Abortion debate: response to Timothy Dalrymple.

Timothy Dalryple, fellow blogger here at Patheos, wrote a post titled “I Am a Hate-Filled Christian.”  I hated it.  I thought it was awful and without empathy for a lot of people.  I took one paragraph out of it that dealt with abortion and and rebutted it (Christina took care of his anti-homosexual bits).

Now he’s written back, and since Patheos is all about the conversation I’d be remiss as one of their bloggers if I were to let it slide.

First of all, let me say that I, in contrast to Eberhard, do not find many of the opinions expressed at Patheos “bewildering.”  If a belief held by many people seems “bewildering” then it’s likely you simply haven’t understood the issue well enough to place yourself in the shoes of those who believe it.

This is simply untrue.  For instance, the belief that someone rose from the dead in the first century is held by many people.  It’s bewildering.  I do not judge how bewildering an idea is based on the number of people who believe it, but on lousiness of their reasons or the lack of any evidence.  And, let’s face it, the evidence that someone rose from the dead back then is either nonexistent or terrible, especially when you compare it to the galaxy of evidence to support the fact that people do not rise from the dead.  It’s not that I do not understand the ins and outs of Christianity.  In fact, that so many people believe a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead is even more bewildering to me now than when I had a relatively smaller understanding of the faith.

Ridiculous beliefs can be held by lots of people.  Don’t point to the people, show me the evidence.

And, what’s more, if you’re going to say I don’t understand the issues, just say it.  Ditch this passive-aggressive stuff as though it somehow makes you the “nice” half of the debate.

And regrettably, Eberhard makes clear that he has not done a whole lot to understand the perspective of a Christian pro-lifer.

mmmMMMmmm…posturing.  I understand their general position, I just think it’s bankrupt.

We do not use the word “exterminated” when referring to the destruction of dandelions.  True.  We do use the word “exterminated” when referring to the destruction of insects, rodents, and higher life forms.  Is Eberhard suggesting that the destruction of 1000 third-trimester babies/fetuses is not deserving of the word “exterminated,” and by implication less significant than the destruction of 1000 ants?  How far is Mr Eberhard willing to go?

Here Dalrymple shifts the goalposts.  In his original post he said…

I hate that unborn children are exterminated before they have had a chance to enjoy the gift of life.

It was to that point I had responded.  Unless by “unborn children” Dalrymple meant only fetuses rather than zygotes (he distinguishes between the two in his own post), then he wasn’t talking about 1000 third-trimester fetuses; he was talking about all aborted zygotes, blastocysts, and fetuses.

That’s why, to make the point as basically as possible, I even specifically used the term “zygote.”  I said…

My position is that the destruction of a zygote is little more worrisome that the destruction of a dandelion.

I was talking about zygotes, not fetuses, so it’s bizarre that Dalrymple now asks if I think fetuses can be exterminated.

Remember, I’m the one saying that the value of life (human or not) exists on a sliding scale.  I have no problem saying that a fetus is more valuable than a zygote, and hence is a greater moral concern.  But for Dalrymple, he believes that a fetus is equivalent in personhood to the zygote (hell he thinks children are equal in personhood to the zygote), so if the life of a zygote is of approximate concern to the life of the dandelion, that would create problems for his position, not for mine.  That’s why I used “zygote” in that instance.

And yes, I think the word “exterminated” makes no sense in talking about zygotes, blastocysts, or fetuses under certain conditions (more on that in a moment).

In most cases, we’re not talking about a zygote.  And no one has suggested that you ought not abort simply because the embryo/fetus is “alive” (like a dandelion) but because it’s a living human person.

But Dalrymple did not make this distinction in his original argument.  He apparently expects me to be a mind-reader.  What I did was take Dalrymple’s post at face value when he said…

I hate that hundreds of millions of men and women, boys and girls are not alive today because of abortion worldwide, and the world has lost a treasure trove of creativity and joy and ingenuity.

It seemed that life was the important factor.  What is a well-intentioned atheist to do?

Tim asks…

If the destruction of a zygote is roughly the same as the destruction of a dandelion, what about the destruction of a fetus?

Fair question.  Would I say that killing a neurologically inactive zygote/blastocyst/fetus is less ethically problematic than killing a mouse?  Absolutely, in most cases.  A mouse can feel pain and actively does not want to die.  You cannot say the same for a fetus before it hits the fifth month when the cerebral cortex begins to develop and the fetus becomes neurologically active.  Can we be sure that this primitive state of the mind is when cognition begins?  No, but we can at least know the hardware is there, which is good enough for me.  This is probably why only 1.3% of abortions occur after this time, and those are almost always unusual circumstances (the baby is dead and cannot be prematurely delivered due to deformity or malfunctions of the womb or to save the mother’s life, etc.).

So, aside from exceptional circumstances like those listed above, I’d place the cutoff for elective abortions at 26 weeks.  Dalrymple is right that we must draw the line somewhere.  My argument is that his is far, far more arbitrary than mine.

Dalrymple tries to separate a fetus from a dandelion in terms of consciousness (and hence, in value) in the following way…

But neurological activity is detectable by about the sixth week, and may well exist (but not be detectable) earlier.

Of course, if the day-old zygote is just as much of a person as the sixth-week fetus, this distinction is moot.

Anyway, without a cerebral cortex these are just stimulus responses, like a plant growing towards the sun.  These responses in no way point to the ability of a fetus to conceive of existing or to feel pain.  In this, they are far more similar to dandelions or sperm than to you or I with our ability to feel pain, to value things, and to actively resist our own demise and to care one lick if we fail.

The differing values of “life” was the main point of my argument and Dalrymple never addressed it.

Why should the potential to suffer your own loss be the decisive criterion?

Well, it can’t be that something is alive, otherwise we’d never swat a fly.  Also, Dalrymple has already said that whether or not something is “alive” doesn’t enter into his argument.

It can’t be that something merely has human DNA, because we can keep someone alive on a pacemaker and a respirator indefinitely, even after the doctor has declared them dead due to the lack of electrical activity in their brain.  Another way we can determine that human DNA does not determine the value of a life is twins.  They have the same DNA, but if one of the twins grows up to be a serial killer and the other a doctor and you must choose which one lives, you’d pick the doctor.  It is the content of the mind, not the blueprints, that determine worth.  After all, if you had a “living” adult body without a brain, who would care if it were buried?

What else remains?  Is the ability to suffer your own loss the only criterion that can add value to a life?  No, but it’s a big one.  Were you in a burning building with a person unconscious from smoke inhalation and someone who has been in a coma for twenty years and could only carry one of them out, the choice is obvious.  One of those two has much more to lose.  I’m not saying that one has zero value, I’m just saying that the one who can consciously suffer their loss has more value (all other things being equal).

And I’m also saying that up to 20 weeks, the worth of a zygote/blastocyst/fetus has a worth far, far less than a human.

In his initial post Dalrymple made the argument from potential.

I hate that unborn children are exterminated before they have had a chance to enjoy the gift of life.  I hate that hundreds of millions of men and women, boys and girls are not alive today because of abortion worldwide, and the world has lost a treasure trove of creativity and joy and ingenuity.

Ignoring the fact that “unborn children” is a silly euphemism, there can be no doubt that the issue expressed here is that there are lots of potential children who never get to live.  I countered by saying that every sperm is a potential child (who doesn’t get to live unless you get it on), yet this doesn’t make Christians promiscuous (not to say that there aren’t promiscuous Christians, let me assure you that there are, just that worry over potential isn’t what makes them so).

Dalrymple responded…

…there is a key distinction between a sperm and a zygote.  A zygote, left to develop naturally, will tend to develop into a human being.  You can have a tank of millions of sperm, but without an egg not a single one will develop into a human being.  This is because — I hate to give a basic biology less here — the female contributes half the genetic endowment via the egg.  Only at fertilization (i.e., when there is a zygote) does the cell division process begin — and as early as eight cells, the cells begin to differentiate into the different parts of the body.  But more importantly, only at fertilization do you have, genetically, a human being.  (And by the way, it’s John Connor, to keep with the entertainment references.)

But why does the fact that this potential is in a different stage matter?  Why does it matter if the potential is split into two parts?  Is each pig not a potential pork chop even if it’s not lugging the oven around with them?  If lost potential elsewhere doesn’t bother us, why does it bother us if it would manifest if unchecked?  Dalrymple only points out that this potential is different, but he doesn’t say why that difference should matter.  Perhaps it could be argued that this increases the value of a zygote over a sperm, but even if I were to concede that point it does nothing to elevate the value of a zygote over that of an adult.

When he says “only at fertilization do you have, genetically, a human being,” Dalrymple has identified one way in which a zygote is similar to an adult human being: they have human DNA.  We’re to believe that this one similarity makes the zygote a person.

So now our chart looks like this:

If you believe that all it means to be a person is within our DNA, see the above example with twins.  Also, stop thinking so little of humanity.

Oh, and thanks for the correction on the spelling of John Connor’s name.  That was a faux paus on my part.  And by the way, Tim…

After I posted ‘I Am a Hate-Filled Christian,” Eberhart was kind enough to respond directly to the paragraph in that post in which I lamented certain facts regarding abortion and the abortion debate.

It’s “Eberhard.”  Not that I’d ordinarily be so pedantic, but you opened the door…

The idea that a fetus is closer in value to a person than to a mouse or a dandelion is just absurd.  What’s more, even the people who say otherwise don’t act that way.  Who has ever asked for a death certificate and a funeral/visitation for a miscarriage?  Meanwhile, I’ve known a couple people to bury pet mice.  And, if zygotes/blastocysts/fetuses are people, then miscarriage is a global health crisis, way worse than cancer and much more serious than the “people” lost to abortion.  Why are we not dumping billions of dollars into researching how to save these poor “people?”

This is because all of this is post hoc rationalization for the real reason most people want abortion to be illegal (and why they really believe a zygote is a person): religion.  It barely takes a developed cerebral cortex to see the correlation between religiosity in this country and being anti-abortion.  But the truth of Christianity is even harder to defend than the personhood of a zygote, so instead we get arguments like the potential argument, or the human DNA argument, or whatever the hell else.

So let’s get Dalrymple on record here.  Tim, do you think that life, all life, human or otherwise, differs in value on a sliding scale such that, say, a serial killer’s life is worth less than a newborn’s?  If you respond to no other argument in this post, make sure you respond to that one.  If you do believe that life differs in value, then we can start to talk about what gives value to life, rather than arguing over whether or not everything with a “human” DNA chain (biologists might wonder about just what that means) is of equal value.  If you don’t think the value of life differs, then you’re simply not being intellectually honest with me or yourself and this conversation might as well be dead.

I wrote that “I hate that women are sometimes misled into believing that abortion for the sake of convenience is okay,” and Eberhard took issue with the use of the word “convenience,” pointing out that “the average cost of raising a child today is almost $227,000.  At some point “convenience” becomes “life-destroying” and ought to outweigh interests of a clump of cells.  Well, I know few people (even the very poor ones) who view the decision to have a child as “life-destroying,” even when they did not think they can afford it.  (Doesn’t everyone think they can’t afford it?)  But more importantly, this is what’s known as a false dichotomy: either have an abortion, or pay the costs in full of raising a child.

Not the costs in full?  Just some costs?  Well, if that’s all the control you wish to exert over another human’s life…

But why?  Even if there are other, less life-destroying options, my point on convenience still holds.

I guess I can’t blame him, because it’s a really new-fangled concept, truly cutting edge.  But there’s this thing called…wait for it…adoption.  In fact, the mother could actually make money by carrying the child to term and then handing the baby over to another couple that is desperate to have a child.  I can give you some movie recommendations if you want to learn more about this adoption thing.  Or you can Google it.

Sure, adoption is grand.  But there are far more kids than willing parents and carrying a child to term is costly and painful.  Why should anyone be expected to do that for a child they don’t want?  Why should one woman have to suffer so someone else can have a kid when there are already more than enough to adopt?  What’s more, the capability of a society to keep population growth in check without abortion has proven to be non-existent.  A few countries exist where abortion is illegal and the product of much greater shame that what Christians have managed here in the states, and all of them have overcrowding problems along with all the economic, criminal, and political troubles that come with it.  This is especially clear when compared to countries where abortion is legal.

Unless Dalrymple can adequately defend the immorality of abortion, which is based on the notion that a zygote is a person of equal (or greater) value than a human adult/child, then he’s insisting we exacerbate a number of problems for no good reason.  Why on earth should we suffer those issues rather than removing neurologically inactive zygotes, blastocysts, fetuses when they’re unwanted?

But when you believe, as I do, that the life of a human child is at stake, then you want to protect that life.

But I don’t believe as you do.  Your position on the matter makes virtually no sense and has not been adequately defended.

The people getting abortions don’t believe as you do either.  Sure, some of them claim to, but like every other person who is anti-abortion, their actions say otherwise.

JT apparently believes we have to weigh the value of the fetus over against the value of the mother.

Yes!  Replace the word “apparently” with “obviously” and change “the value of the mother” to “the value of the mother’s well-being” and ol’ Tim has hit the nail right on the head.

Because apparently…help me out here…it’s the life of the mother or the life of the unborn child?

Wrong!  More equivocating.  I have made my position clear repeatedly that the value of a zygote/blastocyst/fetus before 26 weeks is worth less than the mother’s convenience (and/or suffering).  It’s worth less than a mouse at that point, since a mouse has far more in common with a human adult than a zygote/blastocyst/fetus (this includes most of its DNA).  What I have not said is that it’s the life of a fetus against the life of the mother (at least, not always).

The guy who called his blog “Philosophical Fragments” is building a strawman out of false dichotomies.

I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek, but the point is, the measurement here (at least in the vast majority of cases where the life of the mother is not threatened) is not simply between the unborn and the mother, but between the life of the unborn and the pregnancy of the mother.

Nobody ever said it was between the mother living and the fetus living.  Although, in cases where it is the life of the zygote/blastocyst/fetus or the life of the mother, you’d have to be a cold, cold person to think the mother should be the one to stop living.

No one is asking her to die for her child…

Nobody in this debate is saying that.  Not once.  I don’t know who Dalrymple is rebutting here, but it isn’t me.

Although, in the cases where the mother would die without an abortion, I wonder what Dalrymple would suggest should happen?  If he thinks that in those circumstances the mother should die, as many anti-abortion people do, then someone in the debate is asking this.  And, if Dalrymple believes abortion should be allowed in this case, wouldn’t that mean he can see the difference in value of human life?  If they’re both persons, what would account for that difference for Tim?

…or even to completely overturn her life for eighteen years — just to get the child to birth and give it up for adoption.

You’re just asking, no I’m sorry, you’re “just” demanding she overturn her life for at least nine months to bring a child painfully to term when she doesn’t want to.  That’s still shitty unless you can establish that the life of a tiny clump of cells is worth all that.  You’ve not done so.

Her life does not belong to you, Tim.  You don’t get to decide that people must endure that kind of pain for no good reason.  You don’t get to decide that someone does anything for no good reason, let alone suffer.  You want to frame this debate with you as the protector what’s good.  The irony is that I’m the one standing between you and the suffering of people you clearly care little about.  You certainly care less about those people than an unthinking wad of cells.  Even if it comes back that you do believe the value of life differs from one to the next, your standards for that value are completely fucked.

JT says something sensible when he writes: “You do not get to dictate what other people do with their bodies unless you’re protecting a conscious being from harm.”  Of course, a fetus is not necessarily “the mother’s body,” but let’s put that aside.

Being pedantic doesn’t rescue Dalrymple here.  The fetus is inside her body and she doesn’t want it there.  That’s like saying a stray cat should get to stay in your house against your will because it’s not a a piece of furniture.

Let’s put it this way: if someone believed that another person’s actions were going to take the life of an innocent human person, would that person not be morally allowed, even obligated, to intervene?

Yes, I would.  Of course, I don’t believe that’s what happens with abortions.  If you could come up with a good argument for why that’s the case, I’d change my mind faster than you could blink.

But you haven’t done that, and this goes to the core of what I said earlier about your actions telling me that you don’t believe it either.  You’re not doing everything you can.  If I thought there was a person going around Columbus killing hundreds of babies, if he had confessed to this, if there was video evidence of him doing it and the police were doing nothing, we would welcome the vigilante that ended that monster’s life.  I’d do it myself if nobody beat me to it, even though killing another person is against the law and even though my own morality would ordinarily compel me to guard the life of another person (indeed, it’s that compulsion that would move me to act, because it would be a binary situation where the life of the psychotic is worth much less than the lives of his victims).  Anybody with a brain capable of murdering children without blinking an eye is an alien to humanity.  Whoever stopped that person would be a hero in the eyes of the populace.

But when an anti-abortionist murders a doctor they are shunned, and even the anti-abortion crowd backs away from them (at least they do so publicly).  Why?  A person committing child genocide has just been stopped.  Another option to save an unborn life would be to women who are about to supposedly murder their child and wait eight months before taking her to the hospital.  Yes, you would go jail, but you would’ve saved a life.  Of course, if someone did this, they would undoubtedly be condemned as the villain by pro-choice and anti-abortion people alike (at least publicly) because nobody actually behaves like a fetus is a person.

The anti-abortion crowd isn’t doing everything they can.  They’re just making bad arguments and spreading misinformation.

Incidentally, it’s that same interest in stopping the suffering of those around me that moves me to protect unwilling or unready mothers from people like Timothy Dalrymple, who would have them suffer to cater to their religious whims.

So there’s really no reason for all the hysteria about the arrogance and misogyny of trying to control women.

Let’s not pretend that the history of Christianity isn’t swollen with attempts to control women.

What’s more, let’s not pretend like the goal changes the fact that anti-abortionists trying to control women.  They are.  In Dalrymple’s case it may not be because the church looks down on women, but they’re still trying to control them.

Christians absolutely ought to take better care of women who find themselves facing unwanted pregnancies — and in fact that’s one of the purposes of the network of crisis pregnancy centers Christians have founded.

If the outlook of those “crisis centers” is anything like what Dalrymple has demonstrated, it’s less about taking care of women and more about taking care of the collection of cells inside them, regardless of what the woman wants or how much she suffers.  When you tell me in one breath that you want to take care of a woman, but in the next you tell me she must endure a nine-month painful pregnancy so she can send that child to foster care, you’ve made it clear just how little “care” means to you.

I’m sure Christians can do more.

Please don’t.

But Christian pro-lifers genuinely believe that there are two people at issue in this equation

They’re wrong.  If you want me to adopt the belief that a zygote is a person then you must adequately defend it, not just assert it.

I wonder, however, how Eberhard knows that it’s only a “tiny minority” of cases where women are pressured into abortions.

What Tim said in his initial post was (bold mine):

I hate that women are sometimes pressured by men or by parents into abortions they mourn and regret

Which is why I said (bold mine):

I too hate that sometimes people are pressured into doing things they don’t want to do, but let’s not imagine that these are any more than a small minority of abortion cases.

And I can say that because of studies like this.

Two years postabortion, 301 (72%) of 418 women were satisfied with their decision; 306 (69%) of 441 said they would have the abortion again; 315 (72%) of 440 reported more benefit than harm from their abortion; and 308 (80%) of 386 were not depressed. Six (1%) of 442 reported posttraumatic stress disorder.

Maybe the argument from Dalrymple is that many women who get abortions are pressured to get one they don’t want and wind up not regretting it, but that makes very little sense.  Even if all the cases of regret, from mild to steep, were the result of someone getting pressured (which is insanely unlikely), it would still be a minority of cases.

I hate it when people get pressured to do things they don’t want to do (as if someone would need to get pressured to do what they wanted…).  Which is why the massive (and deceitful) campaigns by Christian groups to generate shame for every woman who gets an abortion bug me.  They’re pressuring women to endure a pregnancy and to deliver a baby when they don’t want to do it.  I wonder if Tim would call that “doing everything they can” instead of “pressure to do what they don’t want.”

What’s more, I’ll wager the shame campaigns by Christians has much, much more to do with causing regret in the minority of women who do regret their abortions than a normal facet of human psychology.  Most of the women who regret abortions already have issues with depression, which is undoubtedly aggravated by the culture of shame orchestrated by the people who are quick to assure me they “care for the women.”

Apparently (I’m just seeing this now) JT also posted some thoughts on my views on homosexuality, so I’ll respond to those next.  It will be fun.

Actually, that was Christina.  I know, I know, it’s on my blog and the hints are subtle.

1.  The first words in the post are “Christina here.”

2.  The author of the blog is “christinastephens.”

3.  It bears her picture.

But Dalrymple did say something right.  If he responds to Christina, it will be fun.  To keep with the entertainment references, “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.”

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Buzz Saw

    OK, I may only be half way through this behemoth of a post, but this part bothered me:

    A zygote, left to develop naturally, will tend to develop into a human being.

    Really, Tim? I think you’re forgetting something very critical to this equation…how about a woman’s womb?

    • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Buzz Saw

      I should perhaps clarify my point. Tim says:

      You can have a tank of millions of sperm, but without an egg not a single one will develop into a human being.

      My point is that, likewise, you can have a tank of millions of zygotes, but without a womb, not a single one will develop into a human being. Unless, of course, Tim does believe a zygote is a human being. But he must not, because then the statement “A zygote…will tend to develop into a human being” makes no sense if a zygote is already a human being.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd JT Eberhard

        That is a spectacular point. Can’t believe I missed it. Well met.

      • Amyc

        I was going to say this, and then you said it first. This is what we mean when we say that the pro-life movement erases the woman from the equation. It’s like having to solve a system of equations for x and y, where they erase the y, solve for x, and then claim victory.

        • Daniel Schealler

          And how do we erase the y?

          y = mx + c

          Solve for x where y = 0.

          (It’s amazing how far you can push some metaphors)

          • Amyc

            I’ve never had anyone take the metaphor that far. Thanks for the laugh. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/raethfall raethfall

    JT knocks another one out of the park!

  • http://talkorigins.org jatheist

    Damn that was awesome!

  • John

    Hey JT, good to see you feeling well enough to post.

    I jumped into that conversation in the comments of Dalryple’s post, mostly with Frank. The persistent avoidance of the separation between ‘alive’ and ‘a person’ was frustrating. It was like trying to grab a greased eel, blindfolded. And when Frank started to get all passive-aggressively condescending, I just couldn’t put up with it any more.

    I had done some research for some more questions to try and tease out what proponents of the person-from-conception position consider a person, though. I don’t know if they’ll be of use to you, but I thought they were interesting.

    Identical twins – one conception, two bodies. Is this one person or two? If two, when does the second person appear?

    Chimeric fetus formed by the fusion of two fraternal twins. Two conceptions, one body. One person or two? If one, when does the second person disappear? Is the surviving individual guilty of involuntary manslaughter, even though nobody has died? If two, do they get two votes when they grow up?

    Molar pregnancy. One conception, but normal development does not occur, so the cell mass just becomes a mole on the inside of the womb. Is this a person? If not, when does it stop being a person?

  • Azkyroth

    Jesus fuck. “Extermination” means “a concerted effort to kill all of something within a given context.” Abortion is removing a fetus from the body of a person who does not want it there.

    It’s a deeply fucking dishonest emotional appeal, nothing more.

    • baal

      All too often, women do want the fetus there and healthy. Sadly, the fetus could be lacking a brain or died from an infection or a developmental defect. The pregnancy can continue on in many cases when these tragedies occur. It’s safer for the mother to abort intentionally than wait potentially to the end of term.

  • Azkyroth

    Let’s put it this way: if someone believed that another person’s actions were going to take the life of an innocent human person, would that person not be morally allowed, even obligated, to intervene?

    Even granting that we are actually discussing a “person,” a person infringing another’s right to bodily autonomy is not “innocent.” Intentionality doesn’t matter either – otherwise it would be illegal to defend yourself against someone who’s, say, black-out intoxicated and violent.

    • Anat

      Anyway, since when do Christians believe anyone is innocent? Don’t they believe in Original Sin?

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    “But Christian pro-lifers genuinely believe that there are two people at issue in this equation”

    Bullshit. One thousand times bullshit. Christian pro-lifers think that there is only a fetus and the mother ends up erased from the equation. It doesn’t matter what she thinks or wants, just that the fetus is eventually born. At best they see a person and an incubator. But two people? What a joke.

    You know, there was a time when I would have assumed that people with a Patheos blog were probably used to answering the common questions that might come up about their worldview. Dalrymple seems to have just gotten better at avoiding having to answer those questions.

    • Azkyroth

      No, Christian anti-choicers believe that there is a dirty slut who needs to be punished for having sex by being forced to carry a pregnancy and give birth to a child she doesn’t want and either be saddled with it for 18 years or forced to give it up to never be adopted and languish in foster care forever, especially if it’s not both white and physically “perfect.”

      Can we pretty please stop buying into their dishonest framing?

      • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

        Excellent point. I’m very lucky that I can afford to forget about the very real possibility of slut shaming.

        And yes, this idea that somehow adoption is a magical solution is as intellectually bankrupt as conservative economic arguments: it presumes demand outstrips supply rather than the other way around. There aren’t nearly enough parents to adopt the kids there are today, and pretending that this is about anything other than controlling women’s sexuality by sentencing them or their offspring to an 18 year sentence for having sex does nobody any good and lends legitimacy to a morally repugnant belief system.

        • Azkyroth

          It’s not a “real possibility.” It’s their entire ACTUAL motivation. See here.

          • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

            While the result is the same, it is reductionist to say that it is the “entire” motivation. A lot of anti-choicers are really, honestly deluded into thinking that this is all about saving babies and never even consider the mother at all. This is just as bad, but it’s an entirely different mindset and one that takes different arguments to counter. See here.

          • Azkyroth

            No they’re not. See my link further down.

  • John Horstman

    So, aside from exceptional circumstances like those listed above, I’d place the cutoff for elective abortions at 20 weeks.

    JT, this denies women a right to bodily integrity by forcing some set of women who do not wish to be pregnant to continue to be life-support machinery for a developing fetus. I assert, as always, that ‘life’ of an embryo or fetus has exactly nothing to do with whether abortion should be legal, because it’s wrong to hijack someone’s body, even temporarily and even when someone’s life depends upon it, against hir will. “I don’t want to be pregnant” is all the reason that’s necessary for someone to elect to not be pregnant, irrespective of the context. I can entertain an argument that once a fetus is viable, the abortion should be carried out in such a way that the fetus can survive (making it a very-early-term delivery), but to deny women the right to dictate whether someone else can be inside their bodies is intrinsically misogynistic, as it posits them as less human than someone else, as having less of a right to determine what happens to their bodies than someone else. That is not okay, full stop.

    • Azkyroth

      Also, this.

      Besides, since it basically never happens electively, there’s no reason to even BOTHER outlawing it. If one has any respect for the intelligence and judgment of women and doctors at all, one can already trust that an abortion won’t be occurring at this stage of the pregnancy except for a very good reason.

  • invivoMark

    JT, I apologize, but I have to take issue with one of your points. The criterion, “suffers one’s own loss”, is a bad one.

    It’s bad in the sense that, once dead, the dead thing doesn’t care that it died. Because it’s dead. I don’t remember who said it, but to paraphrase, being dead didn’t bother me for the last 13.7 billion years, so why would it bother me now?

    You could say (and indeed, you do) that one shouldn’t kill something that doesn’t want to die, but again, that’s a bad criterion. “Want” is a vague term. A plant “wants” to not die, in that it pulls in nutrients and absorbs light in order to avoid dying. On the other hand, there are people who are comfortable with the fact that they will die some day and don’t particularly care when. In the infinite wisdom of Pink Floyd, “Any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it – you’ve got to go sometime.” Under your criterion, you face the unfortunate predicament of having no justification for not killing such a person – their life will be worth less than the life of an 8-month-old fetus, even if said person is a humanist and philanthropist.

    And it’s a bad criterion because people don’t even comprehend their own mortality until well after birth (and certainly not before birth, so you could never arrive at your 20-week limitation this way).

    But this is a small fly in some otherwise spectacular ointment. Dalrymple is slime, and it’s good to see him taken down so thoroughly. Bravo!

    • J*

      The quote is Mark Twain.

      “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

      • invivoMark

        That’s the one! Thanks!

  • John Horstman

    Although, in cases where it is the life of the zygote/blastocyst/fetus or the life of the mother, you’d have to be a cold, cold person to think the mother should be the one to stop living.

    This is never – this CANNOT ever be – the case. If a pregnant woman dies before the fetus growing in her can survive without growing in her, then the fetus dies too. In cases where pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, it also threatens the life of the fetus; the fetus dies either way, it’s just a question of whether a woman also dies. If the fetus CAN BE delivered with a chance to survive, than it can be delivered; the pregnancy is still aborted, and maybe the fetus lives or dies. All of these ‘arguments’ are simply derailing; they have nothing to do with the core issue.

    • iknklast

      Yes, and this makes it obvious that the issue is not life, but punishment for women. Punishment merely for the crime of being a woman. Because you can’t save the life of the fetus if the mother dies.

      • baal

        Genesis 3:16 gets cited from time to time by xtians for why women should be denied pain relief for birthing. God wants her to be in pain for Eve’s sin of eating the apple. Needless suffering being immoral is a point lost to them.

  • Randomfactor

    I hate that hundreds of millions of men and women, boys and girls are not alive today because of abortion worldwide,

    And hundreds of millions of OTHER men and women, boys and girls ARE alive today because of abortion worldwide. I am alive today because my mother had a miscarriage before I was conceived. And because there was nothing good on TV that night. Had either one been different, a different person would have been conceived and a different person raised. Hopefully better-looking.

    This argument is stupidly adapted (can I say “stupid” at Patheos?) by some as a racist “They are outbreeding us because of abortion” argument. It’s not true, because abortion generally does not lower the number of children a woman has. It does allow her to adjust the spacing, which is a GOOD thing for all concerned, and most especially for the child.

    Conception moves the sperm and the egg one step closer to BECOMING a human being eventually. But it’s nothing like a sure thing (even without abortion) and there’s intrinsically nothing better about THAT egg and THAT spermatazoon then the one next door.

  • eric

    Dalrymple:

    Let’s put it this way: if someone believed that another person’s actions were going to take the life of an innocent human person, would that person not be morally allowed, even obligated, to intervene?

    We don’t generally obligate people to intervene, unless we think they are complicit in the crime. Consider the recent Batman shooting (in the theater): did we charge the theater-goers who ran/hid with a crime because they could’ve instead tried to stop him from shooting other innocent people? No. Because we do not obligate people to intervene to save innocents.

    Organ donation is maybe a more standard comparison (to abortion and pregnancy). If you are dying of kidney failure and I have a healthy kidney I can spare, I am not legally obligated to give it to you. Even if the cost to me is very low (a couple of hours of surgery, plus recovery) compared to the benefit to you (life).

    Nor should a woman be legally obligated to let a zygote use her womb. Even if we, for sake of argument, consider the zygote to be an innocent human fully deserving of equal right under law, we would not put a body-use obligation on men or nonpregnant women to save it. So why should we put it on pregnant women?

    As long as Dalrymple does not accept that he has an obligation to donate organs to people who need them, he gives up the moral high ground in arguing that someone else must donate their body to a person ho needs it.

    • ButchKitties

      There is a legal precedence for this (the right to refuse organ donation) in McFall v Shimp.

      McFall was in need of a bone marrow transplant. Many of his family members volunteered to be tested for compatibility. Only one person, a cousin (Shimp), was a match. After this first round of testing, Shimp refused to go in for additional testing and subsequent donation. McFall sued to try to compel Shimp to donate. The courts sided with Shimp.

      From the judge’s decision:

      “For our law to compel the defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change the very concept and principle upon which our society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual, and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn. This request is not to be compared with an action at law for damages, but rather is an action in equity before a Chancellor, which, in the ultimate, if granted, would require the submission to the medical procedure. For a society, which respects the rights of one individual, to sink its teeth into the jugular vein or neck of one of its members and suck from it sustenance for another member, is revolting to our hard-wrought concept of jurisprudence. [Forcible] extraction of living body tissue causes revulsion to the judicial mind. Such would raise the specter of the swastika and the inquisition, reminiscent of the horrors this portends. ”

      It is worth noting that McFall only knew Shimp was a match because Shimp had volunteered for the first round of compatibility testing. The court decided that consenting to the test was not consent to the donation. I think this demolishes the notion that consent to sex is also consent to pregnancy.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Dalrymple said: “In fact, the mother could actually make money by carrying the child to term and then handing the baby over to another couple that is desperate to have a child.”

    Is he suggesting that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy could make money by selling the baby? If so that is quite illegal in the US and probably in many parts of the world. He could be talking about a woman being a surrogate mother for a couple, as they do get paid IIRC, but since that is an agreement made before the pregnancy happens that makes it a misleading claim.

    • Azkyroth

      Is he suggesting that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy could make money by selling the baby?

      It’s a pretty modest proposal, when you think about it.

      • Nate Frein

        This made my day. Thank you :3

      • Jeremy Shaffer

        I see what you did there. :)

  • John Eberhard

    Something I rarely see addressed is the very real potential of a pregnancy to end in the death of the woman. It is a fact that this sometimes happens due to complications or whatever. No matter how small the chances of that happening are, just who the HELL do these anti-choicers think they are to presume to make that possible life or death decision for every woman? What unforgivable hubris! It is a woman’s body and her life, and she should have the absolute authority to decide on what odds to gamble it.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    That expression “unborn child” makes me want to scream. Using it is a transparent attempt to slant the moral tone of the conversation, and to imply that embryos have human rights like living people (like “undead” people, I should say).

  • iknklast

    “We do not use the word “exterminated” when referring to the destruction of dandelions. True.”

    Hmmm…this seems to be insufficiently aware of the extermination business. Often this is indeed used by exterminators, who deal with dandelions as well as other things. (just being pedantic :-)

    One thing that often gets missed in these arguments is the societal implications of pregnancy. There are many girls who will lose everything – literally everything – if their parents find out they are pregnant. If their grandparents find out they’re pregnant. Maybe losing the love of a parent/grandparent might seem a small reason to get an abortion, and it would be easy to say that they aren’t worth it if you can lose their love that easily, but that’s just smug bs from someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.

    Unwed pregnancy is still a social stigma in many ways, and conservatives (Christian or otherwise) love to trot out statistics about the horrors of unwed pregnancy. Also, they claim that children of these pregnancies are less likely to have a decent life (it would be interesting to see if that is changing now that we don’t blame the baby for the sins of the father). And yet these women are being exhorted to carry the child to term. Perhaps these folks would like to start a marriage business to make sure they get properly married off?

  • Ibis3

    I only got this far and you may address this later on, but

    Dalrymple is right that we must draw the line somewhere.

    Dalrymple is not right.

    Who the hell is “we”? The only person who has a right to draw the line where she wants is the woman who is hosting the dependent organism. The one who is risking her health and her life. The one whose body is being used to create the new human. She wants to draw the line at “now there’s some hardware that might be able to support the cognitive level of a goldfish”? Fine. She wants to draw the line at “it’s God’s will that the condom broke last night so I can’t take Plan B”? Fine. She decides at Week 24 that bringing a child into the home with an abusive boyfriend would actually be a bad idea? Or that she’d rather abort the pregnancy so she can have chemo at week 30 and not take an even bigger risk of having a child with congenital defects? Fine. It’s her body, it’s her choice. It’s not yours or Timothy’s or my place to sit on a committee and judge if her reason is good enough or the foetus too developed for your comfort. Nor the foetus, nor the state, nor Timothy Dalrymple can force me to give up my right to security or bodily autonomy. Ever. When there’s an organism growing in your uterus, *that’s* when you get to have a say.

    • Acn

      Thank you Ibis. Well said.

    • Rory

      At the end of the day, this is the only answer that makes sense. It’s not my business–or anyone else’s–to tell a woman what she’s allowed to do with her body. If you don’t accord the fetus any moral status of its own, then there is nothing that justifies abrogating the woman’s autonomy.

  • Matthew

    Groan, this is a bit tired but you might as well ask him his views on In Vitro fertilization. Does Dalrymple hate that couples are “murdering” multiple children in order to get pregnant?

  • http://socialrants.tumblr.com/ SocialRants

    I really hate the “potential” argument that gets used so often. A zygote has the potential to become a child, so we should treat it that way? Well, ever single human alive on this planet has only 1 potential: to die. That’s it. No matter how, where, when, or why, the only potential state for all of us is death. So if I’m supposed to act according to potential, should I go dig a grave now and lie in it? But that’s my potential. That’s what I’ll become. I will become dead, so I should act that way now?

    What’s wrong with treating something as it is now, not what it will potentially be?

    • Ibis3

      That is such an awesome rebuttal to the “potentiality” argument. We are all, not merely *potential* dead persons (as foetuses are “potential live persons”), but *inevitable* dead persons. And we will eventually get that way without any necessary assistance from any one else (which is more than can be said for the potential livingness of foetuses). So shouldn’t we all be treated right now as *actual* dead persons, complete with death certificates, transfer of our estates to heirs, cancellation of all government licences and documents… Hell, isn’t a foetus an “inevitable dead person” too? So what’s the big deal?

      • Mitch

        Good arguments about potential, but if potential is the driving force, what about potential Hitlers, potential Mussolinis, potential Stalins, and potential Pol Pots? What about potential conservative religion hating liberal atheists? What if it becomes a liberal scientist who finally proves the non-existence of God? I rank potential as a reason to restrict abortion right up there with “Fine Tuning of the Universe” as a proof of God. It’s backwards thinking at it’s most silly.

  • J*

    Funny you posted this today (because ya know you’ve never ever posted about it before.) I took a day off work to go to the abortion clinic here in Little Rock and serve as an escort while “Operation Save America” stood on the sidewalk and harassed every patient at the clinic (and us). I’m all for standing up for what you believe in, even when I don’t agree with you, but not when you have to harass people to do it. Not when you have to kick people while they are down. And not when you have to lie! OMG Those people would say anything. It was…. oooff!

  • http://frog-monkey.blogspot.com.au/ Lucy Mayne

    I don’t want to pick holes in an otherwise excellent piece, but I hate to see a bad argument being used for a position I agree with.

    Sure, adoption is grand. But there are far more kids than willing parents…

    I think this piece of information may be disingenuous. The statistics you link to show that children under the age of 1 are adpoted incredibly quickly. On page 4, if I’m interpreting the stats correctly, it shows that 25% of children entering foster care waiting to be adopted are under the age of 1, yet they make up only 4% of children waiting to be adopted. I admit that I may not be interpreting the statistics correctly, it’s difficult to follow as not every child in foster care is up for adoption, nor is every child who will eventually be up for adoption up for adoption immediately upon being placed into foster care. However, prospective adoptive parents generally want as young a child as they can get, and many will wait years extra to get a baby rather than adoptiing an older child.

    None of this, of course, changes the fact that a woman should not be expected to carry a pregnancy to term so that someone else can have a child.

    • invivoMark

      It is a fine argument. You aren’t considering the number of children who would be up for adoption if abortion were stopped. There are around 100,000 adoptions per year in the US (link) vs. over 800,000 abortions per year (link).

      JT is absolutely correct in arguing that adoption is not a viable replacement for abortion. It isn’t even close.

      • http://frog-monkey.blogspot.com.au/ Lucy Mayne

        However, at present (at least in Australia, where I am from), the demand for adopted babies is significantly higher than supply. If fewer babies were aborted, more would be adopted. I’m not sure if the demand would stretch to cover all aborted babies, but it would certainly stretch to cover a lot more than present numbers.

        It also depends if you’re examining the issue from an individual perspective (“Should I carry my unwanted pregancy to term and give it up for adoption?”), in which case it is highly likely that a parent would be found (though that does not imply any moral obligation to continue the pregnancy), or from an overall perspective (“All women with unwanted pregnancies should carry it to term and give it up for adoption”), in which case there may be children for whom parents cannot be found.

    • Azkyroth

      For that matter, how do those numbers hold up for disabled and non-white babies?

  • Das Boese

    The funny thing is, for all of the stuff that Dalrymple “hates” about abortion, he’s is curiously abstaining from calling out the biggest perpetrator of abortions of all time… his god.

  • http://mrtact.com/blog Tim Keating

    Dalrymple: No one is asking her to die for her child…
    JT: Nobody in this debate is saying that.

    I feel it’s important to point out that there are plenty of anti-choicers that ARE saying that. The Catholic church, for example, has an official zer0-tolerance policy toward abortion… so much so they discredited that hospital in Arizona that performed an abortion to save the life of the mother.

    • Azkyroth

      Perhaps that’s what the qualifier “this debate” means?

  • Anat

    If you believe that all it means to be a person is within our DNA, see the above example with twins.

    And there are teratomas. And any kinds of human cancer. Each with its unique human DNA. In fact cells within a tumor are genetically diverse, so how many different ‘humans’ are killed when each is removed?

  • Sunny Day

    Re posting here something that another person said but can sum up my thoughts on abortion.

    1. Life began shortly after the earth cooled. It is continuous. Ova are alive. That doesn’t make them people.

    2. Aborting an embryo will be equivalent to killing a person when failing to build a house is equivalent to demolishing it. You don’t live in a blueprint, do you? Turning a blueprint into a house takes time, materials and work. So, too, turning a fertilized ovum into a full-term fetus, ready to be born.

    3. Abortion is “icky.” Abortion is regrettable. You think that it’s unethical. Other people do not. So let’s say that it’s debatable.

    4. If it’s debatable, or could be regretted, then the person most affected by the decision should be the one making it. Students should finish their education, but we don’t chain them to their desks. And we don’t say, “You failed physics so you’re condemned to being a janitor for the next ten years.”

    5. Unfortunately, a lot of the anti-choice rhetoric seems based in a desire to punish women. “She had sex so let her bear the consequences.” The intended consequences were fun, not child-rearing. That’s like saying that people fly airplanes in order to crash. Or banning skiers from medical care after a tumble because “they knew they were taking a risk.” It’s both small-minded and short-sighted. The person who is really punished by forcing an unwilling mother to give birth is the child.

    6. It is not a solution to say, “Women should have the baby and give it up for adoption.” Once again, you’re telling her what to do. And childbirth forms a connection mediated by hormones, that condemns a woman to search the crowd for the rest of her life, wondering if she is seeing her child.

    6b.Also, Having a baby is physically demanding and somewhat risky. The people who make much of the risks of abortion fail to mention that childbirth is 13 times more likely to kill you. Thus, four women who die of abortions represent fifty women who had abortions instead of dying in childbirth. Need I point out that, except for conscripting soldiers, we don’t force people to take risks against their will? That’s a strong ethical argument against denying women abortions because you think it’s unethical.

    7. As Gloria Steinem pointed out, the basis of the “abortion debate” is denying women the status of ethical beings and legal adults who can make up their own minds about important personal decisions.

    8. And, no, I’m not speaking up for “the child.” The man on the street has no right to use my body against my will. Neither does an embryo. Even if it were in there reading the New York Times and thinking about which bank to knock off first when it developed hands and feet. (The second qualifier reminds us that its much-touted “innocence” is the innocence of incapacity, not ethical choice.)

    9. The “special connection” between mother and zygote is physical dependency. You take that to mean that there should be an emotional connection as well. That’s an assumption on your part which assumes your conclusion: that she should want to keep it. Like the assumption that women are “more moral” than men, it imposes a different standard on women than on the rest of us and expects them to act in a less self-interested way. Then they get less praise for being unselfish and more condemnation for acting in their own interests.

    10. Finally, Since one can kill a deer or a lamb or a bat, all of which have more brain function and feeling than an embryo, the “it could turn into a person if you supply enough blood circulation, food, care, and pain” argument is, in my opinion, proxy for “But it has a soul! It’s people to God! You’re denying Him another worshiper!” Like “Allow academic freedom and let students question evolution,” it’s an argument that is, at bottom, religiously based. It assumes the presence of a deity and an immaterial, unprovable soul. Consequently, enshrining laws against abortion based on these assumptions is breaching the separation of Church and State that is mandated in the U.S. constitution. If you are in the U.S., that should mean something to you.

    10b. Opposition to abortion on the grounds that “This is a person” is also an artificial inflation of the value of an embryo. For a reality check, consider that families don’t mean an early miscarriage or late period (spontaneous abortion) as they would the death of a child or a baby or even a stillbirth or late miscarriage.

    • hotshoe

      “don’t mourn any early miscarriage”…

      I appreciate all your points, especially this:

      10. Finally, Since one can kill a deer or a lamb or a bat, all of which have more brain function and feeling than an embryo, the “it could turn into a person if you supply enough blood circulation, food, care, and pain” argument is, in my opinion, proxy for “But it has a soul! It’s people to God! You’re denying Him another worshiper!” Like “Allow academic freedom and let students question evolution,” it’s an argument that is, at bottom, religiously based. It assumes the presence of a deity and an immaterial, unprovable soul. Consequently, enshrining laws against abortion based on these assumptions is breaching the separation of Church and State that is mandated in the U.S. constitution. If you are in the U.S., that should mean something to you.

      Yes, I think most anti-abortion laws should be barred in the USA, constitutionally, based on the separation of church and state. They don’t have any evidence that the fetus has a “soul” but they want to force a woman to risk her own life and die for it. Literally, to die without a life-saving abortion is the fate of any unlucky woman under the typical anti-abortion laws they are attempting to pass nowadays, based solely on their idea that you aren’t allowed to deliberately kill one of god’s innocent souls. And that unconstitutionally – I think – tangles the government with imposing the preference of one particular form of religion upon every woman, regardless of her own religion (which might not have any claim of fetal ensoulment) or lack of religion.

      Roe v Wade tried to get out of that tangle in part by asserting the society could have a non-religious interest in the welfare of the fetus at some point. I don’t think they got that right, but I would at least be willing to settle for that as a compromise if smarmy assholes like Dalrymple, and all his christian evangelist ilk, were willing to settle for that themselves without constantly advocating for forced birth for all pregnant women.

  • Wallace Finch

    Excellent post, JT.
    I’ve engaged with a few anti-choicers online in an attempt to understand their views. What puzzles me most is the almost unanimous rejection of RU486 (morning-after pill), which PREVENTS conception, thereby avoiding the choice altogether, and definitely avoiding some abortions. The response is always about chastising women for their supposed sexual misconduct and irresponsibility, leaving out the obvious instances of rape, contraception malfunction, etc. Let’s suppose for a moment that we *are* talking about an irresponsible woman who had sex without birth control… they seem to be suggesting that she be forced into motherhood as a punishment, as though they’re rubbing their hands in the greedy anticipation of this slattern being forced to conform to behaviours that they’re more comfortable with (i.e., motherhood). That’s very telling to me… not one single anti-choice person has had any reason to abhor RU486 other than their slut-shaming, something akin to “we should ban rabies injections because if you were irresponsible enough to get yourself bitten then you deserve the consequences, and an antidote will just encourage more irresponsible behaviour.” You’d think that if their true motivations in the anti-choice movement were to prevent abortions, then they’d be encouraging women to keep a 6-pack of morning-after pills in the medicine cabinet just in case. There are even cases right now of rape victims being denied the morning-after pill because some idiot has a religious objection to it.

    Giving rights to a clump of dividing cells degrades women to the status of forced incubators, further degrading our dignity by appointing others who will second-guess our decisions about our bodies as these outsiders assign themselves to be the spokesperson for those cells. To what end? How many will be charged with murder after a miscarriage? Will a “pregnancy probation officer” be appointed to each one of us to monitor our food intake, exercise, and stress levels? If we work through our pregnancy and have a miscarriage will we be charged with murder for exposing the developing cells to stress and undue risk during the commute? Will smokers go to jail if they miscarry? In what fresh hell does this slope end?

  • Michael

    “But neurological activity is detectable by about the sixth week, and may well exist (but not be detectable) earlier.”

    In response to this, I would like to point out the recent Ig Nobel award given to scientists who demonstrated that powerful enough machinery could show neurological activity in a dead fish.

  • Pingback: Test of fire? Test of my gag reflex.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    I actually just came across this, JT. I’m sorry I don’t have time to read the whole thing, but I do want to respond to the “bewildering” issue.

    If my students at Harvard found any religious belief “bewildering,” then I was not doing my job. Part of my job was to make the unfamiliar familiar, to to make what seems bizarre and inexplicable understandable. The point is not to say, “Hey, look, lots of people believe this.” The point is that a great many very intelligent people do believe it, they do find it explicable, and they do find it persuasive. So if you find something bewildering, you have failed to understand the whole world of thought in which belief X is not bewildering at all.

    That doesn’t mean every belief is right or well justified. People may find a belief persuasive because of bad assumptions or faulty reasoning. I believe that Muslims are wrong on many things. But if I find a particular belief of theirs bewildering, it’s likely because I’ve failed to understand the world and the worldview in which they reside.


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