevant if we were seriously considering mandatory organ donation as an option. I’m not really making a factual claim that mandatory organ donation is unworkable as a serious proposition, I’m just saying that it seems like it would be pretty much impossible to implement, without doing an in-depth analysis of the subject. If you think it could be implemented, fair enough, perhaps you’re right.

            Sometimes facts are not relevant to a discussion. I don’t need statistics about the fatality of stabbing to know that stabbing is wrong as a matter of principle.

            When I refer to the “workability” of banning abortion, I’m claiming that it is possible to define relatively consistent enforceable laws which implement that ban. This has been done in numerous countries. I’m not claiming there are not disastrous consequences.

            I think the “workability” of mandatory organ donation is more difficult because it’s hard to see who would be responsible for donating organs etc. It just seems to be an order of magnitude harder to implement as a practical matter than a legal ban on abortions.

            Why am I reminded of that old sitcom? “I’ve got my mind made up! Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

            I think in moral arguments there is inevitably a certain amount of justifying preconceived conclusions. Morality, in my view, is based on gut feelings of right and wrong and not on objective reality. The alternative is something like Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, where we seek to maximise the well-being of conscious creatures.

            If we assume that the embryo is not a conscious creature (i.e. not a person), then it follows that abortion should be legal. Thus, the issue of personhood is relevant.

            For mandatory organ donation, I have a gut feeling that this would be a more immoral law than banning abortion. I could be wrong on this from a utilitarian/moral landscape view, but this gut feeling is likely to be resistant to change. Even so, a sustained rational argument complemented by facts could potentially change my mind.

            Basically, I’m not really making factual claims in this thread. I’m just expressing my gut feeling that the issue of personhood is relevant to the morality of abortion. That’s not likely to change, although you might convince me that abortion should still be legal even if the embryo is a person. The only thing you might change with organ donation statistics is making me believe that mandatory organ donation might be a good idea.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Disagreeable Me: You’re weighing nine months of inconvenience (and much less than that of severe inconvenience) against the life of a person. I don’t want to trivialise pregnancy too much…

      Too late.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        :) I realised that as I was writing it. I should have added pain, potential social and professional penalties, emotional suffering to the mix.

        Still, the point is that forced pregnancy is less severe an alternative than murder. Surely you agree with that?

        The reason we are both anti-choice is that we do not believe abortion is murder.

        • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

          Damn, wish I could edit.

          “Anti-choice” should be “pro-choice”.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Imagine some contrived hypothetical case…

      It’s been done: Violinist (thought experiment)

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        Yup, that’s a similar argument certainly.

        And I would have a great deal of moral struggle with that decision, much more so than with abortion.

    • unbound

      Just to point out something:

      “You’re weighing nine months of inconvenience (and much less than that of severe inconvenience) against the life of a person.”

      …immediately followed by…

      “I don’t want to trivialise pregnancy too much, I recognise it comes with risks also (but then so does abortion).”

      Actually, you did trivialize pregnancy with your prior statement as well as within the statement itself (and continued with a statement near the end). Risks associated with a good physician performing an abortion is trivial in comparison to the risks associated with even a normal pregnancy.

      Otherwise, I understand your logic, but keep in mind that a piece missing from Chris’ post is that late-term abortions (which are less than 1.5% of all abortions) are overwhelmingly due to severe problems with the pregnancy (prime example is the abortion that Rick Santorum’s wife had to have).

      “Is it clear-cut?” – This is your most salient point, and what I’ve used to come to the opposite conclusion. It isn’t clear-cut at all. There are a lot of dynamics involved…not only with the pregnancy itself, but also the health and well-being of the child later (something that the religious conveniently ignore). So when dealing with something that is not clear-cut, why would anyone support a law to make it illegal and (as Chris rightly pointed out) have government force used on the subject?

      I don’t see how that could ever be supported. It is the woman’s body, and she must have full choice or we are guilty essentially of slavery.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        Yeah, I really shot myself in the foot when I described pregnancy as nine months of inconvenience. I tried to make up for it by acknowledging the consequences in a reply to Reginald Selkirk.

        I realised that as I was writing it. I should have added pain, potential social and professional penalties, emotional suffering to the mix.

        Still, the point is that forced pregnancy is less severe an alternative than murder. Surely you agree with that?

        The reason we are both anti-choice is that we do not believe abortion is murder.

        You might be right that moral ambiguity alone would be reason for it not to be a matter of law. However, this is debatable. Plenty of illegal things are morally ambiguous.

        The fact of the matter is I do not believe abortion is morally ambiguous at all. And this is because the rights of a woman to control over her body cannot be outweighed by the rights of a non-sentient parasitic bunch of cells. It would only be morally ambiguous if those cells were sentient.

        • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

          Reproduced a mistake in my quote of myself. “anti-choice” should be “pro-choice”.

    • lorimakesquilts

      Ok, so you somewhat redeemed yourself when you absolutely did trivialize pregnancy.

      Pregnancy is significantly more than inconvenient and can be horrible, mine was. I’ll never do it again. Puking, constant headache that no allowable pill will touch, swelling everywhere, constant heartburn, weight gain, dizziness, backache, insomnia, exhaustion, can’t sit or stand comfortably, constipation, high blood pressure, and more. You try living with that for nine months then get back to me.

      There are a myriad of other problems that come with pregnancy other than death. It permanently changes a woman’s body. Ya, go ahead and force me to be pregnant and live with life-long incontinence, permanent weight gain, varicose veins, scarring, hemorrhoids, etc. And those are just the “minor” results.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        I sincerely apologise for offending you.

        I only wanted to contrast it to the death sentence that abortion would be if a foetus was a person. I took my rhetoric too far and I recognise that I was wrong.

        Please believe me when I say that I understand that pregnancy can be a traumatic experience.

        I hope it turned out okay for you in the end.

        • lorimakesquilts

          Thanks for the apology and sorry if I overreacted. It’s a pretty frustrating situation when I think I could be faced with a potential death sentence or a severely limited sex life if it wasn’t for birth control, including abortion. Watching a bunch of men try to take that away from me and all women is frightening so I tend to get a little excited.

  • ischemgeek

    @tommykey: I prefer asking them, “So, a good friend of my family needs a kidney transplant, and let’s say hypothetically, you’re a potential living donor match! How would you like to be forced into going through the matching tests, and if it is a match, forced to donate one to this friend of my family? Even better, let’s say that, being the one who saved this person’s life, we now decide you have an obligation to help her until she’s self-sufficient – buy paying for her home nursing, rehabilitation, and anti-rejection medication until she’s able to go to work?

    “Not keen on it? Why? You’re saving a life! Peritoneal dialysis destroyed her intra-abdominal cavity, and her veins are too blown for haemodialysis to be a viable option anymore. Without this, she will die within the next year. Still not cool with it? You have a right to decide what happens to your body, you say? Then why are you keen on subjecting me to the same treatment by forcing me through the much longer and more physically traumatic experience of pregnancy and birth for a nonsentient blob of goo when you aren’t keen on nonconsentually saving the life of a living, breathing, sentient human being?”

    Reason why I don’t like the rape scenario: By letting them turn the discussion from “should abortion be legal?” to “which exceptions to an abortion ban should we allow?” we’re losing the argument before we even begin. The issue isn’t which exceptions we can get them to agree to, it’s whether they recongize that if people have a right to bodily autonomy, abortion must be unconditionally legalized.

    • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com tommykey

      I agree with you. My point was about confronting politicians who publicly oppose abortion in cases of rape. It’s to make them think about and address the implications of their position.

  • Steve

    At least some of the fetus-worship is just smoke. Unwanted babies increase the amount of misery in the world, and the Cult of the Cross flourishes in an atmosphere of misery. That’s why the core of the anti-abortion lobby is also opposed to contraception, and why toe most virulent forced-birthers wouldn’t even allow the termination of an ectopic pregnancy, which has zero chance of producing a Pwecious Widdle Baaaybee. To them, the fetus is a side issue. What matters is that the woman must be punished for having sex.

    • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

      Also, the more the faithful reproduce, the more of them there are to help elect representatives who will act to serve the interests of their religions.

      Is Darwinism applied to religions. I doubt any religions that encouraged their members to be celibate would last very long!

      • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com tommykey

        It’s certainly not working out very well for the Shakers.

      • mas528

        The theory of evolution applies to the human species. Not little segments of it.

      • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

        Christianity was such a religion. Celibacy was promoted as the ideal state for every believer for the first few centuries. Then the ideal state for those who were devout (thus arose the monasteries) for a millennium longer. It’s only since the Reformation that the Protestants gave that up and the Catholics pretty much reduced it to a requirement for the priesthood and extraneous women.

  • notonewillknow

    A lot of people here are making analogies to organ donation, and someone brought up the violinist case where similar issues are involved. These are taken to show that abortion would be acceptable even if fetuses were “persons” (for the record, I don’t think that fetuses are “persons” or are entitled to the same rights possessed by more fully developed human beings, and actually would be inclined to say the same of very young infants). I’m not sure why anyone takes these to be knock-down arguments for abortion rights.

    The basic confusion here is twofold: first, a confusion about what abortion actually involves, second, an associated confusion about what a ban on abortion actually involves. Abortion is simply not analogous to “failing to donate organs to person X.” Some positive action is being taken. Even the mere act of removing the fetus from the body and leaving it to die sounds a lot like deliberate killing, and consider that the act of leaving an infant outside to die of exposure is almost universally treated as homicide, not as neglect with very bad consequences. The fact that you have professionals doing it, that you have to go to a facility, etc., suggests that abortion is best understood as a positive act as well.

    The goal of this act may well be preserving one’s autonomy, or returning to some state where the fetus is not “parasitizing” you. But how does this settle the issue, unless you seriously believe it’s permissible to kill someone for any legitimate goal (that is, to use any means for any legitimate end)? The question here would seem to be whether you are permitted to kill someone for the sake of preserving your autonomy; and, unless the person is deliberately threatening your autonomy, which the fetus is obviously incapable of doing, I don’t see how you’re permitted to kill the person.

    It seems, then, that a ban on abortion can also be understood along these lines, at least by someone who thinks a fetus is a person: this is a ban on the act of killing a person, with the consequence that a person’s life is saved and another person’s autonomy is violated. Now, this latter is very serious. But the state does all sorts of things whose effects would, if *intended* by the state, be unacceptable: think of collateral damage in wartime (being blown up is a pretty serious violation of autonomy.) It seems like, in cases that fall under the “doctrine of double effect,” what needs to be done is to weigh the various consequences, and I would think that a person’s death is a much more serious thing than a nine-month violation of a person’s autonomy, in fact it seems like you can derive the badness of killing a person from the badness of violating a person’s autonomy.

    If all this talk seems silly to you, because you are a consequentialist and you don’t see any serious distinction between the consequences of intentional action, of inaction and so on, then the above arguments will obviously seem silly to you. But so should the arguments I’m responding to, which are based on notions of deliberate killing vs failing to save, of supererogatory acts, etc. that shouldn’t matter if only consequences matter. Abortion should simply be a matter of weighing one harm against another, in which case the real question is whether the fetus is a person or not.

    Also, on one form of the “woman’s body” argument, here is Bill Vallicella with an interesting response. http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/10/the-womans-body-argument.html

    • mas528

      Actually, not interesting at all except as an example of philosophers not understanding things (Mary Midgely is another sophist who doesn’t understand English).

      “one form” of the argument is one that he made up.
      He is strawmanning.

      I didn’t bother reading this idiot’s take since he does not understand the argument

      This was demonstrated by his misstating of the first premise. . . .

      Billy cannot argue against something when he doesn’t even understand the argument.

      He considers himself a philosopher, so he must be willfully ignorant. To put it another way, he is stupid and refuses to understand.

      This is why philosophy is often considered useless. People like this guy and Mary Midgely do not listen.

      • notonewillknow

        Your post was almost pure rhetoric, including two remarks about Mary Midgley that actually have nothing to do with the subject at all.

        I don’t know that no one has adopted premise one. The OP in this post for Crooked Timber certainly does, see comment 12(http://crookedtimber.org/2012/01/20/do-you-trust-women/) and Crooked Timber isn’t exactly fringe. So did the Connecticut Supreme Court, it would seem, unless I’m misinterpreting(http://www.talkleft.com/story/2003/05/07/302/28539). Rhetoric about abortion that describes it as a medical procedure and focuses exclusively on women’s health sounds, at least, like an attempt to obscure the fact that we’re talking about a rather unique situation involving two organisms. I’d say the same about claims like “women have a right to control their own bodies”; unless this is elaborated on, it’s very plausibly interpreted as an attempt to treat the woman and the fetus as a single entity. You may mean something very different by it, something along the lines of “women shouldn’t be forced to sustain another entity,” but it’s not as though you speak for every abortion rights supporter.

        • mas528

          Since the OP on *this* site does not advance the argument from crookedtimber post, why does do you think it matters?

          It was completely irrelevant to even bring it up.

          Would it be relevant for me to reference “The Stranger” in this comment?

          The reference to Billy’s post was a failure to understand Chris’ post.

          I see that you finally admitted that you DID understand the OP, but still chose to present links to arguments that were irrelevant.

          The focus on women’s health is not the argument.

          It is a simple fact to demonstrate that pregnancy is not “just a minor inconvenience”.

          The primary argument actuallly presumes personhood for the zbef and that “life begins” at whatever arbitrary line the forced birthers want to delineate.

          • notonewillknow

            This is a remarkably disingenuous reply. At the end of my initial post I linked to a response to one form of the argument about women’s bodies. I don’t know that I hurt anyone in doing it (hurt and butthurt are distinct phenomena, psychologically speaking), and maybe a few people got an interesting read out of it. You claimed that this form of the argument was made up – a straw man – and now that I’ve provided sources proving you wrong you’re claiming that it’s still a strawman because, well, it wasn’t Chris’s argument, after all. Which I never said it was. You’re absurd.

          • mas528

            You responded to a post with an refutation of an argument that neither Chris, nor anyone commenting was advancing, and yet you felt it was perfectly acceptable to post an irrelevant link.

            You are at least in this instance, wrong. You have already admitted you posted an irrelevant link.
            .
            Time to apologize to both Chris and the commenters.

            I was indeed mistaken when I called it strawmanning. It was simply irrelevant to the argument

          • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

            @mas528: I’m not sure I’d call the link irrelevant so much as just stupid.

            I should explain that when I hear “irrelevant link,” I think of someone who doesn’t care about the topic of my post, and is just looking for an excuse to promote their own shit. It’s a major pet peeve of mine, and seeing the actual link was actually a mild relief, because it wasn’t as bad as I expected at first.

            Also, for the record I don’t give a shit if whoever apologizes to me or not.

          • notonewillknow

            I’m not sure why the link is irrelevant, given the subject of discussion, and as Chris notes, I responded to his post at length and have no personal reason to promote Bill Vallicella’s blog at all. I don’t know the guy and probably don’t agree with him on very much, philosophically or politically speaking. Meanwhile, it’s pretty rich seeing you complain about this when you spent part of your reply to my initial post venting about Mary Midgley, who, again, has *absolutely nothing to do with this subject at all*. Your lack of basic self-awareness is astonishing.

    • Stacy

      whether you are permitted to kill someone for the sake of preserving your autonomy

      Of course you are. Surely lethal self-defense, if required to fend off a kidnapper, would be considered justifiable homicide?

      …and, unless the person is deliberately threatening your autonomy, which the fetus is obviously incapable of doing

      Why “deliberately”? The violinist in the thought experiment need not be deliberately threatening his donor’s autonomy (he need have nothing to do with the setup. Maybe he’s been unconscious since the accident that incapacitated him.)

      We do value individual autonomy and bodily integrity, and I’m not aware of any situation in which we deny them to people except in the case of prisoners and people we deem incapable of caring for themselves (children, the mentally incompetent, etc.)

      I’ll admit I find Philippa Foot’s distinction between positive and negative action wrt the Violinist thought experiment unconvincing (partly because, as unbound and Disagreeable Me point out above, pregnancy is not physically or emotionally trivial and is not a passive state.) I don’t see that it really matters, anyway. Granting “personhood” to the fetus–for the sake of argument–pregnancy still comes down to one “person” requiring the use of the body of another to survive. The donor, or host, should have the right to accept or to terminate that arrangement.

      • notonewillknow

        It seems very relevant, in self-defense cases, whether or not the person intends to harm you. In fact it’s not clear whether killing in self-defense is even justified in cases where your *life* is threatened by an innocent person, and this has been debated a great deal; the case seems to be considerably weaker when we’re talking about threats to autonomy. Intuitively, it seems as though when it comes to innocent people the right thing to do is to weigh the harm done by your act of self-defense against the harm that will otherwise come to you. Say a person is tied to railroad tracks and can only save his life by pushing a button to derail the oncoming train: isn’t it important to know what harm he will be doing here (e.g., how many people are on the train)?

        As for your last point, I never denied that pregnancy involves a lot of positive action. What I said was that, if the only way to remove yourself from this illegitimate situation – in which you are forced to act for someone else’s sake – is to kill a person, then serious moral questions are raised. The fact that you can’t be legitimately forced into the situation doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want to get yourself out of it. These are two separate questions. Again, consider the train case: his situation is entirely illegitimate, but this does not excuse him from moral obligations towards individuals who did not consciously choose to put him there.

        As for the violinist thought experiment: notice how it introduces people who deliberately put you into this situation, when in many cases pregnancy is nothing like this. An emphasis is thus placed on just how unfair the situation is, how unjust such an imposition would be, rather than on what you are permitted to do to get yourself out of the situation. Again, you can grant the unfairness of it while also granting that the latter question is much more difficult.

        • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

          I agree with everything you said.

          It seems you are capable of expressing what I am trying to without accidentally riling everybody up.

          With regard to the violinist thought experiment, I’d just like to add that people usually put themselves in the shoes of the person acting as life support.

          If you put yourself in the shoes of the violinist you might have a different opinion. Possibly.

          Also, see my analogy to prisoners in comment #9 which I think is reasonably applicable to pregnancy/abortion.

  • lcaution

    The only RTLF’ers whom I think may indeed be acting out of a sincere belief in the personhood of a fetus are those who oppose abortion under all circumstances. As soon as they make an exception for rape and incest, I know they are frauds because those exceptions prove that the “right to life” is not paramount, that an embryo that results from rape or incest does not have a right to life. IOW, some things matter more.

    I’m old enough to remember when pregnancy was considered a punishment for young women who committed the sin of sex outside of marriage. (Rent some old movies from the 1940s and 1950s. I think there was one in which Kate Hepburn, a pilot, kills herself rather than endure the shame. Troy Donahue movies. Blue Denim. ) Pregnant girls from middle or upper class families were shipped off to “homes” where they would give birth and give the child up for adoption.

    “Right to life” didn’t become a slogan until after the Pill and Roe v. Wade made it possible for young, single women to have sex with the same freedom as young men.

    I have long believed that it was the Right Wing’s first successful ad campaign, its first success at re-framing an issue. But with the attacks on sex education in schools and the more recent attacks on insurance coverage for birth control pills and Planned Parenthood, their true objectives are or should be clear to everybody. It is NOT the “personhood” of an embryo that bothers them. It is the sexuality of women that bothers them. It is their religious desire to punish unmarried women who become pregnant by forcing them to go through a pregnancy. They want the world to go back to where it was in the 1950s.

  • lcaution

    @Dsagreeable Me
    Sorry, but I don’t buy your attempts to crawl back from that original post.

    Calling pregnancy a 9-month inconvenience is more than an understatement. It shows a rather significant lack of personal and biological knowledge. How would you like to have a tumor growing inside your body for 9 months? How would you like to throw-up every morning? Did you know that some women have spent 7-8 months in bed, to prevent a miscarriage, or in hospital tied up to an I.V. because the vomiting so depleted their bodies of nutrients? How about pre-eclampsia? Gestational diabetes?

    From the New Yorker, Jul. 24, 2006 in an article on pre-eclampsia. discussing a theory from David Haig, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard (as the result of studying pre-eclampsia in pregnant women). “pregnancy represents a maternal-fetal conflict in which the mother and her fetus compete for oxygen and precious nutrients.” Paraphrasing part of the rest of his argument: a fetus does not carry the same genes as its mother and can survive even if the mother dies so the interests are not mutual.

    Maternal morality rate in the U.S.? “Each day in the U.S., two women die of problems related to pregnancy or childbirth.” It has doubled in the last decade and is the highest in the developed world.

    It also turns out that pregnancy can pose lifelong negative consequences, and I emphasize negative, for the health of the mother. Some of the changes a woman’s body undergoes during pregnancy that don’t revert to “pre-pregnancy” normal are obvious. Others are not.

    Most women accept the pain and risk with pleasure. No woman should be required to take the risk by the government.

    And, no, personhood does NOT matter, because even if one grants personhood to the fetus, the woman carrying the fetus is also a person. Which means there are two sets of rights to consider. If medical science can reach the stage where it is possible to remove an embryo/fetus at any stage and raise it in some artificial womb or transplant it into another woman AND if the government makes it clear that the mother has no financial or other obligation to that child AND that child can never learn the name and address of its originating mother without said mother’s consent, well, then, maybe we can talk.

    One last point: Once you assert that a government has the right to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, how do you then deny it the right to forcibly inpregnate a woman or force her to have an abortion (China). And that is what we are talking about here. “Small-government” Conservatives who believe the government has a right to control the bodies of women.

    • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

      @lcaution

      Sorry, but I don’t buy your attempts to crawl back from that original post.

      Let me try to explain myself.

      Currently my wife and I are trying to get her pregnant, and we’re failing. It may not be possible (my biology, not hers). This is disappointing for us, to say the least. I am thus predisposed to see pregnancy as a highly desirable thing.

      It’s also clearly not such a traumatic experience for many women. My aunt had thirteen children.

      But I totally understand that it can be a harrowing experience when the pregnancy is unwanted. I understand that it is risky and that the “inconvenience” I alluded to can be very very grave indeed.

      Still “nine months of inconvenience” is not really inaccurate. It’s just a dramatic understatement which I should not have made, but which I did in order to emphasize my point.

      Pregnancy, however awful it may be, is generally preferable to death. An abortion implies the end of pregnancy for the mother, but an end of life for the foetus.

      How would you like to have a tumor growing inside your body for 9 months?

      Not very much. This is not relevant because a tumour is not a person and there can be no benefit to the world in my having a tumour (unless because it’s threatening the life of someone so wrong-headed as me).

      How would you like to throw-up every morning?

      I would find it unpleasant and inconvenient. Preferable to death though.

      Did you know that some women have spent 7-8 months in bed, to prevent a miscarriage

      The mother of an unwanted foetus is not going to sacrifice 7-8 months to preserve the pregnancy. Nor am I advocating that she should.

      or in hospital tied up to an I.V. because the vomiting so depleted their bodies of nutrients?

      The health and well-being of the mother is also a consideration. If the health of the mother is being severely compromised then the morality of abortion becomes less ambiguous. There are some countries where abortion is allowed in cases where the health of the mother is threatened.

      And, no, personhood does NOT matter, because even if one grants personhood to the fetus, the woman carrying the fetus is also a person. Which means there are two sets of rights to consider.

      Which is exactly my point. If you ignore the issue of the personhood of the foetus, you are considering only one person’s rights. If the foetus is a person, then we must weigh one person’s rights against the other, and decide in favour of the one whose rights are being most egregiously violated.

      If the foetus is not a person, then we can automatically choose in favour of the mother. Which is why non-personhood matters.

      Once you assert that a government has the right to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, how do you then deny it the right to forcibly inpregnate a woman or force her to have an abortion (China).

      Personally, it appears to me that there is a distinction between the state forcing an impregnation on a woman and a state refusing an abortion. One is a violation of one individual’s rights, the other is preserving the status quo in order to protect one individual (the foetus) against another (the mother). The latter involves a tradeoff, the former is just horrific.

      And you can’t justify mandatory abortions because that’s infringing on the rights of both mother and foetus.

  • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

    Let me put my argument differently.

    Imagine a situation where you have the power to exonerate one of two innocent people convicted of a serious crime.

    One faces a limited term in maximum security prison, the other faces execution. Which would you choose, in the absence of further context?

    If you oppose the death penalty, as I do, then you implicitly recognise that the right to life is more fundamental than the right to liberty. And so I presume that you would choose to exonerate the person on death row.

    The consequences for the incarcerated person are in many ways analogous to pregnancy. Increased risk of mortality, permanent lifelong consequences, temporary loss of autonomy.

    I don’t get the rational argument that would argue in favour of terminating a life rather than temporarily limiting autonomy (and exposing to risk).

    • mas528

      So we disagree on the death penalty too.

      I oppose the death penalty because is just the end of the particular set of atoms that make up the person and thus their consciousness. .

      The punishment is to take their liberty away. .

      You neglected, in your thought experiment, to explain the person that was still incarcerated still has to pay for exonerated’s getting settled, gets to keep the still incarcerated one’s wife.
      Then it may approach being comparable. But that still doesn’t address the physical effects of pregnancy.

      What you are saying is that peoples can use womens’ organs without their consent.

      You do realize that this is really close to legalizing rape?

      why not? A person is allowed to parasitize her bones, her hormones, her nutrients, and her money (who do you think pays for prenatal care) and either go through her vaginal canal or through her belly.

      So if one person can, so can anybody else. .

      You cannot make laws by special exception.

      This is your argument, not mine.
      It is indefensible.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        @mas528

        I oppose the death penalty because is just the end of the particular set of atoms that make up the person and thus their consciousness. .

        Well, yeah… me too. So why do we disagree on the death penalty, again?

        You neglected, in your thought experiment, to explain the person that was still incarcerated still has to pay for exonerated’s getting settled, gets to keep the still incarcerated one’s wife.

        You might want to rephrase this as I am having a hard time understanding what you mean.

        You do realize that this is really close to legalizing rape?

        Only insofar as making abortion legal is really close to legalizing murder. In fact, if we consider the foetus to be a person, then it is legalizing murder. My argument is not that pregnancy is no big deal, my argument is that it is less serious than murder.

        But again, please don’t lose sight of the fact that I’m pro-choice. I’m certainly not advocating for the banning of abortion. I’m just disagreeing with you on the reasons why it is acceptable.

    • lcaution

      @Disagreeable Me:
      OK, knowing your personal situation helps me understand your framing of the issue. I have had family & friends in the same situation so I assume that you and your wife would do just about anything, suffer just about anything, spend 9 months in a hospital bed, pay just about anything in order to have the child you want. You cannot, I am guessing, even begin to imagine the situation for a woman who does not want to be pregnant.

      For that woman, the embryo/fetus is a tumor, a cancer growing inside her. Literally, a biological parasite (an organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host) whose presence can result in major medical consequences or death. I emphasize again the issue of maternal mortality, the fact that we cannot predict which women will die, even in the presence of the best medical care, from a pregnancy, and the further practical reality in the U.S. that the very people who are anti-choice also oppose paying taxes to ensure that every pregnant woman receives adequate nutrition and medical care to ensure a safe pregnancy. So a better analogy, IMO, is not imprisoning the woman for nine months but imprisoning her for nine months, torturing her every second of every minute of every day of those 9 months (because she does not want, even hates, loathes, and fears what is growing inside her), and possibly killing her – in which case you have saved the life of that man on death row only to end up killing, perhaps, both the woman and the fetus. Key point here: you cannot guarantee that the woman you would put in this prison will survive. If she were somebody you knew and loved, would you still save that man on death row knowing that in doing so you might be killing that woman?

      Since you and your wife are trying to get pregnant, I assume that you are not old enough to remember when abortions were illegal because, at bottom, the issue is not about preventing abortion but about preventing safe and legal abortions. Abortion has always existed and always will (barring the medical advance I posited in which an embryo could be safely extracted and put in an artificial or other womb).

      I encourage you to read two articles:
      http://www.feminist.com/resources/ourbodies/abortion.html – a history of abortion
      http://drjengunter.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/anatomy-of-an-unsafe-abortion/ – anatomy of an unsafe abortion.

      If you do read the latter, try to put yourself in the position of the woman, of the women, who risked their very lives in order to end a pregnancy. Try to imagine the desperation that led to that choice. Try to imagine forcing a woman into a situation where her desperation leads her to make that choice.

      Re personhood:

      But the basic point you are asking us to consider is that of personhood, and I will grant that to be a valid point of discussion.

      The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade did an exceptional job, IMO, of considering just this issue in its weighing of two rights. Basically, the decision addresses 2 factors: viability and the health of the mother. It stated, essentially, that a woman has an absolute right to abort within the first trimester, that limited government involvement with respect to guaranteeing the health of the mother is permissible within the second trimester, and that the government could prohibit third trimester abortions excepting when the health or life of the mother is at stake.

      Note: about half of all abortions occur during the first 8 weeks, when we are talking about an embryo. 88% occur within the first trimester. Less than 2% occur after 21 weeks. (A fetus at 23 weeks has, according to one article I’ve read, about a 20-35% chance of surviving outside the woman’s body) and then only for severe medical reasons

      That is what we are talking about. Not a distinction between two fully equal human beings but a rational weighing of rights in a very specific case in which the “personhood” of one of the two is very much debatable. Your arguments, as I read them, all posit absolutely equivalent rights between two living, breathing human beings. That is not the situation of a pregnant woman for at least 20-30 weeks. The key issue for me, the only point at which the “personhood” of the embryo/fetus becomes a valid issue is the point of viability, the point at which the fetus can live outside the woman’s body.

      I refuse, categorically, to grant personhood to an embryo (8 weeks and less). Nor will I grant personhood to a fetus that cannot survive outside the woman’s body. Only when the fetus can survive on its own (or with the aid of highly expensive medical equipment for which I note, parenthetically, the anti-choice crowd denies having any obligation to pay for because the fetus’s personhood isn’t, really, important enough to be worth their tax dollars). We do not hold funeral services when women miscarry. (Most miscarriages occur within the first 13 weeks, and somewhere between 10-20% of known, and I emphasize known, pregnancies end in a miscarriage.) Yes, these are practical considerations rather than global moral issues but pregnancy is a very practical fact of life.

      The ethical comparisons you try to make (e.g., consigning a woman to jail vs. killing a man) are complex but, IMO, are not valid because they equate an embryo or fetus with a person and I refuse to grant that equivalence. Nevertheless, I found a Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem) that describes these kinds of ethical dilemmas fairly well and would point out that there is no agreement on the “right” action: e.g., whether it is more moral to kill one person in order to save 5 or more moral to not kill that one person but allow the death of 5. I will note that most people choose inaction over action – but the circumstances differ when one of the people whose life is at stake is known and loved by the decision-maker.

      I don’t, contrary to what it may appear, think that abortion is a trivial issue. I understand that for many people it is a profoundly moral and ethical question. But I am not asking or requiring a doctor to perform an abortion, to take an affirmative action to “kill”. I am asking only that the government, the government, leave the decision to the woman involved because it is she alone who must bear the costs (mental, emotional, and physical). Her personhood is not in question. The personhood of the collection of cells inside her is.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        @lcaution

        You cannot, I am guessing, even begin to imagine the situation for a woman who does not want to be pregnant.

        I don’t know if that’s true. My situation might explain why I don’t want to dwell on how horrific an unwanted pregnancy can really be for some people, but it doesn’t stop me from understanding this once I make an effort.

        And I accept that it can be horrific, perhaps a fate worse than death. I imagine that unwanted pregnancy is up there among the causes of suicide for young women.

        And for those for whom it is a fate worse then death, I would be pro-choice even if the foetus were considered to be a person.

        the very people who are anti-choice also oppose paying taxes to ensure that every pregnant woman receives adequate nutrition and medical care to ensure a safe pregnancy.

        I have nothing but contempt for these people. In fact, if abortion were illegal, I would be in favour of the state providing compensation for mothers not just to pay for medical care but to compensate for risk, suffering, hardship, lost earnings, etc.

        So a better analogy, IMO, is not imprisoning the woman for nine months but imprisoning her for nine months, torturing her every second of every minute of every day of those 9 months (because she does not want, even hates, loathes, and fears what is growing inside her), and possibly killing her – in which case you have saved the life of that man on death row only to end up killing, perhaps, both the woman and the fetus.

        I think the original analogy covers this. An innocent person in prison surely experiences similar mental torture. Being wrongly accused of something is an intensely painful experience. Also, I mentioned in the original analogy that the risk of mortality in a maximum security penitentiary is also increased. Once again I’m not bothering to look up precise statistics because this is a thought experiment.

        But you’re right, that if the mother dies during the course of the pregnancy then the foetus also dies (unless she dies in childbirth in which case the baby might survive). So to be absolutely precise you’d have to amend the analogy somewhat so that if the incarcerated person dies then his family is likely to take revenge by killing the exonerated death row inmate, or something equally far-fetched and inelegant. So, the analogy is flawed.

        If she were somebody you knew and loved, would you still save that man on death row knowing that in doing so you might be killing that woman?

        Why do you assume the incarcerated person is a woman and the death row person is a man? Perhaps you just feel naturally protective towards women? What if I turned the question around on you? “If the woman on death row were somebody you knew and loved, would you still free the incarcerated man knowing that in doing so you would definitely be killing that woman?”

        Loved ones are not the people who should be making these decisions.

        Since you and your wife are trying to get pregnant, I assume that you are not old enough to remember when abortions were illegal

        I’m not American. Abortions are still illegal in my country (Ireland) unless the woman’s life is at risk. This is sometimes used as a loophole in cases where the mother claims she is suicidal. Illegal abortions are not that much of a problem as far as I know, probably because when they are that desperate women generally go to the UK for the procedure.

        the issue is not about preventing abortion but about preventing safe and legal abortions

        I encourage you to read two articles:

        I’m not going to if you don’t mind because you’re preaching to the choir on this one. I agree that illegal abortions will happen regardless and are dangerous.

        The issue is not in fact about preventing abortions at all. What I’m saying is that the fact that the foetus is not a person is a pertinent fact and a solid reason for being pro-choice. There are other reasons, such as the risks of illegal abortion. Chris’s post seems to maintain that the only relevant reason is the mother’s right to control her body, and that’s what I disagree with.

        Your arguments, as I read them, all posit absolutely equivalent rights between two living, breathing human beings.

        Then you misunderstand me. I am pro-choice precisely because we are not talking about two people here. To be honest, I don’t even count a newborn baby as a person. If I had to choose between the life of a newborn and the life of the mother I would choose the mother every time.

        You’re arguing against a position I don’t hold. I only object to those who say we can forget entirely about the personhood issue and argue from the position of the right of the mother to autonomy alone. As soon as you acknowledge that it matters that the rights of the foetus do not have equal weight to the rights of the mother, you are agreeing with me.

        The ethical comparisons you try to make (e.g., consigning a woman to jail vs. killing a man) are complex but, IMO, are not valid because they equate an embryo or fetus with a person and I refuse to grant that equivalence.

        Once again, I didn’t specify sexes.

        But the point you raised is the very reason I made the analogy. It’s obvious that the analogy doesn’t apply to abortion precisely because the death row inmate is a person. If we don’t consider the non-personhood argument, then we assume the foetus has equal rights to the mother, and then we would in my view be forced to be anti-abortion in general.

        I don’t, contrary to what it may appear, think that abortion is a trivial issue.

        On the other hand, I do think it is trivial. I have absolutely no moral qualms whatsoever about allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy. I have no more concern for the well-being of a foetus than I do for the human skin cells I casually murder when I scratch my arse.

        Her personhood is not in question. The personhood of the collection of cells inside her is.

        Precisely my point.

    • lcaution

      Let’s try this thought experiment.

      The man on death row admits killing a pregnant woman, her husband, and two children.

      The woman you are putting in prison is 12 years old. Or is a single mother and sole support of two autistic 3-year-old twins. She has no living relatives. She works two part-time jobs, has no vacation time, no sick leave, and no health insurance. ANd, oh yea, she was raped. If she misses more than a day or two of work, she will lose her job. She is not eligible for unemployment insurance. She would, if out of work, be eligible for food stamps and/or welfare but it will take several months to qualify during which time she will probably lose the roof over her head and that of her two children.

      Does this change your personhood equation?

      Am I loading the dice here? Yes. But so are you in positing a choice between 9 months in prison and death.

      Pregnant women are not statistics. They are living, breathing, human beings – each with a different life story. What gives anybody other than that woman the moral right to decide that the cells inside her body, which cannot survive without her, are worth everything that preserving them might cost?

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        @lcaution

        With respect to your revised analogy, I probably don’t need to answer it because you seem to have misunderstood my position by 180 degrees (I’m 100% pro-choice, mostly because a foetus is not a person).

        Let me know once you’ve read my previous reply whether you still think there’s an issue to be addressed in this analogy.

        • lcaution

          @Disagreeable Me:

          I did understand that you were pro-choice, but

          1. You really, really ticked me off with your description of pregnancy as an inconvenience. While I’ve known a few women who have described their pregnancies as one of the best times of their lives, most would just as soon there were an easier, faster, safer, better way to ensure the survival of the species. No doubt there is some coterie of women who might accept “inconvenience” as a valid description (the bell curve and all), but, well, it was a bad way to start your argument.

          2.You did seem, OTOH, to be defending the personhood of the embryo/fetus. If I understand you now, your analogies were designed to argue not that the embryo/fetus is a person but rather the case in the event that one first granted personhood to the embryo/fetus – in which case the rights of two people were at issue. I still wouldn’t buy your analogies, or your conclusion that abortion should be prohibited if the embryo/fetus is a person, but I do think I now understand your starting point for them.

          3. Woman in prison? Well, unfortunately, only women get pregnant so the person in prison had to be the woman. As for assuming that the person on death row was a man, even in the U.S. the number of women on death row is small (58 women or 1.8% of the total) so I don’t think my choices were sexist.

          Thank you for treating my arguments seriously and courteously, and I do hope you and your wife are successful.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            @lcaution

            1. You were justified in being ticked off. I really wish I could take back what I wrote. I agree it was a terrible way to start my argument. Hopefully I’ve learned from this.

            2. I don’t exactly conclude that abortion should be illegal if an embryo were a person. Rather I conclude that non-personhood is the best reason (for me) why it should be legal. If an embryo were a person I’d be on the fence, or need to do some more soul-searching or research to come to a conclusion. In any case, I think it’s a pertinent argument for being pro-choice and should not be dismissed as irrelevant.

            3. This explains your assumption but the analogy as intended works independently of the sexes of the individuals. I didn’t really mean to call you sexist, just wanted to point out that you didn’t have to assume that the person in prison was a woman or that the death row person was a man for the analogy to work.

            Thanks for your kind wishes, and for likewise treating me courteously.

  • mas528

    @disagreeableme,

    1) I have no problem with punishing criminals.

    I oppose the death penalty *because* it is just the end.

    I disagree with you because loss of liberty is a form of punishment.

    2)your thought experiment fails to recognized that there are costs to pregnancy, as well as time off work, she has to feed the fetus with her body,so she has to spend more for food. She has to vomit, the weight of the fetus presses on her bladder, and her hips have to modify the shape to accommodate the fetus. Her joints are stressed, she has to gain weight, her .

    What if she smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol? She’ll of course be forced to quit for the fetus. .

    Who pays for her time off from work?

    3) You really missed the point about rape. It was not about a comparison with death. As I said before, if one person can use her vaginal canal without her consent, so can anybody else.

    Caesarian section? First, that is fairly major abdominal surgery. It hurts. A lot. Recovery isn’t simple or painless either.

    • Klein

      Don’t forget the SHE decided to engage the single activity that causes pregnancy!!! (Rape notwithstanding)

  • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

    @mas528
    1) If I understand you correctly, you view the death penalty as not being a punishment because the criminal’s existence is ended. Do you therefore oppose it because it is too kind (they don’t get to experience the punishment of life in prison), or is it because they don’t have a chance to benefit from the improvement of their correction?

    These are not my views, and in really it’s a separate discussion, but I’m interested to understand where you’re coming from in any case.

    In my view, and in the views of I suspect most atheists/humanists/skeptics, the death penalty is seen as immoral because it is cruel and we assume that people have a right to life.

    2) Many analogous costs apply to people in prison too. They are denied the right to earn a wage. They cannot access the internet to seek support from people in similar situations. They have highly restricted access to family and friends. They are subjected to physical and verbal abuse from guards and other inmates. They are also denied alcohol and other drugs.

    Some imprisonments will be worse than some pregnancies and vice versa. This doesn’t invalidate the comparison.

    3) I think you’re missing my point. You can describe pregnancy and its effects as being horrible, and of potentially being as bad as rape. Fine. I’m not arguing with you there. I’m just saying that if a foetus is a person, then abortion is murder, and you are causing a death. You’re asking me to prefer the legalization of something rape-like to something murder-like. I view murder as being a more heinous crime than rape.

    • mas528

      1) My thoughts on incarceration are irrelevant, although I will state that if they cannot be rehabilitated they should be removed from society while still being allowed to live as much of a fruitful life as possible. Which doesn’t exist in our society.

      Cruel? Only the threat and fear of death is cruel. There is no chance of remorse nor rehabilitation. The person doesn’t exist anymore.

      If you are talking to me, I lean down and you shoot me in the back of my head, there is no time for fear. I will just stop existing.

      2) You miss the idea. The prisoner does not have to support someone else though his own organs.
      You are talking about punishing the woman. If fact, you are saying that forced pregnancy is like prison at its worst. Ultimately, women will *have* to be incarcerated during forced pregnancy. I know, lets bring back the Magdalene Laundries.

      3) I didn’t say pregnancy is as bad as rape. I said that fetus. on its way to becoming a baby will be using her vaginal canal.

      If it is a forced pregnancy, “a person” will be using it without her consent. It sets a precedent.

      If one person can use her vaginal canal without her consent, so can any other person use her vagina without her consent – you can, so can I (I’m not suggesting that either of us would ever do such a horrible thing). That is why I called it legalizing rape. Not rape-like. Rape.

      It sure looks like you find women’s consent to the use of their bodies to be so trivial.

    • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

      1) Yeah, fair enough. The cruelty does come from expecting death. I suppose that even if one wanted to argue that a foetus was a person, no one would argue that it was capable of dreading an abortion.

      I actually agree with you that sudden murder is not so much immoral because of the harm to the victim, but rather primarily because of the pain and suffering it causes to the bereaved.

      However, if there were a button that someone could press which would instantly annihilate the world, most people’s moral instincts would suggest that this would be wrong, even if no suffering was caused.

      I think for such reasons it’s generally a good idea to adopt a “moral heuristic” that murder is wrong in general, because adopting such a heuristic leads to a better society and helps to resolve these philosophical quandaries.

      If we do adopt such a heuristic, it is helpful to be able to point out that abortion is not murder because a foetus is not a person.

      2) I’m not arguing for keeping pregnant women in prison, nor am I arguing that pregnancy is not horrific to some people. Nor am I even arguing that abortion should be illegal. My only goal is to make the point that the non-personhood of the foetus is relevant. I’m not sure why you continue to try to persuade me that pregnancy is horrific, nor what the consequences of making abortion illegal would be disastrous. You’re preaching to the choir.

      3) Ok, so forced birth is rape. If a foetus is a person, then abortion is murder. I don’t find women’s consent to the use of their bodies to be trivial, I just find murder to be grave. If I have to choose between preventing a murder and a rape, all things being equal I will choose to prevent the murder.
      Thankfully, I don’t have to make the choice in the case of abortion because a foetus is not a person. By your logic, if I allow you to murder a foetus then I can murder whoever I like and so can you (I’m not suggesting that either of us would ever do such a horrible thing).

      • mas528

        I think we are getting close to seeing each others positions.

        My final question which I hope will help understand why I do not consider it to be murder, even if it is a person.

        If I am a tissue match for a person of 30 years that needs a marrow transplant and I decide to not donate marrow (for any reason), does that constitute murder in your eyes?

        I have already taken the action of getting typed. Does this mean I am morally obligated to donate?

        And no, you still couldn’t kill anyone you like. Only if they are trying to use your body for something that you didn’t agree to.

  • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

    And no, you still couldn’t kill anyone you like. Only if they are trying to use your body for something that you didn’t agree to.

    “And no, you still couldn’t rape anyone you like. Only if it were a life and death issue.”

    My point was that your argument was that banning abortion implies that rape must be legalised doesn’t follow. Of course I don’t think that allowing abortion makes murder legal.

    If I am a tissue match for a person of 30 years that needs a marrow transplant and I decide to not donate marrow (for any reason), does that constitute murder in your eyes?

    I honestly don’t know. It’s an incredibly hard question for me. The only point I’m trying to make really is that it’s a qualitatively different question from aborting a foetus precisely because the foetus is not a person, thus the personhood issue is relevant.

    • mas528

      My answer to my own question is that it is not murder, even if the person dies.

      Should I be compelled, with zero thought for my life circumstances, be compelled to donate and be placed in prison for threatening his life? Maybe I just lost my job and need to pound the pavement to go to interviews or I will lose my home, or have my (wanted) child taken from me. Maybe I am terrified of pain.

      You are correct as far as my thinking is concerned. A zbef is a not a person. If it is ever considered a person through political jackassery, but because and because my answer to my earlier hypothetical question is “No”, I do not see it as making a whit of difference.

      If it is ever acceptable to put women into involuntary servitude and allowed to be physically tortured, where are the men in this moral equation? I think the only moral thing to do is to incarcerate the men and give them medications that emulate pregnancy. Estrogen to make their breasts grow, morning sickness- syrup of Ipecac. Force feeding to gain weight. A couple of thumps on a kidney to emulate kicking, maybe a thump once on a testicle to emulate a kick to an ovary.

      Of course, at the end, being strapped down, with something to create severe abdominal cramps for 3-36 hours.

      One last quibble. From what I read, you have still not understood my “legalizing rape” concept. It is not that the forced pregnancy is rape – even I find that silly. But because of the involuntary use of her organs. It would allow non-consensual rape, non-consensual drug testing, using her as a tackle dummy, using her for anything. Why? Because her body can be used without her consent.

      • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

        Well, her body can be used without her consent if it’s the only way to save a life. It doesn’t justify using her as a tackle dummy.

        If the only way to save a life would be for somebody to rape me, I wouldn’t hold them morally responsible for doing it. Nor would it make it ok for them to rape me if the stakes were not so high. The argument doesn’t follow.

        • mas528

          Sorry. You are making the woman a slave to the zbef. It has nothing to do with saving a life at that point. .

          You are simply endorsing slavery But evidently that is fine with you if it is to “save a life”. Of course you haven’t set any sort of support structure in your mind, so all of the weight falls on the woman. . .

          You ignored the point of the cost to the woman,both financially and physically by claiming related costs in prisons.

          It does follow.

          Even if you are also promoting forced organ donation. .

          You have two kidneys. You only need one. There are waiting lists for kidneys. A lot of these people will die without a transplant.

          If you match, then then you can be forced because it “saves a life”. After all, your right to bodily integrity takes a back burner to saving a life.

          I know you’ll try to say that is different, but it is not at all. .

          I’m so tired of your deliberately misinterpreting what I write.

          • http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk Disagreeable Me

            Sorry. You are making the woman a slave to the zbef. It has nothing to do with saving a life at that point. .

            Out of curiosity, zbef = zygote baby embryo foetus?

            Anyway, in the scenario that a zbef is a person, it has to do with preserving a life that would otherwise die. That seems quite clear to me.

            Of course you haven’t set any sort of support structure in your mind, so all of the weight falls on the woman.

            If I actually were anti-choice I would be advocating for lots of state support for the woman, and financial compensation too.

            You ignored the point of the cost to the woman,both financially and physically by claiming related costs in prisons.

            Just defending that my analogy is relevant if not perfect. As I said, pregnancy might be horrific in some cases but allowing a pregnancy to continue is not in general as immoral as allowing a person to die. And, as I said, I’d be in favour of financial compensation.

            It does follow.

            When you say banning abortion means logically we cannot consistently make other abuses of women illegal, then sorry, it doesn’t follow. Abortion is only banned to save a life. There is no such reason to allow other abuses. I’ve made the comparison that allowing abortion doesn’t allow other kinds of murder, but you don’t seem to get my point.

            I know you’ll try to say that is different, but it is not at all.

            Actually I’m on the fence about whether it is different. I do have a gut feeling that mandatory organ donation should not be a law, but I can’t justify it at this time. You could be right, maybe they are the same thing. My only point is that personhood is relevant because the non-personhood zbef allows us to dismiss the question out of hand. It isn’t a difficult moral choice like saving a life with a kidney donation.

            I’m so tired of your deliberately misinterpreting what I write.

            Well, sorry, but I’m not deliberately misrepresenting anything. Why not assume I’m simply misunderstanding you? “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

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  • James Healey

    I believe that women truly do have the complete right to control their bodies, but that does not excuse killing someone else’s body, even if that body resides within someone else’s. Really, your article doesn’t convince me in the least. It’s nothing I have yet heard from pro-choice advocates.

    • Robin O’Connor

      There is a concept called body autonomy. Its generally considered a human right. Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long. Its why you can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue, or organs. Even if you are dead. Even if you’d save or improve 20 lives. It’s why someone can’t touch you, have sex with you, or use your body in any way without your continuous consent.

      A fetus is using someone’s body parts. Therefore under bodily autonomy, it is there by permission, not by right. It needs a persons continuous consent. If they deny and withdraw their consent, the pregnant person has the right to remove them from that moment. A fetus is equal in this regard because if I need someone else’s body parts to live, they can also legally deny me their use.

      By saying a fetus has a right to someone’s body parts until it’s born, despite the pregnant person’s wishes, you are doing two things.

      1. Granting a fetus more rights to other people’s bodies than any born person.
      2. Awarding a pregnant person less rights to their body than a corpse.
      hannah goff

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  • Jerry Watson

    Maybe the pro-abortion stance has been taken too far. Have you ever considered that the phrase “a woman’s right to control her own body” is just a sound bite, that people parrot this and take it to heart (or not) without really thinking it through? Think about it. It’s an oxymoron. This is PRECISELY the point. When a woman conceives, then it is NO LONGER ONLY HER BODY. You really don’t get this? Sure, maybe that’s a big bummer for womanhood, but it has upsides as well. (The pain of childbirth notwithstanding) only a woman can experience giving and nurturing new life and the intimacy with her child that comes as a result. Another point, let me ask you this (and maybe this is a bit of a “straw-man argument” in the sense that I’m positing a condition that does not yet exist, but consider this: When the time comes (and it will, I’m sure, in not too many years, we’re not talking about nuclear fusion here) that it will be possible and economically feasible to raise a fertilized egg in vitro, a REAL “test tube” baby (or more “artificial womb” baby) THEN, a woman who doesn’t want a baby would have the realistic choice between giving her fetus to a machine or aborting. Your argument against infanticide (the woman can always give her child to adoption) would then apply, wouldn’t it. My personal opinion? In the case of rape, danger to the woman’s physical health, or risk of severe physical problem in the child, then unfortunately yes, abortion should be condoned. But not just because it’s inconvenient, or because a woman wants to exercise her so-called right to control her own body (not HER body) or simply as birth control of the last resort.

  • Klein

    So very wrong. I am a liberal Dempcratoc gay men who, by all accounts should pro-choice, but this issue has always remained clear to me. If a woman permits a man to penetrate her she is agreeing to potential pregnancy. Unless she is stupid about how pregancy happens, she is taking the risk each time, even using birth control. There is plenty of activity she can partake in without having intercourse if she still wants to have sex.
    And destroying an embryo is taking a life, clearly. Even if you don’t believe it’s a life yet, it is a potential life which you are extinguishing. I’m against the death penalty as well. I’m willing to make concessions for rape and endangerment of the mother, otherwise I just don’t see what makes it ok.

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

      If it was about life, you wouldn’t want there to be any exceptions for rape. What you actually are saying is women shouldn’t have sex, ever, because they should be terrified of pregnancy. Your argument is that you, a man, have a right to prevent women from controlling their own bodies because you think they shouldn’t be having sex. You’re also arguing that a fetus, which is definitely alive but equally definitely not-a-person, has more right to control a woman’s body than she does. You are saying that something smaller than the period at the end of this sentence trumps a woman’s rights to herself.

      Life itself isn’t sacred. Every time I eat meat, eat vegetables, or step on a spider, I extinguish life. It is the life of a person that is special, and quite frankly, fetuses aren’t people yet. Additionally, we as a society have decided that bodily autonomy trumps life. If life was that important, we would have mandatory organ donation. Your convenience and health would be considered less important than the life of someone who needs your kidney, liver lobe, lung, or bone marrow. Since I highly doubt you think this is a good legal or moral regime, why do women have to donate their uterus, blood, nutrients, and time to a fetus but men don’t have to for born persons?

    • Robin O’Connor

      you’re gay! of course you’re not going to take into consideration the hardships women are going through why? bc u don’t have to go through them!
      it’s like this… you probably know that being gay you can contract aids, right? but you still do it bc it’s pleasurable.. it’s the same with women. they have sex bc it’s pleasurable and run that risk of getting pregnant. even on birth control.
      now considering your “moral” standpoint which was originally based off christian beliefs, abortion is murder and murder is wrong. morally being gay is wrong as well, but you wouldn’t want anyone taking your rights away as an individual either? well that’s what you’re doing by having this viewpoint. you are assuming that women should avoid sex altogether if they don’t want to get pregnant. that’s just like me telling you not to have sex with a guy so you won’t contract aids! you are denying a women right to pleasure!

  • Robin O’Connor

    There is a concept called body autonomy. Its generally considered a human right. Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long. Its why you can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue, or organs. Even if you are dead. Even if you’d save or improve 20 lives. It’s why someone can’t touch you, have sex with you, or use your body in any way without your continuous consent.

    A fetus is using someone’s body parts. Therefore under bodily autonomy, it is there by permission, not by right. It needs a persons continuous consent. If they deny and withdraw their consent, the pregnant person has the right to remove them from that moment. A fetus is equal in this regard because if I need someone else’s body parts to live, they can also legally deny me their use.

    By saying a fetus has a right to someone’s body parts until it’s born, despite the pregnant person’s wishes, you are doing two things.

    1. Granting a fetus more rights to other people’s bodies than any born person.
    2. Awarding a pregnant person less rights to their body than a corpse.
    hannah goff


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