Understanding Anti-Choicers

Anti-choicers are trying to marginalize comprehensive health care for women basically to put us in our place, to demote us from the status of people and return us to the status of objects.


The debate over health care is basically about this ultimate fight over whether or not women are people.

Amanda Marcotte

If Amanda Marcotte has a modus operandi, it’s overgeneralization.  Misogyny persists among some “anti-choicers,” and kudos to Marcotte for pointing it out where it exists, but it doesn’t adequately explain the opposition to abortion.  Even if one could magically rid all misogyny from the world, there would still be a basis for an anti-choice movement: the belief or the conclusion that nascent human life deserves legal protection.  This proposition needs no misogyny to originate or gain widespread assent.  And assent it has.  So unless you can show conclusively that this specific assent historically originated from and continues to originate from misogyny, then there’s no rational sense to think a desire to demean women explains “anti-choicers.”  Anything less and you’re at best overgeneralizing and almost surely wrong.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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104 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    “No, you can’t own a smoking establishment.”
    “No, you can’t smoke marijuana.”
    “No, you can’t work here without paperwork.”
    “No, you can’t ride a motorcycle without a helmet.”
    “No, you can’t play poker online.”
    “No, you can’t exchange money for sex.”

    If people thought that their jurisdiction was limited, they’d be much more pro-choice.

    The only explanation I have is that they believe that their jurisdiction extends indefinitely.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Are these examples really comparable? The statement anti-abortion people are seeking to codify in law is, “No, you can’t kill this kind of being.”

      • Jaybird says:

        Oh, “anti-abortion” is a much different framing than “anti-choice”.

        It almost doesn’t look like an attempt to stack the deck before the discussion even takes place.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          Yes, it is a different framing, but even if we use the term “anti-choicer,” it’s still true that the desired prohibition includes that of killing a particular kind of being.

          • Jaybird says:

            The point of the frame is to *NOT* draw attention to the frame.

          • ThatPirateGuy says:

            That is using someone else’s body.

            When do we start the mandatory organ and blood donations? I suppose we can limit it only to biological children to start with.

            Bonus points you count as a person a fertilized egg which doesn’t even have nerve cells yet much less enough of a brain to even think it might have a mind and therefore rights.

          • ThatPirateGuy says:

            The correct term is pro-forced birth.

            Naturally you will object but I don’t see how you have a case.

            You are for changing the law so that it will prevent anyone from terminating a pregnancy.

            There are women who get pregnant when they do not wish to give birth.

            The law you propose would force them to give birth.

            Therefore the most accurate term for you is pro-forced birth.

      • BlaiseP says:

        Gilles Deleuze once said language is not made to be believed but to be obeyed. The Moralizers are the masters of equivocation, attempting at every turn to present us with Language to be Obeyed.

  2. Will Truman says:

    I feel so blessed for having Ms. Marcotte to be able to tell me what I am really thinking whenever I have the audacity to disagree with her.

    I remember when I started to think that the questions surrounding Crystal Mangum’s story were legitimate. I thought that I was looking at the facts of the case. It turned out that I was pining for the old days when rich white men could rape black women with impunity.

  3. “Anti-choicers”? What a silly name.

    Let’s all calm down and call them pro-abortion and anti-abortion.

    • Jaybird says:

      When do we get to use the term “pro-life”? Only when we’re using the term to point out how hypocritical other people are? Like when people say something to the effect of “they call themselves ‘pro-life’ but they believe that people can kill in self-defense!” or similar?

      • Kyle Cupp says:

        As killing in self-defense is done precisely to protect life, there’s not hypocrisy in someone who calls herself pro-life doing so. Having said that, I have and would question whether or not the label “pro-life” adequately describes some people who self-apply it. Cheerleading wars, for example, ain’t pro-life.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      It’s incomplete, but it’s not silly. To be against abortion and its legality is to be against abortion being available as a legal choice. Anti-abortion legislation requires a woman to remain pregnant against her will.

      • Kyle, your defense of the term is even sillier. On your definition, it is merely “incomplete” to call people who favor laws against insider trading, or auto theft, or anything else, “anti-choicers” as well. A definition that is so “incomplete” as to fail to distinguish the term from almost anything else is…silly.

        “Pro-life” is much better than “pro-choice,” but we ought to step back and just be clear about it: What we’re talking about is terminating a pregnancy. It is true that the whole dispute ought to be about whether the fetus is a human being. (Scientifically, it certainly is.) But the clear, easy description is “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion.”

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          Context, Stephen. Context. There’s no comparable pro-choice movement/position regarding insider trading, auto-theft, etc.

          • Um, SCHOOL choice?

            I’M pro-choice. I believe in a free market. I believe in competition. But I recognize that my choices should not violate the rights of others — which is precisely the purpose of law.

      • Jen says:

        No, to be against abortion is to be against killing an unborn child. It’s to be against legalizing child-killing. Anti-abortion legislation is not about forcing a woman to remain pregnant against her will. It’s about recognizing that the child in the womb is a human being who has the right to live JUST AS MUCH AS THE WOMAN. If a woman doesn’t wish to be pregnant, the she has CHOICES she must exercise BEFORE she gets pregnant. The most important being self-control, not birth control. Saying no to sex is a sure-fire way to avoid pregnancy. I’m so sick of women being portrayed as victims of pregnancy. If woman are so capable of choosing, why can’t they use the brains God gave them and keep their pants on? Our choices come before pregnancy, not after. We do not have the right to choose that another human being must DIE just because we say so.

        And before someone screams that I must hate rape-victims who didn’t choose to become pregnant and I want to punish them by taking their freedom away and ruining their lives, etc., — let’s not pretend that the 1.2 million abortions every year are largely the result of assault. They aren’t. Our country regards abortion as birth control of the last resort and we all know it. An abortion will not heal the trauma and pain of rape; the woman who has been violated needs incredible support, compassion, and help to heal, and abortion never, ever heals anything. And the politically-incorrect fact is, we don’t usually kill children for the crimes of their fathers, do we?

        • Ryan Bonneville says:

          You might want to be a tad less explicit when you’re defending Amanda Marcotte’s argument.

        • North says:

          Why is it incumbent on women alone to exercise self control? If men don’t like abortion how about they keep their pants on instead. Women aren’t going to run around turkey basting themselves just so they can get pregnant?

          This entire “slut shaming” line of arguement always rankles me a touch. As if it’s as simple as women choosing to never have sex. As if a very large percentage of all male energy and ingenuity isn’t dedicated specifically to overriding, bypassing and finangling their way past womens self control.

        • Infuriating Pedant says:

          I’m pretty sure that I’ll regret wading into this swamp, but consider the following:

          Is a zygote a “human being”? I’d say no, and I’d focus on the second word. Beingness requires sentience if it has meaning. A zygote does not have a brain, does not have consciousness, cannot feel joy or pain.

          Well, how about an embryo, then? It gets dicier, but I would venture that it is not imbued with “rights” until it is capable of thinking and feeling. That certainly happens at some point in development, but not at one cell, and not at two or four or ten thousand.

          This is probably the thorniest moral issue of our times; but I distrust those with absolute black-and-white answers. Certainly a woman has the “right to control her own body,” but not when the exercise of that right denies even more important rights to another. And the notion that an embryo is “human” is undeniable, but when it become a human “being” is more worthy of consideration.

          • Stephen Hollingshead says:

            If we agree that a zygote is human, but aren’t sure about whether it is a “being,” it seems to me that we ought to err on the side of NOT killing a human being.

            I take issue with “Being requires sentience if it has meaning.” You are not sentient when you are asleep — at least some of the time. The notion that you lose your being-ness during these times is silly. If you do, I may murder you as long as you are not currently sentient.

            The capacity, the POTENTIAL, of sentience is certainly fundamental to human nature. But the zygote and embryo certainly have that — just wait, and hydrate, and nourish.

            If it’s growing, it’s alive. If it has human DNA, and has integrating functions (unlike, say, the hair that continues to grow after death) it is a human being regardless of whether we can determine whether or not it has sentience. (There are studies that suggest that a fetus NEVER achieves sentience prior to birth; I’m not sure I buy that, since infants seem to recognize certain voices, but ultimately it doesn’t change the point, either way.)

            Look at it this way. You own a large box. It is your box, nobody disputes that. You are free to do whatever you like with your box. But someone suggests that he thinks there is a person in your box. You are no longer free to destroy the box until you can be morally certain that there ISN’T a human being inside it.

          • Kimmi says:

            if it’s growing, it’s alive? no, it does not meet the dictionary definition for alive until it’s born. please try again. it is a potential human being — a very interesting state! Please don’t conflate it with actual children.
            Oh, and the next time we take someone in a coma off a respirator, now we’ve got a murder case on our hands? Please, some common sense!

          • Liberty60 says:

            Pedant makes a good point- trying to conflate a fertilized ovum with a 9 month fetus is the error here.

            Unfortunately for fundamentalists of either camp, there isn’t an objective universal “test for human-ness”. Where and when human-ness begins is pretty much a matter of faith.

            So for most of us, we are left only with our intuitive sense of what is or isn’t a human being deserving of legal protection. And for most people (i.e. the majority of Americans surveyed) that invisible, hard to pinpoint, but definitely real dividing line occurs somewhere in the second trimester.

          • Stephen Hollingshead says:

            What dictionary are you reading??

            Of course it’s alive if it’s growing. When does your rosebush achieve your “dictionary definition” of alive?

            And of course the person in the coma is alive. That doesn’t make it murder to withdraw extraordinary means of life support. Removing a baby from its natural growing environment will result in its death.

            Have you ever actually SEEN a fetus? How is it you could have doubt about whether it is alive or not?

          • Stephen Hollingshead says:

            Liberty, I don’t see why it should be “pretty much a matter of faith.” We are arguing here about whether this or that contingent reality matters to the definition. That’s the language of reason, not of faith.

            I go back to the point that if you are not SURE when the point of human-ness occurs, you should certainly err on the side of NOT KILLING an innocent person. I mean, sheesh.

          • Infuriating Pedant says:

            Well, we’ve kind of shifted off the point I was trying to make. I do not dispute that the embryo is “human,” and I certainly don’t dispute that it’s “alive.” What I do take issue with, however, is that a zygote or early embryo is a “being.”

            The sleep argument I actually found kind of silly: a sleeping person is still capable of feeling and thinking and experiencing, and waking.

            A sperm cell, or a pancreatic cell in a petri dish would seem to require rights, in your formulation: it is undeniably human, contains human DNA, and is “alive” by any criterion. But, for some reason, we don’t.

            Nature disposes of about 60% of all embryos without human help. They certainly contain the potential for beingness, much as an architectural blueprint contains the seeds of a building; but they’re not the same thing. I don’t know precisely where to draw the line–I suspect somewhere near the mid-point of a pregnancy–but I think there is a moral universe between early abortion and murder.

          • Kimsie says:

            Personhood, by any reasonable measure, begins when a person is capable of understanding other people’s rights. That’s at about age 5? 10?
            Or, define personhood as when a kid is measurably more adaptable/intelligent than an ape. That’s age 2. (which is where psychologists would put it. If you start to ask about tool usage, I think that’s also about age 2).
            I’m on record as supporting abortion up until age 2, though with dramatically circumscribed circumstances.
            Am I certain of this? Empirically yes.

            If it can’t survive without a host, it is a parasite. We treat parasites very differently than we treat other beings.

          • Stephen Hollingshead says:

            Okay, Kimsie is in favor of infanticide. No point in arguing beyond that point, really. Go try telling the mother of an 18-month old that her baby isn’t a person. Insane.

            To Pedant’s point: A sperm cell has no integrating functions that allow further growth. It does not, of its own, have the potential to grow up. Once the sperm and egg cells have combined, ALL they need is food, water, correct temperature — no more genetic material — and they will grow to a human being.

            The fact that 60% (your number, I don’t know what the real number is, but I grant it is a significant percentage) of embryos die on their own is not at all an argument that we can take active steps to kill one. Hell, people are dying all the time. In fact, we can be reasonably sure that everybody will die eventually. How does that give us the right to speed up the process?

          • Kimmi says:

            Steve (sorry if you don’t go by that, will revise if needed, but step sounds odd),
            You are obviously not very well versed in the ways in which abortion becomes a medical necessity. it is quite possible for a woman’s body to reject a baby (or vice versa), as they share the same blood for quite some time. (okay, so maybe I’ve got the technicals misremembered).
            It’s certainly not as easy as “right temperature.”

            As long as the baby is unable to breath/exist on its own, it is a parasite. Beyond that, it is a potential human being, until which point we define human being as being.

            I don’t know about you, but there are countries in this world that practice infanticide.

            I personally find infanticide to be more preferable on a societal level, than parents being forced to sell their kids into white slavery.

            I can certainly sympathize with those who say “any life is better than none” — I just don’t believe it.

            If the choice is “blind by five, dead by ten” — better dead before it’s born. This is NOT a hypothetical. Please, for the love of G-d, donate! $2 to save a child from permanent blindness! $10 to save five children!

    • ThatPirateGuy says:

      Pro-choice and pro-forced birth.

      Fixed that for you.

  4. BlaiseP says:

    I am afraid Jaybird is right. At some point, the realm of jurisdiction must terminate and personal choice must begin. When did we become so passive as a people, so deferential, so trusting? Is there nothing the government can’t regulate? Is there no chamber into which they cannot pry, even the uterus? We strip search prisoners upon entry to our jails, prying into their every orifice. Free men ought to expect better treatment from the agents of government.

    Worse, why are the agents of government so pliable and feckless in the face of these Moralizers? I would think government would jealously guard what rights its has been given in law and fend off the Moralizers, strictly on the basis of a turf war. Good government arises from all the people and its officers derive mandate from the certain knowledge of that fact. How can a handful of Moralizing Taliban so easily pervert us?

    The answer is simple: for all their talk of Freedom and Personal Responsibility, the Coathanger Taliban believes in neither.

    • Jaybird says:

      It’s more that I think that the pro-lifers are only pro-life… when it comes to abortion (with some notable exceptions). The pro-choicers are only pro-choice… when it comes to abortion (with some notable exceptions).

      It seems to me that they agree very much on how far their jurisdiction extends.

      • BlaiseP says:

        Oh, they’ve got plenty more on their minds. Jaybird, the history of Western Civilization is defined by the struggle between the Moralizers and the Freethinkers. When the Moralizers held sway, they burned the Freethinkers at the stake. We ought not trust them now, for all their sweet talk.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          Like all grand narratives, I find this one dubious.

          • BlaiseP says:

            Doubt it at your leisure.

            Now driven from political power, the Moralizers sit there as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, meekly admonishing us from within the Vatican walls. Let the State of Ireland serve as the working example, the grand narrative for what happens when Religion ever gets a foothold in government. Every time a Moralizer appears, he’s always trying to deny history.

          • Kimmi says:

            Yeah, blaise is missing how the moralizers got power. The ancien regime likes moralizers, as it gives them the moral right to… loaf, not pay their fair share, etc.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      At some point, the realm of jurisdiction must terminate and personal choice must begin.

      I agree, and I gather most pro-lifers like me would. However, if one holds the position, as I do, that the deliberate killing of nascent human life is unjust because such life is deserving of respect, then it makes sense for us to expand the realm of jurisdiction to include legal protections of unborn life. Now you may find this position of mine absurd or mistaken or wrong, but my conclusions about jurisdiction makes sense given my premises.

      • BlaiseP says:

        Since the Enlightenment, mankind has endeavoured to free himself from Religion’s Bed of Procrustes. I will not be told by some Pope or Authority Figure on how to think about the foetus or the condom or the rights of women to terminate pregnancy, nor will I ever accept his moral proscriptions. Ab-surdum, without grounding.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          I tend to dislike arguments from authority myself, especially when the authorities call for the coercion of law. However, arguments from authority are not the only kinds of arguments being made in support of the prohibition of abortion. Even free-thinkers can and do conclude that abortion ought to be illegal!

          • BlaiseP says:

            It’s not the Freethinkers who make the argument from authority. That would be the Moralizers.

            From whence arises any conclusion of moral principle? I have made the distinction in vocabulary, however artificially, that morality is what I won’t do and ethics is what I tell others they shouldn’t do. Insofar as the pro-lifer would adhere to his own moral principles, he can keep his ethical proscriptions to himself: if others don’t reach the same conclusions, that is none of the Moralizer’s business nor yet that of the Gummint, by some of our lights, if not yours.

          • Kyle Cupp says:

            Arguments from authority are not the only arguments being made, either for the morality of abortion or the ethics of prohibiting it through the law. Your reading of the debate as being between freethinkers and moralizers doesn’t accurately reflect the reality.

            One can make the case the nascent human life falls under the category of personal life, and because personal life ought to be protected by law, nascent life should as well. No appeal to religious authority need be brought into this argument.

          • BlaiseP says:

            It has all been seen before, Kyle. Ultimately, we are either free to follow the dictates of our consciences or we are constrained by law. There can be no other axis along which freedom may be measured.

            It this is not true, perhaps you’ll tell us of another axis along which freedom may be measured.

    • If this were merely a matter of personal choice, Blaise, your analysis would have merit.

      But why is it reasonable to outlaw pederasty? (You agree, I take it, that laws against pederasty are reasonable.)

      It is because another person is involved, is affected by the choice. Same thing with abortion. In scientific terms, a fetus is a human being. The law exists to protect the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and property. The fetus is an individual (as, indeed, is the embryo). Thus, each one deserves the equal protection of the laws. I read that somewhere. Oh, yeah, in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

      • BlaiseP says:

        It is a matter of personal choice. If you are attempting to drag in other moral and legal issues such as pederasty, in hopes of creating some beach head from which you can establish what is Reasonable, you will find your argument up to its neck off the shore, never reaching land. Law is arbitrary, by definition.

        If we are to talk about Pederasty and Suchlike, what shall we make of the thousands of 18 year old boys who are now labeled Sex Offenders and will be for the rest of their lives because they slept with a girl younger than the legal age of consent? Sodomy laws still exist in some quarters I do believe, though they are fewer these days. Are these people not individuals, too? Laws exist and laws can be repealed. Law is not a moral beast, it is a political beast.

      • James Hanley says:

        In scientific terms, a fetus is a human being. The law exists to protect the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and property. The fetus is an individual (as, indeed, is the embryo). Thus, each one deserves the equal protection of the laws. I read that somewhere. Oh, yeah, in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

        Actually, the Constitution never speaks of “human beings.” It speaks of “persons,” and doesn’t specify when personhood begins. Personhood, of course, is a term of legal art, without specific reference to science. Nor would such reference help, since neither does science define when personhood begins.

        • BlaiseP says:

          We-e-ell, it did, sorta. Some folks, if you recall, were only 3/5 of a person

        • James,

          The Constitution includes the Declaration by implication (or so the Court agreed with Lincoln). The Declaration refers to “men,” i.e., human beings as all having the same unalienable rights. So in constitutional law, then, a human being is a person.

          Since this country is founded on respect for individual rights, the definition of an individual is an important political question. Americans — qua Americans — hold that just being a man (in the generic sense) means that you have unalienable rights, including the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

          That’s why the scientific evidence that a fetus — and indeed, an embryo — is an individual human being is enough to tell us that they ought to be protected by the law.

          • Michael Drew says:

            It’s pretty remarkable to interpret, in a document about the equality of certain people before the law, the word “men,” which was meant by the writers of it at the time as, “white men, not women” (at the most inclusive) to mean “human beings,” (saying they legally equal “persons”) in a debate that is precisely about whether arguing that women carry certain additional legal duties (meaning denial of certain rights) that men will never have to worry about carrying because of biological differences to women amounts to denying women full legal personhood, and thus is misogynistic.

            (Notice there is no position taken there on one side or the other in that debate.)

          • Well, Michael, since you’ve remarked it, it must be so.

            But you’re wrong about “men” in the Declaration — it means human being. In fact, Jefferson’s first draft included emancipation of slaves, because that was a clear implication of the philosophy the document expressed. Sadly, that was politically a bridge too far to happen then. But the downfall of slavery was clearly adumbrated in the Declaration.

            The proscription of abortion, by the way, would apply to both men and women. But in any case, I accept all of the arguments against the government being involved at all, right up until the point that I understand that the fetus (or indeed, embryo) is a genetically unique, unreapeatable individual human person, and so has rights deserving of equal protection of the law. At that point, it really doesn’t matter what burdens are placed on anyone else by the continued existence of that person — no one has the right to kill an innocent human being (however convenient that may, indeed, seem at the time).

          • Michael Drew says:

            I’d be interested to hear other views as to whether the word men there was meant to include all human beings including women, slaves, native Americans, and other non-whites.

            Surely we take as a given that the intended meaning of a document stating the views of a group of signers is set by the shared understanding of all of the signers, not merely the intentions of the drafter(s).

    • Liberty60 says:

      I have to admit a bit of disappointment that I am consigned to belong to one of two camps, the Moralizers or the Freethinkers.

      • James Hanley says:


        It’s perfectly acceptable–even desirable–to be moral. Just not to be moralistic/moralizing.

  5. “Law is arbitrary, by definition.”

    You betray yourself.

    The American founders very much disagreed with you. They wrote this wonderful thing called the Declaration of Independence. It’s great reading, I recommend it highly.

    And if law is simply a matter of power, why are we having this discussion? Aren’t we trying to persuade one another about what is REASONABLE for the law to be?

    • BlaiseP says:

      Oh, the ol’ Founding Fathers defense. The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson, a man whose writings on the subject of Religion should interest you greatly.

      An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

      Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

      That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

      That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

      • Yawn.

        You have a remarkable talent for missing the point. At least it is amusing that you are making a moral argument claiming moral superiority those you’ve dubbed “the Moralists.”

        Here was the point:

        The Declaration says that “governments are instituted among men” “in order to secure” unalienable rights, such as the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

        The WHOLE POINT of the Declaration is that LAW by nature must not be ARBITRARY. And when it IS arbitrary, you have a right to revolt against it.

        The Declaration makes the, um, declaration, that government exists to protect human beings BECAUSE they are human beings, “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

        So the moral argument for the proscription of abortion is identical to the moral argument for the proscription of murder, or theft, or slavery. Which is why the whole argument revolves around whether a fetus is a person. If the fetus is a person, the 14th Amendment clearly guarantees it “equal protection of the law.” If it is not a person, all of your arguments are correct — let’s get the government out of our lives.

        Only problem is, scientifically, the fetus is very clearly a human person. It has a complete and separate genetic code from its mother. Just like the infant that the law DOES protect, all the fetus needs is nutrition, hydration, and education, and it will grow up to be just as much of a pain in the ass as you and I.

        • BlaiseP says:

          Scientifically, huh? Nature is completely statistical. I did a little project on the side for some people working on high- and low-theta DNA mutations.

          You are a collection of recipes. That’s all you are. An active site is a recipe for a protein. As a fetus, you are not much more than a cake baking, two haploid cells on their merry way to making a human being. There’s no magic to it. Most fertilized cells never implant on the uterine wall.

          More genetics for you and a lot less hand waving and cheap moralizing. There are no miracles down there on the genome but there are a lot of horrifying little mysteries which just might lead a mother to abort her child. Like Huntington’s Chorea.

          • Hint: Next time you want to impress someone with your grasp of science, you might want to avoid rookie mistakes like confusing “fetus” with “embryo.”

            I take it that you are a human being. Yesterday, likewise, you were a human being. On which day did you BECOME a human being? At birth? Shortly before birth? When? It’s a legitimate political question.

            And nobody is arguing “miracles” here. Straw man.

            Your language manages to be both amusing and disturbing. First, you seem to think that having a disease, “like Huntington’s Chorea” would make someone less human. That’s a whole new conversation. But I’m struck most by your phrase, “just might lead a mother to abort her child.” If it’s a child at stake, it would be human, no? Likewise, one can’t be a mother unless one has offspring. It’s not a blob of cells, and it’s not a frog. It’s a human person.

          • BlaiseP says:

            Heh. Here’s a hint. Don’t use words like Arbitrary with someone who speaks Latin. An arbiter is a spectator.

            I am a living being. I am the product of the genetics which gave rise to me and my forebears. Nothing magic or special to me or you. I’ll tell you what’s amusing and disturbing, it’s some trying to make the case for the specialness of our particular species. I put my much-loved cat down the other day. I wish I could have done the same for some people in my life, people I watched die horrible and painful deaths. All I could feel was relief and a cold sense of release when they passed away.

            I will not be hectored by the likes of you, Hollingshead, prancing around like some witch doctor telling me about the sacredness of life. An individual, like any sum of vectors, is defined by his degrees of freedom. A woman has the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy for any of a variety of reasons, all of which you and your fellow Taliban seem intent on reducing to fixed variables. That is a degree of freedom we still have in this society, though you may not approve of it.

          • Oh, now I get to be lectured on my English usage by someone who regularly uses words he doesn’t understand. (“Nature is completely statistical”? Please.)

            Okay, Mr. Latin Scholar, I used “arbitrary” in the sense it has been taken in English for the last four centuries. Just because its etymology begins with “arbiter” doesn’t mean it ends there. You might as well say you meant me a compliment by accusing me of “hectoring” because five centuries ago it was a compliment. I am rather like the mighty Hector, thank you.

            We’ve arrived at a pons asinorum. (And, yes, you’re the ass in this scenario.)

            But I’ll try one more time to point out the flaw in your, um, argument.

            You are arguing that there is nothing special about human beings. Just like your cat, we should be allowed to kill them when it suits us? How is it you can justify any law against murder, indeed, any law at all?

            “An individual, like any sum of vectors, is defined by his degrees of freedom.”

            This definition is absurd. In individual is DEFINED by his degrees of freedom? So a person becomes more or less a person when he is incarcerated? How about when he is asleep?

            If you are a person today, and where yesterday, when did you become a person? When you could feed yourself? When you were potty trained? (I am assuming you have been potty trained.) An infant can’t take care of itself, so is it not yet a person? Maybe we should allow mothers to kill their children until they are old enough to leave the house.

            I can see how you could argue that personhood is a potentiality, but I really don’t think you want to take the argument there. It destroys your case, such as it was.

          • DensityDuck says:

            “A woman has the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy for any of a variety of reasons, all of which you and your fellow Taliban seem intent on reducing to fixed variables.”

            That seems like a moral judgement to me, and yet you link Moralizers and the Taliban.

            It’s like you think that if you can just manage to type enough words you won’t have been wrong.

          • Patrick Cahalan says:

            > So a person becomes more or less a person
            > when he is incarcerated?

            Just out of curiosity: have you ever been in jail, or spent a large amount of time with someone who has been in jail?

          • Yes, Patrick. But it’s not as if there is no hope: I hired a felon, once. He couldn’t get a job anywhere else. He told me he had turned his life around, and needed a shot. I told him he could have exactly one chance — any screw up (of the moral variety) and he was gone.

            I’m very glad I did it (though I wouldn’t blame someone for not taking the risk) because he did indeed become a model employee.

            But I take your point. Prison does tend to debase people. It may well diminish their capacity to act in a fully human way, but being human itself is not something that admits of degrees. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.

          • Patrick Cahalan says:

            > but being human itself is not something
            > that admits of degrees

            That is precisely the rub, Stephen.

            Not everyone agrees that this is true.

        • lapidarion says:

          As for the “complete and separate genetic code” argument, I don’t think it’s decisive. Are identical twins, who developed from one set of DNA and continue to have very similar DNA, actually only one person? Is someone with the condition of genetic chimerism actually two individuals because they (in the third person singular, neutral gender use of “they”—ironic in this sentence, I know) have two complete sets of DNA? What distinguishes between persons in such cases is not genetics, I think, but an idea of discrete bodies—on which ground calling a z/e/f a separate person must be seen to be optional, not necessary.

          And if one were able—as does not seem so far in the future, technologically speaking—to become pregnant with an exact copy of one’s own DNA, such that there would be no difference in genetic code, what then?

          Or, to adopt your terms, if you consider someone who is a genetic chimera to be an example of “complete” but not “separate” and therefore just a single individual, then how is a pregnant person’s genetic situation not also an example of “complete” but not “separate”?

          • You’re like a bad dream of graduate school.

            The bodies ARE discreet. Since we’re talking science fiction, here, there’s nothing to prevent the removal of the (okay, I’ll use your term) z/e/f and nourishing it in another environment, even an artificial womb.

            You’ve raised a metaphysical question — individuation by matter (or body) — that was answered pretty well eight centuries ago by the Scholastics.

          • lapidarion says:

            As for discretion, no, a z/e/f is not more discrete from the rest of the body than other parts are. It’s equally possible to identify and remove a bone, an eye, hair, whatever, even though they too are integral to the whole.

            Meaning that the most important factor in what might prevent—or mandate—the removal of someone’s z/e/f would ideally be their own decisions about their own body parts, which may or may not take into account the availability of, oh I don’t know—an artificial uterus?

            Care to offer anything more than an off-handed comment about the Scholastics that might actually indicate their relevance or that they answered the question in a way that is still satisfying? Individuation-by-matter-in-a-nutshell? I’m happy to learn, just give me a reason to follow your lead.

          • It is certainly more discrete. What other “organ” of the body takes nutrition from the body but doesn’t return any function? (Even the appendix had — or may still have — some digestive function.)

            And while we’re playing the game of Cartesian doubt, which individual are we talking about? How do you know that the “mother” isn’t disappearing, and the “baby” isn’t the individual?

            You’re really telling me that at, say, 8 months gestation, you can’t tell the difference between the mother and the baby in this scenario? If you can, I want you to tell me on what day prior that you can’t. And if you can’t, until the baby is born, you are just being obstinate (it would mean some silly things, like that you could create a human person that didn’t exist before just by performing an early C-section).

            As for “individuation by matter in a nutshell,” it would go something like this: Every natural substance is form and matter, soul and body. The form, the soul, is the species, and it is expressed in different individuals. So two aardvarks have the same soul informing their matter. But they are individuals because the actual matter making up their bodies individuates them from one another.

            It was inaccurate of me to ascribe this to the Scholastics simply, however. They talked about it a great deal, but they got it from Aristotle, another, what, 1700 years earlier.

          • lapidarion says:

            Do you mean a z/e/f is a more like a parasite, taking without giving?

            Which is not the argument I’m trying to make. The appendix would be one example, yes. Hair might be another, which doesn’t seem to have any metabolic interaction with the rest of the body once it is grown, though keeping warm is certainly a valuable function. This kind of relative inactivity doesn’t mean my appendix and hair don’t belong to me, though. (Even synthetic replacements, such as joints or heart valves, belong to me and therefore no one else gets to make decisions about them without my approval.)

            Anyway, a z/e/f does return function. For example, some of its cells, including stem cells, can be found elsewhere in the body, and vice versa. Usefully to good effect (boosted immunity, healing of damaged tissues), sometimes to bad (cancer), but the point is the physical integration. So while I agree that one can identify which part the fetus is after 8 months of its developing, it is nevertheless part of the whole. Discrete, yes; separate, no. Once it is separate, whenever and however you imagine that might occur, you can judge it on its own merits.

            Thanks for the brief intro to individuation. But isn’t that just what I’m saying? That until there are two materially separate bodies, there is only one body? Or maybe this concept isn’t useful to us in this argument unless we can agree on what material individuation is?

            And since the person with the uterus exists both before and, if all goes well, after the pregnancy, I’m just going to postulate that they are around during the pregnancy as well.

          • Siamese twins are, then, really one person? How do they vote on who gets to be the person?

            If being connected with an umbilical cord means that there is only one person, what about people connected by some other tube, say, like a battlefield blood transfusion directly from one soldier to another? Does the recipient become part of the donor during the process?

            Let’s review what we know about the z/e/f:

            –It has a separate genetic code from its mother. (It really does in every case we know about; just because you can postulate a cloning situation doesn’t invalidate the natural cases we do know about.) In the case of identical twins, they have the SAME genetic code with each other, but their matter is separate, so they are clearly individuals, not merely more parts of mother.

            –All this z/e/f needs is nutrition, temperature, hydration, etc., to reach the stage where it can feed itself. In this, it is really no different from a two-year-old. Two-year-olds are clearly persons, too. (The jury appears to be out on 14-year-olds.)

            To deny that offspring are separate organisms before birth just flies in the face of basic biology. Of course they are. The only leap I am making is to follow the logic of the Declaration and say that: Any human organism has rights (by gift of nature and nature’s God, it says in the Declaration) that cannot be taken away from them by others, and that the purpose of government is to see that those rights are not violated.

          • lapidarion says:

            Separate genetic code: Not at all denied by me! —but the hypothetical nevertheless shows that it’s a non-essential point.

            Need for nutrition, etc: Also agreed, but it happens to obtain such things as part of the body—not like a two-year-old, whom anyone else can feed. This goes beyond dependency to integration; no one can adopt your z/e/f or nurture it without violating the integrity of your body.

            Conjoined twins show that consciousness is also an important factor. When there aren’t two heads, we don’t really think of there being two people. Which makes it relevant that fetuses are sedated and anesthetized through the moment of birth. The two heads factor also affects your transfusion example. Further, this hypothetical transfusion recipient could take blood from anyone, not being limited to just one donor by the fact of being inside their body. I don’t think these two counter-examples are instructive, so I must continue to fly in the face of your misogynistic reading of biology. Good day, sir.

          • You’ve made an amazing discovery! There really is an inextricable biological link between mothers and their children!

            Oh, wait, that’s misogyny.

            I have no idea what you mean by, “Which makes it relevant that fetuses are sedated and anesthetized through the moment of birth.”

            Um. Fetuses are not sedated or anesthetized through the moment of birth. Not very often, anyway. But even if they were, I don’t see how it’s relevant. I don’t lose my personhood by losing my consciousness. If I did, you could murder me in my sleep without killing a person.

            Thanks for the conversation. At least you were persuaded that the z/e/f is distinct from its mother, if not separate.

          • lapidarion says:

            Actually, fun fact, the normal uterine environment keeps a fetus sedated and insensitive to pain up through birth: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm? id=when-does-consciousness-arise

            You could also look into neonatal perception.

            All your other arguments have failed, to this point, and now you’re trying to prove that a z/e/f is a person on the basis of the fact that it lacks consciousness?

            Do you understand this? You don’t lose your personhood when you lose your consciousness, indeed, but other things don’t gain personhood *by virtue of* lacking consciousness.

          • Scientific American is being pretty speculative, there.

            In this video, it is pretty clear that the fetus at 12 weeks old is violently reacting to the presence of the abortionist’s suction lead — well before the thing even punctures the amniotic sac. The fetus is clearly flipping out from the stimulation. That’s not happening without sensation.


            And there have been studies showing that fetuses feel pain. For example, try this from the American Pain Society: http://www.ampainsoc.org/library/bulletin/jul03/article1.htm

            The New England Journal of Medicine ran an EDITORIAL calling for the treatment of fetal pain during surgery. But you know, maybe they are a bunch of cranks over there.

            And how do you get off saying I argued that lack of consciousness PROVES personhood? I did say, “I don’t lose my personhood by losing my consciousness.” But that’s not at all a claim that non-consciousness proves personhood.

            I think we’ve pretty much exhausted the benefit of this exchange.

          • lapidarion says:

            One more tiny bit of benefit?

            If you trust any of the cranks who’ve published more recently than the Derbyshire article you linked (2003—or the NEJM editorial conveniently quoted therein: 1992), then the thousand words that that youtube video is worth are unlikely to be the same ones you’re putting in its mouth.

            Lee, Ralston, Drey, Partridge, and Rosen. 2005. Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence. JAMA 294.8:947–54.
            Page 950: Furthermore, flexion withdrawal from tactile stimuli is a noncortical spinal reflex exhibited by infants with anencephaly and by individuals in a persistent vegetative state who lack cortical function.
            Page 952: . . . Both of these tests of cortical function suggest that conscious perception of pain does not begin before the third trimester. Cutaneous withdrawal reflexes and hormonal stress responses present earlier in development are not explicit or sufficient evidence of pain perception because they are not specific to noxious stimuli and are not cortically mediated.

            Mellor, Diesch, Gunn, and Bennett. 2007. Fetal ‘awareness’ and fetal ‘pain’: What Precautions Should Be Taken to Safeguard Fetal Welfare During Experiments? AATEX 14:79–83.
            Page 81: Three lines of evidence, taken together, strongly support the view that even when they have matured neurologically fetuses do not normally exhibit conscious awareness before or during birth (Mellor and Gregory, 2003; Mellor et al., 2005, Mellor and Diesch, 2006). First, fetal EEG patterns and fetal behaviour demonstrate that sleep-like states of unconsciousness are continuously present throughout the last half of pregnancy (Mellor et al., 2005). . . . Second, at least eight fetal, placental and uterine factors with well-demonstrated inhibitory effects on the fetal EEG apparently operate throughout the last half of pregnancy (Mellor and Gregory, 2003; Mellor et al., 2005), as summarised below. . . . Third, the neurologically mature fetus is not arousable from non-REM or REM sleep-like states to conscious wakefulness by potentially noxious interventions such as induced hypercapnia (high carbon dioxide), sounds loud enough to cause intense auditory pain and surgery-induced tissue damage (Mellor et al., 2005).

            Not a thousand words, but I hope it’s clear that neither my earlier statement nor the Scientific American article came out of nowhere. As for how representative what I’ve quoted is of current research on the topic—I imagine my assessment won’t be of much value to you, so may the Great Google prosper your search.

            Your video, as an instance of fetal iconography more generally, brings me back to my disagreement with Kyle’s original post: The willingness, even eagerness, to use one part of one’s body against them, and to deprive them of certain rights thereby, is based on a misogynistic understanding of the biology of pregnancy. Why would you want to do that, anyway? What would suggest that that is even permissible to do, except for a prior devaluation of women as individuals, as bodies? So, how is it not inherently—functionally—misogynistic, regardless of historical pedigree?

            Rhetorical questions, of course.

          • There you go again. You keep repeating that we’re using a part of a woman’s body against her, and so are misogynistic. But neither philosophy nor science can accept the notion that the fetus is a part of the mother’s body, any more than a parasite living inside the mother would be considered a part of her body. She is right to dispose of the parasite, because it’s not human.

            To say that people against abortion are misogynistic because only women can carry babies is akin to saying that physicians are racist because they’ve found that black people are more prone to sickle-cell anemia.

          • lapidarion says:

            The “parasite” line was yours, not mine. Since pregnancy is a function of the individual’s body, naturally the individual gets to decide whether the body part will go on to become a separate individual or not. You don’t have to define your pregnancy as frog-like or non-human in some other way in order to exercise the right to autonomy over your own self.

            I would just reverse the phrasing of your last paragraph. Because only women can become pregnant, abortion and other pregnancy-related matters are easily used against them, socially, legally, etc—when that is desired. And because only black people have black skin, their skin color is easily used against them. Why anyone would want to do either is, I opine, not a matter of science or philosophy.

            Unless we’re talking about using science and philosophy to discover what’s wrong with racists and misogynists.

            Also, not all black people have sickle cell, and they are not the only descent group with high rates of it —it’s apparently more related to the presence of malaria among one’s ancestors than to the color of one’s skin. Why, yes, I do read Wikipedia!

          • lapidarion says:

            An actually racist thing for your hypothetical physician to say would be that black people are prone to having black skin and must therefore be prevented from making any decisions regarding that beautiful, innocent skin until it has a chance to grow its own person of flesh and bone inside.

            Nothing to do with racism, of course; just a consequence of black biology.

          • You’re such a delightful idiot. And I mean that in the nicest Greek sense.

            You keep returning to the center of the question and then acting as if you’ve settled it — of course a person’s skin is quite different from her offspring (even if her offspring is attached).

            I say, “The embryo is a human individual.”

            You say, “No, it’s part of the mother.”

            And I — a classical liberal — will say that this is one of those few cases I am happy to use the collective force which is law and government, to oppose you.

            There was a time that some people wanted to use force to outlaw slavery. The question, naturally enough, revolves around whether or not black people are actually people, or merely well-developed animals, capable of being the property of a master.

            If you accept the notion that a black person isn’t REALLY a person, then slavery is really just fine.

            If you accept the notion that a human embryo isn’t really a human person, then abortion is just fine.

            But just because someone might think that a black person isn’t REALLY a person, does not mean that I do not have the moral right to force him not to enslave that person.


            But, of course, you don’t accept the premise.

            This is why the Declaration of Independence is such a fine document. It rallied a people around an idea that shook the world: The fact of human dignity means that governments are only legitimate — and only deserving of our support — when they serve and protect the rights of all individuals. When they do not, we have every right to oppose them. To this, “we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

          • lapidarion says:

            You ought to accept that a human embryo is not a human person. Science and conscience are calling out to you, Stephen Hollingshead!

            I, at least, am delightful. Do you realize you have the same initials as Sacred Honor?

      • Liberty60 says:

        Blaise when you scorn “Moralizers” and set it opposed to “Freethinkers”, you assume that Freedom is somehow a superior value to “morality”.

        Freedom, certainly is to be valued and protected; but is it superior to say, human dignity, or fairness?

        • BlaiseP says:

          I’m not scoffing at Moralizers. I’m pointing out what they always do, what they’re trying to do now. Oh I’m not scoffing. Calling these people what they are isn’t scoffing.

          • DensityDuck says:

            I’m not racist. I’m just pointing out what black people always do. Calling these people what they are isn’t scoffing.

  6. Jesse Ewiak says:

    I’ll put it bluntly. If you’re anti-choice and also against massive government funding for pre-natal and early childhood care and I mean Sweden/Denmark/France levels here, then yeah, all you care about is controlling women’s sexuality.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      That doesn’t quite follow. It could be that all I care about is preventing abortions; I could be utterly indifferent to the consequences that my political actions for women.

      If you’re wondering, I do support massive government funding for prenatal care and beyond.

      • Kim says:

        I know of plenty of abortifacients that people don’t want to make illegal. Many of them grow wild.
        Banning abortion is basically nonsensical — you can eliminate the need for abortion on a societal level (basically giving girls a “free year off” ticket if they get pregnant…)

  7. Anonymous Coward says:

    No offence, BlaiseP, but for someone who likes to proclaim the virtues of freethinking, you do seem quite rather caught up in your own dogma.
    And I’m not one of the alleged “moralizers” you seem to despise, this is coming from a pro-choice agnostic.

  8. I have less than zero interest in discussing the substance of this (suffice to say, I basically agree with Marcotte’s analysis of what it means to be “pro-life”), but we have all missed the perfect opportunity to point out that Jackie Treehorn treats objects like women, man.

  9. lapidarion says:

    May I get out of the historical argument if I make a functional one? Personifying part of someone else’s body without their explicit direction so to do, when that personification results in the denial of certain individual rights to that someone, seems to me to function like discrimination.

    Since a zygote/embryo/fetus is a part of the body that is able to become a separate person, it makes sense to give social and legal sanction to pregnant individuals who define themselves as having another person inside, but it’s really up to those individuals what their pregnancies mean.

    And since it’s basically women who are capable of developing z/e/f’s—assuming that most anti-choicers would consider trans men to be women also—it seems to me that attempts to define and then “protect” parts of their bodies against their wishes is, in function, misogynistic.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      You’d have a case if the anti-choicers were personifying the nascent life in the sense that they were depicting as a person what they know isn’t a person, but since the claim of the anti-choicer/pro-lifer is that the nascent life is, in fact, a person, there’s no intentional personification taking place. Only the affirmation of personal life. This affirmation may be incorrect, but it wouldn’t be misogynistic for that.

      • lapidarion says:

        Just as one can “know” something that is false without intending to be making a mistake, one can also sincerely and unintentionally hold beliefs that are misogynistic—or racist, etc—in nature.

        The rest of my case seems to have gotten lost in what was meant to be a reply to comment 41, so I’ve just posted that text to my blog: lapidarion.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/anti-choice-misogyny-a-reply/

    • Jen says:

      Sorry, but that is utterly absurd. The woman gets to decide what her pregnancy “means”? As though the mother grants life to her baby just by wanting it, and takes away life just by not wanting it? The human being in the womb IS a new life whether he or she is wanted or not. Women do not have magical powers to bestow personhood or deny personhood based on their wishes. The fact that we all reside in our mother’s wombs for the first nine months of life does not make us any less an individual, any less a human being worthy of life. Abortion does not end the mother’s life, but someone else’s life! By any definition, taking someone else’s life by force, when they are innocent of wrongdoing, constitutes murder.

      • lapidarion says:

        Biology is the basis of choice, not a countering factor. Some of what I mean is above in my reply to the comment formerly known as 41 (unless I misread the number initially; S.H.’s comment at February 4, 8:33pm).

        Kyle, thanks again for rescuing some of my earlier comments from spamnation.

      • tom van dyke says:

        To Jen & Kyle: Relativism per Planned Parenthood v. Casey [1992] [Anthony Kennedy]:


        “Our law affords,” the justice began the paragraph containing the infamous phrase, “constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.” For a nation that prides itself on freedom, what else could the justice have said? “Our cases recognize ‘the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.’ Our precedents ‘have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.'” Again, what better summarizes the essence of classical conservatism? “These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Next comes the “mystery” passage: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” And he ends the paragraph with this: “Belief about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under the compulsion of the state.”

        • Stephen says:

          Supreme Court vacuity, to be sure. Kennedy here in Planned Parenthood v. Casey reminds me of Taney in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the case that defended slavery.

          There is no question that we have never fully lived up to the American Idea, so beautifully expressed in the Declaration of Independence. But our greatness as a nation and as a people is measured by the extent to which we do.

          • Will H. says:

            I just want to add that I think the Fourteenth Amendment isn’t worth a hoot in this case.
            The Fourth would probably be a better argument. (unreasonable seizure)