Abortion and Slavery again

Ta-Nehisi has pushed once again into the abortion and slavery debate, this time following the invocation of that analogy by Rick Santorum and Joe Klein’s subsequent defense of Santorum’s rhetoric.

Now, I’ve admitted in the past two things about the fetus-as-slave analogy: first, that it is not a very good analogy – and indeed I agree with essentially every one of Ta-Nehisi’s critiques of it – and second, that I can understand why pro-lifers use it nonetheless.

I’ve mulled it over a bit in light of this latest controversy and it struck me that we’ve all made this issue much more complex than it needs to be. Here is why this wrong-headed analogy is made time and time again: people have nothing else to compare it to, no other episode in our national history that they can conjure up that is in their minds as horrible as abortion. So the analogy is a stretch to be sure, but I think it’s made because those making it need to find something as terrible as abortion to liken it to. The gaps are filled in with talk of personhood – the fetus denied their full rights as the slave was denied theirs and so forth.

As I said previously, my empathy for those making the comparison does not extend to the point of agreeing that it is a good one. Similar analogies are made to the Holocaust, and again we could go point by point and illustrate how logically the two are simply not the same thing at all, but it would skirt the real point of the comparison to begin with. Abortion is seen by many as a great evil, a calamity of truly epic scope, and they look to the past to find other calamities, other moments of crisis within our history and culture.

P.S.

I think that the fundamental flaw in this analogy is not really how accurate or inaccurate it is, but rather that it muddies up how we talk about both the abortion debate and how we talk about slavery and that time in our collective history that was so defined by slavery. My point in trying to write these pieces is not to defend the use of this analogy or give a pass to those invoking it; rather, I am pointing out that this is for many people a highly charged, highly emotional issue and the use of the analogy is not necessarily at all racist but rather an attempt to tie one emotional issue to another. I agree with Rufus’s point that using history in this manner does great damage to how we understand the past and how we grapple with the present. Abortion should be discussed on its own terms, not on the terms of a wholly separate and unique tragedy. But I do see why in a debate as emotional and controversial as the abortion debate this sort of analogy would bubble to the surface from time to time.

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146 thoughts on “Abortion and Slavery again

  1. Perhaps, rather than trying to tie the abortion debate to other clearly defined calamities they should just stick to having its horribleness stand on its own two feet and be judged on its own merits(demerits?). The comparisons crank out way more heat than light.
    As for the ever frothy Santorum, I wish people would just stop paying him any mind and just clean up the sheets.

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  2. ” The gaps are filled in with talk of personhood – the fetus denied their full rights as the slave was denied theirs and so forth.”

    Is anyone talking about “full rights”? In fact, speaking in terms of rights seems like an even harder way to discuss the issue. Are certain inalienable rights more inalienable than others? Children don’t have “full rights.” But a fetus does not have even the rights of a born child.

    Perhaps a better avenue is to compare the rights of the newly born to those of the unborn and figure out what distinctions can be made, if any, and whether those distinctions lead to parallel distinctions in rights.

    Santorum and those who like the analogy are confusing agism with racism.

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  3. we’ve all made this issue much more complex than it needs to be.

    yup. A decision to obtain an abortion is between a woman and her doctor, no one else. see how simple that is?

    For abortion to be illegal, a fetus must have ‘personhood’, otherwise it’s a medical procedure like removing a kidney.
    But once you give a fetus personhood, all sorts of interesting issues follow on.
    1. It’s inconsistent with the 14th Amendment.
    2. Women who obtain one should go to prison for life (actually, given the amount of pre-meditation, the death penalty should apply), as should the doctors and nurses performing the procedure.
    3. As there is, arguably, no bright line between fertilization and birth, personhood arguably attaches at fertilization.
    4. If personhood attaches at fertilization, then IVF procedures must be banned.
    5. If personhood attaches at fertilization, then the ‘calamity’ of abortion is far far outweighed by the natural miscarriage rate.

    Other issues:
    Illegalizing abortion is the most profoundly anti-libertarian law possible. Women are not vessels; they’re persons. Depriving a person of the right of personal autonomy in order to prefer the interests of an as-yet unborn entity is a huge interference with her liberty interest.

    Women will obtain them anyway. If abortions are regulated at the state level, women will travel to abortion-allowing states. If regulated at the national level, women will travel to Canada, Mexico, Jamaica. The higher the regulatory level, the more that abortions will be obtained only by the rich. As the US has in the age of terrorism expressed increasing interest in the extra-territorial regulation of its citizens, we even could illegalize abortion wherever obtained. So we check the pregnancy status of all women leaving the country?

    More and more, women are choosing the total number of children they want. So forcing a woman to have an unwanted child deprives her of the opportunity to have a wanted child at the wanted time.

    Have you seen the criminal justice, juvenile justice and family court systems? Unwanted children suffer, then society suffers, pays, and pays some more as a consequence. Every single child should be wanted.

    Newly conceived ‘children’ are a cell, too small to be seen with the naked eye. Indeed, the only way to tell that the cell is human is to destroy it and test its DNA. Individual cells deserve the protection of the law, while the woman in which it is implanted becomes subservient to its interests, really? As to the cell being unique, phooey. People can always make more.

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  4. For my part, it’s not that “abortion is like slavery” (in the same way that it’s not that “inter-racial” marriage is like gay marriage).

    It’s that the go-to arguments by the most passionate bring to mind arguments used in the past.

    When arguments defending the right of the woman to treat her property the way she wants in the face of people yelling “it’s a person” bring to mind the arguments of slave owners in the face of abolitionists, that doesn’t make abortion similar to slavery at all.

    But one would think that more folks would be creeped out by echo than merely those opposed to abortion.

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    • I’d strongly suggest that everyone read Coates actual meditations on the subject because he really powerfully defenestrates the abortion is similar to slavery argument. In fact, he suggests, that abortion is nearly the opposite of slavery (in that the institution of slavery was very much dependant on the existence of slaves as productive valuable investments where as abortion is primarily about the nullification of the existence of fetus’s).

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    • When arguments defending the right of the woman to treat her property the way she wants in the face of people yelling “it’s a person” bring to mind the arguments of slave owners in the face of abolitionists, that doesn’t make abortion similar to slavery at all.

      Except the property is the woman’s body. I’m pretty sure telling someone what to do with their body is like slavery. In a sense, that’s exactly what slavery was.

      I don’t mean to suggest that this is an analogy people should use, merely to point out that it works one way a bit better than the other. I suppose the echoes should give one side pause.

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      • Chris, I know that abortion is not the same thing as slavery.

        I know that the woman’s body is her own property.

        I fully support the right of a woman to get an abortion up to and including the moment of crowning for reasons as trivial as eye color or sex selection.

        But I still hear echoes in the argument and, to be honest, I find those echoes to be creepy.

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  5. I’m torn on this one. On one hand as someone who is pro-life I find the analogy gets a lot of traction with me personally and I don’t really find it problematic. On the other hand I see how people would resent the comparison for the same reason that I have found linkage between the African American Civil Rights movement and the Gay Marriage movment to be somewhat offensive . Maybe the moral of thr story is that, as North says, we should let these discussions stand on their own merits rather than building them on the back of black suffering in this country.

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    • It’s not just “gay marriage.” It’s the entire gay right thing. Several years ago there seemed to be a lot of criticism of gays evoking civil rights era similarities, I don’t see much of that now. But just framed as a movement to overturn state mandated inequality I don’t see it, gay rights, as being that much different than blacks seeking civil rights.

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    • > Maybe the moral of the story is that, as North says, we
      > should let these discussions stand on their own merits
      > rather than building them on the back of black
      > suffering in this country.

      At the very least, it’s at least polite to not ask the Americans of African descent to carry anything else on their backs, even rhetorically, for anyone’s convenience.

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  6. If I read that correctly, you’re giving the abortion-as-slavery analogists a pass because they couldn’t come up with a better analogy. That makes no sense. If you cannot come up with a good analogy, do not make an anology.

    And no, this is not the problem with analogies in general. This is the problem with bad analogies.

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    • I don’t see it as giving anyone a pass at all. Once again I am merely attempting to better understand why the comparison is made. Not everyone has the knowledge of or investment in the history of slavery as TNC and for many this is more of an emotional than rational issue.

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    • Actually, contra TNC that analogy is more or less ok. Whether or not slaves have existence as persons, the essential flaw slavery and abortion is that the value of the person is utilitarian, or in typical circumstances can be reduced to be. For me at least, the dirty little secret of slavery is that slavery actually looked more morally credible then than it does now and for that matter more credible than abortion. Slavery in various forms was an integral part of the history of labor from the beginning of time until, well, 150 years ago.

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  7. Ta-Nehisi doesn’t seem to even understand what he is claiming. For example he says:

    “Nor were slaves, as a class, denied “the right to exist,” a notion that sounds cute and pleasing when deployed as a pundit’s thought experiment, but is revealed to be foolish under the harsh light of actual history. Whereas abortion is necessarily premised on ending the existence of a fetus, slave-holding was directly premised on the continued existence of slaves.”

    His argument comes down to the fact that the analogy is inapt because abortion is actually worse than slavery since it denies the “right to exist” to a set of humans.

    Also, he really needs to stop playing the race card. I realize that is why he was hired—to offset the unbearable whiteness of Atlantic pundits—but it is rather tiresome and out-dated.

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    • Joe: I think you misunderstand what TNC is trying to do here, at least as it has always seemed to me. He’s not trying to say that slavery is inherently worse than abortion such that comparing abortion to slavery is demeaning to African-Americans; instead, he’s trying to say that the comparisons are just inapt no matter how you try to look at the issues. The result is less understanding of both slavery and the abortion debate.

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      • I think Joe’s problem is with the reference to the “harsh light of history.” History is harsh for TNC when factual accounts cut through a pleasant narrative or seemingly apt analogy, but history is also harsh in the sense that a certain group of people have a history in which what Jamelle Bouie calls their “hopes, dreams, and desires” are at issue.

        When TNC refers to slaves’ capacity to be “quite vociferous” he appears to be maintaining, not just that the analogy between slavery and abortion is inapt, but that having-a-history is an important criterion in politics/public discourse in a way that never-having-existed can never be. This is pretty similar to Bouie’s argument that abortion can’t be a “great moral crusade” because “there is nothing in the ‘experience’ of a fetus that compares to the extreme violence and depravity of slavery.”

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        • Yeah, this tangent aside that’s my biggest problem with TNC’s general narrative about slavery. It makes perfect sense for a contemporary black American, presumably descended from slaves some generations in the past, to want to think that the liberation of slaves was mostly an accomplishment of black people. Unfortunately as a historical matter, that doesn’t quite fly.

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          • I don’t think he has ever suggested the ending of slavery was primarily by blacks. What he has tried to show is that there is more to the story of the Civil War then white brother vs white brother. He is trying to give a voice to people who to often get ignored.

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      • . . . he’s trying to say that the comparisons are just inapt no matter how you try to look at the issues.

        If that is the case, then he is merely wrong. The comparisons, of course, are quite apt, which is why pro-life African Americans have been using the analogy for decades.

        Coates says that “slave-holding was directly premised on the continued existence of slaves.” That is true, but it was also the case that the right to continued existence was determined by the slaveholder. If the owner of the slave wished to “terminate the existence” of the slave, he had the legal right to do so. This is similar to current legislations that allows a woman to “terminate the existence” of a fetus if she chooses to do so.

        Personally, I believe that while the slavery-abortion analogy is apt since there are several points of similarity, it has lost its efficacy for moral suasion and should be abandoned by pro-lifers.

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        • Ditto that. The basic history of slavery, etc., constitutes such a big part of education for so many Americans, I think pro-lifers want to borrow some of it (which is fueling most of the resentment from liberals). Truth be told, the pro-lifers don’t need it. There is plenty of juice in the pro-life issue itself.

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    • “Also, he really needs to stop playing the race card. I realize that is why he was hired”

      No fan of affirmative action I, but me thinks TNC has a steady paycheck because he’s a really great writer. And before pulling out the race card card, you might try reading him. His comment about most race card issues is: “meh.”

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      • I was thinking the same thing. It’s really fortunate for the Atlantic, if they did hire him because he’s black, that he coincidentally happened to be a fantastic blogger.

        As for if he’s playing the race card, I can’t say. I’ll get back to that question after I’ve found five minutes to read the thing.

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        • I like TNC a lot, his willingness to dig into the thicket of race/history issues without having to resort to the “I’m so offended” liberal crap (and more importantly his understanding that such things have cultural significance outside of politics), even where I ultimately disagree with him, like the present case.

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      • No fan of affirmative action I, but me thinks TNC has a steady paycheck because he’s a really great writer.

        RTOD No fan of affirmative action I, but me thinks TNC has a steady paycheck because he’s a really great writer.

        Perhaps so, but there are hundreds of better writers—including many on the League—that were passed over by The Atlantic when they hired him. Of course this is true for every publication (including mine when they hired me) and I don’t begrudge them for hiring someone because they wanted a particular “voice.” But it’s hard to imagine that if Coates did not write about race-related issues that he would have been their first choice.

        And before pulling out the race card card, you might try reading him. His comment about most race card issues is: “meh.”

        The fact that he does not frequently employ a tactic that should never be used, shouldn’t let him off the hook.

        We are often too quick to overlook racially insensitive remarks when they do not originate from people with pale skin. That should be unacceptable to people who want to see true racial reconciliation in this country.

        Imagine if Ross Douthat had written a post titled, “The Unbearable Blackness of Pro-Choice Pundits” (not that Ross ever would, of course, since he has too much class for that). I’m sure you can guess the type of reaction that would provoke. Accusations of racism would fly. Coates does it, though, and no one shrugs. Why the double standard?

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    • Basically this is the “black people/liberals are the real racists” response. First off, it’s not the “race card,” it’s a response to a comment that is about race, or at least an issue that is inseparable from race. “The race card” is only applicable when someone brings race into a discussion from which it had been absent; you can’t bring up “slavery in America” and then accuse someone responding to you of “playing the race card.”

      Also, suggesting that someone was an affirmative action hire is a really disgusting way of avoiding actually addressing the arguments that person offers. That is akin to playing the race card.

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      • “The race card” is only applicable when someone brings race into a discussion from which it had been absent;

        That’s half correct. It is also applicable when someone brings racism into a discussion from which it had been absent.

        Coates implies in his title that their is something racist about the analogy. The fact that he is unable or unwilling to support that point in the post does not let him off the hook.

        Also, suggesting that someone was an affirmative action hire is a really disgusting way of avoiding actually addressing the arguments that person offers.

        Again, I didn’t avoid his argument. His argument is that he finds points of divergence with the analogy. So what? Every analogy has a points of difference. If they didn’t, then there would be no need to point out how two sets are analogous.

        He has not shown, however, that the points of similarity are not really similar. So his point is irrelevant.

        The only thing interesting about the post is the title.

        Also, you seemed to have missed my point. I never said that Coates was an “affirmative action hire.” Affirmative action is used to redress real or illusory discriminatory practices. The Atlantic didn’t hire him, I don’t suspect, because they were trying to fill a quota for African Americans on their masthead. I believe they hired him because they wanted someone who could speak credibly about racial issues. The Atlantic being the good liberal publication they are, they could’t leave that to their other (i.e., white) bloggers so they hired someone who would be able to do so.

        As I said, I don’t have a problem with them choosing a particular “voice” to fill in gaps that they feel were lacking. Indeed, I think it is valuable for them to have someone like that on the staff. The problem I have with Coates is that he doesn’t really provide such a perspective. I think he is much the same as the other liberal Atlantic bloggers.

        I know some of the Atlantic readers are impressed because he’s an educated black man who says motherfucker a lot. But I’m not impressed by him.

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        • Joe, saying that he doesn’t address the similarities is not an argument, nor is it actually addressing what he said. Since he points out that there are large structural differences, he undercuts the similarities, since analogies require strong structural similarities in order to be useful. At least, they require such similarities to be useful in reasoning. I’m sure the analogy works quite well in inflaming the emotions of the choir.

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          • Nothing wrong with rhetorical appeals to emotion. We are not robots without hearts, although as one writer put it, the modern ideal seems to be to turn us into “Men Without Chests.”

            If I’m selling government programs for the poor, there’s nothing wrong with using a sob story for illustration. Perhaps it’ll pierce some Randian’s cold cold heart. [The newspapers make their living off sob stories.]

            So too, if one can score with an analogy—and race seems to be a favorite—so be it. No analogy can withstand a reductio anyway, since it can and must break down at some point, so clearly its purpose is more poetic than empirical, on similarities in principle more than in structure.

            That all men are created equal is more a poetic, philosophical or even theological assertion than it is empirical fact. That some genes are created more equal than others is the empirical fact.

            Fortunately, we are vulnerable to poetry and philosophy. At least for now.

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  8. I’m probably a bit weird here, but I actually have a problem with most of these sorts of historical analogies in so far as they instrumentalize historical events. I understand that everyone makes historical comparisons, but the point is to also keep in mind while doing so that historical events are unique and unrepeatable. People often forget this. They want history to teach us something about ourselves. I can be absolutely no fun on the topic. Once I muttered angrily when friends took me to a Holocaust memorial garden in Oregon (hit hard by the Shoah no doubt) that promised to teach us “the dangers of intolerance”. I was mad because the Holocaust was not just what happens when we forget to be tolerant- it’s what happened when the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jews. Historical specificity is important.

    The problem is that history is almost always taught this way in school- as a means of “instilling values” or “skills”. People get out of the educational system unable to comprehend that memorializing in itself is valuable- you don’t have to draw phony lessons and apply them to your life. It’s understandable that people think that the Holocaust sheds some light on their liberalism, or that American slavery sheds some light on their opposition to abortion. But, for the communities that still memorialize those historical phenomena, I’d imagine it’s offensive.

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  9. Was that really what Santorum was evoking? Was Santorum making the abortion/slavery analogy or noting that, in both cases, a political decision is being made about the personhood or value of the individual (their personhood or value is subject to political debate)? And expressing surprise that a black man would wash his hands of the matter (“above my pay grade”)? I don’t see how Coates “right to exist” point is a response to that argument.

    Or Jamelle Bouie’s when he writes:

    “Even if you grant fetal personhood, there is nothing in the ‘experience’ of a fetus that compares to the extreme violence and depravity of slavery, and its effect on people — children, teenagers, and adults — with hopes, dreams, and desires.”

    Isn’t that also, like existence/property, a separate and subsequent question? I thought Santorum was talking about the fact that a decision about personhood is being made or must be made. These are the words he puts into the mouth of the American people at the moment of decision: “We are going to decide who are people and who are not people [under the Constitution].”

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    • Our very own Freddie touched on this a while back…

      ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2009/03/18/induction-leading-to-abortion-qualms

      But as for my quiet moments– it occurs to me, often, as I think about this issue, that the arc of human history has led consistently to extending rights of personhood to more beings, not less.

      It’s a thought-provoking post and one worth checking out.

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      • Of course. I’m just asking if Santorum made the analogy everyone says he made. I didn’t see the whole thing, so maybe he said the word “slavery” or “property” further on. I thought he was locating the likeness in fact of a political decision about “who is a person.”

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        • TomS, your argument [and the analogy] hold on the “who is a person” level, and a comparison to the 3/5 compromise is not inapt. Indeed, the very logical ethicist Peter Singer holds that even infants are not persons entitled to protection of the law. Consciousness, etc. “Personhood” is a live topic and principle. See also:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_ape_personhood

          On the other hand, fetuses do not come to America on the Middle Passage, nor are their children held in bondage as well. Just depends on who’s in the market to buy analogies this morning.

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          • I have a hard time understanding why the debate on consciousness and having-a-history has public traction on this issue. It also appears to be at work in Freddie’s (admirably self-conscious) post that Jaybird references above. To repeat what I wrote above:

            When TNC refers to slaves’ capacity to be “quite vociferous” he appears to be maintaining, not just that the analogy between slavery and abortion is inapt, but that having-a-history is an important criterion in politics/public discourse in a way that never-having-existed can never be. This is pretty similar to Bouie’s argument that abortion can’t be a “great moral crusade” because “there is nothing in the ‘experience’ of a fetus that compares to the extreme violence and depravity of slavery.”

            What are the roots of this distinction?

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            • Given that most of the abortions in the world are sex-selection, I suspect that pointing out the difference between how men and women are valued by society may be more fruitful than the analogy to slavery.

              But maybe not. Everybody knows that feminism == abortion.

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              • That point is made from time to time, but I think it’s still a foreign notion to the American public (we’re still on “punished with a baby”). I think it will bypass us altogether because we are moving toward a technologically-enabled “selection” process that will allow parents to make all kinds of decisions prior to the controversial moment. What that will do to our currently already over-articulated sense of history and inheritance I have no idea.

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          • > a comparison to the 3/5 compromise is not inapt.

            Yes, it is.

            In the one case, we have two fairly directly comparable entities, and one is granted 3/5 of personhood based upon a fairly arbitrary difference of skin color.

            In the second case, there is a long laundry list of capabilities that a fetus lacks (depending upon where in the gestational cycle you want to look, of course). It is impossible to have cognition without a brain, independent existence without a gastrointestinal tract/circulatory system, etc.

            Now, you can drop into a discussion of potentialities and essential properties, if you like, moving the focus of the conversation from an empirical reality to an essence of being philosophical argument, but you can’t do that without inaptitude.

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            • Your distinction about the point of gestation is well-observed, Mr. Cahalan. But at some point, a fetus has a brain, G-I tract, etc. and “Who is a person?” applies, the analogy apt.

              I’d like to see you approach the question from the Peter Singer POV, that even an infant falls short of personhood. Seems logical to me. The philosophical counterarguments of “potentiality” [and I have no problem with philosophy in the public square, BTW] are necessary.

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            • As TVD already said, “no one thing is exactly like another.” However, it’s the existence of a political decision about personhood is the analogy. What Santorum drew from that apt analogy (that this ought to mean something to black people) is what you appear to be disputing in saying that the “empirical” difference between a black person and a “fetus” cannot be surmounted in a meaningful way, especially not be the word “person.” Of course, that word, like almost every word in public discourse, implies all sorts of “potentialities and essential properties.”

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              • > Abortion is legal in the third trimester.

                Are we discussing actualities or what I think is justifiable?

                I’ll assume the second for the nonce. Quick question, though: what’s your position for abortions in the first two trimesters? How about the first? Is your criteria one of potentialities, essential properties, or demonstrable properties?

                > What characteristics does an infant acquire
                > between, say, Week 32 and the point of birth
                > (Week 36) that makes it wrong to kill an
                > infant but not a fetus?

                There are a few ways to approach this:

                (a) nothing, and thus third trimester abortions ought to be default-illegal *

                (b) nothing, but this still does not give me the right to dictate to a citizen that they *must* provide life support for this entity any more than they’re required to provide life support for anybody else *

                (c) what Jaybird said, the status of the fetus is not germane.

                * one can always make legitimate exceptions in possible end-of-life scenarios where the fetus represents a threat to the mother’s life, or raise the sticky widget of the converse set of circumstances, but I don’t think we need to flesh out this aspect at this point.

                I think (a) and (b) are both reasonable stances, I find (c) less interesting… but still at least consistent, if disagreeable to me personally. I have practical problems with (a) because I can’t see a reasonable way to audit this process without introducing a lot of bias (that * becomes a bigger bit at this point).

                That leaves me, more or less, stuck at (b). I don’t have a right to dictate to anyone that they follow through with a pregnancy, at the present time. If I could take the pregnancy off their hands (say, a trivial surgical operation and an artificial incubator), with less risk than I would be requiring them to undergo either by continuing the pregnancy *or* the risk from the abortion itself, I still don’t really have the right to dictate what happens here.

                It’s not my body. It’s not my fetus. I’m not convinced that one can reasonably claim a sure position that the fetus would desire my intervention even if it could communicate its desires, because at this stage of the game I’m not sure that the question of existence would even be meaningful to the fetus.

                Should we have abortions? Probably nowhere near as many as we have. Is it a sign of moral degeneracy? Probably. Is the mechanism of the law the right one to try and correct this? I really, really doubt it.

                Just like liberals need to get rid of the belief that they can make poverty go away by empowering the federal government to do/make it so, conservatives need to get rid of the illusion that they can make abortion go away by empowering the federal government to do/make it so. It may be a worthy goal, it might even be worth taking some basic steps to try and provide alternatives, but it’s not going to “fix the problem”.

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            • one is granted 3/5 of personhood

              Sorry for the tangent, but this always annoys the hell out of me.

              He is not granted 3/5 personhood. He doesn’t get 3/5 of a representative or 3/5 of an electoral vote . The full persons of the state that keeps him as a slave get an extra 3/5 personhood to share among themselves as a reward for the accomplishment of having enslaved him. The problem isn’t that 3/5 is less than 1. The problem is that 3/5 is greater than negative infinity.

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  10. All manner of constitutional rights are curtailed for less developed individuals (children/teens and free speech, religion in schools, etc.)

    Obviously the right to not be harmed is an extreme one. Has anyone ever argued self-defense? I hear reasonable threat is not hard to prove.

    But back to curtailing rights, since we believe it is alright to curtail rights depending on age, at least in practice, where does that principle stop, and if it stops at life of an unborn child, why?

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  11. Abortion always terminates human life; African chattel slavery usually didn’t result in the death of the slave for economic reasons.
    If I may I’d like to inquire with my secular/progressive friends the question of the value of human life and certain directions society should move toward to ‘progress.’
    Many/most here believe a woman has the ‘right’ to terminate her young at any time, and for any reason in her pregnancy. I would ask, what about human life that is less than functional? For example the person committed to a bed/wheel chair for the rest of his/her life because of disease or injury where the victim can’t function in society and require some very expensive, around-the-clock care just to survive? Wouldn’t it be more cost effective, hell, maybe kinder to the suffering patient (for all we know) to terminate their life?
    In abortion, you people declare the woman has the call re: the fetus’s life.
    What about my little scenerio above? Who has the call; the parents/family, or the state? Couldn’t we get a coterie of very smart beaureaucrats to write up guidelines for putting handicapped people down…humanely?

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        • An obligate parasite is a parasite that cannot live without its host. Putting aside all of the connotations of a parasite, for the better part of 30 weeks a fetus is, by definition, an obligate parasite. Post-viability until birth it is a parasite, in that it is feeding off of its host. But since it can, in theory, live outside its host, it is no longer an obligate parasite.

          Are you speaking of some other use of the word parasite?

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          • See?

            (Francis: I’m not particularly interested in arguing about whether or not fetal gestation in mammals is equivalent on any level to parasitism. I was just pointing out that the comparison is made and I’d like to thank you for admirably demonstrating this.)

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              • I’m sure you would!

                And this demonstrates one of the fundamental disconnects between the pro-life side and the pro-choice side.

                The pro-lifers see the entity as a person.
                The pro-choicers see the entity as a parasite.

                And both do it unironically.

                And so the pro-lifers point out how denial of personhood has happened in the past, like, plenty of times.

                And the pro-choicers point out the biological similarities to be found between parasitism and fetal gestation in mammals.

                And the gulf remains.

                I suspect that this would be less of an issue if both sides were a little more willing to believe that the other side actually believed this rather than adopted it as a convenient reason to prop up their belief system.

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      • Chris, my interest is in reading the opinions of the League when it comes to the question of the ‘quality’ of human life, and who in our modern society is responsible for the termination of that human life that isn’t cost effective. Or, the reasons why society should not terminate severly disabled people.

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    • > For example the person committed to a bed/wheel chair
      > for the rest of his/her life because of disease or injury
      > where the victim can’t function in society and require
      > some very expensive, around-the-clock care just to
      > survive?

      > Who has the call; the parents/family, or the state?

      They do (or at least, they ought). If someone wants to terminate their own life, I can’t stop them anyway, although I’d undoubtedly try.

      My wife and I have each made clear a DNR in the event of a vegetative state. Tangent: I don’t think this is an unjustifiable stance even if you believe the vegetative state being still has a right to life – clearly, if I’m missing higher brain function it’s better for the resources spent to keep my wheels spinning to go towards keeping other peoples’ wheels spinning.

      I don’t think the state has a right to dictate what ought to happen here, any more than the state has a right to dictate what ought to happen in the case of abortion. I also don’t think the family has a right to override the individual’s decision.

      Now, you’re going to bring up the case of someone who has fallen into this state without prior declaration of wishes. Well, in that case, the state will have to take the role of arbiter in the event of a conflict, but the decision making process should go to (a) spouse in the event of marriage or legal guardian in the case of a minor (b) nearest living relative in the event (a) doesn’t exist, (c) nearest available guardianship if (a) and (b) don’t exist and such an entity is willing to accept the responsibility (d) the state, if all of the aforementioned cases are taken.

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  12. All metaphors and analogies fail, pushed far enough: Abortion as Slavery especially quickly. Yet the comparison will not go away, like Banquo, eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner.

    What’s important is how America reacted to both slavery and abortion. Here the parallels become quite precise. Slavery was first opposed by people of faith among the Mennonites, though the Bible had plenty to say in defense of slavery, including the remarkable Book of Philemon, taken by an escaped slave back to his master. Anti-slavery appeals were thought to be unpatriotic, divisive, downright treasonous. Yet many slave owners did emancipate their slaves on the basis of appeals to conscience, though economics had a good deal to do with it: slavery’s only profitable with crops like cotton and sugar cane.

    It little matters what most people think: like the Abolitionists, the anti-abortion crowd considers their cause a moral issue. And like John Brown at Harper’s Ferry and the bombing of abortion clinics, these moralists can things can go too far. Let’s not kid ourselves about either Abortion or Slavery: the politicians and courts, then and now, tiptoed around the issue for fear of retribution. Even Lincoln the Great Emancipator wouldn’t act until he had some chance of winning the Civil War, and then only emancipated the slaves of the Confederacy. The subsequent legacy of Civil Rights I leave as an exercise for the reader. Congress and the courts have hung everything on the Fourteenth Amendment, tossing the Abortion hand grenade back and forth as our forefathers tossed the issue of Slavery around, as a political Apple of Discord, a problem too useful politically to ever actually solve.

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    • Even this reading of the analogy requires a rather forced approach to the history of slavery and abortion. It requires a selective, if not completely ahistorical reading of both the abolitionist movement and the post-Roe v Wade political and legal and legislative history of abortion. Even the John Brown analogy makes little sense, since Brown’s violence began as part of a small war, in essence, in Kansas over whether it would be a free or slave state, and culminated in an attack on the state, not private citizens. Ultimately, any reading of this analogy requires one to stretch reality well past its breaking point.

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      • Shrug. The fact remains, slavery and abortion were first moral issues. Only later were they taken up by the likes of John Brown and later, the political parties, as red meat issues guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of all and sundry.

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        • Well, no, again. Slavery was, it’s true, first a moral issue that later became a political one, though it was only after it had become a major political issue in the United States (well after, in fact) that John Brown entered the scene. It’s important to remember that John Brown (and a significant minority of the northern abolitionists in general) turned violent pretty late in the political history of abortion, and for very identifiable reasons. Brown’s violence in particular was in the service of a particular political position that was dominating the political debate over abortion at the time, namely the status of slavery in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, and other territories. So with slavery, it went: moral issue-political issue-abolitionist violence.

          Abortion may have been a moral issue since Biblical times, but in the U.S., it became a political issue before it became a moral one, because there were professional interests (of physicians in the 19th century) at stake. It became a salient moral issue later, but always remained an important political one. Then abortion was legalized, and it became even more of both. Pro-life terrorism arose for entirely different reasons than abolitionist violence, as well.

          To repeat, the analogy fails at pretty much every point unless you basically make up a story about one, the other, or both.

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          • It’s good of you to at least see through one eye, insofar as Slavery was first a moral issue, then a political one. As for Abortion, the same is equally true, for all your dismissive hand waving. My point may be confined to this nexus: both issues became grist for the political mill, especially Abortion in the hands of Anthony Comstock.

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            • I don’t know that actually presenting facts is “dismissive handwaving,” whereas just claiming it is so is certainly something more akin to it.

              The fact is, abortion laws in the U.S. began long before Comstock, and arose largely as political, not moral issues. If you want to claim otherwise, that’s fine, but at that point you’re just making stuff up to fit a story.

              What’s more, abortion and slavery took opposite paths: slavery was legal, then illegal, whereas abortion was illegal, then legal when it became the issue it is today. There’s really just no way to map the two histories that doesn’t require a lot of rewriting. And that’s not handwaving, that’s just historical fact.

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  13. I’ve been fairly active and involved in pro-life circles since high school, and I remember back in the mid 90’s seeing a chart that aimed to show similarities between slavery and abortion. I thought it kind of interesting as a comparison, but I don’t recall ever finding it helpful for understanding the abortion issue or for making a persuasive argument for outlawing abortion. I took it as being intended as ammunition in the fight for the cause, but it pretty clearly fails to impress and, like too many pro-life efforts, ends up being counter-productive. It’s generally not a good policy to offend the people you need to persuade.

    Speaking of the slavery analogy, I debated a fellow pr0-lifer over the Internet this morning whose theoretical solution to the legality of abortion was the use of raw power to outlaw it and, if needed, a civil war to settle the matter. I say theoretical as this person didn’t really wish to start a civil war; still, he thought a civil war might be the only real way of putting a stop to abortion. Suffice it to say that I found his position both puzzling and frightening.

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  14. Let’s quote Buck v. Bell again, why not.

    We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

    How wrong is OWH Jr. (ptooey) here?

    Specifically, is it a matter of degree rather than a matter of kind?

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