Abortion, slavery & personhood

So several of Andrew’s readers disagreed with my post on abortion and slavery. And at least one of my readers had some particularly colorful things to say to me in an email after it was posted. Let’s tackle Andrew’s readers first and then move on to Ta-Nehisi Coates (via Sullivan, who is keeping the discussion – for better or worse – alive and kicking.)

The first reader writes:

Kain makes the mistake of thinking that any moral belief deeply held, no matter how extreme, can’t be criticized for being too extreme. It’s a moral belief, after all!

But imagine a militant animal rights activist who claimed, "The meat industry is indisputably the worst Holocaust in history." If we buy into Kain’s argument, there’s nothing ridiculous here. If you believe in your heart of hearts that an animal is a sentient being worthy of equal moral weight to a human being, and yet the law of the land dictates that said being is not in possession of even the most basic right – the right to life – then really how different is the meat industry from the Holocaust?

The only difference that I can see is that it’s those damn hippies who would make one argument, while respectable and upstanding members of the community would make the other.

For those of you just getting here, my post basically said that if you believe abortion is murder since you believe a fetus is a person, then likening it to slavery is not such a terrible stretch and certainly not deserving of a Malkin Award.

I think we have to distinguish between human and animal life. I understand not everyone feels that way. But I think placing animal life on the same level as human life is morally reprehensible. There is no Sophie’s choice between our children and our pets. Yes, a PETA activist could claim slaughtering cattle is comparable to the Holocaust; nothing I can argue will change their mind. I simply believe that one must differentiate between human and non-human life. Then the question becomes whether a fetus is a human life, which I believe it is. If we stop distinguishing between human and non-human life, we cease to be human.

The second reader writes:

Two can play that game: If you believe in your heart of hearts that a woman is nevertheless a person – a live, autonomous human being – and yet the law of the land dictates that said live, autonomous being is not in possession of even the most basic right – the right to control what happens to her body – then how different is this from slavery? It’s all about control; does the government get to decide what I do with my body, or do I?

First of all, I’m personally pro-life but politically I favor some form of limited, regulated abortion. Not because I find it morally acceptable, but because I want to avoid a brutal abortion black market that is even more morally reprehensible and antithetical to questions of life.

Second of all, I think this is a bit of a fallacious argument. Women already have choice over what happens to their bodies. They can choose to not have sex or, more practically, they can choose to use birth control. The question is not one of choice at this point but of when and where you define the beginning of human life. If you define it at conception then you no longer are speaking merely of the woman’s body but of another body as well. What’s the line about your liberty ending when your fist connects with my nose? It’s like that, but the nose in question is a fetus.

The third:

In the US, murder of a slave was still murder. They had a right to life. The enforcement may have been lax (or nonexistent), but it was illegal. So I say the Malkin award stands. Abortion = Slavery is a ridiculous analogy. Abortion foes have legitimate morals to raise, why raise specious ones?

Good question! Actually I said in my post that the comparison probably bogs down an already heavily charged subject unnecessarily. I don’t like the comparison. My point was simply to show that we’re dealing with the question of life. It’s not so outrageous that some might liken it to slavery, even if it’s not very useful.

And finally, here’s Ta-Nehisi:

Slave-masters often allowed–indeed encouraged–slaves to engage in acts common among people. Slaves married. Slaves were baptized. Slaves were converted to attend Christianity–and even attended white churches, at times. Slaves and masters exchanged gifts on Christmas. Slaves were allowed to hire themselves out and buy their own freedom. Slaves were manumitted by masters. The point is that what you see in all of that is something more complicated than "Are Africans people?" The better question seems to be "Are black people equal to whites?"

But more than that, core reason an abortion/slavery comparison falls down lay in the actions of the enslaved, versus the inability of action amongst embryos.

Abortion is a debate between two groups over the ultimate fate of embryos.  The Anti-Slavery fight was a violent struggle between two groups over the fate of the enslaved, but with the enslaved as indispensable actors. Unlike embryos, black people were very capable of expressing their thoughts about their own personhood, and never held it in much doubt. Whereas the fight against abortion begins with pro-lifers asserting the rights of embryos, the fight against slavery doesn’t begin with the abolitionists, but with the Africans themselves who resisted.

Well that’s true. Africans were part of the fight against slavery. Especially freed slaves. Indeed, the faculty to fight against slavery increased dramatically for those slaves who escaped or purchased their freedom and went North. Not to stretch this too greatly, but the capacity for those of us who were not aborted also greatly increased after we escaped that fate. What I mean is, we were all embryos once. That was back when we really had no choice in the matter. We were left up to the whims of others. Now that we’ve been spared a premature exit, we do have the ability to save others – much like freed slaves and African intellectuals and religious figures of the day worked to help the still-enslaved. Yes, I realize the comparison is bulky, awkward, creates more heat than light, etc. But it exists nonetheless. Furthermore, simply because embryos do not have the ability to express their opinion in the matter, that does not change what their inevitable opinion would be. Is there any doubt that if you could go and ask an embryo still in the womb if it would rather live or die, what its answer would be? Is there any doubt that if it chose to live and survived that it would become anything other than a human being?

Everything on this planet fights bitterly for survival. I can’t imagine an embryo is any different.

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212 thoughts on “Abortion, slavery & personhood

  1. Ye gods E.D. me lad. Abortion mixed with race relations? Was this one written to see how high the comment hit can go?

    I see the comparison foundering badly on another point. Slaves are fully capable of surviving, at any point in their lives, independently of their masters. Embryo’s are incapable of surviving for most of their life as embryo’s independent of their mothers. So you have a kind of choice of extremes. On the pro-choice side the embryos are made slaves to the freedom/choices of their mothers. On the pro-life side the mothers are made slaves to the needs of their embryos. Morally speaking there is no good choice.

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  2. I think you missed the first reader’s point. It’s not about whether or not human life is indeed morally equivalent to animal life, but about the broader rules by which we determine what is and isn’t a respectable argument.

    Your original post suggested that, even if I myself don’t cotton to the idea that an embryo is equal in moral value to an adult woman, other people earnestly DO believe that, and thus from their perspective the comparison of abortion to slavery makes sense. Whether or not I accept their moral equivalency is beside the point. The point is, they accept it, and that sets the context for the abortion/slavery metaphor.

    In the same vein, whether or not you (or I, for that matter) would agree that animal life is equally valuable to human life, some people out there do clearly hold believe that quite passionately. So, again, from their perspective, comparing our treatment of animals to the Holocaust is reasonable. Whether or not we agree with their a priori philosophic assumption is neither here nor there.

    Your original point, I think, was that even when you disagree with the a priori assumptions informing a particular comparison (abortion/slavery in this case) you should still acknowledge the comparison as reasonable from within the framework of people who do hold those assumptions. So, by your own logic, you should respect the argument that our treatment of animals is equivalent to the Holocaust, since the people making that comparison hold animals equal to humans, even if you don’t. Yes?

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    • @Jeff_S, I saw the same thing, Jeff, and I think Erik gets caught up in the hypothetical debate of animal life vs. human life (okay, I know it’s not always hypothetical, but it is in this instance).

      Nonetheless, I would suggest that the difference is that in the animal vs. human debate, there’s no questioning a human is a human and an animal is an animal. With abortion, the debate is whether a fetus/embryo/whatever is a person.

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      • @Jonathan: You said…

        …in the animal vs. human debate, there’s no questioning a human is a human and an animal is an animal.

        This is true, of course, but immaterial to the actual moral issue at hand. The PETA extremists in Mr. Sullivan’s reader’s counterargument are not arguing that animals are human (which would be crazy,) but that human and animal lives are equally valuable (which is a legitimate moral stance.)

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        • @Al K.,

          I don’t think this objection negates Kain’s point about the slavery comparison. PETA extremists who think that animals are morally equivalent to humans, must logically think that the meat industry is much worse than slavery ever was. In fact, even the most compasionate pet-owner can be likened to a slave-owner on that moral assumption. The absurdity of that result flows from the absurdity of the PETA extremist’s position.
          The question of whether a pre-birth human organism has equal or less moral value than a post-birth human organism is far from this outrageous. And it is the outrageousness of the moral assumption involved which determines whether or not the comparison deserves a ‘Malkin Award’.

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            • @Gorgias,
              You are focusing on the result rather than the premise. A ‘fetus’ 30 minutes before birth is morally indistinguishable from a ‘baby’ 30 minutes after birth: this is not an insane premise, and is in fact very hard to dispute with any rational argument.
              A newly conceived embryo is 9 months instead of 30 minutes different from these two entities. To say that this embryo is morally equivalent to the newborn is less absolutely compelling of a statement than the comparison between the almost-born and new-born, but only because of differences of degree. There are many arguments to be had about particular physical attributes a human organism gains between conception and birth, and which, if any of these confer moral value. But to say that a human organism has value as a human organism independent of his or her attributes is not a morally outrageous statement. The abortion holocaust comparison follows logically from this defensible moral belief.
              A cat (or a horse or a pig) is categorically different from a human being. It is morally outrageous to say that a monkey and a baby have the same moral value. It is entirely defensible to say that the baby has value because the baby is a human organism and the fact that the adult monkey may, for the moment, have a higher mental appitude than the 3 hour old baby is irrelevant to their relative moral worth.

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            • @Gorgias,
              If I’m reading your original argument correctly, your original contention was that the absurdity of the result of making eating meat worse than slavery makes the premise that animals are morally indistinguishable from humans absurd. To attack that point, it’s perfectly permissible to focus on the outcomes.

              I find it dismaying that you don’t want to extend the same courtesy of respect for your opinions that you are arguing so vociferously for to the proponents of animal rights. Go read some Singer and get back to me. The belief that animals have moral value indistinguishable from humans looks pretty similar to the argument that fetuses have moral value indistinguishable from humans, inasmuch as they are both extreme positions with absurd outcomes that are nevertheless philosophically serious and sound, even though I disagree with both.

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  3. I don’t find your answer to the first reader’s question adequate. We aren’t arguing about whether a fetus is a human life in fact or whether an animal life is equal to a human life in fact; our own answers to these questions ought to be tucked safely behind a veil of ignorance to determine what the morally fine way of discussing these differences is.

    To wit, your response doesn’t have anything to say to those who find it just as ridiculous or repugnant to refer to a fetus as having the rights human being as it is to you to refer to an animal as having the rights of a human being, and those are presumably the people who you’d like to get to step outside their mind and see how it looks from the other side.

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  4. ED, I both agree with your arguments toward Andrew’s readers, and agree with what I suspect was the fuel behind them.

    A blogger or pundit claiming that abortion is slavery is purposeful hyperbole; it is nothing else, and it doesn’t deserve the mental and linguistic gymnastics both sides are giving it.

    Is Obama really like Hitler? Is cap and trade really similar to Jim Criw laws?

    Yeah, you can make pithy arguments about where there really are connections, and how someone of a certain belief system might think so… but they don’t. It’s just an intellectually lazy way of saying fuck you to people who disagree with you. It does not warrant defending by people as clever as you, or condemnation by people as clever as Andrew.

    Best to just ignore them until they become irrelevant.

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  5. You know, of course, that in the case of abortion, both parties, to the extent that a non-conscious bundle of semi-organized cells can be called a party, have their fists on the other’s face, rendering the libertarian maxim useless. Of course, if we were to run with it, then your point about women already having made a choice would be easily dismissed (as it is on virtually any other grounds concerning will, freedom, or choice, to say nothing of practical realities — does using birth control make the pregnancy resulting from failure different from those resulting from unprotected sex, morally?), because my choosing to step in front of you doesn’t give you any more right to put your fist to my chin than you choosing to walk up to me does.

    It’s clear, then, that you are eliding certain complexities of the situation to score rhetorical points on top of your only non-sophistical argument, namely the one that begins from the premise that the fetus is a human life, and that the right to life that comes with that classification trumps the woman’s right to make choices about her own body. This premise itself assumes conclusions about the nature of human life and its relation to personhood, or at least whether rights accrue to humans or to persons, but even if we accept the premise as it stands, and the conclusion about rights that you draw from it, we’re still left with all sorts of difficulties for your slavery analogy. Both parties serve as slaves for the other equally well in the analogical mapping (especially when we consider that the woman’s life may be at stake as well), for example. What’s more, the woman’s slavery can be considered to far outlast that of the fetus. Or, approaching it from a different direction, the slave and the slave owner could both exist without each other, and in the slave’s case at least (one could argue in the owner’s as well), the separate life would be preferable. In the case of abortion, at least pre-viability, no such option exists for the fetus. It is more analogous, in this sense, to a parasite (perhaps acquired from choosing to eat known risky food, or choosing to swim in known risky waters) than to a slave. Of course, this analogy too omits too much to lead to anything but sophistical reasoning, but it is no worse in this regard than yours.

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  6. (Note: I fully support the right of women to control their own sexual destinies up to and including the moment of crowning.)

    For what it’s worth, it’s not that I see abortion as analogous to slavery as much as I hear echoes of defenses of slavery in the defenses of a woman’s right to control her own sexual destiny.

    Specifically: when it comes to the moral status of the fetus.

    Usually, the argument goes something like “it’s a parasite, it’s a skin tag, anyone who would argue otherwise would obviously want women forced to carry the fetus to term at gunpoint AND NOW WHO IS THE SLAVE???”

    As someone who does not see “The Government Ought Use Police To Prevent X” as logically following “X is morally wrong” 100% of the time (even as I agree that it does, sometimes, follow more than 0% of the time), it’s frustrating to see any defense of the moral status of the fetus as an implicit argument that we ought to pass a law that ought to be enforced by police (AT THE POINT OF A GUN).

    The whole abortion debate is encapsulated by the choice of terms used by the sides to define themselves. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. It demonstrates how far past each other both sides are talking.

    It’s very true that the Republican types who argue that we could easily make abortion illegal and enforce the laws because we already have a model set up in the form of Child Services are creepy totalitarian types. This is no excuse to start arguing that the baby in question does not, in fact, have any moral standing in the argument. It’s creepy to take away the humanity of the baby and compare it to, say, a skin tag or parasite. Whenever you start defining humanity narrowly with the explicit intention of defining a certain group *OUT*? Well, you need to realize that you sound like the folks in the past who did similar.

    And not all of them are as respectable as Marge Sanger and/or Oliver Wendell Holmes (ptooey).

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  7. [[The whole abortion debate is encapsulated by the choice of terms used by the sides to define themselves. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. ]]

    Except that very few who call themselves “Pro-Life” actually are. They tend to be pro death penalty and pro war (even pro pre-emptive war). There are some who truly are “Pro Life”, but this group seems to be a vanishingly small percentage of the whole.

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        • @greginak, of course not!

          Our side isn’t anywhere *NEAR* as venial as the other side. The way they paint us is slanderous. The way we describe them is scientifically, if not clinically, accurate.

          Can I help it if the principled people who don’t agree with me are, let me copy and paste this phrase to make sure I get it right, “a vanishingly small percentage of the whole.”?

          I’m just asking questions!

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      • @Jaybird,
        I can cite any number of pro-choice libertarians, and any number that are anti-eugenics in any way.

        Can you cite “pro-life” activists that are also active against the death penalty and war? Some Catholics are, but not one politician has been kicked out of a church for supporting the war in Iraq, while several have for being mildly pro-choice.

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        • @Jeff, and those who are “pro-war” can also hide behind being “pro-woman”. Are you an objective supporter of the Taliban’s treatment of women? It’s a simple question, after all.

          Either you think that we ought to intervene or you think that how the Taliban treats women is not bad enough for you to do something about it.

          It’s that same dynamic.

          You’d think that it’d be more transparent to more folks…

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          • @Jaybird,

            > Either you think that we ought to intervene
            > or you think that how the Taliban treats
            > women is not bad enough for you to do
            > something about it.

            That’s not quite a fair comparison.

            I might think that the way the Taliban treats women is atrocious, and I might be very willing to “intervene”, but I may also decide that there is no practicable way for me/us to intervene without a large attendant laundry list of unacceptable side consequences, and thus be unwilling to take any of the available intervention options.

            That doesn’t mean that I tacitly or explicitly endorse the Taliban, just that I cannot find reasonable grounds to take an active role in attempting to change their policies.

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            • @Pat Cahalan, of *COURSE* it’s not a fair comparison.

              It’s a demonstration of how the two sides are talking past each other and both sides use moral dressing.

              “We believe in peace! War is not the answer!”
              “You are objectively pro-institutionalized misogyny! We are not pro-war, we’re pro-women!”

              And so on and so forth. We are pro-life, therefore the other side is pro-death. We are pro-choice, therefore the other side is anti-choice.

              We are the only moral side in the argument. Those guys? Totally immoral and using pretty words to whitewash their sepulchers.

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        • Well, me, for one, to the extent that debate and writing to politicians counts as “activism”. Anti-war, anti-capital punishment (not that that’s much of an issue here in Canada) and anti-abortion.

          Most of my action is anti-war though, as opposing (or even voicing any moral reservations about) abortion is, in Canada, an exercise in futility and self-evident proof that you’re a misogynist.

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  8. Morality and legal issues are separate — morals have to worked out within each individual, but legally a women should have the right to do as she wishes with a fetus in her body, even if it means changing her mind after becoming pregnant. It’s not a pretty dilemma, but the law should protect the rights of the woman — the fetus has no right to remain within a woman’s body if it’s unwanted. Once there is birth and a separate human being with rights is present, it’s a different story.

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  9. While I agree 100% with ED on the pro-life stance and I also see the criticism of this as hyperbole as fair. Yes, it probably is analagous from the perspective of us pro-lifers just as the animal-rights analogy is probably fair from the perspective of vegetarians…but it’s such a loaded concept that it overshadows what is, in my opinion, always an important debate (i.e. is abortion murder?)

    Let me also add for the record that this line was awesome: “Women already have choice over what happens to their bodies. They can choose to not have sex or, more practically, they can choose to use birth control. “ I get really tired of pro-abortion folks who complain about taking away a woman’s right to choose and this is the exact point they need to get into their head. The choice begins at intercourse, not pregnancy.

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    • @Mike at The Big Stick,
      Well it’s a classic line in conservative circles. To my ear it encapsulates the foundation of the social conservative enterprise in the public policy sphere; “If she doesn’t want to get pregnant then she shouldn’t have sex.”
      At least the most ardent pro-choicers just view a fetus as an unfortunate accident rather than as a just punishment upon the heads of “loose women” for their behavior.
      Men of course are winked at for kicking up their heels and “sowing their wild oats” where they may, aka whoring around preying upon any woman foolish, helpless or hopeless enough to give in to their advances. Yeesh it’s enough to make a second wave feminist out of me (and those dames are scary).

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      • @North, The problem is that you are applying our very modern sense of fairness and equality to the situation. It’s the same mentality that has some of my guy friends announcing, “We’re pregnant” when their wife is the one carrying the baby. I admire the shared sense of responsibility but when it comes to pre-marital sex (the overwhelming majority of abortions), at the end of the day women are the gate-keepers for reproduction. Simply put, if they say no, then there is zero risk of pregnancy (and before anyone mentions it, rape leads to less than 1% of all abortions so that’s not even worth talking about in this context). It may be unfair but the choice really is all up to the women here.

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    • @Mike at The Big Stick,
      Mike, perhaps the choice does begin at intercourse, but it doesn’t end there, obviously. Things happen. People who don’t intend to get pregnant, do. The question then becomes what options do they have available to them? Do you propose that getting pregnant is akin to committing a crime… a choice that nullifies subsequent rights?

      Short of locking a woman up, I don’t see in practice how society effectively revokes those subsequent choices. Free pregnant women have available to them all kinds of choices regarding activities that they may engage in or not that pose all kinds of risks to their bodies, and by extension to the fetus. They can legally consume vast quantities of alcohol or prescribed medication; they can starve themselves or go on an all grapefruit diet; they can smoke a carton of cigarettes a day, or drink 20 cups of coffee, and then try to run a marathon; they can skydive, or engage in simulated drowning for fun; or a million other things….

      From a practical basis, who do you propose would be in charge of deciding which activities and behaviors become off limits to women after they’ve discovered their pregnant? Who would be responsible for policing these behaviors? What if a woman engages in these behaviors while pregnant… what are the penalties and remedies? And what about if the woman can claim, the veracity of such begin difficult to ascertain, to be unaware of her pregnancy while engaging in these behaviors?

      These questions highlight important reasons why even if you believe abortion is morally wrong, you might acknowledge that legal means are impractical for limiting it. They also highlight why abortion is not like slavery. Slavery can be limited by preventing people from performing something reprehensible — buying, selling, controlling other people. Limiting abortion ultimately requires forcing people to engage in things that are good — properly carrying for the vessel, one’s body, that houses a fetus.

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        • @Mike at The Big Stick, Mike, the Europeans as a whole don’t picket their abortion clinics, terrorize women trying to get abortions, shoot abortion providers or try to ban the procedure outright either. Personally if that was the deal pro-lifers were offering they’d have already sealed it by now. But we both know that American pro-life groups do not want modest restrictions on late term abortions, or at least their desires are not limited to that.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, Mike, my quick google suggests that it’s a touch more liberal than you think:
              http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6235557.stm
              I’m showing it being available on request in much of Europe.

              As to your excellent question; personally I certainly wouldn’t mind if it meant that the right would end some of their extra-legal activities against women and abortion providers. Alas, there’s no trust on either side of the debate in the U.S. Pro-lifers don’t believe that pro-choicers would ever accept any limit on infanticide and pro-choicers don’t believe that pro-lifers would ever accept a modest legal limit and stop trying to ban abortion outright.

              Even if the left would accept it, do you honestly think the right would?

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, Eek my comment is in moderation hell, I’ll include the non-linked part:

              Mike, my quick google suggests that it’s a touch more liberal in Europe than you think:

              As to your excellent question; personally I certainly wouldn’t mind if it meant that the right would end some of their extra-legal activities against women and abortion providers. Alas, there’s no trust on either side of the debate in the U.S. Pro-lifers don’t believe that pro-choicers would ever accept any limit on infanticide and pro-choicers don’t believe that pro-lifers would ever accept a modest legal limit and stop trying to ban abortion outright.

              Even if the left would accept it, do you honestly think the right would?

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, I think in the short term, yeah, most conservatives would accept it. Any progress is good progress and a 10% reduction (approx.) is something in the order of 100,000 lives per year.

              It’s all about incrementalism. We want to slowly march abortion backwards in much the same way that liberals want to march gay marriage or HCR forward towards a more universal goal.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, As long as the right confined themselves to hearts and minds I’d be disagreeing but respectful of their position. But since the right insists on including intimidation and violence as well as the law and the state in the battle then I am left in the same position that most pro-choicers are; if no accord can be reached on the ultimate destination (safe, legal and rare for instance) then any restriction probably should be resisted so as to defend the policy ground behind (to the left) of it.

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          • @North, I think you’re ignoring the fact that the pro-life movement didn’t really exist until Roe v. Wade. Evangelicals were ambivalent about the state pro-life efforts, which were decentralized and disorganized prior to Roe – the Southern Baptists actually supported the decision – and the only institution that initially strongly opposed the decision initially was the Catholic Church. All that changed pretty quickly once Roe modified the abortion laws of 46 states, federalizing the issue, and removing it more or less permanently from the legislative process.

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  10. As Jaybird notes above, the similarity is less between slavery and abortion as actions and more between the way defenders of slavery and supporters of abortion conceptualize the slave and the unborn: both tend to deny personhood and see the other as “owned.” I don’t know if the comparison is very helpful, but it’s not unreasonable.

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  11. “If we stop distinguishing between human and non-human life, we cease to be human.”

    I feel the same way when I see someone unable to differentiate between a the rights of a blastocyst or a first trimester fetus with no consciousness, the most primitive of brain systems and phenotypically difficult to distinguish from a chicken or reptile and an adult woman.

    I see that as every bit as distasteful and stupid as you seem to find the animal rights people.

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      • @Katherine,

        No, but not for moral reasons. Third trimester abortion is probably a species of infanticide, but the story behind a third trimester abortion is almost always something incredibly awful.

        A diagnosis that the infant is going to have a incredibly short, incredibly painful and expensive existence is almost always the story behind that.

        After that comes teenagers who are trying to cover up incest until it becomes impossible to hide it or any of a number of awful circumstances. There is nearly always some sort of incredibly sad story behind an abortion that late and people should mind their business.

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  12. Just thought I’d stop by and see what was going on here. Sorry to interrupt.

    Usually I don’t pay any attention to debates on abortion at all. Reminds me too much of high school. But your basic idea attracted me—abortion is killing/murder and that makes it analogous to legalized slavery (if my skimming wasn’t too far off). It’s so clear, commonsensical, concise and besides which, irrefutable. Seems like all discussion on this point should end after this. Not to beat a dead horse, but both legalized abortion and legalized slavery devalue human life to the point where it’s not even human anymore. Altogether deplorable.

    One can easily see how useful your idea is when one realizes that accepting it does not determine one’s ultimate position on abortion. So far I can agree with the most extreme papists out there: abortion is killing/murdering human life from the moment the new DNA is directing future development in the new cell. Indeed, what else could it possibly be that dies under abortion? But still, I can favor legalized abortion using any number of practical or philosophical basis, or not. If I do, I just have to know that I’m killing/murdering a human life, etc etc. This is surely very hard to do for civilized people, which in itself should be commended. But it shouldn’t lead to self-deception because that’s exactly what we’re doing, as you have shown. Whether I say that abortion should be legal or not on this basis, I cannot fail to understand that the state, with its celebrated monopoly on violence, has the right to use it, or to sanction it, within constitutional limits, it goes without saying. We use it in war, on death row and in self-defense. We can use it on the unborn if we want to. And for sure we want to.

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      • @North, Jaybird,

        Hey, thanks! I just got distracted by other things than arguing with you guys. Anyhow, I’m taken aback by your welcome. I always thought I was a wet blanket on your fire, from the responses I used to get around here.

        Anyhow, the deal is, as one grows old, one does a lot of stuff that one later regrets. One can be a real pig to oneself and to other people as well. Part of the deal is realizing that one can be a real pig and still be alive and still enjoy it (while, of course, keeping the porkiness to a minimum.)

        As for the abortion debate, it’s been useful for me to admit that I’ve been a real pig. Murdered human life more than once by recourse to abortion. There is no defense for this. But I continue to insist on legal abortion because people have the right to be real pigs too, if they can stand it, and the state sanctions it, as it does in the USA.

        Going on and on about the philosophy and theology of abortion is just a defense mechanism that allows people to deceive themselves. This is why ED’s point has drawn so much fire. If not, then it would just be stating the obvious to everyone—because it’s so goddamn obvious. I’d rather face the truth about myself than try and fool others into fooling myself. Or something…

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    • @Roque Nuevo, RN, I have always been grateful that I haven’t participated in an abortion. I say that not as someone who thinks he’s ‘holy’ rather as a sinner who through God’s mercy managed to avoid the particular sin of abortion. To think I would have missed the life of a son or a daughter would have been, for me, crushing. My heart weeps for those folks, men and women, who have participated, in one way or another, in abortion.

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  13. Several points to make.
    First commenter: False equivalence. Because we kill and eat animals and do other things to them that would be very gruesome to do to a person, that doesn’t imply that animals don’t have rights. They have a right to a reasonable degree of care, and the person caring for them is accountable for any negligence in that care.

    Second commenter: This is what I call “the toenail argument;” that a fetus is no more than a toenail, and can be disposed of at any time– another false equivalence.

    But it does bring up some interesting questions.

    Is parenting actually a form of slavery?
    Is it within the very nature of children to enslave their parents?

    To say that this is exclusively a moral choice is unacceptable; eg cocaine use is a moral choice.

    Mike Farmer makes an important point here:
    …a woman’s right to control what’s in her body… based on the rights of person and property.
    Ummm, no.
    I hate to break the bad news to you, but the fact of the matter is: People are mammals.
    Among mammals, it is the female of the species which carries the unborn. That’s just the way it is. Maybe science will be able to change that someday; but for now, that’s where we’re at. If that somehow makes me sexist, then I agree to be sexist on that limited usage.

    There are classes of people, ie the incarcerated, that are recognized as “non-person;” and I believe that the unborn fall into that category.
    Now, being a non-person doesn’t mean that these groups are void of all rights; it just means that their rights are severely limited. I believe that’s the sensible way to approach the matter.

    Back to your original point, people are free to believe any old foolish thing they care to believe. That’s a given.
    On the other hand, there are few restrictions on the exercise of reason.

    Most of the rhetoric on either side is overblown.
    And a lot of that has to do with the all-or-nothing approach of the pro-choice side. (another false equivalence)
    It’s hard to take people seriously when they are so fully engaged in fallacy.

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  14. To me, this falls under the category of “If you accept Premise A, then Proposition B makes sense.” when a failure to accept A makes B sound ridiculous.

    In that sense, I don’t think the PETA argument is actually unfathomably stupid. It’s simply built on a premise with which I disagree. The disagreement here shouldn’t be over whether there are parallels between slavery and abortion. It is over whether the fetus is (or should be considered) a human life. The answer to the slavery=abortion question is entirely determined by the premise… so the premise is the important part.

    As such, I find the comparison between slavery and abortion (and abortion and animal slaughter) to be pretty useless. Respectable, perhaps, but mostly among those that accept Premise A. For people that reject Premise A, the only utility is in determining the sincerity of the opposition. A lot of folks find the notion that people that disagree with them radically are sincere.

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  15. It’s interesting- I read an article recently that explained why some women used coat hangers back when abortion was illegal. The idea, apparently, was often not to induce an abortion, but to make a small tear in the wall of the uterus, which would cause heavy bleeding. Then, they would be taken to the hospital, where the doctors would often decide that, in this case, abortion was acceptable to protect the woman’s health. Of course, the problem is that you’re basically causing a tear in a thin lining, so it’s very easy to push through and basically kill yourself. Another weird method that was somewhat popular was using Chlorox, although I’m not entirely sure how that induces abortion. It’s also not particularly safe. On the other hand, if some scared shitless 15 year old kills herself with household cleaning solutions because her parents never explained birth control to her, it’s important to remember that she chose to have sex. To be fair, I assume you’d allow abortion in that case.

    Anyway, I think this is what people had in mind when they legalized abortion. For rich women, of course, abortion was already legal because they could travel to another country that allowed the procedure. For poor women, the black market was the way to go. Just like it is today in Brazil, for example. When you make abortion illegal, it’s not that abortion rates drop dramatically- you just have amateurs doing a medical procedure for the right price. So, when you talk about allowing for some abortion to avoid a brutal black market, I hear what you mean. But what sorts of abortions could we make illegal without creating a black market?

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    • @Rufus, one question I’d have is how much of a black market there is over in Europe for abortion.

      You may be surprised to find that, between the US and Europe, the US is the one closest to “abortion on demand” while Europe is chock full of countries that makes distinctions between the first and second and third trimesters.

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      • @Jaybird,
        Quite true Jay, European (and Canadian) abortion rules are in general somewhat less permissive than those in the United States. On the other hand Europe doesn’t generally have private organizations that work very hard to make abortion unavailable via blockading abortion clinics, murdering abortion providers and generally making practical access to abortion difficult for lower income women. They also do not have very much active opposition to contraception and sex education compared to social forces in the States. As a consequence abortion is legally more restricted and numerically is more scarce than in the US but in practical terms what abortions there are are easier to get.

        Outside the US the abortion situation is in a detente; abortion foes accept that women are able to get near unlimited abortions in the first trimester and very lightly limited abortions in the second trimester in exchange for being able to limit abortions in the third trimester. This is a deal that the pro-life forces would never accept in the U.S. and that pro-choice groups are too paranoid to ever offer.

        It’s very dramatic as so many subjects are in the States. Probably why the politics are so interesting to watch.

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      • @Jaybird, That’s true, although as usual “Europe” has a huge range of legal regimes – abortion is still basically illegal in (all of) Ireland, but available almost on-demand (technically only for the very-broadly-defined health of the mother) in the mainland UK. There’s no black market because the right to free movement is protected within the EEA, and its a lot easier to get a 12.99 flight to London than to go to a back-alley abortionist or injure yourself with a coat hanger.

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      • @Jaybird,

        America takes into account the differences between the semesters. If I remember my reading of Roe v. Wade correctly, first trimester abortions are protected unlimitedly, second trimester abortions cannot be prevented if it is critical to the life of the mother, and 3rd trimester abortions may be limited as jurisdictions please.

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      • @Jaybird, Canada’s even more so – abortion is unrestricted in any way up to the moment of birth, and politicians are still arguing that it isn’t “accessible” enough (since many doctors refuse to perform late-term abortions.)

        BTW, it’s fascinating that people who call themselves “pro-choice” tend to be utterly against the right of doctors to choose whether they’re willing to perform abortions.

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  16. E.D. ->

    Let us assume that the fetus is in fact an unqualified person. Is the fetus’s right to life a positive right, or a negative right?

    That is to say, are we required to acknowledge the fetus’s right not to be killed, or are we required to take steps to preserve the fetus’s right not to be killed?

    May we prohibit pregnant women from smoking? How about driving? What level of risk behavior is considered unacceptable?

    Let us assume that the fetus has only a negative right to life; that is, we acknowledge that it may not be killed, but we’re not compelled to take steps to ensure its survival. If a woman leaves the United States and has an abortion elsewhere, is it a prosecutable crime?

    Is a woman allowed to have a passive abortion; i.e., she may have a surgical procedure to remove the fetus from her uterus, but is not allowed to kill it directly? Although its inevitable death from a lack of life support is regrettable, the fetus has no positive right to life.

    Let us assume instead that the fetus has a positive right to life; that is, we are required to protect it actively from death. Do we register pregnancies?

    If we can prevent active reproduction activity with a medical procedure, can we implement it across the board at age 10 to all citizens and revoke it only upon the agreed acceptance of the burden of pregnancy by the parties?

    If we develop an artificial womb that is capable of reducing a miscarriage rate by a significant, measurable percentage, can we mandate its use and forbid natural childbirth, in the interest of the child? Can we mandate its use in the event of accidental pregnancies?

    If that technological option existed, would that be an agreeable compromise to both sides? That is to say, no abortions are legal, but surrendered fetuses will be accepted at medical facilities and placed into such an incubator to become wards of the state or whatnot, with no questions asked (much like infant surrender laws in many states now)?

    If this is the case, does the child after birth have a right to, say, medical history information about its parents that most children have access to, but the ward of the abortion prevention program will not?

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  17. From North:

    “Mike, I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to request a cite on that one.”

    My mistake. I was confusing two statistics. The top 20 states for abortion are blue. Of the top 20 states for teen pregnancy they are evenly divided between red and blue. This is what makes me think that sex ed does little to mitigate the numbers.

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  18. ‘Second of all, I think this is a bit of a fallacious argument. Women already have choice over what happens to their bodies. They can choose to not have sex or, more practically, they can choose to use birth control.

    you’re leaving out something: people who used birth control all the time, only to be one of those 1% statistics. what of us?

    cus you know what sucks worse than the abortions you oppose? Being an unwanted unloved child. that’s why I like to remix the pro-life bumper sticker as “abortion stops a beating.”

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  19. E. D. Kain says, “I think we have to distinguish between human and animal life.”

    My sperm are human life. Now, I can hear the objection that they are haploid, and that Kain meant we need to distinguish dipoid human life.

    But what is so important about ploidy that is should have a bearing on this? Aren’t other qualities, such as the start of consciousness, more important to the ethical issue? The moment one begins to qualify “human life,” it’s clear that Kain is making the usual mistake of reducing the whole issue of personhood to a convenient turn of phrase that seems to root an answer in biology. But really doesn’t.

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  20. “Women already have choice over what happens to their bodies. They can choose to not have sex or, more practically, they can choose to use birth control.”

    In other words, once a woman decides to have sex, she gives up all pretense of control over her own body. Ih the government then takes control over her reproductive decisions and forces her to bear a child against her will, well, she deserved it for having sex in the first place.

    Sorry, no dice.

    Also, birth control sometimes fails despite the best intention of its practitioners.

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  21. @Russell: You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    The problem with the simplistic word-game reasoning that “an embryo is biologically alive, and is biologically human; therefore it is a human life” is that its two premises hold equally true if either “sperm” or “egg” is substituted for “embryo”, and in either of those cases the conclusion is ridiculous.

    Therefore, it seems self-evident to me that the moral definition of human life must be something else. Something along the lines of having a brain with a frontal lobe, so that that being can have sufficient reasoning capacity that it can learn to make moral choices. The frontal lobe develops about the fourth month, so I draw the line there.

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    • False. There are a variety of points of view on abortion among pro-life people. Personally, I’m okay with the morning-after pill and would prefer increasing levels of restriction for the first to second and third trimesters, with serious danger to the mother’s health as the only exception in the second and third trimesters.

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  22. Nice post, ED. It’s comforting to see someone make an argument that tries to understand pro-life positions rather than simply insisting they’re due to religious intolerance and hatred of women, which is the only response I’ve gotten any time I’ve tried to discuss the issue. Oh, and insistence that I’m right-wing, contrary to all my actual political positions, because if I’m NOT right-wing their entire understanding of the issue as US=GOOD TOLERANT PEOPLE, THEM=EVIL WARMONGERING CONSERVATIVES falls apart.

    Warning to pro-lifers in the States: backing off is not going to make anybody any more moderate, it will do the opposite. My university has only one student group excluded from funding – a moderate pro-life group focused on encouraging alternatives to abortion, not on changing the laws. You can call Canada a police state and that’s jut reasonable political discourse, but you can’t call abortion wrong because that’s intolerance.

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    • @Katherine,

      Warning to pro-choicers in the states. You can try to compromise but that will just cause the anti-choices to count it as a victory and work to ratchet womens rights further away.

      http://womensrights.change.org/blog/view/mexican_women_face_up_to_30_years_prison_time_for_having_an_abortion

      http://womensrights.change.org/blog/view/10-year-old_mexican_rape_victim_denied_abortion

      So don’t let up they don’t care about women or their health.

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    • @Katherine,

      And the bigger deal is that in a slave comparison of women and fetus it is clearly the women who is the slave of the fetus.

      The women is forced to feed it, carry it around, and risk disease and death for it. The only way you could say that the women isn’t the slave here is if she has the choice about whether she wants to do that or not.

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        • @Mike at The Big Stick,

          Again with the slut shaming. When anti-choicers use the slavery metaphor it is ok. When I defend women and their sexual choices it is hyperbole.

          Women have the right to choose what goes on with their body regardless of their sexual choices. Having sex doesn’t void her rights, in the united states you cannot sign a contract to be a slave.

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          • @ThatPirateGuy, It’s not ‘slut shaming’. It’s about personal responsibility. And I say this as someone who had a child at 19 from irresponsible behavior. Yeah, I had less disposable income for a long time and it took me an extra 4 years to finish college, but I also gave my 16 year-old her first driving lesson last week and it was worth every second of ‘suffering’ I had to endure. So spare me the woe-are-they tales. We can all disagree on whether or not marriage is for procreation but there’s no disputing that sex is for procreation. One assumes that risk the minute they engage in it and if the result is a pregnancy they have some responsibility to see it through.

            Honestly though, this is a silly conversation. You don’t view a fetus as a life so you don’t see abortion as problematic. In that respect abortion is just another item in the family planning toolkit which should be accompanied by no more feelings of guilt than using a condom or a birth control pill.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick,

              And that is a fine life Mike. I wouldn’t ask that you get in a time machine and go back and undo it. Only that the color of law and terroristic attacks(shootings & bombings) not be used to force other people into that life.

              Especially not on the basis of murky controversially metaphysical opinions. I get the personally pro-life but not legally pro-life position and I respect it. But the second someone starts coming for the law or uses violence or intimidation I am going to come down on them like a ton of bricks.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, Violent anti-abortion attacks are down dramatically. I spent some time crunching the numbers last year with another blog. At the moment opposition has pretty much settled into protests and miscellaneous mischief.

              My personal preferences is that the states handle abortion law. Red states can ban abortion, blue states allow it. You’re not going to change cultural attitudes in either places so why not let the law reflect that? If someone in a red state wants an abortion, they can hop in their car.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, I’m talking any minor (under 18). It’s a serious medical procedure and parents should know about it. It’s insane that they wouldn’t. My kids can’t get an allergy shot without a parent to sign the form. Also, if your kid is a minor and pregnant, I think obviously the parents have dropped the ball on some level. They need to be informed so maybe they can make sure it doesn’t happen again (a large % of abortions are for women who have already received one previously).

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick,

              > I’m talking about sex as a biological
              > act. Nature always intends for the
              > end-result to be pregnancy.

              So you’re an ID proponent, then? Nature, itself, has some sort of intentions that inflict upon us moral obligations?

              Who says “Nature” has any “intentions” at all? An evolutionary process doesn’t have independent cognitive goals. That’s not how natural selection and evolution work.

              If Nature has no intentions, then we have no automatic moral requirements to use anything “it” “provides” us in any particular way, as it is literally not designed for any purpose at all.

              My mouth is evolved in such a way that I can use it to breathe, eat, and speak. If I choose not to use it to speak, but instead use my hands, that decision has no attached moral judgment. If I choose to use it for some other purpose for which it is suitable (if not evolutionarily selected for, like oral sex), this is likewise not necessarily burdened with a moral judgment.

              You can have sex for purposes other than procreation. The purpose of the act is dictated by the participants, not Nature. Unless you think Nature is a Designer ;)

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      • @ThatPirateGuy, I’ve long thought the solution to this problem is to separate the interests. Instead of “abortion” women should birth the fetus. Let the little tadpole have a go at it. Perhaps the Catholics could invest money in the science to grow preemies instead of telling others how to live.

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  23. A few points. Let us grant the assumption that a fetus is a person (which is ridiculous but we’ll do it anyway for the sake of argument.)

    Let us also then grant that the fetus enjoys every single last individual right any other person (such as you or I) possess.

    You still have no rational argument to present that it is in any way remotely reasonable to liken abortion to slavery. Quite frankly, the only reasonable application of the word slavery goes in the other direction, outlawing abortion has an equivalent effect.

    Your problem is you are not attempting to assign the rights of a person to a fetus, you are attemptoing to invent rights that no other person possesses and assign them to the fetus, then claim that they are being denied those fictional rights.

    If I, an undisputed person with the full rights and privleges thereof, ended up in the emergency room tomorrow and it was discovered I would be dead in a mater of hours if I didn’t get a liver transplant would my “right to life” extend to requiring the sole compatible donor who was available in that time frame to give up a piece of their liver? Hell no it would not. Their body, their choice, they have the right to refuse to subject their body to any process they do not consent to *even* if it means I am going to die as a result. There is no such thing as some fictional right I have to live at the expense of another person’s autonomy over their own body.

    Let’s take it a step further. I am in a car accident because some careless idiot decided to talk on their cell phone and not pay attention to what they were doing, swerved into my lane, and hit me. I’m losing a lot of blood. I’m not going to make it to the hospital. I’m a rare blood type. Guess who’s a match? The moron who decided to yap on his cell phone and hit me. No other blood is available in time. I’m dead if I don’t get a pint. All I need from this guy to keep me alive is for him to undergo the tiny trivial little inconvenience of getting pricked with a needle and drawing some blood. He is DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE for my current situation.

    Am I legally entitled by my “right to life” to require him to submit to the blood donation even under these extreme conditions? No I damn well am not. His body, his call, end of story no exceptions.

    So please tell me where the heck you conjure this right for the fetus to preserve its life by requiring a mother to undergo, against her will, a nine month long pregnancy followed by the act of giving birth when I can’t even make some guy get poked by a needle to save *my* life? (And for very good reason. Declaring that it is possible for people to take some action that *irrevocably* forfeits their right to control over what is done with their body is the definition of slavery.) If we don’t do it to even the extent of a poke with a needle with the idiot with cell phone who got the hypothetical me injured and facing death in the first place, we sure as hell don’t do it to the extent of forcing a pregnancy to be carried to term for the horrible crime of being female and sexually active. And spare me the absurdity that choosing to have sex is in any way equivalent to choosing to get pregnant. Accidents happen.

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        • @Grant, I assume you care because you mentioned it. Abortion law can be nuanced. Proponents of abortion seem to imply it would be cruel to burden women with an unwanted pregnancy as ‘punishment’ for accidents. I’m just wondering how many of these ‘accidents’ actually happen. Comon sense and statistics tells us that most abortions result from carelessness, not bad luck.

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          • @Mike at The Big Stick,

            I mentioned it occurs. I didn’t mention what rate at which it occurs… that was you. I don’t care since it doesn’t matter, unless you can come up with a reason it does that I don’t know about.

            The fact that it occurs renders it impossible for any practical purposes to selectively enforce abortion restrictions based on intent. Any woman who wants an abortion will say it’s because she didn’t want to get pregnant, if she wanted to be pregnant she wouldn;t be getting an abortion! What do you do, roll lie detectors into the doctor’s office? Have women sign formal declarations of intent to get impregnated and waiving their right to autonomy over their own body for the next nine months before they engage in sexual intercourse to prove they’re not supposed to get abortions later but it’s ok for other women who got pregnant unintentionally?

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick,

              Referring to them as “the careless” implies we’re talking about accidental pregnancies, not intentional ones. So no, of course not.

              If on the other hand you meant to ask if I would willing to deny them to someone who had explicitly *intended* to get pregnant… provided it was a clear and fully informed decision there are arguments to be made that denying an abortion under those circumstances would be appropriate, you cannot take away someone’s right to control over their own body but they can voluntarily relinquish it… in this hypothetical fantasy world in which such decisions are somehow recorded and put on record.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, So, you do think the abortions in the debate, the late ones, are the result of carelessness. That seems counter-intuitive to me. I would imagine the late ones are where circumstances have changed drastically. “I thought I was in a stable marriage with an income to support a child but my husband left and I got laid off.” Or, “I desperately want a child but I’ve found out the fetus I carry has severe defects.” These seem much more likely, though who knows. Even in these cases, wouldn’t it be better to offer early adoption?

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick,

              The act of driving drunk is itself a crime. Are you proposing we make the act of having sex without contraceptive precautions unless you intend to become pregnant illegal too?

              That absurdity aside, you may notice I used a perfectly analogous example to the drunk driving situation in my initial post (driving while talking on a cell phone is also illegal here in California FYI). You might notice what the outcome of that situation was. It does not result in any relinquishment of the right to control over your own body, even in the event that engaging in this illegal act results in another person beingplaced in a situation where they require the use of your body to even the most trivial degree to survive.

              There is *no such thing* as any right given to any person that allows them to make use of someone else’s body against their will to preseve their own life… so the point is you can try and claim a fetus is a person with all the rights of a person all you like (no matter how amazingly silly that claim may be)… people don’t have the right to use other people’s bodies to keep themselves alive so the argument isn’t accomplishing anything.

              No one is forcing them to keep it.

              With all due respect you’re forcing them to keep it for nine months… *inside their body*… followed by the act of giving birth which is not exactly a trivial risk-free event with no physical consequences. Just flippantly tossing off that “no one is forcing them to keep it” remark as if what you ARE requiring them to do is of no consequence is, with all due respect, a fairly contemptible statement.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick, Grant – I know I would allow abortions in certain rare cases. Maybe it would just be easier for you to state if there’s any instance where you would not allow it? It seems pretty clear that you see it as no more morally objectionable than removing a mole , so it’s sort of silly for us to debate specifics isn’t it? There’s a gulf of morality between us that can’t be crossed.

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            • Please stop trying to read my mind Mike. I have presented no argument at any point during this entire debate that would lead you to the conclusions that I view getting an abortion as morally equivalent to having a mole removed. I have in fact based my entire argument on comparisons with full fledged people and using MYSELF as the reference point for how “right to life” does not over-rule another person’s right to control over their own body and I can assure you I do not morally equate my own damn death with a mole removal. It is in fact so amazingly unlikely that any rational human being could possible actually draw that conclusion from the arguments I presented that I can only conclude that the reason you just wrote that astoundingly ridiculous statement was that you had run out of any actual counter-argument to make.

              And FYI, my personal position on the matter is that abortions should require a medical necessity justification for them after 20 weeks, that being sufficient time to reasonably conclude that the mother has had every opportunity to discover her pregnancy and evaluate whether or not she wished it to continue, and so long as notification is provided that the 20 week deadline exists then knowingly exceeding it can be justifiable construed as **informed voluntary** consent to carrying through the pregnancy. And 20 weeks because that gives us sufficient error margin between the deadline and the presence of meaningful neural activity that would *actually* constitute at least a secondary indication of possible personhood.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick,

              That statement you quoted isn’t even on the topic of morality. It’s a *legal* reality. if you disagree with it instead of just waving your hands in the air and saying we can’t reach common ground tell me how it’s wrong. Show me one single example of a right you possess in our society, as a person, that permits you to use another person’s body against their will to preserve your life. Just show me where that right currently exists. If you can’t do that then you are not engaged in an exercise of trying to get fetuses the same rights as people, you are engaged in trying to invent brand new rights that people do not have then claiming fetuses are suppoosed to have them… for some reason you apparently can’t explain.

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            • @Mike at The Big Stick,

              So just completely ignore the problem then, that’s your strategy here? Maybe it will go away if you refuse to acknowledge it’s there?

              In case you missed it, for the purposes of this argument I have conceded to defining the fetus as a person. It was the first thing I did in my first comment. And the entire comment was an exercise in explaining why that didn’t matter. So why are you now apparently trying to get me to say the fetus can be legally treated as a person in a criminal case? I already told you to go ahead and call it a person all day long if it makes you feel better, **a person doesn’t have the rights you’re trying to assign to the fetus**.

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            • @Grant, The reason I asked is because the law has never defined a fetus as a person, except in the case of a pregnant mother being murdered. So any rights I might speculate that fetus has, like the right to use the mother’s body to stay alive, is just that, speculation. The law subscribes all sorts of special privelages to children that they don’t prescribe between you and I. For example, I have to financially support my daughter. I have no choice in the matter. She has the right o demand that support from me. We could say that financial support equals food, shelter, etc. Basically the same thing a fetus would be asking from its mother. Right?

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            • at The Big Stick

              You appear to be missing the point here. I’m giving you a free pass. You keep trying to do all this work to try and convince me how a fetus might have the rights of a person… I already told you to go ahead and give the fetus those rights. Just do it. You have a “define a fetus as a person free” card. Play it. Go ahead. You don’t have to “speculate about what rights a fetus has”, give the fetus ALL the rights of a person. Every single last one. Go nuts.

              The point is that “the rights of a person” does NOT include the right to use another person’s body against their will… even to preserve your own life. So giving the fetus the rights of a person makes no difference. Kain is up there arguing that this is all about whether you see the fetus as a person or not and he’s full of crap, because whether you see the fetus as a person or not makes no difference to the conclusion.

              As for “special privileges”, nonsense. I have to financially support my wife. She is not a child, but if I chose to suddenly just cut her off from the family finances the law would have something to say about it. And if you wish to be relieved of the burden of financial support for your children you can give them up for adoption. It is not the fact that you have children that creates the financial support obligation, it is the fact that you are assuming the role of their guardian… ***by choice***. Making the choice assumes the responsibility. And before you even start, child support in a split-couple situation is an obligation to the other parent, not the child. You aren’t cutting checks to the kids.

              It should take very little thought to figure out why you can’t transfer that principle to the concept of a pregnancy you are forcing a woman to continue against her will… even if you were being so incredibly obtuse as to attempt to equate the provision of food to a forced pregnancy and birth just because the fetus happens to derive nutrients from the mother’s body while it is resident. That’s like saying that buying a meal at a restaurant and taking the food out of the kitchen at gunpoint are the same thing because they’re both you getting food from the restaurant. One of those acts is voluntary, one is forced, and that makes a tiny little difference.

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    • @Grant, You still have no rational argument to present that it is in any way remotely reasonable to liken abortion to slavery.

      How’s this?

      The fetus, previously defined as a person, is the property of the mother to be kept or disposed of for any reason the mother sees fit.

      How’s that?

      (Full disclosure: I totally support a right to Privacy which not only includes a right to an abortion at any point during the pregnancy but also a ton of stuff you probably don’t agree with.)

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      • @Jaybird,

        How’s this?

        The fetus, previously defined as a person, is the property of the mother to be kept or disposed of for any reason the mother sees fit.

        No it is not. ***The mother’s body*** is hers to do with as she sees fit, and if she chooses not to allow it to be used to incubate the fetus for nine months that is her right. No person, anywhere, ever, has the right to life at the expense of another person’s control over their own body.

        If she chooses she does not wish to undergo a nine month pregnancy and the fetus dies as a result that is no more defining the fetus as property than a potential liver donor choosing not to donate a piece of their liver and me dying as a result is somehow defining me as property.

        (And personally, while I am entirely on board with a right to privacy I always thought basing abortion rights on that right was ludicrous.)

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        • @Grant, Honestly, that’s one aspect of this thread that got me to thinking about things I haven’t thought about before.
          Perhaps a great deal of the problem lies in the perception that fertility is a natural state.
          The truth is that all women begin their lives as infertile. Unless they die an untimely death, they will end their lives as infertile. So, we can say that roughly 50% of a woman’s years are fertile, at best.
          Is this enough to say that fertility is a natural state?
          As I mentioned earlier in the thread, there are surgical procedures which are 100% effective at deterring pregnancy.
          Does then the state of allowing oneself to remain fertile constitute implicit consent?

          Were we to see infertility as the natural state, rather than fertility, much of the debate could be consequently dismissed.

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            • @North, I’m not so sure that’s accurate.
              To my knowledge, no one has ever been born with a set of car keys in their hand. Not Steve McQueen. Not Richard Petty. None of them.
              But I see that, every once in a while, a car hits somebody on a bicycle.
              Is hitting people on a bicycle a natural state for cars?
              Is it automatically 1984 if we choose ‘No?’

              Our world is changing, but we’re stuck in the old ways.
              Abortion is old technology.
              Sterility is new technology.

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            • @North, Yes Will, but almost everyone is born with a set of (in the fullness of time, unless tampered with) functional reproductive organs.
              Medically I do not believe we have the cheap, practical and easily reversable method of mass induced sterility that you’re positing here.
              I also am doubtful that we have a political culture that would ever contenance the idea.

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        • @Grant, as we get closer and closer to artificial wombs, I wonder at the following:

          What if we remove the fetus and place it in an artificial womb?

          Does the mother have the right to deny the artificial womb to the fetus (which, we agreed at the beginning, was a person)?

          How about late-term abortions (and, by late-term, I mean “post-viability”)? Those are going on right now.

          Should such a baby (let’s assume a healthy one, just for the sake of argument) be moved to the preemie ward?

          Or does the mother have the right to terminate the pregnancy under those circumstances as well?

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          • @Jaybird, On the artificial womb question I’d guess not? Though it’s somewhat a moot question. A world with the knowledge and tech to generate an artificial womb would likely also be one with a simple pill that makes the body quietly and non-disruptively end a pregnancy. With no clinics to target the abortion question turns into a pumpkin.

            As for post viability abortions it is important to note that we’re talking about a miniscule minority of abortions the majority of which are being done by parents choosing to abort babies that have been diagnosed with disorders.

            Of the last remaining population of babies with no disorders who’re being discretionally aborted post viability I’m personally sympathetic to the position that they should instead be sent to a preemie ward.

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            • @North, That brings up another interesting aspect of this.
              True story.
              My mom, a nurse, worked in the preemie ward of a hospital through the 80’s. There was a couple there that had a baby that (pardon me, but I don’t know the medical term for this) was born with its guts on the outside of its body.
              Of course, they did surgery to stuff its guts back in, but the little thing was going to die anyway. And the parents knew it. And sure enough, it did.
              In the meantime, they ran up something like $450,000 in medical bills trying to keep this baby alive for another 12 days.

              Thoughts?

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            • @North, As for post viability abortions it is important to note that we’re talking about a miniscule minority of abortions the majority of which are being done by parents choosing to abort babies that have been diagnosed with disorders.

              Of course, of course.

              For what it’s worth, I tend to think that this would be covered under the whole “right to privacy” anyway.

              But I do think that Grant might see how such a circumstance *MIGHT* be comparable to slavery without it being jingoistic. Maybe.

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            • @North, Will, I’d say thanks for sharing but ugh… born with the guts on the outside? Gosh, nature can go so wonky when a chromosone crosses in the wrong place or something.

              Jay, we’re probably on the same page. I think that pro-choice is the correct position. But I don’t think it’s an easy position and I don’t think it’s an easy choice.

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            • @Will H., Of course, they did surgery to stuff its guts back in, but the little thing was going to die anyway. And the parents knew it. And sure enough, it did.
              In the meantime, they ran up something like $450,000 in medical bills trying to keep this baby alive for another 12 days.

              Much of me says that this was a totally senseless waste of money, time, and effort on the part of everyone involved and, of course, it is Good that they did these things.

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          • @Jaybird,

            If the fetus was at a stage where it could be relocated to an artificual womb I would see no grounds for the mother to prevent that from occuring. The need is to allow her final say over the use of her body, once the fetus is removed from her body that need is met.

            (Leaving aside the inevitable legal complications surrounding requirements for financial and material support for such offspring, which is a whole other tangled debate)

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            • @Grant, fair enough.

              Does the law see it the same way?

              From what I understand, it doesn’t. The mother can terminate the pregnancy.

              Given that… do you see how the slavery analogy may not be quite as bad as you did a few hours ago?

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            • The law doesn’t see it any way, we were discussing a hypothetical situation that does not currently exist in reality, there are no lgeal precedents to apply.

              So no, nothing said here alters my original view that equating legalized abortion to slavery is the height of absurdity.

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            • We were discussing the use of artificual wombs as an alternative to ‘naturally’ continuing a pregnancy. You yourself listed this as something we were “getting closer to”…. as in, not arrived at yet… when you put it forward for consideration.

              If you now instead wish to simply discuss later term abortions in which the fetus falls within the current *theoretical* viability window I consider that a change of subject, but fine.

              As far as I know the law on these matters is still in flux and developing… mainly because it is a non-issue and there’s no great need to rush to finalize anything. You get an occasional state activist from one side or the other getting legislation on the issue put forward and either passed or not but for the most part it’s a sideshow.

              Abortions after 20 weeks… which is the current absolute floor for possible fetal viablity, are extremely rare and almost always done for reasons of medical necessity that make questions of viability beside the point. For instance, the fetus was diagnosed with a terminal condition and was going to die anyway so whether it would have theoretically been viable at this stage of the pregnancy *if it was healthy* is irrelevent… the same condition may be endangering the health of the mother, etc…

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            • @Grant, I’m pretty sure I also said, here let me cut and paste it, “How about late-term abortions (and, by late-term, I mean “post-viability”)? Those are going on right now.”

              You say …almost always… but then go on to argue as if you had not used the word “almost”. Given that you began by arguing as if I had not discussed post-viability abortions at all, I find this troubling.

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          • @Jaybird:

            Yes, I said “almost”, I say that because I do not pretend to be omniscient and dislike making absolute statements like “always” when I lack the certainty to do so with confidence. I personally know of no cases in which a doctor would abort a viable fetus for no particular medical reason but could it have happened at some time over the years? Sure it could have. Which doesn’t alter anything I said, congress doesn’t spend it’s time obsessing over laws to regulate something that effectively never happens, they have other things to do. When it becomes practical to preserve viable fetuses at early enough stages that it overlaps with abortions that occur with anything even approaching some kind of meaningful frequency they’ll probably take steps to make the law more clear and uniform… until then it’s not really going to happen because it’s a non issue.

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            • @Grant, would you have a problem with legislation against something that almost never happens?

              The so-called “partial-birth abortion”, for example, is hardly ever used as an abortion technique.

              Would you have a problem with this almost never used procedure being made illegal?

              Sure, let’s add a caveat saying that it can still be used in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger.

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            • @Jaybird: To address the subject of legislating extremely rare procedures in general, that would depend on the nature of the legislation. If it is specific enough in it’s language then I would probably consider it to have little relevence. I might have a mild objection to wasting time and resources on it but beyond that it probably wouldn’t really command much of my attention or concern.

              The problem of course is that legislation is often not specific at all in its language, and people can say it’s only directed at this one little isolated almost-never-happens situation but it ends up being applied to a far wider subject with deleterious effect.

              To deal with the specific example of P.B.As… I really don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with the medical rationale for employing that method, I’d probably defer to medical professionals to make the determination if it was required or not. With the caveats you mentioned however that would seem to cover any areas of medical necessity a physician might come up with, so I’d probably have to say I wouldn’t care at all if such legislation was implemented.

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  24. Cahalan

    So you’re an ID proponent, then? Nature, itself, has some sort of intentions that inflict upon us moral obligations?

    I think you misread my comment. That was nature with a small ‘n’. It just happened to be the first word in the sentence : ) And no, I’m not a proponent of ID. When I say ‘nature’ I mean the evolutionary process. I think it’s clear that the biological reasons for sex are procreation. The fact that it is enjoyable is most likely biology creating additional incentives for procreation as a way of furthering the species. If you want to discuss sex as a social interaction, you’ll get no dispute from me that there are all kinds of additional benefits such as encouraging pair bonding and simply putting a smile on our faces.

    The point I was making and that you seem to be either missing or disregarding is that biology is geared towards procreation. With a healthy man and woman the only thing that prevents pregnancy is timing and man-made barriers. If I learned anything during my work on my anthropology degree it’s that nature always finds a way. So when a man and woman choose to have sex, they are, in a way, playing chicken with millions of years of evolution. The last precautions they take, the higher the risk. As someone who is pro-life I also believe that we have a responsibility to accept the outcome of that risk. For someone that is pro-abortion, they believe heading to the nearest clinic is the way to accept responsibility. For someone who is pro-life, we believe it is equivelant to robbing a bank to pay off your gambling debt. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

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    • @Mike at The Big Stick,

      > When I say ‘nature’ I mean the evolutionary
      > process. I think it’s clear that the biological
      > reasons for sex are procreation.

      Mike, you can ascribe “reason” to a non-intelligent entity.

      If evolution (w/natural selection)… in our biosphere (note, this is a data point of 1 case)… results in a process which performs some function, this is still not “reason”. There is no purpose. It is what it is. Saying evolution with natural selection produced sex solely for the purpose of reproduction is like saying that evolution with natural selection produced mouths just for eating.

      It’s just a running process. What comes out of it (evolutionarily speaking) is just a set of functions which may (or may not) increase an organism’s likelihood at success.

      Saying “sex is designed for reproduction” quite easily generalizes to “lifeforms are designed for reproduction”, which means… if you’re ascribing moral value to the act of reproduction… that failure to reproduce is profane. The non-breeders must be destroyed!

      Put another way, counterexample: viruses have no built-in *capacity* for reproduction at all, and yet they’re among the more successful instances of encodings of genetic information in terms of long-term propagation. So evolution clearly doesn’t axiomatically lead to reproduction.

      > So when a man and woman choose to have
      > sex, they are, in a way, playing chicken with
      > millions of years of evolution. The last
      > precautions they take, the higher the risk.

      But you’re begging the question, here, Mike. I can’t be “playing chicken” with a million years of evolution – evolution isn’t a competitor in the game. Evolution has no agenda, its not an entity itself.

      > As someone who is pro-life I also believe
      > that we have a responsibility to accept
      > the outcome of that risk.

      It’s only a risk if we accept the premise that the responsibility exists.

      Even supposing the *responsibility* exists (which I may or may not grant outright)… the question doesn’t immediately resolve itself.

      Let’s say I agree with the premise that once conceived, a fetus has a qualitatively good existence, and thus a moral agency must take that into account when making a decision.

      What sort of existence does this fetus have? What are my responsibilities to that entity? I grant you (for the sake of this argument) that I have some. What are they?

      Now you get into the questions Grant proposed above and I alluded to earlier. What’s the right of the fetus? Is it a positive right or a negative right? Why does this right apply to a fetus and not a sperm or an ovum? Given that (reproductively speaking) the vast majority of fertilized ovum are either (a) not viable (b) fail to implant (c) miscarry… what are our obligations to fertilized ovums? Where does the responsibility start… at conception? Implantation? Successful mitosis?

      If we have a responsibility at conception, who’s the “we”, and what are the implications? Can I forbid sexual reproduction to people until they prove themselves capable of raising children? If not, why not? Can I require people to submit to transfer of an embryo to an incubator, if they don’t wish to undergo that surgery?

      Now, I personally went through all of the above and came down on the position that I think abortion after the first trimester is very likely morally wrong and that abortion prior to the activation of the cortex is at best morally questionable… but I can’t come up with any framework for resolving that, given the attendant legal rights granted to all concerned in the U.S. legal framework. I can’t figure out a way to lump this into the legal system and have it work…

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      • @Pat Cahalan, Pat, you seem to be trying to have a grand philisophical debate and I’m sory to disappoint, but that’s not my area of interest or expertise. So while I appreciate the legnth and breath of your reply, let’s try to keep this simple: Do you believe that someone who doesn’t want a pregnancy but still engages in unprotected sex assumes a degree of risk or not? It’s really a yes or no question. If you think that unprotected sex which leads to a pregnancy is just bad luck, then obviously you don’t assign risk and you and I have reached an empasse. If you believe a lack of precautions signals an assumption of risk, then we can discuss what to do when a pregnancy occurs.

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        • @Mike at The Big Stick,

          > Do you believe that someone who doesn’t
          > want a pregnancy but still engages in
          > unprotected sex assumes a degree of
          > risk or not?

          Okay, that’s a reasonable question.

          I don’t have a uniform answer, unfortunately (and I’m not trying to be disingenuous or a jackass here). There’s perceived risk, and there’s actual risk. As I’ve mentioned a few times before on this blog, people are really bad at risk management.

          Put another way, I agree that for my own personal morality, if I’m engaged in sex I’m taking a risk; and I have a moral obligation to live up to any consequences that come out of that action, including pregnancy of the partner.

          However, I can’t rationally expect that everyone else who is engaging in sexual activity is a fully rational being who has engaged in a moral decision-making process prior to screwing their girlfriend… in fact, all evidence points to the converse; we have to assume that *most* people engaging in the sex act *aren’t* fully aware of *either* their actual chances of pregnancy *nor* have they engaged in a risk analysis of the consequences. Also, there is the wrinkle that in order to perform an actual risk analysis, one must be able to attach some sort of measure on an outcome – if someone doesn’t believe that a fetus is a human being, then they might actually *be* performing a thorough risk analysis and coming up with a vastly different (but still rational assessment) from what I’m coming up with given my assumptions are different.

          Finally, there are other examples of why this is a sticky widget: *my* teenage daughter getting pregnant (should that occur when she achieves the requisite age) will have an entirely different set of negative consequences than a rather large set of teenage daughters out there, and it’s both unfair and unjust for me to ignore that as part of said risk analysis.

          Now, unlike, say, manslaughter (or some other currently criminalized activities which may represent my idea of negligence on the behalf of a fellow citizen)… wherein I can make a strong case that, “You should have known better” and/or “we expect you to know better” is easily shown to be in the general public interest, *and* that avoiding the negative consequence also is easily demonstrated to be in the public interest… it’s difficult for me to construct an argument in defense of the fetus existence at the expense of the rights of the pregnant mother unless one accepts the axiomatic statement that the fetus is fully human and deserving of all the rights thereof *and* additional protections.

          Even if you buy that, which many people don’t, there’s still the question of how the fetus’s rights are structured and what that means in terms of our actual moral obligation to the fetus and how we ought to codify our legal structure to protect those rights.

          So, basically, I’m at the point where I think abortions are generally bad and to be avoided, but I can’t see a clear path to make this a clear legal principle without a slew of negative consequences… many of which infringe greatly on some of the root principles upon which we claim the country is based.

          To me, outlawing abortion is like outlawing drug use. I think abortions and drug use are both (generally) bad things. In many cases, drug use can lead to the death of people who cannot be judged to be making informed decisions entirely of their own free will. I don’t see a constructive way to try and solve those problems using the law as a tool.

          That’s not to say that I think people shouldn’t try to take steps to alleviate these things that they perceive as these social ills (although I might argue with individual tactics). I just don’t think the law is the right tool for the job.

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  25. “I” was never an embryo. That idea is pure philosophical nonsense. An embryo was part of a process towards building me, but I did not ever exist as an embryo any more than I existed as the intention of my parents to have sex.

    An embryo is only a tiny portion of the raw materials necessarily towards building a human being, along with some of the specific instructions for the genetic machinery of cells to carry out if they are going to construct one. But it isn’t one, unless you basically want to completely divorce what is distinctively human and important about BEING human (the ability to have conscious forethought, expectations, psychology) from cells that merely contain instructions for how to create humans.

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    • @Drew, by that logic, how could you say that infanticide is wrong? If you’ve spent any time around newborns, you’ll realize that there’s not much rational thought, psychology, self-realization, etc. There’s pooping, sleeping, crying and blank stares. Self-awareness takes a couple of years. So, why do we think newborns should be protected? Because they’re cute? Because they look like us? Or do you think it’s ok to murder infants?

      Other things to consider: does that lump of cells constitute a unique life form? What species is it? Can you prove when “personhood” begins?

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  26. I can’t believe so many people that viewing a fetus as a person is “extreme.” It is so clear that a unique human life begins at conception. How can we say that the human is not a person? Who can prove this? If one side claims that people are being murdered, the burden of proof lies in the opposition claiming the victims aren’t actually persons. As a Christian, I believe that all human beings are distinct from other living beings because they are made in the image of God. They are precious and priceless, whether they’re star athletes or severely handicapped, full of wisdom and accomplishment or not yet born. But you do not need to be a Christian, or even a theist, in order to recognize that fetuses are people worthy of protection and the right to live. Ask any woman who is glad to be pregnant if her baby is just a clump of cells and she will set you straight: he is my precious baby boy! I could go on and on but I’ll just agree with you that it is perfectly appropriate to draw a parallel between slavery and abortion. In fact, I am now beginning a series of blog posts addressing this issue. I’d appreciate any ideas, stats, etc. And feel free to pass it on to others who could be helpful. I’m hoping to flesh out this idea in a comprehensive manner. Thanks. http://findingdignity.blogspot.com/2010/08/abortion-and-slavery.html

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    • @Erin Kennedy, To me sir, It is quite simple. A fetus is a collection of cells containing the coded instruction to create a human being………..And here is the really important part,…….. With the consent of the mother. The fetus is a parasite to it’s mother completely dependent on her for it’s existence. Without the consent of the mother the fetus ceases to exist.The fetus has no rights. Furthermore any talk of abortion as murder, a clearly preposterous assertion, must be accompanied by a discussion of the criminal penalties to be meted out. Without exception, every time I have asked a person who claims that abortion is murder, how many years the mother should spend behind bars for this “murder” I am met with a blank stare, indicating that the person has never entertained this thought.

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      • @theotherjimmyolson,

        I cannot understand how anyone could call a fetus a parasite. A parasite is a foreign body, not a blood relative. A parasite enters the body from the exterior, a fetus comes about because of actions that the mother has engaged in. (It is a very tragic thing when a woman is raped, but this accounts for only about 1% of abortions). 99% of the time, women are pregnant because they chose to have sex. I think it is a fair question to ask what the penalty should be, and I’d say, “we can discuss that.” Maybe an equivalent of manslaughter, I’m not sure. The abortionists would be just as culpible, of course, and I have no problem putting them in jail. I’ve heard some politicians say that the mothers shouldn’t go to jail, only the abortionists, because the mothers were scared and confused and “have suffered enough.” I actually don’t think it unreasonable for a woman to go to jail for killing a human being, whether she was scared or not. But that is a subject that the American people can debate once we get there. I think the main point is that once abortion is illegal, the number of women seeking them will drop drastically. Do you know that after abortion was legalized, birth rates went down slightly, but conception rates rose by 30%? That means the number of unexpected pregnancies rose dramatically. That means that once abortion was legalized, people became more irresponsible with regard to sex because they had another way out.
        Please don’t refer to me as “sir.” I am a woman, and proud to know that, despite the political rhetoric, the truly feminist position is to be pro-life. That is the position that says that women are not weak, helpless, irresponsible girls incapable of caring for themselves or others. Women are strong, intelligent, nurturing souls capable of making selfless decisions. Women need support in childrearing, not excuses to be irresponsible and violent.

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