My Hugeness in Japan, Continued

Forgot to mention yesterday this Brad DeLong riff on my Rapegate comments. DeLong, an economist from UC Berkeley, says some things that I should probably address.

We’ll set this up as a point-counterpoint to save time. Some readers might detect a whiff of anti-Catholicism in DeLong’s remarks but I’ve decided to turn the other cheek on that score:

DeLong: “[I]t looks like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan — and many other Republicans who follow bishops — really do want to take away condoms and the pill.”

Lott: According to Wikipedia, Todd Akin is a Presbyterian. They have presbyteries, not bishops, but grant for the sake of argument that DeLong meant “follow” in the sense of “look to,” since Akin’s take on abortion is closer to the the Catholic Church’s position than the PCUSA’s position.

Question for DeLong: What legislation have Akin and/or Paul Ryan supported that would make condoms or the pill illegal? You could argue that a personhood amendment would make 4U-486 illegal, but RU-486 isn’t the pill.

DeLong: “There is a good — or at least a not-terrible — answer [for what to do about children conceived of rape] from the ensoulment-occurs-at-the-moment-of-fertilization perspective. The rapist is guilty. The child-to-be is innocent. The mother-to-be is imposed upon.”

Lott: No serious objections so far.

DeLong: “The least-bad answer from the ensoulment-occurs-at-the-moment-of-fertilization perspective…”

Lott: OK, stop! DeLong keeps using that ungainly formulation and it offends more than just my literary ear. Ensoulment is not the issue. Humans, most of us would agree, have souls, but there’s no way to know precisely how that works.

The Catholic Church has said that human persons deserve legal protection. For an understanding of what a human person is, it has looked to science. Science tells us that when fertilization occurs you have a unique thing that develops into a unique human being.

Everybody reading this: The thousands of sperm swimming toward the egg, that was not you. The egg on its own was not you either. When the two joined together, that was you. Where or when the soul belongs in this process is not terribly relevant. But let’s get back to DeLong’s proposal.

DeLong: “The least-bad answer…is to say that this is what the government is for: have the public fisc pay the mother-to-be handsomely to bear and if she wishes raise the child.”

Lott: One could propose alternative means of funding such a system, but OK, not the worst answer.

DeLong: “But nobody, literally nobody, who claims to hold to the ensoulment-occurs-at-the-moment-of-fertilization perspective will ever go there…”

Lott: Why the hell not? It’s a little technocratic but in a post Roe v. Wade America I could see, say, the Conference of Catholic Bishops backing such a proposal. And — who knows — some of those “Republicans who follow bishops” might even go along.

  • Brad DeLong

    Their opposition to the morning after pill would seem to answer your main question…
    I don’t think you can hide behind science with the “that was you” argument. Science is just as happy with saying “that was going to grow into you, but was not yet you–after all, a caterpillar is not a butterfly”. And science is just as happy with saying “and that sperm swimming and that egg it was swimming toward were you…

  • Jeremy Lott

    No hiding involved here. RU-486 is a pill but it is not “the pill,” which you well know. Also, I assume that if you were to extend legal protections to butterflies that you would also extend it to caterpillars.

  • Brad DeLong

    So your view is that “emergency contraception” biochemical interference with ovulation after intercourse is a no-no, but “the pill” pre-planned biochemical interference with ovulation before intercourse is fine?

    I guess my biggest problem with the pro-life side of the discourse springs from the fact that we have 4 million live births each year, 400 third-trimester abortions each year–350 of which are dying fetuses or potentially dying mothers and 50 of which are fetuses that are disabled (which do trouble me), 80,000 second-trimester abortions each year (some of which are sex-seleced, which do trouble me), 700,000 first-trimester abortions each year, 2 million failures to implant, miscarriages, and stillbirths each year, and an unknown number but it looks to me like 5 million ova fertilized via IVF are discarded each year.

    Thus I would expect all those who think that there is pre-fertilization, but from fertilization to birth there is a baby in there to seize upon the Romney family’s use of IVF as a teachable moment. But you aren’t…

  • +Roger Burgess

    “Also, I assume that if you were to extend legal protections to butterflies that you would also extend it to caterpillars.”

    Why should one? I see no good reason to suppose this is so. Should we extend “Wing Protection Mandates,” to caterpillars? Or should a policy of “Leaves in every pot,” be expected to draw Butterfly support? The two are different and should be treated as such based on those differences.

    Caterpillars are not butterflies. Seeds are not trees. Zygotes are not human beings. You’re confusing “Is potentially a member of X group,” with “Is currently a member of X group,” which is a category error.


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