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Does a fetus have individual rights?

Capitalism Magazine’s article, Abortion Rights are Pro-Life, has convinced me that my position in the debate on abortion is weak. I used to take the view that abortion violated the rights of a child, and that therefore it was immoral (in most cases). On the other hand, I didn’t believe the government should do anything about abortion. As Milton Friedman said: “The government solution to a problem is usually worse than the problem.” The last things I want to happen are backstreet abortions, mothers killing themselves and so on. It would be morally acceptable for government to protect the rights of the fetus, but not practicable.

The fundamental shift in my thinking is that I no longer believe that a fetus has individual rights – or, at the very least, I’m not so sure as I once was. As the article says:

“what it actually is during the first trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman’s body. If we consider what it is rather than what it might become, we must acknowledge that the embryo under three months is something far more primitive than a frog or a fish.”

I’m very happy for fish and cows to be killed to provide me with food, and the reason is that I do not believe they have the same rights as humans. If a fetus is more primative than these, how can I justify saying its rights are greater?

112 comments to Does a fetus have individual rights?

  • I think that most of the first four paragraphs of the article are fantastic in that that they confront head-on the issue that so many (especially on the pro-choice side), argue that we don’t need to address: namely, whether or not an embryo is a human being.

    From there, though, the article’s persuasiveness drops off dramatically, because it simply asserts, without reasoning, that an embryo is only a “potential human being.” The article also makes the common (and bigoted) blunder of saying “only the mystical notions of religous dogma treat this clump of cells as constituting a person.”

    First, to dismiss those with opposing viewpoints on the status of the fetus so cavalierly strikes me as evidence that the author is not an honest debater of this issue. What masquerades as a logical argument of a difficult issue is revealed as merely a pro-choice dogma (i.e., accepted as a matter of faith, not open to reason or debate).

    Second, saying something so obviously and demonstrably false as that only the religious can believe the fetus is a human being further erodes the author’s credibility. Rammesh Ponnuru has written extensively on the secular case for believing in the personhood of embryos for National Review (usually in the cloning context, but it applies to abortion, too). I needn’t rely on Ponnuru to question this article, however. As an agnostic (sometimes athiest) who strongly believes in the embryo is a human being, I know first-hand that the author is full of hot air.

    The author also goes a bit far when he writes, “That tiny growth, that mass of protoplasm, exists as a part of a woman’s body. It is not an independently existing, biologically formed organism, let alone a person.” Obviously, the author has stated as the premise of his argument the hypothesis he’s trying to prove. Whether it’s a “part” of a woman’s body is a matter of perspective. Whether it is “independently existing” is another matter and depends on what the author means by independent. Claiming that the embryo is not a “biologically formed organism” is scientific nonsense. It’s clearly ‘biologically formed’, and it’s clearly an organism. The embryo is alive, by every scientific definitition of the word. It grows, it derives energy from food, and (most tellingly) it can die. It has a genetic makeup which is clearly distinct from that of its mother. Interestingly, if we were to accept the author’s stacked deck in determining what constitutes a person (which I emphatically do not), then a conjoined (siamese) twin would have less right to life (at least as against the interests of his twin) than an embryo. Not only is a twin not a “separate” entity, but it doesn’t even have unique DNA!

    The conclusion of the article reveal the author not as someone approaching the issue with respect for the other side, but as closed-minded zealot. He writes, “Sentencing a woman to sacrifice her life to an embryo is not upholding the ‘right-to-life.’ The anti-abortionists’ claim to being ‘pro-life’ is a classic Big Lie. You cannot be in favor of life and yet demand the sacrifice of an actual, living individual to a clump of tissue. Anti-abortionists are not lovers of life–lovers of tissue, maybe. But their stand marks them as haters of real human beings.”

    Haters of human beings? Is that not a bit strong? Note also that those who oppose abortion are accused wanting women to “sacrifice her life.” One would hope that rational people on the pro-choice side could see that bearing a child does not contitute “sentencing a woman to sacrifice her life.”

    I’m pro-life. I take that position because I belive that an embryo or fetus is a living member of the human species, and that all entitities meeting that definition have entrinsic worth and the same right to be alive that I do. I belive that it should be the role of state governments to prevent the killing of of all living members of the human species. I also, however, recognize that people may have honest disagreements about whether an embryo or fetus is a person. I think those issues should be honestly and respectfully debated, and should be submitted to the political branches of government.

    In short, if you’ve come around to the pro-choice side, more power to you. I hope that you will continue to develop and explore your views and contribute to the debate on this important subject. I’d hate to think, however, that you’d be persuaded by such an anti-intellectual, close-minded, hateful screed as the one written by Mr. Peikoff.

  • To say that the unborn child is “part of a woman’s body” is just factually untrue. As for a mass of cells, differentiated or otherwise, this describes you or me, too. All living creatures are a mass of cells. You can’t derive any moral status (or lack of it) from this.

    Regarding the frog and fish, it’s certainly true that in the first dozen weeks of life, the baby in the womb is tiny, developing slowly. But none of this changes the baby’s status as a human life. As you say, animals do not, and should not, have the same rights as humans. Human life, however small and primitive, is simply morally superior to animal life. Until a cow or a fish can write a poem, compose a symphony, reason logically or fall in love, we shall matter more. Solely by constrasting the biological status of an adult cow and an adult human, you won’t see this moral distinction. Equally, simply contrasting the biological status of a tiny human and a frog or something will not reveal this difference. But it exists.

    Before someone says that unborn babies obviously cannot do any of the above things that I thought exemplified human superiority, all of them are capable of this given the chance to live. A born baby of 1 year cannot do this any more than an unborn baby, and a born baby is given the same rights as an adult, because we classify rights in terms of moral status, not maturity. This should be done more consistently.

  • Byron

    Imho, abortion all boils down to one thing. Forget religious arguments about when a fetus has a soul, or scientific arguments comparing a fetus at a point in time to some other animal.

    It has to do with what a fertilized egg cell, at any point in time, represents. A sperm cell on its own will die in a few days without ever becoming more than it is. An egg cell on its own will die after it is menstrated without ever becoming anything more. But a fertilized egg cell represents the potential for another human life to be lived. It will not die shortly of natural causes like a separate sperm or egg cell, but has a potential life span of a human being. It does not represent a future frog, chicken, or cow, but a human being.

    Destroying a fertilized egg at any time destroys that potential and robs that life form of its future life experience. There is no doubt of two things – the organism is alive, and it contains the potential to live a human life. In that respect, destroying it is no different than murdering any other human being.

    In that light, it becomes more than just “a woman’s body”. It represents the body and future life experiences of an independent human being. In this day and age of human rights, I believe the left culpable of a great hypocracy. They demand human rights for everyone from repressed minorities to criminals, while simultaneously demanding the right to end the life of an unborn human, when convenient. Their morality is inconsistent, so the reasons for their political demands must be based on something other than morality. Social control and engineering, perhaps?

    Further, in the not-so-distant day and age of genetic technology and cloning, I think it is imperative that unborn humans are granted the same legal protections as born ones enjoy. Otherwise, imagine the results of whatever demented human cloning experiments that fringe groups like the Raelians might attempt. The unborn deserve protection from such tampering.

    Such legal protections would probably also apply to medical research, particularly stem-cell research, that many doctors seem to support, and I am not educated enough in this area to make informed comments on it. However, my initial impression is that the argument in favor of such research is that great medical benefits and breakthroughs are to be had using it. I.e., the ends justify the means. But do they? Or is this another argument of convenience? Are such breakthroughs absolutely impossible without using stem cells, or can they be achieved in another way, using other technology, perhaps at a later date, at a slower pace? Does Christopher Reeve’s desire to walk again trump the unborn’s right to live?

    The only time I would favor abortion is if a mother’s life is in danger. In such cases, it is the woman’s body that is at stake, and is the only time I believe the pro-choice argument correctly applies.

    Basically, it is clear to me personally that the pro-choice argument is rooted in expedience and in the avoidance of the consequences of one’s actions and decisions, while the pro-life argument is rooted in morality and in protecting human life in whatever form it takes.

  • I’d had only a passing familiarity with Capitalism Magazine before today. They have a useful section that links all of their articles on aboriton. I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised at how extreme their positions are. They are of the view, for example, that the fetus/baby/whatever has no rights, not only until it’s born, but until the umbilical cord is severed. They argue that until that last act takes place, the mother has the right to ‘abort’ the fetus/baby.

    I’m not saying that they’re automatically wrong merely because their position is extreme (I think that’s a dishonest debating trick that’s used too often: sometimes the extreme view is correct). Moreover, their view has the virtue of being internally consistent. Still, I’m quite surprised that a mainstream publication would take a position supporting a right to what a majority of people would consider infanticide.

  • Abortion is a very tough issue for many thinking libertarians and I cannot yet reconcile the issues in my own mind to be honest…but I must say I found Peikoff’s article fairly unpersuasive and not that well reasoned. Admittedly I find that par for the course when it comes to Ayatollah Peikoff.

    Spoons is quite correct that Peikoff’s position is infanticide, which is to say ‘pro murder’… to ‘abort’ a child right before the umbilical cord is severed a few hours before a birth might occur means killing an independently viable human being. I am inclined to think killing a fetus 1 week after conception is the moral equivalent of squeezing a pimple… to kill it a week before birth is murder. Of course where one draws the line is the vexed issue and I have no answer to that.

    However Peikoff is a dependable moral compass in my view: just head in the opposite direction and you will be fine.

  • The embryo is human, that cannot be denied, which instantly differentiates it from a frog or a fish. The embryo is life, that cannot be denied. So the embryo is human life. However, we don’t accord full rights to all forms of human life (the brain dead are not guaranteed life, for instance), so merely being human life is not enough.

    On another point, the idea that the fetus is part of the woman’s body is silly. The DNA is different. The placenta is built according to instructions from the father’s chromosones and actually bores parasitically into the woman’s body. So I don’t think that argument works.

    If you want a much better article to base your thoughts on, try Gregg Easterbrook’s Abortion and Brain Waves, which looks at the issue scientifically.

  • Capitalism Magazine is produced by followers of Ayn Rand. Such people believe a person’s attitude to others is nothing to do with morality ie. infanticide is not immoral unless it harms the person who does it. Inconsistently, Rand recognises the need for individual rights in all of this, but doesn’t grant them if it means the slightest sacrifice from someone else, infanticide on umbilical corded babies being a perfect example.

    As for religion and abortion, I think you’re absolutely right. I was pro-life before I was a Christian. There is nothing specific to “Abortion is murder and murder should be illegal” that makes it a religiously-based view. It just seems that religious people are more keen to recognise the sanctity of innocent human life.

  • The lengths of these comments show just how contentious abortion is.

    The best I’ve been able to manage on this important issue is the following two contradictory feelings:

    a] A potential, still-attached, half-developed few-weeks-old embryo is clearly not the same status of being as a newborn child or even a foetus a couple of months before birth;

    b] We all rightly feel morally squeamish about dismissing weak and helpless creatures as not deserving mercy or protection.

    It seems obvious to me that there is a sliding scale of difference between something clearly sub-animal but likely to become a person, and what is clearly a new person [such as an embryo after seven months] because all, not just some of us, feel instinctively compelled to protect and nurture it.

    Attempts from either end to provide legally-reasoned transition points are self-evidently bogus, and are the source of the problem. I’m afraid I think that anybody who feels a baby is not a person until the umbilical cord is cut is mentally disturbed, and I think that anybody who thinks that a few-days-old fertilised egg is a person deserving sacred protection is equally obviously mentally disturbed.

    -

  • Hale Adams

    I think Iain hits the nail on the head. Just as the brain-dead can’t be regarded as human, a bunch of undifferentiated cells in a womb also aren’t human. The key ingredient is MIND. As long as that mass of cells in a womb has no functioning nervous system, however rudimentary, there’s no mind or personality present.

    The alternative is to grant humanity to any clump of cells bearing human DNA, which leads to the absurd position that the skin cells that you lose every day down the shower drain are “persons” being negligently murdered.

    That’s my two cents’ worth, anyway.

  • Mark G,

    I don’t think anyone is deserving of “sacred” protection, whatever that means. Not even you or I.

    I’ll say that your need to dismiss as “obviously mentally disturbed” those who disagree with you shows why there will never be peace on this issue. Hardly anyone is willing to show people the minimum respect that is a preconditioned of any rational debate.

  • Robert

    The pro and anti abortion arguments have, for decades now, been based on emotion, political ideology, religious fervor and everything else but scientific consensus regarding the stages of human development within the blastocyst because said consensus has not existed. Mr. Peikoff’s statement that; “what it actually is during the first trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman’s body…” is merely another example of an uninformed statement made for personal, ideological reasons. Current research in neuroscience, childhood intellectual development and genetics are beginning to shed light on human development from conception to birth and it is hoped will lessen the rancor between the opposing points of view in this matter. However, the abortion issue is not settled even if these developments finally answer the “when the embryo become human” question.

    The Supreme Court has, in a terribly reasoned decision, decided that abortion is legal. There have been subsequent decisions that have minimally limited abortion, but the basic “right” is untouched and will continue to be so due to the split in the populace regarding the issue. No congress will pass a law ending abortion nor will a Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade; stare decisis anyone? When all is said and done, the debate will come down to public funding for abortion; i.e.: will tax dollars be required to pay for abortions?

    When this is finally the point at issue, it would seem a libertarians position is clear; no for tax dollars and tax breaks for charities to pay for abortion, yes for privately funded abortion. In this way, those that are opposed can still speak against and set up non-abortion solutions to unwanted pregnancies (adoption, foster care & etc…), those that are pro-choice can set up funds to pay for the poor to avail themselves of abortion. Finally, it is the individual(s) whom are responsible for the pregnancy that are left with the moral and ethical questions and the mental and physical health fall-out of their actions.

  • S

    You don’t have to be a six-footer,
    You don’t have to have a great brain,
    You don’t have to have any clothes on –
    You’re a Catholic the moment dad came…

    because…

    Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

    Let the heathen spill theirs, on the dusty ground,
    God shall make them pay for each sperm that can’t be found

    Every sperm is wanted, every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed in your neighbourhood.

  • Trevor

    Spoons, come back, we miss you! It’s nice to read your stuff, even if it’s just in comments. Your first comment pretty much sums it up for me. Mind if I plagiarize that? It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that there are other people that view the argument in such a manner, but the instances that I’v found have been few and far between. Articles like the one in discussion, however, are pervasive. Go figure.

  • Hey, the best thing about not blogging is that I have more time to visit sites that I couldn’t fit in before (like this one), and have more time to take up other people’s bandwith with my rantings!

  • it would seem a libertarians position is clear; no for tax dollars and tax breaks for charities to pay for abortion, yes for privately funded abortion.

    Only if you decide that the state should not protect all innocent human life, which is what a “foetus” is for as long as you listen to science.

  • Nothing is sacred, some life is worth more than other life (Hitler’s life was probably worth significantly *less* than a couple of undistinguished cells, for instance). The fact that we don’t have easy measuring devices for these sorts of problems doesn’t alter the facts we do know. It just makes the problems hard to solve.

    But common sense does tell us that four cells are not a human, and a viable baby is, and that it is morally right to preserve human life at some cost, generally.

    Trying to simplify things by saying “a foetus is as valuable as Einstein” is just silly. Morals are sometimes complex, and this is one of those times.

  • Byron

    I’m afraid I think that anybody who feels a baby is not a person until the umbilical cord is cut is mentally disturbed, and I think that anybody who thinks that a few-days-old fertilised egg is a person deserving sacred protection is equally obviously mentally disturbed.

    The only person on this thread who came close to being mentally disturbed is you. Everyone else has been quite reasonable without resorting to such name calling. Maybe you and Peikoff should get together and figure out other names to call honest debaters.

    The alternative is to grant humanity to any clump of cells bearing human DNA, which leads to the absurd position that the skin cells that you lose every day down the shower drain are “persons” being negligently murdered.

    Just any old clump of cells, like your dead skin cells, will never become a human being. A fertilized egg cell will. See the difference?

    Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,

    lol. Monty Python?

    Trying to simplify things by saying “a foetus is as valuable as Einstein” is just silly.

    What if you’re referring to Einstein’s fetus?

  • Hank

    The evils of outlawing abortion are obvious. It always causes more problems than it solves. The only real choice is to allow abortion but discourage the practice at every turn.

  • Who says a fetus is innocent? It’s a parasite.

    OK It’s not. But I personally am glad there have been thousands of abortions. Not glad for any pain it has caused in making the decision. Not glad that the choice had to be made. But glad that there was a choice that someone could make about their own lives.

    How more libertarian could you be? Being libertarian it seems to me has never been about protecting human life. It has been about saving money and making life easier for those already alive.

    You cannot logically be an anti-choice or ant-abortion libertarian. The one says every child should be born, the latter belief says there should be limited or zero government help for those families and single mothers who now have an extra child to support but did not want one.

    Abortion is a reality. No one is pro-abortion. Even those who advocate a woman’s choice, do not like that it happens. But it does for the overall good of society.

    Abortion is a reality.
    And it will be even if Roe v Wade is overturned. Except then you’ll have many women, but not men, (curious eh?) in already overcrowded jails.

    You want that reality?

  • Being libertarian it seems to me has never been about protecting human life. It has been about saving money and making life easier for those already alive.

    I think that says it all.

  • dimm;

    “It has been about saving money and making life easier for those already alive.”

    How shallow.

    “You cannot logically be an anti-choice or ant-abortion libertarian. The one says every child should be born, the latter belief says there should be limited or zero government help for those families and single mothers who now have an extra child to support but did not want one.”

    I keep reading that looking for the contradiction. Where is it? Am I “logically” required to support everyone I’d prefer not be murdered? But I don’t want anyone to be murdered. I can’t provide for humanity. Is the government “logically” required to provide for everyone it’s illegal to kill?

    “No one is pro-abortion. Even those who advocate a woman’s choice, do not like that it happens.”

    Abortionists don’t like getting business?

    “Abortion is a reality.
    And it will be even if Roe v Wade is overturned.”

    Murder is a reality.

    “Except then you’ll have many women, but not men, (curious eh?) in already overcrowded jails.”

    Most abortionists are men. They’ll be the majority of those against whom proof beyond a reasonable doubt can be found. If a client of an abortionist who wasn’t coerced by a boyfriend or whoever gets sent to jail, good.

  • Byna

    I don’t think that my rights came from my “Creator” (also known as God). I think that my rights are mine because I am a Rational, Moral agent. This difference is effectively ensconced in most laws, since minors are treated differntly than adults. At some arbitrary point, it is decided that a person is now a Rational, Moral agent (16, 18, 21, etc.).

    But we still grant children some rights and protections. This is an acknowledgement of three things.
    1. The child is loved by others, and the loss of the child would be mourned.
    2. The child will probably become a Rational moral agent.
    3. From birth to majority, the child is developing more rationality and morality.

    So can these three reasons be brought backwards to a fetus?
    1. Is true, but not to the same extent. A miscarriage is not a devastating as the death of a child.
    2. Is true, but no with the same probabilty. At conception there are 130 males for every 100 females. At birth there are about 110 males for every female. Where did all of the extra boys go?
    3. Is totally not true. While the fetal brain is developing, it is primarily getting to the point where body functions can be maintained. A new-born baby has very little interaction with the world beyond stimulus response.

    So why have abortion illegal?

    Because some people vehemently disagree with me on 3. They think that each fetus is a moral agent, even if it isn’t rational, due to the presence of a soul. I will grant them this. Aborting a fetus/baby that has a soul would be immoral. Now all they have to do is deomstrate when a fetus/baby gets their soul.

    Byna

  • Byna, would your position go so far as to say that a parent has a right to terminate their child’s life up until some young age, say, 1 year old? 1 month?

    What if a baby is born 4 months premature? It would then have the same cognitive development as a 5-month fetus.

    What legal status would you give that preemie?

    As an aside, I wish that people would stop assuming that everyone who is pro-life is religious. I don’t even know for sure that I have a soul, much less a fetus. That doesn’t mean I want either one of us killed. I think people who are are pro-choice and not religious simply dismiss the pro-life crowd as religious, because then you don’t have to deal with their arguments. Where do non-religious pro-lifers like myself fit into this debate, or don’t we get to participate?

  • James Taylor

    …evasion…evasion…blank out….

    Leonard Piekoff is absolutely right.

    A fetus is only a potential human being and therfore has no rights.

    What defines an actual human being, is a rational being that lives by means of self sustaining, self generated action, which posesses a volitional consciousness.

    Morally an embryo can not take precedence over a fully developed, independently existing human being.

    As Ayn Rand put it, “A potential is not equivalent to an actual” ” and “the living take precedence over the not yet living or unborn”.

  • When is a fetus a ‘person’?

    When It Can Live Outside of Her Body

    If the potential person can survive without being Inside Mommy, it’s actually a person now, and has rights. If it can’t even with insanely expensive Western medicine, then it’s still part of her.

    I think that’s pretty clear, and seems to never get mentioned in these debates. Yes, that point in time is shifting to earlier in pregnancy as medical technology advances. Once you accept that point, the questions turn into ‘who pays for the neo-natal ICU if she didn’t want it and it’s viable?’

    Different political/economic camps will of course answer that question in radically different ways :-)

  • Ghaleon

    I’d say that a fetus, even if you consider that it don’t have the same value as an human live, does have a value and I personally can’t stand the idea of killing an human being because someone, somewhere, wasn’t responsable enough to use a preservative, take the pill, etc. In some case, like a rape, it might be acceptable…. but not when you were simply too drunk to use a preservative or to ask your partner to do so.

    I think that the act become immoral as soon as the organism can feel the pain. And if you ever watched a late stage abortion, you sure wouldn’t like to be at the place of the baby…
    I forget when exactly this happen (the creation of the nervous system)…

    Btw I’m an athee so stop to consider all pro-live as religious it’s stupid.

  • Byron

    dimm, your argument is statist, not libertarian.

    Pro-life libertarians believe in little or no govt. intervention, but we do not believe in a society that tolerates murder. We therefore believe in a society that outlaws abortion just as it outlaws all forms of homicide. Such laws form the basis of any society, and people who believe a government should have no say even that respect are anarchists, not libertarians.

    If you think that being libertarian is about “saving money and making life easier for those already alive”, then you’ve grossly misinterpreted libertarianism. Being libertarian is about neither. It is about identifying the truths in the world and basing your decisions on them, rather than on some dogma, be it religious, social, or whathaveyou. If such truths require life to be harder, such as no abortions allowed, then so be it.

    “You cannot logically be an anti-choice or ant-abortion libertarian. The one says every child should be born, the latter belief says there should be limited or zero government help for those families and single mothers who now have an extra child to support but did not want one.”

    There is no logical fallacy there. Yes, every conceived child should be born, so long as the mother is physically able to undergo childbirth. No, there should be no welfare for people who did not want the child. If you don’t want a child, use birth control. If you’re not willing to risk even that, don’t have sex. But don’t expect the government to pay for your mistakes, or bad luck, and don’t expect to be able to get out of that jam by murdering another human being. Abortion is simply an expedient solution for people who aren’t willing to face the consequences of their actions.

    Finally, does abortion truly improve the “overall good of society”? Just who and what is that anyway? That’s the exact argument that statists have used throughout history for every ethically bankrupt social engineering endeavor they’ve attempted. What we should be asking instead is, is it good for the individual? Does a pregnant woman’s inconvenience and hardship outweigh an unborn human being’s life?

  • James Taylor

    Leaving the abortion at such a late stage as Ghaleon mentions, ( apart from the danger to the mother), is totally irresponsible but that is not an argument against abortion.
    If you base the debate on the first 3 months then I fail to see any basis to oppose abortion based on my definition of an human being detailed above…. unless of course dictating other peoples choices is one’s goal.

    PS. I’m off now to head off in the opposite moral direction to Mr Piekoff as Perry De Havilland suggests…I am going to serve others as the sole justification of my existence……

  • Byron

    As Ayn Rand put it… “the living take precedence over the not yet living or unborn”.

    When it comes to life and death, that’s true. The life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the unborn, when her life is at risk due to the pregnancy. But the convenience of the living does not take precedence over the life of the unborn.

    “I think that’s pretty clear, and seems to never get mentioned in these debates. Yes, that point in time is shifting to earlier in pregnancy as medical technology advances. Once you accept that point, the questions turn into ‘who pays for the neo-natal ICU if she didn’t want it and it’s viable?’

    You’re defining human life based on our technology. Need I say more?

  • Trevor

    I’m sick of hearing about “choice” without anyone acknowedging that in most cases of pregnancy, the choice was made to have sex, and abortion is only an avenue of avoiding the consequences of the original decision. To me, the only sticking point in disallowing abortion comes in the case of rape. Society already puts a very heavy burden on women, and I would hate to stack another log onto an already overburdened cart, but aborting a fetus only punishes the fetus, not the rapist.

    “When is a fetus a ‘person’?
    When It Can Live Outside of Her Body”

    David, a pregnant woman in her third tri-mester is hit by a drunk-driver. She lives, but the fetus dies. There are currently laws that allow for the driver to be prosecuted for manslaughter. Should these laws be revoked? There is a difference (she didn’t choose for the fetus to expire,) but our laws still consider the fetus to be a “life.”

    Spoons, I’m only giving you a hard time about your blog. There are a lot more important things. btw, how’s the woodworking going?

  • James Taylor

    Byron wrote:

    “But the convenience of the living does not take precedence over the life of the unborn”.

    So Byron you’re saying that the mother must sacrifice her future for the sake of a few developing cells or fetus?
    In other words, the mother must give birth to an unwanted baby because you want the right to dictate her personal choices.

  • Jacob

    I think that in the very persuasive “pro life” arguments above – the rights and wishes of the pregnant woman have been overlooked.
    She has to carry the foetus, she has to suffer. You can’t force people to suffer against their will (unless they comitted some crime).
    You also can’t force a woman to raise a child, after it was born – and you don’t have to – you don’t have to kill the child as you can have it adopted. This option is not available for a foetus. It is here a situation of one’s rights (the foetus) against another’s – the unwilling woman. Somebody has to suffer. Who ?
    Imposing a total ban on abortions seems to me too harsh on women, and also impractical.

  • Anonymous

    >>Being libertarian it seems to me has never been
    >>about protecting human life. It has been about
    >>saving money and making life easier for those
    >>already alive.

    >I think that says it all.

    I always thought the first value of libertarianism was freedom, not life. Life is valuable because it allows freedom, not the reverse. Murder is wrong because it deprives someone of their liberty.

    If someone prefers slavery over death, can he be legitimately described as a libertarian?

  • Byron

    “So Byron you’re saying that the mother must sacrifice her future for the sake of a few developing cells or fetus?

    In other words, the mother must give birth to an unwanted baby because you want the right to dictate her personal choices.”

    First, you’re assuming the baby will destroy her future. That’s not a given. Second, I’ll say it again. The convenience of the mother does outweigh the life of the unborn. How exactly is that wrong? Third, I don’t seek the right to dictate anyone’s personal choices, except when it comes to their choice to murder another human being. That’s a personal choice that every civilized society has claimed the right to dictate.

    Further, to address your other Ayn Rand quote, “A potential is not equivalent to an actual”.

    A fetus is not a potential. It is a guaranteed human, unless by some accident or abortion its growth process is unnaturally ended.

  • James Taylor

    Byron wrote:

    “A fetus is not a potential. It is a guaranteed human, unless by some accident or abortion its growth process is unnaturally ended”.

    But Byron at that specific moment in time that is all it is….
    a fetus..with POTENTIAL…not an ACTUAL. So quite obviously it is not murder as you suggest.

    Remember, in contrast to a fetus/embryo, an actual human being is a rational animal that lives by means of self sustaining, self generated action, posessing a volitional consciousness.

  • Byron

    “Somebody has to suffer. Who ?”

    So in your mind, the hardship of the mother in having to carry a pregnancy and raise the child equates perfectly equally to the death of the child? I beg to differ.

    Additionally, no one is forcing the mother to suffer. Suffering happens. It’s part of life. Nowhere are we guaranteed an easy life. Men are perhaps endowed with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, but certainly not with guaranteed happiness and no suffering whatsoever. The woman made certain choices which led to her getting pregnant. If suffering is a result of that, she has to bear it. Otherwise, make different choices. Again, abortion is all about expediency and nothing more.

  • Byron

    But Byron at that specific moment in time that is all it is…. a fetus..with POTENTIAL…not an ACTUAL. So quite obviously it is not murder as you suggest.

    True, at that specific moment. But on the other hand, the fetus WILL become an ACTUAL in 9 months. Killing the fetus prevents the actual from becoming. It destroys a lifetime, and a unique genetic branch.

    “Remember, in contrast to a fetus/embryo, an actual human being is a rational animal that lives by means of self sustaining, self generated action, posessing a volitional consciousness.”

    I agree with your definition of an actual human being, and if a fetus were to remain a fetus forever and never become an actual human, this argument would never have taken place. But the unavoidable fact is that killing a fetus erases an actual human being from future history. I consider that murder.

  • S

    Interesting that there aren’t many (any?) women contributing to this slanging match.

    Just a thought.

  • Byron

    The women are too busy outnumbering men in higher education, and plotting to take over the world, to spend all this time arguing on the internet. ;)

  • James Taylor

    Byron wrote: “But the unavoidable fact is that killing a fetus erases an actual human being from future history. I consider that murder”.

    But Byron, by using that “future” philosophical argument, I could define you as a corpse….(because you have the potential to become a corpse).

    On that note……Goodnight.

  • David Mercer

    Trevor, that 3rd trimester pregnancy killed in your example by a drunk driver would be a person by my definition, since, had the mother gone into early labor or had it induced because her life was in danger, there is a possibility that the child could have lived.

    The line for ‘can survive outside of Mommy’ is currently, with extreme medical measures, near the early part of the 3rd trimester.

    So it’d draw the line, currently, at the start of the 3rd trimester for ‘personhood’ status.

    I find 3rd trimester abortions abhorrent, and I find those wanting to ban 1st trimester abortions repugnant as well.

    I’d personally find things just dandy and balanced if the legal line was drawn right in the middle at 4.5 months….you’ve had plenty of time to realize you’re pregnant and abort if you want to, but after that there is an increasing chance of survival for the infant, and you dithered too long.

  • Byron

    “But Byron, by using that “future” philosophical argument, I could define you as a corpse….(because you have the potential to become a corpse).”

    Are you threatening me? ;) Seriously though, if you’re alluding to death by natural causes or old age, how does that apply to abortion? Abortion is not a natural cause, is it?

    On that note, it was nice debating with you. Till next time.

  • Bombadil

    A woman should be allowed to do, or have done, anything she wants to do, within the confines of her own body. This includes scraping her womb with sharp objects, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, etc.

    Exception: when a developing fetus/baby is capable of surviving independently (as determined by a competent physician) the woman’s sole pregnancy-terminating option should be to have the fetus/baby removed from her womb.

    If you don’t believe that a woman should have this basic right, how far will you go in restricting her? Should she be forced to eat a highly restricted diet because the fetus/baby might be harmed by a diet high in caffeine or sugar or preservatives? Should she be prevented from vigorous exercise because of the elevated possibility of a miscarriage during strenuous activity? How about boxing during the eighth month? Scuba diving? Running up and down the stairs? Smoking?

    I don’t believe that line can rationally be drawn anywhere. A person’s right to control his/her own body is and must be the fundamental right.

  • Trevor

    David, thanks for the reply, and the consistency in your argument. In-vitro fertilization muddles the argument further, and as you point out the no-abortion stance may soon be inevitable.

    Bombadil, the argument being discussed here is really about the definition of life. If a woman had consensual sex, she already made the decision with her body. If the definition of life is a fetilized egg, then a woman is not making the decision over her body, but rather the decision over another’s life.

    btw, to all posters, kudos for a well-mannered debate on a touchy subject.

  • If all pregnancies are to be carried to term regardless of all else, then a woman ceases to be a human at the moment of conception and becomes a breeding-stock item. In the case of rape, the circumstances were certainly not of her choosing. There are many more things that make this a most difficult subject to discuss, but those two make the idea of banning legal abortion just obscene.

  • Ghaleon

    Hey, Tom Bombadil…
    Is it really that horrible to oblige a women who made a decision to live with the consequences? I think it’s pretty normal myself…

    And David Mercer… I’m thinking kinda like you but instead of setting the line at 4.5 months only because, hey.. its the middle…. we should really put it as soon as the fetus have a nervous system. Before that, okay I accept the fact that it’s not really a crime as the fetus doesn’t feel anything and isn’t even conscious he exist… After that, I consider it’s immoral.

  • Ghaleon

    MommaBear
    1-In our society, womens have all the tools they need to never get pregnant… Not and excuse

    2-In case or a rape it might be acceptable… but I’m pretty sure without having to verify the exact number that rapes are only the cause of a very small % of abortions

    I personnaly fear the day when such a things as abortions will become too banalized…

  • Byron

    “The line for ‘can survive outside of Mommy’ is currently, with extreme medical measures, near the early part of the 3rd trimester.”

    Again, a pro-choicer is essentially defining human life based on the current state of technology. You’re saying that b/c our machines are capable of maintaining a fetus without help from the mother near the beginning of the third trimester, then the beginning of the third trimester marks the beginning of human life, the point after which abortion should be illegal.

    However, as our machines and medical technology improve over time, which I think most would agree is inevitable, then that definition of human life is subject to change accordingly. Perhaps by 2100, we will be able to technologically maintain a fetus by 5 months. Where will you then draw the line? I assume your preference for 1st trimester abortions would remain, so wouldn’t a new line logically be drawn at 4 months, halfway b/t 3 and 5 months? And say by 2200, we can maintain a fetus at 3 months? Will your line now be moved to 3 months, halfway between your 3 month abortion window, and the new definition of an independent human being? And what happens when the day arrives that we can maintain a fetus from conception to birth, in a laboratory, with no need for a human mother whatsoever? Will your line then be moved to conception? Or will it suddenly jump all the way back to allowing an abortion up 9 months, just before the baby comes out of the jar? What criteria will you use to decide then? Some feature of the new technology, perhaps? What happens when that feature eventually becomes obsolete, or changes in some other way? Now you’re essentially right back where you began, unable to logically define when human life begins. Do you see the fallacy of basing a definition of human life on something so inconsistent, transient, and, I would argue, irrelevant?

    Truly, the definition of human life must be independent of technology for it to be meaningful. Additionally, it should only be defined under an objective standard. Technology certainly isn’t such an objective standard. I have already stated one possible standard – the moment of conception – and the objective reasons for it – 1) a fertilized egg is alive, and 2) it will become a human being and live a human life. Anyone have any rational argument against that, please enumerate. I’m all ears.

    In the meantime, what other possible objective standards are there? Technology failed the objectivity test. Claims that a fetus becomes alive at some point in the womb, be it the 3rd trimester, or 4.5 months, or whatever, are all based on opinion, not fact. The only other possible objective standard I’ve seen mentioned is that the fetus becomes a living human being the moment it is born. As James Taylor claims:

    “What defines an actual human being, is a rational being that lives by means of self sustaining, self generated action, which posesses a volitional consciousness.”

    But that argument fails its own test too. Even after a baby is born, it is in no way self sustaining and rational. It requires its mother, or at the very least, other humans, for survival. It cannot feed itself, and will quickly die without someone to feed it. And I won’t even mention mention how rational newborn babies and young children are.

    So for its first few years of existence, a baby/child is neither rational nor self-sustaining. Therefore, it cannot, according to Ayn Rand and James Taylor, be a human being. In those respects it is logically no different than a fetus in the womb, so if we allow women to abort their fetus, we should also logically allow them to kill their young children up to a certain age. (What that age is and who decides it is another problem entirely, but suffice it to say it would vary per child)

    The “terrible two’s” are an awful age for many parents, who become extremely sleep-deprived due to the non-stop crying of their infants. So why not allow them to kill their crying two-year-olds when they feel they just can’t take it anymore. How is that different from allowing a woman an abortion when she does’t want to deal with the inconvenience of a pregnancy?

    With respect to Ayn Rand, I don’t think she intended to apply that statement to the abortion argument. In fact, I don’t think there was even a such thing as medical abortion when she wrote her masterpieces, Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in 40s and 50s. Rather, she was using that phrase to differentiate the looters from the movers, and I distinctly remember at one point in Atlas Shrugged, in Midas Mulligan’s secret valley, where she said that children are an exception to that rule until they grow old enough to go off and make their own way in the world. So I’m pretty sure she did not define children as non-human simply b/c they are dependent on their parents for survival.

    So the technology-based definition of human life does not hold up, nor does the independence-based definition of human life. What other possible criteria for objectively defining human life are there?

  • Byron

    “I personnaly fear the day when such a things as abortions will become too banalized…”

    So do I, Ghaleon. Few things devalue human life more. Look at all the rationalizations for abortion, and imagine what could they also be applied to. Doesn’t any of this remind people of how the Nazi’s rationalized that Jews weren’t human? It’s a slippery slope…

  • Byron

    “and isn’t even conscious he exist…”

    That’s an interesting criteria for human life. Self-consciousness. That also happens to be a criteria for true artificial intelligence, fwiw. However, at what point does a newborn baby become self-conscious? Before birth, after birth, and how can we tell? Anyone have any arguments pro of con for using self-consciousness as the definition of human life? Is there any other kind of life that is self-conscious?

  • What of people with severe mental problems, not conscious they exist? There are some who do not require medical life support, but need the same amount of care (and force-feeding) as newborns and will forever. There are occasional injunctions (a la terry schiavo) saying they should be starved to death if their guardian does not want them….

    And here is one female joining the argument, a female who started off anti-abortion (through simple repugnance first, and then through researching and finding out about it), then through that got led first away from the Democrat party and then towards religion (not that those two are mutually exclusive — that’s just how it worked in my case). As for miscarriages: I’d say there are definitely quite a few women who mourn a miscarriage as they’d mourn a stillborn or a child who died in infancy. My mother (who has had all three of those, as well as three survivors) mourns all three of her dead children (her term) equally. Of course, a six-year-old or a teenager who died would be mourned in a very different way, because of shared experiences, knowledge of personality, etc., but should then only older children with personalities and activities be of worth?

  • Bombadil;

    I own my own property just as much as I do my body. Suppose there’s a person in a cabin I own, with no winter clothes, and it’s a blizzard outside. Can I shoot him?

    MommaBear;

    So then, if abortion is made illegal, will it be okay to kill pregnant women? After all, they won’t be humans, and the fact that they will be human again in nine months or less surely doesn’t matter, since that’s mere potential.

  • Kirk Parker

    David Mercer.

    > When is a fetus a ‘person’?
    > When It Can Live Outside of Her Body

    That’s neat, but I think it proably proves more than you want it to. Sure, the newborn can live outside the mother’s body, but it won’t stay alive for very long without direct intervention by an older human. Please don’t tell you you’re with Peter Singer and think that infanticide is just jolly, too, until some unspecified age when the infant becomes, uhh, well, um… whatever-it-is that Singer thinks makes it no longer OK for the Stronger to dispose of the Weaker.

  • David Mercer

    Ghaleon: I’d buy ‘has a nervous system’ as a good point, what time is that, anyway?

    Kirk: No, I’d call it infanticide as soon as it’s delivered, and then neglected.

    Byron: My definition IS objective, it’s just that as technology advances, the line moves. This ALWAYS happens when technology changes, laws and customs must change to adapt.
    Before the printing press, you didin’t need laws protecting freedom of it, for instance.

    It’d put the time of ‘personhood’ as an equation that does shift with technology, rather than a fixed constant (although I do like the ‘has a nervous system’ point better than any other…that’s a new one to me, thanks ghaleon :-)

    Now, I’d say that any website that spawns a viewpoint that’s new to ANYONE on abortion definately is ‘critically rational’.
    Speaks well of the Samizdata crew and their readership.

  • NOTE:

    I am not libertarian. Byron’s comments about libertarianism being against murder is based on a false premise or at least a “squishy one” in defining what murder is.

    Byran seems stuck on the “future human” being thing. Others have addressed it. The future ain’t here buddy. I could make plans for next year – and I could die. I could think about killing a president but thinking and acting are two different things.

    As different as say, being alive baby and being a fetus.

    I keep on reading expediency is not worth murder (of course murder only in some people’s minds). Again i go back to my original pontn way up there, phrasing it differently here – there are a lot more people happier and able to get on with being useful and productive membmers of society) because abortion is legal within certain perameters

    And guess what – birth control fails. When that happens you ruin three lives, not just one, which cannot be considered human at the time it is aborted.

    Also agree about keeping this “debate” well-reasoned and unscreechy.” thanks.

  • Wait — what three lives are being ruined? Perhaps if the woman was having an affair or was otherwise engaging in activities she’s not willing to let be known, things are going to be a bit tough on her (although that’s her own fault, and would be the same as any other evidence she’d had sex, such as, say, walking in on her).

    But I think you’re claiming that the lives of the father, mother, and baby, who are forever forced to live with and despise each other, are ruined? Not hardly. If the mother wants to keep the baby, she has a legal claim on the father, which (should he not want any part of it) will certainly inconvenience him, but not ruin his life, oder? And if she doesn’t, she can give the baby up for adoption, inconveniencing her for about five months (the first several months really aren’t that much of an inconvenience, unless you think that not being able to do drugs etc. (and even that’s a choice made by the mother, separate from abortion) is ruining her life?). The father’s life is not disturbed, the mother’s is inconvenienced for a few months, and the baby’s is not disturbed. The baby’s new parents are getting an incredible gift they (if they live in the US) probably waited years for. How are three lives being ruined?

  • Byron

    “My definition IS objective, it’s just that as technology advances, the line moves. This ALWAYS happens when technology changes, laws and customs must change to adapt. Before the printing press, you didin’t need laws protecting freedom of it, for instance.”

    Human life existed before technology, and the true definition of human life has always been independent of the current state of technology. Deciding now that the definition of human life depends on technology that is only a few decades old is an attempt, imo, to redefine what human life is to suit your idealogical whims.

  • Byron

    “Byron’s comments about libertarianism being against murder is based on a false premise or at least a “squishy one” in defining what murder is.”

    What’s “squishy” about murder? I said that libertarians prefer as little government intervention as possible, except in providing for the basic needs of a civilized society, such as the prevention of murder. I wasn’t referring to abortion there, but to murder in general. I was correcting your statement that Libertariasm is about making life cheaper and easier for people, which is completely untrue.

    “Byran seems stuck on the “future human” being thing. Others have addressed it. The future ain’t here buddy. I could make plans for next year – and I could die. I could think about killing a president but thinking and acting are two different things.”

    Now you’re reversing my argument. Anybody might do anything in the future, or they might not. In that respect, the future is uncertain, and I agree with you completely. However, do you agree that an abortion definitely prevents a new human being from entering the world? Is there any way you can disagree with that at all? Of course not, the sole purpose of abortion is to prevent a human from living a life.

    “And guess what – birth control fails.”

    Abstinence doesn’t. That’s birth control too, don’t forget. The risks of other forms of birth control are stated on the package – 3% chance of failure for condoms, I believe, and I don’t know the others off the top of my head. Anyone not comfortable with a 3% chance of failure, or whatever they can reduce that to by using a combination of contraceptives, can choose to abstain.

    The problem is, people want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to have sex with no risk of pregnancy, and abortion is the only method that provides zero risk. But what at cost? It’s a very selfish attitude, imo.

  • Would be a nice call Spoons [good name, by the way!] except should have been clear I wasn’t calling anyone mentally disturbed who disagreed with me – because as I spelled out, I haven’t fixed on a view yet so I don’t have a view for them to disagree with. I started off with two contradictory beliefs, remember?

    I think you and I partly agree [especially if you re-read] – certainty and cut-off points are suspect and these are what stop people from hearing each other. And let me rephrase – do you not find something at least slightly barmy in the self assurance of those who either
    - fail to see a helpless child deserving protection until some point like the cord being cut? or
    - already see a person days into cell-division?

    How can there possibly be a clear, legalistic answer or date saying “before this extinguishable, after this, fully-fledged citizen”? Where did everyone get to be so sure on this notoriously fuzzy issue?

  • lars

    If a woman does not have the right to choose, then the very quality of her life becomes different from a man’s.

    Many memes in our society would need to change, pronto. Boys and girls would need ideas about heterosexual sex not being a desirable activity, that it can only be engageded in with the intent to procreate (yeah, some religions already attempt this… ). Girls *especially* would need to absorb the meme of ‘never have heterosexual sex, unless you are willing to bear a child. NEVER’

    Homosexuality could be promoted as the best way to get the loving physical intimacy that humans require for good health and fun. Memes about homosexuality need a good overhaul,too, apparently.

    When the right to choose abortion is outlawed, some women kill themselves when they become pregnant, because they don’t see any better solution to the problem of, what?… living through the pregnancy, bearing the child, caring for the child, the social stigma, lack of support through pregnancy and after.

    Abortion in the case of danger to a woman’s physical health has been mentioned here as a case when abortion would be acceptable. If a woman is not mentally able to cope with pregnancy and childbirth, to the point where she is willing to kill herself, then that is a danger to her physical health.

    That is an extreme case, but obviously it happens with regularity- or did, before abortion was legal.

    It is much more than just ‘a woman’s choice to have sex’. There are lots of bad memes floating around, about why and when women should have sex, what a woman gains from having sex- jpressure andstatus of having a boy friend (and how is she going to keep him?), a home and survival support from a man who has vastly more earning power than she does.

    It’s quite easy and comfortable to theorize, when one does not have a body that will get pregnant. Women without access to dependable birth control, which includes the word ‘no’ as well as the rest of the array available, including abortion,are breeding stock. Their lives are defined by their reproductive *potential*. Guys, get ready to do without sex with women, and start eyeing up the other fellows.

    I agree, no one really wants to undergo a surgical procedure that includes both physical and psychological risk, but isn’t it a better alternative to suicide?

    With freedom comes responsibility. People apparently don’t feel free, when evaluating thier current alternatives. We are limited by the ideas we are open to, when looking for solutions to the problems.

  • Lars: I agree with several of your points, which is why I am involved with Feminists For Life and some local groups with similar goals. Rather than saying, “it’s tough to bear children if society isn’t supportive, so let them kill the children instead,” these groups say, “it’s tough to bear children if society isn’t supportive, so make society more supportive.” These groups (in agreement with many of the early feminists) see abortion as a sign of women’s oppression, because society made it difficult or unacceptable to have children (esp. out of wedlock) and also have productive lives outside the home. For decades they have been working, with a good amount of success, for increased maternity leave, for laws allowing public high school girls to be pregnant without being kicked out of school, for pre-natal and childcare facilities at colleges, and so forth. Same acknowledgment of problem (childbearing ain’t easy), different answer.

  • National Review editors: “[W]hat greater claim on our protection, after all, does that infant have a moment after birth? He still lacks the attributes of “personhood” — rationality, autonomy, rich interactions — that pro-abortion philosophers consider the preconditions of a right to life. The argument boils down to this assertion: If we want to eliminate you and you cannot stop us, we are justified in doing it. Might makes right.”

    All of this is the antithesis of true libertarianism.

  • Byron

    “Rather than saying, “it’s tough to bear children if society isn’t supportive, so let them kill the children instead,” these groups say, “it’s tough to bear children if society isn’t supportive, so make society more supportive.”

    Agreed. There are much better solutions to all the social problems women face due to their ability to bear children, than abortion. Abortion is the easy solution, but not the right one.

    “If we want to eliminate you and you cannot stop us, we are justified in doing it. Might makes right.”

    Well said. The unavoidable culmination of all pro-choice arguments. There endeth the lesson. Byron, signing off. For now…

  • Jay N

    I personally am deeply uncomfortable with denying women the choice of whether to continue with pregnancy at an early stage. With the relevant arguments of potential in mind I would add there is the potential for an unwanted child to be neglected and abused, for it’s mothers life to be directly affected in a negative fashion, conceivably resulting in the end of her own life. If these factors are of enough concern to the potential mother that they decide they are not capable of bringing up a child properly I am in support of their decision to abort, at an early stage.
    It is my belief that to draw a conclusion based on the potential of a life solely in terms of positive outcomes and ignoring the negative potential is irrational. Life above all else, when there is only a theoretical proof of life i.e. four cells have the potential to be a human being ergo they should enjoy the same right of protection as a newborn, sits uncomfortably with me.

    I should also add that this ‘ducking the consequences’ attitude is a ridiculous simplification of events that occur in peoples lives. I refuse to believe that the majority of abortions occur because people find it an easy alternative to sorting out birth control or asking their partner to withdraw. Individuals that I know to have gone through this have certainly not just taken the attitude ‘Oh a baby, that would be so inconvenient’. The expediency argument used in this way presumes that there is no thought process or concern on behalf of the mother which I believe is an inaccurate and potentially offensive portrayal.

  • Mark G,

    You wrote: “I think that anybody who feels a baby is not a person until the umbilical cord is cut is mentally disturbed, and I think that anybody who thinks that a few-days-old fertilised egg is a person deserving sacred protection is equally obviously mentally disturbed. ”

    Did you forget?

    And since I’m one of those people (a sizeable minority in the U.S.) that belives that a “few-days-old fertilised egg” is a person deserving of legal protection, then yeah, you’ve called me “obviously mentally disturbed.”

    You criticize others for clarity, and yet are so clear in your beliefs that you accuse others of mental illness?

    I may hold a view that you strongly disagree with, but at least I’ve paid others the respect to listen to their arguments and debate them rationally.

    -Spoons

  • The thing that bothers me about the caveat of ‘backstreet abortions’ is that no one in the last thirty years has EVER put out known data about how often that occured before Roe v Wade, nor does anyone point out nowadays that the stigma of out of wedlock births has lost its sting.

    Backstreet abortions, when they happened, occured because the mother faced social ostracisation, while the one performing it faced legal ramifications. The former social ramification is no longer existent in our society today. I can only assume it is because of the permissiveness of abortion, or the laxity of today’s society to hold the mother and father of the baby to the responsibility of bringing that child into the world. I often wonder just how valid the threat of backstreet abortions would be if there was a greater push to facilitate ADOPTIONS of the baby.

    For the doctor or one performing the abortion, it is more clear as to why the push for legal abortion is logical. However, there does not seem to be any overseeing as far as the health of the one who just had it performed. I know of a few women who had it performed who told me there was no attempt to talk them out of it, and no attempt to look after than after it was done. This to me does much more harm than society insisting that the mother see the pregnancy through. No matter what, she still has to cope with the consequences.

    I am very loathe to have Big Brother come down on the doctor and restrict his means of performing the surgery, but there does not seem to be any effort even after legalization to treat the situation, nor is there a real effort to support other options, like adoption. If you went to a credible doctor for ANY OTHER procedure, he is REQUIRED by law to notify you of not only the benefits but of the negatives. Yet there does not seem to be any of that for the abortionist. They have free reign and no responsibility. So what difference does it make to insist that backstreet abortions are any worse? AT least there woudl be legal ramifications.

    Abortion is abhorrent to me, a child of adoption whose birth mother did indeed concieve me out of wedlock. It is not the panacea to a childs future problems, but it does work to provide a more secure environment. I am not sure I understand the disconnect people have with a choice between killing a growing fetus, which they will have to already acknowledge has changed their lives forever, and being patient with the pregnancy and making sure the child is placed where it IS wanted.

    I often argue that here in the States, legal abortion should be determined by individual states. It should not be a federal mandate, as there are populaces within the body of the US that will try to formulate its own methods of dealing with out of wedlock pregnancies. This is how it should be, regardless of personal views of abortion.

  • Bombadil

    Contrary to what a couple of other posters have said, my argument does not presuppose that the fetus/baby is not alive until it can exist outside of the mother’s womb. I am perfectly willing to concede that the fetus/baby is alive, not at the moment of conception, but when the sexual partners first make eye contact (i.e. before the sex even took place). It doesn’t make a difference. I am even willing to call abortion murder if you like – it doesn’t affect my argument. Restricting a woman’s right to place sharp objects in her womb is the tippy-top of a slope whose bottom is a restrained “gestation bottle” being fed a healthy diet intravenously and forced to exercise under severe penalties. I notice that no-one has attempted to draw that line: how restrictive on a pregnant woman are you willing to be? Can a pregnant woman engage in kick-boxing or a high-risk sport such as skydiving or rock climbing? Can she drink? Smoke? C’mon, show the strength of your convictions here – how restrictive are you willing to be? Where’s the line?

    Aaron Armitage: could you shoot him? Not unless he refused to leave! But let me extend your argument – suppose he is breaking your stuff and generally being an asshole. Does his lack of winter clothing and the presence of a blizzard force you to tolerate him? Or suppose that his presence (for whatever reason) makes you nauseous, to the point that you are unable to function. Does the blizzard and his lack of winter clothing force you to endure your sickness (caused by his presence) ???

    Ghaleon: I agree that having an abortion is a terribly immoral thing to do. I would love to see all pregnancies carried to term. But I don’t see any way to force women to carry babies full-term without making them slaves, and the implications for all of us are truly scary. For example: you and I are in a remote clinic somewhere during a blizzard. You have sustained a life-threatening wound and require a transfusion of blood. You MUST have it to live. I am the only one around with the blood type you need. Can I be compelled to give some of my blood to you? How about some skin? How about some bone marrow? How about a kidney?

    The reason these questions are difficult to answer is that there is an inherent contradiction between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus/baby. Since the fetus/baby is dependent on the mother and not the other way around, the mother’s right to control what happens in her body must be paramount – UNTIL the fetus can survive outside the womb.

    Kirk Parker: your claim that there is no qualitative difference between a baby needing a biological connection to a mother to survive and a baby needing food and shelter to survive really isn’t a strong point. Clearly parents do have a responsibility to their children, but a child who needs formula to live isn’t in the same situation as one who needs nutrients through an umbilical cord. A child who needs a blanket to stay warm isn’t in the same situation as one who needs the mother’s body temperature to stay warm. And pretending that they are is dishonest.

  • Trevor

    Bombadil, I don’t think the hypothetical situation you propose to Ghaleon is germaine to the argument. If you really want to create a parrallel to abortion try this:

    You shoot Ghaleon, despite the fact that he was un-armed, has not harmed you in any way, is not trespassing (you invited him to your home, by mistake,) and is only threatening you with inconvenience and a loss of income. He is dying of blood loss. Are you compelled to save him? You better, unless you want to be charged with murder instead of attempted murder.

  • Some might be interested in an example of what a “non-biologoically formed,” “not independently existing”, “parasite” looks like.

    Note: I don’t want to ambush anyone. The following photo is shocking. Don’t look if you don’t want to be disturbed. Here it is.

    You can read the story of that parasite (with no scary pictures) here.

  • Bombadil

    Trevor: how is that a parallel to abortion? The question isn’t whether I can kill another person – it is whether I can control my own body or not.

    If Ghaleon takes up residence inside my leg, can I decide to stab myself there?

    Explain to me how drinking a quart of whiskey is equivalent to shooting someone. It isn’t? Ok, then explain to me how skydiving is equivalent to shooting some. It isn’t? Ok, then explain to me how douching with a weak acid is equivalent to shooting someone. It isn’t? Try explaining to me how a woman scraping her womb with a blade is equivalent to shooting someone. Ah, that one is??? Where does that line get drawn?

    Still waiting for someone to show the courage of their convictions and draw the line.

  • Bombadil, I think several people have explained that they belive that a fetus is a human being, and that they believe that all human beings have a right not to be killed by others.

    I understand that you start from the premise that a fetus is not a human being, and that if it were, not all human beings have a right not to be killed. It is your right to believe that. However, your claim that others here lack the courage of their convictions to address your arguments is not accurate.

  • If, through your actions, you bring about the death of your baby, you have killed your baby. That’s pretty simple. Our laws make a differentiation based on intent, however. If you’re driving carelessly, and get into an accident that’s your fault, and your passenger dies, you’re not charged with first-degree murder. That’s the equivalent of the woman who does something stupid that brings about the death of her baby, but was not aware that it would bring it about, did not intend for that to happen. At least in the US, if you’re driving drunk, and kill someone, you can be tried for murder, because it’s a reasonable assumption that you knew not to drink and drive, even if you did not expect to kill someone. In my mind, drunk driving is the equivalent of child endangerment (which doesn’t always result in child *harm*, but does involve a greatly increased chance of it), the equivalent of drinking your quart of whiskey. I’m not sure what the result of douching with a weak acid is (does it always result in an abortion? disfigurement? usually result in abortion? rarely?) — I’d have to put it as equivalent to trying to shoot someone, or trying to crash things into the right side of your car (where your passenger is). Because there’s clearly an intent to harm, whether or not you’re successful. Scraping the uterus with a blade? equivalent to shooting someone in your car.

    (But you’re in the car, I hear people say. Yes, and abortion isn’t exactly fine and dandy for the mother’s body either.)

  • Byron

    “I notice that no-one has attempted to draw that line: how restrictive on a pregnant woman are you willing to be? Can a pregnant woman engage in kick-boxing or a high-risk sport such as skydiving or rock climbing? Can she drink? Smoke? C’mon, show the strength of your convictions here – how restrictive are you willing to be? Where’s the line?”

    Good argument. The difference is, abortion carries the intent to end the life of the fetus. Your other examples don’t. And if a woman denied a medical abortion decides to smoke and drink her fetus to death, then that would essentially be same thing. There is intent to kill.

    “But I don’t see any way to force women to carry babies full-term without making them slaves, and the implications for all of us are truly scary.”

    So who makes women pregnant in the first place? If you want to blame someone for making them a “slave”, blame the woman for getting pregnant.

    “there is an inherent contradiction between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus/baby.”

    You overstate the case. That contradiction only exists when carrying and delivering the baby could cost the mother her own life. Otherwise, it is a matter of expediency for the mother vs. the life of the unborn child. No contradiction there whatsoever.

    “Since the fetus/baby is dependent on the mother and not the other way around, the mother’s right to control what happens in her body must be paramount – UNTIL the fetus can survive outside the womb.”

    Babies usually cannot survive outside the womb until several years old. Does that mean it is not immoral to end the life of a 1-year old child?

    “A child who needs a blanket to stay warm isn’t in the same situation as one who needs the mother’s body temperature to stay warm. And pretending that they are is dishonest.”

    On the contrary, it is most honest. Show me a baby under 1 year old that can survive, i.e. not die, with no help from any other human beings, and I’ll concede your point.

    Claiming that survival by umbilical cord is conceptually different than survival by breast feeding (or however a parent chooses to feed the child) is to miss the forest for the trees.

    “If Ghaleon takes up residence inside my leg, can I decide to stab myself there?”

    Not if you put him there, purposefully or accidentally, and without consulting Ghaleon on the matter.

  • For those curious about what place anti-abortionists would have on a libertarian board, check out http://www.l4l.org — Libertarians For Life.

  • Bombadil

    Byron: not needing any help from another person is much different than not needing a direct biological connection.

    You say that children cannot survive outside the womb until they are several years old. Sure they can; they can be adopted, or placed in an orphanage, etc. But a 2-month-old fetus cannot be placed anywhere else – it must stay there or die. And I have already said that if the fetus/baby can survive outside the womb then abortion should not be an option (see my first post).

    You still have not drawn the line. If a woman should not be allowed to drink alcohol during her pregnancy if it results in the death of the fetus/baby, should she be barred from drinking an amount that causes damage, but not death, to the fetus/baby? How will you know? And once we establish that alcohol is outlawed, how about caffeine? How about refined sugar?

    If a woman scrapes her womb with a blade, but without intent to harm the fetus, that’s ok? How about if she runs up and down the stairs with the intent of causing a miscarriage?

    Again, I am not arguing that abortion is good, or responsible, or desirable. I think people should take responsibility for their actions; abortions to preserve the economic status of the parents, or for convenience, are morally horrifying. I just don’t see how you can restrict them without making slaves of us all. Tell me how you would state such a restriction: what behavior would you limit? What would you allow? How would you know the difference between an allowable behaviour carried to an extreme and a prohibited one?

    Spoons: huh? To quote from an earlier post of mine: Contrary to what a couple of other posters have said, my argument does not presuppose that the fetus/baby is not alive until it can exist outside of the mother’s womb. I am perfectly willing to concede that the fetus/baby is alive, not at the moment of conception, but when the sexual partners first make eye contact (i.e. before the sex even took place). It doesn’t make a difference. I don’t think I can make it any clearer than that: of course the fetus/baby is a human being. I concede that, I agree with it, I will allow it happens (in a moral sense) even before the separate clusters of DNA are combined in a cell together. My premise has nothing to do with the humanity of the fetus. My premise is that the biological (not situational or economic) dependence of the fetus on the mother causes a conflict between the right of the fetus to live, and the right of the mother to control her most personal possession of all, her body. And in that conflict, for practical reasons, the mother must win.

    If you disagree, tell me how you would state your restriction in a way that doesn’t result in expectant mothers being legally relegated to the status of “gestation bottles”, with no rights of self-determination whatsoever.

    Counter-examples about people being in your car or your house miss the point. Your car is not your body; your house is not your body. When you drink poison, the water flowing through the pipes in your house doesn’t become poisonous. When you eat unhealthily, people sitting in your car don’t get high cholesterol.

    Kirk Parker: I apologize for characterizing your argument as dishonest. It was a cheap shot; I think the comparison between a live child needing to be fed by a parent and a fetus needing nutrients through an umbilical cord is not a valid one, but I will allow that you honestly think it is.

  • Trevor

    Bombadil, the premise of intent has been brought up several times in these comments. Do you disagree that intent should be a considering factor in any criminal case? To use two examples that you brought up: (if you wish me to address another specific, please point it out):

    “If a woman scrapes her womb with a blade, but without intent to harm the fetus, that’s ok? How about if she runs up and down the stairs with the intent of causing a miscarriage?”

    What I would say to the first, is it’s at most reckless endangerment. To the second, only a laps in judgement. I haven’t seen anyone arguing that any and all actions that might endanger the fetus need to be outlawed. But, I would argue that a willful intent of the ending of that life, with no coersion, or mental defect, should not be legally guaranteed.

  • Bombadil

    Trevor: fair enough. That is a line clearly drawn (though not clearly seen)- if there is intent to harm the fetus, it’s disallowed. If not, not.

    Practical result: de facto abortion is legal (so long as it cannot be proven that abortion was the intended result). Certainly behaviours that will cause harm to the fetus (such as heavy drinking) are permissible so long as the intent is to get drunk rather than harm the child.

    Is that a fair restatement of your position?

  • Trevor

    I do think that willful intent to do harm to the fetus should not be allowed. As for actions that endanger the fetus without explicit intent, I agree wih much of what you mention in some of your earlier comments. To be honest, I don’t know exactly how to handle that without opening a pandora’s box. Here, I must defer to someone else with more legal experience, like :shudder: a lawyer. (Sorry to all the lawyers in attendance, I couldn’t help that one… my fingers just typed it by themselves. There was no intent!)

  • “If you disagree, tell me how you would state your restriction in a way that doesn’t result in expectant mothers being legally relegated to the status of “gestation bottles”, with no rights of self-determination whatsoever.”

    Once again, you are attempting to frame the entire debate in such a way that the hypothesis you are trying to prove is stated as a premise. Here’s my solution. Make abortion illegal. I state that this does not relegate a woman to the status of a “gestation bottle” with no rights of self-determination whatsoever. QED.

    There.

    But that doesn’t advance the argument does it? All I’ve done is merely state my opinions as premises, and therefore I win. We could keep talking past each other indefinitely if we did that.

    Abortion supporters frequently equate abortion bans with “slavery”. (Your “gestation bottles” is a new one to me). I find that comparison overblown. You state that you are willing to accept the fetus as a full human being for the purposes of this discussion. Despite my skepticism at your sincerity, I’ll take you at your word for the purposes of this discussion. Since most aboriton supporters do not accept the fetus as a full human being, the rest of this is not addressed to them.

    The abortion debate necessarily requires balancing the rights of two human beings: the fetus and the mother. The interest of the fetus, here, is simple obvious: the interest in not being dismembered and killed. The interest of the mother’s is more complex. You have framed it as not being reduced to a “gestation bottle”, and having all of her rights of self-determination destroyed.

    I take issue with your definition of the mother’s interest. It would come as quite a surprise to most mothers that during their pregnancy they had been reduced to mere “gestation bottles.” I doubt that even women who carried unwanted pregnancies to term and gave the babies up for adoption would agree that their personhood had been so diminished for 9 months. Your claim that “all rights of self-determination” are destroyed if a woman is not permitted to abort her fetus is hyperbole. She retains the right to speak, work, play, love, live, vote, eat, sleep, travel, pray, and everything else that people get to do. The ONLY right she is denied is the right to abort her fetus.

    The argument is no different if you phrase it as “the right to do what she wants with her own body.” There are many things I do not have the right to do with my own body. I may not stab people I dislike. I may not walk into your home uninvited. I may not inject heroin into my veins. Now, you may or may not disagree with some of those laws (the drug laws, especially). However, I assure you, I do not feel that I have lost “all rights of self-determination whatsoever” merely because society has made some of the things I might want to do with my body illegal.

    Moreover, whatever right of the mother’s is curtailed, the situation is temporary. No one has proposed forcing a woman to keep a child she bears, and I would oppose such a proposal if I heard it.

    The interest of the child that is being curtailed is quite permanent.

    In saying the above, I do not mean to minimize that pregnancy can be a burden. Of course it can. It is also true that a woman who gives up a child to adoption may experience depression about it afterwards (although this is no less true in abortion). My point is merely that as between two interests, when I balance the significant but manageable and temporary infringement of the rights of the mother, against the ultimate and permanent right of the child not to be dismembered and killed, my judgment is that the child’s interest is superior.

    Now, none of this will make any sense to you if you don’t really accept the child as a human being, but you said you did, so there you have it.

  • James Taylor

    Byron wrote:

    “Are you threatening me? ;) Seriously though, if you’re alluding to death by natural causes or old age, how does that apply to abortion? Abortion is not a natural cause, is it?
    On that note, it was nice debating with you. Till next time”.

    Byron, by maintaining that a fetus is equivalent to an actual human being because it has the potential to develop into an actual human being, is to evade the law of identity.

    A fetus is as much a human being as an acorn is an oak tree. Hence, a potentiality is not equivalent to an actualite.

    Just because a developing fetus is made up of human cells does not make it a human being….it has more in common with a kidney or liver in the first trimester, the period when most abortions are performed.

    ( An actual human being is a rational animal that lives by means of self sustaining, self generated action, posessing a volitional consciousness…………last time I say this…lol)

  • Patrick

    I want to thank Iain Murray for linking to Gregg Easterbrook’s article in The New Republic way up in comment #6 above. It’s the best piece I’ve ever read on the subject, and I highly recommend it.

    I agree with Byron (if I understand him correctly) that whatever moment is settled upon as the one at which a new human legally acquires the right to life as against the wish of his/her mother, it should be neither arbitrary (e.g., passage of x time since conception) nor technologically manipulable (e.g. survivability outside the womb). It should correspond to a decisive and observable step in the development of the new person from zygote to maturity. Conception and birth are candidates, but several developments in between, such as implantation, the metamorphosis from embryo to fetus, or the onset of some specific type of brain activity, would also suffice. I don’t think pro-lifers are going to sign on in large numbers to any test that is not focused directly on some trait of the developing person.

    Bombadil, I don’t think the line-drawing problem you speak of is as intractable as you portray it to be. Supposing that some moment in development is identified at which a new person acquires the right to life, then from that point forward the mother must respect that right just as she must respect the same right of others. An act done with the intent to end the life and which achieves that result is murder. An act done with reckless disregard for a significant risk of death and which results in death is reckless homicide. An accident is an accident. There may be problems proving the mother’s state of mind in any particular case, but there is no problem establishing her responsibilities in the abstract.

    As for whether those responsibilities make a mother a “slave,” I think that they do not. The unborn child does not in any sense “own” the mother. The child does not, even metaphorically, direct the mother’s activities in the large realm of activities that are not harmful to the child. And for those (like me) who would permit abortion at least of embryos (roughly first-trimester abortions, as I understand it), the decision to forego abortion at that time constitutes a voluntary acceptance of the responsibilities to the child that will come later.

  • Bombadil

    Spoons: we apparently are indeed talking right past each other.

    You said: “She retains the right to speak, work, play, love, live, vote, eat, sleep, travel, pray, and everything else that people get to do. ”

    If some of these activities result in the death of the fetus, does she still get to do them? If some of these activities result in harm to the fetus, does she still get to do them? How much harm is ok? How much chance of death?

    Why do you question my sincerity when I say that I accept a fetus as a human being? Let me assure you that I do, and that (because I accept a fetus as a human being) I think abortion is morally equivalent to murder. Reprehensible and repugnant in the extreme. I just don’t think it is possible to get rid of it without (eventually) placing vast restrictions on a woman’s right to self-determination within her own skin.

    You state: “The argument is no different if you phrase it as “the right to do what she wants with her own body.” There are many things I do not have the right to do with my own body. I may not stab people I dislike. I may not walk into your home uninvited. I may not inject heroin into my veins.”

    Come on. You are comparing the right to stab someone else with the right to stab yourself. You are comparing the right to walk into someone else’s home uninvited with the right to expel someone from your body. Using heroin is a valid comparison, but there it sounds like you and I both agree: heroin use should be legal too, and for pretty much the same reasons.

    You said: “My point is merely that as between two interests, when I balance the significant but manageable and temporary infringement of the rights of the mother, against the ultimate and permanent right of the child not to be dismembered and killed, my judgment is that the child’s interest is superior.”

    Here I agree (surprise) to a point. I think the interests of the child are more extreme than the interests of the mother. The childs interest is life or death: the mother’s is the right to control her own body. But the trick here is that the child’s needs are more extreme as well – the child needs the mother to refrain from a long list of behaviours, and to undertake another long list of them. The mother only needs to do as she likes; she needs nothing from the child. Is this a terrible situation – a mother placing her selfish interests above the mortal needs of her own baby? Absolutely. You have the moral high ground here – and I don’t personally know anyone who would deny it (although I am sure there are some).

    But how specifically are you going to prevent abortions? Trevor has stated that you forbid intentionally harming the child – I accept that as an attempt to prevent abortions in good faith. But I don’t think it will prevent them unless interpreted very broadly – in which case you must also place restrictions on women that would not seem out of place in an Orwell novel.

    Let me propose a hypothetical: a foodstuff is discovered (some exotic spice or fruit) which induces miscarriages 50% of the time when eaten by pregnant women. Should a pregnant woman be allowed to consume that foodstuff? Now play with that percentage and see if your answer changes.

    See
    http://hcd2.bupa.co.uk/fact_sheets/mosby_factsheets/miscarriage.html. A short sampling:

    Other causes of miscarriage (most common is chromosomal abnormality)

  • Multiple pregnancy, hormonal problems, infections and other health problems of the mother.
  • Drinking more than two units of alcohol a day during pregnancy may double your chance of a miscarriage.
  • Smoking during pregnancy is not only a major risk for miscarriage but is also linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Drinking excessive amounts of coffee (or other sources of caffeine such as certain fizzy drinks) during pregnancy may make a woman more likely to miscarry.
  • Certain tests carried out during pregnancy, such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS), carry a risk of miscarriage of between one and three percent.
  • Which of these to you propose to prohibit?

  • lars;

    Denying men the right to force their wives, girlfriends, hoes, ect to get an abortion has reduced men to the status of a stud horse and, when the child support comes due, bank account, which is why men are only sleeping with other men these days and killing themselves so often.

    Bombadil;

    What a charming characterization of a baby.

  • Jacob

    You cannot prevent a woman from scraping her womb. You can be indignat and declare it is murder, but you still can’t prevent it. You cannot control what one does to his body. You (society) cannot even know if it happened, let alone ascertain what her intentions were.

    Outlawing abortions will not stop abortions, it will push them underground, increasing the risks, costs and suffering for women.

    Suppose the police is informed of an abortion – will they investigate the woman, prosecute her, try to guess her intentions, throw her in jail ? Wouldn’t that be too cruel to her – on top of the trauma of having an abortion ?

    Women should bear the consequences of their actions. True. But we are frail human beings, mistakes are often made, accidents happen – why be so harsh and deny any second chance at escaping dire consequences ?

    Those who dismiss pregnancy and child birth as mere “inconvinience” for a woman – I can’t agree with that – it is a very serious matter – and I don’t think you can or should impose it by public force on an unwilling woman.

    Creating a new human being is a great privilege women have; after all, they are creating one where there was none before. A fetus, a child – owe very much to their creator – the mother. I think it would be morally wrong to encumber this great and complicated process with more risks to the woman than are allready inherent in the process, risks that science and medicine help us reduce.

  • Bombadil, you write:

    “Come on. You are comparing the right to stab someone else with the right to stab yourself. You are comparing the right to walk into someone else’s home uninvited with the right to expel someone from your body. Using heroin is a valid comparison, but there it sounds like you and I both agree: heroin use should be legal too, and for pretty much the same reasons.”

    Well, now, if you truly accept that the fetus is a human being, than an abortion is not the woman “stabbing herself”, it’s stabbing her child. As for the home invasion, I was not saying they were analogous other than that they impose a restriction on what I do with my body. As for herion, you misunderstand if you think that I support legalization, I was merely predicting that you might. In any event, even if I DID support legalization, I wouldn’t think the drug laws turned me into a slave. Or, put another way, if prohibitition of alcohol were reinstated, I would oppose it, but I wouldn’t not cry out, “I have lost all right of self-determination whatsoever!”

    As for your apparent attempt to drag me into a slippery slope, I’m not having it. Why can’t the government simply probit the intentional killing of a fetus? Is that so hard? Why does that lead inexorably to a government ban on women eating high-cholesterol food (for example)?

    As a society, we engage in that sort of line-drawing all the time. If a parent locks their child in a closet and feeds them once a week, we prosecute him for child endangerment. That doesn’t mean that we’ll throw the guy in jail if he drives five miles over the speed limit with his kid in the car.

    I’ll admit to being pretty perplexed by some of your arguments. For someone who claims to believe that aboriton is “morally equivalent to murder. Reprehensible and repugnant in the extreme”, you’re an awfully passionate defender of the practice — especially when your biggest concern appears to be that we’ll outlaw pre-natal skydiving.

  • Byron

    “I agree with Byron (if I understand him correctly) that whatever moment is settled upon as the one at which a new human legally acquires the right to life as against the wish of his/her mother, it should be neither arbitrary (e.g., passage of x time since conception) nor technologically manipulable (e.g. survivability outside the womb). It should correspond to a decisive and observable step in the development of the new person from zygote to maturity.”

    That’s exactly what I’m saying, thanks for restating it clearly. If everyone could at least agree on that point, then I think we would have made a big step forward in responsibly defining human life.

    “Conception and birth are candidates, but several developments in between, such as implantation, the metamorphosis from embryo to fetus, or the onset of some specific type of brain activity, would also suffice. I don’t think pro-lifers are going to sign on in large numbers to any test that is not focused directly on some trait of the developing person.”

    Yes, there are quite a few potential points to consider. I believe my own argument b/c I’ve wrestled with it for a long time and have yet to discover a serious counter to it. But if any of the others were to prove equally valid, or my own ideas were to be proven invalid, then I would certainly consider changing my mind if the other definition of human life were based on the intrinsic characteristics of it.

  • Byron

    “Byron, by maintaining that a fetus is equivalent to an actual human being because it has the potential to develop into an actual human being, is to evade the law of identity.

    A fetus is as much a human being as an acorn is an oak tree. Hence, a potentiality is not equivalent to an actualite.”

    Your argument here gets to the real heart of the matter: When does the potential become the actual? If there is a 100% probability that the potential will become the actual at some future time, then it follows that the potential+time is equivalent to the actual. The only thing differentiating the potential from the actual then, is time. Is a certain measure of time to be sole criteria for determining what is human life and what is not? My whole argument is that no, it should not be. Time is not an intrinsic characteristic of human life. It is at best a disinterested third party, and irrelevant. Human life must be defined by something more meaningful, intrinsic, and relevant. Remove time from the equation, and you’re left with potential = actual. Fertilized egg = human being.

  • Ghaleon

    17 days (the creation of the nervous system)… itmight not be a good legal line, I admit (pretty much the equivalent of saying it is always illegal)… but I consider it’s the moment after wich it became immoral. I think (not sure if it’s still the case) that scientists consider it’s the moment after which tests on embryons became immorals… I consider that killing the embryon should be considered immoral too from that moment…

    My opinion is that if we can’t stop it , we must not consider it as ”legal” because it would be the equivalent of saying it’s acceptable and, well, It’s not my opinion at all… But I must admit I hardly see how we can stop it and what good it would do do make it illegal.

    Jay N, she might not tell herself she just have to do an abortion instead of asking her partner to withdraw (btw that doesn’t work…) but by not forcing him to use a preservative or by not taking the pill, we can’t consider that she is innocent. If she had acted differently, there would be no need of an abortion afterward… You might consider I’m not very comprehensive, but I’m not joking around with matters of life and death.

  • Patrick

    Ghaleon, you make a good point about the ethical regard scientists have for human embryos. This is discussed at some length in “Human Cloning and Human Dignity: an Ethical Inquiry,” a comprehensive and thoughtful report issued in July 2002 by the (U.S.) President’s Council on Bioethics.

    http://www.bioethics.gov/cloningreport/

    However, I don’t for a moment buy the notion that the State should prohibit with criminal sanction any conduct deemed morally unacceptable. The corollary is that I also don’t think it’s a valid inference that any conduct which is not prohibited by law has the State’s imprimatur as morally acceptable. This sort of argument comes up in connection with decriminalizing recreational drugs, and I find it no more persuasive in this context than in that one.

  • Joseph Hertzlinger

    Fuzzy logic might be appropriate in this discussion. On the one hand, there is no clear objective dividing line that would indicate that a fetus is not a human being 5,271,009 seconds after conception but is a human being one second later. On the other hand, if you cannot believe that an embryo 1 second after conception is not a full human being but an infant 23 million seconds later is a full human being then maybe the embryo could be considered 1/23,000,000 part of a human.

    That also means that a 1-week embryo is 1/39 human and the failure to implant 39 of them is equivalent to 1 homicide. Similarly, maybe a 3-month fetus has 1/3 life etc. In that case an abortionist who has aborted three 3-month fetuses can be judged guilty of murder.

    This is consistent with the widespread attitude that being an abortionist is far less acceptable than having an abortion (unless you’ve had three of them).

    The Current Unpleasantness might make it necessary to rethink abortion. Abortion was legalized in the first place because of the supposed damage done by “back-alley butchers.” Recently, “back-alley” homicide has become a problem. That’s what suicide bombers are doing. Women who die from illegal abortions are analogous to suicide bombers. We see the same excuses: People who risk put their lives on the line must be treated seriously; they are going to kill anyway so we should make it possible for them to do it without losing their own lives; any opposition is motivated by mere prejudice; etc. We’re starting to rethink those ideas.

    OTOH, abortion will probably be obsolete in a few decades. When we combine improved contraception, genetic engineering, artificial wombs, and cryonic suspension of embryos, the abortion rate will drop down to near zero. There may be an attempt to keep it moderately common by appealing to fetal research. OTOH, it’s hard to see what we can gain from research on human fetuses that we can’t gain from animal fetuses. Even stem cells will probably be created from scratch instead of being extracted from embryos. Abortion is generally tolerated only because it is common. Several decades after the last abortion has taken place, there will be a belated and unnecessary ban. A few decades after that, the sort of history student who second guesses historical figures (someone who regards the existence of the United States as hypocritical since many of the Founding Fathers were slave-holders) will turn the high abortion rates of the turn of the century into some kind of a scandal. The next step will be blaming capitalists for it.

  • Jay N

    Ghaleon:

    ‘she might not tell herself she just have to do an abortion instead of asking her partner to withdraw (btw that doesn’t work…) but by not forcing him to use a preservative or by not taking the pill, we can’t consider that she is innocent. If she had acted differently, there would be no need of an abortion afterward… You might consider I’m not very comprehensive, but I’m not joking around with matters of life and death.’

    I find your comments ridiculous Ghaleon, you make no allowance for accidents, your use of innocence seems to suggest that having sexual intercourse is act for which women should be deemed guilty. But only women because they are responsible for the gestation of any potential child.

    Considering the absolutionist nature of your opinions and what seems to me to be a critical failure of not allowing women in a bad situation the same humanity which you are so busy trying to ascribe to a day old collection of cells I’m not sure I can accept that your statement that you are discussing ‘matters of life and death’ It’s not that your not comprehensive I think you consider this issue as though it happens in a vacuum. There is more to life than getting born.

    And please don’t seek to educate me about effective contraception. You are aware I presume that in many places in the world contraception is unavailable or effectively banned, this means that distinctly flawed ‘natural’ contraception methods are all that is available. Although I fully expect that you think it is only right for a married couple in this situation to have sex if they are intending to conceive otherwise they are somehow guilty and god forbid they would rather not have a seventh child they can’t feed.

  • Byron

    “But I must admit I hardly see how we can stop it and what good it would do do make it illegal.”

    We can hardly stop rape, murder, prostitution, and even drunk driving, yet all of those are illegal. Making something bad legal just b/c you can’t stop it is only to evade the problem, not to solve it or even address it. It’s still bad and still a problem.

  • Byron

    “allowing women in a bad situation the same humanity which you are so busy trying to ascribe to a day old collection of cells”

    Nobody is talking about killing these women. Society guarantees people life, not ease or convenience. I agree that women have the larger burden when it comes to procreation of the species, but that simply comes down to luck of the draw. You’ve got basically a 50/50 chance of being born a man or a woman; if you draw woman then you’re unlucky/lucky (depending on your disposition) enough to have to shoulder that burden. If you believe that society should do everything in its power to make it easier for women to take that burden, fine, let it do so. But not by abortion. Not at the expense of someone else’s life. Everyone must play the hand they were dealt, from Einstein, to the autistic, to women.

    “You are aware I presume that in many places in the world contraception is unavailable or effectively banned”

    That still doesn’t make abortion right or acceptable. As I said in an earlier post, abortion is nothing new to humanity and has been happening since the first woman took a stick and rooted the fetus out of her own womb, thousands of years ago. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s an abhorrent thing to do, which civilized society should recognize and to which it should codify its objection in law.

  • Adrianne Truett:

    Kudos for posting the Libertarians for Life link. I was gonna post it myself. They’ve got some of the best pro-fetal-rights material out there.

    Everybody:

    This is the most civil debate over abortion I’ve ever seen in cyberspace. Congrats.

    If anyone’s interested, here’s a shameless plug for my fisking of Roe v. Wade.

  • It’s hard to believe that the Author of this piece hasn’t jumped back in at all. 94… er, 95 comments and counting and a mostly civil discussion about abortion! Hard to believe.

  • Dex

    Um. Well. All I wanted to say is that I had an issue with one comment in the article:

    “If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the actual and call the embryo an “unborn child,” we could, with equal logic, call any adult an “undead corpse” and bury him alive or vivisect him for the instruction of medical students.”

    I don’t know the proper fallacy in that statement, but I know it’s there, and it was bothering me…

    (For reference, I am a person who is pro-life but agrees that attacking the social problems that lead to abortion is the right tactic, rather than governmental intervention.)

  • Here’s what’s hanging you up, Dex.

    An “undead corpse” is an oxymoron. If it’s not dead, it’s not a corpse.

    Next consider, “unborn child.” Is that an oxymoron? Not to pro-lifers. An unborn child is still a child, whereas an undead corpse is not a corpse.

    Now, I know that many pro-choice folks would say that an unborn child is not a child, but the whole point of the quote you excerpted was that it pretended to accept the pro-life premise. In fact, there’s another clue that that wasn’t what the original commenter was doing. He said, “If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the actual….” That’s the thing many pro-choicers don’t get. Most of us think that the fetus is more than potential human life, it’s actual human life.

    By saying, “If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the actual….”, the author of that comment pretended to accept the pro-life starting point for the sake of argument. Instead, he phrased is comment in such a way that the conclusion of the pro-choice argument (i.e., that the fetus is merely potential life), was stated as a premise.

    It’s a clever argument, but I think that’s probably the illogic that was bugging you.

  • Ghaleon

    Jay N, I didnt made any place for accident in that post, but I mentioned it before that in case of rapes it could be acceptable. I’m aware their might be other exeptions… but well, those are only… exeptions, not the common reality

    Well, I hardly see how we could say a man can be guilty of an abortion… he might force her to do it or I don’t know what but… this isn’t what usually happen

    We could say that in a certain way the man could be guilty of not assisting a women he made pregnant but, eh, it’s not what we are speaking about here…

    When I said in a early post:
    ”1-In our society, womens have all the tools they need to never get pregnant… Not and excuse”

    It was pretty evident I wasn’t blaming womens in Africa and place like that… I don’t blame those because they can’t do anything about it… in their cases, they are victims just like the embryon/fetus…

    But in our society something can be done about it, and pretty easily…

    And the rest of what you said is pure presumption and well, it’s false… don’t speak as if you could really know me from 2-3 posts I made in a forum…

    Now, for the second time in this discussion, I’m gonna do this declaration…
    I’m an athee…
    Don’t fall in stereotypes…

  • I didn’t forget, Spoons, and if it’s been a mostly civil discussion as you say – I must be one of the exceptions!

    Still haven’t made my mind up, but I have to say the passion and stubbornness of people at the two extremes hardly convinces me of their rightness [or sanity]. Of course, you, Spoons, quite rightly pointed out that an extreme position is not necessarily a wrong position. But my main belief remains that this specific issue [unlike most issues] is about a sliding scale, and the angry conviction of people at both ends is directly connected to the attempt to deduce black-and-white values from a fuzzy grey scale.

    If this anger is not blind to reason, how could Spoons deduce that he/she holds a view I strongly disagree with…. when I haven’t supported a view myself, and was clear I didn’t strongly disagree but saw value in Spoons’ position [see my first post]? When I made clear I can see right at both ends? When I said that the conviction that either one is exclusively right sounds insane to me?

    Let me rephrase if I may Spoons. I think you are absolutely right, and so are your opponents. This is the problem, and the conviction at both ends that only one end can be exclusively right is the source of the disagreement, and on this topic pretty suspect.

    By the way, I have deeply loved and [yes] respected two mentally-disturbed people in my life! I help them, but I don’t find what they say makes sense just because I love them. I don’t think love and soul consists in rational rightness – nor [as far as I can see] do either of the two extremes in this debate.

    - The unborn child deserves love and protection independent of whether it will make sense as an adult?
    - a freshly-fertilised egg is not yet the same as a person, and should not be an instantly-effective burden on the freedoms of those already alive, whose love and protection the new person will need to make huge demands on?

    Surely there’s an important paradox here? Don’t just pick one and attack the other!

    -

  • Byron

    Hitler was convinced he was completely right to exterminate the Jews to create a master race. The Jews were convinced he was absolutely wrong to do so. Obviously, one of those extremes was right and the other was not. Just b/c you yourself cannot yet see who is right, does not mean that neither side is right or that both are insane. Perhaps one side is right, one side is wrong, and the combination of both is driving you insane? ;)

    Also, keep in mind that in such arguments, it is imperative to phrase your statements in such a way as to attack a person’s argument, and not the person themselves. When you start calling people mentally-disturbed or insane, even if you honestly believe they are, you open up a massive can of worms and drag an interesting discussion into a gutter of name-calling and verbal one-upsmanship . Instead, just say their argument is flawed and explain why. It may not be as satisfiying as venting your true feelings, but with such an emotional issue as this, you just have to stop yourself and hold your tongue.

  • Byron

    PS – that’s obviously an extreme example and I’m not implying that you can’t tell the difference b/t right and wrong there. In hindsight, it is quite clear, but at the time, Hitler had much of Germany convinced that they were the master race, destined to rule the world, and that all other races were inferior and therefore expandable, especially the Jews. Of course, other races and nationalities were victiims of that ideaology, especially the Poles and the Russians, but the Jews took the brunt of it.

    In fact, it is the Nazi’s success in rationalizing the extermination of entire races of people and the conquest of the world that is heavily responsible for my own “extreme” views on abortion and where to draw the line on the definition of human life. If people can rationalize to easy acceptance one such horror, we can certainly rationalize easy acceptance of others. With the age of biotechnology rapidly arriving, one important way to thoroughly guard against such abhorrent mistakes is a commitment to the preservation of human life and human rights. Such a commitment requires a strict definition of just what human life is. Since you can clone a human being shortly after an egg is fertilized, and since you can do all manner of ethically questionable things with cloning, then the protection of human life and human rights requires that human life be defined as the moment an egg is successfully fertilized.

    Of course, I personally believe that that is the most objective point at which to define human life, per all my previous arguments, but this is one, less theoretical, more practical, reason for that belief as well.

  • James Taylor

    Byron Wrote” Is a certain measure of time to be sole criteria for determining what is human life and what is not?
    My whole argument is that no, it should not be. Time is not an intrinsic characteristic of human life. It is at best a disinterested third party, and irrelevant. Human life must be defined by something more meaningful, intrinsic, and relevant. Remove time from the equation, and you’re left with potential = actual. Fertilized egg = human being”.

    Byron, please just re read what you have said above…. You can’t “remove time from the equation”…lol……If, as you say,a fertilized egg = a human being, then it would follow that an egg = a chicken, an acorn = an oak tree, a seed = a field of wheat, a brick = a house etc., etc., All these preceding examples require some form of causal process to develop. Your argument violates the law of identity. An embryo is just an embryo. A human being is a human being. You have already accepted my definition of an actual human being, therefore, it is quite obvious that an embryo or fetus do not fit that definition. This argument centres on whether individual rights pertain to a cluster of cells which have the potential to develop into an actual human being? The answer is absoluely not. The rights of an actual human being, supersede the “rights” of a piece of protoplasm.

  • Byron

    Sure you can. 1 + 0 = 1. Assuming you decide that the value of time in the actual equation is null. And that is what math, and logic, are all about – defining the essential elements, assigning value to them, and working with them to deduce a conclusion. Working with them is relatively easy, defining them is not, obviously. Anyway, this is entirely circular and gets us no closer to a resolution.

    Our disagreement appears to hinge around the fact my definition of human life is based on the 100% probability that a fertilized egg will become an actual human being, while your definition is based on the fact that at any instant in time until it is born, a fertilized egg is biologically different than an actual human.

    I disagree with your, and Rand’s, use of the term potential. I don’t see something that has a 100% probability of occuring as a potential. A potential is something that may happen or become. Obviously that is not equal to an actual. However, something that absolutely will become is not what I consider a mere potential.

    Also, what is your response to my other reasons for defining human life as the point of conception, re Nazis and rationalization?

  • Good point, Byron! I think maybe it is the combination which is driving me insane, yes! On most issues, no, extreme is not necessarily wrong, of course. I think abortion’s different.

    I didn’t mean to drag the debate into name-calling. Sorry.

    Problem is, I can’t find the flaws in the arguments – either of them. That was my point. I was clumsily trying to redirect attention to the simultaneous lack of flaws in both sets of arguments, and what we might deduce from that…..

  • James Taylor

    Byron wrote: ” I disagree with your, and Rand’s, use of the term potential. I don’t see something that has a 100% probability of occuring as a potential. A potential is something that may happen or become. Obviously that is not equal to an actual. However, something that absolutely will become is not what I consider a mere potential”.

    Byron, you make a fundamental error. A fetus does NOT have 100% probability of developing into a human. There are a million things that can occur in Time, outside of anyones control, that can cause the fetus not to develop. This is a flawed determinist argument.

    Just for your information, if in later months of the pregnancy, the developing baby could survive outside of the mother’s womb as an actual human being, then I would assign it rights. But no way can anyone rationally argue that a Zygot is equivalent to it as I have said before in previous posts. ( Essentially the argument centres on the first three months).

    Im off now for a couple of days.

  • Byron

    “Byron, you make a fundamental error. A fetus does NOT have 100% probability of developing into a human. There are a million things that can occur in Time, outside of anyones control, that can cause the fetus not to develop. This is a flawed determinist argument.”

    That is not a fundamental error. Any human can die accidentally at any time in its life; that does not change the fact that sole purpose of a fetus is to become a human. If a fetus naturally had a 50% chance of becoming a human and a 50% of staying a fetus forever, I would concede that it is only a potential. But that’s not the case. Accidents notwithstanding, a fetus will become a human.

  • Byron

    “Problem is, I can’t find the flaws in the arguments – either of them. That was my point. I was clumsily trying to redirect attention to the simultaneous lack of flaws in both sets of arguments, and what we might deduce from that…..”

    Yeah, with smart people arguing both sides, I certainly understand where you’re coming from. It’s mind bending. It’s taken me years to figure out where I stand on the issue; in fact I used to be pro-choice, but none of the rationales ever left me completely satisfied. Like a too-short blanket, always trying to pull it up higher, but never quite succeeding. Anyway, good luck in your own quest to figure it out for yourself!

  • Tom Grey

    (hour after starting, um almost 2) Wow, lots of good stuff. I used to think of abortion as the “murder of a parasite”, to make both sides unhappy; me too.

    If you want moral absolutes, you really have to end either at birth (Peikoff) or at conception. The pro-abortion “control her own body” argument fails: she is killing the fetus — as soon as it is conceived, and has different DNA.

    But “how wrong” abortion is an individual, moral issue. I think it worse than hunting and killing whales (for food or pleasure), or clubbing baby harp seals for the wonderful warm fur.

    I’m certainly sick of the “pro-choice” abortionists (PC) who accept fetus killing in order to allow college co-eds equal sexual promiscuity with college men, and thus sexual pleasure, but deny poor seal-clubbers their right to create beautiful warm fur clothes.

    This discussion has mostly been moral, but not clearly separating the legal, nor the cultural.

    blah blah blah (you’ve all heard most before).

    How about making MEN more financially responsible for either their child OR an equal amount if their fetus is aborted? Like, a 1% income surtax between poverty level and avg level incomes, and a 5% surtax on above average income?
    (THIS should be controversial on this lib site)

    My own view of reducing abortion is to focus on INCREASING responsibility of men concerning sex. Society/ gov’t can do that through “voluntary” taxes, like knocking up some woman who doesn’t want to have a baby…

  • Johan

    I wonder, but then again, I can be wrong, was Alex Singleton one of those fetuses whom he now considers be so primitive so that they’re not “worthy” of human rights? I might be mistaken, but didn’t you (Mr Singleton) start of like one of those? Once again, I’m just me, I could be wrong…

    ..or right….

  • jennifer

    The article in question defines the fetus as an “undifferentiated mass of cells”. This statement is not only unpersuasive but completely false. The cells are differentiated and the fetus has all the parts of a child at two weeks, not even counting heartbeat, brain waves, and its innate humanness.

  • Anjru

    ok: i maybe young and stoopid but if i am correct the fertilized egg is just not a part of the mothers body. it cant live without the mother but it can live a little while after the mother dies. gotta remember that it couldn’t happen w/out the guy. next how does a journey five inches down the make a blob of molecules more human. if george bush flies from new york to california it doesnt make him more or less human. in regards to a human being being a being that can breath, play, love, think, rationalize etc… when your 80 yrs. old in a nursing home you cant move, wipe your own butt read, walk, talk etc… are you any less human than when you where 18?? oh and a fetus CAN discern colors, feel pain, hear, and move.

  • Lucy

    Human life begins at conception. That is an irrefutable scientific fact. At 10 weeks after conception a fetus may have less intelligence than a frog, but at birth a baby has less intelligence and independence than a dog or a cat. What defines a fetus as a person of individual right is the fact that it is HUMAN. From the moment of conception it has a unique genetic code that has never existed before and never will exist again. Therefore I believe that abortion at any stage of pregnancy is the taking of a human life – in other words murder.