Thursday, December 01, 2005

Boldly Going Where No Man Ought to Go

In my house growing up, the dinner table was the closest thing we had to sacred space. At the dinner table (and often only at the dinner table) there were firm rules guarding our civility. We had, for reasons I have still not figured out, to keep our elbows off the table. We had to chew with our mouths closed. We had to ask for someone to "please pass me" whatever it was that we wanted, rather than just reaching across the table and grabbing it. But most importantly, we had to talk calmly and quietly, using our inside voices.

Dinner table conversation was, at least in retrospect, the highlight of my days. It was the one moment during the day that I got to talk about what I wanted to talk about, to a captive audience that had to treat me with respect. My parents orchestrated the dinner table conversation such that we hit on many topics of global, local, and personal import. If we acted according to the firm but never overtly stated rules that governed our civility, no topic was taboo. Well, almost no topic.

There were two things which my father would almost never allow us to discuss over dinner: religion, and abortion. He said that there was no point in discussing subjects on which no one would ever change their mind, and which elicited such profound emotional responses. I suspect he also knew that we children, who had grown up in a religiously conservative church environment, would probably vehemently disagree with him and our mother, who were more secularist liberals.

I have long since overcome the household taboo against talking about religion, though I have to say that, by and large my father was right. When I get into religious discussions I find that either the other person already agrees with me, in which case we are both just preaching to the choir, or they do not agree with me. When we disagree, usually the disagreement provokes us both to become even more firmly entrenched in our views, and to see the other person as "the enemy," that unspeakable evil force which is leading the world straight to hell.

But abortion is still, for me, a touchy subject. And for good reason. Nothing is more personal than the reproductive process, and nothing is more precious than the lives produced by that process. Because of this abortion is a highly charged issue which causes otherwise reasonable people to become, when facing off with someone who disagrees with their position on abortion, real assholes.

Nothing served to mobilize conservative and fundamentalist Christians in America like the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in 1973, Roe v. Wade. Fundamentalists had by and large withdrawn from the American mainstream after the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, which pitted the ACLU's famous Clarence Darrow against the populist former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a conservative if not fundamentalist Christian. During the trial Bryan mistakenly allowed himself to be put on the stand by Darrow as a so-called "Biblical expert." He was ruthlessly cross examined, and his views, which were broadcast across the nation via the radio, were held up to public ridicule. He won the trial in the courtroom, but lost in the much more important court of public opinion. This defeat caused those who shared Bryan's literalist views of the Bible to withdraw from public life, sensing that the nation was not yet ready to accept them and their view of God and the Bible.

But Roe v. Wade, which effectively legalized abortion by ruling the existing state laws prohibiting it unconstitutional, sounded a battle cry for fundamentalists who had become emboldened by their retreat from public life. Yes, fundamentalism had mobilized somewhat before then, but Roe v. Wade reminded both fundamentalists and conservatives of what was at stake, and pressed them into much more aggressive action.

Since Roe v. Wade we have seen an exponential increase in fundamentalism to the point that much of what had been labeled fundamentalist now carries the much more innocuous label "conservative." Conservative Christianity, particularly within the Protestant tradition, is growing rapidly.

The Pro-Life/ Anti-Abortion movement has grown and mobilized as religious America has shifted to the right. Emboldened by this, many people I come into contact with through religious organizations assume that everyone they know who claims the name of Christ agrees with their views on abortion. While I was in professional ministry, first as a Youth Minister and then as the pastor of my own church, it was not wise for me to encourage people to look seriously at abortion as a complex moral situation which is not always morally wrong. To do so would have been career suicide. But now that I have left professional ministry, and now that my family's ability to eat is not so closely tied to people thinking that I always agree with them, I can finally approach abortion as the morally complicated situation which it really is.

Pro-Life/ Anti-Abortion activists often use a simple slogan which I think best sums up their position: Abortion is Murder. In fact, to them abortion is murder of the worst kind, because it is the murder of an innocent, helpless baby. Because they assume abortion is murder, and because they assume that all morally reasonable people will grant them that assumption, they do not feel the need to argue for their assumption. They do not explain why it is that abortion is murder, because to them it is so obviously the case that it ought to be intuitive. If others are incapable of or unwilling to arrive at the same conclusion, then it represents a failure of their reason, their morality, or more likely, both.

But it is obviously the case that abortion is murder? I think not. I hope that abortion is not obviously murder since the majority of our nation still favors a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. I hope that I do not live in a nation whose collective moral reasoning is so out of whack that they favor an act which is obviously murder. But as someone who opposed a war which at the time was favored by the majority, I know that we cannot always trust the moral reasoning of the majority.

Murder has best been defined as "the unjustified killing of a person." If this is a good definition of murder, then in order to demonstrate that an act is murder you have to demonstrate three things:

1. That something has been killed.
2. That the something which has been killed is "a person."
3. That that killing of a person was "unjustified."

So for abortion to be murder, per this definition of murder, it has to involve the killing of a person, and that killing must not count as a justified killing.

The first question this raises in my mind is: What do we mean by a "person?" What constitutes "personhood?"

This might seem like an easy question to answer, but as we try to answer it reasonably it gets very complicated very quickly. We might want to say that "person" and "human" are interchangeable terms; that a person is a human and a human is a person. But (not to sound like Bill Clinton pondering the meaning of "is"!) what do we mean by human?

We might mean biologically human, containing human DNA. But does this help us to understand the morality of abortion? A human fetus is, at the very least, a biologically human mass contained within a biological human. If personhood is granted to that fetus by virtue of it containing human DNA and therefore being biologically human, then it would be a very serious thing to remove that biologically human mass, thereby "killing" it. But a tumor may be described by the same language we just used to describe the fetus. Would it be a morally similar act to remove the tumor from the biological human? I certainly doubt it, which means we need to clean up our definition of person.

In utilitarian ethics a person (by which we mean here that which has moral standing) is defined as a sentient being - a being capable of experiencing pleasure and pain and expressing preference. This understanding has been particularly beneficial when discussing the rights of animals, but for those who don't want to extend rights to other animals similar to the ones we enjoy as human animals it isn't particularly helpful. It is, for those who wish to argue that abortion is wrong, a particularly unhelpful framework, because the extent to which an unborn child is sentient is not obvious to us. A fetus is certainly less sentient than, say, the cow which became the hamburger you just had for lunch. If sentience is our ground for personhood, why would it be less wrong to kill the cow than it is to kill the fetus?

This question concerning personhood, because it is central to our understanding of the moral and legal implications of abortion, had to be seriously considered by Justice Harry B. Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. While I was an undergraduate Philosophy student I took an Ethics class in which I had to write a paper on how Blackmun dealt with personhood in his decision. For that paper I wrote this:

"In writing the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry B. Blackmun outlines several historical perspectives on what it means to be a person. Some have held that life begins at conception, and therefore one has personhood, by virtue of the potential to be human, at birth. Others have claimed that a fetus is only a person once it has 'quickened', or moved. Still others have claimed that a person is only a person when it is 'viable', capable of surviving on its own. And finally, some have claimed that personhood begins only upon being born.

"Justice Blackmun himself seems mute on personhood, leaving, for the most part, his opinions outside the argument. In fact, he goes out of his way to maintain that it is not necessary that he, or any other justice in the court, pin down exactly when life, or personhood occurs. He argues that if the great doctors, philosophers, and theologians of all time have been unable to reach a consensus, then certainly one will not be reached by lawyers in a courtroom. However, what he can determine is what, constitutionally speaking, the laws of the United States of America can and cannot regulate.

"Although he does not come up with a firm definition of personhood, Justice Blackmun notes that both sides of the argument on abortion appeal to the protection of 'persons' in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

"If a fetus is considered a person, then, clearly, according to the 14th Amendment, it has the right to life, which supersedes any claim the mother may make to rights, unless the mother's own life is in jeopardy. However, neither the internal evidence of the text, nor the evidence of history seems to indicate that this Amendment considers unborn fetuses to be 'persons.' Rather, it seems that only those who have been 'born' are considered here persons, therefore, legally, constitutionally speaking, the issue of potential personhood of a fetus is not to be respected."

To say exactly what we mean by the term "person" and exactly who counts as a person is a difficult thing. Any reasonable account of personhood, and any ethical theory which takes personhood seriously is necessarily complex. Because personhood is the foundation of moral standing, we need to have a very broad understanding of who counts as a person. The dangers of placing limits on personhood should be obvious. In early American history blacks were not considered persons, and they are still fighting to regain that lost personhood. But I can see no reason to consider fetuses to be persons in the same sense that those who have been born are considered persons. This is not to say that fetuses have no moral consideration whatsoever, but just that killing a fetus, morally and legally, is not the same thing as killing a person.

But even if we do consider a fetus to be a person, and many reasonable people do, it does not necessarily follow from that that abortion in all cases is murder. After all, we have defined murder as the unjustified killing of a person, so we still have to consider the question of justification.

As such, the next question is: Is killing a person ever justified?

This is, remarkably enough, a much more difficult question to answer than the first one. It is also a question which cuts to the moral heart of a great deal more than just abortion. If the answer to this question is no, then there should be no state sanctioned killing, whether it be war or the death penalty or whatever.

It is on this point that many Catholics do not consider Protestants (and particularly American Protestants) to be sufficiently Pro Life. For American Protestant activists Pro Life really means merely anti-abortion. For Catholics, however, life does not (as my father likes to say) end at birth. To be Pro Life means to fight not just against abortion but against all state sanctioned killings, particularly the death penalty.

I would love to here get into arguments concerning war and the death penalty, but as you may have already noticed it is far too easy for me to get off on a tangent. Suffice it to say that war and the death penalty will be dealt with at some point before this blog (Sandalstrap's Sanctuary itself, rather than this particular never-ending post) has finally run its course. For now the more relevant argument concerns self-defense.

As a society we grant that a person has the right to defend themselves against the threat of attack. It might come as some surprise to Christians that Jesus did not always seem to grant that right. In telling his followers to "turn the other cheek" when struck, was Jesus giving pastoral advice or laying down a moral imperative? How you answer that question, if you take the role of Jesus as the Christ seriously, should inform how you view claims about a right to self-defense.

But what does self-defense have to do with abortion? Simply this: if you grant that a person has the right to defend themselves then not all killings of persons are murder. To kill another person in order to preserve your own life (or even health) may be a justified killing. If that is the case, then even if fetuses count as persons not all abortions are murder, because some abortions are performed in order to preserve the life or health of the mother. In that instance, at least, the abortion would be a justified killing.

Delving into the ethics of abortion gets a great deal more complicated than this, but I will stop muddying the water for now because, believe it or not, it is not the ethics of abortion which I wish to consider here. While I do not believe that abortion is murder or that abortion in all cases is morally wrong, I do believe that abortion in many if not most cases is morally wrong. At the very least an abortion represents a tragedy which should have been avoided. So, while I am not a Pro Lifer (in the sense that the term is usually used, though of course, as a living being, I am quite in favor of life) I share the Pro Life goal of limiting abortions as much as possible.

The issue of abortion, for me, is not primarily a moral issue. Rather it is a pastoral issue. I am interested in the pastoral care of people who have had abortions, who are thinking about having abortions, or who may eventually have or need abortions. I do not desire that people have an abortion unless it is absolutely necessary (and I know that some of you Pro Lifers will argue that it is never necessary, but we'll have that argument later, I'm sure). As such I would love to be able to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country.

But that is not my only consideration. I also must consider the well being of the woman who may or may not have the abortion. It is through this lens that I will consider the question of whether or not it should be legal to obtain an abortion in the United States. And, of course, like a good allegedly brain-washed liberal, I believe that abortion should remain legal.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortions from happening. There were, in fact, more abortions performed in the years immediately before Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion than in the years immediately after that landmark ruling. Laws against abortion do, however, make abortions unsafe by denying proper medical care to the women seeking abortions. A doctor's office, hospital or clinic is a much safer environment than a black-market basement. A surgical procedure is much safer than a coat hanger.

Now I know that many people are unmoved by that kind of arguing because they reason that if you are willing to kill your own baby (a very unfair characterization of abortion, in my mind) then you deserve whatever you get. Such callousness has no place in the body of Christ. Christianity is ultimately about the grace of God, a grace which, by the way, tells us that we have all sinned. It is God's grace which keeps us all from falling under judgment. Those who wish to judge others should be reminded of these words from the Epistle of James:

... speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13, NRSV)

Women have for too long been left by selfish men to fend for themselves when they become unwantedly pregnant. These women should be the objects of Christian love, not self-righteous, hypocritical scorn. They are in a difficult situation, and need real options. Abortion should remain legal because to outlaw it only creates more criminals, and provides unnaturally harsh consequences for actions performed by women who think that they are out of options. Abortion should remain legal because to outlaw it would make it difficult for women with serious medical problems to have access to tragic but life saving procedures.

If you think that abortion is a tragic thing, and a morally serious thing, you'll get no argument from me. But stop looking for the easy answers, because they only make the problem worse.

27 comments:

Tom said...

I can't believe I just read that whole post in one sitting. You wern't kidding when you said it was long. You're lucky you make a lot of sense and I agree with you. If not I would hunt you down based on length and not just content. The good news here is that anyone who disagrees with you wouldn't stick around long enough to finish reading it. I hope somebody proves me wrong.

Princess Pinky said...

I had a friend who needed (for medical reasons) an abortion. Until that time I was against abortion (but not Roe v. Wade). In fact I wasn't clear of my view on it. Nothing is black or white, right or wrong and one must deal with situations individually. That friend was told by her doctor that "the pregnancy" was not viable and if she continued she would die and there would also be no baby in the end. Yes, she had been promiscuous and she was not trying to get pregnant. This situation, however, was not about using abortion as birth control. It made me think and it made me reach out to her and we became closer friends. The only other "christian" in our work place got wind of her situation and let her know that regardless of the circumstances that she would go to Hell if she termiated the pregnancy.

There is no right and wrong to this issue. There are only women scared of what the future might bring longing for someone to give them answers, love and understanding. It should not be about the "issue of abortion" but the individuals and their situations.

Sandalstraps said...

I know of someone (they were mentioned to me anonymously in a prayer request) who tried for a very long time to become pregnant. After being told that it would be almost impossible for her to have a child of her own, she and her husband conceived. They thought it was a miracle.

A few months later two things became apparent:
1. The child did not have a functioning brain.
2. Carrying the child to term would probably kill the mother.

Valuing this child as a precious miracle and an answer to prayer, and believing abortion to be an unspeakable evil, this woman, I am told, agonized over her predicament before finally deciding to terminate the pregnancy.

I know that most people who are Pro Life would agree with the woman's decision. Most Pro Lifers make exceptions for the life or health of the mother, and for good reason.

But making abortions difficult to obtain creates a climate in which it is difficult for women like this to get the medical treatment that they need, and in which it is far too easy to stigmatize someone for making such a heart wrenching decision.

Imagine, if you will, the court proceedings in which a woman would have to demonstrate to the legal authorities that the abortion she seeks (but, by the way, doesn't really want, and feels ashamed for even considering) is medically necessary. Would that not be enough to press her to decide to take a hopeless and potentially life threatening pregnancy to term?

Brian Beech said...

Tom...

I shall prove you wrong when I get some time. I actually did read it all and would love to share my thoughts. Maybe tomorrow. :)

Tom said...

Brian,

You need no time to prove me wrong. Your having read it in its entirity has already done so. What I said I wished to be proved wrong about was that someone with a dissenting opinion would read the whole thing in the first place.

Brian Beech said...

Quite right Tom, you caught me "misreading" what you wrote. Oops.

Squirrelly said...

Too right, Chris. Women are the biggest victims in the whole reproductive rights issue. Men face little to no consequences for their actions when they get women pregnant and leave them, whether the baby is born or aborted. Even child support is often difficult to enforce. And the women are the ones who get branded with the stigma of being slutty, or irresponsible, or selfish, if not all three.

I remember reading a year ago or so about two teenage girls at one school who both got pregnant, but they decided to do the hard thing and have their babies, all while maintaining A averages.

They were the only two people denied membership to the school Beta club. The school cited unspecified reasons of lack of good character. The fathers of the babies were both admitted to the club.

Fortunately, the girls got mad and sued, and the whole thing was brought to light in the national media (woooo, press!). The school backpedaled like crazy and let both the girls in.

But my point here is that girls are mercilessly villified for actions that take two. Boys get off scot free. And that's not right.


P.S. As far as my own abortion views: I think it's a necessary evil sometimes, but I'd rather not see it happen. If one has to do it, it should be done before the fetus can feel pain. That's the only way I could possibly justify it, unless there's a fatal medical issue involved. If the baby must be killed, better to do it when it's totally insentient, and can't feel the pain of the abortion.

Brian Beech said...

Sorry for my time away from this, I know I promised to comment on it, but I have been very very busy. But don't worry, I have arrived again...

Abortion to me is quite wrong and I do believe that it should be very obvious that it is wrong. Please, let me explain why I believe this.

As I read your post I thought that you made a good argument for why abortion should be an available alternative for women. When we look at abortion though a philosophical lens, there are many questions that can not be answered and therefore do not allow “conservatives” to make the assumptions that are being made.

Breaking down words and looking at definitions to destroy arguments; is probably the favorite tactic of philosophy majors and quite useful at times. This tactic works particularly well on the topic of abortion. The meaning of “life” and when it “begins” and when someone is a “person” are enough to cause one to never get to the real argument. So, looking at abortion through that lens is one that I will not accept.

As Christians we should, at the very least, be concerned with a few things. The first is to praise God and worship him. The second is to win souls to him. This is the one I would like to focus on, the souls we should be winning. Anyone can argue that we, as a church, do not do a great job of winning souls, but that is a topic for another day. The soul is what the Christian should be looking at. Does the baby (fetus) have a soul? This is a question that I believe is answered by scripture. Jeremiah1:4-5 which says "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."

Many times throughout the Old and New Testament it shows that life is to be protected from conception to death. It talks many times about babes being “conceived and born”, not just “born”. Psalms says two or three times that God knew me in the womb, “before I was born” and when I was “being made in secret”.

Keeping that in mind, I believe that God knows us before we are born. I do not believe that the baby in the womb is simply a growth that does not have a soul. This is why I believe that abortion is wrong. It is a person with a soul that is being killed. That baby will go before God after he/she is killed. Those who do not believe that this baby has a soul, when do you think that God gives that baby a soul and where is it in scripture. I ask not out of sarcasm, but so you may point out what I may have overlooked.

Squirrley …I won’t argue about how an unborn baby can or can not feel pain, but it is quite amazing to me that you could know that. They claim that if you read to your baby while it is in the womb that it helps as does playing music, but then to claim it can feel no pain… I’m curious how this is known, as pain is something that only the person experiencing it can confirm. If I am stabbed with a pin and do not show a response, you would think, or claim to know, that I did not feel pain. Is this true?

Although our society does not consider the unborn baby to be a citizen (except in a murder case) I do believe that the baby has a soul and that is exactly what we Christians should look at when deciding about abortion.

Sandalstraps said...

With all the respect in the world to Brian Beech (and I really do admire him for putting up with me and my merry band of semi-heretics) when I look at what words mean I am not avoiding the "real" arument - I am having the real argument. Very often we speak without knowing what exactly it is that we are saying. Logic, which is the tool that I use to disect and analyze arguments, exists to help us understand what we are saying and to refine those statements until the distance between what is said and what is meant is bridged.

Often here we get into arguments of the worst kind, in which people talk past each other never bothering to listen to or understand their respective arguments. When I employ logic to mediate between statements and refine the arguments presented I am not just using a "philosophy major" trick. I am making communication possible.

The issue of "soul" is a tricky one, because it is assumed that Christians must believe in a "soul" even though it is by no means clear that Jesus did. Soul entered Christianity not through is Jewish-religious roots but through Greek philosophy. It is not a necessary part of Christianity, though I often find it helpful.

I don't know whether or not we have souls, and I'm not sure we always know what we mean when we use the word. I could here get into a history of what has been meant by the word "soul" but that would a.) be extraordinarily boring, even by my standards and b.) be potentially antagonistic.

As for the issue of a fetus feeling pain, and whether or not it can be known when it is or is not possible for a fetus to feel pain: we can assume that when the usual mechanisms for feeling are not yet developed it is impossible to feel pain, unless we discover some unusual mechanism. I am sure that Brian is willing to believe in the existence of that unusual mechanism, the supernaturally imposed "soul" which is evidently (per a verse from Jeremiah being yanked out of its context and used to argue for something that wasn't even considered at the time of composition) implanted at the moment of conception.

More on the use of that particular verse at a later time, if I feel like it.

I still find it odd that I, who consider abortion in almost all cases to be morally wrong, find myself defending the practise. That makes me uncomfortable, since my only point with this post is that abortion (like almost everything else) is a morally complicated issue which must be seriously considered since it is the source of a great deal of conflict.

If anyone is looking for a real fight they should comment on the post on homosexuality, as that is an issue I actually care about.

goddess_rl said...

Well I will bring a strange point. I have a friend who could not carry a child without extra hormones. This took 4 miscarriages to verify. 4 times a soul entered her body and left. (Assuming we carry the soul theory.) At least one of those souls she believes was a girl. (She finally delivered a boy.) She believes the boy was the same soul just taking some time to "stick", but where did the girl go? If that baby went to Heaven then all is good, and most protestant faiths would agree. The baby is not the soul in question. The mother's is. Correct and the doctor who performs the procedure. Whose soul has a better chance of recovery. The doctor has the option to not perform any procedure they choose. (This of course being a major problem for women, and why the Catholic church's uncursion into the medical field is very troubleing.) The mother has to deal with the state of her soul as she sees fit.

Why do we on the outside think we need to judge her soul? Malachi, says that divorce is a sin. Leviticus says we can't wear material made from two types of textiles. Why are some laws held fast to and some discarded like old hats? Dennis Miller I think asked once why when he was growing up was eating a hot dog on Friday cause for damnation and yet today priests are exposed for molesting children?

How does a christian justify protesting at funerals? How can we become so extremely selfish that we forget that Jesus said the greatest commandment was about Love. He said that those without sin could cast the first stone. Yes something should be punished, but sending a soul straight to God without making it cry once. Why is that punishable?

I find is so odd that I have grown into a pro-choicer. 8 years ago I would have never believed it. But life occurs I suppose.

Sandalstraps said...

The real issue here is an issue of the theology of sin. How do we approach sin, and how does that impact our view of the state of souls?

The view which Rebekah presented (though that is not to say that she defended this view) has a few characteristics:

1. Sin is here viewed as a action or series of actions which one can commit.

This is, to a degree helpful, because it involves the moral judgment of actions and potential actions. We ask of each possible act, is this sinful, or is this not sinful? And asking that helps us to, in a religous way, weigh the moral value of that act.

2. Sin is here viewed primarily through a legal/judicial lens.

These two are connected. We view actions as sinful, and therefore meriting some sort of negative judgment, or not sinful and as such meriting either a positive judgment or no judgment at all.

But this brings up two important questions:

1. Is this the only way to view sin?

2. If not, is this the best way to view sin?

To these I answer, "no, and no."

Scripturally speaking (particularly in the letters of Paul, which give us the most comprehensive view of sin in the New Testament), while sin is sometimes seen through the legal lens, it is more often seen through a sort of medical lens. Sin, rather than being a bad action or series of bad actions, is instead a condition which gives rise to those actions. That is why grace is such a powerful antidote to sin. Not only does it address the way in which we judge the individual who commits bad actions, but it addresses the condition within the individual which gives rise to those actions.

As such, the question we should as is not whether or not this particular action is sinful, but rather it is more like, these questions:

1. In what way do each of my actions participate in my sinful nature?

2. How is the grace of God impacting my sinful nature; changing it, redeeming it?

3. How does that grace, which redeems me and alters my fundamental nature, impact my moral behavior? Or, in other words, how does this newfound redemptive faith - given to me by the grace which makes me a new creation - impact the way in which I act?

In this model a woman is not sent to hell (or anywhere else) because she had an abortion. A doctor is not sent to hell (or anywhere else) because he or she helped perform an abortion. The woman and the doctor, like all other people, have an innate propesity to sin, and that condition may have given rise to the actions which helped produce the abortion. But that does not in any way separate them from the rest of humanity, nor does that separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Thank God that the state of souls rests in God's grace rather than in our tendency toward sin (which is not nearly as great as God's grace) or else we would all be in trouble, and not just for abortion.

JivinJ said...

Straps,
I'm commenting here because they've turned off the comments at Watchpost. I hope that is ok. If not, please tell me.

I'm sorry if you found my comment at the Watchpost condescending. I didn't mean it to be. My apologies if it came off that way and I see now how it could.

I said "lame, lame, lame" because I found it rather lame to assert in a lengthy comment that my position was a "people like me, by virute of being like me, count as persons; people and things unlike me, by virtue of being unlike me, do not morally count as persons" position and then never give your position but say "fetuses fail to, on their own, have moral standing per the criteria established by many serious moral theories."

It seems from your latest comment that you don't necessarily hold the opinion of those moral theories but can you see how I would take it that you held to those theories?

Especially, since those moral theories are also "people like me theories" since they routinely use criteria to lower or remove the moral standing of human beings (like the unborn) who don't have sentience or the current mental capacity the moral theoriests have.

From my knowledge murder is a legal term and doesn't apply to every unjust killing. For example, some unjust and illegal killings of human beings are deemed manslaughter so from my perspective "murder" isn't the best term to use when describing abortion since abortion isn't legally defined as murder.

I'd also point out that I don't define "personhood" as humanity. I try not to use the term "personhood" because I think the term "person" is used almost exclusively to discriminate against human beings.

So what is your position with regards to "personhood?" You presented two theories (both which would seem to eliminate newborns from personhood) yet I don't see which you accept if you accept either.

I find them both rather weak. Asserting that something is grounded in a theory doesn't make it any less arbitrary. If the theory uses arbitrary criteria (like sentience) to decide moral standing then it's just as arbitrary as a theory of racism arbitrarily defining moral standing on the color of one's skin.

You can assert the speciesism or human exceptionalism is morally repugnant but you'll to provide a better argument than saying it doesn't have an underlying theory.

"I know, from looking at your blog, that you aren't much for nuance, or argument. It is much easier to declare a moral absolute and demand that someone forcefully knock you off of it than it is to try to build a comprehensive moral theory and then deal with moral problems on a case by case basis. But just because you are intellectually lazy, have a care and don't assume that everyone else is, too.

Have you actually read some of my longer blog entries on abortion? Probably not but that's ok. I don't expect you to read my whole 18 month blog. But in fact, I've argued with a number of different bloggers about abortion for quite a while and at length. If you'd intentionally like to be as you say "juvenile and condescending" then go ahead but I certainly don't want you to think I'm angry with you or trying to be condescending.

I'm sorry I didn't read your posts on abortion (I'll do so in the future) - from my experience with most bloggers in commments, I usually try to respond to their comments instead of reading everything they've said on the subject and then responding. I'm sorry if this offended you. I just usually don't have a ton of time to research bloggers before responding to lengthy comments.

JivinJ said...

Straps,
This is in response to your blog post.

If personhood is granted to that fetus by virtue of it containing human DNA and therefore being biologically human, then it would be a very serious thing to remove that biologically human mass, thereby "killing" it. But a tumor may be described by the same language we just used to describe the fetus. Would it be a morally similar act to remove the tumor from the biological human? I certainly doubt it, which means we need to clean up our definition of person.

This is confusing parts and wholes. A tumor is merely part of a human being (like toenails or hair) unlike a human fetus which is a whole human being.

I have big problem with using sentience (and other mental abilities for that matter) as a guide for personhood since newborn humans tend to have much lower levels of those abilities than a number of animals.

Blackmun's assertion that there wasn't evidence from history that people considered the unborn to be persons is plainly refuted by the fact that abortion was illegal in numerous states for decades. The number one reason abortion was made illegal was because people thought the unborn shouldn't be killed and they were deserving of basic rights.

I'm wondering in which cases do you think abortion to be morally wrong? And why do you consider abortion in those cases to be morally wrong?

There were, in fact, more abortions performed in the years immediately before Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion than in the years immediately after that landmark ruling.

Do you have a source for that assertion? For years, pro-choice groups have said there were up to a 2 million abortions a year before Roe (based on a single faulty study) yet it doesn't seem to make any sense that there were 2 million abortions a year (when abortion was illegal) yet only 750,000 in the years after Roe when abortion was legal, tax dollars paid for some abortions, abortionists could advertise their services, etc.

Making rape illegal doesn't stop rapes from happening. But that's not a good reason to make rape legal. People will always break the law but that fact shouldn't stop society from passing laws to make certain things illegal.

Sandalstraps said...

JivinJ,

I may or may not respond to your comments in more depth later. I attempted a response earlier, but I didn't like what I had to say to you. It was not polite, to say the least.

I heard the statistic refered to in the post on NPR the day that I wrote the post. However, after a brief search in my library today I could not confirm the accuracy of that statistic, which is not surprising since books on abortion do not dominate my collection, since abortion is not an issue about which I am principally concerned.

However, in Contemporary Moral Problems, seventh edition, an ethics text edited by James E. White, I did find some relevant statistics which, while not confirming the earlier assertion, do seem to refute the notion that Roe v. Wade had a significant statistical impact on the number of abortions performed in the U.S.

According to White, in the introduction to the section of the book devoted to arguments about the moral value of abortion (in the form of essays by different philosophers which explore the moral value of abortion, some identified as pro-choice, others as pro-life, though most of the positions are more nuanced thanthose labels indicate - the book itself is agnostic on the topic)

Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the number of illegal abortions in the United States was 1.2 million a year. After the Roe decision made abortion legal, the number of abortions increased to 1.4 million a year in 1994 and then decreased to 1.33 million in 1997. The latest figures (this was written in 2003) show that the number of abortions in the United States continues to decrease.

The highest number of abortions were performed in 1994, at 1.4 million, or just 200,000 per year more than the pre-Roe average. While 200,000 seems like a large number that is just a 17% increase at the height of abortions performed in the U.S. White's statistics do not cover the 21 year period between 1973 and 1994, so we don't know from them what immediate impact Roe v. Wade had on the number of abortions performed from the statistic available from this source. I'll have to dig deeper to find more relevant statistics.

However, I do know one thing which the statistics will reflect: that the population of the United States grew more that 17% in that 21 year period. So, in terms of relation to the overall population, even if not in terms of raw numbers (I don't yet have that data, as I heard it on the radio and so can't look it up from that source some 6 and a half months later) abortion decreased after the Roe verdict. The avalanch of abortions which was predicted by doom and gloom prophets never materialized. Similarly, it is unreasonable to expect, if legalizing abortion did not significantly impact the number of abortions performed (I'll have more data on this as I look it up), that overturning Roe will prevent abortions from being performed. What it will do, instead, is make procuring an abortion a great deal less safe.

This, again, from James White (who in the book remains agnostic on the issue):

When performed by a qualified doctor, abortion is a reasonably safe procedure. Less than 1 percent of all abortion patients experience complications such as infection or hemorrhage requiring blood transfusion. The risk of death from abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, however, with one death per 600,000 abortions at eight or fewer weeks to 1 death per 6,000 at twenty-one or more weeks. But the risk of death from childbirth is ten times as high as that associated with all abortions.

However, when an abortion is performed without a doctor it is not nearly such a safe procedure.

Whatever you think about the moral value of the decision of a woman to terminate her pregancy, this is something which policy makers must take into account when dealing with the very serious issue of abortion.

As for your comparison to rape, a few salient points to keep in mind:

1. Abortions are a great deal more common than rapes (unless you can pull out some statistic which demonstartes that there are more than roughly 1.3 million rapes per year).

2. Changing the legal approach to rape would not have any positive impact, whereas changing the legal approach to abortion (to restrict legal access to abortion) would have a profoundly negative impact, placing the lives of millions of women in danger each year.

According to White,

In the United States, about 52 percent of the women who obtain abortions are younger than 25, and about 20 percent of them are teenagers.

Assuming the relatively low estimate of 1.3 million legal abortions performed per year, making abortion illegal (if it does not significantly impact the number of abortions performed, which is a reasonable assumption given the data presented here) that means that the lives of roughly 260,000 teenage girls would be in greater danger than if abortions remained legal.

If you value life, you have to value their lives as well.

Of course, all of this speaks to how the law should approach abortion, now how we should treat abortion as a moral issue. Personally I could not counsel a woman to have an abortion except in cases involving rape or incest, or in cases where the health or life of the mother would be jeopardized by carrying the pregnancy to term. However, I recognize that abortion is an extraordinarily complex issue in which the rights of an actually existing person (the mother) are weighed against the rights of a potential person (the fetus). The mother is unquestionably a person - every reasonable moral system would consider her to be a person. However, there are serious doubts about the actual (as opposed to potential) personhood of the fetus.

But I will have to get into those later, as my son (an actual person in his own right) is tired of sitting in my office watching my type.

I should add, however, that not all approaches to personhood have it come down to a single attribute. Mary Anne Warren, who teaches philosophy at San Fransisco State University, and whose arguments we will consider in more depth later, argues - while making an important distinction between a human being in a genetic sense and a human being in a moral sense (but we'll get to her reasons for that distinction later) - that we should consider six criteria for personhood: sentience, emotionality, reason, the capacity to communicate, self-awareness, and moral agency.

I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the criteria she chooses, but I do agree that personhood - and with it, moral standing - does not come down to a single factor, but rather to a number of different factors weighed together.

This further complicates the moral issue of abortion, and makes it an impossible issue to resolve in a sound bite or a blog comment. But, since this is my blog, I can leave as long a comment as I want to leave, and can even devote a post to this discussion. That said, I don't see the discussion going anywhere.

If you happened to read my earlier comments before I sobered up (not literally - I don't drink, but anger is intoxicating) then I apologize for them. That I deleted them permanently should tell you how proud of them I am (which is to say, not at all).

Let's stay on topic, and not worry about personal comments. Whether I like you or you like me has little to do with the issue at hand.

Tyler Simons said...

JivinJ wrote:

a human fetus[,] which is a whole human being [is categorically seperate from a tumor, which is not].

I don't really agree that a fetus is a whole human being yet. I think the nature of human beings is largely defined by their place in social structures. The reason that it's so sad when someone dies needlessly is largely because there is a network of people who are connected to and quite possibly love that individual. Even some jerk of a homeless guy with no friends and who does nothing but irritate the hell out of soup kitchen employees has led a life and interacted with people. This, largely, is what determines his personhood.

Ross Douthat has linked to an interesting abortion debate at the American Scene. You might want to check it out -- Douthat is on the pro-life side of the fence, but his is an anti-abortion stance that makes a lot more sense to me than yours, Dr. J. For one thing, his argument against a naive speciesism/human exceptionalism seems pretty strong to me, in case you're interested. You did ask for that sort of thing, if I'm understanding this sentence correctly:

You can assert the speciesism or human exceptionalism is morally repugnant but you'll [have?] to provide a better argument than saying it doesn't have an underlying theory.

(I'm assuming you meant to write that "have." Correct me if I'm wrong.) Anyway, ask and ye shall receive this from Douthat's post:

Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias have further thoughts on abortion that are a worth a look. Essentially, both object to what they see as pro-lifers' genetic or biochemical theory of personhood, and argue that it's obvious - from our treatment of animals, say, or from how our sci-fi TV shows approach alien life forms - that how we treat organisms has to do with, as Matt puts it, "their psychological properties rather than their biochemical ones." Thinking about personhood in terms of genetics and species-membership alone, Julian suggests, would "entail, for instance, that if we were to learn that some sub-population of what we'd previously regarded as human beings actually had a very different genetic structure, their moral status would be an open question. The same would hold if we discovered some species of intelligent mer-creatures who, despite having DNA much more similar to fish (say) than humans, created complex societies, composed music, and wrote polemical books with inflammatory titles."

...

[T]his conclusion seems self-evidently morally repugnant (particularly for anyone who likes The Little Mermaid as much as I do)[.]


Douthat, as I said, is a pro-lifer, and this is the crux of his reply to Yglesias and Sanchez:

Basically, I agree with his broad point, as I think any serious [ahem - my emphasis] pro-lifer would: what makes human beings special, rights-deserving and all the rest of it isn't our genetic material per se, but the "Property M" that this material ultimately produces, the complex mix of free will (or the illusion thereof), self-awareness, creativity, memory, love, and so on that we understand as the human condition. But just because the presence of these properties suggests that human beings are made in the image of God - or just really, really special, depending on your point of view - it doesn't follow that the absence of these properties at a particular moment in a human being's lifespan makes it okay to deprive said human being of his or her life.

I'm sympathetic to Douthat's reasoning; I really don't like abortion. No one, of course, thinks it ok to dump your newborn in the reservoir, as happened recently in Massachusetts, even though it hasn't yet psychologically developed into what I'd call a human. However, when the pro-life movement admits that having two human chromosomes isn't the defining factor of personhood, the difference between an unfertilized egg and a sperm and a fertilized egg becomes pretty small. No one is going to try to ban masturbation and menstruation.

No single abortion affects society as it currently exists in nearly the same way as a murder of a child or adult that people love. No single abortion affects society the way the news report of the finding of an infant's arm in the water purification machine does. Therefore, I think abortions shouldn't be criminalized, even though I think they're wrong. (By this society test, heroin addiction (in that it destroys really-existing rather than merely potential social networks) is worse for society and closer to a crime than abortion. I think that heroin addiction is wrong, but I don't think it (or abortion) should be illegal. I don't think alcoholism is any better than heroin addiction and that's legal, even though it messes people up way worse than abortions.

You could argue that way to many potential children are being aborted and this, on the whole is messing up society. I'm inclined to agree with you. I think that abortions should be minimized (and don't think that merely making them illegal will do so -- that will only make them more dangerous.) I think it's really, really, wrong -- almost as wrong as having an abortion -- when people who don't actively want to have a kid have unprotected sex. It is the great sin of the pro-life movement that they do not actively support safe sex and that they don't address the argument that just as many abortions will happen in the absence of legal abortion. That's why y'all seem like you're simply washing the blood off your hands, a la Pontius Pilate, instead of addressing the root causes of our problems, a la Jesus Christ.

Sandalstraps said...

Back to statistics:

Looking at the statistics concerning abortion prior to 1973 is difficult because abortions were not legal in most situations. However, since Roe v. Wade it has become less difficult to caluculate the number of abortions each year.

In the original post I made the claim that the number of abortions performed annually actually initially decreased after the Roe decision, based on a report that I heard on the radio. Of course, that does not exactly count as a well documented statistical claim. Having done more research I later said that James E. White, in the section on abortion from his Contemporary Moral Problems, seventh edition, claimed that the average number of illegal abortions performed in the United States prior to Roe was 1.2 million per year.

According to National Right to Life, who do not make any claims about the numbers of abortions performed prior to Roe, here are the number of abortions performed annually in the years immediately following the Roe decision:

1973: 744,600
1974: 898,600
1975: 1,034,200
1976: 1,179,300
1977: 1,316,700

While National Right to Life uses these numbers to make the claim that abortions have skyrocketed since the Roe decision, if the average presented by White is correct then there was, following Roe an initial and substantial decrease in the number of abortions performed.

Assuming 1972 (a year for which, like all pre Roe years, there was no official data) fits the profile presented by White, it is reasonable to expect that roughly 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed. As abortion was made legal in 1973, it is reasonable to expect that many people who had abortions obtained them legally, thus significantly cutting into the number of illegal abortions performed, as there would be little incentive to have them.

Additionally, National Right to Life has no interest in downplaying abortion statistics, as one of their methods is to use extremely large numbers to try to overwhelm moral arguments - as though the number of abortions performed helps determine the moral value of any of those abortions. So, if their numbers are off, it is reasonable to expect them to be higher rather than lower.

That means that, when they say that 744,600 abortions were performed in the US in 1973, it is reasonable to assume that their data is either accurate, or, if it is inaccurate, then it is too high (not that I'm saying that it is too high - I'm just saying that if they got it wrong they wouldn't have gotten it wrong by underestimating the number of abortions performed, as that would be out of character for them - their numbers tend to run either accurate or just on the high side of accurate) rather than too low.

So, to sum up, the average number of illegal abortions performed annually in the United States prior to Roe was roughly:

455,400 abortions higher than the 1973 number,

301,400 abortions higher than the 1974 number,

165,800 abortions higher than the 1975 number, and

20,700 abortions higher than the 1976 number.

It was not until 1974, a full four years after the Roe verdict, that abortions became as common or more common than they were prior to Roe.

In light of this it is very difficult to say that the Roe verdict is the sole cause of the increase in the number of abortions performed in the United States (a trend which is now, despite the continued existence of the Roe verdict, declining again), and it is reckless and stupid to think that overturning Roe will have a significant impact on the number of abortions performed. It will merely have an impact on the number of relatively safe, legal abortions performed, turning frightened and emotionally overwhelmed young women into criminals if not corpses.

Of course this fails to speak to the moral value of abortion, which is still on the table. Of course, the morality of abortion - like morality in most other cases - is not a simple up or down, yes or no. When dealing with abortion as a moral subject we need to say more than just it is good or it is bad, it is right or it is wrong. We need to explore, morally speaking, what happens when an abortion is performed or not performed. What is at stake here?

Then we need to explore the circumstances in which abortion is performed or not performed, to see if they have any impact on the moral status of the action or inaction.

We also should look at the ways in which people have discussed the morality of abortion in the past. Many good arguments have been brought by people of differing ideologies. Understanding those arguments helps us to understand the ways in which abortion has been explored within the framework of moral reasoning. That should help inform the way in which we reflect on the morality of abortion, as we respond to the best arguments presented thus far, even if they haven't been presented here. That would be a conversation worth having.

Of course, doing that would remove us from our war of competeing soundbites and canned arguments, and who would want to do that?

Sandalstraps said...

On the relationship between legality of abortion and abortion rates, from the Guttmacher Institute:

Abortion rates are much less related to legal status than they are to levels of unintended pregnancy. In many countries in which abortion is illegal but unintended pregnancy is widespread—for example, Chile, Peru, Nigeria and the Philippines—the abortion rate is higher than in the United States. Some of the world’s lowest abortion rates are in western European countries, where abortion is legal and covered by national health insurance systems, but where levels of unintended pregnancy are very low.

Those wishing to decrease the number of abortions are often, then, fighting the wrong fight. The real fight isn't against Roe but is instead against unintended pregnancy. Another reason not to conflate contraceptives and abortions.

Sandalstraps said...

Correction:

In an earlier comment I said that the average number of illegal abortions in the United States prior to Roe was 1.2 million. I should have said that the total number of abortions, both legal and illegal, was 1.2 million. While most of the abortions performed prior to 1973 were illegal abortions, some were legal.

The post 1973 abortion numbers reflect only the legal abortions, though it is probably very close to the total number of abortions performed, as the legalization of abortion throughout the US dried up the market for illegal abortions.

JivinJ said...

Straps,
I didn't read your earlier comments so no worries. I hope you know that I'm not writing in anger and I don't want to make you angry.

There is actually no way to know exactly how many illegal abortions were performed prior to Roe since its not like abortionists performing illegal abortions kept records of them. So researchers have to come up with various ways to estimate these numbers.

Does White quote a source for his statistic? I'm guessing the statistic James White uses is from a study by researchers who (I think) worked for the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The study was not well done.

You'll probably not be able to access this via the internet but some prolifers did a study where they attempted to come up with a model of estimating the number of illegal abortions based on abortion deaths. It's in an older book "New Perspectives on Human Abortion" - they estimate that the largest possible number of criminal abortions in any one year was 210,000 in 1961. I find this estimate to be much more reasonable than the number you provide from White (presumably from the AGI). I don't accept and neither should anyone else the belief that there were hundred of thousands of more abortions per year when abortion was illegal, supposedly performed in back-alleys than when abortion became legal, abortionists could advertise their services, and tax dollars paid for abortions. It just doesn't make any sense. It seems much more likely that the AGI study was flawed.

The highest number of abortions per year depends on your source. I believe the CDC's statistics (from state health departments) have it at 1.4 million but the Alan Guttmacher (who surveyed abortion providers) has it at 1.6 million in 1990.

I wouldn't assume that illegal abortions were mostly performed by non-doctors. Back in 1960, Mary Calderone (a former Planned Parenthood president) concluded that 90% of illegal abortions were performed by physicians in good standing.

I believe the numbers National RTL uses regarding after Roe abortions are from the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Regarding rape - I would agree with you that there are less rapes than abortions but I don't see how this fact affects the argument. Your second point assumes false that millions of womens lives would be at risk. In the year before Roe, 39 women died of illegal abortions, 25 died of legal abortions. It also fails to note that making abortion illegal could possibly lower the number of abortions. My point is that we shouldn't decide whether something should or shouldn't be illegal based on whether people will break the law or not.

it is reckless and stupid to think that overturning Roe will have a significant impact on the number of abortions performed.

First, overturning Roe won't make abortion illegal - it will merely allow individual states to decide their state's abortion policy - so you're probably correct that overturning Roe wouldn't dramatically reduce abortions off the bat. If every state made abortion illegal (they won't) or enforced various time restrictions (like the countries in Western Europe - AGI usually forgets to note the fact that abortions are more restricted in Western Europe than they are here) then I think the number of abortions would decrease - especially if more states stopped using tax dollars to pay for abortions. I'd also point out that women weren't thrown in jail for having abortions (they weren't criminals) prior to Roe. State laws punished the abortionist not the woman.

I'm also still wondering which abortions you view as morally wrong and why?

I'm also wondering when you believe a human being becomes a "person?"

JivinJ said...

Hi Tyler,
I've read the pieces by Sanchez and Douthat but thank you for suggesting them.

I don't really agree that a fetus is a whole human being yet. I think the nature of human beings is largely defined by their place in social structures.

Are what other animals are biologically also largely defined by the social structure? When I use "human being," I'm using it in the scientific sense not in the metaphysical "personhood" sense. Whether you agree to it or not, a human fetus is biologically a human being. It's a scientific fact.

The reason that it's so sad when someone dies needlessly is largely because there is a network of people who are connected to and quite possibly love that individual. Even some jerk of a homeless guy with no friends and who does nothing but irritate the hell out of soup kitchen employees has led a life and interacted with people. This, largely, is what determines his personhood.

So someone's interaction with other people determines personhood? So then would a human being who is born, hooked up to various machines to feed, nourish, remove excrement, etc. and not allowed to interact with other human beings for years (kind of like the Matrix) be a person? Or what about a child abandoned on an island?

Are you opposed to punishing women who abandon/kill their newborns - because these newborns don't have human interaction so they're not really persons in your view?

You may have also missed some of my arguments at the Watchpost regarding why I don't think we should discriminate against other human beings based on various criteria - no one really responded to them but I'll put them here (some typos corrected) in case you'd like to.

I'm also wondering why you think being a human organism isn't a valid underpinning for having human dignity? Born individuals are composed of various sizes, have various abilities, and depend on others in various ways yet I'd hope we'd agree that all these individuals have the same human dignity. What makes this dignity equal if everything about us (except our humaneness) is various?

I think this argument is at least somewhat similar to Douthat's, right? I personally am not a fan of the category of personhood. I think the term "person" has been used to almost exclusively to allow some human beings to discriminate against other human beings. Or as Wesley has said personhood "is telling us whom we can kill and get a good night's sleep."

The prolife movement has addressed claims "that the number of abortions will stay the same whether legal or illegal" all the time. Maybe you haven't seen them and maybe that isn't your fault but prolife organizations address those argument all the time.

No single abortion affects society as it currently exists in nearly the same way as a murder of a child or adult that people love. No single abortion affects society the way the news report of the finding of an infant's arm in the water purification machine does. Therefore, I think abortions shouldn't be criminalized, even though I think they're wrong.

I don't follow your reasoning here. Why does whether something affects society as much as the killing of an adult determine whether that something should be legal or not. Stealing candy from 7-11 won't affect society as much as the killing of an adult but that doesn't mean stealing should be legal. Second, none of us have any clue how much a single abortion effects society. We have no clue of the child's impact or lack thereof or the impact or lack thereof on the mother, father, and other family members.

Why do you think abortion is wrong? If the unborn aren't human beings or persons and you don't think society is harmed then why is abortion wrong?

Sandalstraps said...

JivinJ,

Your method of discourse is, it seems, a little bit dishonest. I suspect that you don't care in the least why I think that abortion is wrong, or in which cases I think that it is wrong. You are instead trying to get me (and anyone else with a more nuanced position on abortion than yours) hedged into a position where saying that abortion is in some cases wrong is tatamount to saying that it is wrong in all cases, and where saying that abortion is wrong for a particular moral reason is tatamount to saying that abortion is wrong for the reason which you prefer - that it is the moral equivalent to muredr, regardless of how you try to dance around that loaded phrasing.

As such, while I could engage you in a serious discussion about abortion as a moral topic, the time and energy spent discussing the topic would be wasted, since you are more interested in winning an argument (as though it were some kind of political game) rather than arriving at the truth of the matter.

That is the height of intellectual dishonesty, and a waste of my time. Take your political agenda somewhere else, please. There is no reason to engage you in a tit-a-tat when you have so intention of actually discussing the moral issues surrounding abortion which I have identified.

By the way, you would do well to read this post by Brian Cubbage, which deals with the moral and social issues raised by people like you who go to other people's blogs and try to highjack the conversation.

My personal opinion, which is a bit stronger than Brian would put it, is that you are going into other people's houses and pissing on their furniture. You have an agenda which you bring with you wherever you go. But when you bring your agenda to other people's blogs, and use it to dominate the comments section, you distract from the purpose of the comments section.

When I write a post and open it up for comments, I do it so that people can discuss issues which were raised in the post. If people disagree with arguments made in the post, and build couter-arguments, then great. That's what this is here for. But your comments here and at Habakkuk's Watchpost have less to do with responding to the content of the posts and more to do with having the conversation that you want to have, on your terms.

The conversation, then, becomes less a matter of give and take between parties who respect each other, and more an attempt to placate you.

You are welcome to walk away thinking that I and others have no way to account for your astounding arguments. Let it be a feather in your cap. But, to put it simply, you and your methods are not worth the time and energy they require of me. You have no interest in honest conversation, and so I have no interest in conversing with you.

If this seems rude, then fine. I suppose it is rude. But, perhaps not nearly so rude as your coming over here and demanding that everyone discuss only what you want to talk about. I simply won't allow that anymore.

Feel free to comment on any piece that I've written on any subject, but I won't debate abortion with you any more. It is simply not a live moral or political issue.

Lisa said...

Sandalstraps, I would just like to thank you for stating clearly and coherently something that I didn't have the patience (or perhaps maturity) to say myself. After a certain point I just get frustrated even when I can see what's going on. So I'll just count your demonstration here as a lesson learned and offer you my sincere thanks.

...now, back to this beautiful day we've been having up here! :)

JivinJ said...

Straps,
Your method of discourse is, it seems, a little bit dishonest. I suspect that you don't care in the least why I think that abortion is wrong, or in which cases I think that it is wrong.

I'm sorry you feel that way. I do care why you think abortion is morally wrong and I apologize I've come off in a way that makes you think otherwise.

since you are more interested in winning an argument (as though it were some kind of political game) rather than arriving at the truth of the matter.

Again, I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm 100% interested in finding the truth in the matter (finding the truth is infinitely more important than winning an argument) but I think that would be very difficult for two people to reach the truth if one is unwilling to say which abortions he views as morally wrong and explain his reasoning behind those views. As you said it is a give and take. I don't see how we can come to the truth if one doesn't feel comfortable sharing their views (but then again your level of comfortableness may have been influenced by me).

I'm very interested in discussing the moral issues of abortion you've identified. I don't why you think I'm not. I've addressed some factual issues, like how many abortions were performed before Roe, but I don't see why that should make me averse to discussing the moral issues surrounding abortion - especially since I've asked to which abortions you view as immoral and why.

At the Watchpost - I specifically responded to assertions made by Kyle in the comments. At the blogs I read, its ok to respond in the comments to comments made by others and not necessarily "pissing on someone's furniture" to do so. I was unaware this wasn't the case at the Watchpost.

I certainly don't see it as a feather in my cap to agitate someone in the way I've agitated you.

When did I demand that everyone talk about what I wanted to discuss? I asked questions, raised points, and made arguments. People freely asked me to back up my assertions, like Amb regarding embryology and I responded. I was more than willing to answer questions.

Here I asked you to back up the assertion there were more abortion before Roe than after. Is that so wrong? I'd be more than willing to discuss Mary Warren's criteria and maybe I should have said something about it but it didn't seem like you were sharing a position so I wasn't sure what to say.

Did you want me to share my thoughts about Warren's personhood criteria instead of talking about how many abortions were performed prior to Roe?

You spent the majority of your space I those statistics so I thought we should clear that issue up.

Again, I'm sorry if I've agitated you or come off as intellectually dishonest.

Tyler Simons said...

Sorry for the delay.

Whether you agree to it or not, a human fetus is biologically a human being. It's a scientific fact.

On one hand, that might be right. On another, it might be totally wrong. The human phenotype is recognized by things like arms, legs, hair, hearts. A fetus might have some of these, an embryo does not. (Careful with the terms you use.)There are many possible scientific definitions of a human being. An embryo might be included in one of them. You've offered no reason for why your definition should be normative. Scientific facts aren't as unequivocal as you seem to think they are.

So someone's interaction with other people determines personhood? So then would a human being who is born, hooked up to various machines to feed, nourish, remove excrement, etc. and not allowed to interact with other human beings for years (kind of like the Matrix) be a person?

The definition of "interact" you're using is too narrow. The Matrix-style human livestock is interacting with others -- he is producing energy for the machines. There is a relationship in a relationship of exploitation. Slavery is the worst type of relationship.

What about a child abandoned on an island?

An abandoned child has experienced people and relations before, assuming it has been nourished post-natally in any way. Abandoning the child ends all relations, and according to my theory, is therefore wrong. If the child is born and dropped on a deserted island, never to be found dead or alive by anyone, (not that this is possible, mind you) it is still wrong. The event of being born is a relation with the mother. There is a biological expectation of further interaction that is prevented.

Are you opposed to punishing women who abandon/kill their newborns - because these newborns don't have human interaction so they're not really persons in your view?

I already addressed this in the comment you're responding to (and just added to my position in the last paragraph). I'll forgive you for your mistake and remind you that it is wrong to misrepresent another's position either out of negligence or forgetfulness. This is what I wrote before:

No one, of course, thinks it ok to dump your newborn in the reservoir, as happened recently in Massachusetts, even though it hasn't yet psychologically developed into what I'd call a human...

No single abortion affects society the way the news report of the finding of an infant's arm in the water purification machine does.


Ok, back to JivinJ:


The prolife movement has addressed claims "that the number of abortions will stay the same whether legal or illegal" all the time.


OK, boil it down for me. If this is so easily countered, surely you can sum up the argument -- this is an important point.

Why does whether something affects society as much as the killing of an adult determine whether that something should be legal or not. Stealing candy from 7-11 won't affect society as much as the killing of an adult but that doesn't mean stealing should be legal.

I wasn't saying that nothing less bad than causing the wrongful death of an adult should be illegal. I was saying that causing harm to an other is the baseline for criminality. A potential other, like an embryo is less an other than a really-existing non-human other like a dog or cow. (That's why, by the way, organizing or participating in dogfighting and the way we treat livestock are both morally worse than abortion) Stealing should be illegal because it is a act that negatively affects another person. The distinction I was trying to draw was between self-destructive behavior and behavior that harms others.

I'm also wondering why you think being a human organism isn't a valid underpinning for having human dignity? Born individuals are composed of various sizes, have various abilities, and depend on others in various ways yet I'd hope we'd agree that all these individuals have the same human dignity. What makes this dignity equal if everything about us (except our humaneness
[You mean "humanness," I think. Nothing is as various as our humaneness. -tcs]) is various?

I think this argument is at least somewhat similar to Douthat's, right?


I'm not sure. I can't figure out how it would apply to potential extraterrestrials or mer-people, who aren't genetically human. I was responding to your speciesism.

Second, none of us have any clue how much a single abortion effects society.

You're conflating potential effects with actual effects. I don't think you should.

Why do you think abortion is wrong? If the unborn aren't human beings or persons and you don't think society is harmed then why is abortion wrong?

It's self-destructive behavior on the part of the parents. It is an outcome of irresponsible sexual behavior, which damages the relationships of really-existing humans. It causes the parents to wonder about what might have been. Society itself is indirectly affected insofar as the parents are. It is comprable to addiction rather than manslaughter.

JivinJ said...

Hi Tyler,
On one hand, that might be right. On another, it might be totally wrong. The human phenotype is recognized by things like arms, legs, hair, hearts. A fetus might have some of these, an embryo does not. (Careful with the terms you use.)There are many possible scientific definitions of a human being. An embryo might be included in one of them. You've offered no reason for why your definition should be normative. Scientific facts aren't as unequivocal as you seem to think they are.

Human beings that reach a certain stage of development typically do have hair, arms, legs, etc. but the absence of those things in no way determines that one isn't a human being in the biological sense.
Many possible scientific definitions? Could you explain/clarify that? I've offered no reasons. Did you miss my citations from embryology textbooks?

It's a scientific fact that at conception the life of a human organism has begun. It seems that you're saying that the unborn might not be human because some of them don't have legs arms or hair. That's not very persuasive.

The definition of "interact" you're using is too narrow. The Matrix-style human livestock is interacting with others -- he is producing energy for the machines.

Doesn't the unborn child interact with his or her mother in a similar way? Unborn children physically attach themselves to women, get resources (oxygen and food) from them, and at a certain point (about 5 months) the women can feel them move. Aren't you also using a "narrow" definition of interaction?

An abandoned child has experienced people and relations before, assuming it has been nourished post-natally in any way.

Presume the child hasn't been nourished. Is he or she still a person?

The event of being born is a relation with the mother. There is a biological expectation of further interaction that is prevented.

Expected by whom? The child?

Why should I accept your criteria for personhood over the criteria of anyone else?

I'll now counter the argument that there will be the same number of abortions if abortion is made illegal.

First, I think the assertion is obviously incorrect. Abortion providers are now allowed to advertise in the yellow pages, in a number of states tax dollars pay for abortions (in Michigan the number of abortions dropped by 10,000 in one year when this practice stopped) and abortion is seen by many in society as the default way of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. I think making abortion illegal would stop all three of those things.

Second, say the assertion is correct. I don't the fact that people will still do an action if it is made illegal is a good reason not to make something illegal. Did making rape illegal stop every rapist? Unfortunately no. But that doesn't mean rape should be legalized. Society has to judge which things should be legal on whether the action should be legal not on whether people will continue the action if it is made illegal.

Pro-choice philosopher Mary Warren who Straps cited earlier has even argued "the fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of prohibiting it."

I wasn't saying that nothing less bad than causing the wrongful death of an adult should be illegal. I was saying that causing harm to an other is the baseline for criminality. A potential other, like an embryo is less an other than a really-existing non-human other like a dog or cow.

Thank you for clarifying your position. A potential other? If the unborn are only potential others, what are they actually? I find the whole potential human being argument to make as much sense as saying "I just had a potential thought." How are the unborn not really-existing? That doesn't make any sense to me. If the unborn didn't really exist, then woman wouldn't have abortions to suction those not-really-existing-entities out of their wombs. If the unborn don't really exist then neither would abortion. When do you think the embryo reaches the point of being "really-existing?"

Why is harming non-human others (such as a cow) morally wrong?

You're conflating potential effects with actual effects. I don't think you should.

How? Do you not agree that abortion has actual affects on women? Do not agree that a woman having an abortion instead of bringing the child to birth has an effect on society?

It's self-destructive behavior on the part of the parents. It is an outcome of irresponsible sexual behavior, which damages the relationships of really-existing humans. It causes the parents to wonder about what might have been. Society itself is indirectly affected insofar as the parents are. It is comprable to addiction rather than manslaughter.

I doubt you think that every abortion is the outcome of irresponsible sexual behavior. Correct me if I'm wrong, but many women who have abortions are married and aren't necessarily irresponsible with regards to their sexual behavior. Does every abortion damages the relationship of parents?

Can't birth control pills also get parents to wonder what might have been? I doubt you think those are morally wrong.

Here's my position. If abortion doesn't take the life of a human being, then I can't find any valid reason why abortion should be considered morally wrong. A number of things can cause people to wonder "what could have been." I might wonder what could have been if I went to different college but that doesn't make my choice to go to a certain college morally wrong. Sexually irresponsible behavior can lead to a number of outcomes - including the birth of a child but I don't see how an action being the outcome of an irresponsible action makes something morally wrong - if that were a criteria then it would be morally wrong to give birth to children who were conceived as a result of sexually irresponsible behavior. Society is also indirectly effected by a number of my choices (some of which may be morally wrong, other not so much). An action isn't morally wrong because it can effect society.

SuperSkeptic said...

I'm a skeptic and a foaming-at-the-mouth political liberal (I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU). However, I'm also a dad, and I was there for the first sonograms and ultrasounds of both my kids. I've seen photos taken in utero at all stages of post-conception. And because of what I've seen, I am convinced that post-conception embryos and fetuses are fully human and have established "personhood" -- in my mind, abortion = usually murder. (If the baby has no brain, or in some other scenarios mentioned, it's not.)

But I also know that there is no way I can scientifically prove this, nor is there really any way to convince others of this (unless they come to the same conclusion after seeing and experiencing what I did). If I'm wrong that abortion = murder, then every mother is fully within her rights to terminate their pregnancies. For this reason, I'll be pro-choice until it can be scientifically proven that fetuses are people that need protection and have rights.

I also believe that the Bible is much more clear that life begins with the baby's first breath, as mentioned many times in the Old Testament (from Genesis on); the passages from Jeremiah are simply discussing the "potential." On this point I believe I disagree with Brian Beech. (Of course, it's kind of a moot point since I'm a skeptic.)

Sandalstraps said...

Superskeptic,

Thanks for dropping by. This is a discussion, it seems, that will never end. We take a few months off before someone new drops by to add to the discussion.

I'll start with your last point, because it is the most interesting to me. I offer a treatment of the passage from Jeremiah here. As for breath, you are, as best as I can tell, absolutely correct in noting the connection in especially the Tanakh (which we Christians call the Old Testament) between breath and life. Life is breath, breath is spirit, wind is the animating life force. This is part of the mythos of ancient Israel, and as an asthmatic, I can really relate to it. When I have an asthma attack, my lungs seize up, and I lose access to the precious "wind" of life, which is what is really meant by words that are translated "spirit."

In fact, some scholars translate the words which are often rendered "Holy Spirit" as the "Wind" or "Breath of God."

This, however, doesn't teach us much about the moral permissibility or impermissibility of abortion, even as it relates to the Bible. The Bible, as a collection of ancient texts, does not anticipate the relatively modern moral problem of abortion. At least, it does not do so in an overt way, though people like Brian Beech are well within their rights to attempt to use insights gained from Biblical passages such as the one from Jeremiah and then apply them to the issue of abortion.

Working backwards in your comment, since I started with the last point and it seems strange to me to then go to the top and restart at the begining:

Abortion does not have to be morally equivalent to murder in order to be morally impermissible or legally regulated. While murder, the unjustified killing of a person, is obviously morally wrong, there are many other acts which, while not equivalent to murder, are also wrong. Someone who is pro-life is not bound to, despite this post, prove that abortion is murder to demonstrate that at least under most circumstances abortion is morally impermissible.

Don Marquis, professor of philosophy at the University of Kansas, in an essay which first appeared in the Journal of Philosophy in 1989 and which has since been incorporated into many Ethics texts, argues that when abortion is wrong (and for him it is not always wrong, even though it is always a morally serious act) it is wrong not because it is at this moment equivalent to murder, but because it "deprives the fetus of a future like ours."

In other words, he stakes the moral status of the fetus not on its present condition, but on its future potential. This at least pushes back the question of personhood, and as such "murder," a step.

This is one of the most creative arguments I have seen, and I wish that more anti-abortion people would use it, because it shifts the ground of the discussion from what we can, as you say, "scientifically verify" (as though we could empirically observe "personhood") to our intuition that beings which are similar to us have some right to experience the same things we wish to experience.

It is often considered a more heinous crime to kill a child than an adult, not because the child is endowed with more "personhood" than the adult, nor because there are various degrees of murder (though the legal system recognizes this, they do so based on intent and circumstances, rather than based on the nature of the victim) but because the child has been deprived of significant life experiences to which, on some intuitive level, we feel that all who can potentially have such experience are entitled.

I do not go all the way with Marquis on this, but if I were to identify myself as pro-life (a camp which I usually call anti-abortion, since those of us who are pro-choice are generally in favor of life, even if we disagree about when exactly it begins) it would be for reasons similar to the ones that he presents in his essay.

That said, I admire your willingness to make a distinction between your own moral intuition and that which can be sufficiently demonstrated and as such made binding on all people. As a father myself, I share some of your intuitions, which is why I resent anti-abortion advocates who try to paint the pro-choice movement as anti-child. I love my son, and went with my wife to every single doctor's appointment to watch him develop in her womb. I loved him long before I would consider him to have moral standing. But my love for him should not be binding on all people. My conviction that he in some significant way existed before, long before, he was born should not mean that no one should under any circumstances have the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by, and sharing your views. I hope to see you back here sometime.