Civil Dialogue with an Advocate of Legal Abortion

Civil Dialogue with an Advocate of Legal Abortion July 21, 2018

This is a follow-up to my dialogue, “Pro-Abortion”: Reply to an Objection to its Use. My dialogue opponents’ words will be in blue. The dialogue in its original format (I’ve made it more “back-and-forth” here, like a Platonic / Socratic dialogue) can be seen in this combox.

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In addressing your points —>

(1-2) I also support legalizing cannabis across the board, & am supportive of legalizing euthanasia under certain conditions. That does not make me “pro-cannabis” or “pro-euthanasia”. I support the right of each individual person to decide for her/himself about these matters.

Well, it makes you “pro-legal cannabis” and “pro-legal euthanasia”, just as you are “pro-legal-abortion”: shortened to “pro-abortion.”

Conservatives used to stand for limited government; when Republicans began legislating intrusive government in social policy, I left the party.

The Republican party always had a strong libertarian strain; now the Democrat Party has a strong radically secularist and anti-traditionalist strain.

My position is more nuanced than that, but this is not a treatise, just a post.

Fair enough. So is mine.

(3) As both an undergrad- & grad- student at RC universities, I took a number of both secular & Christian ethics courses; I also taught college-level ethics, as well as general philosophy, religion, & humanities for over 20 years.

I can tell.

I could distill my personal ethical theory into two premises: (a) Moral principles should inform our choices, all else being equal.

I agree. The question is: where do they come from, and why choose them from whatever source they come from?

(b) All else is rarely equal, & situation judgments must be applied to the principles.

Or we adopt the norms and standards and reasoning of some sort of religious morality or other sort of objective criterion. Situational ethics is an outlook that has to be justified. Where does it come from? Certainly not from Christianity . . . Why should we ditch Christians morals for this radically individualist notion?

For me, a zygote/ embryo/ fetus is a developing human being, but not a human person. Personhood is an emergent quality, & we recognize its presence once a pre-rational fetus is at least viable to live ex uterow/o heroic medical incubation. Then its care can be shared, & the baby isn’t utterly dependent on the physical body of one single person.

Funny how when mothers want their child, it’s called a child or a baby. It’s only when they don’t, that we get all the semantic gymnastics, in order to dehumanize and depersonalize the child. But radical movements always play semantic games and seek to control the terminology debate from the outset.

It remains true that you have to justify this philosophy. It’s certainly not a biblical or Christian one. Jesus even compared hell to the practice of child sacrifice (in effect, to abortion). If you claim to be a Christian, why do you reject its tenets when it comes to the question of the right to life of the preborn child? Where do you get the notion that a child is not a person, until it is viable and can live outside the womb?

Lots of born people are dependent upon other human beings or medical apparatus in order to live. We don’t make them non-persons because of it. For example, someone on a lung machine, or on oxygen in the intensive unit at the hospital. According to you, because they can’t survive without such help, they are not persons. That’s absurd. Likewise, simply because the preborn child is dependent upon his or her mother, does not render it a non-person.

But my views are complex, lengthy, & again, this isn’t a treatise. My point: The morality or immorality of abortion or bringing this life to term depends on the informed conscience of the woman whose fetus inhabits her body.

Where does such a philosophy come from? And why do you adopt it rather than traditional, Christian morality, and that of most cultures now and throughout the history of the world, whereby a pregnant mother instinctively understands that this is her child and ought not be killed. The pro-abortion mentality has to be learned. It actually comes mostly from men, who don’t want to be sexually responsible.

She & she alone can know & evaluate the precise circumstances enveloping her.

That might (reasonably) hold for her, but not for another human being / person, because she doesn’t own that person. We’re not (at least not in America) still in slavery times, when one person supposedly owned another.

(4-7, 9) “Pro-life” is just as indefensible a term as “pro-choice”. As used, both refer only to abortion, yet imply a vaster realm of issues.

“Pro-life” is short for “pro-right to life” [of all human persons, but particularly preborn ones]. In this sense, the opposing positions are “right to life” and “right to kill one’s child.”

Again, calling me “pro-abortion” is not only insensitive, but also tells more about you than about me.

Yes, it tells others that I am more precise and objective in my language than you are. I’m not trying to play games with semantics

Were I indeed pro-abortion, I’d advocate it for all pregnant women.

That doesn’t follow, because what it means is “pro-legal abortion”: as even you have admitted. You are in favor of the choice of a mother to kill her own child if she doesn’t want it, because you falsely presuppose that she owns her own child, like a slavemaster and a slave. They used to kill slaves in the Old South because they had a supposed “right” to (Dred Scott decision, 1857). Now we kill our own children because we have a supposed “right” to (Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, 1973). We in America depersonalized and dehumanized the Native Americans so we could slaughter them. The Nazis depersonalized and dehumanized Jews and other opponents so they could slaughter them. They even set up concentration camps as killing centers in order to do so, just as we have today, abortion clinics.

If you dislike being termed a “pro-birther” or your position “pro-fetus”, consider your words more wisely & carefully, please.

Those terms are fine. I do believe in those things. I like birth because I think human beings have infinite value and that, therefore, the birth of another one is a good thing.

If you are “pro-life”, then are you against capital punishment?

Yes I am, though capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, as abortion and euthanasia are, so that this is not a perfect analogy.

hunting?

I don’t hunt myself, but it’s necessary for 1) obtaining food, and 2) in some cases to prevent animal populations from starving. These are not immoral practices, though I think an argument can be made that hunting simply for fun is morally questionable.

animal research?

No, because animals don’t have a right to life, as humans do. They’re not made in God’s image, as we are. If we didn’t do animal research, many millions more people would die. I do think we should not cause gratuitous suffering in animals.

eating meat or even plants?

Everyone has to eat living things or else they wold die. This is your ethical dilemma, not mine.

Do you smoke or drink alcohol?

No. I’m a holistic health advocate and I don’t believe we should abuse our bodies.

Are you overweight?

Slightly!

Do you exercise?

Yes, though less than I should.

Do you recycle?

Yes.

“Pro-life” is just as comprehensive a term as “pro-choice”. Like the late Cardinal Bernardin, I think the term should be seamless but am aware they neither of them can be. As shorthand, they function to establish our general position on the abortion issue only. No need to belabor a moot point here.

I agree!

BTW, just for the record, I am personally “pro-life” on a great many other issues, & since I’m not a speciesist, possibly on a greater range of matters than many “anti-abortionists” are.

But you just can’t bring yourself to be pro-life when it comes to preborn persons. How sad . . .

I have a difficult time, therefore, calling gun-addicts/ death-penalty advocates/ anti-abortionists/ “pro-life” since they aren’t seamlessly so, but again, as shorthand the terms are convenient.

I’m seamlessly so. I believe in the right to life of all human beings, from conception till natural death.

(8) [sigh] “Murder” is a legal term for the killing of persons, not for the killing of z/e/f’s.

You haven’t given us any compelling reason to believe that “z/e/f’s” [nice chilling language there] are not persons.

Yes, abortion kills. Yes, I had an abortion the only time I was pregnant, at age 41. Now at 63, I still have no regrets & no burdened conscience.

Consciences can become hardened. You have to soften yours in order to heal from the wrong you have committed. Until then you will have no peace of soul. I tell you this out of love. God will forgive you.

I’m sad that the pregnancy occurred, & that this was the only viable option I determined (along with my husband-to-be) to be best in my/our circumstances, but then again there are many choices & their consequences any reasonable person wishes could have worked out in a different way. I suppose I could say I “regret” having needed to have an abortion in the same way I regret having needed to cut off relations with one of my brothers who is a sociopath. That I cannot deal with that brother doesn’t negate my lingering love for him, but experience & common sense applied to the situation informed me that I can’t deal sanely with a psychic vampire.

Comparing an innocent child analogously to a sociopath is a new one. But I guess nothing surprises me anymore.

(10) One can disagree with someone else without offensiveness.

Indeed. And folks can be offended for no rational reason as well. And they can be offended even if we are completely saintly, simply because they disagree with what we say. There was a reason why Jesus was called a madman and demon-filled, and then lied about in a kangaroo court trial and murdered.

I’ve turned down creating & officiating a few wedding ceremonies, including a requested S&M one, not by needing to sanctimonious shout out “You perverts!” or something of the sort, but merely by demurring kindly &/or on other reasonable grounds.

I would do the same. I engaged, for example, in a “Friendly Dialogue with a Transgender Atheist & Satanist.”

I’d rather live by “Judge not, lest you be judged”, than by imposing my morals on others as though mine were objectively correct.

You have imposed it on your child that you didn’t want.

Jesus may have cursed a fig tree, whipped up the money-changers (in a very odd pericope), & uttered the words you note. But you aren’t Jesus, & neither am I.

That’s correct. But Jesus is Jesus, so this observation is a non sequitur.

“Let God be God.” “Turn the other cheek.” As a NT scholar of sorts, I well know how easy it is & how susceptible we all are to cherrypick scripture. So I’ll curb my further tendency to dive into citations here.

And as a serious student of the NT for over 40 years, and an apologist for 37, I well know how easy it is & how susceptible we all are to arbitrarily ignoring those passages we don’t agree with.

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Technically, this belongs under my “(4-7, 9)” category above, but since you made it an addendum, I’ll keep it that way.

Let me preface by saying that unless I need to, I eschew labels for myself. Without caps or quote marks, all ideologies — liberal, conservative, libertarian, marxist, progressive, communist, socialist, etc — are utopian. They don’t work IRL, & so they’re useless for me most of the time. When it comes to any issue, I make my own choices, w/o their framework. But, yet again, as shorthand for how others view these, I fall to the left of center, reserving the prerogative to tilt in either way. I live more in the gray spectrum, than in black/white polarity.

But on the abortion issue, you reason exactly like every other abortion advocate I have ever met in the last 36 years since I became pro-life (following my socially and politically radical period). I don’t see any originality. I see the same old same old.

I don’t create some arbitrary, outrageous definition of what a human being is. Science is sufficient: from conception, a human being has everything it needs to grow into you or I (all that is needed is time): all the DNA is there; the heartbeat starts at eight days, the brain waves at about six weeks. But it’s a human being and a person from conception: as the offspring of two other human beings. How could it be otherwise? It’s not a chicken or a rhinoceros.

The unique human DNA is present at conception, yes, though it can twin or triplicate &, having done so, can reunite into one blastocyte.

And the soul is present in a human person from conception as well, if we want to talk in Christian terms.

This poses a dilemma for Augustinian thought of ensoulment at that juncture.

Augustinian thought is not the magisterium, anymore than Thomistic thought is. Both schools got some things wrong, according to the Church, and science in the 5th or 13th centuries was very different from what it is now.

No matter. Moving on, heartbeat, hair or scales, & brainwaves are also part of embryonic development in frogs, dogs, cats, zebras, etc.

Yes it is. It doesn’t follow that a human baby is not a person because it has some similarities in development to the animals. None of these rationalizations succeed in their aim (depersonalization of a child so it is “thinkable” and “permissible” to kill him or her).

That’s all it is: Developmental characteristics of many life forms. (I cautioned you: I’m not speciesist in my thinking.)

Yeah, I know. You already noted that. I don’t know how you eat, then. Your position logically leads to you starving yourself to death, since everything you eat (minus salt, water, etc., which will not alone sustain you) is organic.

Some of these are more punctiliear rather than emergent, such as fertilization, implantation, heartbeat. We can point to them. The presence of gills, lungs, & even the brain are somewhat emergent as well as locatable on the developmental spectrum. Still, all belong to the realm of science/ fetology/ medicine.

Yes they do. And none of the scientific language can justify killing a preborn person. Science cannot teach us morality, because it only deals with matter. Morality must come from religion and/or philosophy. Certainly you know that.

When we come to personhood, consciousness, rationality, selfhood, ensoulment, etc, we’re now in the spheres of philosophy & theology, not science.

I was answering as I read, so you made the same point I just did. And so I ask you again: why do you adopt some non-Christian philosophy when it comes to right to life, rather than the Christian / biblical view, as it has always been? On what basis?

We can’t “locate” them at any particular point.

If you want to play that game, I can also argue that there is no non-arbitrary point that the developing preborn child can be said to become a person, except at conception. All other “points” are arbitrary and irrational.

It’s fair to say, though, that a zygote, an embryo, & even a non-viable fetus lack these qualities.

Why? How do you arrive at that conclusion? The Bible and Christianity hold that personhood and ensoulment exist from conception and that is consistent with the only non-arbitrary determination from science alone, as to when personhood begins.

Add to that the obvious fact that throughout these stages, the very existence of this entity is both physically & I’d add ontologically fully dependent on the woman’s body,

I’ve already dealt with that hopeless pseudo-argument.

I give ontological & physical priority to the woman’s life & well-being over the z/e/f’s life.

I see. So you’re not a “speciesist” but you are an “ageist” and still believe that one human being can own another and dispose of him or her as she wills, up to and including killing him or her.

Take existence from the woman, & you simultaneous end the fetus’ existence.

Take the lung or oxygen machine away, or the feeding tube, for those who need them, and all those people die. By your logic, consistently you should say that we should instantly kill all such people. And of course you say you favor euthanasia, so you are actually (diabolically) consistent.

I won’t delve into these: How no father is legally forced to donate blood/ bone marrow to his dying child when no other donor is available.

No, but most fathers naturally do so out of love; just as I did exactly that for my late brother Gerry, when he got leukemia. I didn’t say (as your pro-abortion logic would dictate), “he’s dependent upon me for life, and so he has no right to life because he isn’t viable on his own.” Love far transcends mere legal obligation. Brothers love brothers (and will sacrifice for them), and mothers love their own children (and will sacrifice for them), unless they learn (primarily from men and the pressure that men put upon them) not to do so.

How evicting a squatter-X from one’s home (X entered through a closed but unlocked door, aka BC) isn’t the same as killing X, even if that’s the secondary consequence (Just-War Theory stuff).

You haven’t killed the squatter. You have killed the baby in abortion. Nice try.

How supporting this quasi-parasitic life might be nice, even a moral good, but that it’s not a moral necessity under many circumstances. I’m very grateful that I have no daughters or granddaughters who might need to deal w/ the consequences of having their rights to autonomy of decision re contraception & abortion stripped raw, as conservatives plan to do. For this reason, I thank God I did have an abortion.

I thank God that He is merciful, and I share that with you so that you can heal from the wrong you have done and not have this on your conscience (however buried it might be, and we human beings have a great capacity to deny things).

Thanks again for the civil discussion.

Dave, one of the reasons that I rarely click on your topics, even though I receive your newsletter, is because of I dislike reading through stuttered “dialogues”. Sure, that’s what occurs in threads, but there they can continue to go back & forth until both parties call a halt. I’ve invested time & energy in many such prolonged “conversations” with a random poster, sometimes even to the point of tedium. Still, at least each new response gets addressed that way & the matter moves forward.

I haven’t any objection to your publishing what I wrote; after all, threads are public. But this method you use shuts down the communication channel, with your responses being “THE FINAL ANSWERS”. That’s rather dogmatic, pedantic, & even arrogant. It creates the impression of a win/lose contest, rather than of real dialogue, which in the Trumpian era is perhaps inevitable yet as discouraging as the president’s own constant need to “win” at even trivialities. I’m not a game-player, and I don’t seek to win or lose debates, though I do look to be understood even when others disagree. That’s the teacher in me. Many of your replies were stock, however, so I suspect your ossified stance filtered out much of what I wrote.

Anyway, thank you for your responses. Your format precludes further replies to your own comments, so I’ll refrain.

I completely disagree. The back-and-forth dialogue format goes back at least as far as Plato and Socrates, so they take the lion’s share of the blame for that, not me. I love it, you don’t. But I have carefully dealt with everything you wrote, point-by-point, and have reproduced all of your words on my blog, and now (let readers note) you are the one departing the dialogue (with several “mind-reading” personal insults), not me.

In my opinion, the dialogue was just beginning, not ending. But that’s how it often goes these days: discussions end almost before they have begun. You attribute that to Trump; I attribute it to most folks’ reluctance to engage in sustained dialogue. That’s how it was in the 5th century BC when Socrates argued in this fashion, that’s how it is today, always has been, and always will be.

I do heartily thank you, however, for the dialogue we did engage in (which you initiated). It was better than 99.9% of the “discussions” that take place on the abortion issue.

Enough, please. This began with a suggestion to you personally, asking that you refrain from deliberate use of a term rejected by supporters of legal abortion. You chose to air it more generally. Let’s leave it at that. I gave no “final answer” to any of your points, just a critique of your format, explaining why I dislike that in general.

Had you [kept] my lengthy post on abortion confined to this thread & responded to me there, I might have engaged you further with new replies to your own remarks. You didn’t ask my permission to use my post in the way you have, but as I said, it’s alright: What’s done is done, including the discouragement.

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Here are two other exchanges that occurred underneath the previous dialogue that I posted:

I find it odd how Dave Armstrong, in calling his opposition “pro-abort,” doesn’t expect to have his position called anti-choice. I have no problem calling your position “anti-choice” because that’s what it is. I’m “pro-abortion” in the same way that I’m (for example) “pro-heart surgery.” Surgery is not a fun process, but it’s better than the alternative. Ditto abortion.

You’re pro-legal-abortion, which is shortened to pro-abortion and again to pro-abort. It’s simple logic and English. I’m anti-abortion and I’m anti-choice, when the choice is immoral and outrageous. But it’s still the case that “choice” is only a term describing someone selecting one alternative over another. Therefore, one has to ask what the choice is. Heart surgery is not a procedure that anyone thinks is immoral. Abortion is. It’s the taking of a human life, even if you and others want to play the game of pretending that what is killed is not a person.

when you have sex, a responsible person recognizes that a baby might result

I imagine an ER doctor wagging his finger at an accident victim saying, “A responsible person recognizes that getting in a car means an accident can result!” and sending them home. That’ll teach them a good lesson.

You don’t like car accidents? Then never get in a car.

Driving a car entails an inherent risk of “I might be killed.” We are willing to continually take that risk because the chances are so miniscule.

Having sex (at least heterosexual sex) — unlike driving a car — entails the inherent possibility of a conception of another person. We don’t have the inherent right to kill such a person because we don’t own them. They’re not our property (unless — since you’re so fond of analogies — you want to go back to the Dred Scott decision and black people being owned and killed by white people).

We can and do take necessary risks with our own lives. It doesn’t follow (by analogy or logic) that we can procreate and bring about another life and then kill him or her, so we can avoid the results of our own actions. If you don’t want a child, don’t have sex. Sex and procreation are intrinsically connected, just as nutrition and taste buds are intrinsically connected and no one tries to separate them. If people eat merely for nutrition without regard to taste, we consider them oddballs. If they eat strictly for taste without regard to nutrition, we call them junk food junkies and generally regard them as deficient in understanding of the function of food.

You like analogies; so do I!

But that’s about as foreign to our secular, sex-crazed society as can be imagined.

We’re animals with a sex drive. It’s natural. Blame our Maker.

Just because we have a sex drive, and it is very strong, it doesn’t follow that we can’t control it responsibly. That’s not God’s responsibility; it’s ours. We don’t kill another person because we found it difficult to control our sexual organs. If you hop in bed, by the very nature of that act, anyone with half a brain cell understands the risks involved.

the compassionate person accepts the responsibility, rather than kill another human being: their own child, no less.

It starts as a single cell, not a child. It sounds like, given your concerns, you want abortions done ASAP. That makes sense.

Everything is in place for the child at conception to grow and become you or I. All that is needed is time and a mother who doesn’t believe she owns her child and can kill him or her if she wishes. Any point other than conception for the beginning of personhood is completely arbitrary.

Nothing I said implies in the slightest that I “want abortions done ASAP.” I oppose murder. Period. I am for the right to life of all persons, because I believe they have infinite value and worth, as children of God, made in His image. Period.

Quite.  Do the self-identifying ‘pro-life’ crowd mind being referred to as the ‘forced-birther’ contingent? I have no problem calling them forced-birther, because that’s what they are.

It’s not forced birth, because when you have sex, a responsible person recognizes that a baby might result, and that it’s their responsibility to care for such a child, not kill it. Otherwise they should refrain from sexual activity. But that’s about as foreign to our secular, sex-crazed society as can be imagined. It’s barely even comprehensible. No one is “forced” to engage in sex, just as no one is forced to have a baby. The one naturally can potentially lead to the other, and the compassionate person accepts the responsibility, rather than kill another human being: their own child, no less.

[further comments of both men can be read in the original combox]

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Photo credit: “The now 3-year-old girl was born at just 21 weeks and four days gestation. “She may be the most premature known survivor to date,” according to a case report about her birth published in the journal Pediatrics last week.” From the article, “Born before 22 weeks, ‘most premature’ baby is now thriving” (CNN, updated 11-11-17). The photograph used was classified by Google as “labeled for reuse.”

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