‘Personhood’ laws and the abolition of birthdays

On June 8, 1989, I went out to a bar for a drink after class. Had I done the same thing the previous night it would have been a crime, because that was the day before my 21st birthday, and the legal drinking age here in Pennsylvania is 21.

That age is calculated from one’s birthday, of course. So are all the other legal milestone ages, such as 16 (learner’s permit), 17 (driver’s license), 18 (voting and draft registration), 25 (renting a car) and 30 (running for the U.S. Senate). You reach each of those milestone ages on your birthday — the annual anniversary of the day of your birth, which is how we measure a person’s age.

But with several states now considering “personhood” amendments to their constitutions, these laws will need to be changed. And so will the cultural significance of birthdays. The passage of such amendments will mean that birth no longer holds any legal meaning with regard to a person’s age — and thus regarding the point at which one becomes legally permitted to drive, vote, drink, etc.

So how will we measure age and set such legal milestones under the new regime of personhood amendments? This gets tricky. I’m not aware of any other model for marking and measuring a person’s age. Has there ever been a human culture, society or civilization that employed some other method? (Historians and anthropologists please chime in here.)

We need to find, or to create, an alternative model because legally defining conception as the beginning of full, legal personhood will mean the abolition of birthdays. If legal personhood begins at the moment of conception, then age and aging — and the measurement of age and aging — must also begin at that moment. And that may involve a bit of guesswork.

Had a personhood amendment been on the books when I was in college, then I could have gone out for that drink much earlier — some time in the autumn of 1988. But when exactly? And exactness — a precise date — is what the law requires.

Careful calculation might be able, in some cases, to narrow down the guesswork involved — particularly for married couples who have fewer potential dates as possible starting points for those calculations. But in the vast majority of cases, the certainty and exactitude that the law requires wouldn’t be available.

We could, perhaps, settle on some one-size-fits all scheme, such as declaring every person to have achieved personhood precisely nine months prior to the date of their birth. That would hardly ever be an accurate date, but the system would be universal and thus, in that sense, fair. Every person’s Anniversary of Personhood would thus be set as the date precisely three months after the date of their birth.

Thus, for example, a child born today would celebrate their first Anniversary of Personhood of June 19, on which day they will be recognized as 1 year old. A person born today would thus reach the legal voting age on their 18th Anniversary of Personhood — June 19, 2029.

We’ll probably want to find a better name for the AofP, but whatever we choose to call it, the important point here is that this wholly replace the annual recognition of “birthdays” as a legal and cultural measure of age. Personhood amendments will render birthdays not just irrelevant, but illegal. And, of course, if the rationale for such amendments is correct, then the legal and cultural recognition of birthdays is also deeply immoral.

I’m not enthusiastic about the practicality or the elegance to my proposed solution to what should follow the abolition of birthdays. But, again, this is due to my inability to find any useful models in other cultures, societies or civilizations. Every human culture I’m aware of has followed some variation of the benighted, immoral, shamefully anti-life idea that the date of a person’s birth is somehow significant for measuring that person’s age.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
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  • Eminnith

    Can we consider these “Personhood” laws to be part of the War on Christmas? Please?

  • Ursula L

    Can we consider these “Personhood” laws to be part of the War on Christmas? Please? 

    It’s absolutely essential.  

    If Christmas is to celebrate the anniversary of Christ’s birth, then the celebration is meaningless.

    Every right-thinking right-wing Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian will need to abandon Christmas.  

    Further, they must recognize the Catholic feast of the Annunciation, as being the closest we have to knowing exactly when God raped Mary.  (He didn’t ask permission, just sent an angel to announce that it would be done and she’d be knocked up.  She may have acquiesced, but accepting something being done to you when someone infinitely powerful says they’re going to do it is not the same as giving consent to an equal who will not act without your permission.)

    And we have to wonder why shepherds and wise men were sent to witness the birth, when what was important would be to witness what the heck God did, anyway, to get Mary knocked up without her realizing what was happening to her. 

  • Anonymous

    That was the first thing I thought of too. Kind of makes christmas moot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Oh, great – now I’ll retroactively have been forty since July.
    Well, I guess I can at least stop dreading that upcoming milestone, since it retroactively passed without me noticing it.

  • cminus

    In some areas of Outer Mongolia, age is traditionally determined by the number of lunar cycles since conception.  They’re increasingly dropping this in favor of alternative measurements, either western or traditional Chinese (which uses date of birth, but starts counting at one rather than zero).

    For reference, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Asian_age_reckoning

  • http://www.aqualgidus.org/ Michael Chui

    Actually, I’ve always been told (I’m Chinese) that we start counting at one because we already spent a year in the womb.

  • friendly reader

    And what’s more, at least in pre-modern times, everyone turned one year older on New Year’s, not on their individual birthday. So let’s say you were born on May 15th like me; I’m 1 popping out of the womb, and on January 1st I turn “2,” in spite of being only 7 1/2 months old. By this counting I just turned 29 (as opposed to still being 27 for two more months).

    The everyone-has-the-same-birthday thing has basically evaporated in modern times, though.

    Also, in many cultures, people just didn’t (or don’t) care about birth dates at all, and age was (or is) basically an estimate.

  • Tricksterson

    So Mongolians and Chinese are the only true Christians?  Except Mongolians are mostly Buddhist and Chinese are overwhelmingly Buddhist, native religious or atheist.

  • Matt

    Was just about to link to that as well.

  • Odosko

    There is no such place as ‘Outer Mongolia’,- it’s simply Mongolia. Must be careful of this, as the idea is that the term is propogated by the CHinese as it links modern Mongolia to the entity that existed during the Qing dynasty- a bit of semantic political subterfuge by CHina as it tries to subtly culturally vanquish those states in its sphere of influence (ie how China has tried to claim khoomei, or throat singing as its own).

  • Caravelle

    I’ve also heard that in some parts of Asia they count ages starting at 1. But as far as I know they use the birthday too… one alternative I can think of is to count one’s age from the beginning of the year of one’s birth (so for example I’d be 28 because I was born in 1984, instead of 27 because I was born in June), but offhand I can’t recall if any real human society does that.

  • anonym

     well, that’s how they age horses…

  • Anonymous

    Darn. Got beaten to the punch.

  • Becca Stareyes

    Even if you know the particular bout of sex that led to conception — and I don’t necessarily think being married narrows it down, depending on your sex life — conception doesn’t happen right at ‘sperm goes into vagina’; it can happen days afterward, since sperm can hang around the reproductive tract for a bit.  It’s why the ‘Morning After’ pill works; the ‘Morning After’ pill pretty much slams on the breaks of your cycle so that if you haven’t ovulated yet, you won’t until the sperm all die.

    So, maybe we’d only know the exact Anniversary of Personhood in cases of IVF, when there aren’t messy things like human fertility cycles involved in conception. 

  • Clrozeboom

    And I was hoping we could call it, “Happy Squirt-day!”

  • Anonymous

    Well, it may be more than a day between the squirt and the sperm’s penetration of the ovum, so perhaps it could be called Spermatration Day, or, to not give undue deference to the male’s role (because that’s the last thing these peoplehood amendment types would want, I’m sure), Spermovum Day.

  • Ethics Gradient

    Will these new laws see millions of evangelicals who support them starting to talk about being ‘conceived again Christians’?

  • Caravelle

    Amusingly, when I was little for quite awhile after first learning about pregnancy I went around thinking that everyone was born nine months old. When I played pretend with my friends and we’d compete for being the youngest baby (like… WTF ???), I’d proudly say I was nine months old and scoff at others who picked younger ages – because those don’t exist you ignorant fool !
    I got really confused the more I saw references to one-month-old babies. (“Are they supposed to be embryos… or does this person not know about pregnancy ? What’s up with everyone ?”)

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    There is a theory, one of many, that the reason that the Tzolk’in (one of the Mayan Calendars) is the length that it is (260 days) is because that’s around about the length of a pregnancy, I don’t think they used that to count ages from conception though.

    I was more interested in the math of the calendar when I looked at it.

  • Lonespark

    I seem to remember hearing about the add-a-year-for-womb-time thing from ethnic Chinese friends in Thailand, but I was very young and my Thai wasn’t that awesome.

    Then there all the refugee kids I know with randomly-assigned birthdays, like Jan. 1. or July 4… This leads me to believe that birthdays aren’t especially significant to everyone…

    Then there’s ancient (European) ways of conferring personhood on the day one is recognized by the family and community.  Infant baptism seems related to that, and I think some Heathens do something similar…

  • tiredofit

    Even worse, imagine all the state laws that require all unattended deaths to be investigated.  Since about 50 percent of all fertilized eggs never attach to the uterine wall, and another 25 percent of all fertilized eggs do not make it to 12 weeks, that means in a country with 4 million live births there are around THREE MILLION unattended deaths that need investigation if personhood laws are passed.

  • Lonespark

    Well, at least they’re creating jobs.

  • Naomi

    So this means that in the current Evangelical conception of Heaven, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses will outnumber people who actually lived and breathed? 

  • Anonymous

    Going a bit in the other direction, many ancient civilizations (I think the Romans were one) celebrated age from a “name day”. After a baby was born, they wouldn’t name it until they were pretty sure it was going to live. Once the kid was named, they were considered a person and their age was counted from that date. If it died before then, it wasn’t really a child. I’ve also heard that medieval peasants would count the nearest saint’s feast day as their child’s birthday, so all the kids born around October 4th would count their age from St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day (and a whole lot of them would be named after him, too).

  • Tricksterson

    Not just ancient civilzations, that was pretty much the norm in the Middle Ages as well I believe.

  • Meggie

     Russians also use to celebrate a name day. I believe (feel free to correct me anyone) that babies were baptised to God at about a week old and later, baptised into the church. This second baptism was when their name was announced and was the date they would continue to celebrate. In theory it happened 40 days after birth for boys and 80 days for girls, according to Old Testament rules but there was some leeway and it is not unusual when looking at historical documents to see several members of one family all with the same name day.

  • http://twitter.com/emhornerbooks Emily Horner

    In Yasunari Kawabata’s book “The Sound of the Mountain,” it’s a small plot point that everyone will be getting “younger” as they go from the traditional counting system (1 year old at birth, everyone turns a year older on January 1st) to the Western counting system.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    I wonder if “add a year for the womb” has actual history behind it, or is just a modern retroactive justification for a non-zero-based counting procedure.  After all, Dionysius Exiguus thought it was completely logical to have the year 1 start at the time he calculated (in somewhat defective fashion) for Jesus’s birth, and the beginnings of centuries and millennia have provoked arguments about off-by-one errors ever since.

  • Ursula L

    The concept of “zero” in arithmetic/math is a fairly new one, and it’s a concept that is tied to a fairly sophisticated  concept of how numbers work.

    For example, the Western calender doesn’t have a year “zero.”  It goes directly from 1 BC to 1 AD.  The idea of a year “zero” is new and still not in the common understanding of time, although scientists use it for calculations, making 1BC the year “zero” and pushing each year BC one year farther away.

    I’m fairly sure that “a year for the womb” isn’t part of the calculation.  Because prior to modern medicine and accurate tests for early pregnancy, women didn’t know when they were first pregnant.  You might have a month with a missed cycle, then another month, and then you realize that your period isn’t just late but absent, and then some time to be uncertain about pregnancy, until “quickening” when the pregnant woman feels movement and uses that to confirm pregnancy in her own mind. This way of determining when you’re pregnant, based on a woman’s own knowledge of her body, would reduced the perceived length of pregnancy, rather than lengthen it.  

    It would also reduce the number of recognized miscarriages.  A lot of early miscarriages would be perceived as “my period was late, but showed up, and it was unusually heavy” rather than “I was pregnant and lost the pregnancy.”  For example, I remember reading some early modern European medical texts where there was considerable debate over the length of pregnancy, with estimates ranging from seven to nine months (but never longer than nine.)  Many women have irregular cycles, so without a medically accurate way to diagnose early pregnancy, people trying to understand medicine and human biology would not be able to distinguish between “irregular cycle” and “first trimester pregnancy.” 

    That also fits with the prevalence of medicines and treatments that were concerned with “bringing on a missed cycle.”  If you know that your cycle being late might mean pregnancy, or it might just mean that it’s late and it will be worse than usual, and worse the later it is, then a medication to “bring on a missed cycle” can be understood as ensuring that a missed cycle is restarted promptly, rather than waiting for it to show up and having its restoration (in the form of a miscarriage) being that much worse for being that much more delayed. 

    What is happening when you count a newborn as “one” is the lack of a concept of mathematical “zero.” You’re born, then you experience your first year of life, then your second, etc.  “My child is one year old” is not the understanding, so much as “my child is in its first year of life” counting from the time of birth.  

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    As cminus indicated, the tradition in China and some other Sinosphere countries is that everyone’s age goes up during the Spring Festival (though that’s really not observed anymore). The equivalent for a “Personhood” society would be to change our official “birthdays” to January 1st. Arbitrary, but no less so than the existing system. Of course, from a cultural perspective, it would still be a pretty radical change.

  • Anonymous

    I am missing something here: why does a married couple have fewer potential dates to work from? I thought, contrary to the old trope, married couples have more sex (simple availability) than unmarried people do (does not account for cohabitation, I suppose). Doesn’t more sex leads to great uncertainty about potential dates for actual “sperm deposit” and conception? Plus, wouldn’t married couples be more likely to have sex incorporated into a normal routine, thus have trouble retroactively figuring out — was it Thurs or Sat? Is it because married people are more likely to get pregnant as a result of trying rather than accidentally? I know precisely what act led to my unplanned pregnancy, faithful yet incompetent practitioner of NFP that I *was*, and that baby was born on his due date. I do not know, however, when my planned pregnancy started (we threw the charts out) and that baby was born 10 days before her supposed due date — but was definitely full term, all 8lbs of her, so her birthday wouldn’t have helped us narrow it down any if we cared.

  • http://www.ghiapet.net/ Randy Owens

    What on Earth will this mean for the birther movement, though?  Will they be demanding to see the next President’s* long-form conception certificate?

    * Yeah, as if they’re really going to be so demanding of someone who isn’t of a certain ethnic heritage….

  • http://www.ghiapet.net/ Randy Owens

    On the point of ages starting at 1, I would guess (albeit educatedly) that it might be to some degree a matter of translation, and the cardinal/ordinal distinction.  After all, one’s first year does begin at birth, and the second year begins on what we call the first birthday (which is really the second, if you think about it).

  • http://twitter.com/Will_Dees Will Dees

    I’ve heard of some aboriginal cultures that don’t consider a child a “person” until about age 2. By that time, they’re pretty sure the baby is going to survive and actually become a member of the community.

  • Anonymous

    Or perhaps we could do it as most credit cards and some government licenses handle expiration dates… expire them on the last day of the month regardless of the actual day of issue.

    A person conceived on any day of the month would en celebrate on the same day as everybody born that month. The last day of the month could be a national holiday taken off to celebrate mass personhood. If the 31st came on a weekend we could take the previous Friday off.

    I see some practical benefit here.

  • JenL

    Does everybody born in February only get official birthday recognition on Leap Years?   ;-)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Well, given that the latest ultrasound law went through the Illinois House Agriculture Committee, and somewhere else I read about a Republican who thinks it’s valid to compare stillborn cow and human fetuses, how about August 1st for everyone, just like horses? Because women are just like livestock, obviously.

  • JenL

    Well, given that the latest ultrasound law went through the Illinois
    House Agriculture Committee, and somewhere else I read about a
    Republican who thinks it’s valid to compare stillborn cow and human
    fetuses, how about August 1st for everyone, just like horses? Because
    women are just like livestock, obviously.

    Don’t be silly, Jamoche – only girl babies should get the livestock treatment.  Boys deserve better.  At least if there’s a man around to claim him and sign off on the pedigree.

  • Willhennessy

    On a lighter note, Fred, you have the same birthday as my nephew. Which is awesome. Though he’s quite a bit younger than you.

  • Curtis Dye

    South Korea uses a different system.  They count you as one year old from birth and you gain a year on January 1st every year.  This keeps everyone born in a certain year the same age.  For example, everyone born in 1979 is 34 years old in Korea whether they were born in January or December.  It is how they track things like school age, drinking age, and such.  All 13 year-olds (born in 1990) are in 6th grade.  

    I have a couple friends who had babies around Christmas last year.  Three months later they are already two years old!!!  Haha.  But seriously, once you get past the seeming oddness of it, it’s a conveinent way to mark age milestones.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    When I have a mental picture of a locked electronic bracelet monitoring pregnancy status on every female at every time of the day and transmitting that information to local Fetal Protection Services units which patrol the city around the clock, that should be purely science fiction, not the next logical step in American law enforcement.

  • Anonymous

    The Zingularity blog looked into this issue the other day.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/zingularity/2012/03/17/stalinists-at-the-gates/

  • Anonymous-Sam

    It shouldn’t surprise me that that was Romania. I remember the “orphanages” — families were being encouraged (sometimes even paid) to give their children to the care of the government, who then packed them into warehouses to be taken care of on a 1 to 50 ratio by nursemaids whose only duty consisted of feeding and occasionally washing them. Let’s just say Tyson Farms knows more about raising children than the Romanian government. Many of those children lacked for social education so badly, they were unable to speak, and since they had never left their cribs, their bodies never developed mobility. Many of them are still physically unable to leave a bed.

  • Badassninja

    While this ignores the personhood bit entirely, there is and obvious event we could use to define adulthood: sexual maturity. For girls, this would be marked by their first period. I believe this typically occurs around age twelve (I’m no expert, but I am a white man, so I feel it is my duty to get involved here). So girls could drive four years after their first period, vote after six years and drink after nine years. Of course, in order to get these rights (or to even get the 4,6,9 year clocks ticking), the girl would have to present evidence of her period. Either a bloody sheet or an inspection by a state authority would do (whichever presents clearer evidence). For boys this is a bit more tricky. In analog to the girls, they should have to present a semen sample to the state. Honestly, I don’t think most boys would have a problem presenting 2-3 samples per day. But there isn’t any medical reason that they should have to. We could just take their word on it.

  • Anonymous

    For girls, this would be marked by their first period.

    I expect that under the new system a girl’s first period will mark the end of her own personhood.

  • Anonymous

    I am so glad that you have acted to fulfill your God-given duty as an adult male to have an opinion and speak authoritatively on women’s sexuality ;).

    I have question for you. The average age of female sexual maturity (as you define by have one’s first menses – one could quibble with that) in the US has been declining for over a century, likely due to improved nutrition but more recently to an increase in childhood BMI (kids are too fat) and exposure to estrogen-mimicking compounds (plasticizers, detergents, etc.). How would you propose dealing with a progressively younger female “adult,” particularly if these do not have the same affect on advancing male adulthood? 

    Also there are individuals whose sexual maturity is delayed and, though rare, there are those who never actually mature sexually. Are these individuals barred from legal adulthood?

    One more logistic question, if my memory of high school serves me correctly, the boys who showed signs of sexual maturity the earliest were, how shall I put it, the more bone headed of the class… Do we really want to possibly be giving them the status as adults any sooner than 18/21?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Hee hee. You said “bone”.

    But seriously, I’m inclined to guess that oif the cultures that start counting at one, it’s more often because “zero” was introduced lateish in the mathematics of most cultures than because of any sense of fetal personhood — given how far in pregnancy was diagnosed in premodern times, it wouldn’t account for a whole year.

    To complicate the matter of birthdays, of course, when england aligned its calendar with the gregorian calendar in 1750, some people kept their old birthday because it was easier, some people sucked it up and shifted their birthdays the 11 days, and some people shrugged and decided that since whatever they did would be ridiculous, they’d just pick a new and more interesting birthday.

  • Badassninja

     I see no problem with ambitious pre-mothers taking the initiative and ushering in their holy fecundity as fast as possible, and we should not let the government get in the way of rewarding their gumption with accelerated rights. And as for the boys, are you suggesting that “bone headed” males should be denied their proper rights? Next, you will say that young people should consider Young Christian production in order to go to college. Anti-first amendment snob!

  • Lonespark

    Dude, I could have been driving at twelve?  Whoa…

  • Justin

    Sounds like something from a Margaret Atwood novel.

  • http://johnm55.wordpress.com/ johnm55

    Important visitors to the Champagne region of France are usually given a bottle or magnum of the regions most famous product from the year of their birth. However if the year of their birth was a particularly poor vintage they are given a bottle from the year of their conception. So – if you were born in a year with a good vintage you were born when you were born, if it was a poor vintage you celebrate your conception.
    Hope that clears the issue up to the satisfaction of all Republican state legislators.  

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    I assume they fudge the rules for people born in the last 3 months of the year?

  • pharoute

    I vote for “year of the red bird” but that’s only valid for Omega IV

  • Anonymous

    I’m (unusually) not much of a fan of this post.

    I understand that it’s supposed to be a joke, but to me it’s highly reminiscent of conservative ‘blogs where they do a similar sort of thing — fixate on one small aspect of the position and exaggerate to it’s ‘logical conclusion’, and then laugh about how dumb the liberals all are and froth because they can’t see the insanity of their position.

    I don’t think personhood begins at conception, but i also don’t think it begins at birth.  And I don’t think Fred does either, he’s just pretending he does in order to make a sarcastic joke.

    Birth is a dramatic event, sure, and you do get treated differently afterwards.  Perhaps it’s the least arbitrary milestone, but it’s still a largely arbitrary milestone that we’ve used because we need legal specifics.  unless you’re born very premature, you could have been born the day before you actually were and in most cases this would make very little difference.

    And as the comments show, there are other ways of counting age, some of which guess at conception.

    someone who believes personhood begins at conception need not be troubled by any of this.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

     “I understand that it’s supposed to be a joke, but to me it’s highly
    reminiscent of conservative ‘blogs where they do a similar sort of thing
    — fixate on one small aspect of the position and exaggerate to it’s
    ‘logical conclusion’, and then laugh about how dumb the liberals all are
    and froth because they can’t see the insanity of their position.”

    This seems exactly right to me. I admit, I knew Fred in his pro-life days and find it hurtful to know that this is what he thinks of me and his then-comrades now. But it’s especially hard to take when the supposed criticism is so knee-jerk and poorly thought out. Like, really, you’re asserting your newfound superiority based on this kind of thinking?

  • Nathaniel

     If you don’t believe personhood begins the moment the dude ejaculates, then congrats, Fred isn’t talking about you.

    And I’d argue the Fred never stopped being Pro-life. He just thinking about the very much live women he used to be overlooking.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I don’t accept the premise that you have to decide to care only about one or the other.

  • Nathaniel

     Yeah, if you support banning abortion, you’re overlooking the health concerns and safety of women.

    Abortion has saved lives and kept entire families out of poverty. I have to hear a single “pro-lifer” explain to me how they’re going to mitigate these losses when we’re in Gilead and abortions are only done in back alleys. 

  • Lori

    Why do you assume Fred ever was overlooking women? That’s not the person I knew.

    Being anti-choice always involves overlooking women, whether you notice that or not.

  • JenL

    Are you in fact a supporter of these “Personhood” amendments?  Because if not, this wasn’t aimed at you. 

    If you are, and you think this is a knee-jerk, poorly thought-out response – aren’t those amendments poorly thought out? 

    What happens under those personhood amendments when a pregnant woman goes to claim the fetus as a tax exemption?  Drives in the carpool lane?  What about all those state laws that make it illegal to smoke with a child in the car?  Can a cop who pulls over a smoking woman question whether she might be pregnant – and if she denies it, but appears to have a bit of a baby bump, will pregnancy tests be called for? 

    What happens when the doctor says that one twin is dying, and unless aborted, will kill the other twin?  The dying twin still has a right to life and due process under a Personhood amendment, but the legal process of getting permission to save the other twin will take too long and both twins will die.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I do think the personhood amendments are poorly thought out, and that their authors haven’t really considered much beyond “abortion bad and this is anti-abortion!” Same for the mandatory ultrasound laws and a lot of other purportedly pro-life measures. So I don’t support them.

    I also think that the basic idea that human beings should be considered, well, human beings (as opposed to subhumans, or body parts, or “just tissue”, or whatever) from the biological beginning of their lives is not as obviously risible as Fred makes out. There are questions of balancing rights and interests that would take careful thought, and sadly that sort of careful thought doesn’t seem possible in our political climate. So, as I say, I don’t support the particular laws being put forth but concentrate on persuasion instead.

  • Lori

     

    I also think that the basic idea that human beings should be considered,
    well, human beings (as opposed to subhumans, or body parts, or “just
    tissue”, or whatever) from the biological beginning of their lives is
    not as obviously risible as Fred makes out.

    The point is that the biological beginning of a person’s life is nowhere near as clear a point as the anti-choice movement tries to make it out to be and laws that depend on saying that a person’s biological life begins at conception are all ill-thought out and can’t be anything other than ill-thought out.

    There are questions of
    balancing rights and interests that would take careful thought, and
    sadly that sort of careful thought doesn’t seem possible in our
    political climate.

    It isn’t balancing rights and interests when the same (supposed) party’s rights are deemed to always be more important. That’s what anti-choice legislation does. It says that the (fictional) rights of the fetus should always be deemed more important than the rights of the pregnant woman. Calling that balancing is at best disingenuous and that has nothing to do with the political climate.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    If I thought the legislation being proposed now was “balancing,” I probably wouldn’t have said what I said about it, now would I?

  • Lori

     

    If I thought the legislation being proposed now was “balancing,” I
    probably wouldn’t have said what I said about it, now would I? 

    If there was any way for any anti-choice legislation to actually be about “balancing” I wouldn’t have said what I said, now would I?

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    So the only situation in which there is balance is when one party has all the rights and the other is disposable? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  • Nathaniel

     The “other party” as you so put it does already get consideration in the law.

    Contrary to fantasies of anti-abortion activists, the law already completely bans abortions in the third trimester unless there is a compelling health reason. Like the death of the mother.

    In the second trimester, abortion is aslo heavily restricted in most states, often to once again, to the point where only compelling health reasons allow for the abortion. Or often in the case of rape or incest. These account for perhaps 1-2% of abortions

    Even the first trimester isn’t free of addendums and restrictions. This is the area that most varies by state, with some being relatively lax in their requirements, and states like Texas and Alabama requiring state sanctioned rape by ultrasound and compel doctors to make scientifically dubious claims and to make it as emotionally manipulative and torturous for the woman as possible.

    All in the name of “life.”

    All of this is easily discovered by being a reasonably informed person, or failing that, knowing how to use Google.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    What you say about the second trimester isn’t actually true, at least not for the first half of it, but I’ll refrain from being as nasty about it as you were.

    I don’t see balance as being “people who think only the women matters fight for one set of laws, people who think only the fetus matters fight for another set of laws, and sometimes one side wins and sometimes the other side does.” And this is exactly why I’m saying that we can’t come to a just set of laws in the current political climate. So instead, I work on persuading people and expanding access to contraception and making life better for women who carry their children to term and all that stuff that I know is right, no matter the state of the law.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

     That’s great, but ultimately abortion is either legal or it’s not. There’s really no position between the two. Your “balanced” position is just the pro-choice position. It certainly doesn’t address your “woman rights only/fetus rights only” dichotomy.

  • Ursula L

    It certainly doesn’t address your “woman rights only/fetus rights only” dichotomy. 

    What dichotomy?  Say we grant a fetus all the rights of any human being.

    What right does any human being have to use the body of another human being for their own medical benefit, against that person’s will?  

    None.

    Even with the case of parent and child, the medical need of a child for, say, a blood transfusion, doesn’t translate into the legal right to compel a parent to donate blood.  Even if it is a matter of life and death for a newborn baby.  

    And donating blood is just a pinprick, nowhere near as uncomfortable, invasive or dangerous as carrying a pregnancy to term.  

    No one who is anti-choice is actually concerned with giving fetus the same rights as any other human being.  Because if a fetus has the rights of any human being, than a woman can choose not to donate use of her uterus for the fetus’s survival, in the same way in which she can choose not to donate blood for transfusion for her child who has already been born.  

    They want to create a unique situation where pregnant women loose the right that everyone else has to choose whether or not to donate use of their body or part of their body for the medical benefit of others.  

    I donate blood regularly.  That is my  choice.  It is a choice I make freely, for the medical benefit of other human beings.  That doesn’t mean that I want laws to force me, or anyone else, to donate blood.  And it doesn’t mean that anyone, even someone I’m closely related to, can claim a right to use my blood, or my bone marrow, or a kidney, or a section of my liver, or my uterus, for their own benefit if I don’t want them to. 

  • Tonio

    The real dichotomy is between the woman’s autonomy and the government’s power. The latter can be misused not just to force women to carry pregnancies to term but also to force women to have abortions. It may be technically accurate to say that a woman has the right to make decisions for her body, but I state the principle the other way around as far as lawmaking is concerned –  the government doesn’t have the right to impose such decisions on the woman.

    I’ve been saying for a while that abortion cannot be dealt with a criminal justice issue, partly because it wrongly assumes that the real crime is that the women don’t want to be mothers. Anyone who is seriously and honesty interested in reducing abortions must address the reasons women choose abortion. This means giving women the tools and education so they conceive only when they choose to do so, and providing support for the women who do choose to give birth.

    I’m not exactly sure why so many people believe that sexual morality for women means no sex if there’s no intention of becoming a mother, and I doubt my theory about paternal privilege is completely sufficient to explain it. But this belief does much to explain why opponents assume that reducing abortions is a matter of getting the women to change their minds. Compulsory ultrasounds and waiting periods are patronizing and infantilizing, with the assumption that women don’t really know what’s involved. Opponents who push the former seem to believe that all women have mommy magic when it comes to babies. They apparently expect a Hollywood ending where the woman sees the ultrasound and breaks down in tears, confessing that she can’t go through with it. I’ve even heard the claim that anyone who wants to reduce abortions but not resort to such emotional manipulation is effectively pro-abortion. Even the opponents who don’t talk about the issue in slut-shaming terms seem to frame it in simplistic absolutes, thinking it’s all a matter of women making right or wrong choices with their pregnancies.

  • Nathaniel

     If you really want to expand access to contraception, you’re not going to need to talk to any pro-choicers. Its seems to be mostly self dubbed “pro-lifers” who think that making birth control as hard as possible to get is the way to go.

    BTW, some people smaller and meaner than I am might find it irritating how you purposely seem to avoid stating concrete policy positions, such as to what would constitute a “balance” in laws concerning abortion according to you.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    That’s because I’m not sure. Good thing you’re not so small and mean that you can’t accomodate some honest uncertainty about what the ideal policy should be without insinuating that it must be something sinister.

  • Nathaniel

     Well, while you’re deciding how much personal autonomy women can have before it makes you personally feel uncomfortable, I’ll continue to donate Planned Parenthood, thereby expanding access to contraception and making life better for women, and therefore anyone connected to them.

    Feel free to join in anytime you like if these things are important to you.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    But how will I find you through that cloud of smug?

  • Nathaniel

     Easy. Just donate to Planned Parenthood or a similar organization. Then you’ll be with me in the land of My Actions Correspond to My Stated Important Principles.

    Its a nice place.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I’m fine with my actions and principles, thanks anyway.

  • Nathaniel

     Wow. Do I feel foolish.

    Just clicked on the link to your blog. Lets just say faces met palms. And not due to any screw ups on your part.

    Its obvious that we’re mostly on the same side of this issue politically and  policy wise. And that you are doing good work on this.

    I apologize for my snideness. If its any defense, all the bad news lately has gotten me into a bit of a siege mentality when it comes to women’s health.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I appreciate it. And I do understand the siege mentality. I’m a family planning advocate (and user!), so I’m feeling it too. And having lots and lots of (as Toby Ziegler would put it) abrupt conversations with abortion opponents.

  • Lori

     

    So the only situation in which there is balance is when one party has
    all the rights and the other is disposable? I don’t think that word
    means what you think it means. 

    I am well aware of the meaning of the word balance, but I’m not the one advocating for it, you are. As I stated, legally
    imposed balance is not possible in a situation where one of the parties
    is definitely a person and the other is a projection of some people’s
    religious beliefs.

  • Kogo

    Then I don’t care about balance. In a contest between women and fetuses, there is no fucking contest you theocratic shithead: FETUSES AREN’T PEOPLE.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    “you theocratic shithead”

    All I can do is laugh.

  • Anonymous

     I share the sense of surprise at this post.  I take the point that it’s aimed at the supporters of Personhood Amendments — but nothing makes people feel more justified in their position than bad arguments against it.  If this was a joke, it wasn’t funny; if this was an argument, it was counter-productive.

  • Ursula L

    I understand that it’s supposed to be a joke, but to me it’s highly reminiscent of conservative ‘blogs where they do a similar sort of thing — fixate on one small aspect of the position and exaggerate to it’s ‘logical conclusion’, and then laugh about how dumb the liberals all are and froth because they can’t see the insanity of their position. 

    It’s worth distinguishing between being able to dismantle the arguments of your opponents only by reducing them to absurdity and focusing on nitpicking details, versus being able to make very strong arguments about all the ways in which your opponent is wrong and occasionally having a bit of fun with the absurd parts.  Knowing the total of Fred’s work, he’s definitely in the second category.  

    When you see people trying to make laws that will prevent you from getting necessary health care, you have to occasionally slip into humor or you’ll go mad with the outrage and fear that can build up.  

    For example, this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZK75pXLlbY 

    is in no way a full critique of the recent Republican moves to limit access to contraception, but it does make an important point about the contempt for women that’s inherent in making laws that limit access to health care, force delays in health care, mandated unnecessary medical procedures, allow employers to discriminate against employees who need certain types of health care.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    some of you remember J. For those who don’t, he’s an old troll from the pre-Patheos era. He’s an atheist, but he’s also a flaming douche-bag that tends to spout off incendiary and flee. Pay him no mind.
     

    Birth is a dramatic event, sure, and you do get treated differently afterwards. Perhaps it’s the least arbitrary milestone, but it’s still a largely arbitrary milestone that we’ve used because we need legal specifics.

    “largely arbitrary”? Prior to birth, you are unable to communicate with anyone except by kicking on the uterine wall. Prior to birth, all of your survival needs (oxygen, sustinence, nutrients) can only be provided by one specific person. In fact, every aspect of existence, every health need, even where you go are all under the exclusive and unalterable (to you) control of one specific person. No one else can “step in” for a pregnant mother; there is no “fetus transplant” option.
     
    After birth, it is entirely possible for you to live the rest of your life with no contact with that person ever again. You are never again exclusively dependant on any one single person in the same way.
     
    To say that this change is “largely arbitrary” is a more absurd characterization than anything Fred wrote. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s a hard life on the internet, I know :-]

    some of you remember J. For those who don’t, he’s an old
    troll from the pre-Patheos era. He’s an atheist, but he’s also a flaming
    douche-bag that tends to spout off incendiary and flee. Pay him no
    mind.

    Was this directed at me? If so, I don’t suppose it’d do any good to insist that I’m not J… whomever that may be.

    It’s largely arbitrary in the sense I mentioned earlier.  Firstly, we hang a lot of legal stuff off it, which is pretty arbitrary – we could do things differently, and other societies can and have done things differently.

    Secondly, you could have been born a day earlier.  I agree with all your points. I don’t think it makes any difference.

    Prior to birth, all of your survival needs (oxygen, sustinence, nutrients) can only be provided by one specific person.

    What is the sense of ‘can’ here? 

    A day earlier, unless you were born very prematurely, you didn’t need your mother to be providing these things, so in the usual counterfactual sense of ‘can’, most day-before-birth foetuses can survive without their mother.  

    Pro-lifers generally believe that prior to conception there’s pre-baby stuff floating around, and post conception there’s a baby, worthy of all the moral consideration of a newborn, if not a six-year-old. 

    Do you think that anything of that level of importance hangs off birth? For example, is a foetus the day before birth just an object?

  • P J Evans

    Pro-lifers seem to be remarkably ignorant about conception, pregnancy, and birth.

  • lurking…

    Pro-lifers generally believe that prior to conception there’s pre-baby stuff floating around, and post conception there’s a baby, worthy of all the moral consideration of a newborn, if not a six-year-old.  

    Yeah, notice that the uterus-owner isn’t even worth mentioning.

  • Anonymous

    P J Evans spaketh thus:

    Pro-lifers seem to be remarkably ignorant about conception, pregnancy, and birth.

     True.

    And lurking said:

    Yeah, notice that the uterus-owner isn’t even worth mentioning.

    Yes, there’s a lot that goes completely unmentioned by the standard pro-life position.  My sympathy only goes so far.

    There’s all sorts of problems with the usual pro-life position, and I’m sure you don’t need me to reiterate them.

    In the context of Fred’s post, my contention is only that the already almost completely arbitrary structure we have around birthdays (leaving aside birth, I’m sure we can agree that people don’t get magically more mature and competent the moment they hit 21 or whatever) is not a problem for the pro-life position (and that pretending it is basically lowers one to a level normally practiced by those other people).

    I would have some respect for a pro-lifer who recognised that the mother also has rights that are being infringed, and maybe proposed some way of mitigating this infringement of rights, who didn’t try to insist that pregnant women wanting abortions are all irresponsible murderous libertines, and that believing in the sanctity of human life also commits them to ensuring top-notch post-natal care and ongoing support for the child, and admit that the pro-choice crowd actually has a point or two.  

    Some of them probably do do this, but it doesn’t seem typical.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Fred, I think that you may be overthinking the personhood laws, which, unfortunately, is the result of those proposing them underthinking them, or else they would have realized how much of a legal, logistical, and ethical mess they would make. 

    Unfortunately, this is the result of a social group who thinks that “sending a message” is more important than finding a solution, even if the act of sending that message creates more problems than it solves.  Let us hope none of them ever become diplomats. 

    Sending a message can be an effective part of finding a solution in many cases (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an example of this,) but they have conflated the message with the solution itself. 

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    The lack of a year zero is actually based on fairly solid grounds such that we’d do the same today.  Plus, I’m told that the guy who did the calendar was familiar with the concept of zero (though not under the name “zero”) and made use of it in some of his other work.

    The reason that there isn’t a year zero is 1 AD is supposed to be the first year with a Jesus in it, the year 1 BC is supposed to be the last year without a Jesus in it.  The year 2 AD is supposed to be the second year with a Jesus in it.  The year 2 BC is supposed to be the second to last year without a Jesus in it.  So on, so forth.  And because there is no year zero, it all lines up.  The 227th to last year before Jesus would be 227 BC, the 227th year of Jesushood would be 227 AD.  It allows for simple clean intuitive numbering.  If there were a year zero then for either AD or BC instead of X=X it would the case that X = X-1 and that would be annoying as all hell.

    (Of course it still doesn’t work that cleanly because last I heard we can be almost absolutely sure that if Jesus did exist he was not born in 1 AD.)

    I do wonder if Randy could be right about a similar thing happening with the people starting counting at one.  The first year of your life is the year when you’re zero years old, after all.

    If you count what year you’re in (as the calendar does) you have to start at one.  If you count the last completed year, as we do with ages, you have to start at zero.

    I wonder somewhat about the implications of the different ways of looking at things.

    We use both.

    When it comes to time of day we use the “last completed” method.  If the clock says 1 that doesn’t mean you’re in the first hour, it means that the first hour is over.  1 has been passed.  The same for minutes and seconds. 01:01:01 means that the first hour is over, the first minute after that has likewise ended, and the first second after that has ended as well.

    When it comes to the years, months, and days we use the “what [thingy] am I in?” method.  1-1-2012 means January first in the two thousand twelfth year of the calendar because it means within the first day within the first month within the two thousand twelfth year.  Instead of adding the smaller units to the larger one, we use the the smaller units to locate ourselves within the larger ones.

    To contrast the two things, 1-1-2012 emphatically does not mean that the most recent year completed is 2012, the most recent month completed was the first, and the most recent day completed was the first, if that were the case then 1-1-2012 would mean February second in the two thousand thirteenth year of the calendar.

    The way we look at people’s ages is definitely in the model of how we look at time of day, and I wonder why that is.  It’s not as if we couldn’t answer the question of how old people are by saying what year they’re in rather than what year they’ve completed.  It definitely places more emphasis on the birthday than the entire rest of the year.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    Astronomers, for convenience, use a system in which there is a year 0 and years before that are given negative numbers.  So the year 0 is 1 BC, and for negative numbers, -n corresponds to (n+1) BC.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    This I know, but they’re doing things in a different context.  So far as I know, they don’t think of it as the 0th year before the Common Era (or whatever term they use to replace AD) because “The 0th year before [whatever]” has no meaning.

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    The Korean students studying in our lab have talked about how their “American age” and “Korean age” are different because in Korea, they’re considered 1 when they’re born.

  • gocart mozart

    Because determing time of conception is not an exact science, our “Personhood-Day” parties will be celebrted on something like mid-March give or take a few weeks.  Good Mom’s of course, can always keep an accurate log of their sexytimes to clear up some of the ambiguities.

  • http://bluehighwind.blogspot.com/ BlueHighwind

    In East Asia, they use a different system of age reckoning than your birthday, or at least used to.  Its still practiced in some places, mainly Korea.  Basically when you’re born, you’re automatically 1, and then when the New Year of the Lunar calendar passes, you turn 2.  So no matter what day you were born, at New Year’s you’re now a year older.

    Still, at a fundamental level, even they count your existence as beginning with birth.  And they do recognize anniversaries of the day of your birth, so they don’t discount that idea entirely.  For example, when a baby is a year old, they’ll have a celebration.

  • Lizzy L

    *waves at Fred* June 8th? Me, too.

    No, I got nothing else.

  • J_

    This is all your fault, religious people. No, I don’t care about how liberal you are or how ‘your god is so sad about this’:

    http://www.texasobserver.org/cover-story/the-right-not-to-know

    By promulgating the ridiculous belief that gods exist YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERY BIT OF THIS.

    Fuck you. FUCK YOU. Fuck. You. And fuck your ‘savior’. Be nice if your ‘savior’ ever actually showed up to save someone, wouldn’t it?

  • Nathaniel

      Think about it this way.

    Suppose you are right. 100%, completely right.

    Just how many flies do you think you’re going to catch with that vinegar?

  • Anonymous

    By promulgating the ridiculous belief that gods exist YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERY BIT OF THIS.

    Oh, Jesus Christ. Could you tone it down a bit? You’re kind of making the rest of us atheists look bad.

    Incidentally, I think there’s a Biblical story that’s related to your current viewpoint.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Yeah. Never heard of atheists being misogynistic asshats. Unless there’s an elevator involved.

  • arghous

    Yeah, Christmas moved to March 25, give or take, depending on whether the Holy Spirit had to dink around looking for the fallopian tube.  Aw, hell, just have it on March 21, the Spring Equinox and coopt Ostara.  Maybe merge Christmas and Easter!  What a savings, and Handel’s Messiah will fit better!  People can run around in jumpers with knitted representations of Easter bunnies on them.  Shopping will be *so* much easier.  We won’t have to start with Christmas music until after President’s day (thank the goddess!).  We’ll be able to sing “Frosty the Slush Pile” then with gusto as we break out the Easter Eggnog.  I’m all for it.

  • Mary Kaye

    “When does human life begin?” is one of those questions that sounds profound but is, in my view, meaningless.  An unfertilized egg is a living cell with some chromosomes.  A fertilized egg is a living cell with more chromosomes.  Many cell divisions later you have something that may survive outside the womb, if all goes well. The idea that there is a hard dividing line with “human life” on one side and “no human life” on the other is a symptom of the human need to categorize.  Drawing the line at birth has the bizarre implication that we can person-ify something with a scalpel–pre-Caesarian it’s not a person, post it is, and within a fairly wide range we can choose when to do the operation.

    “When does life begin?” is therefore NOT where I would choose to center the fight over abortion.  As a geneticist, I draw the line at fertilization because that’s when the genetic dice have conclusively been rolled.  But this doesn’t impact my view on abortion, which is that it’s not just to force one person to give up her bodily autonomy in order for another person to survive.  And that is where I would make my stand.  Arguing about when life begins–an argument that can never by any means be settled, because it is not about observable things that exist in the world, but about definitions and perhaps about metaphysics–strikes me as a dangerous distraction.

    I don’t like this post either.

  • Anonymous

     

    “When does life begin?” is therefore NOT where I would choose to center
    the fight over abortion.  As a geneticist, I draw the line at
    fertilization because that’s when the genetic dice have conclusively
    been rolled.

    That’s not entirely true because a fertilized egg may or may not turn into twins.  Until we determine what causes twinning and if it is in fact determined when sperm meets egg, we can’t really say that the dice have been conclusively rolled when such a big change may or may not still happen.

  • Anonymous

    You’re all missing and even bigger issue.  Which part of conception do we count as when life begins?  Conception takes place over several days, and not just because of sperm hanging around in there.  There are two distinct phases, when the sperm fertilizes the egg, and later when the fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining after having started dividing.

    If we count implantation as the true conception, then we can rely on many of the methods suggested here.

    However, if we count fertilization as the true conception, then we have big problems.  Fertilized eggs that have been stored for years before use in IVF will be legal adults very early.  It might even mean that the person is of drinking age while still in the mother’s womb.  If the pregnancy police shamed a pregnant woman for drinking alcohol, couldn’t she just claim that her fetus was already of the legal drinking age?

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    Having watched the debate for a while, I’m pretty sure many of the people claiming that personhood begins at conception go even earlier, and define “conception” not as when the sperm goes into the egg, but as when the sperm goes into the woman.  (They possibly may not understand that these events can be separated by a day or more.)  That’s why it’s obvious to them that birth-control pills cause abortion.

  • Anonymous

    I think that some cultures starting at one just means that they’re on their first year.  I play a game where you can “ascend” and re-play the game and one thing a lot of people do is try to do it as fast as possible.  So I was looking at my profile and couldn’t figure out if Day 5 meant I was on the fifth day or if 5 days had already passed.  And someone explained it to me in a clear way that I will never forget: I start on Day 1.  So I don’t think the East Asian custom is about counting pregnancy; it’s more about starting in the first year.  It means you’re on the first year, not that the first year has already passed.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    Anyway, I also think that the argument from the abolition of birthdays is kind of weak.  But, nevertheless, there would be many very strange consequences of declaring personhood as beginning at conception, most stemming from the fact that conception is something inherently difficult to observe and usually impossible to time precisely.

    For one thing, the majority of fertilized eggs either never implant or abort spontaneously soon after implantation, which would imply that something like 75% of the human beings who have existed throughout history were short-lived, single-celled organisms, and the overwhelmingly most common cause of death in humans is natural failure to implant in the uterine wall.

    To treat that event as equivalent to the death of a baby would presumably be to invite aggressive high-tech interventions to make sure as many zygotes survive as possible–or, failing that, to require mass sterilization to keep the death rate as low as possible by preventing conception in the first place.  (Amanda Marcotte pointed out years ago that, even if Plan B were to occasionally prevent a zygote from implanting, it would probably prevent many more zygote deaths just by preventing ovulation.)

    While you never know, I’m pretty sure the people pushing personhood amendments wouldn’t pursue such interventions, which suggests they haven’t really thought these things through very well.

    One possible religious out is to say that the zygotes that do naturally implant are the ones that were intended by God to implant, and are therefore people, whereas the ones that don’t are the ones that were never people in the first place.  But that just pushes embryonic personhood even further into the realm of undetectability, because it would depend crucially on events that haven’t even taken place yet when it begins (not to mention theological distinctions that aren’t constitutionally a matter for law).

  • Nathaniel

     I actually used that argument once. The answer I got was that the women didn’t do it, so therefore it isn’t a tragedy.

    Yup, so long as the woman didn’t intentionally end the precious fetus baby’s life it doesn’t count.

  • Lori

    Yup, so long as the woman didn’t intentionally end the precious fetus baby’s life it doesn’t count. 

    By that logic death (post-birth) is only tragic if the person was murdered and we should just shrug off any death that results from illness or accident. 

  • Nathaniel

     To be fair, they didn’t explicitly say that it wasn’t a tragedy, but it was clear that whether or not they cared to admit it, they did not consider a miscarried single cell blastocyst to be on the same level as a real person.

    Which logically leads to your point.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    .. Though technically, all time is more or less an arbitrary figure measured only by relative values. Imagine if there really was intelligent life on Mars. Imagine explaining how old you were to a Martian. Or a Jupiterian. :p

  • friendly reader

     

    Or a Jupiterian. :p

    The word you are looking for is “Jovian.”

    I’m 14.47 in Martian years and about 2.3 Jovian years old. (Find your age in days, then divide by 686.971 and 4,332.59 respectively)

  • Base Delta Zero

    .. Though technically, all time is more or less an arbitrary figure measured only by relative values. Imagine if there really was intelligent life on Mars. Imagine explaining how old you were to a Martian. Or a Jupiterian. :p

    Unless they’re exceptionally dim aliens, I don’t think they’d have a problem understanding the concept.  Sure, the use of the year as our unit is arbitrary, but the unit itself is dependent on Earth’s orbital period, and they could understand it.  Especially since you *can* measure the length of Earth’s orbit from Mars/Jupiter.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I’ve been wanting to say for a while, and it’s never seemed like quite the right time. My son likes to grab things this week. He couldn’t do that before. Last week, he rolled from his belly to his back. The week before that he developed a favorite song. Three weeks ago, he didn’t have that capacity. A few weeks before that, he learned how to play Peek-a-boo. Before that, it didn’t occur to him that it was funny when mommy and daddy would disappear and then reappear; it was just how the world worked.  Not long before that, he started expressing genuine emotions; smiling when he was happy, pouting when he was sad.

    My little boy is becoming a person. I’m watching it happen. A little bit every day. Today he is a bit more of a person than he was yesterday, and he’ll be more still tomorrow.

    He struggles with it. Sometimes he he gets frustrated. One day last week, he really wanted to hold his bottle all by himself and guide it into his mouth. But he couldn’t work out how to get the nipple past his hand and into his mouth. Later, since he was interested in doing things with his hands, I put his little fabric-covered toy piano in front of him and let him smack at it. And he very clearly got the general concept of what he wanted to do, but he could only manage to get enough force behind his swats on the keys to trigger the sounds about one time in five. His little face started to screw up with frustration as he couldn’t make the music play even though he wanted to (Eventually, Daddy helped a little).

    My son’s personhood is a process. It’s something he works at. It’s hard work. And I find it a little insulting to his efforts to say that personhood is something that was magically conferred upon him all at once nine months before he was born.

  • Nathaniel

     To sorts of people you’re referring to, Terri Schiavo in all her vegetable glory was a person. Apparently being a person requires nothing more than a body.

    Or a body sans brain for Ms. Schiavo. The perfect woman I imagine for many of these folk. 

  • Rilian

    I’d like to celebrate approximate-conception-day.  I’ve thought that if I had twins, then I’d celebrate one of them on approximate-conception-day and the other on birth-day, so that they each get their own day.  Ummm triplets ummm idk.

  • Meggie

    So, life begins at conception, whenever we decide “conception” actually is…

    Several of my friends have conceived their first child while on their honeymoons; Bali, Fiji, New Zealand, etc. Will they need to apply for Australian residence/citizenship? Maybe their own special little fetus passport to get into the country in the first place? Lol :)

  • Rilian

    Well, if someone is *born* while their mom is on vacation, they’re still considered to be a citizen of wherever their mom is a citizen of.  So I don’t think where you’re conceived would matter either.

  • Lori

    No one who is anti-choice is actually concerned with giving fetus the
    same rights as any other human being.  Because if a fetus has the rights
    of any human being, than a woman can choose not to donate use of her
    uterus for the fetus’s survival, in the same way in which she can choose
    not to donate blood for transfusion for her child who has already been
    born. 

    This is the thing I wish I has said before I logged off last night. It really can’t be said enough.

    So the only situation in which there is balance is when one party has all the rights and the other is disposable?

    This way of framing the issue is limited only to pregnant women and fetuses and dishonest WRT to how we deal with the issue of bodily integrity. It creates a supposedly unique situation in order to justify taking away the bodily integrity of pregnant women while preserving bodily integrity for everyone else. It uses manipulative language to obscure the incoherence of the anti-choice position.

    The usual response given by anti-choicers is that the fetus is a special case because it’s “innocent”, but that doesn’t work either. This is where the lack argument about a lack of clear distinction between just-before-birth and just-after-birth cuts both ways. A fetus is not in any meaningful way more innocent than a newborn. We don’t use state power to force parents to give up their bodily integrity to preserve the life of their newborn. Not even if it’s the parents’ fault that the newborn is dying. Not even if we think the parents need to be taught a lesson. 

    There are some very obvious reasons why anti-choicers want to “balance” the “rights” of the fetus against the rights of the pregnant woman in a completely different way than we balance rights between any two other people. Those reasons are not pro-women and they’re not flattering to anti-choicers.

  • Tonio

    My interpretation of Fred’s post is this – there’s no way to legally define “personhood” or “when life begins” with any sufficient rigor or preciseness, and that’s a major reason why abortion should not be a criminal justice issue. Is it a slippery slope argument to suggest that under such laws, women could be criminally liable for smoking during pregnancy?

  • Ursula L

    Is it a slippery slope argument to suggest that under such laws, women could be criminally liable for smoking during pregnancy?

    If it’s a slippery slope, we’ve slid halfway down it.  Women are already being imprisoned for “endangering the life of a child” for using drugs during pregnancy. 
    One woman was charged with murder, when she attempted suicide while pregnant – friends got her to the hospital after she drank rat poison, she gave birth, and her baby died a few days later.  http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/03/21/woman-tried-commit-suicide-charged-feticide

    Another woman found herself in prison after she fell down the stairs while pregnant – that, plus some conversations about how she wasn’t sure about going through with her third pregnancy, while in the middle of a divorce and with two children she was already raising with little help.  The charges were eventually dropped, but she still had to suffer through arrest, being jailed, and investigation.  http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/02/15/pregnant-dont-fall-down-stairs

  • Tonio

     Now here’s the real slippery slope argument…when I hear stories like that, I imagine pregnant women being forcibly confined during their pregnancies with no sharp objects at their disposal*, as if they would abort at the first opportunity. Granted, I’m not accusing the jurisdictions above of actually favoring or considering that – I suspect those are simply attempts at grandstanding for votes. Still, the effect is chilling for women’s freedom and autonomy.

    *Could I be half-remembering some piece of historical fiction where the evil lord keeps the pregnant heroine confined because she carries his last biological heir?

  • Ursula L

    Tonio, here’s another one pointing to us being halfway down the slippery slope.  

    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/03/21/new-hampshire-decides-maybe-refusing-to-providing-medically-inaccurate-informatio 

    The New Hampshire legislature is currently debating whether it should be a felony if a doctor won’t lie to their patient, or merely that a refusal to lie to a patient should mean loosing your license to practice medicine.  

    I was quite pleased to see a doctor objecting to laws requiring unnecessary medical procedures over at Scalzi’s blog.  http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/03/20/guest-post-a-doctor-on-transvaginal-ultrasounds/

    But I’m both horrified and amazed that the AMA and other professional medical associations aren’t up in arms about the various anti-choice laws that interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, and that require doctors to lie to patients, or which protect doctors who lie to patients, or which mandate unnecessary treatments, or interfere with and unnecessarily delay treatment. 

    Even if they don’t care about women’s rights, you’d think that the AMA would care about a doctor’s right to practice medicine honestly and to the highest medical standard.  

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    [quote]They apparently expect a Hollywood ending where the woman sees the ultrasound and breaks down in tears, confessing that she can’t go through with it. [/quote]

    Over on Joshreads.com, the comics snark page, a popular target is the current Apartment 3-G storyline where a pregnant woman has made it perfectly clear that the only person who wants the baby is her husband and she can’t wait for it to be born so she can hand it off to him. Meanwhile other characters – even Margo, who’d probably recoil in horror if someone handed her a baby, and who’s bio mother didn’t want her either – are all repeating the trite “oh, when it’s born the hormones will kick in and she’ll love it”. As several commenters pointed out, what about post-partum depression hormones which hit even the mothers who desperately wanted the child?

    If Doonesbury is too offensive for the funny pages, how come this isn’t?

  • jude

    I have to quibble with your reasoning. Personhood-from-conception wouldn’t have any impact at all on birthdays or age reckoning. Fetuses would have, as they do now, gestational age, and babies would still have a day on which they are born. Assigning legal personhood to zygotes, embryos and fetuses doesn’t actually afford them any legal rights except the right to life. The problem, of course, is that a fetus is not a legal person, and even if it was, its personhood would be subsumed by the personhood of the woman carrying it.